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1. From the infinite benevolence of his nature, and the mercy that characterizes all his dispensations. The happiness that manifestly prevails in the present system, is such an indication of the character of its author, as will not allow us to ascribe the mixture of misery that we observe, to any deficiency of benevolence in him. He who so often blesses, cannot once willingly afflict. When we contemplate the tender mercies that are over all his works, we are sure there must be some satisfactory reason for his apparent severity, whether we perceive it or not. We cannot suspect him of unkindness who, in Providence and Redemption, has shown so much mercy. Every thing in nature has a settled and benevolent character, has its fixed properties, and is consistent with itself; how much more harmonious and consistent must the Author of nature be ? 6 Doth a fountain send forth, at the same place, sweet waters and bitter ?"
2. From the fewness of our afflictions compared with our deserts.-Who can contemplate the defects of his own character, the sins of his heart and life, without being astonished at the long continuance of numberless forfeited mercies? Who can look at the history of a guilty world, without wondering at the patient benevolence which has still continued to lavish upon an apostate and rebellious race so many undeserved benefits? “He hath not dealt with us”—with any of us- “after our sins."
3. From the large aggregate of happiness which we all enjoy.--Notwithstanding the suffering that prevails, there is undoubtedly, in the vast majority of instances, a great over-balance of good on the whole. If we have some sickness, we have more health ; if some disappointment, we have more success. We are apt to exaggerate our sorrows, and overlook our advantages, and because one mercy is removed we are disposed to write Ichabod upon all. In spite of our complainings there are few who do not cling to life, as to a scene in which there is much to be hoped for, and much to be enjoyed.
4. From the fact that many of our sorrows are selforiginated.-Not a few of our sufferings, indeed the most bitter of them, we inflict upon ourselves. These are of our own procuring, the results of the wilful violation of those laws which
God has given to guide us to happiness. Far from being willing that we should suffer these, he warns us continually, in his providence, and in his word, against all that would occasion them. The whole moral law may be regarded as reiterating the exclamation, “Do thyself no harm.” God has not imposed upon us a single duty the tendency of which is not to ward off evil, and multiply the sources of innocent enjoyment.
5. From the direct statements of the written revelation.He declares again and again that he wills not the death of the sinner, that judgment is his strange work, that he delighteth in mercy,--and that he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.
“ Let God be true.” II. THE DESIGN FOR WHICH THEY ARE SENT.—They are sent in mercy, rather than judgment. Even when they arise out of our sins, and wear the appearance of judgment, they have blessings beneath their wings to the humble and penitent. The true thought upon the subject is this: Sin introduced suffering; but God, superior at all points to evil, uses this very thing, suffering, as an instrument by which sin itself may be destroyed in his own people; while the wicked are warned, and summoned, and at last rendered inexcusable, by their share of the process, God appoints the afflictions of life as the means of producing not only good in the end, but such a sum of it as could not, in our present moral condition, be produced by other means. Their ordinary uses are,
1. To discipline character.—“This is all the fruit, to take away sin.” While we are under affliction, we are under a process of cure. He afflicts not as an enemy, but as a father; not because he hates, but because he loves us; and would make us capable of receiving more and higher expressions of his love, by freeing us from that which renders us unlovely, and obstructs the flow of his greater loving-kindness. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent." It may be part of the
process that we should not exactly know all the good it occasions, nor what greater evils it prevents. Even the sufferings of the wicked are not all penal. “I withheld thee,” says God to Abimelech, a heathen prince, in Abraham's time, “I withheld thee from sinning against me;" and this he did by heavy strokes of his afflicting providence. Suffering, where it does not convert, restrains : it “hangs upon the wheels of evil." It keeps back from many temptations; prevents many guilty designs from bursting into light; guards society from many tumults and concussions which would be sure to occur, could the wicked have their unrestricted way; preserves many a man from treasuring up so large an amount of wrath, against the day of wrath, as he would otherwise accumulate, and thus materially diminishes his load of ultimate responsibility. How much more may mercy be expected to mingle with the afflictions of the righteous ?
