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his first. It is to be feared that those who remain uninstructed, unreformed, and unaffected, under severe and repeated strokes of adversity, will be given up to pine away in their sins, without having any more powerful means of instruction used with them. God is continually confirming the declarations of his word, by the dispensations of his providence. How often are those, who have experienced and abused fiery trials and sore afflictions, left in a far more stupid, hardened, and dangerous state, than they were in before ? The reason why afflictions harden those who abuse them, is because they do not regard them as expressions of God's displeasure and indignation towards them. The prophet said, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.” But those who abuse the chastenings of the Lord, bear them with fortitude, because they are blind to the hand of God who inflicts them. They applaud themselves for supporting the pain of afflictions, and feel more and more independent of God, and of course more and more disposed to despise him and all the instructions of both his word and providence, and resolve to maintain their peace, by maintaining their stupidity. They know not the day of their visitation, and therefore the things of their peace are hidden from their eyes, until they are destroyed without remedy. 5. Since God oftener instructs men in a time of adversity than in a time of prosperity, they have more reason to fear prosperity than adversity. They generally have no fear of enjoying ease, health, affluence, or any of the blessings of Providence; but they fear suffering pains, sickness, losses, disappointments, and bereavements. They overlook the evils which naturally and generally flow from prosperity, and the benefits which often flow from adversity. Prosperity tends to lead men to forget and forsake God, and to fasten their hearts to the world. But adversity has directly the opposite tendency, to lead men to God, and disengage their hearts from the world. Adversity disposes men to hear divine instruction, and prepares them to derive divine peace and consolation from divine instruction. But prosperity disposes men to disregard divine instruction, and to despise divine peace and consolation. A vast many more have been ruined for time and eternity by prosperity than by adversity. Adversity did Abraham more good than prosperity. Adversity did David more good than prosperity. Adversity did Hezekiah more good than prosperity. Adversity did Manasseh more good than prosperity. Adversity has done good men, in every age of the world, more good than prosperity. Those in prosperity have reason to rejoice with trembling, and those in adversity to rejoice with hope. The means God is using with the prosperous are the means which he has most commonly used to fit men for destruction; and they will certainly produce this effect, unless he graciously prevents it by filling their hearts with love and gratitude, and causes them to rejoice in his goodness, rather than the good things he bestows upon them. They need to keep their hearts with all diligence, lest the cares and concerns and love of the world choke the instructions of his word, corrupt their hearts, and plunge them in temporal and eternal sorrow. But the means which God is using with the afflicted, are the means which he commonly uses to prepare men for salvation. And they will certainly prepare them for the inheritance of the saints in light, if they endure them with patience and submission, and cordially receive the divine instruction which they are suited to give them. If this be true, have not men more reason to fear prosperity than adversity; and to be more concerned to be thankful in prosperity than to enjoy it, and to be submissive in adversity than to suffer it? If either prosperity or adversity lead them to receive divine instruction, it will do them good; if not, it will do them hurt. 6. Let what has been said lead all to inquire whether they have ever derived any spiritual benefit from adversity. They have all been afflicted in some way or other, and can easily recollect the natural evil they have suffered under the chastising hand of God. They have not forgotten the bitter cups of the wormwood and the gall which God has given them to drink, but have them still in bitter remembrance. But have you derived any spiritual benefit from your fiery trials or sore chastisements, which can enable you to say that it is good for you that you have been afflicted ? Have you been taught by your afflictions to search the scriptures, to hear and understand the great and important truths contained in the word of God with pleasure and satisfaction, and to derive light, peace and consolation from his great and precious promises to his mourning and disconsolate children 2 The Psalmist pronounces all those blessed whom God chastises, and teaches out of his law. Many have felt and said that they have never been more happy, than while suffering chastisement from the hand of their heavenly Father; and that they have enjoyed God, and even the world, more in seasons of adversity, than in seasons of outward prosperity. These are the happy fruits of sanctified afflictions, when God teaches men to profit. But when the heart and hand of God are overlooked in afflictions, they produce very different effects. They darken the understanding, stupify the conscience, corrupt the heart, wound the spirit, and destroy all inward peace and comfort. It is easy for every one to distinguish such different and opposite effects of affliction, and to determine whether their trials and troubles