Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT REMEMBERING OUR LATTER END
Lamentations 1:9. She remembers It should rather be, remembered. not her lost end; therefore she came down wonderfully.
TO men in general nothing appears sinful but that which violates in the grossest manner some positive command, and interrupts in a very high degree the welfare of society. But God considers an unprofitable servant as meriting the same doom as the dishonest; and informs us, that an unmindfulness of our latter end will bring his judgments upon us, no less than a determined commission of everything that is evil.
The Prophet Jeremiah is lamenting the sore bondage under which his country groaned in Babylon, and is assigning the reasons for which God had thus rejected her. But in doing this, he does not fix on any one particular sin, however great; but on that which had pervaded all ranks of people, their unmindfulness of their latter end.
In his words we read,
I. Their sin—
This is the common sin of all mankind—
Moses had forewarned the Jews of the things that should come upon them in the latter days: but they had never duly considered his predictions, nor labored to avert the threatened calamities. Thus has God warned us also of the miseries which the wicked shall endure in another world: but we will not regard his admonitions. The mirthful, the worldly, the ambitious, are intent on their several pursuits; but none says "Where is God my Maker Job 35:10. Psalm 14:2-3." Even those who profess some regard for religion, are yet, for the most part, very little engaged in a preparation for eternity: their zeal, in the pursuit of heavenly things, bears no proportion to the importance of their object, or even to the labors which others use for the attainment of worldly vanities.
Nor let this be thought a trivial matter—
This it was, which brought down Jerusalem: and it will involve us also in the heaviest calamities. And well it may: for it is a contempt of God our Maker. In this view he himself complains of it Psalm 10:4-6; Psalm 10:11; Psalm 10:13; and he represents all his attributes and perfections as dishonored by it His majesty, Psalm 12:4; his omniscience, Job 22:13-14; his justice, Psalm 94:7; his goodness and forbearance, Romans 2:4. It is also a contempt of Christ our Savior. He had even "died, to purify us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works:" but, by our indifference, we make light of his mercies Luke 10:16, and trample on his blood Acts 13:38-41. Hebrews 10:28-29. Finally, it is a contempt of our own souls. The most avowed enemies of God and his Christ profess to have some regard for their immortal souls: but God, who will not put a wrong construction upon our actions, tells us, that "he who refuses instruction, despises his own soul Proverbs 15:32." Indeed this is but too manifest; since the man who remembers not his latter end, practically says, 'Give me the things which my body most affects; and, as for my soul, I care not for it: if my soul can be saved, notwithstanding my indulgence of the body, it is well: but if their interests clash, I will gratify my body, though at the peril, yes, to the certain destruction, of my soul.'
Can that then be light and trivial, which involves in it such awful consequences? Surely, though no flagrant crime were ever committed, this alone would be sufficient to bring upon us God's eternal wrath and indignation.
The evil of such conduct will abundantly appear, if we notice,
II. Their punishment—
The downfall of Jerusalem was a fit emblem of that which awaits impenitent transgressors—
Let us only compare the departure of Israel out of Egypt, guided, protected, and supported by God himself, and their establishment and increase in the land of Canaan, with, their miserable condition when they were carried captive to Babylon: "How was the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed!" Thus wonderful will be our destruction also, if we continue to forget our latter end.
God himself warns us that our destruction will be great if we neglect our souls—
It will be sudden Psalm 73:17-20. 1 Thessalonians. 5:3; tremendous Jeremiah 23:17-20; irremediable Proverbs 29:1; and eternal 2 Thessalonians. 1:7-9.
Let us reflect on the change experienced by the Rich Man in the parable Luke 16:19; Luke 16:23; and we may conceive a little of that surprise and horror that will seize on us in the instant of our departure from the body.
Let us also, if we would escape this doom, regard the solemn warning, and the compassionate advice, which God himself has recorded for our instruction Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:20; Deuteronomy 32:29.
We may improve this subject yet further,
1. For the warning even of real Christians—
We will suppose that your concern for your souls is such as to secure eternal happiness: yet a declension in holy zeal will produce a proportionable declension both in your graces and your comforts Psalm 30:7. Son. 5:2-6. Let those who have ever experienced the blessedness of living near to God, and of being on the wing for Heaven, compare it with the darkness and misery of a drooping and deserted state; and they will see enough to make them watchful against spiritual decays, and increasingly mindful of their eternal interests.
