7. Afflictions

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Afflictions quicken our pace in the way to heaven; it is with us, as with children sent on an errand, if they meet with apples or flowers by the way, they linger and make no great haste home, but if anything fright them, then they run with all the speed they can to their father's house: so, in prosperity, we are gathering the apples and flowers, and do not much mind heaven, but if troubles begin to arise, and the times grow frightful, then we make more haste to heaven, and with David, "run the way of God's commandments" (Psa. 119:3232I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart. (Psalm 119:32)).
God's people have no writ of ease granted them, no charter of exemption from trouble in this life. While the wicked are kept in sugar, the godly are often kept in brine. God lets His people be in the house of bondage for probation or trial. "Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness... that He might humble thee, and that He might prove thee" (Deut. 8:15-1615Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; 16Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; (Deuteronomy 8:15‑16)). Affliction is the touch-stone of sincerity. "Thou, O God, hast proved us; Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried; ... Thou laidst affliction upon our loins" (Psa. 66:10-1110For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. 11Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. (Psalm 66:10‑11)).
Hypocrites may embrace the true religion in prosperity, but he is a good Christian who will keep close to God in a time of suffering. "All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten Thee" (Psa. 44:1717All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. (Psalm 44:17)).
The stones which are cut out for a building are first hewn and squared. The godly are called "living stones" (1 Peter 2:55Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)). God first hews and polishes them by affliction, that they may be fit for the heavenly building. The house of bondage prepares for the house not made with hands.
Afflictions on the godly make them better, but afflictions on the wicked make them worse. The godly pray more (Psa. 130:11<<A Song of degrees.>> Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. (Psalm 130:1)). The wicked blaspheme more. "Men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God" (Rev. 16:99And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. (Revelation 16:9)). Afflictions on the wicked make them more impenitent; every plague upon Egypt increased the plague of hardness in Pharaoh's heart. Affliction of the godly is like bruising spices, which are most sweet and fragrant: affliction on the wicked is like pounding weeds with a pestle, which makes them more unsavory.
A sick bed often teaches more than a sermon; we can best see the ugly visage of sin in the glass of affliction.
What if we have more of the rough file, if we have less rust! Afflictions carry away nothing but the dross of sin.
When affliction or death comes to a wicked man, it takes away his soul; when it comes to a godly man it only takes away his sin.... "We are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:3232But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:32)). He works out sin and works in grace.
"I will be with him in trouble" (Psa. 91:1515He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. (Psalm 91:15)). When we are most assaulted, we shall be most assisted. What if we have more trouble than others, if we have more of God with us than others? It cannot be ill with that man with whom God is. Better to be in prison and have God's presence, than be in a palace without it.
It is one heart-quieting consideration, in all the afflictions that befall us, that God hath a special hand in them: "The Almighty hath afflicted me" (Ruth 1:2121I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? (Ruth 1:21)). Instruments can no more stir till God gives them a commission, than the ax can cut of itself without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction: therefore, as Augustine observes, he doth not say, "The Lord gave, and the devil took away", but "The Lord hath taken away." Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God that sends it. Afflictions work for good. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Psa. 119:7171It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. (Psalm 119:71)). Joseph's brethren throw him into a pit; afterward they sell him; then he is cast into prison; yet all this did work for his good: his abasement made way for his advancement; he was made the second man in the kingdom. "Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good" (Gen. 50:2020But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Genesis 50:20)). Jacob wrestled with the angel, and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint; this was sad; but God turned it to good, for there he saw God's face, and there the Lord blessed him. "Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face" (Gen. 32:3030And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (Genesis 32:30)). Who would not be willing to have a bone out of joint, so that he might have a sight of God? King Manasseh was bound in chains, this was sad to see a crown of gold changed into fetters; but it wrought for his good, for, "When he was in affliction he besought the LORD, and humbled himself greatly, and the LORD was entreated of him" (2 Chron. 33:12-1312And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13And prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God. (2 Chronicles 33:12‑13)). He was more beholden to his iron chain, than to his golden crown; the one made him proud, the other made him humble. Paul was smitten with blindness; this was uncomfortable, but it turned to his good; God did by that blindness make way for the light of grace to shine into his soul.
God sweetens outward pain with inward peace. "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy" (John 16:2020Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (John 16:20)). God's rod has honey at the end of it.
