Part 28 AFFLICTIONS
All men in the present life must be frequently in danger, necessity, and tribulation: dangers from which they cannot by their own strength or wisdom escape: necessities which no prudence or providence of theirs can supply: and tribulations through which it will be impossible for them to pass, unless they have divine help, both in the water and in the fire.
The labors of the day in several of the avocations of life are performed in perilous situations. Mining, in which hundreds of thousands are employed, is a tissue of dangers; in every moment life is exposed to imminent and various deaths, by what is called the fire damp, and the falling of parts of the pit on the miners. Those who travel by land or by water are not less exposed. By common stage coaches, accidents are not only frequent, but often mortal: weekly accounts from public registers are full of details of such calamitous events. Those who travel by water are yet more exposed than those who travel by land. On sea, there is never more than a few inches of plank between any man and death. In a sudden squall, a ship may easily founder; in a gale blowing on a lee shore, she may soon be dashed to pieces, and every hand lost. A ship may spring a leak which no industry or skill may be able to stop; and, after incredible labor of the crew, fill and go to the bottom, and every person be consigned to a watery grave. In cases where the weather has been dark and tempestuous for several days, so that no observation could be taken, and the reckoning, because of the conflicting and thwarting tides, has been necessarily imperfect; in a hazy state of the atmosphere the ship may make land in a breeze or gale, either by night or day, and be suddenly dashed in pieces: some of these perilous states I have witnessed. Beside these, there is a multitude of other dangers which unavoidably accompany a sea-faring life; and which, in numerous cases, are destructive of human life: what need of an almighty Preserver!
I have known persons, in endeavoring to run out of the way of carts and coaches, actually run into the way of danger. I have known one who, walking along the parapet, was crushed to pieces by a cart wheel against the wall. I have seen a woman striving to see the rare show of an illumination, fall from a garret, and dashed to pieces on the pavement. I have seen a man who had got too much liquor, riding furiously, -- his horse fell, and he was killed on the spot. I have seen another who, getting on forbidden ground, was shot dead on the spot. I have known another who fell over a bank, and was dead before he could be taken up. In short, I have known many who ran into various kinds of dangers, and have paid for their imprudence, temerity, or what was called the "accident," by the loss of their life. In crossing the streets of London, or other large cities and towns, let us remember the proverb, that "there are always two hundred yards more of room behind a coach than before it:" of this many are sadly unmindful, and run across public streets before horses and carriages driving at full trot; and not a few have either lost life or limb by this folly.
As the religion of Christ gives no quarter to vice, so the vicious will give no quarter to this religion, or to its professors.
Can any man who pretends to be a scholar or disciple of Jesus Christ expect to be treated well by the world? Will not the world love its own, and them only? Why then so much impatience under sufferings, such an excessive sense of injuries, such delicacy? Can you expect any thing from the world better than you receive! If you want the honor that comes from it, abandon Jesus Christ, and it will again receive you into its bosom. But you will, no doubt, count the cost before you do this. Take the converse, abandon the love of the world, &c., and God will receive you.
If, in order to please a father or brother who is opposed to vital godliness, we abandon God's ordinances and followers, we are unworthy of any thing but hell.
It is no certain proof of the displeasure of God, that a whole people, or an individual, may be found in a state of great oppression and distress; nor are affluence and prosperity any certain signs of his approbation. God certainly loved the Israelites better than he did the Egyptians; yet the former were in the deepest adversity, while the latter were in the height of prosperity.
Though religion is frequently persecuted, and religious people suffer at first, where they are not fully known; yet a truly religious and benevolent character will in general be prized wherever it is well known. The envy of men is a proof of the excellence of that which they envy.