2. For their comfort and encouragement—
There is a truth, not expressed indeed, but evidently implied in the text, namely, That all who remember their latter end, shall be wonderfully exalted. And what an encouraging truth is this. Let any one view Lazarus at the Rich Man's gate, and in Abraham's bosom Luke 16:20-22, and he will see what a wonderful exaltation awaits the righteous at their departure hence. Even here the children of the devil, as soon as ever they believe in Christ, become "sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty 2 Corinthians 6:18;" but hereafter they shall reign with him as partners of his glory Romans 8:17. Let this hope then animate the Christian in his difficulties, and stimulate us all to more abundant diligence in our heavenly calling 1 John 3:3.
THE VIEWS OF A SAINT IN HIS AFFLICTIONS
Lamentations 3:22-23. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.
IT is in affliction chiefly that the children of God attain to any considerable eminence in religion. By trouble, they are led to realize their principles; and to seek at the fountain-head those consolations which the broken cisterns of this world are no longer able to supply. If David had never been an object of persecution to his enemies, we may well doubt whether he would ever have soared as he did in heavenly contemplations, or evinced such transcendent piety as glows throughout his Psalms. Jeremiah was a man deeply conversant with trouble; as he says: "I am the man that has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath verse 1." But what sublime lessons does he teach us in the words which we have just read! Truly we may see in these words,
I. The views of a saint under affliction—
A man undisciplined in the school of affliction pores over his troubles, and thereby greatly disquiets his own soul. But a man who is taught of God will have his mind very differently occupied. He will delight rather in contemplating,
1. The lightness of his affliction, in comparison of his deserts—
Who, that calls to mind the multitude of his past transgressions, must not justify God in all his dispensations, however painful they may be to flesh and blood? "Shall a living man complain, (he will say,) a man for the punishment of his sins verse 39." No: he will acknowledge that Hell itself is his proper portion; and that anything short of that is far "less than his iniquities have deserved Ezra. 9:13." Instead, therefore, of complaining, like Cain, that "his punishment is greater than he can bear Genesis 4:13," he will say, "It is of the Lord's mercies that I am not utterly consumed, even because his compassions fail not."
2. The multitude of the mercies yet continued to him—
An ungodly man, because lie is bereaved of some comforts, will overlook all the others which he is still privileged to possess. But a real saint will think how much worse his state might have been, and how man y blessings are still continued to him. He will say, My troubles are few; but my mercies are greatly multiplied: "they are new every morning." His rest by night, his comforts by day, and, above all, his constant access to God in prayer, and the rich Communications of grace and peace received from him, these things, I say, will fill him with holy gratitude, and turn all his sorrows into joy.
3. The unchangeableness of God under all his dispensations—
The saint will not regard God as an arbitrary Governor, that orders everything from caprice; but as a covenant God, who has engaged to provide for his people whatever may conduce to their best interests. Hence, under the pressure of his troubles, he will call to mind that God has said, He would "correct his people in measure, and not leave them altogether unpunished Jeremiah 30:11." In this view, lie acknowledges that "God in very faithfulness has afflicted him Psalm 119:75." Indeed, the faithfulness of God is that which, in such seasons, he contemplates with peculiar delight: "Why are you cast clown, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God Psalm 42:5; Psalm 42:11; Psalm 43:5. thrice."
In opening to you these views, I wish particularly to mark,
II. The beauty of religion as displayed in them—
Philosophy will do much to produce a resignation to the will of God. Indeed, common sense teaches us that it is in vain to murmur and repine at our troubles, and that the more patiently we bear our trials, the more we diminish their force. But the views which we have been considering, produce far more exalted effects. Behold,
1. How they compose the mind—
You see in this afflicted saint a meek submission, far different from any that philosophy can produce. Behold how he kisses the rod, and blesses the hand that smites him; and sees nothing but mercy, where an ungodly man would have noticed nothing but severity and wrath. Thus "he enjoys a light in the midst of darkness Micah 7:8-9;" and realizes the parable of Samson; "Out of the eater he brings forth meat, and out of the strong he brings forth sweet."
2. How they elevate the soul—
Behold the prophet, how he soars above self, and rises superior to all the dictates of sense! He forgets, as it were, his trials, in the contemplation of his mercies; and overlooks the chastisement, by reason of the love from whence it proceeds. This is a nobility of mind to which no philosopher ever could attain, and an elevation of sentiment which nothing but divine grace could ever inspire.
3. How they honor God—
Here the darkest dispensations are acknowledged, as the fruits of a wisdom that cannot err, of a love that knows no bounds, of a fidelity that can never change. Methinks, if there were no other end for which afflictions were sent, this were sufficient to reconcile us unto all; for if they lead to such discoveries of God, and such an ascription of praise to him, they more than compensate for all the pain that they occasion during the pressure of them on our minds.
