Affliction, Its Use And Benefits
by Thomas Charles
How utterly unable are all things below to bring us any comfort or any relief, when God's finger even slightly touches us! They are at all times equally impotent, though our thoughts of them may be very different. Time and recovery should not give them any more power or influence over our hearts. Such a season will return soon again. Sickness, and death itself, are not very far off, but just at the door. And neither of them will come in a pleasing manner; but the one will be painful, and the other will be awful if not terrible. May we be better prepared to meet them both, by a blessed improvement of past afflictions.
The sad remembrance of former sicknesses unimproved, and of the views they have had in them, haunt the dying beds of many, and speak such heart-convictions, as they are at the season ill able to endure. After recovering, most of us live as if we had made a covenant with death, and seem to think that we shall neither die, nor be sick any more. But though we are reprieved, we should remember, that we are not released. Death has power over us, and at the appointed time will exercise it. "It is appointed for all men once to die;" and this appointment (or decree) cannot be altered. The appointed hour may be very near; and slight indispositions may be sent on purpose to warn us of his coming. In the meanwhile we should improve all these kind visitations for the furtherance of our growth in grace and in the divine life.
"Affliction comes not forth out of the dust, neither does trouble spring out of the ground," but they are all sent in wisdom and love; and every circumstance, as to time and manner, is exactly ordered for the best. Were every circumstance more narrowly examined, it would doubtless give us a great insight into the wisdom and love of God in all his afflictive dispensations. God does not willingly afflict any of his children, but they always stand in absolute need, at the very time, of the very affliction which He sends. It could not be laid aside, not delayed, not altered for another, without great hurt and injury to the soul.
God's designs in afflictions are various; but all are gracious, and for our good. He may intend to bring us to repentance for some past sins, as the three days' pestilence was sent to humble David for numbering the people. Or, it may be to prevent our being taken in some dangerous snare, into which we may be in great danger of falling; and it is better to endure the heaviest affliction, than to carry about with us a guilty conscience. 'Anything rather than sin,' is the language of the Christian's heart. Or it may be to exercise some grace, that it may thereby gain strength, and the soul be prepared for some trying circumstances into which it is soon to be brought; as was the case with Joseph. The trials with which he had been exercised, prepared him for his future exaltation, and some of them contributed to bring it about.
These designs may for a long season be concealed from the believer himself, as was the case with Joseph. Yet, inasmuch as God has assured us, that all things shall work together for good, patience and resignation to the divine will in all things is our duty. In his good time he may give us to see such wisdom and goodness in all, as to fill our hearts with transports of joy. To follow him is our part, without murmuring, without complaining. How gracious is the design to bring us to repentance for sin; or to stop us from falling into temptation; or to prepare us by previous discipline for some humbling service! Is not all thus good? Away then with all impatience and all murmurings. Nothing befalls us without a cause: and no trouble comes upon us sooner, or presses more heavily, or continues longer, than our case requires. What our short-sighted ignorance calls adversities or evils, are in reality and truth, well-designed and gracious blessings, and form a part of the means employed by God's goodness and grace to prepare us for the exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
All our desire in this world should be to live holily and live usefully; and affliction, by the blessing of God, has great influence in promoting both. It greatly promotes holiness, and is also no small preparative for usefulness. It is working out at the same time a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory in the other world. God always chastens us for our profit. Though we may thereby lose earthly comforts, ease, and enjoyments; yet it is a profitable loss. What we lose in these things, we gain in holiness. It is for our profit, to become partakers of his holiness. It is for our profit, to be brought to repentance for every sin, to be delivered from ensnaring temptations, or to be prepared for any service to which our master may call us. If we cannot see the end the Lord has in view, still let us believe, that it is for our profit in some way or other, yes, and in the way of all others, by which we can profit the most, and be the greatest gainers.
What profit have we experienced? Have we become more watchful against such sins as have at any time brought correction upon us, that we might repent of them? Are we contending earnestly and strenuously against them? Are we aware of any such corruptions as might necessitate our heavenly Father to prevent us from entering into such circumstances of life, as would foster the temptation to them? Are we now more strictly on our guard against such dangerous circumstances? How have we conducted ourselves in such circumstances, places, and stations, as God has prepared us for by corrections? Have we been earnestly diligent, in such duties, having in all things a single eye to his glory?