Of Afflictions; The difference between Penal-Destructive Calamities, and those that are Me∣dicinal; And how Afflictions are operative to the Conversion of men.
JER. 18. 11.
THe Doctrine gathered from these words is, That God purposeth evil and calamities against a people, that they might return from their wicked ways. In this point three things are to be considered; 1. That God frameth all calamities. 2. That these calamities are called evil; both which are dispatched. The third thing which remaineth is, That Gods end in all these exercises, is to make men turn from their sins: Conversion is the end of all Gods scourges and stripes; if men did throw away their evil, God would quickly burn his rod. As Absolom sending for Ioab, who would not come to him, till his corn was set on fire, and then Ioab hastened quickly to speak with him; so it is here, God speaks once or twice, yea often to us, to turn from our evil ways; but we stop the ears, and will not obey: at last God afflicts us in our body, or estate, or name, one way or other; and then we say, or at least should say, Come, let us re∣turn early unto God: So that Gods judgements, they are real sermons, God preacheth by them, as well as by his word; insomuch that he puts a remark∣able observation upon their obstinacy and impenitency, Amos cap. 4. from the 6; verse to the latter end, upon five several judgements, he addeth, Yet have ye Page 448 not returned unto me, saith the Lord: So that publique and personal evils which come upon us, should make us turn from sin: And Oh take heed, that God saith not, Yet have ye not returned unto me: Thus also God complaineth again, 〈◊〉 12. 13. For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them: So that you see, God looks for conversion, from every one whom he doth any way chastise for sin: For open∣ing this point. Consider
First, That Gods afflictions upon a people, may be branched into three heads:* some are first meerly exploratory, or by way of tryal, to draw out a Christians graces, and to encrease his glory Thus persecutions and troubles for the Go∣spel, imprisonment and Martyrdom; these were not so much evil framed by God, to make them turn from their sins; but conflicts and combates appoint∣ed by God, for his choice and valiant Champions, that so they might receive the greater weight of glory: And hence the people of God are commanded to account it all joy, when they fall into such temptations, James 1. for what the fire is to the dross, the water to a spotty garment, the winnowing to the wheat, the same are these combates to them, they strengthen their graces, they weaken their lusts, and they advance their glory; so that the ignorance of this end, doth sometimes put Gods children into great perplexities; for because they fall frequently under Gods afflictions, no sooner is one over, but another suc∣ceeds, like the waves of the sea; they begin to doubt presently about the main, they call the very foundations into question, Why doth God thus follow me with losses and troubles? is it not because I am an hypocrite? may I not fear the great work of conversion is yet to be done? But this is a temptation; had not Iob been well exercised to discern between good and evil; these very tempra∣tions had broken his heart.
A Second branch of Chastisements, are indeed for sin, and flow from Gods an∣ger,*but they are wholly medicinal: They are to let blood, like the Physitian who intends health; not like the Butcher, who is to destroy; and these by the Scripture are called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, because God would discipline us by them as children, not punish us as condemned malefactors.
And if you say, How can these be for conversion, when sometimes they fall upon those that are converted, such as are made Gods children already?*
To Answer this, you must remember what was said heretofore, that even those who are converted, do yet need daily to draw nigher and nigher to God; * they are to be converted daily from those frequent corruptions, which estrange them from God; and thus when Gods own people have their afflictions, they are to consider, Is not this to turn me nearer to God? is there not such pride, such dulness and coldness in the service of God, that I am to be turned from? Well, its clear, to Gods own children, they are thus medicinal; but by the Texts forementioned, and in several other places, its also evident, that even to those who are sinners, and remain in an unconverted estate, God reacheth out his gracious offer in their troubles: That as it is said of several Psalms, which more principally contain the subjects of affliction, A Psalm to give understand∣ing; so shouldst thou write, as it were, upon every trouble, upon every af∣fliction, An affliction to give understanding. Do not Physitians command men distracted, and out of their wits, to be kept in dark dungeons, to be bound in straight chains and fetters, to have hard and miserable fare, that so by all this hardship, they may come to their understandings again? thus God doth, Men by their sins are turned mad, they are grown out of their right reason; they indeed think strictness and preciseness is the way to make men out of their wits; but thy lusts and thy wickedness, deprive thee of all sound judgement; now God, that he may recover thee, bindes thee in chains, afflicts thee with several judgements, that so at last thou mayest seriously consider of thy self, and thy condition: so that there was never any trouble befell thee, but thou shouldst make as good use of it, as ever thou didst of the best sermon thou hast heard. Page 449 Hence Parisiensis will not call these afflictions evil, but good; and therefore divides Gods dispensations into Bona Attractionis, and Bona Retractionis; Good things drawing or attractive, these are Gods mercies; good things withdrawing or retractive from sin, and these are afflictions.