1. To those who know but little of affliction—
A slight and superficial religion may satisfy you at present; but you will find it of little service when you come into trouble: nothing but deep piety will support you then. If you would be prepared for trials, you must get a sense of your own exceeding sinfulness, and of the wonderful mercies given to you through the sufferings of the Son of God. Then the heaviest trials will appear light, yes, as nothing in comparison of your deserts, and nothing in comparison of the obligations conferred upon you.
2. To those who have been brought into deep waters—
Look not on your afflictions as tokens of God's wrath, but rather as expressions of his love. There is a need for them, else they never would have been sent; and if they operate to purify your souls from dross, you will have reason to be thankful for them to all eternity. Be not, then, so anxious for the removal of your trials, as for the sanctification of them to your souls. Make but the improvement of them which is suggested in my text, and you will have reason to adore God for them as the richest blessings that could be conferred upon you.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD TO SUPPLIANTS
Lamentations 3:25. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
"THE earth," we are told, "is full of the goodness of the Lord Psalm 33:5;" and indeed it is not possible to behold the universe at large, or to inspect with accuracy anything that is contained in it, without being convinced that God is good to all, and that his tender mercy is over all his works Psalm 145:9." But to the humble suppliant he manifests his goodness in a more especial manner, as we are informed in the words before us: from which we shall take occasion to notice,
I. The character here given of the Deity—
The humble suppliant is an object of his peculiar regard. To him he will pay attention,
1. In a way of merciful acceptance—
He may have sinned grievously, and for a long season; yes, he may have equaled even Manasseh himself in his iniquities, and yet find mercy with the Lord, provided he seek for it in humble, earnest, and believing prayer 2 Chronicles 33:12-13; He may have even backslidden from God, and fallen grievously, after having long professed himself a servant of God; and yet, on his repentance, God will heal his backslidings, and love him freely Jeremiah 3:22. Psalm 32:5; There are no bounds to the mercy of God towards returning penitents Isaiah 1:18.
2. In a way of friendly communication—
Let any soul "draw near to God, and God will draw near unto him James 4:8;" and let him "open his mouth ever so wide, God will fill it Psalm 81:10." Does he need direction in difficulties? God will cause him to "hear a voice behind him, saying, This is the way; walk you in it Isaiah 30:21." Is he in deep affliction? God will afford him such a measure of support and consolation as his necessities shall require Isaiah 51:3. Does he need peculiar supplies of grace and strength? God will give him "grace sufficient for him 2 Corinthians 12:9," and "strength according to his day Deuteronomy 33:25."
3. In a way of gracious recompense—
Not a sigh or groan shall pass unheeded by Almighty God Psalm 12:5, nor a tear fall without being treasured up in his vials Psalm 56:8. And at the last day he will bear testimony to all the efforts which the contrite soul has made Isaiah 66:2, and will compensate it with an eternal weight of glory; not indeed as a reward of debt, but as a reward of grace, which he has promised to all who seek him in his Son's name John 6:37. Romans 4:5.
And now what language will be sufficient to express,
II. The encouragement afforded by it—
To enter fully into this would occupy us too long. I will confine myself therefore to the hints suggested in my text. Surely this view of the Deity may encourage all of us,
1. To seek him with earnestness—
Were God regardless of the prayers of the poor destitute, we night well sit down in despair. But "he invites to him the weary and heavy-laden;" and says, "Call upon me in the time of trouble, and I will bear you, and you shall glorify me Psalm 50:15." We may well therefore go to him, and "pour out our hearts before him," and plead with him, yes, and "wrestle with him," as Jacob did, determining "not to let him go until he bless us." This, so far from offending him, will rather be most acceptable to his Divine Majesty; because he bids us "seek him with our whole hearts" and with our whole souls 1 Chronicles 22:19. Psalm 119:2.
2. To wait for him with patience—
God may have many wise and gracious reasons for deferring his answers to our prayers: he may wish to embitter sin to us; to humble our souls move deeply; to make us more sensible of our need of mercy, and of our entire dependence on his grace. He may choose this way of weaning us from the world, of quickening us in all our duties, of advancing our attainments in the divine life, and of fitting us for greater usefulness to our fellow-sinners. He may delay his answers, so long as to make us doubt whether he has not "forgotten to be gracious unto us, and shut up his loving-kindness from us in displeasure." But, knowing his character, we should never abandon ourselves to despair, but "tarry his leisure;" and determine, if we perish, to perish at the foot of the cross, crying for mercy in Jesus' name. However long "the vision may tarry, we should wait for it," in a full and perfect confidence that "it shall not tarry" one single moment beyond what God in his wisdom sees to be the fittest time Habakkuk 2:3. Of this we may assure ourselves, that "none shall ever seek his face in vain."
