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Chapter LII.

Comforting Instructions For Those That Are Laboring Under Great Temptations In Spirit.

I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.Isa. 48:10.

It is an undoubted truth that all spiritual sorrow proceeds from God. For “the Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” 1 Sam. 2:6, 7. By the “grave” in this place, is meant such a state of spiritual afflictions as, like the grave, is void of all light and comfort. The soul that is thrust down into this prison, looks upon itself as dying and pining away; as hated, despised, and persecuted by every creature of God. In this disconsolate state, the poor man cries out with holy David, “My soul refused to be comforted.” Ps. 77:2. And well it might, when both the Scripture and God himself were withholden from him. This is that “grave” into which God brings the soul. Here it finds no 350 comfort but in silence and resignation, in those unutterable sighs and groans which proceed from the ground of the heart; for so great is its distress, that it cannot so much as think upon God, or the promises contained in his holy Word. Faith grows weak, hope languishes, and the whole man is feeble, withered like grass (Ps. 38:8, 9; 102:3), and ready to perish, were he not inwardly supported by the secret Word and power of God.

2. In this grave or shadow of death, we find our Lord Jesus Christ, when “his soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death; and in his agony his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood.” Matt. 26:38; Luke 22:44. In this state a man undergoes greater afflictions than in death itself. Yea, here a man wishes for death, and longs to find a grave where he may rest from his unspeakable labors and sufferings. Job. 7:15. Thus we find Job repeatedly wishing for death. And our blessed Lord himself, under the agonies of death, cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” Matt. 27:46. He complains that he was forsaken of God, though He was continually present with him, and preserved him under all his trouble. But now, what can be more wonderful than that Christ himself should complain for want of comfort, considering his intimate union with God? For he was both God and man. Yet God had so withdrawn his consolations from him, that his human nature was left desolate and comfortless. Now if the blessed Jesus, who was united to the eternal Godhead and anointed with the heavenly oil of gladness, endured a conflict so bitter, surely sinful man has no reason to wonder, when he is brought under the same fiery trial, as if some strange thing had happened unto him. 1 Pet. 4:12.

3. We suffer nothing but what our blessed Master suffered before us; and certainly nothing is more reasonable than that the members should suffer with the Head.

4. This, therefore, is a kind of trial whether thou art truly a member of Christ, and a partaker of his sufferings. Rev. 1:9. Such seems to have been Hezekiah's case when he complained—“Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove.” Isa. 38:14. And Job's—“I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not.” Job 7:3; 30:20. And so again, “If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice.” Job 9:16. Such were the complaints of holy David (Ps. 6; 13; 38; 88). In these scriptures we may see how wonderfully all the saints and servants of God have been purified in this furnace of affliction. This was the ground of that warmth of feeling which we meet with in the words of Job and the holy Psalmist. Sometimes they are so much bereft of hope, that they could not think it possible that God should ever show mercy to them; at other times, they are full of hope and confidence, and believe that “their Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25), as Job expresses it. Yet the carnal man has no understanding of such sufferings, or of the complaints arising from them. This we find by the example of Job's friends, who, not understanding what was the true state of his distressed and afflicted soul, reproved him as one that had lost patience, and that charged God foolishly. When a man is come into this state, he falls into such a degree of unbelief that he is 351 not conscious of the least trace of faith remaining in his soul. All the powers of faith being, as it were, collected in the centre of the soul, seem to the man to be lost; though they still operate in secret, and breathe in sighs and groanings unutterable. This absence of faith is a kind of torture to the soul. Therefore the man cannot believe that God will be merciful to him, but cries out, “O how willingly would I believe, if it would but please God to give me the power!” And in the height of this conflict, the Scriptures themselves afford him no comfort. This is that crisis of the soul when God, by humbling us, shows us how unworthy and vile we are in ourselves; yea, that of ourselves we are nothing, but that all our sufficiency is of God; so that thence we may learn not to trust in ourselves. Nevertheless, the poor soul occasionally perceives some distant gleams of light breaking through the thick darkness, which administer comfort and support, and preserve it from desperation.

