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Shews, that although God takes no delight in affiicting his people, get he
fometimes exposeth them to great and grievous. Lufferings, with a brief account why, and how he calls them thereunto. THE mercies and compassions of Gcu over his people are exceed
ing great and tender, Psal. ciii. 13. “Like as a father pitieth “ his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” He delights not in afflicting and grieving them, Lam. iii. 33. “ He doth not af« fiet willingly, nor grieve the children of men." The scripture intimates to us a seeming conflict betwixt the justice and mercy of God, when he is about to deliver up his people into their enemies hands, Hofea xi. 8, 9. “How fhall I give thee up, Ephraim ? How shall I “ deliver thee, Ifrael? How shall I make thee as Admah ? How shall * I set thee as Zeboim ? Mine heart is turned within me, my re“ pentings are kindled together.” Which shews us with what reluctance and great unwillingness the Lord goes about such a work as this. The work of judgment is his strange work, it pleases him better to execute the milder attribute of mercy towards his children. Hence we find, when he is preparing to execute his judgments, that he delays the execution as long as the honour of his name and safety of his people will permit, Jer. xliv. 23. He bears till he can bear no longer : he often turns away his wrath from them, Pfal. Ixxviii, 38, 39. He tries them by lefser judgments and gentler corrections to prevent greater, Amos iv. 6. When his people are humbled under the threatenings of his wrath, his heart is melted into compaffion to them, Jer. xxxi. 17, 20, and whenever his mercy prevails again.t judgment, it is with joy and triumph, Jam. ii. 13: Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
For he feels his own tender compassions yerning over them ; he foreseeth, and is no way willing to gratify the infulting pride of his and their enemies.. Deut. xxxii. 26, 27. “ I faid I would scatter " them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to “ cease from among men, were it not that I feared the wrath of the “ enemy, left their adversaries should behave themselves strange“ ly, ốc.
Yet all this, notwithstanding, it often falls out, by the provocations of his sons and daughters, that the Lord gives them up into the hands of their enemies for the correction of their evils, and the manifestation of his own glory. Seneca, though a heathen, could say, that God loves his people with a masculine love, not with a womanilh indulgence and tenderness : If need require, they fhail be in heaviness through manifold temptations, 1 Pet. i. 6. He had rather their hearts 1hould be heavy under adversity, than vain and careless under prosperity; the choicest spirits have been exercised with the Tharpest sufferings, and those that now shine as stars in heaven, have been trod under foot as dung on the earth.
1 Cor. iv. 11, 12, 13. “ Unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are na"ked, and buffetted, and have no certain dwelling place, and la« bour, working with our hands; being reviled we bless, being per“ secuted we suffer it, being defamed we intreat ; we are made as “ the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things unto this “ day.” The eleventh chapter to the Hebrews is a compendium of the various and grievous sufferings of the primitive faints: “ They “ were tortured, they were fawn asunder, were tempted, were slain « with the sword, they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, “ being afflicted, destitute, tormented, of whom the world was not " worthy, they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, in dens, and “ in caves of the earth.” And since the earth hath dried up those rivers of precious blood, whereof the sacred records make mention, what feas of Christians blood have fince those days been shed by bloody persecutors ? Histories inform us that in the ten primitive perfecutions, so many of the saints and martyrs of Jesus Christ have been Nain, as that you may allow five thousand a day to every day in the whole year. Those bloody emperors sported themselves with the death of God's dearest faints ; many precious Christians were burnt by night at Rome, to serve as torches to light their enemies in their passage through the streets; eight hundred thousand martyrs are mentioned within the space of thirty years, since the Jesuits arose out of the bottomless pit.