1. Let none of us, then, neglect the duty of prayer—
Prayer is indispensably required, in order to our obtaining of the Divine favor Matthew 7:7-8; And "if we have not, it is either because we ask not, or because we ask amiss James 4:2-3. Brethren, remember, I pray you, what you have at stake; and trifle not in your approaches to the Most High God, as if he could be deceived by formal and heartless petitions. Could it once be said of you, "Behold, he prays!" we should have a good hope respecting you: but if you live not near to God, in the exercise of fervent prayer, we must declare to you, that God's goodness, so far as it respects you, will speedily come to an end, and be turned into wrathful indignation: for he has said, that "he will pour out his fury upon all who restrain prayer before him, and call not on his name Jeremiah 10:25."
2. Let us, in particular, exercise faith in prayer—
A man "who asks with a wavering mind, can receive nothing of the Lord James 1:6-7." Believe that "he is good," according as he has said, to all who "call upon him in spirit and in truth." You are authorized to expect at his hands whatever you ask, provided the conferring of it will tend to your welfare, and to the honor of his name 1 John 5:14-15. His promise to you is, "All things, whatever you shall ask, believing, you shall receive Matthew 21:22." "Be strong, then, in faith, giving glory to him;" and "never be straitened in yourselves, since you need never fear that you shall be straitened in him:" for, as he is able, so is he also willing, to give you exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or even think."
THE BENEFIT OF EARLY AFFLICTIONS
Lamentations 3:27-29. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sits alone, and keeps silence, because he has borne it upon him. He puts his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope.
THERE are in the Holy Scriptures many passages which appear strange and paradoxical, but which do indeed contain the most important truths. "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting," says Solomon: and again, "Sorrow is better than laughter Ecclesiastes 7:2-3." These, taken in conjunction with our text, "It is good for a man that be bear the yoke in his youth," are as much opposed to the general sense of mankind, as any assertions can be: yet, the more they are considered, the more just and important will they be found. The truth is, that men judge of things only by their reference to time; but God's estimate is formed with a more; immediate reference to eternity. If we consider only the operation of natural causes, we may see that the declaration in our text is just: for it is a common proverb, that 'practice makes easy;' and the earlier we are initiated into any are or science, the greater progress in it may be expected: but trials are indispensably necessary for the exercise of many of the Christian virtues: faith is called forth by difficulties; meekness and patience by provocations; forgiveness by injuries: so that a growth in these graces may be considered as materially advanced by early and long-continued occasions for their exercise. But, such is the corruption of our nature, that we need trials to purge it away: it is by fire that even good men must be refined from their dross: and, if we are called to experience afflictions in early life, we may hope our improvement will be proportionably great. In confirmation of this sentiment, we propose to show the benefit of early afflictions.
I. In a general point of view—
David, who had had a long and early experience of troubles, confessed "it was good for him that he had been afflicted Psalm 119:71." And beyond a doubt, much benefit may be reaped,
1. From temporal afflictions—
The loss of health, of friends, of property, are heavy afflictions: yet, if duly improved, they may become real blessings to the soul. Illness in early life, though in many respects to be lamented and deprecated, tends exceedingly to counteract the vanity of the youthful mind, and the ardor of youthful passions. It renders a person sober, thoughtful, temperate, and willing to listen to subjects of a more serious cast; and keeps him from innumerable snares and difficulties, to which a buoyant spirit and a vigorous constitution would have exposed him.
Bereavements also (whether of friends or property), and disappointments in life, give us an early taste of the emptiness of the world, and the vanity of all created enjoyments. They have a tendency to direct the mind to higher pursuits, and to make us seek satisfaction, where alone it can be found, in the knowledge, the service, and the enjoyment, of God. The more we are made to feel that the creature is only a broken cistern, the more shall we be disposed to seek our consolation in the fountain of living waters.
