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PASTOR OF THE CHRYSTIE STREET CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, NEW YORK.
GOD'S MEANING IN MEN'S SUFFERING.
" It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”—Psalms, 119: 71.
This is the logic of experience, the reasoning of one that knew, having learned it experimentally. It is a conclusion arrived at, in the mind of the Psalmist, from deep personal acquaintance with the discipline of God's kingdom. It is what a review of his Christian life taught him, and it has been verified by every real Christian since: so that it has the force of an old ascertained principle, THAT AFFLICTIONS ARE GOOD FOR THOSE EXERCISED THEREBY.
Our design is, for the purpose of instruction, to develop the proof of this position, and in so doing, to glance at the different modes in which men experience the discipline of affliction, to trace the ways in which it does them good, and to find out some of God's statutes that are thereby learned.
1.- The different forms under which men are called to endure the discipline of affliction. Man is born to trouble. Suffering in some shape, though in widely different degrees, is, sooner or later, the lot of all. Bereavement of friends dear as life; loss of property; loss of health; infirmities and disease of body, with anguish of mind; the woes of the spirit of which the suffering heart alone knows its own bitterness, and the more appreciable maladies of the material frame, as sickness and decay of the active powers; calamities that afflict the inner and the outer man; personal afflictions, and afflictions in the persons of one's friends; disappointments heavy and hard to bear; perplexity and reverses; trials bitter, sharp and long, both from within and without—these are all, at some time or other, the portion of almost every man living, as they have been of all the dead. Few or none can claim exemption from sickness, accident, and distressing change. Many there be that think they can say with the weeping prophet, I am the man that hath seen afliction : but where is there one that has lived out the joyous period of youth, and has had any experi- . ence of the realities of life, who can honestly say, I have never known grief or trouble; I ain ignorant of what it is to be afflicted ? Of all men, without exception, it is true, there is a wave of sorrow now breaking over their heads, or there is one on its way coming. It were neither possible nor of any profit to enumerate particularly all the ways in which God sees it good for men to be afflicted, one in this way, another in that: Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.
II.—We pass then to consider how and why, in accordance with the experience of David, it is good to be afflicted; or, in other words, to trace some of the ways in which it does men good to be afflicted.
It is good for me that I have been afficted. This is not the voice of nature, but the voice of grace. Nature says, it is good to be in prosperity; it is good to have the smiles of fortune; it is good to have silver and gold increase; it is good to possess houses and lands; it is good to be successful in business, and to live at ease; it is good to be surrounded by and happy in one's friends; it is good to have health and animal spirits, and the free use of one's mind and limbs; it is good to have ambition gratified; to have life flow smoothly, and to have all one's desires fulfilled. This is the voice of nature as to what is good. But in view of grace, it is good to be afflicted. It is good for a man to be laid low; good to be disappointed and crossed; good to be bereaved and distressed; good to be balked in business; good to have riches take to themselves wings and fly away; good to have self thwarted, and comforts diminished, and pride laid low; good to have the spirits droop, and health decay; good to feel the hard pressure of disease and pain; good to have one's earthly prospects clouded, and to be shut up, hampered, and perplexed; to be destitute, afflicted, tormented; good to have the world look dark, and life cheeress, and the grave to be desired; good to have the things of time stripped of their delusion and glare, and made to seem empty and unsatisfying as indeed they are; good for a man to have his idols removed, and earthly props taken from under him, hopes blown away, plans broken up, resources cut off, the tide of prosperity turned back, the sun withdrawn, all God's waves and billows going over him, and the soul compelled to turn from creatures to God, and to cry mightily to him for strength and salvation.
In the view of Infinite Wisdom and the rectified wisdom of man, all this is good, because its effects is so; because in reality adversity is better for the soul than prosperity; because humiliation and sorrow are in very truth more favorable to man's highest interests and well-being, both for this life and that which is to come, than a continual flow of success and selfgratification. Lord Bacon was right in saying, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction and the clearer revelation of God's favor. Yet even in the Old Testament, , if you listen to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath labored more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon."
For more reasons than Lord Bacon could give, adversity is better for the soul than prosperity, for it is the effect of long continued success to harden the heart, to keep the soul pleased with this life, away from Christ, and unready for eternity. It tends to make a man contented with his portion here, wedded to this world, and thoughtless about a better. In prosperity I said I shall never be moved. But the tendency of afflictions is to soften the heart, to disgust one with the unsatisfying vanities of time, to put in attractive contrast the wealth and importance of eternity, to wean from this world, and make one prepare for the world to come.
