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III. What methods they take to converse with him, under the correcting hand of providence.
I. We are to inquire why God sees fit, in the course of providence, to afflict his children.
It does not appear strange that he should afflict his enemies, with whom he is justly angry every day. We are sometimes ready to wonder that he does suffer the wicked to pass
with so much impunity, while they trample on his authority, abuse his goodness, and presume upon his patience. This was a matter of wonder not only to Job and David, but to Jeremiah, who takes particular notice of God's afflicting his friends, while he prospered his enemies. “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee; yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments : Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” But God's thoughts are above our thoughts, and his ways above our ways. He sees good reasons for passing by his enemies, and for laying his heavy hand on his friends.“ Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” It appears from the history which God has given us of his providence, that he has often chastised his children with greater severity than his most malignant enemies. Who have ever suffered greater personal afflictions than the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, and some of the most pious christians? But the question is, why does God so often and so severely afflict his children? Without pretending to penetrate his secret counsels, we may safely mention two or Three plain and obvious reasons for such dispensations of providence.
1. God sometimes afflicts his children to reclaim them from their delusions in religion. They are naturally bent to backsliding. They often depart from God, become barren and unfruitful in his service, and live to themselves instead of living to him. This he observes and resents in those whom he has distinguished by his special grace. And when they will not be reclaimed by his mercies, nor by the mild admonitions of his word, he often teaches them their folly and guilt by the severe method of his chastising providence. When David wandered from God, he chastised and reclaimed him by the rod of his wrath. This he gratefully acknowledges in one of his psalms. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray ; but now have I kept thy word.” When the people of God forsook his ordinances, and walked after false gods, he sent them into Babylon, where he punished them for their idolatry, and reclaimed them from their national declension. He still pursues the same method of discipline towards his ungrateful and disobedient children. He chastises them by the rod of affliction, to reclaim them from their sinful wanderings. Hence says the apostle to christians, “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons. Farthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” God always has a gracious design in chastising his children for their offences, which is to reclaim them, and revive their languishing graces.
2. God sometimes afflicts his children to try their sincerity, and give them an opportunity of knowing their own hearts. While they enjoy uninterrupted prosperity, they are apt to be inattentive to what passes in their own minds, and to mistake the nature of their moral exercises. They often imagine that their hearts are much better than they are. But when God tries them with affliction, he gives them opportunity to discover whether their hearts are right or wrong in his sight. He led the Israelites the long and distressing journey through the wil. derness, to try them, and to see what was in their hearts. The method he took completely answered his purpose, and discovered both his friends and his enemies. He has often both destroyed and confirmed the hopes of men, by causing them to pass through the furnace of affliction. Many who have thought that they could, have found upon trial that they could not, patiently endure affliction; while some who have thought that they could not, have found upon trial that they could, endure divine corrections with submission. David was confirmed in his sincerity, by the method God took to prove him. “ Thou hast proved mine heart,” says he ; " thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing." Job had as strong confidence in his afflictions, that they would discover the purity of his heart. “ Then Job answered and said, Even today is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning. O that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments." “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” This is an end worthy of God to propose, in afflicting his children. It is of great importance to their spiritual interest, that
their sincerity should be tried and established. In this view, they have no reason to think strange of any afflictions which they are called to endure. Hence says the apostle Peter to suffering christians, “Beloved, think it not strange, concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy."
3. God sometimes afflicts his children, for the purpose of displaying the beauty and excellence of true religion before the eyes of the world. This seems to have been his principal design in calling Abraham to the severe trial of sacrificing his
It does not appear that he meant to chastise him for any thing which he had done amiss, but merely to exhibit his extraordinary faith and love to all succeeding generations of mankind. He designed to answer the same end, by the complication of evils which he brought upon Job. He intended to give him an opportunity to act out that disinterested benevolence, which is the essence of all true religion, and the highest excellence of every moral character. He ordered it so in providence, that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, should be cast into the fiery furnace, and Daniel into the den of lions, that they might display their faith and confidence in his own power and faithfulness, to the confusion and conviction of stupid idolaters. And there is reason to believe that he calls some of his dutiful children to endure fiery trials, to display their faith, patience, and submission, before a stupid and unbelieving world. In some cases, at least, we can hardly discover any other important end to be answered by afflicting his peculiar friends, than this, of displaying their superior virtue and piety. Thus God often sees proper to afflict his children, either to display their excellence, or to try their hearts, or to reclaim them from their deviations from the path of duty.
