Query in the Gospel Magazine for October M.DCC.LXXI
How may a Perſon be aſſured that his Afflictions
are ſanctified? &c.
Printed in the Year M.DCC.LXXXIII.
QUERY in the Goſpel Magazine,
How may a Perſon be aſſured that his Afflictions
are ſanctified? &c.
THE afflictions of the Lord's people are undoubtedly always productive of spiritual advantage to their ſouls; for the inſpired Paul expreſsly ſays, "We know that all things work together for good to thoſe who love God, and are the called according to his purpoſe." There being no poſſibility for afflictions working in ordinary for the preſent good of the body, or of temporal circumſtances, it muſt follow, that the good for which they are ſaid to work is of a ſpiritual nature, and refers to the ſoul, though theſe effects which afflictions produce are not always apprehended on a ſudden. On the contrary, the very good which they do the believing ſoul is commonly matter of exquiſite diſtres for a time, till the muddy waters being ſomewhat ſettled, the child of ſorrow begins to ſee the duſt of the Redeemer's feet in the cloud which lately overſpread his tabernacle; for it ought always to be remembered, that the bridegroom pays moſt of his viſits to his betrothed in his cloudy chariot, ſo that we are ſeldom ſenſible of his preſence till he is gone, and the favour of his good ointments convinceth us of the identity of his perſon; but let the cloud be ever ſo gloomy and black, the aſpect of providence ever ſo threatening, it is morally impoſſible, that the viſits of Jeſus, ſhould do no good, let him aſſume what mode of appearance he will. His external appearances may vary, but his heart is ſtill the ſame melting heart of mercy and compaſſion. But, as the Lord does viſit with afflictions, and as afflictions duly ſanctified are a great bleſſing, how may a perſon be aſſured that his afflictions are ſanctified? I might anſwer, when he finds more love to God, more ſubmiſſion to the divine will, more patience in tribulation, and more of a ſpirit of prayer and ſupplication than before, as is commonly anſwered in ſuch a caſe. But I cannot perſuade myſelf, that this is the happieſt method of ſtrengthening the weak hands, and confirming the feeble knees of God's poor afflicted children, ſeeing ſome people may examine very cloſely, and yet be able to apprehend nothing, but the very contrary of theſe feelings; and does our divine religion provide no ground of encouragement for them? yes verily; and afflictions are certainly ſanctified, when,
1ſt, They draw forth our latent corruptions to view, which is frequently done, when, in reality, we cannot find more love to God, more humble ſubmiſſion to his will, more of a ſpirit of prayer, and more heart-inclination to ſpiritual duties: Inſtead of love, the enmity of the carnal heart may be diſcovered; inſtead of humble ſubmiſſion to his will, we may experience an impatient rebellious ſpirit, which we could hardly have believed ourſelves the ſubjects of, without this diſagreeable experience. There theſe corruptions dwelt before, but lay concealed in the deep receſſes of the ſoul, till the harrow of affliction brought them to view; "whatſoever doth make manifeſt is light, and all light cometh from God the father of lights; hence ſome are afflicted, and ſee no more of their hearts than before, becauſe the light of God's Spirit never ſhone at all into their hearts to bring them to view. But, in this caſe, the believer is apt to mſitake the real effects of afflictions for evils inſtead of bleſſings; when unbelief, impatience, and carnal enmity, pride, and ſelf, are manifeſted, he concludes that his heart aſſured that his afflictions are ſanctified? I might anſwer, when he finds more love to God, more ſubmiſſion to the divine will, more patience in tribulation, and more of a ſpirit of prayer and ſupplication than before, as is commonly anſwered in ſuch a caſe. But I cannot perſuade myſelf, that this is the happieſt method of ſtrengthening the weak hands, and confirming the feeble knees of God's poor afflicted children, ſeeing ſome people may examine very cloſely, and yet be able to apprehend nothing, but the very contrary of theſe feelings; and does our divine religion provide no ground of encouragement for them? yes verily; and afflictions are certainly ſanctified, when,
