by James W. Alexander
"Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Jehovah, to teach him out of Your Law." (Psalm 94:12) The Psalmist asserts the blessedness of the man who is chastened by the Lord, with this qualification as necessary to constitute it a blessing, that he is also instructed in divine truth. By this we understand that the influence of chastisement is not physical; that mere suffering has no inherent efficacy; but that the afflictions of this life are, in the hand of God, instrumental in impressing divine truth upon the heart, awakening the attention of the believer to the consideration of his own character and situation, the promises of the Gospel, and the rewards of heaven. The child of God is assured that all things work together for his good; in this is plainly included the pledge, that chastisements and afflictions shall eventually prove a blessing; and this is verified by the experience of the whole Church.
The subject can scarcely ever be inappropriate. We are all familiar with suffering, in our persons or the persons of those whom we love—we are either now enduring, or shall at some future time endure severe afflictions. Among our readers, it is natural to suppose that some are at this very moment laboring under burdens of grief. Some, it may be, are experiencing the infirmities and pains of a diseased body, others are mourning over the loss of friends and relatives, and others are still living in the dread of trials yet to come. There are few of us therefore to whom the inquiry may not be interesting, how is affliction a blessing?
The question may be thus answered. The chastisements which God inflicts upon his children are profitable to them, as they tend under the Divine blessing to promote piety in the heart. Or more particularly, chastisement is useful, because it convinces the believer of his helplessness and misery when left to himself, and of his entire dependence on God; because it leads him to renew his repentance, puts his faith to the test, and strengthens his Christian graces; because it contributes to the exercise of filial submission, and fixes the mind upon the heavenly inheritance. Let us, with prayer for Divine assistance, meditate upon these truths.
1. Chastisement is useful, because it tends to convince the believer of his misery, and shows him that without Christ he cannot be happy.And in order to bring this subject more directly before the mind, let us for a moment consider our readers as suffering under the pangs of some great affliction. You will at once agree with us in the position, that if you had more faith, you would have less trouble of mind; or rather that if you had faith sufficient, you would be altogether clear from the deep impressions which lie upon you. Because we very well know from our own experience, that there are cases in which the most severe bodily pains, or mental distresses, have, so to speak, been neutralized by considerations of a spiritual kind. This is exemplified in the history of the whole Christian Church, and of every individual believer, and most remarkably in the sufferings and deaths of the Martyrs.
There is then a certain point of elevation in divine trust, confidence in God, reliance on the providence, grace, and promise of God—that is, a certain degree of faith, which would entirely free you from these trials of mind. We take it for granted that you heartily concur in this, and that you feel, at this very moment of suffering, that no gift of God would so effectually bless you, as this gift of Faith. Your trials and afflictions, therefore, produce in your soul a deep feeling of need. You are now sensible that you need more of the presence of Christ; that your piety is not in sufficient exercise to make you happy under your chastisements. In the moments when forebodings and fears become most oppressive, you are most strongly impressed with the truth, that you still lack a great deal; and your desires are quickened for that measure of faith which shall enable you, with filial confidence, to leave all in the hands of God.
If these are your feelings, you are now ready to acknowledge that chastisement has already produced in you one part of its intended effect. You are brought to feel that you are totally dependent on God for your comfort; that nothing but high measures of piety can render you independent of these clouds of trial, and that the attainments which you have made are insufficient to this end. You are brought to desire of God that grace which shall be sufficient for you, and to say with the disciples—"Lord, increase our faith!" This is one great end of chastisement, to humble man from his self-sufficiency, and make him feel, in the most profound manner, that in God he lives, and moves, and has his being.
Afflicted brethren, you never felt in your hours of ease (we venture to affirm) so fully dependent upon God's will, as you do at this present time. Perhaps, if entire prosperity had continued, you would never have felt this persuasion; thus a most important point is gained in your spiritual progress. It is so in this respect, it prepares you for receiving the blessing. It is God's method, in the ordinary economy of His grace, to give favors of a spiritual kind—when the soul feels its need of them. He "will be inquired of for these things," even when he purposes to bestow them. It is in answer to earnest longings, pantings, hungerings and thirstings of the spirit, that the Lord manifests himself in the most remarkable manner. You have been brought by chastisement to the very point, where you ought to desire to be brought; and where perhaps nothing but this affliction would have brought you—the total renunciation of your own strength, and the casting of yourself upon the strength of God. Now you begin more deeply to feel your need of Christ. Now you are convinced that something more is necessary than that vague and intermitted trust which you commonly indulge; that Christ must be embraced by your faith, and not visited merely by occasional devotions; in a word, that you must constantly be "looking to Jesus."
