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thine honour, in our suffering; and just cause have we to rejoice and sing to thy praise, if thou have vouchsafed to make us, in any sort, examples of thy power and mercy.
2. But, withal, it pleases thee, in the intentions of our afflictions, to cast some glances of respect upon us thy weak servants upon earth. (1.) For our Trial and Probation.
How remarkable a proof whereof hast thou given us, in that great Pattern of Patience! who had never been brought forth into the theatre of the world, to encounter with so prodigious calamities, had it not been to make good his challenged integrity. It was thy pleasure, in a holy kind of gloriation, to assert the sincerity of that gracious servant of thine. The Envious Spirit, as impatient of so much goodness to be found in man, maliciously traduces that piety as mercenary thou, who knowest what grace thou hadst given him, yieklest to have it put to the test. The probation is, beyond all example, painful, but glorious. Job pays dear, for the conviction of that Lying Spirit. His innocence, and truth, triumphs over malice, shames the adversary, wins honour to thy Name, and renders him a rare and memorable example of mercy.
What are heresies, but the spiritual distempers of the Church, the bane of religion, flashes of hell, breaking out for disturbance and destruction? yet there must be heresies, saith the Apostle to his Corinthians, that those, which are approved, may be made manfest among you; 1 Cor. xi. 19. Lo, if there were no falsehood, truth would want much of her lustre : and, if there were no enemy, what place would there be for victory?
Goodness is so conscious of its own worth and pureness, that it rejoiceth to be tried home: hence it is, that the man after God's own heart makes it his earnest suit to his God: Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart; for thy loving-kindness is before mine eyes, and I have walked in thy truth; Ps. xxvi. 2, 3.
There is much forgery in the world, neither is there any virtue under heaven, whereof there are not many counterfeits. Hypocrisy makes a more glorious shew, than the truest piety; and many a real Saint is branded with simulation.
The most wise God knows how to discover the true state of all hearts, by affliction. Every face thus appears in its own hue; and, then, no marvel if the sincere and upright soul rejoice to have her truth and innocence gloriously vindicated, and made conspicuous to all eyes: That the trial of her faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried by the fire, may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ; 1 Pet. i. 7.
(2.) But the far more excellent and gracious drift of our afflic tions, is, the Bettering of our Souls.
He, that could say, Remember David, and all his troubles, could also say, It is good for me, that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes; Ps. cxix. 71.
Well, therefore, did the angel, that spake to Daniel, put these
two together; telling him, that those persecutions, which should befal God's people, should try them, and purge them, and make them white; Dan. xi. 35: according to that, which the Lord speaks by his Prophet Zechariah, I will bring the third part through the fire; and will refine them, as silver and gold is refined: and they shall call upon my name, and I will hear them; Zech. xiii. 9.
How justly, then, doth the Apostle profess to glory in tribulation; as knowing, that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed! Rom. v. 3, 4, 5.
Oh, the sweet and happy fruit of affliction! Who would not welcome that pain of body, which works health to the soul? that loss of goods or temporal estate, that enriches the soul? that trouble and disquiet, that brings a sweet peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost?
How many have we seen, that, with Jeshurun have wared fat, and kicked against the Almighty, in the pampered time of their prosperity; Deut. xxxii. 15. who, in the time of their trouble, have, with broken hearts and bended knees, sought their God, and found him to their unspeakable comfort! How many, that have been fast galloping towards hell, in the lawless course of their wilful sins, have, in the midst of their career, been stopped by the hand of a good God, through a sudden affliction!
Oh, the indulgent strokes of a gracious God, that whips us here, that we should not be condemned with the world! 1 Cor. xi. 32. Let the righteous God thus smile me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head;
Ps. cxli. 5.
ACCORDING to the merciful intentions of the Almighty, thus heal ing and sovereign is affliction, in the very NATURE of it, to all God's dear ones upon earth; as being only a fatherly chastisement, not a severe punishment, wherever it falls. Even then, therefore, when he seems to frown upon them, he comes to them, not with a sword in his hand, but with a rod; not for his own revenge, but for their emendation.
The best of us is deeply sin-sick: this bitter potion is it, that can only purge out all our peccant humours; and restore us to that good temper of spiritual health, wherein we may comfortably enjoy God and ourselves. We all, as vessels of impure metal, through long security and disuse of holy duties, have contracted much rust: it is the gentle fire of seasonable affliction, that must cleanse us; and make us fit for the service of our Maker: as he speaks of his peculiar people, by the mouth of his Prophet; Behold, I have refined thee; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction; Is. xlviii. 10. Oh, that my soul could bless thee, my God; and adore thy justice
and mercy, in the differences of thy proceedings with the sons of men! For wicked men and presumptuous sinners, thou hast reserved the cup of trembling, and the dregs of the cup of thy fury, Isa. li. 22. which they shall drink up, and die for ever: in the mean time, they feast without fear, and let themselves loose to all jollity and pleasure; as having made a league with death, and an agreement with hell: Whereas, the failings of thy faithful, but weak, servants are smartingly rewarded, with the lashes of painful afflictions here, and passed over with silence in the reckonings of eternity; while their humble penitence admits them to a gracious pardon in this world, and everlasting blessedness in the other.
