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It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.—Ver. 71.
THE context speaketh of afflictions by occasion of persecutions. The proud had forged a lie against him, and involved him in many troubles, when in the meantime ‘their heart was as fat as grease.’ They wallowed in ease and pleasure, but David kept right with God; and yet his afflictions do not cease. God doth not presently take away opposition, because of our proud, unhumbled, unmortified spirits, though we hold fast our integrity for the main: therefore he comforteth himself in his spiritual protection under the affliction, though the affliction was not removed: ‘It is good,’ &c.
In the words there is—
1. An assertion, it is good for me that I have been afflicted.
2. The reason, that I might learn thy statutes. Or, here is a general truth explained by a particular instance. In the general, he saith it is good, and then what good he got by it.
Doct. That affliction, all things considered, is rather good than evil.
The assertion is a paradox to vulgar sense and the ears of the common sort of men. How few are there in the world that will grant that it is good to be afflicted! Yea, the children of God can scarcely subscribe to the truth of it till the affliction be over. While they are 252under it they feel the smart, but do not presently discern the benefit; but in the review they find God hath ordered it with much wisdom and faithfulness; and in the issue they say, as David doth, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted.’ Carnal sense is not easily persuaded, but the new nature prevaileth at length, and then they readily subscribe to the truth of it.
The word is clear on this point: Job v. 17, ‘Behold, happy is the man whom the Lord correcteth.’ The first word, behold, summoneth our attention and observation. What is the matter? As those that are before Joseph cried, Abreck, ‘bow the knee,’ Gen. xli. 43, to show some eminent person was at hand, so this behold calleth for reverence and admiration; there is some strange truth to ensue and follow. Happiness in the lowest notion, it includeth a freedom from misery; and yet the scripture pronounces the man happy whom the Lord correcteth. There have been among the heathens many opinions about happiness. Two hundred and eighty-eight Austin reckoneth up; but none ever placed it in correction, in sickness, disgrace, exile, captivity, loss of friends, much less in God’s correction, who is our supreme judge, to whom we ultimately appeal when others wrong us. And yet the corrected man, and the man corrected by the Lord, is happy, though not with a consummate happiness; he hath not the happiness of his country, but he hath the happiness of the way. The man is kept by the way, that he may come to his country. His afflictions take nothing from him but his sin. Therefore his solid happiness remaineth not infringed, rather the more secured. So Ps. xciv. 12, ‘Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of thy law.’ To be chastened of God for what we have done amiss, and by that means to be reduced to the sense and practice of our duty, is one of the greatest blessings on this side heaven that can light upon us. It is an evidence of God’s tender care over us, and that he will not lose us, and suffer us to perish with the unbelieving and sinful world.
The truth lieth clearly in the scripture; but to reconcile it with our prejudices—
1. I shall show by what measure we are to determine good and evil.
2. Prove that affliction is good.
First, For the measure.
1. This good is not to be determined by our fancies and conceits, but by the wisdom of God; for God knoweth better what is good for us than we do for ourselves, and foreseeth all things by one infinite act of understanding, but we judge according to present appearance; therefore all is to be left to God’s disposal, and his divine choice is to be preferred before our foolish fancies, and what he sendeth and permitteth to fall out is fitter for us than anything else. Could we once assuredly be persuaded of this, a Christian would be completely fortified, and fitted not only for a patient but a cheerful entertainment of all that is or shall come upon him. Besides, he is a God of bowels, and loveth us dearly, better than we do ourselves; and therefore we should be satisfied with his dispensations whatever they are, whether according to or against our will. The shepherd must choose the pastures for the sheep, whether lean or fat, bare or full grown; the 253child is not to be governed by his own fancy, but the father’s discretion; nor the sick man by his own appetite, but the physician’s skill. It is expedient sometimes that God should make his people sad and displease them for their advantage: John xvi. 6, 7, ‘Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your hearts: nevertheless I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away.’ We are too much addicted to our own conceits: Christ’s dealing is expedient and useful when yet it is very unsatisfactory to us: he is to be judge of what is good for us, his going or tarrying, not we ourselves, who are short-sighted and distempered with passions, whose requests many times are but ravings, and ask of God we know not what, as the two brethren, Mat. xx. 22, and seek our bane as a blessing, as children would play with a knife that would cut and wound them, pray our selves into a mischief and a snare. It were the greatest misery if God should carve out our condition according to our own fancy and desires. Peter said, Mat. xvii. 4, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here:’ he was well pleased to be upon Mount Tabor, but little thought what service God had to do for him elsewhere, how much poor souls needed him and the other apostles’ help. We would always be in the mount with God, enjoy our comforts to the full, even to surfeit; but God knows that is not good for us. His pleasure should satisfy us though we do not see the reason of it. So Jer. xxiv. 5, God speaketh of the basket of good figs (whereby were represented the best of the people) whom I have sent into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. What can there be seemingly more contrary to their good than a hard and an afflicted lot out of their own country? Yet God, that foresaw all things, knew it was for their good; worse evils would befall the place where they had been. So to be kept under, to have no service for the present, no hopes to rise again for the future, and to be laden with all manner of prejudices and reproaches, this is for good. We think not so, but God knoweth it is so, most for his glory and our benefit. So the selling of Joseph into Egypt, Gen. 1. 20, ‘God meant it to good.’ Alas! what good to have the poor young man sold as a slave, to be cast into prison for his chastity and continency, and exposed to all manner of difficulties 1 But alas! many had perished if he had not been sent thither. So God taketh away many beloved comforts from us; he meaneth it for good. We think it is all against us; no, it is for us. So Ps. xxxiv. 10, ‘They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.’ Many times they want food and raiment, want liberty, at least in some degree; they may want many things that are comfortable; though they have things sparingly, though they have of the meanest, yet they have that which is good for them. So Ps. lxxxiv. 11, ‘No good thing will he withhold.’ He may keep us low and bare, feed us cibo extemporali, as Lactantius; but that is good for us. If it were good for us to have larger revenues and incomes, we should not want them. The true and absolute ground of all submission is to think that which God sendeth is good, be it prosperity or adversity, the having or wanting children, or other comforts.
2. The next measure is this, that good is to be determined by its respect to the chief good or true happiness. Now, what is our chief happiness but the enjoyment of God? Our happiness doth not consist in 254outward comforts, riches, health, honour, civil liberty, or comfortable relations, as husband, wife, children; but in our relation to and acceptance with God. Other things are but additional appendages to our happiness, Mat. vi. 33. Affliction taketh nothing from our essential solid happiness, rather helpeth us in the enjoyment of it, as it increaseth grace and holiness, and so we enjoy God more surely. That is good that sets us nearer to God, and that is evil which separateth us from him; therefore sin is evil, because it maketh an estrangement between us and God, Isa. lix. 2; but affliction is good, because many times it maketh us the more earnestly to seek after him: Hosea v. 15, ‘In their afflictions they will seek me right early.’ Therefore every condition is good or evil as it sets farther off or draws us nearer to God; that is good that tendeth to make us better, more like unto God, capable of communion with him, conduceth to our everlasting happiness. So ‘It is good that a man bear the yoke from his youth,’ Lam. iii. 27, that he be trained up under the cross, in a constant obedience to God and subjection to him, and so be fitted to entertain communion with him. If afflictions conduce to this end, they are good, for then they help us to enjoy the chief good.
3. That good is not always the good of the flesh, or the good of outward prosperity; and therefore the good of our condition is not to be deter mined by the interest of the flesh, but the welfare of our souls. If God should bestow upon us so much of the good of the outward and animal life as we desire, we could not be said to be in a good condition if he should deny us good spiritual. We should lose one half of the blessings of the covenant by doting upon and falling in love with the rest: the flesh is importunate to be pleased, but God will not serve our carnal turns. We are more concerned as a soul than a body: Heb. xii. 10, ‘He verily for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness.’ Certain it is God will chasten us for our profit. What do we call profit? The good things of this world, the great mammon which so many worship? If we call it so, God will not; he meaneth to impart to us spiritual and divine benefit, which is a participation of his own holiness. And truly the people of God, if they be in their right temper, value themselves not by their outward enjoyments, but their inward, by their improvement of grace, not the enjoyment of worldly comforts: 2 Cor. iv. 16, Tor this cause we faint not, but though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day.’ A discerning Christian puts more value upon holiness wrought by affliction than upon all his comforts. So that though affliction be evil in itself, it is good as sanctified.