have done them spiritual good or spiritual evil. God has tried you, to know what is in your heart, and to make you know what manner of spirit you are of. The inquiry concerning your views and feelings, under past afflictions and bereavements, is highly important to yourselves, and must afford you hope or fear. This is more especially and immediately the duty of those who are still mourning and suffering under the afflictive hand of God. Though they have experienced many trials, and suffered many afflictions before, yet the present bereavement of an amiable wife, a dutiful daughter, and affectionate sister, is one of the sorest afflictions that any of the mourners have ever been called to endure. God is now using some of the best means to instruct you, and giving you the best opportunity to receive his instructions. He is teaching you the frailty and uncertainty of life, the vanity of all earthly hopes and prospects, and the importance of deriving your highest peace and consolation from the precious truths and promises of the gospel. The belief and love of divine truth will afford you comfort and support under your present afflictions, prepare you for any new troubles or trials, and above all, fit you for leaving this evil world, and entering into that rest which remains for the people of God. The grave is waiting for all, and sooner or later all must lodge in that dark and silent mansion; but the aged and infirm are just ready to step into it. We know not, however, who stands next on death's commission; whether the aged, or the middle-aged, or the young.
Finally, this subject opens a gloomy and awful prospect to those who have never profited in the school of affliction. If God treats men so severely to make them receive the instructions of his word, how much more severely will he treat those who despise, disregard and reject the instructions of his word 2 “He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” And, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear !”
WHILE we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal ; but the things which are not seen are eternal. — 2 CoRINTHIANs, iv. 18.
The gospel has brought life and immortality to light. It has opened the invisible scenes of the invisible world to the eye of faith. Those who believe the gospel, and live by faith on the Son of God, live in the view of eternity. The apostle says in the thirteenth verse of the context, that he believed the gospel which he preached. “We also believe, and therefore speak.” And as he lived in the belief of the gospel, so he lived in the view of eternity, which enabled him to form some just views of his present sufferings and future enjoyments, and of all other present and future objects. Such views he supposes were not peculiar to himself, but common to christians in general. “Knowing,” says he, “that he who raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” These last words, in their proper connection, plainly teach us,
That christians live under the habitual view and influence of eternity. I shall first consider the view which christians have of eternity; and then the influence which that view has upon them. I. I am to show that christians live under the habitual view of eternity. This will appear, if we consider, 1. That they have had that clear and lively view of eternity which is commonly impressed on the conscience previously to a saving change. The first step which God usually takes, in forming the vessels of mercy, is to open their eyes, and make them look into eternity. This alarms their fears, and awakens their consciences, and throws them into deep distress. In this situation he holds them for days, or weeks, or months, or a longer space of time. Under such awakenings and convictions, he impresses on their minds a deep and lasting sense of eternity, which they never forget. For though the change of heart, which they afterwards experience, causes their painful views of eternity to subside, yet it produces a joyful view of the invisible world, which lays a foundation for their habitually keeping eternity in view, or having their conversation in heaven. 2. Christians, who understand and believe the gospel, consider all things as intimately connected with eternity; which leads them to live in the habitual view of it. Not only sickness, and sorrow, and death, and all other gloomy objects, lead christians to view eternity, but time, and all the objects of time, appear to them as bearing a serious and important relation to eternity. Eternity therefore is in all their thoughts. The same scenes and objects which hide eternity from the view of other men, bring eternity into their view; because they habitually realize the inseparable connection between things seen and unseen, things present and things future, and things temporal and things eternal. As they trace all secondary causes up to the supreme First Cause, so the supreme First Cause leads their thoughts into that vast eternity which he inhabits, and in which he has fixed the throne of his glory. 3. Christians live habitually in the view of eternity, because the objects of their supreme affections are there. Our Saviour says, where a man's treasure is, there will his heart be also. The treasure of christians lies in heaven ; and therefore their views, their desires, and their affections centre there. There is God, and Christ, and the spirits of just men made perfect, who hold the supreme place in their hearts. Those who have risen with Christ, set their affections on things above, and not on things on the earth; and seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. They habituWOL. III. 60