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thee"-chosen thee as my own. But I have chosen thee in a furnace. There I will prepare thee. This shall be to you the evidence and sign of my love. "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If you endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons."
We have here the true meaning of affliction. It is disciplinary-it is a nurture of the soul-it is a means of grace. It works mercy to the soul! It is easy to see how, in more ways than one, it does this. It melts and softens the spirit. The dross cannot be removed from the gold till it breaks, melts, flows. Is not this the effect of suffering? See how it breaks down stubborn self-reliance. See how the strong man is tamed by affliction. See how the unfeeling man becomes tender. See how the dull, stupid heart awakens and opens, as anguish after anguish shakes and rends it. This is the plougher for the fallow ground. This is the beating that makes the oil to flow. "Father, I have sinned," exclaims the once hardened soul, when the arrows stick fast in him, when the waters come unto his soul!
The furnace of affliction not only softens, but also separates. It cuts the springs of our wordly energies. The pleasures and pursuits which engaged us before have now lost their charm and meaning. What once seemed so important now seems so vain.
Even outwardly affliction separates a man from the world. He is drawn aside into the still eddy of life's onward stream. Confined to bed, or the chair, or at least to the room or house, He only hears the din, or sees from the window the flow of busy life driving past. He hardly feels himself to be any more a part of the world. How perfectly vain then seems this world with all its glitter of hope, with all its show of reality! Palaces and position, power and pomp, possessions and pursuits, seem but toys when viewed from a sick room, with a shattered constitution, with aching limbs, and a bleeding heart. This is part of the separating process. So do afflictions turn the heart away from the passing and perishing toward the unfading treasures of a better life. Thus does God graciously make the earth dark around, that the heavens may become more bright and attractive above. Thus, as in nature, so in grace:
"Darkness shows us worlds of light
Thus also the furnace of affliction purifies. The flail of tribulation breaks and cripples sin. It is a fire that consumes lust. It levels pride -it subdues vanity. Its waters quench the fires of ambition. I was afflicted, I went astray: but now have I kept thy word." "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." "In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord."
O how often have the pains of the body occasioned the peace and joy of the soul-the sorrows of the earth, led to the joys of heaven. How
often have even light afflictions wrought out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. How many have found it better to lose a right hand, a right eye, yea the whole health of the body, than that soul and body should be destroyed in hell!
This will be known yonder! This will cause thousands on thousands in heaven to praise the mercy of tribulation in a louder and more grateful song. What," it will be asked in adoring wonder, "what are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" To which it will be answered: "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. THEREFORE are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Here is the mercy of sorrow. Here is the love of God in our pains. Here, "behind a frowning Providence, he hides a smiling face."
How often is weak faith counfounded? How often do the sorely afflicted and their friends "think it strange concerning the fiery trials," as though some strange thing, yea, even a wrong thing, "had happened unto them." How often have even the pious in sorrow cried out: "Why dost thou shake off the unripe fruit, and cast off his flower as the olive?" "Why go I mourning? Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? Will the Lord be favorable no more? Is His mercy clean gone forever? Doth His promise fail forevermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?" This is their infirmity. This they say in the weakness of their faith.
Yea, the pious in their sore afflictions are even sometimes envious at the wicked, whose strength is firm, who are not in trouble as other men, and who are not plagued like other men. So foolishly did even the Psalmist, when he was plagued all the day long, and chastened every morning. Behold, he counted the wicked happy: But when he went into the sanctuary of God, then he understood their end: "Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places!"
It is not strange-it ought not to be so regarded-that the favorites of God should suffer under His chastising rod. The principle on which these dealings of God rest is a plain one, and well understood, and fully approved. "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence." The child that has been trained in right paths by a parent's chastising hand, afterwards approves of what was done, though it cost pains and pangs, terrors and tears, at the time. "Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the father of spirits, and live." Shall we not joyfully, in the midst of darkness, pains, and tears, bless the hand that leads us through the night of wo into the light and blessedness of an eternal day. "What I do," says the kind Father, as he lays stroke after stroke upon His dear children, "you know not now, but you shall know hereafter."
"The Lord can clear the darkest skies,
Such being the holy ends to be secured by affliction, it is implied in the strongest manner that God will mercifully sustain his children in their affliction. It is He that afflicts, and not another. The rod is not in a hand that will unmercifully and extremely use it. It is not in the hands of one who uses it willingly-not in anger-not as a punishment. The Father weeps while he lays on stroke after stroke. He says, Oh, that it were not necessary! "For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men."
