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one resuge of lies to another, encompassing themselves with sparks of their own kindling, and preferring the aid of idols to that of the living God. In this manner they deceive themselves for a seafon. As long as they have any thing like a foundation of hope, they endeavour to keep their heads above the flood; bur, when they seel no bottom, when the props on which .they stayed themselves glide away, their strength fails, their hearts die within them, and they sink as lead in the mighty waters.
Whereas, when the righteous, the people of God, are in any trouble or affliction, their resuge is on high. They lift up their hearts, with their hands, io God in the heavens. How amiable and becoming was the . conduct of Job! 'When the Lord was smiting, he was praying; and, when repeated tidings were brought him of the loss of his children, and of all his worldly substance, in pious submission he bowed to the ground, and worshipped. When Jehoshaphat was attacked at once by the enemies of Moab and Ammon, we behold him standing before all the congregation in the house of the Lord, and thus addressing the God of heaven: " O Lord, our God, we have ** no might against this great company that cometh "against us, neither know we what to do; but our ** eyes arc upon Thee." Does the sig-tree cease to blossom, and is there no fruit in the vine? Though the labour of the olive fail, and there be no herd in the stall; yea, though the earth be removed, and the mountains carried into the midst of the sea: the children of God can look above and beyond this univerfal desolation, and join the prophet in these expressions of considence, "I will rejoice in the Lord, and ** joy in the God of rny falvation."
And such was the conduct of David, in the pasfage of scripture which we have just now read. His affliction, indeed, was great; his enemies had plundered and burned the city, in which his own family, ';! the families of his friends, resided. Their wives '-ildren were carried into captivity ; and, to complete plete his distress, they spake of stoning him, as the cause of all their calamities. But, observe to what refuge he fled; he encouraged himself in the Lord hii God: And if the Lord be our God, whatever danger or disttess we are in, we alfo have the fame fource of confol«ion. But, as I would not give false hopes to any, or speak peace, when there is no peace, I must here observe to you, that none, but such as stand in this relation to God, are capable of enjoying this advantage. Presumptuous and obstinate sinners can never exercise a rational hope and trust in God; because every part of his word speaks terrible things against them. In the 7th Pfalm, there is an awsul threatening to this purpose: " God is angry with the "wicked every day. He hath bent his bow, and "made it ready: he hath alfo prepared for them the "instruments of death." They may, indeed, presume for a time'; they may flatter themselves with the hopes of impunity: but, their trust will at length prove as the spider's web, and their hope as the giving up of the ghost. Whereas, they who are related to the Lord, as their God, who have embraced the offers of his mercy, and are reconciled to him through the death of his Son, may, without any presumption, claim every privilege of which David was possessed, and sland upon as sirm ground as he did, when they encourage themselves in the Lord their God.
In discoursing surther on this comfortable subject, I shall endeavour, through divine assistance, First, To point out to you fome of those encouragements, which the gospel-covenant holds forth to the people of God m times of affliction; Stcondly, To show you upon what folid -grounds they may trust in him for these encouragements; and then conclude with a short practical improvement of the subject.
I. I begin, then, with pointing out to you fome of those encouragements, which the gospel-covenant holds forth to the people of God in times of affliction.
1. And the sirst I (hall mention, is God's gracious presence with them in all their distresses. And, what a reviving confolation is this! The presence of God •with his people, dispels all the clouds of affliction and
'forrow, as the sun scatters the fogs of the morning; it composes the mind, and sills it with considence
„ and joy. In what a high strain does David speak of it, in the 23d Pfalm !" Though I walk," fays he, "through the dark valley and shadow of death, I ** will sear no evil, for thou art with me." .Some1times, indeed, the children of God make unwarrantable reflections on the distresses with which they are visited. They are tempted to fay, as Gideon did, w If God be with us, why doth all this evil befal "us?" But it is not because the Lord hath forfaken them, that he deals with them in this manner; it is for the chastisement of their offences: and, when he does fo, h,e acts the part of a father and a friend. "Whom the Lord loveth," .fays the apostle, * he "chasteneth, and scourgeth every fon whom he re"ceiveth. Is ye endure chastening, God dealeth with "you as with fons; for what fon is he whom the "Father chasteneth not («)!" Nay, affliction is so far from being a mark of God's forfaking his people, that he is never more gracioufly present with them, than when they are afflicted. Thus, he was with Daniel in the lion's den; thus alfo with Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, when they were cast into the burning siery surnace; when this consession was extorted from the trembling king of Babylon, "Did "we not cast three men bound into the sire? and ** so, I see four men, loose, walking in the midst of "the flames; and the form of the fourth is as the "Son of God." In like manner, the Lord is still present with his children, when they are under the rod. He not only, as a wise and loving parent, corrects them for their faults; but he mortisies their remaining corruptions, improves their graces, and sometimes gives them such experience os divine
("J Heb. xli.
