Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
~ Psalm 119:24, Psalm 27:13, Proverbs 6:22-23, Romans 15:4
Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
~ Ecclesiastes 6:11, Luke 8:14, Luke 21:34
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
~ Ephesians 1:12-13
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
~ John 16:33
On Affliction and Desertion, By Way of Consolation and Instruction. The following contains a collective work from Richard Sibbes, Thomas Manton, Bishop Reynolds, John Flavel, William Bates, Collings, Stephen Charnock, Dorney Bishop Hopkins, Thomas Goodwin, Augustus Toplady, Hill, Jay, etc.. Revised by the Reverend J. East.
“Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in my trouble,” Psalm cxix. 92.
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,”
1 Corinthians xv. 19.
“This is the promise which he hath promised us, even eternal life,” 1 John ii. 25.
The following contains an excerpt from the text.
On Affliction and Desertion.
I. Affliction and misery are the common burden of the sons of Adam. In the present life all are subject to misery, some more, some less. We walk through a valley of tears, live in a groaning world; none have such an uninterrupted current of worldly happiness, but that they have their crosses and afflictions. These things are common to man. We are told in the book of Job, v. 7, “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward:” and xiv. 1, “Man that is born of a woman, is of few days, and full of trouble.” None can reasonably expect to be absolutely exempted from the common lot of human fallen nature. Though life be short, yet is it long enough to be vexed with many sorrows. “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been,” saith old Jacob, Gen. xlvii. 9. Since they are evil, it is well they are but few. Few men consider this, that they come into the world to bear crosses, but rather imagine they come hither to spend their days in pleasure; at least they do not observe the true cause of their troubles, nor the remedy. The true cause is sin. Man’s transgressions are the door by which it entered. And the proper remedy is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Whatever, then, may be the particular and various dispensations of God towards men, yet to be miserable in some sort or degree is common to all Adam’s posterity, which should make us look higher than the present life.
Christ hath promised an happiness, that will countervail all these afflictions. There is a fourfold comparison, which believers usually make, or in scripture are taught to make between this life, and that which is to come.
1. Sometimes they compare temporal good things, with eternal good things; or the portion of the carnal man, with the happiness of the child of God. “From men which are thy hand, O Lord; from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: 1 shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness,” Psalm xvii. 14, 15.
2. Sometimes they compare temporal evil things, with eternal evil things; as a prison with hell, or the killing of the body, with the casting the body and soul into hell-fire. “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear; fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him,” Luke xii. 4, 5. Certainly it is more important to fear displeasing God, than displeasing men: the utmost they can do is to kill the body, and then their malice is at an end: but God can cast both body and soul into everlasting torments. Every one would submit to a lesser evil, to avoid a greater. When you sin to escape trouble in the world, you run into eternal sufferings to avoid temporal ones: no wrath like the wrath of God: no torments like hell-fire.
3. Sometimes they compare temporal good with eternal evil; as Matt. xvi. 26, “ What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The plentiful life of worldlings, with the forfeiting of the soul; the pleasures of sin for a season, with the pains of hell for ever.
4. The fourth sort of comparison, which the scriptures direct us to, is temporal evil things, with eternal good time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” Rom. viii. 18. Sufferings for the present may be very great, but the glory that is revealed to us, and shall one day be revealed in us, is much greater: as there is no comparison between our suffering here, and eternal ease and rest. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 2 Cor. iv. 17. The sufferings of the present world are light and short, not in themselves, but in comparison with eternal life. In themselves they may be, some of them are very sharp and grievous, and some also very long and time to eternity. And what a feather is to a talent of lead, that are present evils to future glory and blessedness. All this is spoken to show, that it is better to be miserable with the people of God, than happy with his enemies, and that we should not be drawn away from Christ, either by the comfortable, or the troublesome things we meet with in this world.
II. Not from the dust, affliction grows,
Nor troubles rise by chance;
But we are born to cares and woes, –
A sad inheritance!
As sparks break out from burning coals,
And still are upwards borne,
So grief is rooted in our souls,
And man grows up to mourn.
Yet with my God I leave my cause,
And trust his promis’d grace;
He rules me by his well-known laws,
Of love and righteousness.
