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Psalm cxix. 71. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. Though the word of God furnishes a minister with a rich variety of topics ; yet his discourses will be much influenced by his feelings, and coloured by his own experience. Is he a man strong in faith? like one standing upon a mountain, he will naturally discourse to others on the firmness of the foundation on which he stands, and will describe to them the beauties of the prospects around him. Does he, on the contrary, tread the valley of tears ? he will then naturally become the companion of the afflicted, and point out to them what he himself learns in the vale. The hand of God is discernible in all this, brethren. He teaches men, by men. As the Apostle speaks, "Whether we be afflicted ... or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation." Thus, in the text, we find David, who was an eminent prophet and preacher, leaving on record a part of his own experience : "It is good for me that 1 have been afflicted ; that I might learn thy statutes." From these words I shall take occasion to discourse on the following observation : — Sanctified afflictions^ stand among the best expositors of God's word. In discoursing on this observation, let us inquire, 1. When affliction may be said to be sanctified.
92 SERMO IX. 2. How it helps to explain the word of God. 1. When is affliction sanctified?
By sanctified afflictions, those afflictions may be understood which man receives and employs to holy purposes. Sanctified afflictions are those stripes, by which the heart is made better. While some men faint under these strokes, and others despise them, sanctified afflictions become a wholesome discipline and administer inestimable instruction to God's disciple. He not only learns his way by them, but they teach him to go forward in his way : such afflictions bring a wanderer, like David, back to his God, to his neighbour, and to himself. Still the question returns, When is affliction sanctified ] 1. Affliction is sanctified, when, — instead of ascribing it to accident, talking of chance, or dwelling on what man can do, and going to creatures for comfort, — we mark the finger of (rod in whatever befalls us, and say. with Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord:" or when wc are taught to say with holy David, "I dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it :" or when, under reproaches, we again say, with David. "So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David.*' 2. Affliction is sanctified, when a man is brought into his place* To bring the prodigal back to his father, is the deof every dispensation ; dors he say, "1 will arise and go to my Father .'" does he say, " I have sinned againsl thee." o Lord? — "Wherefore," then, "shall a living man complain — a man f<>r the punishment of his sins . ? Let us search and try our ways, and turn
THE BE EFIT OF AFFLICTIO . 93 unto the Lord, for he will still hear !" — Is this his language ? — It is then the language of a sanctified heart. 3. Affliction is sanctified lohen the word of God
becomes precious. The man has not only a Bible in his house, but he now takes it down, reads it, and makes it the grand resource of his afflicted soul : it is now read as a reality. When affliction is sanctified, the word of God is leaned on as a staff: it is taken as a cordial. When, in short, the soul can cast anchor on that word, and the man can say, " Remember thy word unto thy servant, O Lord, on which thou hast caused me to put my trust," then are his afflictions sanctified. 4. Affliction is sanctified, when it awakens a man from his carnal security ; when it drives him from his refuges of lies ; when it reminds him of his secret temptations, and sets before hkn sins unrepented of and almost forgotten. Take an instance of this. "We are verily guilty," said the brethren of Joseph, i: 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." What language is this? " We are guilty ! we are verily guilty !" How strange that the sons of a pious father should not perceive their sins before ! So is it with us, my friends, till the enchantments of this world are broken. 5. Affliction is sanctified, when faith is joined with repentance ; when the soul, under its sufferings, still clings to the mercy of God in Christ ; crying out, with Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him :" or, with Jacob, when he wrestled with God,
94 SERMO IX. "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." That affliction is not only sanctified, but eminently blessed, which brings a sinner to Christ, which teaches us to wait his time, and to acknowledge his mercy in all things. II. I propose to consider how sanctified affliction explains God's word.
"Before I was afflicted," says the Psalmist, u 1 went astray ; but now have I learned thy word; "or, as in the text. " It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes." "I never," said Luther, " knew the meaning of God's word, till I was afflicted :" and the preacher can say, " I well know now what it is to have preached from a text, which I did not so much as understand, till it was thoroughly opened to me by experience." Sanctified affliction puts men on inquiry. It makes them look within, as well as without. It quickens the attention, and sharpens the sight. It stops a man in his mad career; and gives him an opportunity to compare what God has said with what he actually brings to pass. Let no one mistake me here, as if I asserted that affliction would do this thing of itself. Affliction will only explain and open God's word, as it is an instrument in the hand of his Spirit. 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 i man to powder, and yet produce nothing like what the Scripture calls a broken heart. How many, instead of leaning on
THE BE EFIT OF AFFLICTIO . 95 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: "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.' " 11 1 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 desircst truth in the inward parts : but I feel such deep depravity in my heart, that, if thou hadst
96 SERMO XI. not appointed a priest after the order of Melchizedck, that cleanseth from all sin, there had been no hope for me.' " Again, the word teacheth men to pray. Affliction ofien 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, ho saw the end of these men. The
word of Moses had shown 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 lingered — he 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 tilings and sure, and this is all my salvation, and all my desire." Thus we see affliction may, in the hand of God, become an excellent Expositor of his Word. " ow,"
THE BE EFIT OF AFFLICTIO . 97 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 shows us all how much ioe 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 you, my dear 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 Hezekiah, prayed 9
98 SERMO IX.
unto the Lord with your li face turned toward the wall " — in secresy and solitude? Have you, with St. Paul, carried the " thorn in the llesli" to the Saviour?— He knew of no deliverer nor comforter, hut 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 openeth, and no man shutteth ; thut shutteth, and no man openeth V 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 yon. how good it is for you that you
have been afflicted. On the contrary, if you have been often to the furnace of affliction, and yet your vanity, your pride, your worldly mindedness, your carnal affections have in no degree departed from yon. 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, [lead 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 not returned unto me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus will I do unto thee. () Israel! and, because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, Israel !» The .lay of judgment approacheth, therefore, brethren, be ye ready: for "he who hard-
THE BE EFIT OF AFFLICTIO . 99 eneth his heart, shall surely be destroyed, and that without remedy." Christians ! be wise to use your afflictive dispensations as from God. The winter season is precious to the husbandman ; for lie then sows his corn : so is it with the Christian : weeping must not, therefore, hinder sowing. Affliction, when sanctified, is a gift : "It is given" says the Apostle, "in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his name." Affliction, indeed, is the only gift for which we are not commanded to pray ; but a wise and instructed Christian will know that he ought to pray for a sanctified use of it when sent : we ought to pray that all this cost may not be in vain ; we ought to pray that, by all these afflictions, we may be brought nearer to God, and more out of the world, and never doubt any word of God, or murmur against any of his dispensations, however much we may for the present suffer. In sickness and pain, we not only send for a physician, but we commit ourselves to him ; we take thankfully his medicines, though they are unpalatable; we trust to him, that he will restore us to our
health. Ah ! which of us thus trusts the Lord ) Who is there among us, that thus takes his bitter medicines, though we are sure he cannot mistake our case? Physicians may err : He cannot. And yet, has he never taught us by past trials? — have we never received relief in times past? Who that is thoroughly instructed can avoid saying, with David, from what is past, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes?" Take then. Christian ! your particular case to the
100 SERMO X. Bible this day : and that case will open to you much meaning in the Bible, while the Bible itself will throw a meaning on your case, however dark: it will place your situation in a new point of view: you may so have the good word brought home to your hearts and consciences, that, like Hannah, you may go away " no more sad," but " rejoicing in the God of your salvation." May we all be so instructed in the school of affliction, that we may stand as those that are spoken of in the seventh chapter of the book of Revelation : — '* These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb !"
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