4. A particular good must give way to a general good, and our personal benefit to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. The good of the church must be preferred before our personal contentment. Paul could want the glory of heaven for a while, if his continuance in the flesh were needful for the saints: Phil. i. 24, ‘To abide in the flesh is more needful for you.’ We must not so desire good to our selves as to hinder the good of others. All elements will act contrary to their particular, for the conservation of the universe. That may be good for the glory of God which is not good for our personal contentment and ease. Now the glory of God is our greatest interest; if 255it be for the glory of God that I should be in pain, bereft of my comforts, my sanctified subjection to the will of God must say it is good. John xii. 27, 28, there you have expressed the innocent inclination of Christ’s human nature, ‘Father, save me from this hour:’ and the overruling sense of his duty, or the obligation of his office, ‘But for this cause came I to this hour.’ We are often tossed and tumbled between inclination of nature and conscience of duty; but in a gracious heart the sense of our duty and the desire of glorifying God should prevail above the desire of our own comfort, ease, safety, and welfare. Nature would be rid of trouble, but grace submits all our interests to God’s honour, which should be dearer to us than anything else.
5. This good is not to be determined by present feeling, but by the judgment of faith. Affliction for the present is not pleasant to natural sense, nor for the present is the fruit evident to spiritual sense, but it is good because in the issue it turneth to good: Rom. viii. 28, ‘All things work together for good.’ While God is striking we feel the grief, and the cross is tedious, but when we see the end, we acknowledge it is good to be afflicted: Heb. xii. 11, ‘No affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; but afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness.’ A good present is the cause of joy, and an evil present is the cause of sorrow; but there are two terms of abatement: the sorrow is from the present sense, and the conceit of the sufferer. When we are but newly under the affliction, we feel the smart, but do not presently find the benefit; but within a while, especially in the review, it is good for me; it is matter of faith under the affliction, it is matter of sense after it. Good physic must have time to work. That which is not good may be good; though it be not good in its nature, it is good in its seasonable use, and though for the present we see it not, we shall see it. Therefore good is not to be determined by feeling, but by faith. The rod is a sore thing for the present, but the bitter root will yield sweet fruit. If we come to a person under the cross, and ask him, What I is it good to feel the lashes of God’s correcting hand, to be kept poor and sickly, exercised with losses and reproaches, to part with friends and relations, to lose a beloved child? sense will complain. But this poor creature, after he hath been exercised and mortified, and gotten some renewed evidences of God’s favour, ask him then is it good to be afflicted? Oh, yes! I had else been vain, neglectful of God, wanted such an experience of the Lord’s grace. Faith should determine the case when we feel it not.
Secondly, That according to these measures you will find it good to be afflicted.
1. It is good as it is minus malum, it keepeth us from greater evils. Afflictions to the righteous are either cures of or preservatives from spiritual evils, which would occasion greater troubles and crosses. They prevent sin: 2 Cor. xii. 7, ‘And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelation, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.’ They purge out sin: Isa. xxvii. 9, ‘By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged out.’ We are apt to abuse prosperity to self-confidence: Ps. xxx. 6, 7, ‘In my prosperity I said, 256I shall never be moved. Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong.’ And luxury: Deut. xxxii. 15, ‘But Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked; thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God that made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation.’ The godly have evil natures as well as others, which cannot be beaten down but by afflictions. We are froward in our relations. Hagar was proud in Abraham’s house, Gen. xvi. 4, her mistress was despised in her eyes; but very humble in the desert, Gen. xxi. 16. David’s heart was tender and smote him when he cut off the lap of Saul’s garment, 1 Sam. xxiv. 5; but how stupid and senseless was he when he lived at ease in Jerusalem! 2 Sam. xii. His conscience was benumbed till Nathan roused him. Before we are chastened we are rebellious, frail, fickle, mutable, apt to degenerate without this continual discipline: we are very negligent and drowsy till the rod awakeneth us. God’s children have strange failings and negligences, and sometimes are guilty of more heinous sins. It is a great curse for a man to be left to his own ways: Hosea iv. 17, ‘Let him alone;’ so Ps. lxxxi. 12, ‘I gave them up to their own hearts’ lust.’ Men must needs perish when left to themselves, without this wholesome, profitable discipline of the cross.
