« PreviousContinue »
be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more." Jeremiah cries with the voice of lamentation, “O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the earth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive instruction; they have made their faces harder than a rock: they have refused to return." These examples of refusing to hear the voice of God in afflictions, are recorded for our warning and instruction, to deter us from displeasing God, by disregarding the voice of his chastising rod.
3. It is a point of wisdom in the afflicted to hear the voice of affliction, because by refusing to hear it, they will expose themselves to still severer marks of the divine displeasure. So long as any are stupid, or obstinate, under the correcting hand of God, he usually continues and increases his corrections, until they know and acknowledge the rod and him who has appointed it. This has been his usual mode of treating nations and individuals in ages past; and he still pursues the same course in the dispensations of his providence. How often do we see afflictions, bereavements and fiery trials following one another in a thick and overwhelming succession! One affliction seems to be a presage of another; and while the unaffected and unresigned fly from the iron weapon, a bow of steel strikes them through. If the afflicted neglect or refuse to hear the voice of God speaking to them in his providence, they have reason to expect that he will say, “ Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and ye have not regarded; therefore ye shall eat the fruit of your own ways, and be filled with your own devices.” Besides,
4. The afflicted never know when God calls to them by the voice of his rod, but that it is the last call he will ever give them, before he calls them into eternity. This is more especially to be expected by those whom he has most often and most loudly called by the bereaving strokes of his rod.
of his rod. When he has made breach after breach in a family, and taken away one parent after another, or one brother and sister after another, or one aged friend after another; the survivors have ground to expect that they may be soon taken, without any farther or louder calls. They must justly think that God will judge that he has done enough on his part to prepare them to leave the world, whether they have, or have not, set their souls and houses in order. It seriously concerns them to stand in a waiting and prepared posture for death, and improve the voice of his rod to their own good, and to his glory.
I now proceed to improve the subject.
1. If God appoints every affliction for the purpose of instructing the afflicted ; then he can instruct those who are the most
unwilling to be instructed. All men naturally hate religious instruction. They say unto God,“ Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." There are a vast many, who live in a gospel land and enjoy gospel privileges, that take pains to avoid gospel instruction. Though they have the gospel in their hands, they will not read it. Though they might hear the gospel explained and inculcated, they will not be where they might hear it explained and inculcated. But if God can speak to whom he pleases by the voice of his providence, then he can teach whom he pleases by his own voice, however unwilling they are to hear him. Though they refuse to meet at the places he has appointed for their instruction, yet he can meet them wherever they are, and speak to them by a voice which they must feel, as well as hear. He spoke to Pharaoh by the voice of his rod, which he could not help hearing and feeling. He spoke to Manasseh by the rod of his wrath, which gave him saving instruction. God can direct the rod of correction to any family, or to any person, whom he has determined to correct and instruct, and every affliction will infallibly answer the purpose for which it is appointed and sent. Afflictions are all appointed; they are all sent according to appointment; and they all answer the ends of their appointment. If they are appointed to awaken, they will awaken; if they are appointed to convince, they will convince; if they are appointed to convert, they will convert; if they are appointed to edify, they will edify; or if they are appointed to stupify and harden, they will produce this effect. God has appointed all men to affliction and trouble, as he has appointed the sparks to fly upward ; and he has appointed as many and as great afflictions for every person as he saw necessary to employ, as means to form his character for eternity; and he forms every person for his future and eternal state, by the instructions of his providence, as well as by the instructions of his word. All men are constantly in the school of providence, where God has appointed to instruct them, whether they desire to be instructed, or not. There is no ground to despair of the saving instruction of any whom God has appointed to salvation. If some disbelieve the Bible, he can teach them to believe it, by his providence. If some disbelieve the essential doctrines of the Bible, he can teach them to believe those doctrines, by his providence. If some secrete themselves in the highways and hedges, and resolve to live in ease and security, he can teach them the depravity of their hearts, and their perishing condition, by his providence; and so compel them to come in, and hear and understand and embrace the gospel, As none are out of the reach of his rod, so none are out of the sound of its instructive voice. How often does God send afflictions to those who are far from righteousness, and, in appearance, far from the kingdom of God; and cause those afflictions to carry saving instruction to such as have resolved never to hear the instructions of his word! God can teach those whom he afflicts, to profit by their afflictions, whether they are lighter or heavier; whether they are of a shorter or longer duration.
It is a source of consolation, that all the afflictions we see or feel, are instructive, and will certainly answer the purposes for which they are appointed, and may prove the means of salvation to the afflicted.
