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BLEss=D is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law. — PsALM xciv. 12.
Though this world is designed to be a moral school, and is adapted to teach mankind the most necessary knowledge, yet they are naturally dull of apprehension, and averse to receiving divine instruction. But, happy for them, God is able to employ effectual means to lead them to the saving knowledge of the truth. This the Psalmist plainly asserts in the words I have read. “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.” The spirit of the text may be comprised in this general observation. Those are happy whom God chastises in order to teach them out of his word. I shall, I. Consider why God chastises men in order to teach them out of his word. II. Consider how he employs chastisement to teach them out of his word. And, III. Show that his instruction makes them happy. I. Let us consider why God chastises men in order to teach them out of his word. He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. It is only if need be, that he ever asslicts or grieves them. If he could as well give them all necessary instruction, without chastising them, he would always do it. But they are all naturally unwilling to be instructed in his word. “They say unto him, depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” The general reason, therefore, why he chastises them in order to teach them out of his word, is, because they disregard milder modes of teaching. They will not receive instruction from his works, which are suited to give them the most important instruction. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” But the Psalmist says in the context, that mankind are too stupid to read the character of their Creator in his works of creation. “Understand ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” It follows, “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.” If men would regard the still small voice of God in his works, and read his character therein displayed, they would fly to his word for light and instruction, without needing or feeling his chastising hand. But they will not open their eyes to see him, nor their ears to hear him, until they are constrained to do it by the rod of correction. Nor will they receive divine instruction from the favors God bestows upon them. He often complains of his people of old, for refusing instruction under the smiles of his providence. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This has been thy manner from thy youth.” The goodness of God is full of instruction, but there is nothing in him, which men are more prone to despise and disregard. The blessings which are constantly flowing from his kind and beneficent hand, and which are calculated to affect grateful and benevolent hearts, naturally serve to stupify the unholy and unthankful. They will not regard this mild mode of instruction. Nor will men generally regard the messages of God, which he sends by the mouth of his servants. Pharaoh would not regard his messages by the hand of Moses. Manasseh would not regard his messages by the hand of his prophets. The Jews would not regard his messages delivered by Christ. And the world would not regard his messages by his inspired apostles. The same spirit has ever since reigned in the hearts of those in prosperity. Their attention and affections are too much fixed on other objects, to regard his word. This is the plain reason why God so often chastises men in order to instruct them in the knowledge of divine truth. When they will not be instructed by gentler methods, he sees it proper and necessary to throw them into darkness and distress, and in that way prepare them to hearken to divine instruction. He expressly tells us that he takes this method to answer this purpose. He expressly says by Jeremiah concerning his people: “They refuse to know me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts: Behold I will melt them and try them.” Again he says by Hosea, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.” This, David acknowledges was the effect which divine chastisements had upon the Israelites in the wilderness. “When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.” God chastised Manasseh so severely because he would not be taught by milder means. “And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken. Wherefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and 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.” Job gives the same reason why God chastises men in order to instruct them. “For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction.” And again he says of incorrigible kings on the throne, “If they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction, then he showeth them their work, and openeth also their ear to discipline.” God generally uses a great many gentle means with mankind before he chastises them with the rod of his wrath. But when all milder means fail of producing the desired effect, then he is under a moral necessity of chastising them for their good. He knows that if the inhabitants of the earth will not be instructed by his works, or by his mercies, they may be brought to learn righteousness by his judgments. I now proceed to consider, II. How God employs chastisements to teach men out of his word. The Psalmist plainly intimates that God makes use of afflictions as means of instructing men in the knowledge of divine truth. “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.” By law here we are to understand not only the moral and