1ſt, They draw forth our latent corruptions to view, which is frequently done, when, in reality, we cannot find more love to God, more humble ſubmiſſion to his will, more of a ſpirit of prayer, and more heart-inclination to ſpiritual duties: Inſtead of love, the enmity of the carnal heart may be diſcovered; inſtead of humble ſubmiſſion to his will, we may experience an impatient rebellious ſpirit, which we could hardly have believed ourſelves the ſubjects of, without this diſagreeable experience. There theſe corruptions dwelt before, but lay concealed in the deep receſſes of the ſoul, till the harrow of affliction brought them to view; "whatſoever doth make manifeſt is light, and all light cometh from God the father of lights; hence ſome are afflicted, and ſee no more of their hearts than before, becauſe the light of God's Spirit never ſhone at all into their hearts to bring them to view. But, in this caſe, the believer is apt to miſtake the real effects of afflictions for evils inſtead of bleſſings; when unbelief, impatience, and carnal enmity, pride, and ſelf, are manifeſted, he concludes that his heart it got worſe instead of better. By his afflictions, he may be terrified at the diſcovery he has of him ſelf, and deem his awful feelings certain badges of alienation from God; whereas the truth is, the heart is just what it was before, enmity againſt God; but grace has brought it more to light, and therefore the advantage is greatly on the ſide of the patient, as an hidden enemy is by far more dangerous than an open one. Perhaps in the days of Job's firſt proſperity, it would have been difficult to perſuade him, that he was capable of charging God with dealing cruelly by him; but his afflictions irritated the enmity of his heart, and drew it forth in it's native oppoſition to God. Had not this enmity been native in his heart, it had not, on this occaſion, been drawn forth: The pious man might have continued it's ſubject ignorantly, therefore it's manifeſtation was certainly to his advantage.
2dly, Afflictions are ſanctified and for good, when they put our faith to the trial, that we may feel how weak it is, and how ſubject we are to doubt the mercy and goodneſs of a gracious God to us in the day of our calamity. It is not enough that we attain the knowledge of Chriſt, as the keeper of our perſons; but God will make him known as the keeper of our faith alſo: Which knowledge is attainable only by faith being put to the trial, without communicated aſſiſtance for that preſent time, that, by feeling it's own infirmity and weakneſs, it may live upon its proper object, and not upon itſelf: Hence, in the beginning of any ſevere affliction, the foul is ſometimes left to itſelf, in its own ſtrength, to ſtruggle at once againſt the ſtreams of affliction, unbelief, and riſing corruption, that the Lord may ſhew unto us all that is in our hearts. It was to little purpoſe Jeſus told the zealous, well-affected Peter, "that he had prayed for him, that his faith ſhould not fail," whilſt he thought himſelf capable of cleaving to him, even unto death. But when he found himſelf capable of denying him, his ſole conſolation lay in the prayer of his Redeemer," that his faith ſhould not fail." An untried profeſſor is a very dubious character, therefore God has very wiſely joined religion with the croſs, and afflictions with faith; for faith cannot live in it's exerciſe without it's fights and conflicts. Now, where would be the trial, if faith did always triumph over it's opponents? It would blunt the edge of the enemy's ſword, and extract the bitterness from affliction; ſo that, in very deed, the affliction ſuſtained, would not anſwer the end propoſed, as to bring forth our unbelief to open light. The foundation of all faith and ſtrength, victories and triumphs, lies in felt weakneſs. Jacob theſhes no mountains to powder, till he feels himſelf a worm; and the moment he feels himſelf reduced to that fate of nothingneſs, he commenceth a new threſhing inſtrument, having teeth. Samfon can never overthrow the houſe of Dagon, till he himſelf, in his own perſon, is entirely in the power of the Pailiſtines; but once totally deprived of perſonal excellency, he lays hold on the power of Omnipotence, and works the deſtruction of his enemies. Aficions are the ſciſſars, which ſhear away perſonal ſtrength, excellency, and ſuppoſed capacity for doing good, or withſtanding the power of the Philiſtines in our own perſons. Whilſt we can go out, and ſhake ourſelves, and break the withes with which our ſins have attempted to bind us, we fhall ſmile at Delilah's web, and aſcribe the whole excellency to our own graces, inſtead of that grace which is in Chriſt.
But, when our hair, in which lies all our perſonal ſtrength, is actually gone, and we feel ourſelves, in reality, within the power of the enemy, without the light of comfort, and incapable of delivering ourſelves, we ſhall then look to the Lord alone, from whom cometh our help; ſo that our very weakneſs is the foundation of all goſpel ſtrength and victory. But weakneſs can never be felt, unleſs we are called to ſuſtain hardſhips; and the ſtrength of our faith, hope, and charity, is tried to the utmoſt.
