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Second general head of the application of the truth insisted on — Grounds of spiritual disquietments considered — The first, afflictions — Ways and means of the aggravation of afflictions — Rules about them.

That which now lieth before us is the second part of the second general use educed from the truth insisted on. Our aim is, to lead on souls towards peace with God, through a gracious persuasion of their interest in that forgiveness which is with him; and it consists, as was declared, in a consideration of some of those disquietments which befall the minds of men, and keep them off from establishment in this matter.

And, first, such disquietments and objections against the peace of the soul and its acceptance with God will arise from afflictions; they have done so of old, they do so in many at this day. Afflictions, I say, greatened unto the mind from their nature or by their concomitants, do ofttimes variously affect it, and sometimes prevail to darken it so far as to ingenerate thoughts that they are all messengers of wrath, all tokens of displeasure, and so, consequently, evidences that we are not pardoned or accepted with God.

Now, this is a time of great afflictions unto many, and those, some of them, such as have innumerable aggravating circumstances accompanying of them. Some have come with a dreadful surprisal in 576things not looked for, such as falls not out in the providence of God in many generations. Such is the condition of them who are reduced to the utmost extremity by the late consuming fire; some have had their whole families, all their posterity, taken from them. In a few days they have been suddenly bereaved, as in the plague. Some in their own persons, or in their relations, have had sore, long, and grievous trials from oppressions and persecutions. And these things have various effects on the minds of men. Some we find crying, with that wicked king, “This evil is of the Lord; why should we wait any longer for him?” and give up themselves to seek relief from their own lusts; — some bear up under their troubles with a natural stoutness of spirit; — some have received a sanctified use and improvement of their trials with joy in the Lord: but many we find to go heavily under their burdens, having their minds darkened with many misapprehensions of the love of God and of their own personal interest in his grace. It is not, therefore, unseasonable to speak a little to this head of trouble in our entrance. Outward troubles, I say, are oftentimes occasions, if not the causes, of great inward distresses. You know how the saints of old expressed their sense of them and conflicts with them. The complaints of David are familiar to all who attend unto any communion with God in these things; so are those of Job, Heman, Jonah, Jeremiah, and others: neither do they complain only of their troubles, but of the sense which they had of God’s displeasure in and under them, and of his hiding of his face from them whilst they were so exercised.

It is not otherwise at present, as is known unto such as converse with many who are either surprised with unexpected troubles, or worn out with trials and disappointments of an expected end. They consider themselves both absolutely and with respect unto others, and upon both accounts are filled with dark thoughts and despondencies. Saith one, “I am rolled from one trial unto another. The clouds with me return still after the rain. All the billows and water-spouts of God go over me. In my person, it may be, pressed with sickness, pains, troubles; in my relations, with their sins, miscarriages, or death; in my outward state, in want, losses, disreputation. I am even as a withered branch. Surely if God had any especial regard unto my soul, it would not be thus with me, or some timely end would have been put unto these dispensations.” On the other hand, they take a view of some other professors; they see that their sables are spread day by day, that the candle of the Lord shines continually on their tabernacle, and that in all things they have their hearts’ desire, setting aside the common attendancies of human nature, and nothing befalls them grievous in the world. “Thus it is with them. And surely, had I an interest in his grace, in pardon, 577the God of Israel would not thus pursue a flea in the mountains, nor set himself in battle army against a leaf driven to and fro with the wind; he would spare me a little, and let me alone for a moment. But as things are with me, I fear ‘my way is hidden from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God.’ ” This kind of thoughts do perplex the minds of men, and keep them off from partaking of that strong consolation which God is abundantly willing they should receive, by a comfortable persuasion of a blessed interest in that forgiveness that is with him.

And this was the very case of David; or at least these outward troubles were a special part of those depths out of which he cried for relief, by a sense of pardon, grace, and redemption with God.

I answer to these complaints, first, that there are so many excellent things spoken concerning afflictions, their necessity, their usefulness, and the like, — such blessed ends are assigned unto them, and in many have been compassed and fulfilled by them, — that a man, unacquainted with the exercise wherewith they are attended, would think it impossible that any one should be shaken in mind as to the love and favour of God on their account. But as the apostle tells us that no afflictions are joyous at present, but grievous, so he who made, in the close of his trials, that solemn profession, that “it was good for him that he had been afflicted,” yet we know, as hath been declared, how he was distressed under them. There are, therefore, sundry accidental things which accompany great afflictions, that seem to exempt them from the common rule and the promise of love and grace; as, —

