« PreviousContinue »
THE ORIGIN AND USE OF WORLDLY AFFLICTIONS.
Job v. 6, 7. Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth troable spring out
of the ground; yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward."
Common experience, my brethren, confirms the truth of the latter clause of my text, and, by this proof of a common lot and condition in life, establishes the testimony of Revelation to our common origin and common guilt, as sinners both by nature and practice, and to the wise and gracious purpose of that state of probation which the love of God hath granted us, through the mediation of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. And reason might instruct us, upon due reflection, that, as no effect can possibly be without its cause, none of the afflictions which befal mankind in the present life, are the effects of blind chance, or of a fatal necessity; but that they are all under the direction and control of that infinite wisdom, and all pervading goodness, which governs the universe ; and are intended, in the design of his Providence, for our good.
A state of probation necessarily includes variety of condition and qualifications in those who are subjected to it, as well as of failure and success in the best laid and most industriously pursued schemes of worldly happiness and enjoyment. In these, the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but there is a controling Providence, in whose hand second causes are often turned round from their usual direction, and overthrow the expectations built up, too exclusively, perhaps, upon their operation. In this, as in all the appointments of God concerning us, there is a lesson of wisdom and instruction-of comfort and consolation, which we would do well to learn, my brethren and hearers. For surely I look upon none who are entitled to say, AMiction cannot reach me: I am fortified against trouble :
disappointment is shut out from my scheme of success and happiness in life! Alas! do I not rather look upon many who have drank, and are even now drinking, of that bitter, but wholesome cup, which, by calling us off from present delights, and turning memory back upon our sins, becomes an advocate for God, and gives the soul an opening to retrace her way to him !
That infinite wisdom doeth nothing in vain, and that infinite goodness intends the real benefit of his creatures in the administration of his fatherly Providence, is the sure ground on which it is our duty to submit with resignation to his holy will, and to endeavour to improve the afflictions wherewith he sees fit to try and chasten us to the gracious purpose for which they are appointed : and as this may be comprised under the four following particulars, I shall endeavour thus to apply them,
First, to teach humility and inspire a just sense of our own nothingness.
SECONDLY, to lead us to repentance for our past sins.
Thirdly, to wean us from the love of this present evil world, and from dependance on its perishing delights.
Fourthly, to try our faith—to improve our Christian graces, and perfect our souls for the presence of God.
Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neilher doth trouble spring out of the ground; yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
1. First, one end of God's sending afflictions upon men, is, to teach them humility and inspire a just sense of their own nothingness.
Every view we can take of the condition of man demonstrates that there is no place for pride to be entertained. Derived from the dust, and returned to it again ; his life short at best, and uncertain in its whole continuance; his knowledge limited ; his power circumscribed ; his faculties depraved, and bis heart corrupted, what has he to be proud of? Yet what fruit of sin is more conspicuous in his fallen nature, than the workings of this corruption, in disregard of God, and insolent contempt of his fellow creatures ; in the swelling self-imporance of prosperity, and the indignant rejection of adversity ? The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek
after God, says the Psalmist; and to this as to its main cause, may be traced the ungodliness of the prosperous and those who flourish in the things of this world. To such, therefore, adversity is the only remedy—the only thing that can teach them the folly of their way, by striking away the prop on which they lean, and showing them practically how every way insufficient and insecure their dependance is; and thereby admonishing them to build on a better foundation. And not only to the profane and open despisers of religion, who set their hearts upon the world, are afllictions the only remedy that can reach their case with any reasonable hope of effect; but such is the deceitfulness of men's hearts, that even in those who are religiously disposed, and in those who make a profession of religion, a continued course of uninterrupted prosperity is apt to foster the pride that is forgetful of God—that hardens the heart, and perverts the mind; against which evil God hath wisely appointed that mixture of blasted expectations and blighted prospects, which constitutes the afflictions of the present life, and is ordered and directed by his gracious Providence to bring men to a right sense of themselves, and of their dependance upon him; to humble their pride; to remind them of their own weakness and infirmity; and to put them upon a serious consideration of their true interests, as probationers for eternity. As it is the natural tendency of worldly success, and worldly delights, to