3dly, Whenever afflictions lead their ſubjects into a further knowledge of their own wretchedneſs, and total incapacity for either doing or bearing the will of God, without freſh communications from him, in whom it hath pleaſed the Father that all fulneſs ſhould dwell, I muſt conclude that they are ſanctified, and of real advantage. The leading deſign of the bleſſed goſpel, is to bring us to live on the grace that is in Chriſt, not on that which is from him, and in ourſelves: We ſhall never live upon the grace that is in Chriſt, till we are driven out of ourſelves. There is nothing will drive us out of ourſelves but ſoul-famine, a thorough ſenſe of the plague and pollution of our nature, and a total helpleſſneſs in ourſelves; nothing but afflictions in the hand of the Holy Ghoſt, will give theſe diſcoveries; and wherever theſe diſcoveries are made, and by what means ſoever they are made, it is clear that the means have been owned and ſanctified, ſo that great good is frequently received by afflictions. When the ſoul, with reſpect to comfort, may be ſaid to walk in darkneſs, and have no light, "Ephraim ſhall grow as the lily," the ſtrength and fertility of which lie all in the root. In winter the lily loſes all its beauty and fragrance, but nothing of it's fertility and excellence, thoſe are ſafe in the root. The believer grows downward into his root (Chriſt,) in the winter ſtate of affliction, when his buds and bloſſoms ſeem to be all beaten off by the bleak winds and falling rains: Buried thus in the root in winter, he ſhall yet ſpring up in ſummer, and the good favour of the Redeemer's ointments ſhall breath ambroſial fragrance all around him; and when once he hath learned to glorify Chriſt, by living entirely upen him, Chriſt will glorify him with the beauteous and ornamental fruits of thus believing.
4tbly, As I would fain reach the caſe of the moſt diſtreſſed of God's afflicted children, as their brother and fellow in tribulation, and the kingdom of patience, I would obſerve, that it hath been ſaid afflictions are always ſanctified, when they bring you nearer to a throne of grace. It is certainly true: But will it follow, that theſe afflictions, in which the ſoul is quite overwhelmed, the enemy comes in as a flood, and bears down all before him, the reaſoning powers of the mind not excepted, and in which the tongue cleaves to the roof of the mouth for thirſt, are not to be reckoned ſanctified afflictions?
Some know, if my reader does not, that afllictions may be ſo complicated and ſo intenſe, as to incapacitare the foul, for a ſeaſon, for both prayer and praiſe, and the party ſhall yet emerge out of them with renewed ſtrength and luſtre, like the morning ſun; and ſhall thoſe afflictions be deemed judgements, or unſanctified afflictions? I know no medium betwixt judgements and unſanctified afflictions; and am inclined, therefore, to number this most diſtreſſing of all caſes among ſanctified afflictions, which are to the believer's advantage. "When the poor and needy ſeek water, and find none, and their tongues cleave to the roof of their mouth for thirſt, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Jacob will not forſake them. This evidently proves, that ſuch afflictions are not to be underſtood as judgements; for, in caſe of judgements, God would not hear, and would certainly forſake, contrary to that gracious declaration, "I the Lord will hear them, even when they cannot cry to me." When the tongue of prayer cleaves to the roof of their mouths, the Lord will hear their wants and diſtreſſes. Thoſe afflictions muſt need be ſalutary which ſtir up our beloved to come to our aſſiſtance. Moreover, there appears the ſame neceſſity of our being caught our incapacity for prayer as for believing, as the power and ſpirit of both are equally from God, and ſolely dependent on divine influences. But how ſhall a man know this experimentally, without being left in the greateſt neceſſity, ſometimes incapable of the exerciſe of prayer? for a man who never felt an abſolute incapacity for prayer in the time of need, to confeſs, "That we know not how to pray as we ought that we are not ſufficient of ourſelves to think any thing as of ourſelves, but our ſufficiency is of God," approaches too near to hypocriſy, for God to allow it in his own children. Although baſtards and heathens may be ſuffered to go on with their vain unmeaning repetitions, it will not be ſo with the children; for the great Prophet will teach them their total incapacity for prayer and every thing that is good.
Whatſoever, therefore, brings us to a ſenſe of our own ignorance, folly, incapacity, ſin, and wretchedneſs; whatſoever tends to break every bruiſed reed, upon which we are apt to lean, to pull down every lying refuge, in which we are prone to truſt; whatſoever tends to raze every ſandy foundation of creature-dependence; in a word, whatſoever ungraſps our hold of every creature-delight, empties us of all perſonal ſufficiency, and lays the ſoul low, helpleſs, and hopeleſs, at the feet of the Redeemner, truſting alone in his free mercy, may, with the ſtricteſt propriety, be conſidered as ſanctified, and to our advantage.