Not all the ills, that e’er I bore,
Shall spoil my future peace;
For death and hell can do no more
Than what my Father please.
III. When thou art in a desperate state, and there seems no way of escape, remember, that God is the same still; He is as able to help now as ever, and can create comforts for thee in thy greatest troubles; as in the first creation he made light out of darkness, order out of confusion; so still he is able out of thy confused and perplexed state, to create peace and comfort. Thou knowest not what to do perhaps, thy mind is so distracted and troubled; why, commit thy soul to God, he can raise an excellent frame out of the chaos of thy thoughts, therefore be not dismayed, consider thou hast God in covenant with thee, and hast to deal with an Almighty Creator, who can send present help in time of need. Therefore never despair, but frequent the means of grace, and still think of God, reconciled to thee in Christ Jesus, who hath paid thy debt of ten thousand talents, and who, having begun a work of grace in thee, will perform it unto the end. Commit thy soul unto Him as a faithful Creator, for guidance and direction in all thy perplexities, until he bring thee to perfect happiness.
IV. God doth not govern the world only by his will, as an absolute monarch, but by his wisdom and goodness as a tender Father. It is not His greatest pleasure to show his sovereign power, or his inconceivable wisdom, but his immense goodness, to which he makes his other attributes subservient. What was God’s end in creating, is his end in governing, which was the communication and diffusion of his goodness; we may be sure from hence, that God will do nothing but for the best, his wisdom appointing it with the highest reason, and his goodness ordering it to the most gracious end: and because he is the highest good, he doth not only will good, but the best good in every thing he acts. Now what greater comfort is there than this? That there is One who presides over the world, who is so wise he cannot be mistaken—so faithful he cannot deceive–so pitiful he cannot neglect his people,–and so powerful, that he can make even stones to be turned into bread, if he please.
V. It should be our great care, not to despise the chastening of the Lord, nor to be too much dejected under it. The smart would keep us from despising an affliction in itself, but we make light of it, when we are careless of improving it for the ends for which God inflicts it; we may be sensible of the pain, when we are not sensible of the profit which may accrue to us by it. God forbids here two extremities, the one an excess, the other a want of courage. Both dishonour God; the one in his sovereignty, the other in his goodness and love: both are injurious to the sufferer, as he rebels against the one, and loses the sweetness of the other. We should receive the afflictions God sends, with humility without despondency-with reverence without distrust, and endeavour to keep ourselves from either fearing too much, or not fearing God enough, mix reverence with confidence, adore the hand which we feel, and rest in the goodness which He promises. This is the way to reap the fruit of affliction.
All afflictions, let them be from what immediate causes soever, are from the hand of God. Whether they come from man, as logs of goods, or other calamities—whether they be sicknesses, griefs, &c., they are all dispensed by the order of God, for one and the same design–our instruction and improvement. Human reason will not believe this; some think they come by chance, or look only to second causes, and regard them not as wholesome instructions from God, and the orders of his providence.
This should stop any impatient motions in our minds. It is fit we should be of the Psalmist’s temper, hold our peace, because God hath done it, Psalm xxxix. 9. “Shall the thing formed, say to Him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” Rom. ix. 21. Is not an infinite wisdom joined with the sovereign authority of God? And when we are not able to understand the reason of his conduct, we ought to acquiesce in his will and in his wisdom, and stop the motion of any passions, by a humiliation under his hand.
How great is the tenderness of God towards his children groaning under any affliction! “My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord,” &c. He calls them his sons, his children, sweetening in the name, whatsoever is rigorous in the suffering. He gives them a title, whereby he manifests, that, “in all their affliction, he was afflicted,” Isaiah lxiii. 9, and hath a feeling in their trouble. What father is there on earth, unless he hath lost all natural affection, who does not sympathise in the suffering of his children? All the compassions of men combined, are not to be compared to the tenderness and love of God. Afflictions are not always sent by God, in anger with his creatures, but sent by God as a father. “For what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?” Hebrews xii. 7.
Hence it is easy to conceive, that neither the intentions of God, nor the issue of a suffering, can be any other than happy to those that are the children of God, since he gives the name of child, and son, to every one that he doth instruct, as a father by correction. And this will teach us to have a feeling for the sufferings of others.