2. To prove principle.- It does this to ourselves and to others. A man cannot be completely known to himself, or to those around him, till he is tried. Satan himself probably doubted the sterling integrity and nobleness of Job's character, till he was exposed to affliction. “Doth Job serve God for nought ?" Affliction proves the reality of our principles, and increases their strength. It calls into exercise the devotional feelings, and subdues the remainders of self-sufficiency and presumption.
3. To increase usefulness.-Who visits the sick? Chiefly those who have suffered affliction. Thus ministers are afflicted, that they may know how to assist and sympathize with their flock. And the Captain of our salvation was himself “made perfect through suffering."
4. To detach from the vanities of earth, and prepare the soul for heaven. It is by the disappointments of life that we learn the vanity of the creature, the emptiness of the world, and the glory of the Creator. When we see every man at his best estate to be altogether vanity, we are constrained to say, “Now, O Lord, what wait I for ? my hope is in thee.”'
III. THE ALLEVIATONS BY WHICH THEY ARE ACCOMPANIED.
1. In the appointment of them you are privileged to discern and acknowledge the divine hand.-God administers them: they are signs of his love : they shall not exceed the measure of your strength, nor be continued a moment longer
than is needful. This you know; and you do not think of ascribing them to chance, to casualty, to accident, to caprice; but you look up and say, “Thou most upright, dost weigh the path of the just." The Psalmist says, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it:" he might not have been dumb had it been any one else. This reference is, of itself, a great alleviation. “The
my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it ?!'
2. In the endurance of them you are often favoured with peculiar supports and consolations.—“Though he cause grief," and while you suffer it, “yet will he have compassion.” All the sympathy you receive from friends you really derive from him. All the softening circumstances which make affliction tolerable flow from his compassion. All the succours and comforts which religion furnishes come directly from him. And to him you are indebted for all the providential interpositions by which deliverance is at length accomplished.
3. In the final review you will assuredly have occasion to bless God for all.-From the limited retrospect that we can even now take, we see much to reconcile us to past sufferings, and to give us confidence as to the happy tendency of present and future ones; and this confidence affords solace and relief.
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THEY SHOULD BE MET.
1. An enquiring spirit.-"Show me wherefore thou contendest with me." Enquire into their causes, their tendency, and especially the influence which they exert upon your character.
2. A prayerful spirit.-There is no time more favourable for the exercises of devotion, no time in which we are more likely to obtain the richest blessings, than the time of affliction. This is eminently a time in which God may be found. He often reserves his best comforts for the darkest hours, as the master of the feast, in the gospel, was said to have kept the best wine till the last.
3. A submissive spirit.—How much does it become us to be humble and submissive. We may little suspect many defects in our character, which perhaps render severe dispensations imperatively needful. But "all things are naked and open to Him with whom we have to do."
4. A thankful spirit.-We have already seen that they are few and light compared with our deserts : how much less tolerable would they have been had justice, unmixed with mercy, held its course against us.
It is only
“ of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, and because his compassions fail not."
5. A spirit of cheerful expectation and hope of better days hereafter.-We may lawfully desire and anticipate deliverance from calamity in this life, when its end shall have been answered, for God does not reserve all his blessings to a future world. But whatever may be the lot of the Christian here, the interval cannot be great that separates him from that higher state of existence, in which the mysteries of providence will be finally explained, and his mortal sufferings will appear to have been light and transient indeed, when he perceives and feels the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” to which they have conducted.
HEBREWS IV. 7.
HEARTS.” THERE are many practices into which we fall, the folly of which is so apparent, that little or no expense of proof is requisite to discredit them. The conviction of their impropriety accompanies their announcement; while such is the perversity of human nature that we continue to repeat what we nevertheless so unhesitatingly condemn. A thousand illustrations, were it necessary, might be adduced of the remark. For any one to refuse to pay a proper regard to his secular affairs would be a case in point; and many, perhaps, are the touches of remorse which some of you have felt, when, at the conclusion of the week, you have found unattempted, much that you might have performed, and the omission of which has been occasioned by