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three plagues, either war, famine, or plague, which is the most grievous, most hated, and dreadful of all distempers, he chose the plague. We should never forget the reason of his choice. “Let us fall now (saith he to the prophet Gad) into the hands of the Lord, (for his mercies are great,) and let me not fall into the hand of man.”
The evils which God sends to us are expressions of love, and of his fatherly care of us ; for God begins his judgments, that is, his chastisements, at his own house, and shews most severity to his servants whom he loves best, 1 Pet. iv. Therefore he tells the angel of the church of Laodicea, “ As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten," Rev. iii. The greatest affliction that can happen to us in the world, is never to be afflicted; and the most grievous temptation, is never to be tempted. St. Paul to the Hebrews speaks most excellently upon this subject. Forget not (saith he) the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children: my son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him; for whom the Lord loveth he chase teneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons,” Heb. xii.
All things work together for good to them that love God, Rom. viii. The diseases of the body are the physic of the soul. The aches which affilict thee are instructions to thy mind. God intends to make thee sigh for thy sins, to water thy couch with thy tears, and abhor the remembrance of thy former miscarriages, Psa. vi. By the causes of thy present pain and grief, he intends to taint thy flesh, mortify thy lust, and make thee partake of his holiness, Heb. xii. If it please God to sanctify his afflictions to thee, thou wilt be able to say with David, “ It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy commandments. Before that I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy word,” Psa. cxix.
Though our Lord and Saviour was the only Son, and the beloved of the Father, Heb. v. yet he learned obedience by the things that he suffered. God hath predestinated thee to render thee conformable to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. God proposes to strengthen thee with an holy constancy, and to teach thee to possess thy soul with patience, Luke xxi. He causet hthee therefore to learn by experience, that all fesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. He designs to humble thee under his mighty hand, that he may lift thee up in due time, 1 Pet. iii. When God purposed to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, Exod. v. 5. he caused the yoke of their grievous bondage to be more heavy, and loaded them with more intolerable burdens. For the same reason God sends afflictions, and fills us with bitterness, because he would bring us to a loathing of the world, and of its vanities, and to think upon heaven, and its eternal happiness, 1 Cor. xi. He chastiseth thee, that thou mayest not perish with the world: he punisheth thy body, that thy soul might be saved.
As the gold is tried in the fire, thus the Lord casts us into the flames of affliction, that our faith might be tried, and appear more precious than fine gold, 1 Cor. v. We glory in God in the midst of tribulations, knowing that tribulation produceth patience, patience experience, and experience hope. Now hope doth not make us ashamed, because the love of God is spread in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which hath been given to us. God will kindle again thy languishing zeal, and enliven thy prayers, that they may be more acceptable to him. Tell me not that thy distemper is an 'heavy burden, that hinders thy soul from lifting itself towards hea
ven, and that thy grievous aches dry up the moisture of thy tongue, and cause thy lips to stick together; for I mean not the prayers composed by art, but the holy affections and earnest sighs of the soul sent up to God. A groan of an oppressed soul, and a sigh from us by necessity, and a tear dropped from a penitent heart, are far more acceptable to him, than prayers of forty lours, that come forth of an hypocritical mouth.
When the prophet Moses saw himself inclosed between Pharaoh's army and the Red Sea, he was so grievously perplexed, that he could not open his mouth; but God heard the voice of his heart, and answered his silent request. King Hezekiah muttered as the crane, or as the swallow, and groaned as the pigeon; and God had respect to his groaning and tears, and heard him from his holy sanctuary. The sighs of Jonah in the whale's belly mounted up through the waves of the sea, and ascended to the sacred habitation of God's glory. The cries of Jesus dying upon the cross have pierced through the bosom of our heavenly Father, and have moved the bowels of his eternal mercies. In short, God speaks thus of all his children,“ Before they cry, I will grant them their request; and as they shall yet be speaking, I shall have heard them.” Therefore the royal prophet saith not only, “That God hath heard the prayers, but hath heard the desire of the humble; thou wilt prepare their hearts, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.” For that reason, when the apostle St. Paul makes mention of that Spirit that supports our weaknesses, and that teacheth us to pray, he saith, “That he crieth in our hearts, Abba, Father, and maketh request for us with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered,” Rom. viji.
Take good courage, my brother, or my sister, and be not frighted at the sight of Death. Thou seest a narrow passage, a way all beset with thorns and briars; but it is heaven's
• gate, gate, and the way that leads to thy heavenly paradise ; for we must of necessity march through a valley of tears, before we can enter into the city of the living God, Psa. Ixxxiv. We must pass through many tribulations to come to the kingdom of heaven, Rev. vii. 14. Blessed are they whom God afflicts, for they shall be comforted, Matt. v. Blessed is the man that suffereth temptation ; for when he shall be suffi. ciently proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God promiseth to them that love him, James i. The Lord sends thee that affliction, and this grievous temptation, not only for thine own good and salvation, but also for the benefit of others. By his wonderful wisdom he preserves the com- . munion of saints, and so disposeth of every one, that we all contribute to the building of his tabernacle. Upon one he. bestows riches, that he should be bountiful in alms deeds; to another he gives learning, that he might instruct the igno, rant, and comfort the afflicted; be raiseth others to great honours and dignities, that they might be able to protect the innocent, and deliver the oppressed. Others are afflicted with desperate evils, and grievous and long diseases; and again, others are deprived of their most needful seases, as of their eye-sight, or of their hearing, that they might edify their neighbours by an holy constancy and christian patience. The ashes of poor Job have more lustre than all the gold and precious stones in the world. It is many ages since he endured grievous and dreadful calamities; nevertheless, his patience is yet proposed to us for our example, and to the end of the world it will always instruct the church of God. He teacheth thee by the evils which thou endurest, to be moved with mercy and compassion towards others in the same condition. For as he required, that the children of Israel should be gracious to strangers, because they had been strangers in the land of Egypt; likewise he sends to thee affictions, that thou mightest pity the afflicted, and suffer with them, as members of the same mystical body. This
appears in Jesus Christ our head; for though the chief end of his sufferings was to redeem us, and to reconcile us to God the Father, nevertheless the Holy Ghost informs us, that he was like unto us in all things, sin excepted, that he might be a merciful High-Priest, and have compassion on our in. firmities.
Finally, the affliction that grieves thee, is not only sent to thee for thy salvation, and for the instruction of thy neighbours, but also for the glory of the great and living God, who hath made and formed thec; for we may say of every disease that happens to good men, as Christ says of Lazarus's distemper, “ This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified by it.” Thou mayest be severe to thyself; but thou must be charitable to others, and judge discreetly of thy brethren's afflictions.When thou art in pain and trouble, think seriously upon thy miscarriages, and turn unto God with all thy heart ; but when thou seest others cast upon a bed of sickness, do not argue from thence, as David's enemies, that it is because they have committed some grievous crime ; rather consider, that it may be a means which God designs to employ to declare his pow. er, and his servants' patience, faith, piety,and virtues. Therefore our Lord and Saviour tells the apostles, when at the sight of a man blind from his birth they inquired from him, Whe. ther the man had sinned, or his father or mother, because he was born blind? “ That neither the man, nor his father, nor mother, had sinned, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him," John ix. By these words we are not to imagine, that they were without sin ; for there is none just, no, not one ; but we must understand, that they were not guilty of an heinous sin, nor had committed any such crime as had drawn upon them the vengeance from above. It was God's will that this poor man should come into the world with natural imperfection, that he might make him an inKk