2. From spiritual afflictions—
These are far heavier than any which mere temporal things can ever produce. "A man may sustain any trial respecting earthly things; but a wounded spirit who can bear?" Yet are the groans and mournings of a deserted soul far preferable to the mirth and gaiety of a thoughtless sinner. A fear of God's wrath, though so distressing to the soul, has indeed a kindly influence upon us. How does it embitter to us the remembrance of former sins! How does it dispose us to desire true repentance, and to long for an interest in the Savior! What a different aspect does the sacred volume bear under such a state of mind! and how tremendous its threatenings; how glorious its promises! how happy they to whom those promises are made! In a word, an apprehension of God's wrath assimilates the mind thus far to the mind of God himself; since it invariably inspires this thought, "Happy are you, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord!"
3. From afflictions for righteousness' sake—
These are often very deeply felt. A person who has embraced the Gospel feels in himself a change that should rather recommend him to the favor of the world: his tempera, his dispositions, his habits, his conduct, are all greatly improved; and yet he finds, that he is become an object of dislike, perhaps too of indignation and abhorrence. This is painful to the young disciple: when he begins to love his fellow-creatures, then he himself begins to be hated by then. His former habits, if ever so licentious, exposed him to a little blame perhaps, but not to hatred: but his love to the Gospel exposes him to all manner of hatred and contempt. This, I say, is painful; but yet it is very beneficial to his soul. He would be ready, like Lot, to linger in Sodom; but these persecutions tend to drive him out. They serve in a very peculiar manner to confirm in his mind the principles of the Gospel; because he is taught in that very Gospel to expect the treatment which he has received, and to bear his cross after Christ. He find too in the Gospel, that to suffer for righteousness' sake is a matter for self-congratulation; that he is to "rejoice in it, and leap for joy;" to account it the highest honor; and to expect from it the richest reward. Thus a new set of feelings are brought into his soul; a set of feelings as far superior to any that he ever before experienced, as the most reined sensations of the soul are above the lowest appetites of a beast.
But we will proceed to notice this subject,
II. In that particular view which is specified in the text—
There are two things in particular to which our attention is called, and which are of the greatest possible advantage to the soul;
1. Seclusion from the world—
When there is nothing to oppress the mind, we are apt to be off our guard, and to degenerate into a dead and worldly name. We too easily mix with worldly company, and are thereby led to adopt their sentiments, and to drink into their spirit. But when trouble comes upon us, we lose our relish for society: we affect retirement rather, that we may muse over the subjects of our grief; or, as our text expresses it, "We sit alone, and keep silence Jeremiah 15:17." O, who can estimate the benefits arising from this source? By communing with our own hearts in their secret chamber, we attain a knowledge, which is not to be gained either from men or books,—the knowledge of our own hearts. In these seasons too we gain such views of God, of his goodness, his mercy, his power, his grace, as are acquired only in the school of affliction. It is on these occasions also that the Lord Jesus Christ particularly endears himself to our souls, and communicates to us the abundance of his grace. In persons thus instructed there is for the most part a maturity of wisdom and of spiritual understanding that is rarely found among those who have never experienced the discipline of adversity. In comparison of others, they manifest the beauty and sweetness of religion in a high degree; excelling others as much as the experienced mariner does the man who has never combated a storm.
2. Submission to God—
"Tribulation works patience, experience, and hope." By directing the thoughts inwards, it leads us to see, what abundant occasion there is within us for Divine chastisements, and how much more lenient they are than we deserve; and they dispose us to say, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him Micah 7:9." At first, perhaps, nature revolts, and is impatient; but after a season, when we have "listened to the rod, and to Him that has appointed it," we become desirous only that it may drive out the folly that is hound up in our hearts. Then "we put our mouths in the dust," as penitents that are "dumb before God;" and we wait God's time, "if so be there may be hope," and his purpose may be ultimately accomplished, and the trials be sanctified to our eternal good. What a blessed state is this! like Aaron," to hold our peace;" like Eli, to say, "Let him do what seems him good;" like Job, to bless the Lord; and, like David, to say, "You in very faithfulness have afflicted me!" Surely to learn such lessons as these in early life is most desirable: and, if they cannot be learned without affliction, there is no affliction so severe, but that it will be richly recompensed by such an attainment.
1. Those who have experienced no particular affliction—
While, on account of God's forbearance towards you, you have reason to be thankful, you have great reason also to fear: for, "if we are without chastisement, we are bastards, and not sons." At all events, there is much danger lest you become sad witnesses of that truth, "The prosperity of fools destroys them." Be watchful against the vanity of your deceitful hearts, and beg of God to augment towards you the Communications of his grace in proportion to your peculiar necessities.