If these things are so; if you are persuaded that nothing except strong faith can heal your wounded spirit; if you are conscious that you still lack such faith; if you earnestly and constantly desire it; the question becomes exceedingly interesting to you—"Can I attain it?" And if this could be at once answered in the affirmative, to your full satisfaction, it would go far towards an entire banishment from your soul of these poignant distresses. Now in proportion as your soul is engaged in seeking the inestimable blessing, in just that proportion will your acts of faith be increased. As Christ becomes more and more present to your mind, you will, with more and more confidence, lean upon him with son-like assurance. And, therefore, without endeavoring to resolve the question, when, how, or in what precise manner, God will give you the grace which you need, it is sufficient for our present purpose to know, that one great end of your affliction is answered, when you are led to commence and persevere in a faithful and earnest application to Christ, as the great Physician.
Long have you wandered, it may be, long slighted this benevolent Redeemer. Like Israel in prosperity, you have forgotten your Deliverer, and have grown slothful or rebellious in the rich pastures of his goodness. While the skies were clear, and all around you was smiling, you were remiss in duty, irregular in devotion, lukewarm in affection. Your mountain seemed to stand strong, and in the delights of present enjoyment you could say, "Tomorrow shall be as today, and much more abundant." Jesus Christ, the Master to whom you had so solemnly, so unreservedly given yourself, has been cast into the shade by the worldly things on which you have doted. Ah! how little do Christians ponder on the truth, that by their lives of carelessness, they are rendering afflictions necessary! While they are at ease in Zion, forsaking their first love, and declining from the path of strict piety, the cloud is gathering darker and darker over their heads; that cloud of judgment and of mercy which is to drive them up from their unlawful resting-places, and alarm them into a renewal of their pilgrimage. Afflicted brethren! You thought not, while you were at ease, that these trials were in reserve for you, though often forewarned by the preachers of the Gospel, and the experience of your brethren. The trial has now come; you have now to retrace your steps; you now feel that none but Christ can bring you back to happiness; and you are humbly asking for the blessings of his hand. Thus it is that chastisement convinces the believer of his misery, and shows him that afar from the Savior he can never be at peace.
2. Chastisement is useful, as it leads the believer to see and feel his exceeding sinfulness.It is one of the strongest proofs that our sanctification is imperfect, and our self-love inordinate, that we are advance in piety so much more readily by stripes than by favors. Though the Lord's goodness ought to lead us to repentance, yet we generally observe that the heart grows hard under the smiles of Providence, and thus loudly calls for the necessary strokes of God's correcting hand. It is a favorable indication of reigning grace, when any soul, in the sunshine of great worldly prosperity, is spiritually-minded, humble, and constant in walking with God. In too many cases, it is far otherwise. And when sudden affliction breaks in a storm upon the head of one who has been relapsing into carnal security, the surprise and consternation are great and almost insupportable. After the first tumult of the soul, it is natural to look around for some solace or support; and in the case of a true Christian, the resort will at once be to the consolation of true religion.
Like the little child which strays from its watchful and tender parent, during the hours of play—but hastens back at the approach of alarm, so the believer, overtaken by calamity, awakens from his dream, and endeavors to retrace his steps to the neglected mercy-seat. But ah! in how many cases does he here learn his lamentable distance from God; and how mournfully is he made to cry, "O that I knew where I might find Him!" He who is habitually walking with God does not suffer this, for the whole armor of God protects him from the most unexpected assaults—"he is not afraid of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord," but the slumbering and lukewarm professor sinks disheartened. In vain does he apply himself to earthly solaces for alleviation of his grief. With shame, and pain of conscience, does he endeavor to ask deliverance of his offended Father. Every petition that he utters, is accompanied with a sense of weakness. The blessedness which once he spoke of is gone; the habit of devout waiting upon God is suspended; the way to the throne of grace is obstructed. How confidently would he offer his petitions, if he were persuaded of his own acceptance—how gladly would he plead the promises, if he felt his title to them secured in Christ. But alas! it is not with him as in days that are past, when the candle of the Lord shone on him. His mind has become attached to the earth; his views of the blessed Redeemer are indistinct; he is convinced that his strength has departed, that his faith languishes, and that he is defiled with sin.