David saith, "My times are in Thy hand" (Psa. 31:1515My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me. (Psalm 31:15)). If our times were in our own hand, we would have deliverance too soon; if they were in our enemy's hand, we should have deliverance too late; but my times are in Thy hand; and God's time is ever best. Everything is beautiful in its season: when the mercy is ripe, we shall have it. It is true we are now between the hammer and the anvil; but do not cast away your anchor; God sees when the mercy will be in season. When His people are low enough, and the enemy high enough, then appears the Church's morning-star: Let God alone to His time. "My soul waiteth for the Lord" (Psa. 130:66My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. (Psalm 130:6)). Good reason God should have the timing of our mercies, "I the Lord will hasten it in His time." Deliverance may tarry beyond our time; but it will not tarry beyond God's time.... After a wet night of affliction, comes a bright morning of the resurrection: if our lives are short, our trials cannot be long.... Time is short (1 Cor. 7:2929But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; (1 Corinthians 7:29)). Though the cross be heavy, we have but a little way to carry it. The time being short the waiting time cannot be long.
Afflictions work for good, as they conform us to Christ. His life was a series of sufferings, "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:33He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)). He wept, and bled. Was His head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses? It is good to be like Christ, though it be by sufferings.
"Let none of you suffer... as an evil doer" (1 Peter 4:1515But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. (1 Peter 4:15)). I am not of Cyprian's mind, that the thief on the cross suffered as a martyr; no, he suffered as an evil doer; Christ indeed took pity on him, and saved him; he died a saint, but not a martyr. When men suffer by the hand of a magistrate, these do not suffer persecution, but execution: they die not as martyrs, but as malefactors; they suffer evil for being evil.
God loves a thankful Christian. Job thanked God when He took all away: "The LORD hath taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:2121And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)). Many will thank God when He gives, Job thanks Him when He takes away, because he knew God would work good out of it. We read of saints with harps in their hands (Rev. 14:22And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: (Revelation 14:2)), an emblem of praise. We meet many Christians who have tears in their eyes, and complaints in their mouths; but there are few with their harps in their hands, who praise God in affliction. Every bird can sing in spring, but some birds will sing in the dead of winter. A good Christian will bless God, not only at the sun-rising, but at the sun-setting. Well may we, in the worst that befalls us, have a psalm of thankfulness, because all things work for good. If God makes all things turn to our good, how right is it that we should make all things tend to His glory! "Do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:3131Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)).
"His mercies are new every morning" (Lam. 3:2323They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23)). Mercy comes in as constantly as the tide; nay, how many tides of mercy do we see in one day. We never feed, but mercy carves every bit to us; we never drink but in the golden cup of mercy; we never go abroad, but mercy sets a guard of angels about us; we never lie down in bed, but mercy draws the curtains of protection close about us. Shall we receive so many good things at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? Our mercies far outweigh our afflictions; for one affliction we have a thousand mercies. The sea of God's mercy would swallow up a few drops of affliction.
Many, to rid themselves out of trouble, run themselves into sin. When God has bound them with the cords of affliction, they go to the devil to loosen their bands. Better it is to stay in affliction than to sin ourselves out of it.
Affliction quickens the spirit of prayer; Jonah was asleep in the ship, but at prayer in the whale's belly. Perhaps in a time of health and prosperity we pray in a cold and formal manner, we put no coals to the incense, we scarcely minded our own prayers, and how should God mind them? God sends some cross or other to make us take hold of Him. "They poured out a prayer, when Thy chastening hand was upon them" (Isa. 26:1616Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them. (Isaiah 26:16)); now their prayer pierced the heavens. In times of trouble we pray feelingly, and we never pray so fervently as when we pray feelingly.
When God puts His children to the school of the cross, He deals with them tenderly, because He does not leave them without a promise, "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able." He will not lay a giant's burden upon a child's back, nor will He stretch the strings of the instrument too much, lest they should break. If God sees it good to strike with one hand, He will support with the other; either He will make the faith stronger, or render the yoke lighter.
God loves His people when He is giving the bitter diet-drink of affliction. God's rod and God's love, they both stand together. It is no love in God to let men go on in sin, and never smite. God's greatest curse is when He afflicts not for sin. Let us feel God's hand so that we may have His heart.
Afflictions add to the saints' glory. The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles; the heavier the saints' cross is, the heavier shall be their crown.
If God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.