To what grievous sufferings did the Lord give up those precious servants of Christ, the Waldenses and Albigenses, who received the light of reformation about the year 1260, when the fogs of Antichristian darkness overspread the earth ! a people found in judgment, as appears by their letters, catechisms, and confeffions, which are extant; a people of a simple, plain, and inoffensive behaviour: Yet, with what fury and rage did that impious pope Pius perfecute them to destruction ! driving them into the woods and mountains, except the aged, and children that could not fee, who were murdered in the way: Some famished in the caves and clefts of the rocks ; others endured the rack for eight hours together; some beaten with iron rods, others thrown from the tops of high towers, and dashed to pieces.
What bloody shambles and flaughter-houses have France, Ireland, and England, been made by popish cruelty! More might be related
out of each story than a tender-hearted reader is able to bear the re· hearsal of. But what God hath done, he may do again : We are
not better than our fathers, dismal clouds of indignation are gathering over our heads, charged with double destruction ; should the Lord please to make them break upon us ; we cannot imagine the rage of Satan to be abated, now that his kingdom haftens to its period, Rev. xii, 12. nor are his instruments grown less cruel and skilful to destroy. The land, indeed, hath enjoyed a long rest, and this ge
deration is acquainted with little more of martyrdom, than what the histories of former times inform us of: But yet let no man befool himself with a groundless expectation of continuing tranquillity. Augustin thinks that the bloody sweat which over-ran the body of Chrift in the garden, fignified the sharp and grievous sufferings which in his mystical body he should afterwards endure ; and indeed it is a truth, that these are also called the remains of Christ's sufferings, Col. i. 24. His personal sufferings were indeed completed at his resurrection, that cup was full to the brim, to which no drop of sufferings can be added ; 'but his sufferings in his mystical body are not yet full; by his personal sufferings he fully satisfied the wrath of God, but the sufferings of his people have not yet satisfied the wrath of men : Though millions of precious faints have shed their blood for Chrift, whose fouls are now crying under the altar, How long, Lord! how long ! yet there are many more coming on behind in the same path of persecution, and much Christian blood muft yet be fhed, before the mystery of God be finished ; and not withstanding this lucid interval, the clouds seem to be returning again after the rain. Thus you see to what grievous sufferings the merciful God hath sometimes called his dearest people.
Now God may be said to call forth his people to fuffer, when he so hedgeth them in by providence, that there is no way to escape fuffering, but by finning; whatsoever providence labours with such a dilemma as this, is a plain fignification of God's will to us in that case. We may not now expect extraordinary calls to suffering work, as some of the saints had of old, Gen. xxii. 2. Acts ix. 16. but when our way is so shut up by providence, that we cannot avoid suffering, but by stepping over the hedge of the command, God will have us look upon that exigence as his call to suffer : And if the reasons bet demanded, why the Lord, who is inclined to mercy, doth often hedge in his own people, by his providence, in a suffering path; let us know, that in so doing, he doth both,
1. Illustrate his own glory. And,
2. Promote his people's happiness. First, Hereby the most wise God doth illustrate the glory of his own name, clearing up the righteousness of his ways by the fufferings of his own people : By this the world shall fee, that how well soever be loves them, he will not indulge or patronize their sins; if they will be so difingenuous to abuse his favours, he will be fo just to make them fuffer for their fins, and by those very fufferings will provide for his own glory, which was by them clouded in the eyes of the world. He hates not fin a jot the lefs, because it is found in his own people, Amos iii. 2. And though, for the magnifying of his mercy, he will pardon their fins, yet for the clearing of his righteousness, he will take vengeance upon their inventions, Pfal. xcix. 8.
Moreover, by exposing his people to such grievous sufferings, he gives a fit opportunity to manifest the glory of his power in their supVOL. VI.
port, and of his wisdom, in the marvellous ways of their escape and deliverance. It is one of the greatest wonders in the world, how the church 'subfifts under such fierce and frequent affaults as are made upon it by its enemies. “I will turn aside (faid Mofes) and see this
great fight, why the bush is not consumed,” Exod. ii. 3. That flaming bulh was a lively emblem of the oppreffed church in Egypt; the crackling flames noted the heat of their perfecution, the remaining of the bush unconsumed in the fames, signified the wonderful power of God in their prefervation: No people are so privileged, so protected, fo delivered, as the people of God. Much less opposition than hath been made against the church, hath overturned, and utterly destroyed, the mighty monarchies of the world.
