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If they ever complain, they complain when they ought to approve. If they ever murmur, they murmur when they ought to bless. They have always reason to believe that God treats them as well as infinite wisdom and goodness can treat them. They ought to feel as David did, when he said, "I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it."
1. It appears from what has been said, that it is very unwise. as well as criminal for the afflicted to brood over and aggravate the greatness of their affliction. There is universally a great propensity in the afflicted to brood over their trials and troubles, and indulge their imaginations in calling up and exaggerating all the gloomy and painful circumstances, not only of their present, but of their past scenes of sorrows and bereavements. They are naturally excited to do this, from two peculiar motives. One motive is, to move the pity and commiseration of others, to lighten the weight of their afflictions; and the other motive is, to enjoy the luxury of sorrow, or self-sympathy and compassion. These motives are plainly suggested by the plaintive language of the mourning prophet. "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger." He calls upon all to behold, to take notice of and commiserate, his forlorn condition, which he imagines would greatly alleviate his burden, and console his bleeding heart. And if none should regard him, but pass by him without notice or compassion, he seems determined to pity himself under the severe tokens of the divine displeasure, and so enjoy the luxury of sorrow blended with self-condolence and commiseration. This appears to have been precisely the language and feeling of Elijah in the day of darkness and despondency. He retired to a gloomy mountain and lodged in a solitary cave, to brood over his sorrows, and enjoy the pleasure and even luxury of bemoaning his wretched and forlorn condition, deprived of former friends and friendship, and sinking under a complication of insupportable trials and afflictions. And when God called to him with the voice of reproof, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" he replied, "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets, and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." This was as much as to say, " There is no sorrow like unto my sorrow. The Lord whom I have so long and so zealously served, has afflicted me severely. My punishment is greater
than I can bear. And since there is no eye to see me, and no heart to pity me, I will pity myself, which is the only source of consolation I can find." God saw and condemned this unwise and criminal conduct of Elijah, and commanded him to renounce his undutiful, and ungrateful, and unsubmissive, views and feelings, and perform the important duty which he had for him to do. It is always owing to some selfish and sinful motive, that the afflicted brood over, and try to exaggerate, the evils they suffer. It is implicitly soliciting their fellow men to join with them in disapproving and condemning the divine conduct in chastising them so severely. It is feeling and acting like disobedient children, who desire to be pitied under the pains of just parental correction. It is endeavoring to lighten their burdens, by actually increasing their weight, and prolonging their duration. For the more they brood over their troubles, the deeper impression they make upon their minds. It is like opening wounds that time would heal, if they were not repeatedly opened afresh. It is acting like Zion in her affliction, when she sighed and went backward. Self-commiseration is self-gratification, and not self-denial, or true submission and resignation under the correcting hand of God.
2. If the afflicted have no reason to think hard of God, or indulge the feeling that he corrects them too severely, then as long as they do indulge such a thought and feeling, they can receive no benefit from the afflictions they suffer. God always has a wise and benevolent design in afflicting the children of men, and all the afflictions which he sends upon them, whether light or heavy, are calculated to do them good, and always will do them good, if they do not abuse them, but cordially submit to them. They may always receive benefit and comfort from them, if they do not refuse to be comforted. But they refuse to be comforted so long as they indulge the thought, that God afflicts them too severely, and endeavor to exaggerate their afflictions, and to complain of them, and allow themselves to sink and faint under them, and cherish a murmuring and desponding spirit. Such selfish, rebellious views and exercises are diametrically contrary to patience and cordial submission, and highly displeasing to God. It is inwardly contending with their Maker, and practically saying unto him, that they will not be reconciled to him, unless he will remove his hand, and grant them their selfish desires. There have been ten thousand instances of this kind. I will mention two striking cases. Because Naboth refused to let Ahab have his vineyard, he exaggerated and brooded over the evil, until he refused all consolation, and sunk down into a weak and groundless despondency, which totally prevented his exercising the least
submission to the hand of God concerned in the event. because the king exalted Mordecai above Haman, it stung him to the heart, and destroyed all his happiness, to which he would not and could not submit. Though these two men put on the semblance of humiliation and submission, yet their hearts were perfectly and obstinately opposed to the least degree of cordial resignation. It is one thing for the afflicted to say that God has not afflicted them too severely, and quite another thing to 'be reconciled to his chastising hand. True submission never disposes the afflicted to think or feel that God lays his hand too heavy upon them, or to indulge gloomy and self-sympathizing thoughts; but directly tends to turn their attention from themselves to God, who has laid his hand upon them, and afflicted them far less than they know and feel they deserve. Bu scripture, observation and experience all teach us how prone we are to feel and act under afflictions as Ephraim did. God, who knew the heart, said, "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning," that is, pitying, "himself thus, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke." How often do the afflicted do as God says they do, feel and act like a wild bull in a net, and grow gloomy, sorrowful, melancholy, sullen, and obstinate, instead of bowing silently and cordially to divine sovereignty! They take the direct course to prevent submission; and to prevent any benefit, comfort or consolation coming to them from their afflictions. This must be extremely unwise, and displeasing to God, and forbid every gleam of hope that God will remove his hand or alleviate their sorrows, which they take pains to increase and prolong. But on the other hand, they have reason to fear that God will give them to that stupidity of conscience and hardness of heart, which will prove their ruin.
