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There is nothing capricious or arbitrary in them. His whole dealings with his children flow from infinite wisdom and benevolence. It is not that he delights to produce pain; not that he enjoys the sufferings of his people; not that he envies them and would rob them of their little comforts; not that he needs what they would enjoy to increase his own happiness; but simply that he may increase the glory of their redemption. Paul says, "we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us," who "for a few days. chastened us after their own pleasure: but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." This brings us to consider
5. The design of christian suffering. This is two-fold. 1st. To promote the personal holiness of the sufferer; and 2nd. To augment the glory of redemption itself.
The text says that it is "for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness;" and that although grievous for the present, "nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
Afflictions make us serious and heavenly-minded. It is one of their most obvious tendencies to bring men to consideration. They lead our minds out upon the object of our existence, and our mysterious destiny. They bring us to contemplate ourselves in every aspect, teach us our entire dependence upon a higher power, our consequent obligation to God, the unsubstantial nature of terrestrial things, and press upon our thoughts all those momentous truths through the influence of which we are to be sanctified. They make the heart loosen its grasp on earth and fix it tighter on God and heaven. They make us reflect more about another world, and in the same proportion increase our diligence in preparing for it. They cause us to rest more calmly upon Divine help, to seek and expect more from the hand of God, and to feel more anxious about the full securement of our immortal interests. Just as the darkness of night causes us to notice and contemplate the heavenly wonders which are unobserved in sunshine, so afflictions fix our thoughts upon the imposing realities of the spiritual world which we are prone to overlook amid the light of prosperity.
Afflictions furnish a happy school of devotion and christian virtue. David once said, "It was good for me that I was afflicted. Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy
word." Doubtless he expressed the experience of every christian sufferer. They curb our selfishness, and teach us submission to the Divine will. They restrain the fretful temper which we are so disposed to indulge, and teach us patience. They bring down our exalted conceptions of ourselves, and teach us humility. They call up to our remembrance our various omissions of duty, and dispose us to be more faithful to God. Just as the husbandman to improve his corn, tears up and loosens the earth about its roots; so Jehovah sends afflictions to improve us in the graces of the Spirit.
Afflictions enable us to appreciate more highly the consolations of religion. The orphan that has been tossed by the billows of adversity knows more of the value of home, than the child that has always dwelt happily under the parental roof. The calm of a morning sunrise is never hailed with so much gladness by the mariner as immediately after a night of tempest and danger. The mountain peaks of one's native country are never so lovely as when they first strike our vision in the return from a long and lonely exile. So the Savior is never so desirable as when seen through the tears of affliction; and immortality never produces in the mind › such thrilling delight as when most oppressed with a sense of the nearness of death.
And then afflictions also capacitate us for a higher state of reward in the kingdom of glory. "For our light affliction which endureth but for a moment shall work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."1
There is no question, therefore, as to the advantage of suffering in the promotion of christian holiness. No truly pious man, when he comes to die, will feel that he has had one trial too many, or one which was not important in promoting his growth in grace. Every christian can then look back, and see the effect of some early trial, so severe that he once thought he could hardly endure it, spreading a hallowing influence over his future years, and scattering its golden fruit all along the pathway of life. Instead of regretting that he was required to suffer, he then looks upon them as among the most valuable blessings which the Divine law has conferred. "Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed, because the law of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy
'See Lecture XXVII. page 308.
Ghost which is given unto us." To put this happy and sanctifying machinery in operation, christian suffering is designed.
But it contemplates another object. It is to augment the glory of redemption itself. It was entirely within the power of Christ, in virtue of his mediatorial accomplishments, to carry his salvation at once into full effect. That is, he might have inserted a clause in the commission of the troubling angel in favor of believers, exempting them from all suffering and death. But had he done so, it would have removed the very circumstances which, more than anything else, test and prove the power and glory of religion. In tribulation, and in death, is where christianity triumphs most. Look at that family under the blights of poverty! What makes them thus contented and happy? Look at that little church in persecution! What enables them so magnanimously to refuse to bow to the brazen image of arrogant authority? What helps them thus joyfully to walk amid the flames, and to prefer the furnace, white with sevenfold heat, to the cool breezes which blow about the throne of their tyrant-oppressor? See that humble christian in temptation. Why is it that no terrors can daunt him, no allurements seduce him? See him in sickness. What makes him so patient, so submissive, and joyful, as if on the verge of heaven? See him in bereavement. Whence the joy that mingles with his grief? Whence those soft and silvery rays that shine upon his bleeding heart, and irradiate his darkened hours? Is it not all owing to the power of religion? Certainly, here is an exhibition of the glory of christianity which never could have been made without suffering.