2. It is good, because the evil in it is counterpoised by a more abundant good. It is evil as it doth deprive us of our natural comforts, pleasure, gain, honour; but it is good as these may be recompensed with better pleasures, richer gain, and greater honour. There is more pleasure in holiness than there can be pain and trouble in affliction: Heb. xii. 11, ‘No affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous, but afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.’ More gain than affliction can bring loss: Heb. xii. 10, ‘But he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.’ More honour than affliction can bring shame, surely then it is good. There is a threefold profit we get by affliction: —
[1.] The time of affliction is a serious thinking time: Eccles. vii. 14, ‘In the day of adversity consider:’ 1 Kings viii. 47, ‘Yet if they bethink themselves in the land whither they are carried captive.’ We have more liberty to retire into ourselves, being freed from the attractive allurements of worldly vanities and the delights of the flesh. Adversity maketh men serious; the prodigal came to himself when he began to be in want, Luke xv. 17. Sad objects make a deep impression upon our souls; they help us to consider our own ways and God’s righteous dealings, that we may behave ourselves wisely and suitably to the dispensation: Micah vi. 9, ‘The man of wisdom will hear the rod.’
[2.] It is a special hearing time; in the text, ‘That I might learn thy statutes:’ and it is said of Christ, Heb. v. 8, that ‘He learned obedience from the things that he suffered:’ he did experimentally understand what obedience was in hard and difficult cases, and so could the better pity poor sinners in affliction: we have an experimental knowledge of that of which we had but a notional knowledge before. We come by experience to see how false and changeable the world is, how comfortable an interest in God is, what a burden sin is, what sweetness there is in the promises, what a reality in the word. Luther said, Qui tribulantur, &c. The afflicted see more in the scripture 257than others do; the secure and fortunate read them as they do Ovid’s verses. Certainly when the soul is humble, and when we are refined and raised above the degrees of sense, we are more tractable and teachable, our understandings are clearer, our affections more melting. Our spiritual learning is a blessing that cannot be valued. If God write his law upon our hearts by his stripes on our backs, so light a trouble should not be grudged at
[3.] It is an awakening, quickening time.
(1.) Some are awakened out of the sleep of death, and are first wrought upon by afflictions. This is one powerful means to bring in souls to God, and to open their ears to discipline. God began with them in their afflictions, and the time of their sorrows was the time of loves. The hot furnace is Christ’s workhouse, the most excellent vessels of honour and praise have been formed there: Isa. xlviii. 10, ‘I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.’ Manasses, Paul, the jailer, were all chosen in the fire; God puts them into the furnace, and chooseth them there, melts them, and stamps them with the image of Christ. The hog’s trough was a good school to the prodigal. Well, then, doth God do you any harm by affliction when he saves you by it? If we use violence to a man that is ready to be drowned, and in pulling him out of the waters should break an arm or a leg, would he not be thankful? If you have broken my arm, you have saved my life. So God’s children: It is good that I had such an affliction, felt the sharpness of such a cross. Oh, blessed providence! I had been a witless fool, and gone on still in a course of sin and vanity, if God had not awakened me.
(2.) It quickeneth others to be more careful of their duty, more watchful against sin, and doth exercise and improve us in heavenly virtues and graces of spirit, which lay dormant in us through neglect, since pleasing objects, which deaden the heart, are removed. Even God’s best children, when they have gotten a carnal pillow under their heads, are apt to sleep; their prayers are dead; thoughts of heaven cold, or none; little zeal for God or delight in him: Isa. xxvi. 16, ‘Lord, in trouble they have visited thee; they pour out a prayer when thy chastening is upon them;’ Hosea v. 15, ‘In their afflictions they will seek me early.’ Because they do not stir up themselves, God stirreth them up by a smart rod. The husbandman pruneth the vine, lest it run out into leaves; the baits of the flesh must be taken from us, that our gust and relish of heavenly things may be recovered.