This is the very best assurance that no affliction will be beyond endurance. It was a murderer-one who had forfeited all claim to sustaining grace that said, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." The saints are sustained by an unseen presence. Who, of God's people, ever sunk finally even under the sorest affliction? Though trials came fierce as a lion from the swellings of Jordan-though they came in troops like horsemen-though they hung on like hungry vultures till the flesh and marrow were consumed, yet the end came with its glorious victory over every wo! Behold the great cloud of witnesses, of suffering prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, and saints of all ages, of whom the world was not worthy; who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, bearing about in their bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus, in trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, in bonds and imprisonment, stoned, sawn asunder, slain with the sword, subjected to every torture that earth and hell could devise, and yet the end came, and the victory over pain, in eternal peace and joy.
Thousands of sufferers have found by blessed experience that, in a way which the world knows not of, God's presence sustains the suffering pious. It is as though He called them aside to speak comfortably to them. Through every pang flows the refreshing current of grace. On every wound an unseen hand lays the allaying balm. Grace, and the merciful intentions of love, underlie every pain. From the unseen and eternal side the sufferer hears voices, sees ministering hands, and feels the power of mysterious sympathy.
The suffering saint is not cut off; but, because he suffers, is only the more sweetly in union with Christ. He stands in "the fellowship of His sufferings." "In all their afflictions he is afflicted, and the angel of His presence saves them." The Holy Spirit dwells in the saints, and abides with them always. He is especially the comforter-the comforter in us. His mission is an inward mission, presiding over all the sorrows of the heart, opening upon it the fountains of grace and consolation. When the eye sees no more earthly ministering forms around, when the ear hears no more words of comfort from the lips of human friends, then the Holy Spirit, like a faithful vigil, lies around the spirit, soothing each pang as the heart-strings break, and with a sweet blessing dismisses the spirit from a racked and aching body to the bosom of its God.
It is sometimes complainingly asked, Why do some christians suffer so much and others so little? This question may be answered, in part
at least, by another: Why do some children need severer and more frequent correction than others? In this, as in all other things, God adapts his dealings to our wants. We may suppose that such severity is not necessary for us; just so thinks the child in regard to the chastisements of its parent. Yet who would ask that the corrections of a child should be regulated according to the will and judgment of the child? The parent knows best, so God knows best.
Moreover, the severe disciplinary sufferings which sometimes come upon God's people toward the end of life, are no doubt often designed to make speedily right some lingering defect-to break down quickly some giant abnormity in the suffering christian life-to make up lost time by intensifying the process toward the ripeness of the general religious life. The time is growing so short, and there is yet so much dross among the gold of grace, that it is necessary for God in mercy to make more fiery the furnace of affliction. Some child of God has lived slowly in grace-has spent too much time in side interests; or perhaps youth and manhood in sin! Now that which should have been the work of years, must be crowded into a few months or weeks. Oh, how sorely then must the poor spirit groan and cry under the merciful strokes of that God who makes the wounds of the body to be for the eternal health and life of the soul.
Then, too, it must not be forgotten that these sufferings are to be regarded as a talent, with which God is to be glorified. How much has God's grace been honored by the meek and patient sufferings of His children. How many has Job comforted in all ages by his affliction; how many have seen in him "the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."
Thus these sufferings, while they are a blessing to the sufferer himself, are to have also a direct reference to others. Especially are they designed for a blessing to those who are near to the sufferer, by the tender ties of human life-to members of the family, to relatives, and to companions. O, what a solemn sermon it is to have one of our dear friends a wife, mother, sister, father, husband, brother, lying in the furnace in our own house!
Are angels sent on errands full of love;
And shall they languish, shall they die in vain ?
Shall we disdain their silent soft address?
O let us learn to make the sufferings and death of our friends, as well as our own afflictions, a blessing to us. A blessing they will be to us, or a curse. They will make us harder or softer, better or worse. furnace will either refine or consume us.
In no way does a merciful God so condescend to our infirmities in his gracious appeals. In none of his dealings does he speak in plainer language. At no other time does he so solemnly and tenderly come home to our business and bosom. The written word we may suffer to lie un
opened--the preached word we may avoid or language of sickness and death in our own avert, refuse to hear, or apply to ourselves. One of his bolts has fallen at our feet! One of His messengers, the dread angel of death, has appeared in our house, in our room, at our bed, and has said in our hearing: "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust." O how can we close our ears against that voice and hope to be forgiven!
Behold, one more has gone from us through the gate of death. One less in the pew, one less in the family. There is another vacant chair in the house, another lonely place in the heart, another mound in the graveyard, and, as we have reason to believe, another ransomed spirit "forever with the Lord.” O let the living lay to heart the solemn, glorious thought. May the thought of a parent, a mother, a near friend in heaven, stimulate those who are yet in conflict; and may any who are still out of Christ be reminded that the last look into the coffin was to them the last look forever, unless they are reconciled to God by the blood of His son, Jesus Christ.
apply to others; but the circles of love we cannot To us has God spoken.
Behold, the time is short. Behold, the judge is at the door. Behold, the shades of evening are gathering solemnly around. Sickness, death, the grave, the last judgment, heaven and hell, are crowding up toward us! "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor decree, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."