5. Now, though it may happen that a man in the bitterness of his soul grows impatient, and is tempted to fret against God, yet let him remember that God is merciful. He knows whereof we are made; he sees the struggle of our souls under the fiery trial, when he sets his hand to cleanse us from our impurities. In a word, the most holy and best beloved children of God, are they that have passed through this furnace of affliction; as we may see by the examples of Job (Job 42:2, etc.), of David, and Jeremiah. Jer. 20:12, etc. These learned faith in the school, and under the discipline of the cross; whilst the delicate Christian who flees from the cross, and expects to learn it amidst the enjoyments of the world, will find himself miserably deceived in the end. But further,

6. (2) Let us call to mind that noble saying of Jeremiah, “The Lord will not cast off forever; but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” Lam. 3:30, 31, 33. Whence them mayest learn, that though the Lord suffer thee to be afflicted for a season, yet he will not cast thee off forever. Perhaps, however, thou wilt say, that the evil thoughts with which thou art troubled, are not from God, but from Satan. Now, though it cannot be denied that they are suggested to us by Satan; yet it is also true, that Satan can do nothing but by God's permission. In this case, look unto Jesus, whom our heavenly Father suffered to be tempted by the same adversary. The fiery darts (Eph. 6:16) which the Evil One cast at our blessed Saviour, came indeed from him, and not from God; but it was God that gave him permission to assault as he did. And though our blessed Lord bore all this, yet he still continued to be the dearly beloved Son of God, nor could the tempter with all his art and power do him the least harm. Matt. 4:1, etc. Hear this, O afflicted soul, and believe that thou also shalt be safe and unhurt amid all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Remember the case of Job, when, by God's permission, the devil so afflicted him internally and externally, that he cursed the day of his birth; yet was God still with him, and we find him thus expressing himself to God: “These things hast thou hid in thine heart: I know that this is with thee.” Job 10:13.

7. Having thus discovered the origin 352 of this spiritual affliction, let us next inquire into the reasons why God sends it upon us.

8. First, then, it is certain that the true inward taste of the Word of God, is accompanied with unspeakable joy, peace, and comfort, vastly surpassing any enjoyments of this life. This is the true joy of our souls, a foretaste of eternal life, arising from the true and living knowledge of Christ Jesus; by which we discover the heart of God full of the most tender compassions, and an ardent and eternal love towards lost mankind. Now, so corrupt and perverse is human nature, that it is too apt to be exalted above measure, by the abundance of these divine manifestations, and to make them occasions of spiritual pride; and the man who is thus visited and comforted from above, will be apt to think highly of himself, to overvalue his sanctity, and to think meanly of the rest of the world, who are strangers to these consolations; and thus, forsaking the fountain of living waters, whence all the streams of blessing flow, and to which, with all humility, they ought to be ascribed; the man grows vain and arrogant, and sets himself up in the place of God. This perverseness of soul, as it is directly contrary to true penitence, and to the appointed way of salvation, so it is very hateful to God. This causes him to withdraw his consolations from us, and to hide himself in thick darkness; so that though we call and cry, and search ever so diligently, we shall not be able to find Him. This is a deplorable state, when we are hanging, as it were, between heaven and hell, oppressed and afflicted on every side, not knowing whither to fly for relief or comfort; having no certain evidence whether we believe or not, whether we hope or not, whether God be angry with us or not, whether we are in a state of life or of death. This is that darkness and desolation which we find described in Psalm 88; of which the Psalmist speaks also in Ps. 31:22. “I 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.”

9. Now, although nothing is more bitter to us than to be so long deprived of the comforts of the divine presence; yet even this deprivation itself is more profitable to the soul, than all the enjoyments and glories of the world. By this, as by a fiery trial, we are taught humility, repentance, contempt of the world, and the true value of all its favors and enjoyments; that these are dangerous, transitory, and perishing, and can give no solid comfort to the distressed soul. And though the soul in this state is encompassed with perplexities and fears, so that it can hardly lift up itself to God, yet there is left a kind of deep and secret sorrow, venting itself in holy sighs, and devout aspirations towards God, and a longing for his favor. Hence we may learn how great a good God is to the soul, and that no true, solid, or constant peace can be found except in Him. This cannot be learned any where but in this school of temptation; in which alone the truest knowledge is to be acquired. And whosoever is unacquainted with this, knows not God and Christ as they ought to be known.

10. And would to God, that for his glory, and our own unspeakable advantage, we would readily submit to this visitation, which is designed for the trial of our faith, even as gold in the furnace is tried! Then we should quickly reap the amazing benefits of 353 such a cleansing. For the faithful soul that can hold out, and not faint under it, comes forth glorious as gold out of the fire, cleansed from all its dross; so that neither fire, nor water, nor the cross, nor death, nor Satan, can hurt it. Such a one will learn how to behave himself ever afterwards with patience and humility, both in prosperity and adversity; not to sink under the cross; not to be presumptuous in prosperity; not to depend upon himself, or be puffed up with his own fancied perfections; but to look up steadfastly to God, the everlasting fountain and giver of all goodness; and to embrace every dispensation of Providence, whether sweet or bitter, as his only happiness; and, in every state or condition of soul or body, to rejoice in God alone.