ceremonial law, but the scriptures in general, or the whole word of God. The word law, through the whole book of Psalms, is used in this large and comprehensive sense. The law means the statutes, the testimonies, precepts, judgments and commands of God; and all these mean the same as the word of God, or the sacred scriptures in general. It is in these that the great doctrines and duties of religion are contained, which are necessary to be known, in order to make men wise unto salvation. For God, therefore, to teach men out of his word, is to teach them that knowledge which is spiritual, and connected with eternal life. The question now is, how does God employ trials, afflictions, and every species of chastening, to teach men the saving knowledge of his word 2 And here I would observe, 1. He employs these means to induce men to read his word. In the day of prosperity, the word of God is greatly neglected. Few feel the importance of reading the Bible, while they are under the smiles of Providence. But when their days are darkened, their earthly hopes are disappointed, and their hearts are filled with sorrow and distress, then they naturally apply to the word of God for comfort, whether they are or are not prepared to receive it. God often chastens persons, to bring them to the long neglected duty of reading his word. He knows that the bereaved and afflicted may easily be made sensible of their need of searching the scriptures; and he has often actually brought them, under his afflictive hand, to ponder his word with deep and fixed attention. David gratefully acknowledges that afflictions had this happy effect upon him. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. Trouble and anguish have taken hold, on me; yet thy commandments are my delights.” Other good men have found the same salutary effect of afflictions. And when sinners are stripped of their earthly blessings, they are constrained to go to the Bible for support and relief, though they find every page condemns them. God means that their afflictions should drive them to that treasure of wisdom and instruction. 2. God employs afflictions and chastenings to make men hear his word. While men remain undisturbed in their earthly enjoyments, and have no bitter cup of affliction put into their hands, they imagine their mountain stands strong, and they feel as great indifference to hearing as to reading the word of God. But when he stretches out his hand and strikes away the foundation of their worldly hopes and prospects, and wrings their hearts with anguish and distress, they are then no less anxious to hear than to read his word. God makes use of chastisements to give them a teachable spirit, and dispose them to hear the gospel. . It is his usual method, when he designs to teach men out of his law, to make them willing to go to the place he has appointed for their instruction. And he can insensibly lead them there by afflictions, when all other means have failed to bring them to his house. How many have been solicitous to attend the preaching of the gospel, in a day of adversity, who had no inclination to hear it before ' When the afflicted have no heart to hear any thing about the world and its vain pursuits and enjoyments, then God opens their ear to hear the gospel, and seals instruction. By means of outward afflictions, he carries them where they may be taught what their peculiar circumstances require them to know, and what, through negligence, they have yet to learn, in order to their present peace and future happiness. 3. God employs his corrections to make men understand, as well as read and hear his word. Many who both read and hear the word of God in a time of prosperity, read and hear it in vain. They do not wish to understand and apply divine truths to themselves, for they feel no occasion for it. But the afflicted often wish to understand, as well as to read and hear the gospel. And it is not uncommon for persons to learn more of God, more of the law of God, more of their own hearts, more of the reality and importance of divine things, and more of the nature and design of the gospel in a few days of sickness, or in a few weeks of adversity, than they had learned in months and years of prosperity. By affliction God turns off their attention from the world, and fixes their attention upon himself. He draws forth their native depravity, and lets them see that they are like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, and a wild bull in a net; that they are entirely in his hand; that he can destroy, and none can stay his hand; that there is no door of hope any where but in the gospel; that they must submit to divine sovereignty and embrace the Saviour, or they can never see good and enjoy peace, either in this world or the next. Thus God often employs external afflictions, bereavements and trials, to make the most stout-hearted understand and feel the truth of what he has said of himself and of them in his word. He throws them into a situation, in which they are constrained, by their own views and feelings, to understand what he is, what they are, and what the gospel requires, promises and threatens. He causes them to know what they were most unwilling to know. I may add, 4. He employs the same powerful means to bring the afflicted to love the saving truths of the gospel. When he has led them to read, to hear and to understand his word, he can and often does open their hearts to embrace it. He gives them a spiritual discerning of spiritual things. He has in innumerable instances, by means of afflictions, brought men to renounce the