2. Those who are called to bear the yoke—
Remember that your trials are the fruit of God's love to your souls: for "whom he loves, he chastens:" and, instead of thinking your lot hard, learn to "glory in your tribulations." and to "take pleasure in your distresses Romans 5:3. 2 Corinthians 12:10." It was not an ignorant or enthusiastic man that said, "We count them happy that endure;" and who from that conviction exhorts us, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations Psalm 94:12 with James 1:2; James 1:12; James 5:11." Only take eternity into the account, and all your trials will appear light and momentary in the view of that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory which they are working out for you 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
COMFORT FOR THE AFFLICTED
Lamentations 3:31-33. The Lord will not cast off forever: but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.
THE Prophet Jeremiah was, perhaps, above all other prophets, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. It is possible, indeed, that in this chapter he may speak in part as a representative of the Hebrew nation; but still there is so much which has an immediate reference to himself, that we cannot but consider it as a record of his own experience verse 1–20. At all events, the consolations which he administers, whether they refer to himself in his individual capacity, or to the people collectively, are suited to every person under Heaven, while under the pressure of any trouble. To enlarge upon all the various topics which he adduces, would lead me too far, and would be the work of a large volume rather than of a single discourse. I shall content myself with noticing the subject so far only as it presents itself to us in the words which I have read: wherein you see,
Beyond a doubt, it is "God who causes grief"—
It is remarkable that the prophet does not merely affirm this (though that would be an ample security for the truth of the position); but he takes it for granted; "Though he cause grief (which it must be acknowledged he does), yet will he have compassion." To this truth the whole Scripture bears record. God expressly asserts it: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things Isaiah 45:7." Yes, so plain and undeniable is this truth, that the Prophet Amos appeals to us respecting it: "Is there evil in the city, and the Lord has not done it Amos. 3:6." Whatever we may imagine, "affliction comes not forth of the dust, neither does trouble spring from the ground Job 5:6;" but, whoever be the instrument that brings it upon us, God is in reality the Author of it; all creatures being only "as the axe or saw in the hands of Him that uses it," for the effecting of his own purposes Isaiah 10:15.
It is no less our duty than our privilege to acknowledge this—
It is our duty: for we are not to conceive of anything as left to chance. This would be no better than Atheism. In fact, no man can for a moment indulge such a conceit, but through a total ignorance of God; leading him to imagine, that to attend to such numerous and minute concerns would be a trouble to God: whereas, He is as able to order everything in Heaven and earth, as he was to create the universe at first. And surely to have such a view of him, is an inestimable privilege; because, if nothing be done but by a God of infinite wisdom and goodness, nothing can be done which shall not issue in his glory and his people's good. Whoever, then, be the immediate agent, it is our wisdom to trace everything to the first great Cause of all; even as Job did, when, under all his complicated afflictions, he said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord Job 1:21."!
On this truth depends,
II. The consolation that is provided for us under it—
This is stated, as it were,
1. In answer to our fears—
When our trials are heavy and accumulated, we are ready to fear that they are sent in anger and will issue in our destruction. But God assures us, that "he does not afflict willingly, or grieve the children of men" without necessity. There is, if I may so speak, a "needs be" for them 1 Peter 1:6; some evil to be corrected, or some good to be administered. Earthly parents are sometimes led by caprice, and "correct their children for their pleasure:" but God never does it but "for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness Hebrews 12:10."
As for our trials issuing in our destruction, the very reverse is God's intent in sending them: he sends them "to humble us, and to prove us, and to do us good at our latter end Deuteronomy 8:16." Did he intend "to cast us off forever," he would rather say, "They are joined to idols: let them alone Hosea 4:17." But it is not so that God deals with his people. "He will not cast off his people, because it has pleased him to make them his people 1 Samuel 12:22." "He will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes: but his loving-kindness will he not utterly take from them, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail: for once has he sworn, by his holiness, that he will not lie unto David," the great Head and Representative of all his people Psalm 89:32-35.
2. In accordance with our hopes—
What does the afflicted soul desire but this, that "though God cause grief, yet will he have compassion?" This is what God does in the midst of the very chastisements he inflicts. "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel," even when for their iniquities he had delivered them into the hand of their enemies Judges. 10:16. Nor will he measure out his compassion according to our merits, but "according to the multitude of his own mercies." Nothing less than this, indeed, will satisfy the afflicted soul: nor, indeed, will anything less satisfy our compassionate God, who "in all our afflictions is himself afflicted; and who, in his love and in his pity, will effect our complete redemption Isaiah 63:9." The entire view of his dealings with us may be seen in his conduct towards his people of old: "Many times did he deliver them: but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity. Nevertheless, he regarded their affliction when he heard their cry: and he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies Psalm 106:43-45." "In a little wrath, he may hide his face from us for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will he have mercy upon us Isaiah 54:7-10."