And, "dense as the gloom is which hangs over the mouth of the sepulchre, it is the spot, above all others, where the Gospel, if it enters, shines and triumphs. In the busy sphere of life and health, it encounters an active antagonist: the world confronts it-aims to obscure its glories, to deny its claims, to drown its voice, to dispute its progress, to drive it from the ground it occupies. But from the mouth of the grave the world retires: it shrinks from the contest there; it leaves a clear and open space in which the Gospel can assert its claims, and unveil its glories without opposition or fear. There the infidel and the worldling. look anxiously around, but the world has left them helpless, and fled. There the christian
looks, around, and lo, the angel of mercy is standing close by his side. The Gospel kindles a torch, which not only irradiates the valley of the shadow of death, but throws a radiance into the world beyond, and reveals it, peopled with the sainted spirits of those who have died in Jesus." The christian beholds the light, and the blissful scenes it reveals, and then descends with the shout of triumph on his lips, "O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory."
Nor is this all. The Divine arrangement, to permit the natural course of things to have its way upon believers, as well as the unregenerate, opens a door for a most brilliant augmentation of the glory of christianity, in the great day of final reckoning. Though christians now die, the time is coming when they that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth. And how much more triumphant will be the final victory of life over death achieved in the resurrection, than if believers had been altogether exempted from dissolution! As the butterfly bursts the tomb, and rises out of the original elements of the caterpillar, and sallies forth in the warm sunshine, rejoicing in the superior glories of its new being, so shall each believer, at the trumpet-summons of his descending Lord, gather to himself the more refined essence of his slumbering dust, break away from the grave which can no longer retain him, and flourish in the more noble habitudes of another life! "The triumph of life on that day will be final and complete, leaving not an atom for which death can contend. It will be a triumph of the highest order, consisting not in the mere creation of a new being, but in the release and reanimation of what has been dragged away from the territories of life: death itself will be turned into life; corruption will put on incorruption. The triumph will be enhanced by the circumstance that it will be achieved on the very spot where death reigned. If the power of death be confined to this world, what an opprobrium must earth be to all the regions of life, and how naturally may it be pointed at by their inhabitants as the mysterious sepulchre of life-the dishonor of the universe. But the morning of the resurrection will wipe off that disgrace, and make the earth their boast and song. There,' they will be able to say, there the great antagonist of of life, after wasting the earth for thousands of years, and threaten"The Great Teacher," page 251.
ing to push the conquest into other worlds, was expelled from the universe, as an evil no longer to be borne. And from that very scene where death once reigned, heaven has received its largest influx of spiritual and immortal life.' And, to consummate the triumph, life on that day will be crowned with immortality. It will not be merely restored, but ennobled, exalted to the highest state of security and glory it can sustain. From the ruinous heap of every christian's grave, a living structure shall arise, built up into an imperishable monument of the resurrection and the life. In the stead of corruption, it shall be inaccessible to decay: for neither can they die any more; they are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. In the stead of dishonor, it will be raised in glory, radiating a splendor which shall eclipse all sublunary glory. In the place of weakness, it shall be clothed with the vigor of immortal youth, asking no relaxation or repose; the wings of the soul accompanying and aiding it in all its untiring flights. In the place of a natural body, it shall be raised a spiritual body: the original grossness of its materiality shall be purged away; it shall be refined and etherialized into spirit—a robe of light rivaling the invisible essence of the soul itself; while each of its senses shall form an inlet to floods of enjoyment, and each of its organs be instinct and emulous with zeal for the Divine glory."1
My brethren, the glory of the resurrection, beyond a simple exemption from death, is too great for human mind to conceive or human tongue to express. But I trust enough has been said to satisfy you of the benevolence of God in permitting the ordinary suffering and death of believers. What then, is the conclusionfrom all this? Let us see whether it does not furnish the most ample reason for submission, patience; and perseverance even under the severest trials.
We own that we are personally deserving of the worst which can be made to befal us, and that all our sufferings come upon us by the special appointment of God. And will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Will any man impugn His administrations, because he sees fit to send afflictions upon him? Will any man heap contempt upon Divinity by a proud insensibility or a despairThe Great Teacher," page 253.