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then only shall we keep his statutes, when God himself shall “write them on the fleshy tables of our hearts."] But the petition has peculiar force as grounded on a
discovery of God's goodness ; for, in that, as in
a glass, we see, 1. Our duties
[The law of God primarily declares our duty towards him: but none ever attain a just knowledge of that duty from the law alone: they cannot see the necessity of loving God with all their hearts, till they have some idea of the obligations they lie under to him for the stupendous work of redemption. But let the love of God in Christ Jesus be once clearly revealed to the soul, and the excellency of the law will instantly appear ; and obedience to it will be considered as perfect freedom.] 2. Our defects
[We are naturally averse to acknowledge our vileness and wickedness. But a sight of the Divine goodness softens the mind, and renders it ingenuous. Hence the more we are acquainted with God, the more we know of ourselves; and the more we have experienced of his love, the more we “abhor ourselves for our ingratitude to him, and our want of conformity to bis imaged."] 3. Our encouragements
[Wherever we look, we have no encouragement but in God. Indeed, if only we be acquainted with his goodness, we want no other encouragement: for, what will not He do, who is so good in himself? and what will He refuse us, who has done so much for us alreadye? Such considerations as these are sufficient to counterbalance every difficulty that the world, or the flesh, or the devil can place in our way. Having this God for our God, we can want nothing for time or for eternity.]
d Job xlii. 5, 6. Ezek. xvi. 63. e Rom. vii. 32.
THE BENEFIT OF AFFLICTION.
Ps. cxix. 71. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that
I might learn thy statutes. DAVID had “ been afflicted from his youth up”
-- and we think it highly probable that to that very circumstance he was indebted, under God, for those extraordinary attainments in devotion and holiness, which have rendered him a pattern for the
saints in all future ages. By means of his trials he was constrained to take refuge in his God : and by constant communion with God, he obtained a deep insight into his revealed will, and a rich experience of his superabounding grace. This seems at least to have been his own view of the case, long after his afflictions had ceased : for to his familiarity with affliction he ascribes his enlarged acquaintance with the statutes of his God: “ It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes."
In confirmation of his testimony, we shall shew, I. The benefit of affliction, as leading to knowledge
Affliction, in itself considered, is an evil: but, if viewed in connexion with the benefits resulting from it, it may justly be esteemed “ a good.” Thousands there are who have reason to bless God for it, as instrumental to the bringing of them to the knowledge of a Saviour, whom, without such trials, they would have continued to neglect. Indeed it is eminently and extensively useful in this view : 1. It opens our ears to instruction
[People who are at ease, however eager they may be after human knowledge, have no desire after that which is spiritual and divine. If it be tendered to them, they reject it: if it be pressed upon them, they cast it behind their backs with indignation and scorn. To one who would instruct them in arts or sciences, they would feel thankful : but to one who would lead them to the knowledge of the true God, they make no return, but that of contempt and hatred.
But when heavy affliction is come upon them, they are softened: they will listen to advice; they will even be thankful for it: they will read the Scriptures, or some other religious book: and will pay considerable attention to those subjects which hitherto have provoked only their derision.
With this view, and for the production of this very effect, God frequently vouchsafes to send it: and those who are brought by it to this measure of thoughtfulness about their souls, have reason rather to be thankful for it as a benefit, than to complain of it as a judgment.]
2. It makes us sensible of our need of better things than this world can give
a John jii. 19. Matt. vii. 26.
b Job xxxvi. 8-10.
[In the midst of carnal enjoyments a man wishes for nothing more: but when trials of various kinds oppress his mind, his taste for earthly gratifications is weakened: their insufficiency to remove, or even to alleviate, trouble is felt; and they no longer afford him that kind of satisfaction which they once did. Amusements, and company, have lost their relish: his mind is indisposed for them they are become to him insipid, undesirable, irksome, odious. Something more substantial is now wanted : something on which his soul may rest, as conducive to its present and eternal welfare. This was the effect produced upon the Prodigal. Whilst he could revel in luxury and pleasure, he cared for nothing; but when his money was expended, and he was a prey to want, and could find no help, no pity, from man, then he began to reflect on the abundance that there was in his Father's house, and to desire a participation of it, though in the lowest and most menial office there. And had he not reason to be thankful for the trials which produced so blessed an effect? In like manner then we also should acknowledge as a blessing every trial that is sent us for the accomplishment of so good an end.] 3. It drives us to God in prayer
[Those who never called upon God in the time of their prosperity, are often stirred up to seek him in a season of adversity. “In their affliction,” says God, "they will seek me early:" and to the same effect the Prophet testifies, “ Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured forth a prayer when thy chastening was upon them." In the 107th Psalm this effect of troubles is marked in every instance: “ Then cried they unto the Lord in their troublee." and in every instance this was the prelude to their deliverance. Who then that experiences this effect_from his trials has not reason to be thankful for them? Let it only be said of us, “ Behold, he prayeth ;” and we shall have no cause for complaint, though we should have been struck blind, like Saul, and had our blindness continued to the latest hour of our lives.]
4. It brings us to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus
[Of itself, affliction cannot effect this; but when accompanied by Divine grace, it often does. Indeed where a willingness to receive instruction, and a desire after spiritual blessings are excited in the soul, and issue in fervent prayer to God, there we may reasonably hope that all spiritual blessings will flow into the soul. God will not suffer any to seek his face in vain. Even though, like Manasseh, we may have brought down God's wrath upon us by the most heinous iniquities, yet if we humble ourselves under his chastisements, and implore mercy at his hands, we shall, like him, be heard, and be made stupendous monuments of his power and grace. Did he ever regret the sufferings by which he was thus brought to enjoy peace with God? Neither shall we, whatever trials may be made subservient to this blessed end.]
c Hos. v. 15.
d Isai. xxvi. 16.
f Acts ix. 3, 4, 8.
e ver. 6, 13, 19, 28.
But will the end really compensate for the means used to effect it ? Yes : and to prove that it will, we shall proceed to shew, II. The blessedness of knowledge, though gained by
afflictionSuch knowledge as we are speaking of, the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, is indeed inestimable. Let us view it, 1. As compared with the price paid for it
[It is said by Solomon, “Buy the truth, and sell it not.” Now as we have before spoken of affliction as the means of bringing us to the knowledge of the truth, we may, in popular language, call it, The price paid for knowledge. Whatever then the affliction be, we do not hesitate to say that it is richly recompensed by the fruit which it produces.
Suppose the affliction to be of a temporal nature: we have been bereaved of our dearest friends and relatives; we have suffered the loss of all our property, and been reduced to very embarrassed circumstances; our health also has been destroyed, so that we are sinking under an accumulation of woes. Suppose our case as distressing as that of Job himself: still, if it have been sanctified to our eternal good, we can call it by no other name than, A blessing in disguise. Did Job, when brought to a deeper view of his own depravity, and to a richer discovery of the Divine perfections, regret the sufferings which had been overruled for that end? Did he not rather abhor himself for having judged too hastily respecting the designs of God; and cordially approve of those dispensations, which in his haste he had been ready to condemn? Thus shall we also do, when once we have
seen the end of the Lordh.” We may in our haste exclaim, "All these things are against me:" but at last we shall testify of all God's most afflictive dispensations, as Joseph did, that “God meant them for goodi.”
But suppose the trials to be of a spiritual nature. These are yet far more afflictive: “A wounded spirit who can bear?” How grievously David was oppressed by them, we are informed
& 2 Chron. xxxiii. 11---13 h Jam. v. 11. i Gen. 1. 20.
in many of his psalmsk. But yet his testimony in our text was the real dictate of his heart. And we may ask of others, Were the wounds which brought you to the heavenly Physician too severe? Do you not number them amongst your richest mercies? Has not every loss been more than compensated in the acquisition of salvation; and every pang more than recompensed in the peace and joy to which, through the knowledge of Christ, you have attained ? It was a matter of just computation with the Apostle, that "the sufferings of this present life (whatever they may be) are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”]
2. As estimated according to its own intrinsic worth
(But who can ever rightly appreciate its worth? St. Paul “ counted all things to be but dross and dung in comparison of it." We must be able to estimate all the miseries of hell, and all the glories of heaven, before we can form any estimate of its value; and, if we could ascertain the full importance of those, we should still be as far as ever from having a complete conception of the worth of spiritual knowledge; unless we could estimate also all the glory that will accrue to the ever blessed Trinity from the contrivance and execution of this stupendous plan, and the application of this salvation to a ruined world.] ADDRESS1. To those that are at ease
[How faint, for the most part, are your desires after spiritual knowledge! Whether you hear, or read, or pray, what formality pervades it all! But, if God have indeed designs of love towards you, you will be taught by the rod, what you will not learn without: “ He will cause you to pass under the rod, in order that he may bring you into the bond of the covenant.” And if lesser trials will not accomplish the purposes of his grace, he will visit you with heavier : “ from chastening you with rods he will scourge you with scorpions." Yet think not that a season of affliction is in itself favourable for the pursuit of spiritual knowledge: it is far otherwise: pains of body, and distress of mind, have a tendency to impede, rather than assist, the exercises of the mind. Ask those who are in deep affliction, Whether they find it easy to collect their thoughts, and fix them with energy on the concerns of their souls; and they will bear one uniform testimony, that health is the time to seek the Lord. Be persuaded then, now whilst you are at ease, to study “ God's statutes," and especially those which declare to us the way of salvation ordained for sinful
k See Ps. xxxviii. 148. and lxxvii. 3—9. and lxxxviii. 6, 7. and cii. 1-10.
1 Phil. ii. 8.