Ephraim had his dark and cloudy days of bemoaning himſelf amidſt his reproach and ſhame, when God became a moth in his ſubſtance, and a lion in his family, reading and tearing away his deareſt delights, ſhattering his idols, and caſting down all his altars to ſin. But were not theſe inſtances of the divine conduct towards him, moſt evidently the fruits of God's unalterable attachment to him, and the greateſt bleſſings that could have poſſibly befallen backſliding Ephraim? Bleſſings, which operated in Ephraim's favour, even when he was, as yet, far from having the comfort of them. Bleſſings, all tending to bring him to that union of heart and affection with God deſcribed in the fourteenth chapter of Hoſea.
Believers are apt to miſtake in nothing more than the effects produced by their afflictions, and if I am not greatly miſtaken, many divines have taken the wrong method in deſcribing them. The ultimate iſſue of them moſt undoubtedly is, "the peaceable fruits of righteouſneſs." But their firſt and immediate effect is, to harrow up the ſoul, and bring the weeds which grow there ſecretly, and unſeen before, to the ſurface, to open view. The wiſe huſbandman thus harrows up the ſkutch in ſpring, which would otherwiſe ſpoil his expected crop; and when he has ſo done, he burns it with fire. At firſt view, one would ſuppoſe, that the beauty of the field is entirely ruined by this operation, yet it effectually ſecures both it's beauty and fertility in the end.
There is a gracious promiſe made by Moſes to Iſrael, which ought to be much regarded; "and the Lord thy God will put out before thee all theſe thine enemies by little and little." A promiſe which ſets before us the whole work of God in our ſanctification; the agency by which, and the manner how the work is carried on.
Much beauty lies in the promiſe, and this in particular, "thine enemies ſhall be put out before thee;" thou ſhalt ſee thine enemies before they are put out; and as ſure as ever they are brought to thy view as enemies, the Lord thy God will put them out, though it may be by little and little.
God will bring all our inward enemies, every lurking Canaanite to light, before he puts them out, whatever pain the awful diſcovery may give us; for he ſtudies our ſalvation and final poſſeſſion of the promiſed land, rather than our preſent inclination and pleaſure: We would gladly enter into the land at once to poſſeſs it, without ſo much as ſeeing war; but this is contrary to the purpoſe of God. It is the divine purpoſe, that the Canaanitiſh luſts of the human heart muſt all be led to execution firſt; in order to which, they muſt be drawn forth from their dark and deep receſſes, and brought before us, that we may bear witneſs against them of the evils which we have ſuffered on their account, and by their means. If a man is robbed on the high way, in order to bring the villain who robbed him to public juſtice, he muſt confront him before the judge, and ſwear to the reality of the robbery, and identity ⟨⟩ the perſon of the robber.
But when our gracious Redeemer, by means of affliction, or otherwiſe, brings forth the abominations of the heart to our view, how ſhocking is the diſcovery, how dreadful our apprehenſions, as if we were in danger of being left to their power and dominion, little knowing that they are ſo many priſoners in the hands of the officers of juſtice, and reſtrained from doing us any real harm. A certain lady being robbed, and barbarouſly treated on the high way, the ruffian, who perpetrated the villainy, being taken, was brought to his trial, and the lady obliged to appear againſt him in court. No ſooner had ſhe ſet her eyes upon him, when brought to the bar, but ſhe ſcream'd out, as under the moſt alarming apprehenſions of danger, and, with difficulty, could be brought to believe that the villain was in fetters, and wholly in the power of the officers of the king; it is even frequently ſo with the poor believer upon any particular diſcovery of what is in his heart for want of conſidering that ſin hated is ſin pardoned, that abominations loathed are abominations cleanſed, he is apprehenſive of the most awful and tremendous conſequences of the diſcovery of his heart.
Theſe things duly attended to, I am inclined to think it will appear, that the Lord's people are frequently afraid, where there is no real ground for fear, and that we receive good very often under the diſguiſe of evil. I ſhall add nothing more now: but earneſtly pray, that a ſympathizing Redeemer may bleſs theſe few remarks for the benefit of the afflicted reader.