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CONSIDERATIONS IN ADVERSITY.
ECCLESIASTES VII. 14.
"In the day of adversity consider."
By the day of adversity is undoubtedly intended, as the phrase most naturally denotes, any season of suffering and sorrow. The loss of property, health, friends, or any other truly valuable enjoyments, constitutes such a season, and calls for the duty enjoined in the text. In such a season, we are required to consider. This phrase is general in its import, and includes a great variety of particulars. Generally it intends, that we should apply our minds soberly, solemnly, and fixedly to the contemplation of such things as are naturally offered to our view by the providence of God; and, by such a contemplation, that we should make them the means of real and enduring good to our souls.
In the day of prosperity we are directed, in the preceding clause, to be joyful. It is plain, therefore, that in the sight of God a different conduct is proper for men in different seasons and circumstances; and that such different conduct is useful to us, and acceptable to Him. In adversity, it is agreeable to his will that we lay aside the cheerfulness which becomes prosperity, and endeavour to derive from our situation useful
instructions and useful impressions; solemn, but profitable; suited to the state of an afflicted mind, and fitted to make such a mind wiser and better. Sobriety, sorrow, and mourning are all proper states of the human mind, and are no less useful in their place than joy and gratitude. Each of these, in its own place, is fitted to produce real good to man. Prosperity naturally leads a good mind to gratitude, and also to repentance. Afflictions as naturally yield to such a mind the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
That such considerations is in such a season our duty, we know, because it is commanded. Our principal concern, then, with this subject must be to learn how to perform this duty, and to feel fully its high importance. I shall suggest, therefore, in this discourse,
I. Some of the proper subjects of consideration in a day of adversity; and
II. The Motives to a faithful performance of this duty.
I shall mention,
1. Some of the proper subjects of consideration in the day of adversity.
Among these I shall notice,
First, The source of our afflictions, viz. God.
I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace or prosperity, and create evil or adversity. I, the Lord, do all these things, Isaiah xlv. 7.
Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Amos iii. 6.
Affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground, Job v. 6.
The consideration that God is the source of our afflictions, furnishes us with many useful and affecting lessons. Particularly we are taught by this solemn truth, that our afflictions. are all just, proper and reasonable. In mere suffering there can be neither consolation nor profit. Suffering, inflicted with
out a solid cause and a benevolent end, is the result of oppression only. No man is fitted to derive good from this source. On the contrary, he is irresistibly impelled to resistance and hostility, or overwhelmed by depression and despair. To the very existence of those benefits which afflictions produce, it is absolutely necessary that we should be convinced of the justice and reasonableness of the affliction. The knowledge that they come from God, is unanswerable proof of the propriety and the equity of the painful dispensation. The Judge of all the earth, we know, doth right; and, therefore, however distressing our sufferings, we are sure that they are not unjust.
Nor are we less assured that our afflictions are sent in measure and in mercy. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him His mercies are greater than our sins; they are above the heavens, and endure for ever. They are also from generation to generation, and are of course experienced by every generation of mankind.
Punishment is to him a strange work. He hath no pleasure in the death, even of the wicked; but would rather that he would return, and repent, and live.
Hence there can be nothing unkind, nothing oppressive in his dispensations, however grievous they may seem for the present. On the contrary, they are the kind chastisements of the father of our spirits for our good. They are therefore to be regarded as being infinitely different from the cruelties of our fellow-creatures; the wrath, revenge, and bitterness often manifested by them in fearful expressions of an evil disposition.
From these considerations it is further evident, that our afflictions are necessary. We are froward, rebellious, dis obedient children. We need to be chastised to bring us to a disposition conformed to the commands of our heavenly Father, and indispensable to our well-being; a disposition without which we cannot be happy nor useful, and without which we are unwilling to suffer others to be happy. As our own children are brought from rebellion and frowardness to obedience and sweetness of temper, so are the children of our heavenly
Father redeemed in the same manner, and by the same means, to a filial and penitent state of mind, and to a virtuous and amiable life.
With these views we cannot easily revolt when we are afflicted, unless, like Ephraim of old, we are become incorrigible, and discourage even God himself from chastising us any longer.
Secondly, Another subject of consideration to the afflicted is the procuring cause of their afflictions.
Our sins are this cause. We merit all that we receive, and much more. We are exceedingly guilty, wicked beings, Sin is a dreadful evil, far more hateful than we are willing to believe, and especially to confess. Our own sins are also immensely more numerous and aggravated than we can be persuaded to acknowledge or admit. We therefore deserve, at the hand of God, great and distressing punishment. Of this we receive here, even in our most unhappy circumstances, a very little part. "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to "anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide, "nor will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with "us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities, "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his "mercy towards them that fear him. As far as the east is from "the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them "that fear him.”
Sin is that abominable thing which his soul hates. To remove us from our attachment to it, he uses innumerable methods, all formed and adopted by infinite wisdom and goodness. If we do not, from a most blamable obstinacy, or an equally blamable negligence, prevent their efficacy, they will prove effectual to the final extirpation of this fatal evil. But whether we yield to him and his providence or not, he will never cease to regard both sin and sinners with abhorrence. Against it he will contend in this world, and in that which is to come, with supreme and unchangeable hatred and opposi tion. To it he will grant no indulgence; from it he will never withdraw the rod of chastisement. Unblamable virtue was
never afflicted by God, except in the person of Christ; and then it was not afflicted for its own sake, but for the sake of those miserable sinners for whom he died. All the good are loved by God, and all are gloriously rewarded throughout his vast kingdom. Such of them, indeed, as are imperfectly good, will be often chastised; but this is done only to make them better. He smites them in his wrath for a small moment, but with everlasting kindness will he have mercy on them. For the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness to children's children.
Whenever, therefore, we are afflicted, let us say with Daniel, "Oh Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, because we have "sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies " and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him. Nei"ther have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk "in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the pro"phets."
Thirdly, The afflicted should also consider the end for which their afflictions are sent.
This is generally to turn us from the error of our ways, that we may save our souls alive. The Father of our spirits always chastises, according to the language of St. Paul, for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. This end is evidently the best of all ends; an end eminently divine, and worthy of a God. Who, with a full conviction of this as the real end, can fail to be in subjection to the Father of spirits that he may live. Must not this consideration produce patience, submission, gratitude, and an universally filial character ? One would think it an ample and abundant source of all those peaceable fruits of righteousness which are found by those who never despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when they are rebuked of him.
Fourthly, The afflicted should also consider the instructions which are communicated by their distresses.
These are very numerous, and all of them are important. A few only can now be mentioned.
First, Afflictions teach us, that this world was not designed to be a place of happiness.