Sic Medus adeinit
Affyria's empire thus the Mede did shake,
• That, in its turn, fell by Rome at last.'And no less admirable is the wisdom of God, in frustrating and defeating the most deep and desperate defigns of hell, against his poor people. Now, you may see the most wise God going beyond a malicious and subtle devil, overturning in a moment the deep laid defigns and contrivances of many years, and that at the very birth and point of execution, Efth. vi. 1. sharing the wicked in the works of ibeir own hands; making their own tongues to fall upon them; working out such marvellous falvations with his own hand, as fills them with astonishment and wonder. Pfal. cxxvi. 7. “ When the “ Lord turned back the captivity of Zion, we were like them that « dreamed."
Secondly, As God provides for his own glory, by the sufferings and troubles of his people; so he advanceth their happiness, and greatly promotes their interest thereby.
For, First, Thefe troubles are ordered as so many occafions and means to mortify the corruptions that are in their hearts; there are rank weeds fpringing up in the best foil, which need such winter weather to rot them: And, certainly, if we reckon humility, heavenly mindedness, contempt of the world, and longing defires after heaven, to be the real interest and advantage of the church ; then it is evident, nothing so much promotes their interest, as a suffering condition doth: Adversity kills those corruptions which prosperity bred.
Claudian, lib. 3. in landes Stillicones.
Secondly, By these trials their fincerity is cleared, to the joy and satisfaction of their own hearts; many a doubt and fear, which had long entangled and perplexed them, is removed and answered. When adverfity hath given them proof, and trial of their own hearts, one fharp trial wherein God helps us to be faithful, will do more to satisfy our fears, and resolve our doubts, than all the sermons that ever < we heard in our lives could do.
Thirdly, These sufferings and trials of the church, are ordained to free it of abundance of hypocrites, which were its reproach, as well as burden, Amos ix. 9. 10. Amiction is a furnace to separate
the dross from the more pure and noble gold. Multitudes of hypocrites, like flies in a hot summer, are generated by the church's prosperity; but this winter weather kills them: Many gaudy professors grow within the inclosure of the church, like beautiful Rowers in the field, where they stand during its peace and prosperity, in the pride and bravery of their gifts and profeflions; but the wind pafleth over them, and they are gone, and their places shall know them no more; to allude to that in Psalm ciii. 16. . Thunder and lightning is very terrible weather, but exceeding useful to purify and cleanse the air.
Fourthly, The church's sufferings are ordered and fanctified, to endear them to each other. Times of common suffering, are times of reconciliation, and greater endearments among the people of God; never more endeared, than when most persecuted ; never more united, than when most Tcattered, Mal. iij. 17. “ Then they that fear.. “ed the Lord, Ipake often one to another." Certainly there is fomething in our fellowship in the same sufferings, that is endearing and engaging ; but there is much more in the discoveries that perfecution makes of the fincerity of our hearts, which, it may be, was before entertained with jealousy; and there is yet more than all this in the reproofs of the rod, whereby they are humbled for their pride, wantonness, and bitterness of their spirits to each other, and made to cry, in the sense of these transgressions, as Pfal. lxx. 8. “Remem“ ber not against us former iniquities."
Lastly, By these troubles and distresses, they are awakened to their duties, and taught to pray more frequently, Ipiritually, and fervently. Ah? what drowliness and formality is apt to creep in upon the beft hearts, in the time of prosperity ; but when the storm rises,
and the sea grows turbulent and raging, now they cry as the disciples to Christ, Lord, fave us, we perih. They say music is sweetest upon the waters; I am sure the sweetest mielody of prayer is upon the deep waters of affliction : For these, among many other righteous, wise, and holy ends, the Lord permits and orders the perfecutions and diftrefles of his people.