Even a true Christian, in prosperity, when everything goes well with him; when property and honors are increasing; when friends smile and are dear to him; when bealth is vigorous, spirits buoyant, and prospects bright, is then in great danger of forgetting God, of losing his spirituality, of becoming worldly, and proud, and self-indulgent, and getting to live too much for himself, too little for his Saviour and the salvation of his fellow-men; and he does not ordinarily enjoy then the spirit of prayer, and he is far from being at such a time the happiest man.
But now let his prosperity have a check; let a cherished partner, or child, or dear friend, be taken from him, or something that he feels
, that cuts him to the quiek; let him be arrested by sickness; let him be bitterly crossed and disappointed, and his way hedged up-now, if really a Christian, he
turns to God, he flies to him in prayer, he humbles himself before his Heavenly Father ; the world again loses its hold upon him, and sinks into its comparative insignificance; eternity is realized as at band; the worth of the soul is apprehended, and the value of salvation by Christ; the glory of the Saviour, and the conversion of souls to him, are felt to be the great things to live for; spiritual life that had run so low is again enkindled, and the man so afflicted again becomes happy in serving God, submitting to his will, and growing in grace.
Cecil's remarks in conversation to this effect, as reported by his friend, are very true and striking. The foolish creature man, he says, gets bewitched sometimes by the enchantments and sorceries of life. “He begins to lose the lively sense of that something which is superior to the glories of the world. His groveling soul begins to say, is not this fine? Is not that charming ? Is not that noble house worth a wish? Is not this equipage worth a sigh ? He must go to the word of God to know what a thing is worth. He must be taught there to call things by their proper names. If he have lost this habit, when his heart puts those questions, he will be likely to answer them like a fool; as I have done a thousand times. He will forget that God puts bis children into possession of these things as mere stewards; and that the possession of them increases his responsibility. He will sit down and plan and scheme to obtain possession of things which he forgets are to be burned up and destroyed. But God dashes the fond scheme into pieces. He disappoints the project, and with the chastisement he sends instruction; for be knows that the silly creature, if left to himself, would begin, like the spider whose web has been swept away, to spin again." This now is God's way; how different from Satan's, who would always give us just the thing our heart is set upon, who always sides and leagues in with our own evil inclinations. He would work in with our ambition. He would pamper our lusts and pride. But God has better things in store for those whom he means to sanctify as his children, which they must therefore be brought earnestly to desire and seek after; and this will often be only through the wreck and sacrifice of all the heart holds most dear.
The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Fallen and depraved as men are, naturally averse from God and good, this must be so. It is affliction of some kind that first leads the most of men in adult life to think
their ways, to turn their feet unto God's testimonies, and to seek durable riches and righteousness in heaven. And it is rare for a grown-up person to give the heart to God, in the midst of woridly, ease and prosperity, before the experience of painful
trial within or without. And it is still rarer, perhaps, that Christians in this life arrive at eminent holiness, and the state of uniform high enjoyment of religion, uninterrupted union with God and conformity to his will, without passing through great afflictions. It is by this discipline only that they can be emptied of self, and the world and their idols. What prosper, ity could never do for us, or allow to be done, adversity slowly though surely brings about : we kiss the rod that smites, and learn what that scripture meaneth, " Blessed is the man whom thou chasteneth, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law. Behold, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Then how do we joyfully acknowledge, our trials being sanctified by grace, and turned into triumphs—“I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hath afflicted me. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept thy law."
It is true, affliction is a harsh instructor, and its lessons hard, like those of a severe schoolmaster; yet we learn thereby most needful lessons.
The heart that God breaks with affliction's stroke,
And know above how good thy teachings were ;
Thus we think it is made plain how “happy is the man whom God correcteth, for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." “ As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.
III.-- We are then ready for our third inquiry, or a particular' consideration of the statutes of God that are learned by affliction. "That I might learn thy statutes."
1. One of the statutes plainly taught by affliction is, that God uses trials as a medicine to correct the distempers and cure the spiritual maladies of his children. Very many forms of the great moral disease of sín there are to be treated, often malignant, chronic, and deadly. Sometimes there are dreadful ulcers and plagues of the moral being so deep that they can only be eradicated by the knife and caustic of a Divine surgery; and these God has to use with us, although, of course, while really corrective and friendly, they cannot but give pain, the