Now his repentings are kindled; now he knows how evil and bitter a thing it is to forsake the Lord, and to depart from his fear; and when he considers how long God has borne with him, how many favors he has received, and how brutish has been his ingratitude, his heart is broken, his tears flow, he seeks the lowest place in the dust of abasement, wonders that affliction has not long since overtaken him for his carelessness and neglect, and bows before the Lord without a murmur. At such a time, the language of the afflicted soul will be—"Why does a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again unto the Lord. Let us lift up our heart unto God in the heavens. We have transgressed and have rebelled. You have covered yourself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through. My eye trickles down and ceases not, without any intermission, until the Lord looks down and behold from heaven."
Christian brethren, who have known affliction, and have been chastened of the Lord, that you should not be condemned with the world; who have suffered the loss of friends, of health, of property, of reputation—how often has one hour of such trials done more to show you your sins, and humble you in penitence, than months of ordinary self-examination, or stated means of grace!
When chastisement has its proper operation, the Christian will seek not to be comforted merely—but to be taught of God. "Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of your law." He seeks to know why God contends with him, and lies very low in contrition, when the still small voice of the Lord says to him, "The Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel—O my people, what have I done unto you? and wherein have I wearied you? testify against me." Micah 6. And this exercise leads to godly sorrow which is not to be repented of. It is under deep affliction that we feel most deeply the connection between sin and misery, and acknowledge that the connection is just and holy. Smarting under the rod, we know that the Lord has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities; and that it is of his mercies that we are not consumed.
It was not immediately upon the commission of his atrocious crime, that David was humbled; but when he was chastised and smitten to the earth, hear how he mourns, not so much over his sufferings as his sin—"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me." Psalm 51.
Times of affliction afford some natural faculties for cultivating repentance. Occasions of sin are then removed; the world is excluded. The man confined to the silence of the sick room, or the house of mourning, cannot divert his mind by idle pursuits. He is forced to think—and to think of his sins. He considers his ways, bewails his transgression, and renews his covenant. He learns to confess, "Surely it is fit to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more; that which I see not, teach me—and if I have done iniquity, I will do no more." Job 34:31.
Now, in these experiences of the afflicted, there is a real consolation. Such tears are sweet, and it will probably be the unanimous testimony of all true penitents, that they have enjoyed a tender and refined delight in those moments of grief, in which they came to God as a forgiving God, and heard him say to their souls, in accents at once of gentle rebuke and comfort—"Behold, I have refined you—but not with silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction," "for my own sake will I defer mine anger." "For a small moment have I forsaken you—but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment—but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer." Isa. 54.
3. Chastisement is useful as a trial of faith.To use the expression of Hall, "untried faith is uncertain faith." There often is in professors of religion enough of the semblance of piety to lull their consciences while they are prosperous—but not enough of the reality to support them in time of trial. Adversity makes the exercise of faith needful, and puts the strength of that faith to the test. It is compared to the fire, the furnace, the refining-pot or crucible, because it not only purifies—but tries; it not only consumes the dross—but ascertains the gold.
There is no true believer who does not desire this trial. The very supposition of being found lacking at the day of judgment fills him with horror. His daily supplication is—"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Christian reader, give a moment's thought to this question—Is your faith sufficient to support you in the hour of death, if that hour (as is very possible) should soon and suddenly arrive? Are you not ready to sink under ordinary afflictions? How then will you bear this greatest of trials? To adopt the language of Jeremiah (12:5), "If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if, in the land of peace, wherein you trust, they wearied you, then how will you do in the swellings of Jordan?"
This trial of your faith is plainly important and it is the office of chastisement to constrain you to such a trial. If your standing in the covenant is so firm, through humble trust in God, that you can say, "But he knows the way that I take—when he has tried me I shall come forth as gold," you are happy indeed. But this conviction is not likely to be strong in those who have not passed through the furnace. The apostle Peter, in comforting the dispersed saints, explains to them this end of their chastisement, "If need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ."
We have already seen, in the course of our meditations, some of the ways in which faith is tried by affliction. If any Christian is afflicted, he will pray. But there can be no comfort in prayer, where there is not a belief that prayer is heard, and will be answered. The supplication of one who pours out strong crying and tears, in a great fight of afflictions, is a very different thing from the formal addresses of one at ease. The sufferer cannot be consoled until he finds that God is his friend; he cannot find this without faith; and in this manner, most directly, chastisement convinces the soul, that it is still unprovided with the shield of faith, or awakens the exercise of this grace, with great and unspeakable satisfaction. And thus the tribulations which have succeeded one another through life, give us stronger and stronger reliance on God, for the approaching hour of death. At some future day it will be sweet to remember how the Lord sealed us with his Spirit of adoption, in these times of trial. Therefore, "beloved brethren, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you—but rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy."