Reader, be thankful to God, who, in pity to thy weakness, has called thee to believe and enjoy, and not to suffer for his sake. It is not for us to covet seasons of martyrdom; we find it difficult to be faithful even in ordinary trials; yet, as offenses may come, and times of sore trial and proof may occur, we should be prepared for them; and we should know that nothing less than Christ in us, the hope of glory, will enable us to stand in the cloudy and dark day. Let us, therefore, put on the whole armor of God; and, fighting under the Captain of our salvation, expect the speedy destruction of every inward foe; and triumph in the assurance that death, the last enemy, will, in his destructions, shortly be brought to a perpetual end. Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Amen and Amen.
Eminent communications of the divine favor prepare for, and entitle to, great services and great conflicts.
Jan. 19th, 1830. -- My purpose is to bear the evils and calamities of life with less pain of spirit; if I suffer wrong, to leave it to God to right me; to murmur against no dispensation of his providence; to bear ingratitude and unkindness, as things totally beyond my control, and consequently things on account of which I should not distress myself; and, though friends and confidants should fail, to depend more on my everlasting Friend, who never can fail, and to the unkindly treated will cause all such things to work together for their good. It is not likely that God, who has preserved thee so long, and fed and supported thee all thy life long, girding thee when thou knewest him not, is less willing to save and provide for thee and thine now than he was when probably thou trustedst less in him. He who made and gave his Son to redeem thee, can never be indifferent to thy welfare; and if he gave thee power to pray and to trust in him, is it at all likely that he is now seeking an occasion against thee, in order to destroy thee? Add to this, the very light that shows thy wretchedness, ingratitude, and disobedience, is, in itself, a proof that he is waiting to be gracious to thee; and the penitential pangs thou feelest, and thy bitter regret for thy unfaithfulness, argue that the light and fire are of God's own kindling, and are sent to direct and refine, not to drive thee out of the way and destroy thee. Nor would he have told thee such things of his love, mercy, and kindness, and unwillingness to destroy sinners, as he has told thee in his sacred Word, if he had been determined not to extend his mercy to thee.
Many have been humbled under afflictions, and taught to know themselves and humble themselves before God, that probably without this could have never been saved; after this, they have been serious and faithful. Affliction sanctified is a great blessing; unsanctified, is an additional curse.
Sometimes there is a kind of necessity that the followers of God should be afflicted: when they have no trials, they are apt to get careless; and when they have secular prosperity, they are likely to become worldly minded. "God," said a good man, can neither trust me with health nor money, therefore I am poor and afflicted." But the disciples of Christ may be very happy in their souls, though grievously afflicted in their bodies and in their estates.
God may bring his followers into severe straits and difficulties, that they may have the better opportunity of both knowing and showing their own faith and obedience; and that he may seize on those occasions to show them the abundance of his mercy, and thus confirm them in righteousness all their days. There is a foolish saying among some religious people, which cannot be too severely reprobated: "Untried grace is no grace." On the contrary, there may be much grace, though God, for good reasons, does not think proper for a time to put it to any severe trial or proof. But grace is certainly not fully known but in being called to trials of severe and painful obedience. But as all the gifts of God should be used, (and they are increased and strengthened by exercise,) it would be unjust to deny trials and exercises to grace, as this would be to preclude it from the opportunities of being strengthened and increased.
God never permits any tribulation to befall his followers, which he does not design to turn to their advantage. When he permits us to hunger, it is that his mercy may be the more observable in providing us with the necessaries of life. Privations, in the way of providence, are the forerunners of mercy and goodness abundant.
Multitudes, who condemn the conduct of this miserable Egyptian king, act in a similar manner. They relent when smarting under God's judgments, but harden their hearts when these judgments are removed. Of this kind I have witnessed numerous cases. To such God says by his prophet, "Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more." Reader, are not the vows of God upon thee? Often when afflicted in thyself or family, hast thou not said like Pharaoh, "Now, therefore, forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once," and "take away" from me "this death only?" And yet, when thou hadst respite, didst thou not harden thy heart, and, with returning health and strength, didst thou not return unto iniquity? And art thou not still in the broad road of transgression? "Be not deceived; God is not mocked:" he warns thee, but he will not be mocked by thee. What thou sowest, that thou must reap. Think, then, what a most dreadful harvest thou mayest expect from the seeds of vice which thou hast already sown!