Let us next inquire, II. Why they are disposed to converse with him under his afflicting hand. It is not because they entertain the least thought that he is treating them unrighteously. They are established in the belief that the Judge of all the earth always does right. This, the prophet freely acknowledges to be his belief. “ Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee." All the children of God have been thoroughly convinced of the perfect rectitude of the divine dispensations towards themselves and the whole human race. But still, like the prophet, they desire to talk with God of his judgments.
1. Because they want to know why he afflicts them. They are fully satisfied that he does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men, and therefore they believe that he has some particular reasons for causing them to suffer their present afflictions. Job wished to know why God subjected him in particular to such peculiar and severe trials. “ I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say unto God, show me wherefore thou contendest with me." “I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder; he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark.” The afflicted often find themselves in such darkness, respecting the divine conduct towards them. They cannot easily discover why God should set them as a mark, and cause his sharpest arrows to pierce their hearts. This raises a strong desire to talk with him of his judgments, and search after the causes of their affliction. They know that God is able to turn their attention to their own hearts and conduct, and cause them to read his design in the dealings of his providence.
2. They desire to converse with God in his providence, because they wish to know how they should feel and conduct in their afflicted state. They know that God takes peculiar notice of their views and feelings under his correcting hand; and that they are extremely liable, either to despise his chastenings, or to faint under his rebukes. This critical situation naturally leads them to converse with God, and seek for divine light and instruction. There is none who can teach like God, and who claims the prerogative of teaching his afflicted children. “ Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer, I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” And when God afflicts, for the benefit of the afflicted, he always means to instruct them. Hence says the Psalmist: “ Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law." While God is frowning upon his children, they wish to feel and express those filial affections which are correspondent to his designs in afflicting them. This disposes them to converse with their heavenly Father, and inquire how they ought to feel and speak and act, under the tokens of his just displeasure.
3. There is another reason why they wish to converse with God under their afflictions, and that is, because they desire to obtain divine support and consolation. It is natural for children to fly to their earthly parents for comfort and relief when they are involved in danger or distress. And it is no less natural for the children of God to look to him for light and peace in the day of adversity. When denied of all other support and relief, they have often found God to be a present help in time of trouble. “ When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? and when he hideth his face, who then can VOL. III.
behold him?” This language of Elihu all the children of God can adopt. And so can they the language of the prophet, when he said to God, “ Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.” They know by past experience, that in God's light, they can see light; and that, in a clear view of the perfection of his nature, and the rectitude of his government, their thoughts will be composed, and they shall enjoy that peace which the world cannot give, nor take away.
For these reasons, the children of God naturally fly to him in distress, and desire to converse with him under the dark and distressing dispensations of providence. It only remains to inquire,
III. What methods they take to converse with God in time of trouble.
Though they cannot converse with their Maker face to face, as a man converses with his friend, yet there are various ways in which they may hold intercourse with their heavenly Father, whom they may always see by an eye of faith.
1. By meditating upon the history of his providence. He has been pleased to record in his word the most remarkable and instructive instances of his conduct towards his peculiar and faithful friends, from age to age. His afflicted children naturally turn their thoughts upon his dealings with those who have gone before them, through the evils and dangers of this evil world. They can read the heart of God towards his friends, in his treatment of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Joseph and Moses, of Job and Daniel, and of many others, who through faith and patience have inherited the promises. The conduct of God towards those ancient worthies was designed for the learning and instruction of his afflicted friends in all future ages. Hence David conversed with God in his dark and distressing hours, by a delightful meditation upon his works of old. “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.” The apostle James directs christians to take the same method to converse with God, and seek relief in their troubles. " Take, my brethren, the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.” God has expressed his paternal feelings towards his children, by the frowns, as well as the smiles of his providence. This his children know, and, therefore, spontaneously turn to the book of Job, or to the book of Psalms, when they find themselves involved in darkness and affliction. They consider the word of God as