Use 1. The use is to caution us against our murmurings and taxing of God’s providence. How few are there that give him thanks for his seasonable discipline, and observe God’s faithfulness and the benefit they have by afflictions, but rather murmur, repine, and fret through impatience! If it be good to be afflicted, let us accept of it, for good is matter of choice: Lev. xxvi. 41, ‘If their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity.’ Now all affliction on this side hell is good, as it is a lesser evil; hic ure, hic seca, if God will cut here, burn here, lance here, as a chirurgeon, that we may not be destroyed for ever; corrected, that we may not be condemned, 1 Cor. xi. 32. It is good, as it is a means to good; for the end putteth a loveliness also upon the means, though things in 258themselves be harsh and sour. We must not consider what things are in themselves, but what they are in their reduction, tendency, and final use. So all things are yours, crosses, deaths, 1 Cor. iii. 18; all their crosses, yea, sometimes their sins and snares, by God’s overruling. We lose the benefit of our affliction by our murmurings, repinings, faintings, carnal sorrows and fears; an impatient distrustful mind spoileth the working of God: ‘Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience.’ It is not the bare affliction worketh, but the affliction meekly borne. Let us not misconstrue God’s present way of dealing with us. There may be a seeming harshness in some of his dealings, but yet, all things considered, you will find them full of mercy and truth. Murmuring is a disorder in the affections, misinterpreting in the understanding, to prevent it.
1. Consider you must not interpret the covenant by God’s providence, but God’s providence by his covenant. Certain it is that all new covenant dispensations are mercy and truth, Ps. xxv. 10, our crosses not excepted; by them God is pursuing his covenant and eternal purpose concerning our salvation. There is sometimes a seeming contradiction between his promises and his providences, word and works; his voice is sweet like Jacob’s, but his hand rough like Esau’s. Go unto the sanctuary, and God will help you to reconcile things, Ps. lxxiii. 16, 17; otherwise the difficulty will be too hard for you. The children of God, that have suspected or displeased him, have always found themselves in error, Isa. xlix. 14, 15. His promise is the light side, his providence the dark side of the cloud: Ps. lxxvii. 19, ‘Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the deep waters, and thy footsteps are not known.’ We cannot trace him, nor find out the reason of everything that God doeth; only, in the general, that ‘he doeth all things well,’ Mark vii. 37; nay, what is best.
2. We must distinguish between a part of God’s work and the end of it. We cannot understand God’s providence till he hath done his work. He is an impatient spectator that cannot tarry till the last act, wherein all errors are reconciled: John xiii. 7, ‘What I do thou knowest not now, but hereafter thou shalt know.’ No wonder if we are much in the dark, if we look only to present sense and present appearance. Then his purposes are hidden from us; he bringeth one contrary out of another, light out of darkness, meat out of the eater. God knoweth what he is a-doing with you, when you know not: Jer. xxix. 11, ‘I know my thoughts, to give you an expected end.’ When we view providences by pieces, we know not God’s mind; for the present we see him (it may be) rending and tearing all things; therefore let us not judge of God’s work by the beginnings, till all work together. Our present state may be very sad and uncomfortable, and yet God is designing the choicest mercies to us: Ps. xxxi. 22, ‘1 said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes; nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee;’ Ps. cxvi. 11, ‘I said in my haste, All men are liars.’ Haste never speaketh well of God nor his promises, nor maketh any good comment upon his dealings.
3. We must distinguish between that which is really best for us, and what we judge best for us: Deut. viii. 15, 16, ‘Who led thee through 259that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee out water out of the rock of flint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not; that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at the latter end.’ Other diet is more wholesome for our souls than that which our sick appetite craveth. It is best with us many times when we are weakest: 2 Cor. xii. 10, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’ Worst when strongest: 2 Chron. xxvi. 16, ‘When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his own destruction.’ Lot chose Sodom, a fair and pleasant situation, but you know what inconveniences he met with there. Many times the buffetings of Satan are better for us than a condition free from temptation; so is poverty, emptiness, better than fulness, loss of friends than enjoyment of them.
Use 2. For information.
1. By what note we may know whether God chastens us in anger, yea or nay; whether our crosses be curses. The cross that maketh thee better cometh with a blessing. It is not the sharpness of the affliction we should look to, but the improvement of it. The bitter waters may be made sweet by experiences of grace; if we are made more godly, wise, religious, it is a good cross; but if it leave us as careless and stupid, or no better than we were before, that cross is but a preparation to another; if it hath only stirred up our impatience, done us no good, God will follow his stroke, and heat his furnace hotter.
2. It informeth us that it is our duty not only to be good in afflictions, but we must be good after afflictions. David, when escaped, saith, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted.’ Wicked men are somewhat good in afflictions, but as soon as they are delivered they return to their old sins; as metals are melted while they are in the furnace, but when they are taken out, they return to their natural hardness; but the godly are better afterwards.