1. The remembrance of past and buried miscarriages and sins lies in the bosom of many afflictions. It was so with Job: “Thou makest me,” saith he, “to possess the iniquities of my youth.” See his plea to that purpose, chap. xiii. 23–27. In the midst of his troubles and distresses, God revived upon his spirit a sense of former sins, even the sins of his youth, and made him to possess them; he filled his soul and mind with thoughts of them and anxiety about them. This made him fear lest God was his enemy, and would continue to deal with him in all severity. So was it with Joseph’s brethren in their distresses: Gen. xlii. 21, “They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us;” and verse 22, “Behold, his blood is required.” Their distress revives a deep, perplexing sense of the guilt of sin many years past before, and that under all its aggravating circumstances; which spoiled them of all their reliefs and comforts, filling them with confusion and trouble, though absolutely innocent as to what was come on them. And the like appeared in the widow 578of Zarephath, with whom Elijah sojourned during the famine. Upon the death of her son, which, it seems, was somewhat extraordinary, she cried out unto the prophet, “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” 1 Kings xvii. 18. It seems some great sin she had formerly contracted the guilt of, and now, upon her sore affliction in the death of her only child, the remembrance of it was recalled and revived upon her soul. Thus “deep calleth unto deep at the noise of God’s water-spouts,” and then “all his waves and billows go over” a person, Ps. xlii. 7. The deep of afflictions calleth up the deep of the guilt of sin, and both in conjunction become as billows and waves passing over the soul. We see only the outside of men’s afflictions; they usually complain only of what doth appear: and an easy thing it is supposed to be to apply relief and comfort unto those that are distressed. The rule in this matter is so clear, so often repeated and inculcated, the promises annexed unto this condition so many and precious, that every one hath in readiness what to apply unto them who are so exercised. But oftentimes we know nothing of the gall and wormwood that is in men’s affliction; they keep that to themselves, and their souls feed upon them in secret, Lam. iii. 19. God hath stirred up the remembrance of some great sin or sins, and they look upon their afflictions as that wherein he is come or beginning to enter into judgment with them. And is it any wonder if they be in darkness, and filled with disconsolation?

2. There is in many afflictions something that seems new and peculiar, wherewith the soul is surprised, and cannot readily reduce its condition unto what is taught about afflictions in general. This perplexeth and entangleth it. It is not affliction it is troubled withal, but some one thing or other in it that appears with an especial dread unto the soul, so that he questioneth whether ever it were so with any other or no, and is thereby deprived of the supportment which from former examples it might receive. And, indeed, when God intendeth that which shall be a deep affliction, he will put an edge upon it, in matter, or manner, or circumstances, that shall make the soul feel its sharpness. He will not take up with our bounds and measures, and with which we think we could be contented; but he will put the impress of his own greatness and terror upon it, that he may be acknowledged and submitted unto. Such was the state with Naomi, when, from a full and plentiful condition, she went into a strange country with a husband and two sons, where they all died, leaving her destitute and poor. Hence, in her account of God’s dealing with her, she says, “Call me not Naomi” (that is, pleasant), “call me Mara” (that is, bitter): “for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath 579brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” Ruth i. 20, 21. So was it with Job, with the widow of Zarephath, and with her at Nain who was burying her only child. And still in many afflictions God is pleased to put in an entangling specialty, which perplexeth the soul, and darkens it in all its reasonings about the love of God towards it and its interest in pardon and grace.

3. In some, affections are very strong and importunate as fixed on lawful things, whereby their nature is made sensible and tender, and apt to receive very deep impressions from urgent afflictions. Now, although this in itself be a good natural frame, and helps to preserve the soul from that stout-heartedness which God abhors, yet if it be not watched over, it is apt to perplex the soul with many entangling temptations. The apostle intimates a double evil that we are obnoxious unto under trials and afflictions, Heb. xii. 5, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.” Men may either, through a natural stoutness, despise and contemn their sufferings, and be obstinate under them, or faint and despond; and so come short of the end which God aims at for them, to be attained in a way of duty. Now, though the frame spoken of be not obnoxious unto the first extreme, yet it is greatly to the latter; which, if not watched against, is no less pernicious than the former. Affections in such persons being greatly moved, they cloud and darken the mind, and fill it with strange apprehensions concerning God and themselves. Every thing is presented unto them through a glass composed of fear, dread, terror, sorrow, and all sorts of disconsolations. This makes them faint and despond, unto very sad apprehensions of themselves and their conditions.