11. Secondly, whensoever it shall please God to cast any of us, his creatures, into this trying furnace, it will be much more consistent and profitable for us to pray for patience under it, than for deliverance from it. For when once the fire of temptation has purged away the dross of our iniquities, our pride, luxury, covetousness, and envy, it will be much easier for us to endure afterwards other fiery trials, by having our own will swallowed up in the will and good pleasure of God. But when from an excessive indulgence of the infirmities of our corrupt nature, we endeavor to avoid this fiery trial, it often happens that before we can receive any benefit from it, we are contriving to make our escape. So that if God did not often keep us under the trial against our will, we should fly from it, without considering whether we were sufficiently purified, according to the will of God and the necessities of our corrupt nature: like children, who, if their parents or physicians did not prevent, would throw away that bitter cup which alone can cure their disorders. But God knows our case, and what is proper for us, better than we ourselves; and therefore he has appointed certain measures of affliction, to which he confines the soul, till he sees it proper to release her. So that we ought not so much to pray for deliverance from temptations, as for patience under them.

12. Thirdly, our deliverance is so certain, that we have not the least reason to doubt of it; for “though the Lord cause grief, yet will he have compassion, according to the multitude of his mercies.” Lam. 3:32. This is the promise of God, who is truth itself, and it therefore ought diligently to be weighed and considered by us. It is much better to know and digest some few comfortable passages of Scripture, or even only one of this kind, than to burden our memory with a great many without true spiritual relish. For when a man has by a lively faith digested one, he will easily understand and digest all the rest; and he that can derive comfort from one text, will thereby learn to do the same by all the rest. It will be very useful to repeat frequently, with lively affection, the 88th Psalm, where thou wilt see the state of thy soul described. There thou wilt find that there have been others in the world before thee, who have been tried and afflicted as thou art, and yet have afterwards been delivered and comforted of God, as we find in Psalm 89, where the holy man, rejoicing in the divine comfort, begins, as in a rapture, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.” Be thou confident, therefore, and believe that God will also in due time comfort thee with the same consolation. 354 For the Evil spirit, who always delights to afflict the souls of men, has, from the beginning of the world, made it his business to gall and wound them with his fiery darts. As in a tempestuous sea one wave is continually rolling upon another, so do the various temptations of Satan pursue the afflicted soul; sometimes oppressing it with fearful and melancholy thoughts; at others, with impatience, unbelief, blasphemous and wicked thoughts. The terrors and miseries of such a soul are sometimes so great, that no creature can give it comfort; yea, those very things which give joy and delight to others, are to such a man, not only joyless, but burdensome. The whole world is to him but one bitter cross; yea, even God himself appears dreadful to him. Thus Job bitterly complains (chap. 7:13, etc.); and the agony is increased by the sting of his own conscience, which terrifies him with this dreadful sentence, “There is no help for thee in thy God.” Ps. 3:2.

13. Against these wiles of the devil there is no better remedy than to endeavor to strengthen thyself after the examples of Job, David, and other holy men. (1) By bearing thy affliction as long as it shall please God; and waiting patiently till the clouds of darkness be driven away. Isa. 54: 11. “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.” Micah 7:9. Where God afflicteth, it is in no man's power to comfort. “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” 1 Sam. 2:6.

14. (2) We must, in this case, stop our ears against the opinions of the world, and, with Job, disregard the accusations of our friends, the terrors of the devil, who is the enemy of all peace and comfort, the reflections of our own hearts, the stings of our own consciences, and all the objections of flesh and blood. For, “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20), yea, than all the world, or the devil himself. Rather call to mind what God himself has promised to such afflicted souls. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit.” Isa. 66:2. “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Isa. 48:10.

15. (3) Consider also the examples of holy men. Did not they suffer as thou dost, and were they not at last delivered? Does not David complain, “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever?” Ps. 13:1. And did God forsake him in his troubles? No; for he adds, “I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation!” Ver. 5. He complains, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” Ps. 77:9. But did God leave him in this extremity? No, certainly, for after his deliverance he adds, “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” Ver. 10. Thus when God discovered himself in terrors to Jeremiah, he prays, “Be not a terror unto me!” (Jer. 17:17), but immediately adds, “Thou art my hope in the day of evil.” Did not Jesus Christ himself cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Ps. 22:1. But was he forsaken of God? No; for he adds, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren” (Ps. 22:22): and “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” Ps. 118:17.

16. Thou also, after this example of thy Saviour, must be content to drink 355 the wine mingled with gall and myrrh (Matt. 27:34), that thou mayest hereafter sit down with him at his royal supper in the kingdom of heaven. Isa. 65:13. Learn, therefore, to bear his reproach (Heb. 13:13); and thou shalt be a partaker of his glory. Learn to be conformed to Christ crucified, that thou mayest be conformed to Christ glorified. Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:21.

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