« PreviousContinue »
ing instance. He refused to submit to the chastising hand of God, to his own destruction. Jacob at one time, and David at another, refused to be comforted, which was actually refusing to submit to the correcting hand of God. And Jonah said, he did well to be angry, and complain of the unkindness of God in his affliction. When either saints or sinners murmur and complain under divine corrections, they practically say that he who has made them shall not reign over them. Can there be any thing more criminal and displeasing to God, in those whom he afflicts, than their indulging and expressing such a rebellious spirit?
3. It appears from the nature of true submission under afflictions, that it is something different from stupidity. Stupidity consists in despising the chastenings of the Lord. Mankind are far more apt to be stupid, than to be faint, under afflictions and bereavements. They try to overlook the hand of God in them, and to consider them as mere accidents, or necessary evils, which could not be avoided, and must be borne. And they summon up all their strength and fortitude to bear them with self-composure and self-sufficiency. They banish them from their thoughts as much as possible, by attending to more agreeable objects. Though God has taken away one earthly object of their affection, they try to find another to supply its place. Though God has taken away one son, or one daughter, they turn their attention and affections upon those that are left. And though God has bereaved them of all their children, they resolve to derive as much satisfaction and happiness from the world and the things of the world, as they can. Instead of turning to God who afflicts them, they strive to turn from him, lest the thoughts of his displeasure should disturb their peace, and awaken them from their pleasing stupidity, which they wish to consider, and have it considered as calm and silent submission. But there is not the least submission in it. It is rather a species of obstinacy, by which they refuse to regard the operations of God's hand, and the operations of their hearts under it. Such stupidity under divine corrections in the sinners in Zion, God severely condemned. Therefore saith the prophet, "O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction." If afflictions do not remove stupidity, they increase it; if they do not soften the heart, they harden it; and if they do not produce submission, they create obstinacy. They always produce a good or bad effect. But the afflicted are extremely apt to misconstrue the effect of their afflictions, and to mistake stupidity for submission, and imagine that they feel resigned, when they only feel stupid and insensible. But,
4. True submission is diametrically opposite to stupidity, and is perfectly consistent with the keenest sensibility under the correcting hand of God. Divine corrections are marks of the divine displeasure. God corrects to give pain, and he gives pain to the bereaved to manifest his displeasure towards them. They may, therefore, exercise perfect submission, while they have the most painful sense of the divine displeasure, and of the loss they have sustained. Though submission will produce silence, yet it will not produce insensibility. Sensibility is so far from being inconsistent with submission, that it is absolutely essential to its existence. No person can exercise submission while he feels no evil. If God did not mean to give pain and grief by bereavements, the bereaved would be under no obligation to submit. For they are not in duty bound to submit to pain or distress itself, but only to the just, and wise and benevolent Being who inflicts it. It is a proper sense of the divine displeasure manifested in bereavements, that gives them their greatest weight and emphasis, and the greater bereavements are, the more they display the divine displeasure. It becomes the bereaved, therefore, to view their bereavements, as far as possible, in all their painful effects and consequences, that they may exercise a deep and unlimited submission to the divine corrections. Though Aaron held his peace, and refrained from speaking, yet he did not refrain from thinking. His mind was undoubtedly awake, and all his powers and faculties in vigorous exercise. He was capable and disposed to take a serious, affecting and extensive view of the nature, extent, and painful consequences of his bereaveIt came in an evil time, just as he and his sons were entering on the most sacred and responsible office, and when they stood in peculiar need of the divine favor and presence. It blasted all the fond hopes and expectations of both him and his sons. It was a peculiar mark of the divine displeasure towards him, his sons, his family, and his friends. The wounds were deep and lasting, and the more seriously and intensely he reflected upon them, the more sensibly he felt his hands weakened, his heart discouraged, and his usefulness diminished. But while feeling the present and anticipating the future effects of his bereavement, he held his peace, and cordially and unreservedly submitted to the chastening hand of God. The afflicted and bereaved ought always to realize that their afflic tions and bereavements come from God, and to view them in all their painful effects and consequences, that they may feel the rod, hear the voice, and submit to the will of him who has appointed them. The keenest sensibility under the correcting hand of God prepares the way for the purest, sincerest, and most unreserved submission to his wise and holy providence.
There is much more danger of feeling too little, than of feeling too much, under divine chastisements.