4. Chastisement is useful, as it strengthens faith, by leading the believer to the promises, and especially to the Lord Jesus Christ.There is no expression in the word of God better suited to reconcile the Christian to trials, than that of the Apostle Paul—"God chastens us for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness"—partakers of His holiness! What words are these! This is the very summit of your desires. This you have been toiling for, and longing after. This you have earnestly implored—and are you now ready to shrink from the very means by which your Father in heaven is about to promote your sanctification? By no means will you be led to relinquish this appointment of God for your good. Now it is by these very trials that your graces are to be invigorated.
We have seen that these trials disclose the reality and degree of our faith. We may go further, and observe that faith is greatly increased and strengthened by the same process. Faith is strengthened by exercise. As the muscles become withered and often useless by lack of exercise, or the removal of its proper objects, so faith languishes and seems ready to perish, when those truths which are to be believed are long kept out of the mind. The most valuable truths of the Christian are "the exceeding great and precious promises." He does not feel his need of these promises while he is indulging in that self-pleasing which usually accompanies prosperity. In penning these lines we say advisedly, no man can fully value health who has not been ill, nor appreciate the services of the kind and skillful physician, until he has been healed by him. And thus also, no man can fully prize, or fully understand the promises of the Scriptures, until they are made necessary to his support in adversity. Many of the most precious portions of revelation are altogether a dead letter to such as have never been exercised by the trials to which they relate.
The believer who is in sufferings or straits of any kind, comes to God by prayer; and in attempting to pray, seeks some promise suitable to his precise needs. Blessed be God! he needs not to search long—so rich are the treasures of the word. These promises he takes as the very truth of God. He pleads them at the throne of grace; he believes them, relies on them, rejoices in them. This is faith; these exercises are vital exercises of the renewed soul. So long as the Christian is oppressed with affliction, these exercises must be continual; and in proportion as the trial is great, must the faith be great also, so that he often finds every earthly support cut away, and is taught, with implicit trust, to hang on the simple word of Divine faithfulness. This is emphatically the life of piety; and it is encouraged, developed, and maintained in time of trial.
Affliction is sanctified when we are made to feel that nothing can satisfy us but God, and when we actually wait upon God, and rely on Him as our only hope. It is then that the Christian finds the promises confirmed to him—"Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." "No chastening for the present is joyous—but grievous," etc. Then he rolls his burden on the Lord, commits his way to him, leans upon Him, trusts in Him with all his heart, so that with a meaning altogether new, he can sing with the Church—"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble—therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
Some appear to entertain the mistaken opinion that the only relief which is afforded to the Christian in suffering, must arise from some hope of speedy deliverance or escape. This is so far from being true, that perhaps the greatest solace under afflictions is derived from direct acts of faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and communion with Him; in which the soul is so much absorbed, that the present suffering is forgotten, and the mind wholly occupied in its exercises of piety. And herein the chastisement is profitable. In pain, and despondency, and grief, we go to Jesus as to a friend who sticks closer than a brother. We pour our sorrows into his friendly ear, and ask his aid, and then, when he reveals to us his love, and speaks his promises, and unveils his face, even though he gives no assurance that we shall be set free, he does more—he gives us Himself, and faith is refreshed and nourished by receiving him. And shall we not regard as a mercy—that illness, or that bereavement, or that alarm—which so embitters the world's cup, as to lead us to Christ, that we may see his beauty, and be filled with his love?
Prosperity leaves us to wander, and offers temptations to the wandering ones. Afflictions alarm us and drive us back to the right path. Prosperity casts a glittering but delusive veil over divine realities, and encourages unbelief. Afflictions rend and destroy this covering, and show us the truths of the eternal world. Prosperity seldom leads to increase of faith. Affliction, by God's blessing, is in many cases made the instrument of sanctification to such as are truly pious.
Dear Brethren, that God who "does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men," offers you in your trials these "peaceable fruits of righteousness." Taste of the sweetness of his promises, and each of you shall say with David—"It is good for me that I have been afflicted!"