Let us endeavor,
1. To get just views of the Divine character—
There can be no comfort to the soul while we new God as a vindictive Judge. As long as a we are really desiring his favor, we are authorized to regard him as a loving Father, who seeks only the welfare of our souls. If we see a gardener prune his vine, or a workman chisel his stone, or a goldsmith put his gold into the fire, we are at no loss to account for their conduct, even though, to the eye of sense, it may appear severe: to improve the vine, to beautify the stone, to purify the gold, to bring forth from the furnace a vessel meet for the Master's use, are, in our minds, an ample vindication of the apparent severity. Let us, then, conceive of God as wise, and good, and gracious, and as personally interested in our welfare; and then we shall never murmur at any of his dispensations; but shall say, under the most painful trials, "It is the Lord; let him do what seems him good."
2. To make a suitable improvement of afflictive dispensations—
Every "rod has a voice, which we ought to hear, as well as Him also that has appointed it Micah 6:9." Would we but listen attentively to God speaking to us in the night-season of affliction Psalm 16:7, truly, we should learn many invaluable lessons. We often acquire a more just and comprehensive and endearing knowledge of God in one hour of adversity, than we had previously gained in whole years of prosperity Job 36:8-10. Those who are accustomed to behold fine paintings, know that there is a point of view, in which if we are placed, we shall see every figure, as it were, standing out of the canvass. Now God is sometimes pleased to call us to this point, that we may have richer views of his Divine character. The ascent to the place may be difficult, and attended with pain; but the subsequent views will richly repay all our labor. Let us then especially seek to improve in our knowledge of God, and in an admiration of his adorable perfections. And if there be in us any evil, which God has discovered to our view, let us put it away, though it be dear to us as a right eye, or apparently necessary to us as a right hand. If our afflictions do but "yield us the peaceable fruits of righteousness, we shall never have reason to complain, however much we may have been exercised by them Hebrews 12:11." Only let them "purge away our dross and our tin Isaiah 1:25," and we shall bless God for the furnace by which this blessed change has been effected. "The trials that have been productive of so great a blessing will issue in praise and honor and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ 1 Peter 1:6-7," and through the countless ages of eternity Revelation 7:13-17.
THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER
Lamentations 3:54-57. Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off. I called upon your name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. You have heard my voice: hide not your ear at my breathing, at my cry. You drew near in the day that I called upon you: you said, Fear not.
THE Prophet Jeremiah was inferior to none in a compassionate regard for his country, whose calamities he bitterly deplored: yet was there no one more injuriously treated than he. He might well say of himself, "I am the man that has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath verse 1." Of his grief, on account of his country's sufferings, and of the sad returns which his enemies made to him, he speaks in the preceding context, and in terms peculiarly tender and pathetic: "My eye runs down with rivers of water, for the destruction of the daughter of my people. My eye trickles down, and ceases not, without any intermission, until the Lord look down from Heaven. My eye afflicted mine heart, because of all the daughters of my city. Yet my enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me." The working of his mind, in this afflictive situation, he delineates in the words of our text: from which we may notice,
I. To what a state God's most favored servants may be reduced—
Jeremiah, for his fidelity in declaring God's purposes respecting that rebellious people, was cast into a dungeon, where he sunk in the mire, and was left to perish Jeremiah 38:4-6. And in this situation he altogether despaired of life, and said, "I am cut off," "I am cut off out of the land of the living!" Distressing as this situation was, it may yet be expected to be endured by the faithful ministers of God in every age. Peter, in his day, was laden with chains in an inner prison, without the slightest hope of surviving the day appointed for his execution Acts 12:6. Paul and Silas also, with their backs lacerated with scourges, and their feet made fast in the stocks, "had the sentence of death in themselves," and expected nothing but a speedy and a cruel death Acts 16:23-24. And we, too, are warned by our blessed Lord, that we must be ready to lay down our lives for him; and that on no other condition can we hope for a favorable acceptance with him in the last day.