2. If the voice of affliction be instructive, then all persons must be beneficially instructed, unless they use great efforts to prevent it. All persons will allow, that they have been afflicted, and many complain that they have had a large if not a double share of afflictions; but how few have received any beneficial instruction from them! How few have learned their dependence on God! How few have learned the vanity of the world! How few have learned to live as dying and accountable creatures! Though God has spoken to them by the voice of his providence more than once, or twice, or a thousand times, yet they have neither perceived, nor understood, nor received, the instruction he has given them. They have been as deaf as the adder, and as stupid as the horse or mule, which have no understanding. To what is this to be ascribed ? It cannot be ascribed to their want of eyes to see the hand of God, nor to their want of ears to hear the voice of his rod, nor to their want of reason to understand its voice, nor to their want of conscience to feel their obligations to obey it. It cannot be ascribed to any thing but to the depravity of their hearts, which leads them to hate and resist divine instruction. They cannot help hearing the rod, and who hath appointed it, without exerting strong and vigorous efforts to prevent it. It is easy for men to resist the voice of God in his word. It is easy to resist his voice in his merciful providence; but it requires great efforts to resist his voice in his afflictive providence. Accordingly, Solomon represents a sinner as resisting the most powerful means used to reform and convert him. “ Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him." Jacob is represented as equally incorrigible, by the voice and smart of the rod : “ Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to robbers ? Did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? For they would not walk in his way, neither were they obedient unto his law; therefore he hath poured upon them the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle ; and it hath set
him on fire round about, yet he knew it not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.” And Zachariah represents the same people as using their most vigorous efforts to prevent their hearing the voice of God's instructive rod. “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone." This is no exaggerated description of the afflicted under the correcting and instructive hand of Providence. Do not the afflicted at this day very often employ the very same methods to prevent their hearing the voice and instruction of the most speaking dispensations of Providence? Do they not refuse to hearken? Do they not pull away the shoulder? Do they not stop their ears to prevent hearing? Do they not make their hearts as adamant, to prevent their being softened and subdued ? Had not all the afflicted used some or all these methods to divert their attention, stupify their conscience, and harden their hearts, under the repeated and heavy strokes of God's chastising rod, they would all have received beneficial if not saving instruction. Where is the person that has not been afflicted? This is a sighing, groaning, weeping world, and would be a penitent world,
did not the afflicted put forth vigorous efforts to prevent hearing and feeling the powerful and instructive voice of afflictions, and of him who has appointed them.
3. If God himself instructs the afflicted by the voice of his rod, then they never can have any excuse for not hearing his instructions. Many find or think they find some imperfection or impropriety in human instructions. Children often imagine they discover something improper in parental instruction, which affords some excuse for disregarding it. People often suppose they see something improper in the time, mode or matter of the instructions of their teachers, which excuses them from obeying their instructions. But no such imperfection or impropriety can be found in divine instructions. God never instructs but when there is need of instruction. He never instructs in an improper manner. And he never gives any improper instructions. Whenever God employs the rod of instruction, he directs it to the proper persons, at a proper time; and uses it just as long, and no longer, than the afflicted need it. Why then should a living man ever complain of instructive afflictions ? Those who are the oftenest and most severely afflicted, have no reason to complain of the nature, time, manner, weight, or duration of their afflictions. What if it be true with respect to some, that there is no sorrow like unto their sorrow, and no afflictions like unto their afflictions, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted them in the day of his fierce anger ? Have they any reason to complain? Has God brought any affliction upon them, but what he in infinite wisdom and goodness appointed to bring upon them? And can they have any reason to complain of any afflictions which infinite wisdom and goodness have appointed? What excuse can they have for not hearing and obeying the voice of God's correcting and instructive rod, when he uses it at the best time, and in the best manner?
4. If it be a point of wisdom in the afflicted, to hear the instructive voice of the rod, then it argues want of wisdom in them to refuse to hear it. There are good reasons, we have seen, for the afflicted to hear the voice of afflictions. They teach our dependence upon God, the vanity of the world, and the importance of living and acting as dying and accountable creatures. And all these reasons for hearing, are so many reasons against refusing to hear, the instructive voice of God's correcting rod. The afflicted often imagine that it is a point of wisdom to stop their ears, that they may not hear the voice of God in his afflictive providence; and presume to contend with him under his chastising rod. But this is extreme folly. “ God is wise in heart, and mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” The afflicted are extremely unwise to refuse the instruction which they need, and which God is giving them at the best time, and in the best manner. And God himself tells them so in his word. “He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction : but he that refuseth reproof erreth.” “ Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction." • He that refuseth instruction, despiseth his own soul.” It is not beneath the afflicted, whether old or young, whether high or low, whether rich or poor, to stoop under God's chastising rod, and receive instruction in the way he sees fit to give it. And when he gives it in the way most self-denying to himself, as well as to them, they are under peculiar obligation to receive it thankfully and submissively. They have reason to be grateful that God will employ the severer instructions of his rod, when the milder instructions of his word are insufficient to bring them to their duty. The instructions which God gives by bereavements are much more valuable and important to the afflicted, than any favors he takes away from them. To refuse to hear the instruction of afflictions is therefore more unwise, than to refuse to accept the best of temporal blessings. If they are willing to receive good at the hand of the Lord, they ought to be much more willing to receive evil at his hand; which, at the time they are afflicted, is better for them than any temporal favor infinite wisdom and goodness can then bestow upon them. The folly of refusing to hear the instruction of adversity is always unwise, in proportion to the wisdom of God