It is not a mark of much grace to be longing to get to heaven because of the troubles and difficulties of the present life; they who love Christ are ever willing to suffer with him; and he may be as much glorified by patient suffering, as by the most active faith or laborious love. There are times in which, through affliction or other hindrances, we cannot do the will of God, but we can suffer it; and in such cases he seeks a heart that bears submissively, suffers patiently, and endures, as seeing Him who is invisible, without repining or murmuring. This is as full a proof of Christian perfection as the most intense and ardent love. Meekness, gentleness, and long suffering, are in our present state of more use to ourselves and others, and of more consequence in the sight of God, than all the ecstasies of the spirits of just men made perfect, and than all the raptures of an archangel. That church or Christian society, the members of which manifest the work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope, is most nearly allied to heaven, and is on the suburbs of glory.
How vain were the attempts of men and devils to destroy the light of the gospel by persecution and death! In spite of these it grew; and under them it flourished! The gates of hell, though opened wide to pour out all its hosts, could not prevail against it; and persecution, like a good broad-cast sowing, dispersed the seed of eternal life throughout the world. The persecuted went everywhere preaching the word of the truth of the gospel: and had not the primitive Christians been burned out by persecution at Jerusalem, humanly speaking, it would have been a long time before Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy, could have heard the words of eternal life! Satan and his children persecuted and drove them from city to city. One company ran, and sowed the good seed of the kingdom; another, driven by the same agency, followed after them, and watered the seed; and God continued to reap a "plentiful harvest." Never was the wise and experienced devil farther out in his calculations than when he counted on the destruction of Christianity by fire and sword. Under him the Jews distinguished themselves in the first instance, and instead of casting down Christianity, they stumbled and fell, and rose no more! Heathen Rome followed in the same track; the sword, the fire, the axe, the gibbet, with the fangs and teeth of ferocious beasts, were tried in vain; and at last, by the power of Christianity, she and her idols, and her instruments of cruelty, were defeated and cast down, even down to the ground. Papal Rome, having apostatized from the spirit and power of the gospel, copied her ancient mother, and most grievously persecuted all who held the truth of God against corrupt doctrines and the uncertain traditions of men; but she prevailed not; the secular and spiritual power were conjoined to annihilate those who testified against its corruptions and its crimes; and now, that truth which entered a solemn protest against those corruptions is rapidly spreading over the earth; and by it more than half the world has received that heavenly light concentrated in the Bible, which that church had first obscured by false interpretations; and at last violently snatched out of the hands of the people. But God has reclaimed his own Word, delivered it over to mankind; and they who would not walk in the light, but persecuted to death those who did, are now consigned to their native weakness, darkness, frippery, and folly; and her secular power is cast down for ever: and after ruling the earth with her iron scepter, she has vanished as a power from the nations of the earth! Where now is her terror? Where now is her fear? and where her respect? The mighty angel has taken up the stone, like a "great millstone," and cast it "into the sea," saying, "Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all!" Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets, for the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth. While we say, "Alas, alas, for this great city!" let us pray that, while her Antichristian power is crushed and dissolved, a Christian Rome may arise, clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet; and thus, illustrated with sound doctrine, unspotted holiness, and useful learning, be once more respectable among the nations, and a blessing to the earth! Amen! Amen!
If men had uninterrupted comforts here, perhaps not one soul would seek a preparation for heaven. Human trials and afflictions, the general welfare of human life, are the highest proof of a providence as benevolent as it is wise. Were the state of human affairs different from what it is, hell would be more thickly peopled; and there would be fewer inhabitants in glory. There is reason to doubt whether there would be any religion upon earth, had we nothing but temporal prosperity.
* * * * * * *