But there are other troubles yet more afflictive than these, to which every child of God is exposed, and under which he may be brought into the depths of despondency. There are seasons of temptation and spiritual desertion, in which the soul is led to say, with Heman, "My soul is full of troubles; my life draws near unto the grave. You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Your wrath lies hard upon me; you have afflicted me with all your waves. Lord, Why castes you off my soul? why hides you your face from me? I am afflicted, and ready to die. While I suffer your terrors, I am distracted. Your fierce wrath goes over me; your terrors have cut me off Psalm 88:3; Psalm 88:6-7; Psalm 88:14-16." Here was a man of consummate piety, and yet thus bereft of consolation, and almost of hope. And such afflictive visitations are experienced by many at the present day. When the spirits have been broken by a long train of misfortunes, and disease of body has still further enfeebled the mind, it is not uncommon for Satan to make a fierce assault upon the soul, and, by his fiery darts, to inflict on it a deadly wound, such as causes it to despair even of life. The Savior himself, in the depths of dereliction, cried, "My God, my God! why have you forsaken me?" It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if his followers also be called to taste of that cup which he drank even to the dregs.
In the Prophet's experience, however, we see,
II. What remedy is open to them—
"I called upon your name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon: hide not your ear at my breathing and my cry." Affliction drove him not from God, but to him: and though his overwhelming calamities disqualified him for that kind of orderly address which, in a season of calm reflection, he might have presented at the throne of grace, yet, by sighs and cries, he made known his desires to the Lord, who understands the language of the heart, though not expressed in clear and appropriate terms by the lips. To the same effect David says, "I opened my mouth and panted; for I longed for your commandments Psalm 119:131;" by which I understand, that his desire to fulfill the commands of God was too great for utterance; so that he was constrained to express it only by deep sighs and ardent aspirations. Thus it was with the prophet at this time, when looking to his God with humble breathings and with fervent cries. Like Jonah at the bottom of the sea, he cried, "I am cast out of your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple Jon. 2:4."
Now, this is our proper remedy at all seasons: "Call upon me in the time of trouble, says the Lord; and I will hear you; and you shall glorify me." Nor need we be discouraged because we are not able so to compose our minds as to pour out our hearts in fluent and connected petitions. Abrupt cries are fitly suited to occasions of great extremity. Our blessed Lord himself, when in an agony in the garden of Gethsemane, cried thrice to his heavenly Father, repeating the same words Matthew 26:44. It is not the fluency of our expressions that God regards, but the sincerity of our hearts: and, for the most part, when "his blessed Spirit makes intercession in us" with more than ordinary power, it is not by diversified and rhetorical language, but "by groans which cannot be uttered Romans 8:26." Whatever therefore our trouble be, and however desperate our condition, let us "give ourselves unto prayer Psalm 109:4;" and not doubt but that God, who "hears the ravens," will "hear the voice of our weeping Psalm 6:8," and "fulfill the desire of our hearts Psalm 145:19." If we do but "look unto him, we shall be lightened Psalm 34:5."
The answer he received will lead us to contemplate,
III. The efficacy of that remedy, whenever applied—
In his despondency, the prophet had said, "You have covered yourself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through verse 44." But he found to his joy, that nothing could intercept either his communion with God, or his communications from God: for "God drew near to him, and said, Fear not." What marvelous condescension was here! While man was treating him as "the off-scouring and refuse of the people verse 45," God regarded him with all the tenderness of a Father, and bade him to fear nothing that man could do against him. And will God be less gracious to us, in our extremities? No: "he will surely hear the cry of the poor destitute, and will not despise their prayer Psalm 102:17." Hear the experience of David, and in him of the Messiah also: "Save me, O God! for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dry: mine eves fail while I wait for my God. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the water-flood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. I am poor and sorrowful: let your salvation, O God, set me up on high." Having thus pleaded with God, and obtained an answer of peace, he adds, for the encouragement of all future suppliants, "The humble shall see this, and be glad; and your heart shall live that seek God: for the Lord hears the poor, and despises not his prisoners Psalm 69:1-3; Psalm 69:14-15; Psalm 69:29; Psalm 69:32-33." "Hear you this," then, all you who, from whatever circumstances, are brought into deep waters! "Call upon the Lord out of the depths Psalm 130:1;" and you shall soon he able to adopt the grateful recollections of David, and say, "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of Hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears."
But let me more particularly call your attention to the consolatory voice of God in my text: "Fear not." Were you really in the hands of your enemies, you might well fear: but they, as well as you, are in the hands of God, who can "make even the wrath of man to praise him." Here is "a weapon formed against you," and "a waster" ready to wield it for your destruction: but they can effect nothing without God; since the very smith who formed the weapon, and the waster that threatens your destruction, are the work of his hands, and owe to him all the skill and power of which they are possessed. What then can they do against Him; or against those who are under his protection Isaiah 54:15-17. Know, that to every soul that trusts in him is this word addressed; "Fear you not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness."