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THE NECESSITY AND ADVANTAGE OF EARLY
LAM. III. 27, 28. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his
youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
The great difference and contrariety between the maxims of the world, and those which religion doth propose, is in nothing more observable than in taking the measures of happiness and felicity. The world accounteth him a happy man who enjoyeth a perpetual calm and sunshine of prosperity; whose pleasant and joyful days are never overcast with any cloud, nor his tranquillity interrupted by any disastrous accident; and who was never acquainted with any other change, but that which brought him the new and fresh relish of succeeding, pleasures and enjoyments. But religion hath taught us io look upon this as a condition full of danger; inuch more to be pitied than envied; to be feared than to be desired. It hath taught us to consider afflictions as instances of the divine goodness, as tokens and pledges of his love; (for whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth;) and that these severe dispensations are very necessary, and may prove useful and advantageous: Blessed is the man (saith the Psalmist) whom thou chasteneth, O Lord, &c. : It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I may-learn thy statutes. And the Prophet in the text, It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He was at this time loaded with the heaviest weight of trouble and sorrow, what for the public calamities of his nation, and what for his own particular sufferings: His eyes were running down with rivers of water, for
the destructions of the daughter of his people; they trickled down, and ceased not. Judah was gone into captivity because of affliction: she dwelt among the Heathen, and found no rest; all her persecutors overtook her in the straits. The ways of Zion did mourn, because none came to the solemn feasts; the young and the old were lying on the ground in the streets; the virgins and young men were fallen by the sword, and the few that remained were starving for hunger. The peo-. ple did sigh, and seek bread; they gave their pleasant things for meat to relieve their soul; the children and sucklings did swoon in the streets, their soul was poured out into their mother's bosom; the women did eat their fruit, their children of a span long. And the Prophet had a large share in these calamities, both by his own interest, and his compassion towards his neighbour: I am the man (saith he) that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.
But after he had thus bemoaned himself, and given come vent to his passion and sorrow, he puts a stop to the current that was grown too impetuous, and turns his thoughts another way. He acknowledgeth the justice of God's dispensations; and that it was a favour they suffered no more: This I recall into my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Nay, when he had further pondered the matter, he finds himself indebted to the goodness of God, even for the afflictions he endured: It is good for a man, &c.
The bearing of the yoke is an easy and obvious metaphor, importing the restraint of liberty, when our desires are denied, and we have not our wills; cannot ramble up and down as we please; and also the pressure of afflictions which gall and torment us, under which we smart and groan. Such is the yoke which the prophet tells us it is good for a man that he bear. A strange doctrine indeed to flesh and blood! and 0 how few do believe it! We-judge of things by their outward appear
ance, and as they affect us at present, (now no affliction or chastening seemeth for the present to be joyous, but grievous;) and we cannot persuade ourselves that there is any good in that which we feel to be troublesome and unpleasant. But, if we consult our reason and our faith, they will soon bring us to the acknowledgement of this truth, That affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground. The crosses we meet with, are not the effects of blind chance; but the results of a wise and unerring providence, which knoweth what is fittest for us, and loveth us better than we can do ourselves. There is no malice or envy lodged in the bosom of that blessed being, whose name and nature is love. He taketh no delight in the troubles and miseries of his creatures: He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. It were infinitely unworthy of his wisdom and goodness, to please himself in seeing such poor creatures as we are, tossed up and down in the world, to behold our anguish, and hear our groans. It is our happiness and welfare which he designs in all his dispensations; and he maketh choice of the most proper and effectual means for that end. He seeth us wandering out of the way, ready to ruin and undo ourselves; and first he essayeth to reduce us by milder and more gentle methods: he trieth our gratitude and ingenuity, by all the endearments of mercy and goodness; he draweth us with the cords of love, and with the bands of a man. Put if we break all these bands asunder, and cast away these cords from us; if we abuse his goodness, and turn his grace into wantonness; then, not only his justice, but his love to us, not only' his hatred to sin but his affection unto us, will oblige him to alter his method, and take the rod in his hand, and try what severity can do. God's design in afflicting us is excellently expressed by the author to the Hebrews, chap. xii. ver. 10. He chasteneth us for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. Holiness is the highest perfection and greatest happiness we are capable of: it is a real participation of the divine nature, the image of God drawn on the soul; and all the chastise
ments we meet with, are designed to reduce us to this blessed temper, to make us like
unto himself; and thereby capable to be happy with him to all eternity. This will more clearly appear, if we reflect on the natural temper of our minds, and the influence which prosperous or adverse fortune is wont to have upon them. And, first, we are naturally proud and self-conceited;
a high esteem of ourselves, and would have every body else to value and esteem us. This disease is very deeply rooted in our corrupt nature: it is ordinarily the first sin that bewrays itself in the little actions and passions of children'; and many times the last which religion enables us to overcome. And such is the malignity of its nature, that it renders us odious and vile both in the sight of God and man. It cannot but be infinitely displeasing to that great and glorious Majesty, to see such silly creatures whom he hath brought forth out of nothing, and who are every moment ready to return into it again, and have nothing of their own but folly, and misery, and sin; to see such creatures I say, either so blind as to value themselves, or so unreasonable as to desire others to value them. Good men must needs hate us for it, because God doth so; and evil men hate us for it, because they are proud themselves, and so are jealous of the attempts of others to exalt themselves, as of that which tendeth to depress and diminish them. Pride alone is the source and fountain of almost all the disorders in the world; of all our troubles, and of all our sins: and we shall never be truly happy, or truly good, till we come to think nothing of ourselves, and be content that all the world think nothing of us. Now, there nothing hath a more natural tendency to foment and heighten this natural corruption, than constant prosperity and success. The Psalmist, speaking of the prosperity of the wicked, who are not in trouble as others, neither are they plagued like other men, presently subjoineth the effect, Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain. Sanctified afflictions contribute to abate and mortify the pride of our hearts, to prick the swelling imposthume, to make us sensible of our weak
ness, and convince us of our sins. Thus doth God open the ears of men, and seal their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. And if they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction; then he showeth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded. Afflictions do both put us on the search to find out the offences wherewith we have provoked God, and make as more sensible of the heinousness and malignity of their nature : I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, Thou hath chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after I was chastised, I repented; and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.
Another distemper of our minds, is our too great affection to the world and worldly things. We are all too apt to set our hearts wholly upon them; to take ap our rest, and seek our happiness and satisfaction in them. But God knows, that these may well divert and amuse a while, they can never satisfy or make us happy; that the souls which he made for himself, can never rest, till they return unto him: and therefore he many times findeth' it necessary, either to remove our comforts, or imbitter them unto us; to put aloes and wormwood on the breasts of the world, that thereby we may wean ourselves from it, and carry them to the end of their being, the fountain of their blessedness and felicity. The few and little comforts of this life, (saith a person of great quality and worth,) notwithstanding all the troubles and crosses with which they are interlarded, are apt to keep the hearts even of good men in too great love of this world. What would become of us, if our whole life should be altogether prosperous and contenting, without any intermixture of crosses and afflictions? It is too probable we should never look any farther; but conclude, with Peter on the mount of transfiguration, Lord, it is good to be here. As Almighty God hath a very great