Comfort for the Afflicted
James Hervey, 1714-1758
"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word." Psalm 119:67
"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees." Psalm 119:71
"I know, O LORD, that Your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness You have afflicted me." Psalm 119:75
You well know that all afflictions of whatever kind proceed from God. They do not spring from the dust, nor are they the effects of a random chance, but they are the appointment of an all-wise, all foreseeing God, who intends them all for the good of His redeemed people. This I think, is the fundamental argument for resignation, and the grand source of comfort. This should be our first reflection and our sovereign support: He who gave me my being, and gave His own Son for my redemption—has assigned me this suffering. What He ordains who is boundless love, must be good. What He ordains who is unerring wisdom, must be proper.
This reconciled Eli to the severest doom that ever was denounced: "It is the Lord. Though grievous to human nature and much more grievous to parental affection, yet it is unquestionably the best. Therefore, I humbly acquiesce, I kiss the solemn decree, and say from my very soul: Let Him do what seems Him good to Him."
This calmed the sorrows of Job under all his unparalleled distresses: "The Lord gave me affluence and prosperity; the Lord has taken all away. Rapacious hands and warring elements were only His instruments; therefore I submit, I adore, I bless His holy name."
This consolation fortified the man Christ Jesus at the approach of His inconceivably bitter agonies: "The cup which, not my implacable enemies, but my Father, by their administration, has given me, shall I not drink it?"
It is your Father, dear sir, your heavenly Father, who loves you with an everlasting love—who has mingled some gall with your portion in life. Sensible of the beneficent hand from which the painful visitation comes, may you always bow your head in patient submission; and acknowledge, with the excellent but afflicted monarch Hezekiah, "The word of the Lord concerning me is good."
All afflictions are designed for blessings—to do us good at the latter end, however they may crop our desires, or disquiet our minds at present. Happy (says the Spirit of inspiration, and not wretched) is the man whom God corrects. And for this reason, because His merciful chastenings, though not joyous but grievous, yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby.
God's ways are not as our ways. The children whom we love, we are apt to treat with all the soft blandishments and fond caresses of profuse indulgence; and too, too often coddle them to their hurt, if not to their ruin.
But our heavenly Father is wise in His love, and out of kindness He is often severe. Therefore it is said, "Those whom he loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." (Hebrews 12:6)
Would you not, dear sir, be a child of that everlasting Father, whose favor is better than life? Affliction is one sign of your adoption to this inestimable relation. Would you not be an heir of that priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is reserved in Heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay? Affliction is your path to this blissful state. Through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Would you not be made like your ever-blessed and amiable Redeemer? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and every disciple must expect to be as his master.
Perhaps you may think your affliction to be peculiarly calamitous; and that, if it had been of some other kind, you could more cheerfully submit, more easily bear it.
But you are in the hands of an all-wise Physician, who joins to the affections of infinite love, the discernment of infinite wisdom. He cannot mistake your case. He sees into the remotest events; and, though He varies His remedies, He always prescribes with the exactest propriety to each particular state of His redeemed children. Assure yourself, therefore the painful visitation which He appoints is the most proper remedy in the dispensatory of Heaven. Any other would have been less fit to convey spiritual health to you.
Should you inquire what BENEFITS accrue from afflictions. They are many and precious:
They tend to wean us from the world. When our paths are strewed with roses, when nothing but music and pleasant fragrances float around—how apt are we to be enamored with our present condition, and forget the crown of glory, and Jesus, and eternal blessings. But affliction, with a faithful though harsh voice, rouses us from the sweet delusion. Affliction warns our hearts to rise and depart from these inferior delights, because fleeting earth is not our rest.
True and lasting joys are not to be found in this poor world. The sweeping tempest and the beating surge, teach the mariner to prize the haven where undisturbed repose waits his arrival. In like manner, disappointments, vexations, anxieties and crosses teach us to long for those happy mansions, where all tears will be wiped away from our eyes; where all anguish will be banished from our mind; where nothing exist but the fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore.
