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Chapter XLV.

Divine Consolation Produces Patience Under Afflictions.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.James 1:12.

Even as God has provided healing remedies for the body in external nature; so has he also for the soul in his holy Word. And as in this valley of misery and tears, no man can be perfectly free from crosses, afflictions, and troubles; so nothing can be more seasonable than to collect certain 323 heads out of the word of God, by a proper application of which we may find help and comfort in the hour of temptation.

2. The first comfort is the consideration of the divine providence, which lays the burden upon us. “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” 1 Sam. 2:6. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” Job 1:21. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father.” Matt. 10:29. “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil.” Isa. 45:7. “Happy is the man whom God correcteth; therefore, despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: for he maketh sore, and bindeth up; he woundeth, and his hands make whole.” Job 5:17, 18. It is, therefore, foolish to be angry with those whom God makes the instruments of our correction. “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” Lam. 3:39, 40. This is the design of God, that we should repent and turn from our sins, and not murmur against him that afflicts us.

3. The second head of comfort is to consider the end and design of our cross, namely, that God sends it, not out of wrath, but from pure love to our souls. How dangerous it is to a man's soul to be always prosperous and at ease, we may learn not only from the case of “the rich man” (Luke 16:25), but also from the example of our first parents, whose happiness in paradise being greater than they could bear, they were, by the temptations of Satan, seduced from their obedience and dependence upon God. Gen. 3. And every day furnishes us with fresh instances of the danger of such a state. Now, though God, in strict justice, might have condemned man to everlasting punishment, yet he chose rather to have pity on him, and devised means for recovering his lost happiness; and one of these is the cross, or affliction. For this cause he drove him out of paradise, that in the “sweat of his face he should eat bread” (Gen. 3:19), to the intent that, by sufferings, he might be brought to repentance; and this is his constant method even to this day. Though we offend him by innumerable sins, yet, in his abundant mercy, he leaves nothing undone, no means untried, that may lead to our conversion and amendment. And this is the reason why Providence appoints every particular man his cross, that we may all be kept in true penitence and the fear of God unto eternal life. Hence it is that God is said to correct those whom he loves, that they may not be condemned with the world. Prov. 3:11, 12; 13:24; Heb. 12:6; 1 Cor. 11:32.

4. The third argument is sin itself, by considering whether thou hast not deserved thy punishments. If thou hast (which thou canst not deny), then it is agreeable to the divine justice that thou shouldest suffer. Now, a temporal suffering, attended with the divine mercy and comfort, is certainly more desirable than an eternal one, without hopes of comfort or expectation of redemption. Call to mind the rich man, in vain crying out: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” (Luke 16:24), and assure thyself that it will be no small comfort to consider that God has changed the eternal punishment 324 threatened to our sins into a temporal correction that can be endured.

5. Fourthly, when thou art afflicted, consider how much Christ suffered for thy sake! Think upon his poverty, “who had not where to lay his head!” Matt. 8:20. Remember the indignities which he underwent, such as no man ever did or will endure: being “despised and rejected of men” (Isa. 53:3, 4); yea, “a worm, and no man.” Ps. 22:6. Moreover, as he took upon him the miseries, pains, and diseases of all the world, hence it was that he underwent such bitter sufferings, such dreadful torments, that even the sun and moon were darkened at the sight, the earth quaked, and the rocks rent; all which, though for the sake of his most cruel enemies, he bore with a love so inexpressibly pure, with a meekness and patience so sincere, that “as a lamb, he opened not his mouth.” Moreover, though we provoke him every day by innumerable transgressions, yet he continues, and will still continue faithful, and ready to receive us to his favor upon our repentance (Jer. 3:9); yea, and if the ransom he has already paid were not sufficient, he would lay down his life again for our sakes. Therefore, he bears patiently with us, and waits day and night to be gracious. For so strong, so ardent, is his love towards us, that it cannot be quenched by any sins, any ingratitude of ours, if we but sincerely repent of them. His love is higher than heaven, deeper than the sea, and exceeding even our most exalted thoughts and expressions. But there is one thing necessary on our part, and that is, repentance. Therefore, he calls upon all without distinction, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28. And, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together!” Matt. 23:37. “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” John 7:37. By these words of Holy Scripture, he continually invites every one to come to him that stands in need of mercy. How then canst thou imagine that He will forsake thee in the time of trouble, who endured so many and great miseries for thy sake! It is for this that God calls himself our Father. Now we know that a father is more compassionate and tender than a master: so that he would not have us dread him, but love him as a dutiful child does an indulgent father. When, therefore, any affliction befalls thee, receive it cheerfully, and remember that thy Father sends it to thee for good, and kiss the rod, and the hand that holds it. Consider the compassion of God as thy greatest security, the firm foundation of all thy hopes; firmly believing that thy heavenly Father will lay no more upon thee than he knows to be absolutely necessary for the salvation of thy soul.

6. Fifthly, we must call to mind the consolatory promise of our blessed Saviour, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” John 16:20. As a little seed is multiplied into a number of grains, so one affliction shall produce a large increase of spiritual joy and glory. “They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Ps. 126:5, 6. If God should promise to convert every pebble about thy house into a precious stone, thou wouldest quickly make a 325 large collection, and highly value them. The case of crosses and afflictions is just the same. Learn to love them, yea, court them, knowing that God will assuredly convert them into treasures of blessings, and spiritual joys; according to the words: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Rom. 8:18.

7. The sixth ground of comfort is found in the examples of the saints, none of whom were without their cross. Ask them one by one, and they will answer you, “Through much tribulation we entered into the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22. Ask the elders in the Revelation, “Who are these?” and they will tell you, “These are they which came out of great tribulation.” Rev. 7:14. Inquire of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Daniel, Elias, Job, and all the Prophets and Apostles; they will tell you that they drank deep of the bitter cup of affliction, which was to them “the cup of salvation.” Ps. 116:13. If we consider only the holy martyrs, whose tortures and sufferings were terrible and affrighting, we shall find that nothing could seduce them from Christ. And what comparison is there between their crosses and our light afflictions, who “have not yet resisted unto blood”! Heb. 12:4. We cannot bear a trivial injury, or an affronting expression for Christ's sake, for whom the blessed martyrs underwent the most ignominious deaths. One was beheaded, another roasted alive, a third crucified; some were drowned, some stoned, others hanged, others struck through with darts, others forced to walk barefooted upon red-hot plates of iron; the love of Christ so swallowing up all sense of pain, that they cried out that “they were walking upon roses.”

8. The seventh source of comfort is, the presence of God with us under the cross. God has nowhere declared that he dwells with the merry, but rather with the afflicted and sorrowful. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isa. 57:15. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.—When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Isa. 41:10; 43:2. “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.” Ps. 91:14. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Ps. 34:18. It was the comforting presence of God that enabled the holy martyrs to bear up so boldly under the torments that were laid upon them, and to disregard their tormentors, as did particularly St. Laurence and St. Vincent, the latter of whom, walking upon burning coals, told them, “he was walking upon fragrant roses.” Babylas, the martyr, desired that the chain with which he was bound might be buried with him, that he might not be deprived of so great an ornament. Ignatius wished to be a grain of wheat, and to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that he might become clean 326 bread unto his Saviour. These are such instances of courage and joyfulness as utterly exceed the powers of nature, and are only owing to the influences of that heavenly Comforter who supported St. Stephen, and made his face shine before the council as it had been the face of an angel. Acts 6:15. And in this sense is that saying of the Psalmist verified, “Thy comforts delight my soul.” Ps. 94:19.

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