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and vague ideas of what is called repentance, which were all that before floated in his mind, are now exchanged for penetrating conviction of the real meaning of Holy Scripture concerning it.
So with regard to the great doctrine of the atonement of Christ, and the justification of the penitent sinner by faith only in his obedience unto death. What a surprising interpreter is affliction; how bright does faith in Christ appear, when it is the only light that shines ; how consoling the doctrine of pardon to the dejected mourner, with eternity full in view ; how rapidly does the pride of self-righteousness sink, when Christ passes by, as it were, and says, as he did of old to the sick of the palsy, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee !"
Nor is it otherwise as to the great doctrine of the Comforter of the Church. Vain is his voice of gentle consolation to the full and satisfied soul ; but to the disconsolate, to the orphaned heart, it is the sweetest of sounds. Sorrow interprets the texts concerning comfort. It is the very blessing the heart needs. And so as to the other offices of the Holy Ghost illumination, strength, guidance, aid in prayer, helps to faith, hope, love. Weak and cast down, the doc. trine of the Spirit raises and sustains us.
Next, the peculiarly compassionate character of our blessed Savior escapes very much the notice, as it does the feelings and circumstances, of the stouthearted and prosperous. But in affliction, the gospel narratives shine out upon the soul. The instances of our Lord's tenderness, of his tears at the grave of Lazarus, of his pity on all the children of grief who applied to him, of his compassion for the widow, the desolate, and the oppressed; of his forbearance towards his enemies, and his gentleness to his dull disciples ; of his prayer for his murderers, his concern for his mother, and his gracious answer to the suit of the penitent thief when on the cross—all these, and
other traits of sympathy and condescension, are placed in the best light by surrounding darkness. The pilgrim confesses he never understood the real force of a thousand incidents in the history of our Lord, till his actual troubles fixed his attention on them.
The narratives, again, of the afflictions of the saints are never read with a strong feeling of appropriateness, till, like travellers, we have to pass over the same road with them. Then these parts of the Bible are all new; then they describe our case, and stand out in all their suitableness to our state and wants; then the lives of Abel, and Enoch, and Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and Samuel, and the prophets seem written expressly for our learning. Then we contemplate the sorrows of St. Paul, as recorded in the Acts of the apostles and in his Epistles, with new eyes.
And what shall I say of affliction being the interpreter of the promises of Holy Scriptures. There are more of “the exceeding great and precious promises” of the Bible made to the meek, the sorrowful, those who mourn, the fatherless, the widow, the orphan, the destitute, the broken in heart, the penitent, the lost, than to any other classes of characters. And who understands these promises so adequately as he who is in the circumstances to which they apply, and who is learning them, not for theory, but for his actual consolation and salvation ? Was not Abraham in trouble when he received the gracious assurance, “ Fear not, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward?” Was not Joshua, when God declared to him, “I will not leave thee nor forsake thee?"words which St. Paul applies to all the persecuted and afflicted servants of God. And were not the disciples full of grief, when they were sent out as
sheep in the midst of wolves,” with the assurance that the hairs of their head were all numbered ;" and St. Paul, when the Lord said to him, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in thy weakness ?" All these promises, and a thousand similar ones, are never understood, till the heart is aided by affliction as an interpreter.
Again, how many preceptive passages of God's statutes are only opened to the mind, as circumstances demand. What meaning do we attach to the passages concerning " patience having her perfect work;" concerning self-denial, the taking up of the cross, the imitation of Christ in his suffering, silence under God's chastening, resignation when called to the loss of friends, the returning of good for evil, disappointment met without murmuring and death without alarm; and many other precepts of Holy Writ, unless our sorrows shed a meaning and appropriateness on the lessons ? The understanding is quickened in its comprehension of them, when occasion calls them up into immediate use.
Descriptions of the vanity of the world, of the insufficiency of the creature to make man happy, and of the reality of invisible and eternal things are, also, utterly unintelligible to men of the world who have their portion in this life.” The Bible says, “the friendship of the world is enmity with God; she that liveth in pleasure, is dead whilst she liveth ;" but who learns God's statutes in these respects, but the afflicted and broken in heart?
And how many of the devotional parts of Scripture are lost to the careless, superficial reader of the Bible, which shine out in full beauty to those who by affliction have learned to enter into the import of them? How large a portion of the Book of Psalms is a dead letter, till affliction quicken it into life to our actual perceptions.
And who meditates with understanding on the more sure word of prophecy” concerning power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but he
- the Then man,
who feels this world to be “ a dark place,” and “ takes heed” to that holy doctrine and expectation, as to the only “light that shines," till “ the day dawn and the day-star appear in his heart ?”
And wherefore should I advert to the large portions of Scripture which treat of death, judgment, heaven and hell, when it is, alas, too obvious, that whilst God speaks to men on these topics “ in their prosperity, they will not hear?” Even so early as the days of Job,“ God spake once, yea twice, yet man perceived it not,” till there came
the messenger, the interpreter" in the season of sorrow.
chastened with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain,” opened his ears to instruction.
In short, afflictions are the high road to heaven; and the doctrines, histories, promises, precepts, devotions, prophecies, warnings relating to that road, open upon the traveller's mind, as he prosecutes the darker stages of the journey.
III. And is not all this good, emphatically good, to such a creature as man?
1. Consider the immense importance of learning God's statutes, God's revealed will, the inspired records of his unutterable love to man; the only chart to guide us amidst the rocks and shoals of our passage; the only food of our impoverished souls ; the only remedy of all our sorrows; the only instructer in our state as sinners ; in the way of redemption, the aids of grace, the rule of duty, the hope of glory. The value of Holy Scripture is so inconceivable, that to learn it at any price is cheap. Men are anxious enough to acquire some knowledge of the laws of their country; some familiarity with history, with the science of medicine, inventions in the arts ; and generally with the various wonders of nature. But what are these compared with the Book of God, which
embraces all that is most essential for man to know as to both worlds, “having promise of the life which now is, and that which is to come.”
2. Let us next remember that men are constantly considering many present inconveniences to be good for the sake of future advantage. They say, this is good for a child; this for a youth rising in life; this for a sick person ; this is good for one who has lost his way; this is good for a shipwrecked mariner ; this for a condemned criminal. The cir. cumstances of each are taken into the account; and men consider that to be good, which is good upon the whole; which prepares the child for future comfort and usefulness; which guides the youth to riches and prosperity; restores the sick man to health; points out the way to the wanderer ; brings the shipwrecked mariner to shore, and procures pardon for the criminal. And is it not much more good for man, as a sinner, to learn God's statutes by means of affliction ; to be trained as a child of God; to be raised to spiritual health ; to find the path to heaven; to be rescued from the shipwreck and storm of divine indignation, and delivered from the sentence of eternal death ?
3. And have not the servants of God manifestly appeared to need the afflictions which interpreted God's statutes ? Does not the life of David show that
any less measure of affliction would have been insufficient to keep him in the knowledge and obedience of God's word ? Would it have been good for David, or for Job, or for Hezekiah, or for Manasseh, or for Peter to have gone on in their sins, and to have acquired in prosperity an increasing obduracy of heart, rather than to be brought, as they were, into trouble, and taught the appropriate lessons out of the book of God's statutes ?
4. And do not after-events in life often show, and lead the sufferer himself to acknowledge, as to his