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PAST TRIALS A PLEA FOR FUTURE MERCIES:
Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
Psa. xc. 15.
This prayer of Moses the man of God, as it is entitled, is thought to have been occasioned by the sentence denounced against that generation of Israelites, which came out of Egypt, viz. that they should perish in the wilderness. In it we see much of the plaintive, and yet much of the man of God; cleaving to God under his judgments, and hoping in his covenant mercy and truth. Forbidden to enter their promised dwelling-place, they are directed to make up their loss in God, ver. 1. 2. Cut short as to the number of their days, to apply their hearts to wisdom, ver. 12. And though they and himself with them, were doomed to die, they are taught to pray that the cause of God may live, ver. 16, 17.
The language of ver. 15. implies that it is usual for God, in dealing with his people in this world, to balance evil with goody and good with evil. He neither exempts them from chastisement, nor contends with them for ever. If he had dealt with us on the mere footing of justice, we had a cup of wrath only ; but through his dear Son, it is mixed with mercy. The alternate changes of night and day, winter and summer, are not more fixed in the course of nature, than the mixture of judgment and mercy, in the present state.
The children of Israel were long afflicted in Egypt, and when delivered from that grievous yoke, their numerous sins against God brought on them numerous evils in the wilderness; till at length it issued in the dismal sentence, which is supposed to have
occasioned this plaintive song. Yet this dark night was preparatory to a morning of hope and joy. The people that were left of the sword, found grace in the wilderness, the judgments upon the first generation proved a source of wholesome discipline to the second, who appear to have been the best of all the generations of Israel. It was of them that God spake in such high terms by Jeremiah. / remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the first fruits of his increase. All that God had done for them till then, was but ploughing up the fallow ground: but now he began to reap the fruits of his work. Now Balaam, instead of being able to curse them, is compelled to bless and envy them. And now the prayer of the man of God is answered. They are made glad according to the days in which they were afflicted, and the years in which they had seen evil. God's work appeared to his servants, and his glory unto their children. His beauty was upon them, and he prospered the work of their hands.
We might refer to numerous instances in the scriptures, in which the same truth is exemplified. In the first one hundred and thirty years of Adam's life, he drank deeply of the bitter effects of his fall. He had a son; but after high hopes had been entertained of him, he proved wicked. He had another son; but him his brother murdered; and as the murderer was spared, and his family increased, it would seem as if the world were to be peopled by a race of wicked men. But it did not end thus: God gave Adam another seed, instead of Abel whom Cain slew; and soon after this, men began to call upon the name of the Lord. It must have been very afflictive for Noah to have been a preacher of righteousness century after century, and at last, instead of seeing his hearers converted to God, to see them all swept away by the deluge. But as the waters were assuaged when they had risen to their height, so the wrath of heaven issued in mercy. God accepted the sacrifice of his servant, and made a covenant of peace with bim and his posterity.
Similar remarks might be made from the histories of Jacob, and Joseph, and David, and many others: these were made glad according to the days wherein they had been afflicted, and the years wherein they had seen evil. Nor is it confined to individuals. When idolatrous Israel drew down the divine displeasure in Hazael's wars, Jehu's revolution, and Elisha's prophecies, it was very afflictive. Yet when Jehohaz besought the Lord, the Lord hearkened unto him, and was gracious to his people, in respect of the covenant which he had made with their fathers. 2 Kings xiii. 3—5 23. Thus the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, were succeeded by the still small voice. 1 Kings xix. 11, 12. Finally, the great afflictions of the church during the successive overturnings of the monarchies, issued, according to Ezekiel's prophecy, (chap. xxi. xxvii.) in Christ's coming and kingdom. to some iniquity regarded in our heart, that we spend days and years with hut little communion with God.