3. If the afflicted have no reason to think that God afflicts them too severely, then they always have reason to submit to him under his correcting hand. If they have no reason to despise the chastening of the Lord, nor to faint when they are rebuked of him, then they have every reason to bow down in silent and cordial submission under the heaviest, as well as lightest affliction. They must either submit, or murmur and repine; but we have seen plain and weighty reasons why they should submit to the severest tokens of the divine displeasure. God never chastises them only when they deserve and need to be chastised, and when his glory requires him to chastise them. He never strikes a heavier stroke than he intended to strike, or than his wisdom and goodness saw it necessary to strike. When he sees that light afflictions will answer his wise and benevolent purpose, he sends only such; and it is only when
he sees that such will not answer his wise and benevolent purpose, that he strikes with a heavier hand, and causes all his waves and billows to pass over those whose peculiar state of mind requires overwhelming sorrows. God displays more wisdom, more goodness, or I may say more self-denial, in visiting mankind with great trials and afflictions, than with small. For he does not afflict willingly, or grieve the children of men. They have more reason, therefore, to submit to heavy than to light trials or troubles. The more sensibly and painfully they feel the rod, the more submissively should they hear and submit to the voice of him who has appointed it. The weight of affliction is so far from being a just ground of complaint, that it is always a just ground of submission. This is no paradox. For as God has more and stronger reasons for inflicting great and heavy evils, calamities, and afflictions, than for inflicting lighter ones upon mankind, so they have more and stronger reasons for submitting to heavy, than to light corrections. Who will not say that a disobedient child has more reason to submit to a severe than to a light correction? The afflicted always reason absurdly, and act criminally, when they complain more bitterly and pathetically of great, than small evils and afflictions. Job and Jonah were inexcusable in imagining that they did well in complaining of God for the severity of their overwhelming calamities. God had weighty reasons for inflicting such weighty and extraordinary evils upon them, which were as weighty reasons for the most cordial and unreserved submission. Though mankind will allow the afflicted to express their pains and anguish under singular and extraordinary trials, yet they never fail of disapproving of their murmuring and complaining of divine severity, which is no just ground of complaint, but of silent and unreserved submission. If it be true that there is no sorrow like unto their sorrow, then it is equally true that none of the afflicted have reasons like unto their reasons to be silently and cordially resigned to the sorrow wherewith the Lord hath afflicted them in the day of his fierce anger. But they have never reason to think that there is no sorrow like unto their sorrow, since for aught they know, God has set multitudes as fairer marks, and caused his arrows to make deeper and more painful wounds in their hearts. Under every supposable affliction, the afflicted have no reason to complain, but every reason to submit.
4. It appears from what has been said, that men may derive more benefit from great, than from light afflictions. They are suited to make deeper and better impressions on the mind. They have a greater tendency to produce more serious reflections, more perfect patience, and more unreserved submission,
which are the happiest fruits of trials and afflictions. You have heard of the patience of Job, and of the benefit he derived from his afflictions. You have heard of the fiery trials of Abraham, and of the benefit he derived from them. You have heard of the great and numerous trials of the apostles and primitive christians, and of the peculiar benefits which they derived from the painful and self-denying scenes of tribulation through which they were called to pass. And you have heard of Manasseh, who long despised the chastenings of the Lord, but who at length was effectually taught his duty and the way to heaven, by the briars and thorns. Were the united voice of mankind to be heard upon this subject, they would be constrained to acknowledge that they had derived more benefit from adversity than from prosperity, and from heavy than from light afflictions. Though no affliction is for the present joyous, but grievous, yet it often afterwards produces the fruits of righteousness, joy, and gratitude. The greatest trials and troubles always produce the greatest good, unless the afflicted abuse them, and refuse to be benefitted and comforted. Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord in all, even the greatest, evils and sorrows wherewith he afflicts them.
5. It appears from what has been said, that it is as easy to submit to heavy as to light afflictions. As there are greater and stronger reasons to submit to heavy than to lighter evils, so these reasons render it more easy to submit to heavy than light afflictions. And what says experience in this case? Do not the lighter evils of life commonly produce more uneasiness, unhappiness, and internal murmurs and complaints, than more serious and affecting and interesting troubles? And are not mankind more disposed to justify their hard thoughts of God, for inflicting upon them light than heavy evils? In lighter evils they overlook the hand of God, and pay no attention to the need they have to be corrected, nor to the reasons he has to correct them. But when God more severely frowns upon them, and strikes them in more tender points, they cannot disregard or despise his chastening hand, but feel bound by plain and powerful reasons to submit. Submission becomes a case of conscience, whose dictates they dare not resist. Whenever, therefore, they plead the greatness, weight, or duration of their trials, as an excuse for not submitting, they plead what aggravates their murmurs and complaints. Their weighty sorrows are weighty reasons for immediate and cheerful submission. They have no reason to stand a moment to contend with their Maker, but a powerful reason to submit instantly. Job found it easier to submit instantly and without reserve, at the very