1. The afflictions of believers are the effects of divine love: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten,” Rev. iii. 19. They are not acts of divine revenge, whereby God would satisfy his justice, but of divine affection, whereby he communicates his goodness, and draws the image of his son with more beauty and glory. They are the acts of God, not of a sleepy careless God, but a wise and indulgent Father, who takes all the care both of instruction and correction, to train you up to his will and likeness. God indeed afflicts other men, who are not in the number of his beloved children; there are few among the sons of men, who pass their lives in a continual prosperity, exempt from all kind of affliction; and all these evils are from God, as the governor of the world; yet, though there be no difference between the sufferings of one and the other, and though the sufferings of believers are often more sharp than those of the world, in outward appearance; yet, there is a vast difference in the motives of them; love makes him strike the believer, and fury makes him strike the unregenerate man. The design of the correction of the one, is their profit, not their ruin; the strokes upon the other, are often the first fruits of eternal punishment.
Then the world is much mistaken in judging the afflictions of believers to be testimonies of God’s anger and hatred. God acts towards the world, as a lawgiver and judge, but towards those he hath renewed and adopted, in the quality of a Father; and who would judge of the hatred of a tender father, by the corrections he inflicts upon a child, that is dear to him? Believers suffer by God, not simply as he is a judge, but as he is a paternal judge: there is a combination of judge and father. God does not intend revenge on them, for though they are afflicted on account of sin, yet, the principal aim is to prove them, and reform them, that they may be made meet for a blessed inheritance.
No man, then, has any reason to fancy himself the object of God’s love, for outward prosperity. “No man knows either love or hatred by all that is before them,” Eccl. ix. 1. God does not always love those, whom his providence preserves in health and ease. Such a conceit proceeds from an ignorance of another life, and too great valuation of the things of this world. Temporal goods, credit in the world, outward conveniences, and uninterrupted health, are effects of God’s patience and common goodness, but not of his affection, unless, when by his grace, they are made means to conduct us to a better inheritance; but how often are they pernicious to us, by reason of our corruption and ill use of them! How often does the health of the body destroy that of the soul; and the prosperity of the flesh ruin that of the spirit? How often do riches and honours bind our hearts to the earth, and expel any thoughts of an heavenly paradise? How often does a portion in this world, make many slack in their endeavours for a portion in heaven? How often do they hinder our sanctification, which is the only means to an happy vision of God? How should this move us in our afflictions, to a walk pleasing to God! This is the motive the apostle uses to press his exhortation, neither to despise the chastening of God, nor despair of his care. Why should we despise that which is dispensed by love? Should we not consider the chastisements, which the love of God sends, both good and wise? Is not love, the motive of suffering, a sufficient ground to prevent distrust and discouragement? Why should any distrust him, by whom he knows he is afflicted? That correction which frightens us, is a work of His love, not of his hatred. Should we not then wait in faith, for an happy issue of that chastisement which we suffer? If we be once thus affected, we shall receive afflictions in a temper answerable to God, and improve them for those holy ends for which God sends them. We should also bear them patiently, humbly, and submissively, since they are not for the reparation of the holiness of the broken law, and the satisfaction of God’s justice; but to “prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end,” Deut. viii. 16, nay to meeten the soul for heaven. We have reason therefore, to bear them, whatever they may be, in patience. It is inexcusable to murmur at an act of love. Use then spiritual reason in considering them. When the father scourges, the child cries, and then he thinks the father hates him; it is but the error of his childhood, and when he comes to reason, he will regard it as a false opinion.