It is not difficult to perceive the wisdom and goodness of God in thus causing evil to precede good, and good to follow evil. If the whole of our days were covered with darkness, there would be but little of the exercise of love, and joy, and praise; our spirits would contract a habit of gloominess and despondency; and religion itself would be reproached, as rendering us miserable. If, on the other hand, we had uninterrupted prosperity, we should not enjoy it. What is rest to him that is never weary; or peace to one that is a stranger to trouble? Heaven itself would not be that to us which it will be, if we came not out of great tribulation to the possession of it.
Evil and good being thus connected together, the one furnishes a plea for the other. Moses pleaded it, and so may we. We may have seen days of affliction, and years of evil, both as individuals and families. Borne down, it may be, with poverty and disappointment, our spirits are broken. Or if circumstances have been favourable, yet some deep-rooted disease preys upon our constitution, and passes a sentence of death within us long before it comes. Or if neither of these evils have befallen us, yet relative troubles may eat up all the enjoyment of life. A cruel and faithless husband, a peevish and uhamiable wife, or a disobedient child, may cause us to say with Rebekah, What good does my life do me ? Or if none of these evils afflict us, yet if the peace of God rule not in our hearts, all the blessings of life will be bestowed upon us in vain. It may be owing to the want of just views of the gospel, or
Finally: If, as in some cases, a number of these evils should be combined, this will make the load still heavier. But, whatever be our afflictions, and however complicated, we may carry them to the Lord, and then turn them into a plea for mercy. Though the thorn should not be immediately extracted, yet if God cause his grace to be sufficient for us, we shall have cause to be glad.
We have also seen days of affliction, and years of evil, as a nation. It is true we have less cause to apply this language to ourselves than most other nations at the present time: yet to a feeling heart there is matter for grief. What numbers of widows and fatherless children have been left even among us, within the last sixteen years! Let the faithful of the land turn it into a prayer, not only in behalf of our country, but of a bleeding world.
Many of our churches too, have experienced days and years of evil. The loss of faithful and useful pastors, disorders, scandals, strifes, divisions, the consequent withdrawment of the Holy Spirit, are evils which many have to bewail. Let the faithful remnant in every place, carry these things to the throne of grace, and there plead with the God of mercy and truth, by whom alone Jacob can arise : and though weeping may continue for a night, joy will come in the morning.
The whole church of God has seen much evil hitherto. Its numbers have been few and despised. It has often been under persecution. Compared with what might have been expected, in almost six thousand years, zee have wrought no deliverance in the earth, neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen. But all these things furnish a plea for better times. Even the wickedness of the wicked may enable us to plead with the Psalmist, It is time f»r thee, O Lord, to work ; for they have made void thy law. We may urge the prayer of faith too, on this subject; since glorious things are spoken of the city of God. Both the world and the church have their best days to come.
It is necessary, however, to recollect that the happy issue of all our troubles depends upon our union with Christ. If unbelievers, our troubles are but the beginning of sorrows. It is a fatal error in many, that great afflictions in this life indicate that we have had our evil things here. Few men have been more miserable than Saul was in his latter days. But if, renouncing every other ground of hope, we believe in Jesus the crucified, whatever our sorrows may be in this life, they will be turned into joy.
ON THE TRIAL OF SPIRITS.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether tuey are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
John iv. 1.
The predicted enmity between the seed of the woman and of the serpent, has been peculiarly fulfilled in the times of the gospel. No sooner was the Christian church established, by the preaching of the cross, than it began to be assailed by a flood of false doctrine. Christ had his ministers in every quarter, and Satan had his. It is in this way that the devil has wrought his greatest achievements. The persecutions of the first three centuries accomplished but little in his favour; but the corruptions of the fourth introduced a species of apostasy which has deluged the Christian world for more than three thousand years.
The design of God in permitting these things may surpass our comprehension: we are told, however, that it must needs be that offences come, and that there must be heresies among us, that they ivho are approved may be made manifest- The existence of such things, therefore, should neither vex nor surprise us, but merely excite in us that circumspection which is necessary in walking among pits and snares. Such was the temper of mind which the
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