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were scourged for preaching the gospel of peace? What pleasing songs didst thou give them in this night of their pain ! neither were their backs more full of weals, than their mouths of laughter, “ for they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus,” Acts v. 41. And, as all these are animated by one and the same Spirit, what other was the disposition and carriage of all those glorious martyrs and confessors of all times, who sealed the truth of the gospel with their blood. When the night was darkest, their songs were sweetest: even when tyranny had wearied itself with their torments, their exultations were at the highest; never have there been more heavenly praises, than those which have been sung at the stake; neither bath any man gone with more joy to his wedding, than these holy souls have gone to meet their Saviour in those flames.
III. Neither may we think that the melody of these nightly songs hath been only reserved for these evangelical worthies, but the same divine notes have been put into the mouths of all God's saints in all ages of his church : the distresses of all the darlings of God upon earth, have still been thus alleviated with the divine strains of spiritual comfort. Such were the songs of Noah, when from the close prison of the ark he descended to the altar, Gen. viii. 21, offering a cheerful sacrifice to his God, in the praise of his gracious preservation; such was Jacob's upon his hard night's lodging in Bethel ; such was Joseph's in Pharaoh's gaol; such was Moses' more than once in the desert; such was Jonah's in “the belly of hell," as he styles the loathsome gorge of the dreadful sea-monster,
I am weary
Jonah ii. 2. But, above all, the sweet singer of Israel must pass for the most glorious pattern, not only of the sacred music of the day, but of songs also in the night. Those heavenly compositions of his represent him to us, as never void either of troubles or gratulations, yea, of cheerful gratulations in the midst of his troubles. Do I hear him passionately bewailing his heavy condition; "My soul is sore troubled,
of my groaning, every night wash I my bed with my tears,” Psa. vi. 3, 6. Lo, whilst I am ready to pity his hopeless distress, and to say, Alas, what evil will become of this woeful soul ! comfort breaks forth from hea. ven, and the next breath triumphs over the insultation of his enemies, and cheers him up with a confident assurance of mercy: “ Away from me,
all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping,” Psa. vi. 8. It was no small pang of discomfort that made him say, “Thou didst turn away thy face from me, and I was troubled,” Psa. xxx. 7. Lo, this was David's night, when the Sun of heavenly consolations was withdrawn from him: will you hear his song in this night?“ Lord, thou hast turned my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness,” ver. 12.
The case may seem to have been much worse with him, when he cries out,“ Thy hand is heavy upon me day and night, and my moisture is like the drought in summer,” Psa. xxxii. 4 ; but in the darkest night of his sorrow his song is loud and cheerful: “ Thou shalt preserve me from trouble, thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Be glad, ye righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; and be joyful, all that are true of heart,” ver. 8, 12. What
was it other than night with him, when he complains to be neglected of the Highest ? “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord; for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” Psa. xiii. 1. And what merrier note could there be, than that which he instantly sings, “ But my trust is in thy mercy, and my heart is joyful in thy salvation; I will sing of the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me,” Psa. xiii. 6. Lastly, (for nothing were more easy than to trace the footsteps of the holy psalmist through all heavenly ditties,) no night could be equally dark to that wherein he cries out, “ The snares of death compassed me round about, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me,” Psa. cxvi. 3. No song could be sweeter than, “Gracious is the Lord and righteous, yea, our God is merciful ; I was in misery, and he helped me: turn again to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee: for thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling,” Psa. cxvi. 5—8.
IV. But what do I instance in these singular patterns of a holy cheerfulness under affliction, when the chosen vessel ranks it amongst the gracious dispositions of the faithful soul : “ Not so only,” (saith he to the Roman converts,) “ but we glory in tribulations also," Rom. v. 3. And his fellow apostle no less sweetly seconds him: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations," Jam. i. 2. Lo, these Divine oracles do not tell us of joy after our sorrows and afflictions; this were news to God's children in this vale of tears : “Weeping may endure for a night,” (saith the psalmist,)“ but joy cometh in the morning,” Psa. xxx. 5: but they speak of joy in the
very brunt of our sufferings, as if they laid before us Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego singing in the midst of their flames, Dan. iii. This is temper of the soul, not more excellent, than hard to attain: we all aspire toward it, not many reach up to it. To be patient under a heavy cross is no small praise, to be contented is more, but to be cheerful is the highest pitch of Christian fortitude. Not to send forth the juice of sorrow, (such is our tears,) when we are hard pressed, is manly; but to smile upon torture, and to sing when others shriek, is no less than heroical. There is, I confess, no little advantage this way in the difference of constitutions; whereof some are more soft and melting, others more hardy and obdurate; some are naturally more malleable* to afflictions, others more waxen for all impressions of grief. Wise Seneca observed some in his time that took a kind of pride and contentment in being slashed and mangled, whereas others for but a box on the ear are ready to cry out, Murder. The valiant Goths held it à perpetual shame for one of their swordsmen to wink in receiving a wound; whereas Mindirydes, a delicate Sybarite, complains that the rose-leaves lie doubled under his back. But as weak hearts do commonly break under heavy afflictions, so the strongest shall find it difficult enough, not to buckle under the weight of some crosses : but to go lightly and nimbly away with the most pressing load of this kind, is more than a merely human strength can perform. Neither would the Holy Ghost have appropriated to himself the title of 6 Comforter,” and “the God of all comfort,” John xiv. 26; 2 Cor. i. 3; Isa. li. 12, if
* Spread by beating.
power could be able to do this great work without him.
V. The Holy Spirit, then, as being a most free Agent, is sometimes pleased immediately to cast into the soul the comfortable gleams of heavenly consolations; but ordinarily he causeth this gracious cheerfulness in the hearts of believers, by working them to strong resolutions, grounded upon powerful and irrefragable motives ; such as are fetched from the Author, the intention, the nature, the issue of our affliction. The Temanite said well, “ Amfiction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground,” Job v. 6. It is not of so base an original as earth, but derives itself from heaven, even from the Father of all mercies.
That great and holy God, who is most justly jealous of his own honour, will not lose the glory of working and managing the far greater part of human occurrences; since the contentments that we can hope for, are not the tithe of those miseries which we must look to meet with in this our earthly pilgrimage. This right therefore the Almighty wholly challengeth to himself. “I make peace, and create evil, I the Lord do all these things,' Isa. xlv. 7. “ Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" Amos iii. 6.
Why do I not thus argue with myself in my sufferings? Is it not the hand of my good God that lies thus heavy upon me? Can I but acknowledge him to be a God of infinite wisdom, and infinite mercy? If of infinite wisdom, how can he but know what is best for me? If of infinite mercy, how can he but do what he knows to be best?