support and consolation in the day of affliction, as prevents them from despondency during every period of their suture li ves. This is one of the distinguishing parts, if I may be allowed the expression, of JeHovah's character. He is the Comforter of the afflicted, and raiseth up them that are bowed down. The world, indeed, smiles upon the prosperous, while it frequently disregards the miserable and unfortunate. But the ways of God are not as our ways. Instead of keeping at a distance in the dark and cloudy day, his everlasting arms are then around them. The light of his countenance often dispels the darkelt gloom, and elevates the heart which the world would depress. In a word, he lifteth up the hands which hang down, and giveth grace to help in every time of need.
2. If the Lord fee our God, then, all our afflictions are blessings \ and instead of hurting us, they will issue in our greater good. The most dreadsul part of any trouble,. is the apprehension of God's displeasure, which it seems to indicate. Let that apprehension be removed, and, to a Christian, the affliction is insinitely lessened. "O, Lord," says the Psalmist, " rebuke "me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy "hot displeasure (a)." He does not simply deprecate the rebuke, the chastening hand, but the wrath or displeasure of God. It was 'the insusion of this that made the cup of affliction a bitter cup. He therefore prays, that the Lord would not deal with him in anger, and he would then quietly submit to any afiiiction with which he should be pleased to visit him.. And this indeed is the peculiar consolation of his servants. They are assured, that when their heavenly Father smites them, he does it in love. The wounds which he inflicts, are not the wounds of an enemy, but of a friend. Though affliction, in its own nature, be a part of the curse, yet to the Christian it is deprived of its malignity, and converted into a real blessing. And accordingly you sind it recorded a •O such,
(*) Psid. Ti. I.
such, among the promises of the covenant. "If my "children break jny statutes, ;ind keep not my com"mandments, I will visit their transgressions with "the rod, and their iniquity with stripes (b)."—" For "as many as Move," saith the great Redeemer, " I "rebuke and chasten." And hence belieyers maybe sully assured, that such afflictions, so sar from doing them any harm, will really contribute to their happiness. For, as frost in the winter, instead of hurting the earth, kills such noxious weeds as exhaust its strength; so, the rod of affliction is of great use to wean our hearts from this ensnaring world, and to mortify those corrupt affections which gentler means could not subdue. "We know," says the apostie, "that all things work together for good to them that ** love God, to them who are called according to his "purpose (c)."—" They work together." The expression is emphatiral. View them separately, or each by itself, and some of them may appear to be awsul and threatening. But iiew them together, as sent and guided by the hand of insinite wisdom and ]ove; view them in this light, and it will -be found, that, if any of them were wanting, something would be wanting in the system of our happiness. Thus, Joseph said to his brethren,." Ye thought evil against "me; but God meant it for good, to save much *f people alive." Have not the saints, then, the greatest reason to encourage themselves in the Lord their God, since they are not only assured of his gracious presence with them in all their afflictions, but that those very afflictions, instead of hurting thenij are even now working for their good?
3. It is a ground of encouragement to the godly under affliction, that they themselves will, erelong, be with God, and dwell for ever in his immediate presence. It was the saith of this that supported the primitive Christians under all their afflictions. ** They "took joysully," says the apostle to the Hebrews, ** the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they
(i) Psal. Uxxix. 31, 3*. '[*} Rom. viii. i8.