Even so, Lord, let not thy staff only, but thy rod also comfort me. Let thy loving correction make me, however unworthy, great in thy favour; and let me bleed from that hand, which upholds me here, and shall crown me hereafter.
It is easy enough to observe, that the main comfort of our sufferings must be expected from the ISSUE: for no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness, to them which are thereby exercised. Heb. xii. 11.
There is an end of all our sorrows; and that end is happy: such, as makes more than abundant amends for all our sufferings. Those, that sow in tears, shall reap in joy; Ps. cxxvi. 5. Oh, thou afflicted, tossed with tempests and not comforted; behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires: And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones; Isa. liv. 11, 12. Indeed, many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all; Ps. xxxiv. 19: yea, delivereth him, not without triumph and infinite advantage; Though they have lain among the pots, yet shall they be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold; Ps. lxviii. 13.
It is not seldom seen, that God is pleased to recompense the sufferings of his servants, with a sensible advancement in this present world. Job is double the richer, for his losses: and Joseph changed the nasty rags of his prison, for the fine linen of Egypt; and his gaol, for a throne next to Pharaoh's.
But, the full and unfailable_perfection of their glorious amends abides for them in heaven: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weigh of glory; 2 Cor. iv. 17.
Lo, this, this is it, the assured expectation whereof is able to turn all the sorrows, which the soul is capable of, into joy. It was a heavenly word, which is said to have fallen from a mortified vo
tary, whom Rome honours for a Saint: "So great is the glory that I look for, as that all pain is a pleasure to me."
And, surely, could our narrow hearts apprehend it aright, so transcendent is the glory of this retribution, that we should not grudge at the condition, if we were allotted to pass through the torments of hell to so great a blessedness. How much more, there→ fore, should we, in intuition of this eternal happiness, lightly turn over those slight miseries, which are incident unto us, in this our short pilgrimage upon earth.
Methinks, I see with what courage and scorn, in this regard, that famous Confessor, Marcus Arethusius, looked down upon his persecutors; when, being hanged up in a basket betwixt heaven and earth, his naked body all gashed with wounds, and anointed with honey to invite the wasps and hornets to that cruel banquet; he cheerfully insulted over the malicious spectators below, as poor terrene wretches, creeping upon the base earth; whereas himself was now advanced aloft, towards that heaven, whereto he was aspiring.
With what pity, did the valiant Martyrs behold their enraged tyrants and wearied tormentors, when they looked up to their heaven; and, with the eyes of their faith, saw that, which the Protomartyr saw with bodily eyes, the heavens opened, and their Jesus standing at the right-hand of God ready to crown them with glory!
For us, we may not all be martyrs; but we must all be sufferers: for, through many tribulations must we enter into the kingdom of God; Acts xiv. 22: and, if we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him; 2 Tim. ii. 12.
O poor tribulations, in respect to that kingdom! How can we be sensible of these flea-bitings, when we have a blessed eternity in our eye?
O God, bless thou mine eye with this sight, I shall not forbear to sing in the Night of death itself; much less, in the twilight of all these worldly afflictions.
COME, then, all ye earthly crosses; and muster up all your forces. against me. Here is that, which is able to make me more than conqueror over you all.
Have I lost my goods, and foregone a fair estate?-Had all the earth been mine, what is it to heaven? Had I been the lord of all the world, what were this to a kingdom of glory?
Have I parted with a dear consort; the sweet companion of my youth; the tender nurse of my age; the partner of my sorrows, for these forty-eight years?-She is but stept a little before me to that happy rest, which I am panting towards; and wherein I shall speedily overtake her. In the mean time, and ever, my soul
is espoused to that Glorious and Immortal Husband, from whom it shall never be parted.
Am I bereaved of some of my dear children, the sweet pledges of our matrimonial love; whose parts and hopes promised me comfort in my declined age?-Why am I not rather thankful it hath pleased my God, out of my loins to furnish heaven with some happy guests? Why do I not, instead of mourning for their loss, sing praises to God, for preferring them to that eternal blessedness?
Am I afflicted with bodily pain and sickness, which banisheth all sleep from my eyes, and exercises me with a lingering torture ?— Ere long, this momentary distemper shall end in an everlasting rest.
Am I threatened by the sword of an enemy ?-Suppose that man to be one of the guardians of paradise, and that sword as flaming as it is sharp, that one stroke shall let me into that place of unconceivable pleasure, and admit me to feed on the tree of life for ever.
Cheer up, then, O my soul; and, upon the fixed apprehension of the glory to be revealed, while thy weak partner, my body, droops and languishes under the sad load of years and infirmities, sing thou to thy God, even in the midnight of thy sorrows, and in the deepest darkness of death itself, Songs of confidence, Songs of spiritual joy, Songs of praise and thanksgiving: saying, with all the glorified ones; Blessing, honour, glory, and power be unto him, that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever ; Amen; Rev. v. 13.
END OF THE EIGHTH VOLUME.
C. Whittingham, Printer, Goswell Street, Londou.