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PREPARATION AGAINST AFFLICTION.
The wise man, saith the bible, walks with God,
“ A PRUDENT MAN FORESEETH THE EVIL AND HIDETH HIMSELF ; BUT THE SIMPLE PASS ON AND ARE PUNISHED.”
PROVERBS XXII., III.
NOTHING is more common than for men, when in prosperous circumstances, to indulge a persuasion that they shall have no changes. In life they studiously put away the thought of dying ;-in health they look for its continuance as a thing of course ;-in wealth they flatter themselves that they shall never know poverty ;-and when in full possession of the applause and honour of the world, they repel the idea that they can ever become the objects of calumuy, disgrace, and scorn. This is easily explained. Present things most power fully impress the mind. Take a man in trouble, and with what difficulty will you persuade him to expect better days. The gloom of his situation darkens his soul, and precludes the admission of those considerations which inspire cheerfulness and hope. Take a man in agreeable circumstances, and his feelings will give a colour to future scenes ; because every thing is now easy, he presumes upon the continuance of pleasure and prosperity. The mind, softened down by indulgence, shrinks even from the contemplation of difficulties; and although he sees before him daily examples of the instability of all things earthly, yet, by a strange deception, he persuades himself that his own case will form an exception to general experience. Nor is this the case with the people of the world only, even the godly are in danger from the same evil. David is an example. Though he had passed through so many trying scenes, the ease which succeeded seems to have erased the impression of them from his mind, and, by continued in dulgence, his hopes became earthly, rash, and presuming. “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.” Hence the admonition of the wise man: “if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all ; yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many: all that cometh is vanity.” To the same purport is the caution of the apostle : “boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” The caution is not designed to embitter the comforts of life,-to inspire apprehension and gloom, -to cause us to live with a troubled and desponding mind; but, to remind us of unavoidable calamities,-to keep us from being surprised and discontented when they arrive,-and to induce preparation for that which, in some form or other, must sooner or later be our portion. The following directions will point out in what that preparation should consist.
Frequently contemplate the possibility of a change, and expect afflictions before they come. That change and mutability characterize the present state, is a truth so obvious that an attempt to confirm it is like proving that all men are mortal. The slightest observation may serve to shew us that the
seeds of alteration are every where sown, and that there can be no permanent stability in man's condition upon earth. In our health, life, possessions, connexions, and enjoyments, there are causes of decay perpetually working-secretly undermining the foundation of what appears the most stable, and tending to produce changes of the nature and extent of which we are necessarily ignorant, so that nothing is, or can be, stationary on earth. Nor ought we to be unmindful of the fact, that frequently the most important changes that take place in the human condition arise from causes in themselves small and insignificant. There needs no great preparation to overturn what seems most secure, or to blast what appears most flourishing. A gale of wind rises on the ocean, and the vessel which contains our friends, or our fortune, is overwhelmed in the deep. A spark of a candle falls by night in some neglected corner, and our dwelling is consumed, and perhaps we are rendered pennyless. A casual blow, or a sudden fall, deranges some part of our bodily system, and we are doomed in consequence to languish out life in pain and misery. Is it not, therefore, an act of highest wisdom often to take realizing views of the uncertainty of our condition ? The consideration would spread itself like a cloud to correct the illusions of prosperity. It would place a check upon our pride, our confidence, and our attachments. It would sanctify our possessions, and keep prosperity from destroying us. It would lead us to use soberly and profitably the blessings we are permited to enjoy, so long as they are continued: and above all, it would prepare us for their removal whenever they are taken away.
When the mind is prepared for adverse circumstances by a proper anticipation of them, it takes away a part of their bitterness, and prevents those violent concussions of feeling which are usually produced when we are surprised by unexpected calamity. Accustom yourself, there, fore, to reflections so appropriate and useful. Seek to possess
a suitable state of mind for all the changes which may
arise. It is better to depend upon constitution than atmosphere, and to be equal to any climate than to be confined to one. It is better to depend upon appetite than dainties ;-delicacies are not always to be procured, and what becomes of you when these are wanting if you cannot live upon common food ? Divine grace will preserve the balance of the soul in varying conditions. It will prepare you for the storm as well as the calm in navigating the ocean of life. This sanctified Daniel when a minister of state, and soothed him when in the den of lions. This enabled Paul to say, “ I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound : every where and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Break off all your sins by sincere and hearty repentance. It is sin which gives to affliction its chief bitterness. When affliction finds us in a state of iniquity, it glares in upon the mind in the awful form of a sin avenger. We cannot think of our state as sinners, but we must think of God as the enemy of sin; or of ourselves, but as the objects of his righteous indignation. Such reflections naturally excite dismay. Who can feel himself exposed to the displeasure of the Holy and Just One without anxiety and dread? This made Adam and Eve hide themselves from his presence, immediately that their eyes were opened to their guilt, and that they knew they were naked. This made Cain exclaim, “ behold, thou hast driven me out this day, and from thy face shall I be hid; and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me." And this made the Psalmist ex im, “ if thou, Lord, should'st mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand ?” Oh! when calamity thus starts up before us, like a vengeful spectre dogging our transgressions ; when the thoughts of God flash in upon us only with the awful attributes of justice and holiness, the pressure of affliction is aggravated and increased beyond measure by the stings of an accusing conscience, and the frettings of a heart dissatisfied with itself, and trembling under a sense of the divine indignation. How is this then to be avoided, but by timely repentance ? Such a repentance as leads us not only to mourn over our sins, and to condemn ourselves on account of having committed them, but also, to hate and renounce them. Lest, therefore, the malignity of sin should remain in your soul when affliction overtakes you, delay not to break away from it by genuine repentance. Be careful that your repentance be sincere and abiding. Apply yourself earnestly to it, and see that your efforts be conducted in a spirit of entire dependence upon God. Such is the depravity of our nature, that we shall never truly repent without the influence of the divine Spirit ; —that influence, however, is not designed to supersede our own exertions. He does not work without is, but by us. He does not save us in a state of indolent inactivity, or heartless indifference, but by exciting us to vigorous exertion. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” God's working in us is made the motive of our working. It is the breeze that wafts the ship along; but then the mariner must hoist the sail to catch it, and put the vessel to the wind. It is the rain and sunshine that cause the seed to germinate; but the husbandman must break up the soil, and manure, and sow, and weed. What you have to do, therefore, is immediately to repent and believe, and to do so in the very language and spirit of him who cried, “ Lord, help mine unbelief.” Then, when you have put away all your sins, if affliction overtake you, you will have but one work to attend to, to prepare yourself to meet the shock with fortitude and patience. When guilt and affliction meet together, they aggravate each other, and form a burden fearfully oppressive;