blind the mind to spiritual things, and to increase the power of every corrupt propensity of our fallen nature ; and as onir gracious God is not willing that any should perish—allliction, in its various grades of disappointment, sorrow, suffering, pain, and sickness—is a necessary ingredient in the moral government of the world, and is, therefore, called in Scripture, the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But it is an instruction, which we must not only receive, but consider and apply, if we would profit by it; otherwise it serves only to stupify and harden, and, not unfrequently, to drive the rebellious sufferer into the deep in piety of charging God with cruelty and injustice. The pride that is not subdued by adversity--the spirit that is not broken by the rod of atilliction-the heart that is not humbled under such admonition from the providence of God, must be left to its own devices, and be forsaken, and given over to work out that overwhelming load of never ending misery and despair, from which it could neither be drawn by cords of love nor be deterred by the infliction of suffering. Yet how transient, generally speaking, is the effect of this great moral weapon, upon the conduct of men ! How like the early cloud and the morning dew are the humbling thoughts, and the good resolutions, and the thankful acknowledgments which the anguish of a sore bereavement, or the distress of a severe worldly loss, have prompted and drawn forth in the hour of calamity! How quickly are the vows then made forgotten, and the respite then granted overlooked! Who cannot call to mind the instance in which this is true of himself? And must not then the stroke be repeated ? If God hath not given us over to a reprobate mind, must not some severer blow from his hand be hanging over us? Yes, and there is but one way to avert it; and that is, to let past afflictions and present mercies now do their office, and humble us under the mighty hand which holds the issues of life and of death, and controls the changes and chances of this shifting world. Sure we may be, if we have faith only as a grain of mustard seed, that whatever our heavenly Father sends us must be good for us. Let us, then, search for the good that is hidden under his chastenings, and we shall find it in that humble and lowly heart in which God delights to dwell; that resigned spirit to which he grants the consolations of heavenly comfort, and that holy hope which waits with patience, and endures with constancy those light afflictions, which are the bitter, but wholesome admonition of the LORD.
II. Secondly, another end of God's sending afflictions upon men, is, to lead them to repentance for their past sins.
Repentance is that state of mind, which is truly alive to the heinous nature of sin as an offence against God, and sincerely engaged to avoid the commission of it, and subdue its power over the corrupt and perverted faculties of a fallen nature. As such, it is that state of mind, that disposition of the soul, to which every person capable of reflection and conscious of sin should strive to bring himself ; because it is the indispensable condition of obtaining the favour of God and the promises of the gospel; for except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
When, therefore, we reflect on the usual consequences of worldly prosperity, or of over-engagement in those pursuits which lead to it, we must see at once that no condition can be more adverse to the entertainment of religious truth. When a wicked, that is, an irreligious man, prospers in all his worldly affairs, and his designs are followed with constant success; when he is able to gratify all his appetites, and to indulge himself in the enjoyment of ease and pleasure, or even to anticipate in his thoughts the time when this shall be in his power; it is no wonder he should forget God, and lean more and more upon himself. Is not this great Babylon that I have builded ? said Nebuchadnezzar in the pride of his heart ; and is not this the secret thought of many besides the Heathen king? In the intoxication of success, conscience is perverted or silenced in the worldly minded man ; the serious exhortations of religion, if he venture at all to hear them, are unheeded, while he says to his soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. Now in this condition—and it is that of many, of many too, who are neither great nor increased in goods, but whose hearts are glued down to the world—in this condition, what remedy can be applied but the rod only? The greatest blessing—the strongest proof of the mercy of God towards such persons is, the sending upon them some great affliction, some arresting and awakening judgment, which, like a severe medicine in a very dangerous distemper, may rouse them from their lethargy, may oblige them to consider, and thus lay the foundation for repentance, and engage them in the care of their souls. This is the true purpose of every dealing of God with his creatures. His goodness as well as his severity is intended to lead men to repentance; nor is the latter ever resorted to until the former is disregarded. God doth not willingly afflict the children of men ; but, like a tender father, reserves the rod as his strange work, as his wise and salutary appointment for their good.
If afflictions be thus fitted, when duly applied, to reclaim the sinner from the folly of his way, much more are they suited to convince good men of their failings, to make them more sensible of their errors, to bring them to a closer self examination,