No righteous man in the world is, or ever was, free from sin, 1 Kings viii. 46. “He scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” Heb. xii. 6. Sin is the cause of every affliction. Were we free from sin, we should be free from scourges. Afflictions will not cease till sin be quite destroyed, which will not be in this world. Justice would find enough in every believer in the world to punish, had he not suffered in the person of his surety, and mercy finds enough to pardon. It is against this then, we should turn our aim. What Satan would make us vent in impatience against God, let us manifest in a hatred of that, which is the true cause of all the evils which in general or particular we suffer. Let us strike that, as much as God strikes us; it is the best way whereby we can show our love to God, who in his strokes upon us, shows his love to us. Let us take no rest till we have put that to death, which alone God hates; it is the death of sin, and not the death of the soul, God designs in afflictions. It is, upon this account, an argument for patience. While our disease remains, why should we think ill of the physician for using means for a cure? If he did not use the means, though sharp, we then should have most reason to accuse him of a want of pity. Sin puts God upon a necessity of scourging; his goodness and wisdom will not suffer him to do anything but what is necessary. “If ye endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons.” Here the apostle exhorts to a patient bearing of the hand of God, because he deals with them as a father with his sons, in a way of reward afterwards; as parents caress those children whom they see submissive after punishment. God treats them as children; and being men, they are apt to think, that a troublesome affliction is inconsistent with the love of God; the apostle contradicts such a thought, by the question, “ What son is there, whom the Father chasteneth not?” And he goes further, and draws another conclusion, that we should be so far from thinking that to be afflicted is a sign of our not being the children of God, that on the contrary he affirms, that not to be chastised is a sign, that a man is not of God’s family: “If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons.” For if the Lord scourgeth every son whom he receives, it is clear, that he, whom he leaves without chastisement, is not a true and legitimate son, but a stranger, a bastard; i. e. one that is not of the family, but takes only the name and quality, without any right to it. Thus God then deals with his children, and there is need of it; for though the regenerate are freed from the slavery and dominion of sin, yet while they are clothed with the flesh, the flesh will lust against the spirit, and they cannot do the things that they would, Gal. v. 17, and God not only chastises them for their infirmities, but to prevent them. And, since the love which he bears us, doth infinitely surpass the affections of the best and tenderest fathers; we may well confess, that no father in the world, can be said to deal with his children, so as God does with the believer. He offers himself to do a father’s office. He is the world’s sovereign, but the believer’s father; as he is the governor of the world, he treats men righteously in his judgments; as he is the Father of believers, he treats them graciously in their afflictions.
Here is a great comfort. If God deal with you as with children in striking you, His wisdom and his goodness are infinite: He does nothing but what is just and reasonable: He is guided by a fatherly affection in all he does: His blows are healthful. If David could account it a kindness if the righteous would smite him, and count his rebukes as an excellent oil, Psalm cxli. 5, should we not have the same thoughts of the chastisements of God? Men may mistake in their rebukes, God cannot. He is too wise to be deceived, and too good, not to make even his blows become an excellent remedy. He does not assault us as enemies, but as children; not to punish us in his fury, but to refine us; to make us in a state for bim to take pleasure in; to make us more like himself, in the frame and temper of our souls. We should receive His corrections therefore, not so much as a punishment, as a favour. No child of God, but is, at one time or another, under his correcting hand. Noah had an affliction in a child, Gen. ix. 25. Abraham and Jacob were afflicted with famine. Isaac by an Esau. Moses was fain to fly for his life. Job suffered the loss of all his children and his goods, and was reproached by his friends. To be in affliction, is to travel in the road that all God’s favoured ones have gone before. Affliction is one of the clauses of the covenant God hath made with us in Jesus, which he does peculiarly insert, when he owns himself our God and Father; he would visit them with a rod, but not take away his lovingkindness, Psalm lxxxix. 32, 33. In the New Testament, God promises spiritual blessings. In the Old, when he promised more temporal blessings, his people were not exempt from his discipline. In the New, it is more express, that, “through afflictions we must enter into the kingdom of heaven.” His only Son must suffer, and so enter into glory. God had one son without sin, but none without sorrow. Those then, that are not under his discipline, are not his children. Afflictions, therefore, should be so far from discouragements, that where there is an evidence of grace in the heart, they are rather marks of adoption. We might well doubt of a relation to God, if he took no care of us; that we were not his sheep, if he used not his crook to pull us to himself. Let us then receive his chastisements without repining, since he manifests his tender care of us in them, and regards us with the eyes and heart of a Father. If we were wholly strangers, he would abandon us. His paternal rod is for his children-his rod of iron for his enemies.