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The Afflicted Man's Companion (6)

by Rev. John Willison

First published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue 26, April-June 2002.


Containing Some Particular Directions To Those Who Are Sharply Afflicted With Sickness And Long Trouble.

DIRECTION II. – Labour still to be sensible of God's hand under heavy affliction, and beware of stupidity and unconcernedness under it.

It is a sin to faint under heavy affliction, but it is a duty to feel it, Heb. xii. 5. "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him." The apostle there doth caution against two extremes, which every christian under the rod should be careful to avoid. 1. Despising or making light of affliction. 2. Sinking or desponding under affliction. We are in great hazard of running into the one or the other. As to the first, We may be said to despise the chastening of the Lord, when we do not observe God's hand in our affliction, so as to reform the things whereby he is displeased; or when we resolve to abide the trial, by the strength of our own resolution, and stout-heartedness, without looking to God for supporting grace; or when we turn stupid and insensible under the heavy and long continued rod.

This despising and slighting of the rod is not patience, but stupidity; it is not christian magnanimity, but a stoical temper of mind, most sinful and provoking to God. We see how angry God is with sinners when his strokes are not felt. Isa. xli. 25. "He hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it hath burned him, yet he laid it not to heart," Jer.v. 3. "Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved: thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock, they have refused to return." There is little hope of a scholar minding his lesson, that is regardless of whipping. It is a dreadful sign to be like Pharaoh, sleeping in our sins, when God is thundering in his wrath. He that will sleep when his house is on fire, or lie still in bed as if he was not concerned, may assuredly expect to be consumed in its flames. As David could not bear it, when the messengers he sent to the Ammonites out of good will were affronted and despised, so neither will God endure it, when the messengers he sends to sinners are slighted; for he that slights a messenger affronts his master. Those who make light of affliction, make light of God that sends it, and make light of sin that procures it.

Quest. But, when is it that people are suitably concerned under a heavy rod?

Ans. When they see God's hand, hear God's voice, answer his intent, are curious to know his mind, desirous to do those things he requires, and reform those things he is displeased with. Remember, every affliction is a messenger from God, and deserves a hearing from you. It comes to thee with such a message as Ehud did to Eglon, Judges iii. 20. "I have an errand from God to thee, O king:" I have a message from God to thee, O christian, O sinner. Well, lend an ear and hearken with reverence and attention to this errand; say, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. What wouldst thou have me to do?" Believe it, that God speaks as really to you by his rod, as by his word: therefore he says, Hear ye the rod.

God spake as truly by his ten plagues to Egypt, as he did by his ten precepts to Israel. And if the calm voice of the word were more regarded, we should hear less of the rough voice of the rod. As Gideon took briers, and thorns of the wilderness, and with them taught the men of Succoth, who would not be taught by fairer means, Judges viii.16., so God takes the sharp prickles of sore afflictions, to teach you his statutes, when you will not be taught by softer methods. Beware then of grieving God's Spirit, by turning stupid and insensible under sharp or long continued trials: but, the more pains God is at with you by his rod, hearken the more carefully to his voice; and labour to make the greater proficiency in the school of affliction, where he thinks fit to continue you, that so you may inherit that blessing, Ps. xciv. 12. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law."

DIRECTION III. – Beware of misconstruing God's dealings towards you, and of charging him foolishly.

We are apt to believe Satan's suggestions under heavy trials, and to entertain wrong thoughts of God and his dispensations. Now, these you ought to guard against; as for instance, 1st, Beware of harbouring atheistical thoughts, as if there were no providence, no wise governor of this lower world, no distinction betwixt the good and bad; and that it is to no purpose to be religious, like these mentioned in Mal.iii.14, "Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?" Yea, even the Psalmist, when he begins to compare his own sharp trials with the wicked's ease and prosperity, is tempted to think all religion is vain, and say, Ps. lxxxiii.13,14. "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning." But these are nothing but the hellish suggestions of Satan, that irreconcilable enemy of God and precious souls, against which we should closely stop our ears.

2dly, Beware of charging God in your hearts with rigour or injustice in his dealing, like these Ezek. xviii. 25. "Yet, ye say, the way of the Lord is not equal." How highly unjust and injurious are such thoughts of him, who is the Judge of all the earth, and cannot but do right!

3dly, Beware of thinking that heavy afflictions do always speak wrath in God against thee: No, sometimes they speak forth love, and God may be carrying on a love design thereby to thy soul, viz. to subdue thy strong lusts, and draw thee nearer unto himself: as for those who think that the smarting rod and divine love cannot dwell together, let them read that passage, Heb. xii. 5, 6. "And, ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."

4thly, Beware of desponding and distrusting thoughts of God under sharp afflictions. Some are ready to raze the foundation, quit their interest in God and the promises, and cast away their hope and confidenee, saying with Gideon, Judges vi. 13. "O, my lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this evil befallen us?" So David was ready to draw hasty conclusion, Ps. xxxi. 22 " I said in mine haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes." But this was the effect of unbelief; for he that believeth will not make haste.

(To be continued, D.V.)