3. That every condition is as the heart is. Afflictions are good if we have the grace to make a good use of them. Look, as the good blessings of God by our corruption are abused to wantonness, and so made hurtful to us, so crosses, that are evil in themselves, when sanctified are good. All things are sanctified to us when we are sanctified to God. Other things that would be snares prove helps and encouragements, are great furtherances. The creature is another thing to the saints; if they are advanced, their hearts are enlarged to God; if afflicted, they grow more humble, watchful, serious. All things work together for the worst to the wicked. If God make Saul a king, Judas an apostle, Balaam a prophet, their preferment shall be their ruin. Hainan’s honour, Ahithophel’s wit, and Herod’s applause turned to their hurt—if in prosperity, they contemn God; if in adversity, deny and blaspheme him: Prov. i. 32, ‘For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.’ As the salt sea turneth all into salt water, so a man is in the constitution of his soul; all things are converted to that use.
Use 3. To persuade us to make this acknowledgment, that affliction is good. There needs many graces before we can thus determine.
1. Faith. It is not present, but it must be believed, hoped, and 260waited for. It is not fit all should be done in a day, and as early as we would; in the Lord’s time the fruit will appear. The word doth not work by and by, so not the rod. Faith can see good in that in which sense only can find smart: Phil. i. 19, ‘I know this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the spirit of Jesus Christ:’ and ‘We know that all things shall work together for good,’ Rom. viii. 28. Though it doth not appear, yet we know.
2. Love. The children of God, out of their love to God and present submission to God, do count whatsoever he doth to be good: Ps. lxxiii. 1, ‘Yet God is good to Israel.’ Though he seemeth to deal with his people hardly, yet love pronounceth the dispensation to be good; it can see a great deal of love in pain, and smart, and chastenings. I have read once and again of such a rabbi, that, when told of an affliction, would say, This is good, because it cometh from God.
3. Spiritual wisdom and choice to esteem things according to their intrinsic worth. A high value of holiness, profiting in sanctification, is more than enough to recompense all the trouble we are put to in learning it. This will make us yield to be lessened in our worldly comforts for the increase of spiritual grace: as Paul would cheerfully part with his health that he might have more experience of Christ: 2 Cor. xii. 10, ‘I will take pleasure in infirmities, necessities, and distresses, for Christ’s sake.’ Surely the loss of outward things should trouble us the less, and we should be the sooner satisfied in God’s dispensation, if he will take away our earthly comforts, and make us more mindful of that which is heavenly; if by an aching head God will give you a better heart, by the death of friends promote the life of grace.
4. Diligence and needfulness—(1.) To observe afflictions; (2.) To improve them.
[1.] To observe what falleth out, from what hand it cometh, to what issue it tendeth; otherwise, if we observe it not, how can we acknowledge it, give God the glory of his wisdom and goodness? In heaven, when we shall know as we are known, it will be a great part of our lauding of God to look back on his providence conducting us through troubles, as it is pleasant for travellers in their inn to discourse of the deepness and danger of the ways. And now, when we rather are known than know, Gal. iv. 9, it is useful and comfortable to take notice of God’s dealing with us. Oh, what a deal of wisdom, faithfulness, and truth may we see in the conduct of his providence! Gen. xxxii. 10, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands;’ Ps. cxix. 75, ‘I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.’ What necessity of his chastisement to prevent our pride, security, negligence! with what wisdom was our cross chosen! how did God strike in the right vein! you were running on apace in some neglect of God till he awakened you. This observation will help us to love God, who is vigilant and careful of our welfare. It will allay all the hard thoughts that we have of the seeming severity of his dispensations.
[2.] Diligence to improve it for the bringing about of this good. We must not be idle spectators, but active under God; we must more 261 stir up ourselves, and exercise ourselves to godliness. The affliction of itself is a dead thing; there must be help: Phil. i. 19, ‘For I know this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the spirit of Jesus Christ;’ 2 Cor. i. 11, ‘Ye also helping together by prayer for us.’ It is not the nature of the cross, nor the power of inherent grace, without the actual influence of the Spirit, that makes troubles profitable. We must excite ourselves also, for the saints are not only passive objects, but active instruments of providence. We are not merely to be passive: Heb. xii. 11, ‘It yieldeth the pleasant fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.’ God exerciseth us with the rod, and we must exercise ourselves under the rod. We are engaged to use all holy means to this end, searching, praying, rousing up ourselves, learning our proper lessons; then we will come and make our acknowledgment, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted.’
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