TO PERSONS IN AFFLICTION.
MAN (as Job saith) being born to trouble, a pastor can hardly visit his flock but he will meet with some who will want words of comfort; with which therefore he should be always furnished, both to guide and to support the spirits of the afflicted.
For Christians in affliction are but too apt to distract themselves and increase their burden, by considering only what flesh and blood suggest, not what faith and religion propose for their support and comfort.
They are too apt to charge God foolishly,--to be angry with those whom He has made or permitted to be the instruments of their affliction;--to grow dejected and melancholy upon the thoughts of the sins which they suppose have provoked God to visit them;--and lastly, to despair of ever seeing an end to their sorrows.
Here then the pastor's help will be seasonable and charitable; for he will teach such as are in trouble to seek comfort in God and in the aids of religion.
He will convince them (for instance)
That events are not left to chance, but that all things come to pass by the appointment or permission of God:
That the very hairs of our head are all numbered:
That we are under God's care, as well when He suffers us to be troubled as when He smiles upon us:
That he is a very undutiful child, who will love and obey his father just as long as he pleaseth him and no longer:
That God has a right to try whether Christians are sincere or not; that is, whether they will believe Him to be their God and Father, as well when He corrects as when He gives them their desires:
That we are in darkness and do not ourselves know what would be best for us:
That God has made no earthly comforts full and lasting, on purpose that Christians, seeing the vanity of all worldly enjoyments, may not desire to set up their rest here, but be obliged to think of another life, where all tears will be wiped away:
That God often punishes us in this world, that He may not be obliged to punish us hereafter:
That the best of men have need of being awakened into a sense of their duty and danger:
That a disciple of Jesus Christ must take part in the sufferings of his Lord and Master, as he hopes to be a partaker of His glory; for if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him.
It is thus a Christian may be taught to submit to God's dispensations, and to make an advantage of what the world calls misfortunes, afflictions, calamities, judgments: and that, instead of being impatient, fretful, or dejected, he should rather rejoice in tribulation, in wrongs, in losses, in sufferings, and be glad that he has a proper occasion of offering his will a sacrifice to the will of God, which is a most acceptable oblation.
When a pastor has made his distressed patient sensible of the reason and benefit of afflictions, he will then proceed to shew him how to quiet the disorders of his soul.
He will advise him (for instance) not to torment himself about the cause of his troubles or the instruments of his afflictions, or be over anxious concerning the issue of them. For this will only create vexation, fruitless complaints and a sinful distrust, which are all the effects of pride and self-love, and serve only to bereave him of that peace of mind, which is necessary to carry him through his trials with the resignation of a Christian.
He will then shew him that, by being brought into these circumstances, whether his afflictions be for trial or punishment, he has a special title to the favour of God and to many great and precious promises, provided he submits to God's order and appointment. For God has declared Himself to be the helper of the friendless; the comforter of the afflicted; a light to them that are in darkness and know not what way to take. He has promised to be a Father to the fatherless and an husband to the widow; that He will undertake the cause of the oppressed and of such as call upon Him in their distress. So that no man ought to think himself destitute and miserable, who has God to fly to and God's Word for his comfort.
Upon the first approach of troubles, therefore, his spiritual guide will direct him to fall down before God--to humble himself under His afflicting hand--to acknowledge that God's judgments are right, and that He of very faithfulness has caused him to be troubled; beseeching God that he may make good use of his troubles;--to cast his whole care upon God, trusting in His wisdom to know and His goodness to appoint what is best for him; resolving, by the grace of God, to make that his choice which he has prayed for all his life, that God's will may be done.
He will also assure him that, let his mind be never so much disordered and his soul oppressed with sorrow, God can support and comfort him; that he has a promise of the same grace which enabled St. Paul to take pleasure in afflictions, in persecutions, in infirmities, in reproaches; which enabled the first Christians to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance; which enabled holy Job, under the severest trials, to submit without repining to God's appointment, saying only, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Lastly, His pastor will tell him, that St. James is so far from looking upon the case of the afflicted as desperate, that he affirmeth, Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried (that is, approved) he shall receive a crown of life, which fadeth not away.
And sure no man will think his own case hard, whatever his afflictions may be, when he is put in mind of the sufferings of Christ his Lord and Master, who had not where to lay His head;--who was set at nought by those He came to save;--who was called a dealer with the devil, a glutton and a wine-bibber;--who was assaulted by all the powers of hell, so that His soul was sorrowful even unto death;--was betrayed by one disciple and forsaken by all the rest;--was falsely accused by the Jews, set at nought by Herod, unjustly condemned by Pilate, barbarously treated by the soldiers, was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and suffered death, even the death of the cross.
This was the treatment which the Son of God met with when He was on earth; and this will silence all complaints, or else we are very unreasonable indeed.
But after all, our greatest comfort is this: that this Jesus, who Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; who felt the weakness of human nature and the troubles to which we are subject; this Jesus is our Advocate with the Father; who for His sake will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear, but will enable us, as He did St. Paul, in whatever state we are to be therewith content.
Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls unto Him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.