5. If the afflicted and bereaved ought to hold their peace under the chastising hand of God, then they ought to submit to the heaviest, as well as to the lightest chastisements. acts as justly, as wisely, and as benevolently, in afflicting one person, as another; and he never afflicts any person more than he deserves. He always sends heavy, as well as light afflictions, at the most proper time, and in the most proper weight and measure. He never strikes a lighter or heavier blow than his wisdom and goodness require him to strike. Aaron and Eli had the same reasons to submit to God, in suddenly and unexpectedly destroying their sons, that Jonah had to submit to God in destroying his gourd. Aaron held his peace under a very heavy, but Jonah did not, under a very light affliction. And mankind in general are less disposed to submit to light, than to heavy afflictions. The reason is, they overlook the hand of God in light, but are constrained to see it in heavy afflictions. Great sensibility prepares the mind for great submission; and great afflictions produce great sensibility, and of course generally do the afflicted the greatest good. Whom did God ever more severely afflict than Aaron, Job, David, and Manasseh? And who ever derived more benefit from afflictions and bereavements than they did? David acknowledged, that it had been good for him that he had been afflicted. Many are the afflictions of the righteous. God more frequently and more severely chastens the righteous than the wicked; and those whom he most severely chastises generally derive the most instruction and benefit from their chastisements. God much oftener afflicts men for their profit, than he prospers them for their profit. Prosperity tends to corrupt the heart, but adversity to purify it. Prosperity tends to attach men to the world, but adversity to wean them from it. It is probable that prosperity has destroyed ten where adversity has destroyed one. Adversity tends to prepare the young for living, and the aged for dying. According to the common course of providence, the closing scenes of life are generally attended, not only with more cares, more pains and infirmities of body and mind, but with greater losses, disappointments, and bereavements. Those who live long in this world, outlive their earthly prospects, their once flourishing families, their nearest and dearest connections and friends, and stand alone, like aged trees stripped of their verdure, and exposed to fall by every blast that blows. But they have no reason to complain; for all their losses, disappointments and bereavements are happily suited to prepare them for their great and last change.
The aged, of all men, have the most reason to hold their peace, and silently submit to all the sorrows and afflictions that fall to their lot.
6. It appears from the nature of submission, that it is easy for the afflicted and bereaved to determine whether they do or do not sincerely submit to the correcting hand of God. There is no medium between approving or disapproving his conduct in afflicting them. They desire to see or not to see, to feel or not to feel, and to submit or not to submit, to his chastising hand. They never feel indifferent, whether he smiles or frowns upon them in his providence. They always do, in reality, either submit to or oppose his providential dealings towards them. And if they will only critically and impartially examine the exercises of their hearts, they will discover either silent submission, or internal murmurings and complaints. David kept his heart with so much diligence, that he knew when he was dumb, and opened not his mouth, and when he refused to be comforted. God heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: "Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke." "Surely after that I was turned I repented; and after that I was instructed I smote upon my thigh I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth." The afflicted may always know whether they have or have not submitted to the correcting hand of God, and whether they have been instructed and benefitted by divine corrections, or only stupified and hardened. But they generally choose to leave this important point undecided, and to remain in a state of doubt between hope and fear. This appears from the common observations which the afflicted make upon their past trials, afflictions and bereavements. They frequently say that they have had a hard lot in life, but seldom say that it has been good for them that they have been afflicted and bereaved. They hardly know whether they have been resigned or unresigned to the correcting hand of God. This is totally wrong. For it is his design in their adversity to lead them to consider, and to search and try their hearts, that they may know whether they are his children, and heirs of everlasting life.
The whole tenor of the present discourse now calls upon all the afflicted and bereaved to inquire whether they have improved or misimproved the trials, afflictions and bereavements, that they have from time to time experienced. Persons of this description are extremely numerous. They are to be found everywhere, every year, every month, and every day. "Man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets." Though God has been very gracious to this people for years
past, and preserved them from those epidemic and mortal disorders which have spread consternation, mourning and misery in other places; yet he has here, from time to time, called not a few to experience the pain and anguish of severe bereavements. It deeply concerns all who have been afflicted or bereaved at one time or another, to look back upon the trying scenes through which they have been called to pass, and to review their past views and feelings under the correcting hand of God, that they may know whether they have learned obedience and submission, by the things they have suffered. But there is no person present, to whom it so properly belongs to perform the plain, difficult and important duty of self-examination, as the speaker. He has been a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. God has bereaved him of father and mother, of brothers and sisters, of one nearer and dearer than either, of several young, tender, fair branches of his family, and of all his contemporary brethren in the work of the ministry. God has called him to bear the yoke in his youth, in his riper years, and now even under the infirmities of old age. He has poured out to him another cup of the wormwood and the gall, while the bitterness of the former cups is still in remembrance. God has recently and prematurely bereaved him of a dear daughter, upon whom it was natural to place some hopes and some dependence; but those hopes and that dependence are now buried with her in the grave. He may now with more propriety, and he hopes with a better spirit, say as Jacob said, I will go down into the grave unto my daughter mourning. He may be allowed to mourn, but not to murmur. He knows it becomes him to hold his peace, and not open his mouth, because the Lord has done it. But you will permit me to make the same request that Job made on a similar occasion: "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me."