Afflictions tend to bring us closer to Christ. Christ has unspeakable and everlasting blessings to bestow, such as the world can neither give nor take away; such as are sufficient to pour that oil of gladness into our souls, which will swim above the waves of any earthly tribulation.
But are we not, dear sir—are we not most sadly indolent and inattentive to these blessings, in the mirthful hours of uninterrupted prosperity? It is very observable that scarcely any but the children of affliction, made application to our divine Redeemer in the days of His abode with us. The same spirit of lethargy still possesses mankind. We undervalue and disregard the Lord Jesus and the unspeakable privileges of His gospel, while all proceeds smoothly, and nothing occurs to discompose the tenor of our tranquility. But when misfortunes destroy our pleasant circumstances, or sorrows oppress our minds—then we are willing, we are glad, we are earnest, to find rest in Christ.
In Christ Jesus there is pardon of sins. Sin is a burden which is incomparably sorer than any other distress. Sin would sink us into the depths of eternal ruin, and transfix us with the agonies of endless despair. But Christ has, at, the price of His very life, purchased pardon for all who flee to Him in faith. He has borne the guilt of their sins in His own body on the tree. Have they deserved condemnation? He has sustained it in their stead. Are they obnoxious to the wrath of God? He has endured it as their substitute; He has made satisfaction, complete satisfaction for all their iniquities. So that justice itself, the most rigorous justice, can demand no more. O that distresses may prompt us to prize this mercy! May incite us to desire ardently this blessedness! Then it will be good for us to have been afflicted!
Christ has obtained for us the gift of the Holy Spirit, to sanctify our hearts and renew our natures. An unrenewed carnal mind, is ten thousand times more to be lamented, more to be dreaded, than any external calamities. And nothing can cure us of this most deadly disease, but the sanctification of the Spirit. The divine Spirit alone is able to put the fear of God in our souls, and awaken the love of God in our hearts. His influences suggest such solemn and amiable thoughts to our minds, as will be productive of these Christian graces. This sacred principle subdues our corruptions, and conforms us to our blessed Redeemer's image.
How is this best gift of Heaven disesteemed by the darlings of the world, who have nothing to vex them? But how precious is the comfort of the Spirit, how desirable, to the heirs of sorrow? They breathe after this comfort, as the thirsty deer pants for the water brooks. They cannot be satisfied without the Spirit's enlightening, purifying, cheering communications. This is all their request, and all their relief—that the Spirit of Christ may dwell in their hearts, may enable them to possess their souls in patience, and derive never-ending good from momentary evils.
Before I close these lines, permit me to recommend one expedient, which yet is not mine, but the advice of an inspired apostle. "If any are afflicted, let him pray." Dear sir, fly to God in all your adversity, pour out your heart before Him in humble supplication, and show Him your trouble. When I am in heaviness, says a holy sufferer, "I will think upon God—His omnipotent power, His unbounded goodness, whose ear is ever open to receive the cry of the afflicted."
When the psalmist was distressed on every side, without were fightings, within were fears—the throne of grace was the place of his refuge, "I give myself to prayer" was his declaration.
This method, we read, Hannah took, and you cannot but remember the happy outcome (1 Samuel 1:10).
Let me entreat you to imitate these excellent examples; frequently bend your knees, and more frequently lift up your heart to the Father of mercies and God of all consolation; not doubting, but that through the merits of His dear Son, through the intercession of your compassionate High-priest—He will hear your petitions, will comfort you under all your tribulations, and make them all work together for your eternal good.
In the meantime, I shall not cease to pray that the God of all power and grace may grant to bless these considerations, and render them as balm to your aching heart, and as food to the divine life in your mind.
I am, dear sir, with much esteem, compassion, and respect, your very sincere well-wisher,
James Hervey, December 1747