4. Afflictions find some entangled with very strong corruptions, — as love of the world, or the pleasure of it, of name or reputation, of great contrivances for posterity, and the like; or it may be in things carnal or sensual. Now, when these unexpectedly meet together, — great afflictions and strong corruptions, — it is not conceivable what a combustion they will make in the soul As a strong medicine or potion meeting with a strong or tough distemper in the body, — there is a violent contention in nature between them and about them, so that oftentimes the very life of the patient is endangered; so it is where a great trial, a smart stroke of the hand of God, falls upon a person in the midst of his pursuit of the effects of some corruptions, — the soul is amazed even to distraction, and can scarce have any thought but that God is come to cut the person off in the midst of his sin. Every unmortified corruption fills the very fear and expectation of affliction with horror. And there is good reason that so it should do; for although God should be merciful unto men’s iniquities, 580yet if he should come to take vengeance of their inventions, their condition would be dark and sorrowful

5. Satan is never wanting in such occasions to attempt the compassing of his ends upon persons that are exercised under the hand of God. In the time of suffering it was that he fell upon the Head of the church, turning it into the very hour of the power of darkness. And he will not omit any appearing opportunities of advantage against his members. And this is that which he principally, in such seasons, attacks them withal, — namely, that God regards them not, that they are fallen under his judgment and severity, as those who have no share in mercy, pardon, or forgiveness.

From these and the like reasons, I say, it is, that whereas afflictions in general are so testified unto, to be such pledges and tokens of God’s love and care, to be designed unto blessed ends as conformity unto Christ, and a participation of the holiness of God; yet, by reason of these circumstances, they often prove means of casting the soul into depths, and of hindering it from a refreshing interest in the forgiveness that is with God. That this may prove no real or abiding ground of inward spiritual trouble unto the soul, the following rules and directions may be observed:—

1. Not only afflictions in general, but great and manifold afflictions, and those attended with all sorts of aggravating circumstances, are always consistent with the pardon of sin, after [often?] signal tokens and pledges of it, and of the love of God therein: Job vii. 17, 18, “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? and that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?” What were the considerations that cast him into this admiration of the care and love of God is expressed, verses 12–16. There are no words of a more dismal import in the whole book than those here expressed: yet, when he recollected himself from his overwhelming distress, he acknowledgeth that all this proceeded from the love and care of God; yea, his fixing his heart upon a man to magnify him, to set him up and do him good. For this end doth he chasten a man every morning, and try him every moment; and that with such afflictions as are for the present so far from being joyous as that they give no rest, but even weary the soul of life, as he expresseth their effects on himself, verses 15, 16. And hence it is observed of this Job, that when none in the earth was like to him in trouble, God gave him three testimonies from heaven that there was none in the earth like unto him in grace. And although it may not be laid down as a general rule, yet for the most part in the providence of God, from the foundation of the world, those who have had most of afflictions have had most of grace and the most eminent testimonies of acceptance with God. 581Christ Jesus, the Son of God, the head of the church, had all afflictions gathered into a head in him, and yet the Father always loved him, and was always well pleased with him.

When God solemnly renewed his covenant with Abraham, and he had prepared the sacrifice whereby it was to be ratified and confirmed, God made a smoking furnace to pass between the pieces of the sacrifice, Gen. xv. 17. It was to let him know that there was a furnace of affliction attending the covenant of grace and peace. And so he tells Zion that he “chose her in the furnace of affliction,” Isa. xlviii. 10; — that is, in Egyptian affliction; burning, flaming afflictions; “fiery trials,” as Peter calls them, 1 Pet. iv. 12. There can, then, no argument be drawn from affliction, from any kind of it, from any aggravating circumstance wherewith it may be attended, that should any way discourage the soul in the comforting, supporting persuasion of an interest in the love of God and forgiveness thereby.

2. No length or continuance of afflictions ought to be any impeachment of our spiritual consolation. Take for the confirmation hereof the great example of the Son of God. How long did his afflictions continue? what end or issue was put to them? No longer did they abide than until “he cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.” To the moment of his death, from his manger to his cross, his afflictions still increased, and he ended his days in the midst of them. Now, he was the head of the church, and the great representative of it, unto a conformity with whom we are predestinated. And if God will have it so with us even in this particular, so as that we shall have no rest, no peace from our trials, until we lie down in the grave, that whatever condition we pass through they shall be shut out of none, but only from immortality and glory, what have we herein to complain of?

