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fine them, as silver and gold is refined: and they shall call upon my name, and I will hear them," Dan. xi. 35; Zech. xiii. 9.
How justly then doth the apostle profess to glory in tribulation, as knowing that “ tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed !” Rom. v. 3, 4. Oh the sweet and happy fruit of affliction! Who would not welcome that pain of body, which works health to the soul; that loss of goods or temporal estate, that enriches the soul; that trouble and disquiet, that brings a sweet peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost ? How many have we seen, who, with Jeshurun, Deut. xxxii. 15, have waxed fat, and kicked against the Almighty in the pampered time of their prosperity, who, in the time of their trouble, have, with broken hearts and bended knees, sought their God, and found him to their unspeakable comfort ! How many, who have been fast galloping towards hell in the lawless course of their wilful sins, have, in the midst of their career, been stopped by the hand of a good God, through a sudden affliction ! Oh the indulgent strokes of a gracious God, who corrects us here, “that we should not be condemned with the world," 1 Cor. xi. 32. “Let the righteous God thus smite me, it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head,” Psa. cxli. 5.
IX. According to the merciful intentions of the Almighty, thus healing and sovereign is affliction, in the very nature of it, to all God's dear ones upon earth, as being only a fatherly chastisement, not a severe punishment, wherever it falls :
even then, therefore, when he seems to frown upon them, he comes to them, not with a sword in his hand, but with a rod; not for his own revenge, but for their amendment.
The best of us is deeply sin-sick ; this bitter potion is that only which can purge out all our bad humours, and restore us to that good temper of spiritual health, wherein we may comfortably enjoy God and ourselves. We all, as vessels of impure metal, through long security, and disuse of holy duties, have contracted much rust; it is the gentle fire of seasonable affliction, that must cleanse us, and make us fit for the service of our Maker; as he speaks of his peculiar people by the mouth of his prophet, “ Behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction,” Isa. xlviii. 10. Oh that my soul could bless thee, my God, and adore thy justice and mercy in the differences of thy proceedings with the sons of men ! For wicked men, and presumptuous sinners, thou hast reserved the cup of trembling, and the dregs of the cup of thy fury, Isa. li. 22, which they shall drink up, and die for ever ; in the mean time they feast without fear, and let themselves loose to all jollity and pleasure, as having made a league with death, and an agreement with hell. Whereas the failings of thy faithful but weak servants are smartingly rewarded with the lashes of painful afflictions here, and passed over with silence in the reckonings of eternity; whilst their humble penitence admits them to a gracious pardon in this world, and everlasting blessedness in the other: even so, Lord, let not thy staff only, but thy rod also comfort me; let thy loving correction make me, however unworthy, great in thy favour; and let me bleed from that
hand which upholds me here, and shall crown me hereafter.
X. It is easy enough to observe that the main comfort of our sufferings must be expected from their issue : “For no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness, to them which are thereby exercised," Heb. xii. 11. There is an end of all our sorrows, and that end is happy, such as makes more than abundant amends for all our sufferings. “Those that sow in tears shall reap in joy,” Psa. cxxvi. 5. “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempests, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires; and I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones," Isa. liv. 11. Indeed, “ many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Psa. xxxiv. 19. Yea, delivereth him not without triumph and infinite advantage: “Though they have lain among the pots, yet shall they be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold,” Psa. lxviii. 13. It is not seldom seen that God is pleased to recompense the sufferings of his servants with a sensible advancement in this present world; Job is double the richer for his losses; and Joseph changed the filthy rags of his prison for the fine linen of Egypt, and his gaol for a throne next to Pharaoh's : but the full and unfailable perfection of their glorious amends abides for them in heaven ; “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Cor. iv.
17. Lo, this, this is it, the assured expectation whereof is able to turn all the sorrows which the soul is capable of, into joy. It was a heavenly word, which is said to have fallen from a mortified votary, whom Rome honours for a saint; “So great is the glory that I look for, that all pain is a pleasure to me."
And surely, could our narrow hearts apprehend it aright, so transcendent is the glory of this reward, that we should not grudge at the condition if we were allotted to pass through the torments of hell to so great a blessedness. How much more therefore should we, in intuition * of this eternal happiness, lightly turn over the slight miseries incident to us in this our short pilgrimage on earth!
Methinks I see with what courage and scorn, in this regard, that famous confessor, Marcus Arethusius, looked down upon his persecutors, when, being hanged up in a basket betwixt heaven and earth, his naked body all gashed with wounds and anointed with honey to invite the wasps and hornets to that cruel banquet, he cheerfully insulted over the malicious spectators below, as poor worldly wretches, creeping upon the base earth, whereas he was now advanced aloft towards that heaven whereto he was aspiring.
With what pity did the valiant martyrs behold their enraged tyrants, and wearied tormentors, when they looked up to their heaven, and with the eyes of their faith saw (that which the proto-martyr saw with bodily eyes) the heavens opened, and their Jesus standing at the right hand of God ready to crown them with glory! For us, we may
* Immediate knowledge.
not all be martyrs, but we must all be sufferers; for through many tribulations we must “ enter into the kingdom of God; and if we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him,” Acts xiv. 22; 2 Tim. ii. 12. Oh! poor tribulations in respect to that kingdom! How can we be sensible of these afflictions, when we have a blessed eternity in our eye! O God, bless thou mine eye with this sight, I shall not forbear to sing in the night of death itself, much less in the twilight of all these worldly afflictions.
XI. Come then, all ye earthly crosses, and muster up all your forces against me; here is that which is able to make me more than a conqueror over you all. Have I lost my goods, and forgone a fair estate? Had all the earth been mine, what is it to heaven! Had I been the lord of all the world, what was this to a kingdom of glory! Have I parted with a dear consort, the sweet companion of my youth, the tender nurse of my age, the partner of my sorrows for these forty-eight years ? she is but stepped a little before me to that happy rest which I am panting towards, and wherein I shall speedily overtake her; in the mean time, and for ever, my soul is espoused to that glorious and immortal Husband, from whom it shall never be parted.
Am I bereaved of some of my dear children, the sweet pledges of our matrimonial love, whose heart and hopes promised me comfort in my declined age? Why am not I rather thankful it hath pleased my God, out of my loins to furnish heaven with some happy guest ? Why do I not, instead of mourning for their loss, sing praises to God, for raising them to that eternal blessedness ?