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When affliction is not sanctified, it will often lead men, like Cain, to complain with anguish and resentment against God: it will harden a man in guilt: it will plunge him into despair.
Brethren, affliction may grind a man to pówder, and yet produce nothing like what the Scripture calls a broken heart. How many, instead of leaning on God's word in their afflictions, turn from that word, as the head would turn from the halter!
It is only then, when God sanctifies affliction, that it becomes a teacher of his word; and that it does this the text asserts: It is good for me that I have been afflicted ; if it were only for this that I have been taught thy word.
Some illustration of this is afforded from the case of David.
As if David had said: - God had always told me, in his word, that he was my only portion; and that vanity and vexation of spirit attend all human pursuits : but affliction made me feel this. I see now the sentence of death inscribed on every thing in this transient world. Oh, that I had learned this lesson sooner from his word; and escaped thereby the more painful lessons of experience!”
As if he had said further: 66 God had told me, in his word, that sin is a rank poison to the soul, and that none can escape its bitter
consequences: yet I rolled it as a sweet morsel under my 'tongue, till affliction came, and then I fled for my life. Then I said every word of God is pure; for he is not a man that he should lie.”
“ I have been taught,” we may again suppose him to say, “ I have been taught to sacrifice the blood of goats and of bulls, as the shadow of good things to come: but the sin under which I laboured would have deceived me, had not God thundered in my conscience; nor, till I was awakened, did I cry out, “ Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me; and deliver me by a better sacrifice than I can offer ! Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; but I feel such deep depravity in my heart, that, if thou hadst not appointed a priest after the order of Melchizedek, that cleanseth from all sin, there had been no hope for me.””
Again, the word teacheth men to pray. Affliction often brought David to his knees; and, after this, he stands forth as a witness, that seeking God in affliction is the first step towards deliverance. This poor man, says he, cried; and the Lord heard him, and delivered him out of all his trouble.
David had also seen the ungodly prosper: his foot had hereon well nigh slipped:—but affliction brought him to himself and to the word of God; and then, and not till then, he saw the end of these men. The word by Moses had shewn him before the end of the wicked: but it is one thing to read the Bible, because it is our duty; and it is another thing to fly to that Bible as the relief of our doubts and difficulties.
Once more, after receiving many mercies and many deliverances, David found himself in the midst of a sinful and distracted family: the word of God had taught him to look to heaven alone for comfort; but, like Lot, he lingeredhe would fain have found some rest for the sole of his foot in his own house:-who does not resemble him herein ?--Fain would he have had the young man Absalom spared! But affliction, at length, broke the enchantment, because it was a sanctified affliction; and he looks up, as he was taught, to a Covenant God alone for comfort. He says, Although my house be not so with God; yet he has made with me an everlasting Covenant, ordered in all things and sure, and this is all my salvation, and all my desire.
Thus we see Amiction may, in the hand of God, become an excellent Expositor of his Word. Now, says David, have I learned thy statutes: now it is that I have learned them from experience and affliction,-more practically, more perfectly, more inwardly, more experimentally.
There is one point in which this remark holds especially true: for the word of God shews us
all how much we are members one of another; and with how much sympathy and tenderness we should feel and act one towards another: yet, even among 'true Christians, who is the man that has thoroughly learned this lesson before he is afflicted ? While, I say, sympathy, and tenderness, and kindness, and forbearance, and patience, and love are so strongly enforced in the gospel, who is the man that has learned this lesson of sympathy? Is it the man in health? Is it the prosperous man? Is it the strong man? Is it the man whose neck has never yet bowed to the yoke of affliction? We know the contrary. Even Christ, as the Apostle speaks, was tempted, that he might know how to succour them that are tempted: and it is often good for us that we have been afflicted, if it were only that we might know thereby how to sympathize with others; and thus learn, not only the statutes, but the temper of our Master. Am I, then, speaking to any
of Hearers, as persons now in trouble? Let me ask you whither you are going for relief in your trouble. It is a critical time with you—a time of special teaching: and what have you learned under your affliction ?
Have you heard God speaking to you, as well as the Bible? Have you spoken to him again, as the author of your trials ?—for affliction springeth not out of the dust. Have you, with
you, my Dear Hezekiah, prayed unto the Lord with your face turned toward the wall—in secrecy and solitude? Have you,
with St. Paul, carried the thorn in the flesh to the Saviour?—He knew of no deliverer nor comforter but Christ: he carried, therefore, his trouble to him; and found his grace sufficient under that trouble. Bring the matter home--Do you thus honour Christ, as the only one that Ꭰ openeth, and no man shutteth; that shutteth, and no man openeth? Above all, have you begged him to sanctify the affliction, that it may thereby become a teacher of the word?--Do you go for comfort to your Bible ?--do you find that Bible interpreted by facts and your own experience?-then are ye witnesses for God: ye have the witness in yourselves that the Bible is the word of God. If it be so, you know, by your own feelings, better than I can express it to you, how good it is for you that you have been afflicted.
On the contrary, if you have been often in the furnace of affliction, and yet your vanity, your pride, your worldly mindedness, your carnal affections have in no degree departed from you, then hear the word of the Lord:affliction is God speaking to the heart, one way; and his word now speaks to your conscience, in another. Read in the fourth chapter of Amos, where he says, I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah; and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning : yet have ye