5. Chastisement is useful, because it leads the believer to exercise entire submission to the Divine will.It is an undeniable truth, and one of which the child of God is very deeply convinced, that "the Lord reigns;" that it is infinitely right and fit that he should reign; and that the first duty of every intelligent being, is to submit promptly, cheerfully, and unreservedly to every ordinance and dispensation of God. It is not very difficult to keep the soul in correspondence with this truth, so long as our self-love is not interfered with, nor our present happiness invaded; but when the sovereignty of God is manifested in despoiling us of our most precious possessions and delights, our souls are often ready to falter, and our weakness betrays itself, when with hesitating lips we endeavor to say, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" It is common to hear those who are ignorant of the Scriptures caviling at the representation of Job as a man of eminent patience; but where, except in his biography, shall we look for the instance of a man, suffering in one day the total loss of immense wealth, and of ten beloved children, and still saying, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."
Without exercise, Christian graces do not grow, and severe afflictions are probably intended to cultivate this important grace of entire submission. Nothing is more common than for people under chastisement to indulge in such thoughts as these—"I could endure almost any affliction better than this; it is that which I have most dreaded, for which I was least prepared, and now it has overtaken me! It is so strange, new, and unexampled, that I am disheartened, and my soul sinks within me." These are the symptoms of a rebellious and unsubdued will; the murmurings of a proud and stubborn heart, which must be humbled in the dust. This is just the trial by which, perhaps, God graciously intends to bring down the imaginations and high thoughts of your soul into captivity to the obedience of Christ. And patience will not have had its perfect work in any case, until the afflicted soul is prepared to make no reservation, to claim no direction—but to give up all into the hands of the most wise, most righteous, and most merciful Creator. If the suffering were less, it would not have this humbling efficacy, and he mistakes the nature of the covenant, who supposes that such peculiar trials are excluded. It was, no doubt, a visitation sudden and alarming as a stroke of lightning, when Aaron beheld his sons consumed by fire from the Lord. It was a solemn sanction to that rule, "I will be sanctified by those drawing near to Me; and I will be honored before all the people." Yet, on seeing and hearing these things, "Aaron was speechless." Lev. 10:3. It is a bitter medicine—but the soul which is convinced of God's justice and goodness, lays down every thought of rebellion and discontent.
When, in the time of the Judges, the children of Israel gave themselves up in a shameless manner to the worship of idols, they fell under the wrath of God, and were eighteen years oppressed by the Ammonites and Philistines. Still, when they came to themselves, and cried to the Lord, they joined to their repentance lowly submission, and said, "We have sinned; do unto us whatever seems good unto you." Judges 10.
This is the temper which sanctified affliction always begets, so that the prostrate soul dares no longer to impose terms on Jehovah—but yields itself to his sovereign discretion. There is peace in such a surrender, a peace which is altogether independent of any expected mitigation of the stroke.
Wave after wave often goes over the child of God, before he is brought to this state of self-renunciation. Murmuring may for a time prevail, yet the Great Physician, who applies the painful remedy, cannot be baffled, and triumphs to his own glory and the unspeakable benefit of the believer's soul. The Scriptures afford us striking examples of this yielding up of everything into the hands of God; particularly in the case of David, whose history and experience are given in detail. One of the sharpest inflictions which fell upon this pious man, was the rebellion of his monstrous son, Absalom; and one of the most affecting scenes in the course of this transaction, is the flight of the aged king with the ark—"All the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over." Now, what was the language of David under these circumstances? "The King said unto Zadok—Carry back the ark of God into the city; if I shall find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and show me both it and his habitation; and if he thus says, I have no delight in you, behold here am I, let him do unto me as seems good unto Him." 2 Samuel 15:26.
Now, we have here exemplified the very frame of soul which each of us should endeavor to maintain under chastisement. For we are not to speak thus, "I can bear this because it cannot be avoided, or, because I hope it is the last of my sufferings." No, my brethren, we are not thus to limit the Holy One of Israel; but let each of us with filial homage say, "Lord, I am in your hands, in the best hands, I deserve your stripes, I yield myself to your dispensations. May your will be done!" Happy is he who, like David, can look back upon chastisements and say, "I was silent, I opened not my mouth, because you are the one who has done this."
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time;" yet, if his rod should long abide upon you, if you are ready, like Job, to cry, from repeated and continued strokes, "He has set me up for his mark. He breaks me with breach upon breach. He has fenced up my way so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness in my paths;" yet even then, "remember the patience of Job, and the end of the Lord," and say, "Though he slays me, yet will I trust in him."
Some may be disposed to think, in the time when all God's waves and billows go over them, that they could acquiesce and be comforted, if they perceived any way of escape, if they could reasonably expect deliverance—and this is the whole of what is sometimes called Christian resignation. Yet the comfort in this case is merely worldly. The grace of God can do more than this; it can make you willing still to endure, and in enduring still to praise.