3. Where the remembrance and perplexing sense of past sins is revived by present afflictions, separate them in your minds and deal distinctly about them. So long as you carry on the consideration of them jointly, you will be rolled from one to another, and never obtain rest unto your souls. They will mutually aggravate each other. The sharpness of affliction will add to the bitterness of the sense of sin; and the sense of sin will give an edge to affliction, and cause it to pierce deeply into the soul, as we showed in the former instances. Deal, therefore, distinctly about them, and in their proper order. So doth the psalmist here. He had at present both upon him; and together they brought him into these depths, concerning which he so cries out for deliverance from them: see Ps. xxxii. 3–5. And what course doth he take? He applies himself in the first place to his sin and the guilt of it, and that distinctly and separately. And when he hath got a discharge of sin, which he 582waited so earnestly for, his faith quickly arose above his outward trials, as appears in his blessed close of all:” ‘He shall redeem Israel out of all his trouble;’ the whole Israel of God, and myself amongst them.” This do, then — Single out the sin or sins that are revived in the sense of their guilt upon the conscience; use all diligence to come to an issue about them in the blood of Christ This God by your affliction calls you unto. This is the disease, whereof your trouble is but the symptom. This, therefore, in the cure you seek after, is first and principally to be attended unto; when that is once removed, the other, as to any prejudice unto your soul, will depart of itself. The root being once digged up, you shall not long feed on the bitter fruit that it hath brought forth; or if you do, the wormwood shall be taken out of it, and it shall be very pleasant unto you, as well as wholesome. How this is to be done, by an application unto God for forgiveness, hath been at large declared. But if men will deal with confused thoughts about their sins and their troubles, their wound will be incurable and their sorrow endless.

4. Remember that a time of affliction is a time of temptation. Satan, as we have showed, will not be wanting unto any appearing opportunity or advantage of setting upon the soul. When Pharaoh heard that the people were entangled in the wilderness, he pursued them; and when Satan sees a soul entangled with its distresses and troubles, he thinks it his time and hour to assault it. He seeks to winnow, and comes when the corn is under the flail. Reckon, therefore, that when trouble cometh, the prince of the world cometh also, that you may be provided for him. Now is the time to take the shield of faith, that we may be able to quench his fiery darts. If they be neglected, they will inflame the soul. Watch, therefore, and pray, that you enter not into temptation, that Satan do not represent God falsely unto you. He that durst represent Job falsely to the all-seeing God will with much boldness represent God falsely unto us, who see and know so little. Be not, then, ignorant of his devices, but every way set yourselves against his interposing between God and your souls in a matter which he hath nothing to do withal. Let not this make-bate by any means inflame the difference.

5. Learn to distinguish the effect of natural distempers from spiritual distresses. Some have sad, dark, and tenacious thoughts fixed on their minds from their natural distempers. These will not be cured by reasonings, nor utterly quelled by faith. Our design must be, to abate their efficacy and consequents by considering their occasions. And if men cannot do this in themselves, it is highly incumbent on those who make application of relief unto them to be careful to discern what is from such principles, whereof they are not to expect a speedy cure. And, —

5836. Take heed in times of peace and ease that you lay not up, by your negligence or careless walking, sad provision for a day of darkness, a time of afflictions. It is sin that imbitters troubles; the sins of peace are revived in time of distress. Fear of future affliction, of impendent troubles, should make us careful not to bring that into them which will make them hitter and sorrowful.

7. Labour to grow better under all your afflictions, lest your afflictions grow worse, lest God mingle them with more darkness, bitterness, and terror. As Joab said unto David, if he ceased not his scandalous lamentation on the death of Absalom, all the people would leave him, and he then should find himself in a far worse condition than that which he bemoaned, or any thing that befell him from his youth; — the same may be said unto persons under their afflictions. If they are not managed and improved in a due manner, that which is worse may, nay, in all probability will, befall them. Wherever God takes this way, and engageth in afflicting, he doth commonly pursue his work until he hath prevailed, and his design towards the afflicted party be accomplished. He will not cease to thresh and break the bread-corn until it be meet for his use. Lay down, then, the weapons of thy warfare against him; give up yourselves to his will; let go every thing about which he contends with you; follow after that which he calls you unto; and you will find light arising unto you in the midst of darkness. Hath he a cup of affliction in one hand.? — lift up your eyes, and you will see a cup of consolation in another. And if all stars withdraw their light whilst you are in the way of God, assure yourselves that the sun is ready to rise.

8. According to the tenor of the covenant of grace, a man may be sensible of the respect of affliction unto sin, yea, unto this or that sin in particular, and yet have a comfortable persuasion of the forgiveness of sin. Thus it was in general in God’s dealing with his people. He “forgave them,” but he “took vengeance of their inventions,” Ps. xcix. 8. Whatever they suffered under the vengeance that fell upon their inventions (and that is as hard a word as is applied anywhere unto God’s dealing with his people), yet, at the same time, he assured them of the pardon of their sin. So, you know, was the case of David. His greatest trial and affliction, and that which befell him on the account of a particular sin, and wherein God took vengeance on his invention, was ushered in with a word of grace, — that God had done away or pardoned his sin, and that he should not die. This is expressed in the tenor of the covenant with the seed of Christ, Ps. lxxxix. 31–34.

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