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And if it be best for me to suffer, why should I not be cheerful in suffering?
What do I looking to second hands? This man, that beast; this fever, that tempest; this fire, that inundation-are but his rods. The hand is his that wields them; their malignity is their own, nothing but goodness proceeds from him that useth them to my advantage: “ It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good," 1 Sam. iii. 18. If but as a creature, O God, thou hast full right to dispose of me as thou wilt; I am thy clay, fashion me as thou pleasest—but as thy redeemed one, as thine adopted one, I have full and dear interest in thee as a Father, and thou canst be no other than thyself: let it not be enough for me to hold my peace, because thou, Lord, hast done it; but let me break silence in praising thy name, for that thou “in very faithfulness and love hast afflicted me,” Psa. cxix. 75. The fathers of our flesh, even though they whip us unduly and out of passion, yet we kneel to their persons, and cling to their knees, and kiss their rods : how much more should I adore thine infinite goodness in all thy holy, righteous, merci. ful corrections! It is for a slave to grudge at the scourges of a cruel master; he is not worthy to pass for thy child, that receives not the stripes with reverent meekness: tears may be here allowed; but a reluctant frown were no better than rebellion. Let infidels, then, and ignorants, who think they suffer by chance, and impute all their crosses to the next hand, looking no higher than their own heads, repine at their adversities, and be dejected with their afflictions : for me, who
know that I have a Father in heaven full of mercy and compassion, Lam. iii. 39; whose provi. dence hath measured out to a scruple the due proportions of my sorrows, counting my sighs, and reserving the tears which he wrings from me, in his bottle ; why do I not patiently lie down, and put my mouth in the dust, meekly submitting to his holy pleasure, and blessing the hand from which I smart.
VI. The intent of the agent must needs work a great difference in our construction of the act. An enemy, we know, strikes with an intention to wound and kill: no father means to maim his child in beating him; his tender heart is far from intending any hurt to the fruit of his loins. The surgeon and the executioner do both the same act; both cut off the limb, but the one to save a patient, the other to punish an offender. O Father of mercies, since it is thou who strikest me, I know that thou canst have no other thoughts but of love and compassion to my soul. O thou heavenly Physician, if thou hast decreed me to be blooded or cauterized, I know it cannot be but for my health; and if for my bodily cure, I do not only admit of these painful remedies, but reward them, how should I bless thee for this beneficial pain thou puttest me to, for my spiritual and eternal welfare! What an unthankful wretch shall I be, if I be not more sensible of thy favour, than of my own complaint!
Thus much of thy will, O God, hast thou revealed to us, as to let us know that all thine intentions in the afflictions of thy chosen ones, have respect either to thyself or to them: to thyself, in the glory that redounds to thy name in their support and deliverance; to them, whether for their trial or their bettering.
Thine Israel, o God, had never endured so hard a bondage under Pharaoh, as to be over-swelted in the Egyptian furnaces, to be laded with merci. less stripes, to be stinted unto impossible tasks, had it not been to magnify thy almighty power in supporting them against the rage of tyranny, and revenging their wrongs upon their oppressors, by miraculous plagues and an unexampled destruction.
When thy disciples, O Saviour, upon the sight of the poor blind-born beggar, took the boldness to ask thee who had sinned, “ this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” it pleased thee to return them this quick answer : “ Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him,” John ix. 2, 3; surely the event justified thy words. All the eyes of the beholders of this poor dark soul, did not win so much glory to thee as this man's want of eyes, so omnipotently supplied by thy Divine power. Restoring of sight was nothing in comparison of creating it; nature and art hath done that; none but the God of nature could effect this: no doubt this now seeing beggar could not but bless thee for his blindness, who gave thee occasion of showing this miraculous proof of thy Deity; and applauded his own happi. ness, in being made the subject of so convincing a miracle. Had not Lazarus sickened and died, and smelt of the grave, where had been the glory that accrued to thee by his resurrection ? Had not Daniel lodged in the lions' den, and the three children taken possession of the fiery furnace, where had been the glory of their admired preservation ? Most just it is then, O Lord, that thine eye should be most upon thine honour, in our suffering; and just cause have we to rejoice and sing to thy praise, if thou hast vouchsafed to make us in any sort examples of thy power and mercy.
VII. But withal it pleases thee, in the intentions of our afflictions, to cast some glances of respect upon us thy weak servants upon earth, first for our trial and probation : a remarkable proof whereof thou hast given us in that great pattern of patience, who had never been brought forth into the theatre of the world, to encounter with such prodigious calamities, had it not been to make good his challenged integrity. It was thy pleasure in a holy kind of glorying to assist the sincerity of that gracious servant of thine. The envious spirit, as impatient of so much good. ness to be found in man, maliciously traduces that piety as mercenary: thou, who knewest what grace thou hadst given him, didst yield to have it put to the test. The probation is beyond all example painful, but glorious : Job pays dear for the conviction of that lying spirit: his innocence and truth triumph over malice, shame the adversary, win honour to thy name, and render him a rare and memorable example of mercy. What are heresies but the spiritual distempers of the church, the bane of religion, flashes of hell, breaking out for disturbance and destruction : yet there “ must be heresies,” saith the apostle to his Corinthians, “ that those which are approved may be made manifest among you,” i Cor. xi. 19. Lo, if there were no falsehood, truth would want much of her lustre; and if no enemy, what place would there be for victory? Goodness is so conscious of its own worth and pureness, that it rejoiceth to be tried home: hence it is that the man after God's own heart makes it his earnest suit to his God: “ Examine me, O Lord, and prove me, try my reins and my heart, for thy loving-kindness is be, fore mine eyes, and I have walked in thy truth.” There is much forgery in the world, neither is there any virtue under heaven whereof there are not many counterfeits. Hypocrisy makes a more glorious show than the truest piety, and many a real saint is branded as a deceiver. The most wise God knows how to discover the true state of all hearts by affliction; every face thus appears in its own hue, and then no marvel if the sincere and upright soul rejoice to have her truth and inno, cence gloriously vindicated, and made conspicuous to all eyes : “That the trial of her faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried by the fire, may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ,” 1 Pet. i. 7.
VIII. But the far more excellent and gracious drift of our afflictions, is the bettering of our souls. He who could pray, “Remember David, and all his troubles,” could also say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.” Well, therefore, did the angel that spake to Daniel put these two together, telling him that those persecutions which should befali God's people, should try them, and purge them, and make them white; according to that which the Lord speaks by his prophet Zechariah, “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will re