Say not, "I could be content if I were sure of deliverance." God has not promised absolutely to remove the chastisement. Perhaps it is his holy will not to deliver. Perhaps it is this very thing in your afflictions which is to insure you the blessing from the Lord. The apostle Paul earnestly desired, and thrice besought the Lord to deliver him from that trial which he calls the thorn in his flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him. Yet, as far as we are informed, it was continued to the end of his life. But mark the glorious amends—"My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Upon this declaration, which we shall presently consider more in detail, he goes forward under his burden, singing as he pursues his pilgrimage—"Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me; therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake, for when I am weak, then am I strong." The sweet support under every possible calamity is, that God can turn it into a blessing, and that if we have faith he will do so. With respect, therefore, to the use of afflictions, "all things are possible to him that believes."
6. Finally. Chastisement is useful, because it leads the believer to look for complete happiness in heaven only.And at this stage of our reflections, let us rejoice, dear brethren, that the consolation offered is liable to no exception or abatement; it is adapted to every case; perfect and entire. If the comfort which you need depended upon the hope of deliverance in this world, there would be many cases which we would be forced to leave as hopeless—for there are many in which no expectation of exemption in this life can be indulged. But let the worst, most lingering, and most aggravated instance of suffering be presented, and the hope of heaven is still sufficient to mitigate its ills.
You may have been reduced to hopeless poverty; you may have suffered from the treachery and ingratitude of supposed friends, from cruel mockings and continual calumny; you may labor under incurable disease, or follow to the grave beloved objects of your affections, who can never be replaced in this world. Still, there is a country, and you are rapidly approaching it, "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." It is well if you have learned to look beyond all secondary, earthly, imperfect comforts, to God, the source of good, and to that world where all tears are wiped away. It is well if the trial of your faith has enabled you to say, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day."
This is a benefit of affliction, which is striking and great in proportion to the failure of earthly consolation. For it may be doubted, whether any man fully yields himself up to the view and foretaste of heaven, until he is disentangled and rent away from all hope of blessedness on this side the grave. It is natural to seek resting-places by the way; and trials, losses, sufferings, bereavements, are thrice blessed when they engrave upon our hearts that we have here on earth, no continuing city—but must seek one above. So long as we can flatter ourselves with any refuge in this world, we are prone to lean on an arm of flesh, and to look upwards only for the supply of what is deficient here. But let all expectation of worldly peace and satisfaction be cut off, and the released soul which is truly sanctified and full of faith, rises like a bird from the snare, and rejoices to say, "My soul, wait only upon God—for my expectation is from him. Then shall I be satisfied when I awake in your likeness!" Do not think, however, to enjoy this fruit of chastisement, while you cast longing and lingering looks on that country whence you came out. Nothing but the hope of a glorious resurrection upheld the apostle Paul, when troubled on every side, perplexed, persecuted, cast down, and (as to the outward man) perishing. Hear the method of his escape out of sorrow—"Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
He is the happy man who dwells most on the thoughts of heaven. Like Enoch he walks with God. Like Job he can say, "I know that my Redeemer lives!" Like David he glories, "You will show me your salvation." Like Paul he triumphs, "For I am now ready to be offered," etc.
This happiness we sometimes witness; but where have we found it? In the house of prosperity, where death has never invaded the family circle; where all have more than heart could wish; where health, and opulence, and honor unite to expel all care? No! but in the hovel of the poor, where one affliction has followed another, until earthly hope is almost extinct. In the darkened chamber of mourning, whence all that was most loved and cherished has taken its last flight. In the bed of lingering, incurable disease, and in the very gasp of death! Here true religion has set up her trophies; here is happiness, here, where things hoped for are substantiated to the believing soul, where things unseen are evidenced to faith, by divine influence.
In every case of suffering, it is the prime wisdom of the Christian to fix his eyes upon the heavenly crown. In every other hope you may be disappointed, in this you cannot. Try, as you may, all other fountains for your solace, there is a time coming when you must be driven to this. Become familiar with the meditation of heavenly glory! Daily contemplate that joyful deliverance from evil, that indissoluble and ecstatic union with the Lord Jesus Christ! Then, when death lays upon you his cold hand, you can say, "I am prepared for this hour. I have longed for this deliverance to meet my Lord in his temple. I have lived in communion with the blessed Lord of heaven!" "Lo, this is my God, I have waited for him, and he will save me! This is the Lord, I have waited for him—I will rejoice and be glad in his salvation!"