But thirdly, There are some judgements of God for sin, wherein God doth not aim at conversion, but utter ruine: Therefore when we say, God by his calamities, in∣tends * the conversion of men; it is not to be understood universally, not of all men, nor at all times; God hath some judgements which are called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, punishments and torments, which proceed from the meer hatred and implacable enmity of God; and so conversion is no more intended by these, then the flames and torments in hell are appointed to convert, or to bring the damned to repentance: Thus was the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrha, fire and brimstone was a fit declaration of the hell they had deserved; and although it may not be peremptorily said, that all the whole world that perished save eight persons, were all damned, for that is disputed among the Learned; yet its plain, the great∣er part were incurably wicked, and so the deluge, though of water, was not to wash their sins, but God did first throw them into water, and then into e∣ternal fire presently; and wo be to those wicked men, to whom their miseries here are but the beginning of sorrows hereafter.
Now we may observe a difference between these penal, destructive evils, and * healing medicinal ones, in these respects:
First, Destructive calamities come violently and totally upon men; So that the wrath of God comes upon such to the extremity, to the uttermost: Thus So∣d•m and Gomorrha were overthrown in a moment; and God thre•tens incurable Israel, That affliction shall not rise up the second time, Nahum 1. 9. he will strike them dead with the first blow; whereas Gods converting scourges, they come by degrees: As God removed his glory from the temple, being unwilling to stir up all his wrath, as the Psalmist expresseth it, Psal. 78 38. when therefore God doth first threaten before he smite, and when he doth smite, he doth it with moderation; when if he doth rebuke, yet it is not in his sore displeasure; then all these dispensations are to purge out thy dross; then thou art set on the fire, that thy scum may go over. Ieremy makes an excellent difference between these two dispensations, Ier. 10. 24, 25. Correct me, O Lord, but with judgement, not in thine anger, l•st I be brought to nothing; so then, never repine or grud e under any sore hand of God upon thee, if it be with judgement, with measure, not in wrath; then it is but the shepherds crook, to bring the wandring sheep in: As the waters of the flood overflowed the mountains, and drowned all the Roval Palaces, and great buildings, that were extant at that time, but advanced the Ark higher to heaven; so do afflictions to incurable men, that minde earthly things onely, and glory with greediness in them; but those that belong to God, will be advanced to heaven thereby.
Secondly, Afflictions are converting, and not destructive, when God doth vouch∣safe inward teachings of the soul, inward meltings and humiliations of the spirit*with them. Gods judgements upon Pharaoh, had no gracious operation upon him, because his heart was more hardened every day. Hence the Psal•rist, Blessed i• the man, whom thou chastenest, and teachest thy way, Psal. 94. 12. when Gods chastening and Gods teaching go together, then there is hope of an hearty conversion unto God: when God strikes on the back, and opens the eyes at the same time, then are afflictions blessed and happy to such men: The bitterness of them is quickly recompensed with the fruits of righteousness they bring forth. Consider then, doth the rod give thee wisdom and understanding? doth God speak wisdom to thy heart, while thy outward man is so sharply exercised? then these things come from love, and will end in love: Oh this undoeth us in out calamities! we attend to the outward burthen, and grievous nature of them, we ask, When will they be gone? we cry out, How long Lord? but wenever re∣member Page 450 that we are by our calamities in Gods School; we consider not, neither do we hearken to what God saith unto us; look then to have teaching, as well as striking: Oh woe be to that man, whom God onely beats and beats, but teacheth him not at all: This is a forerunner of sad destruction.
Having premised these things, I come to shew in the next place, how Afflicti∣ons * are operative to the conversion of men, what influence they have to make us turn to God: And here are two Errors to be avoided:
The first is, as if afflictions of their own nature, in their own self, could beget any such heavenly change upon men: No such matter, for if the Word of God it self, and the Sacraments, if destitute of Gods spirit and his power, are uneffectual, how much more must these outward calamities be? Therefore as Ezekiels wheels could not move, unless the Spirit drive them; nor the pool of Bethesda communicate health, unless the Angel descended and stirred the waters; so neither do any afflictions or troubles at all, do any good, but where Gods spirit moveth upon these waters. Experience confirmeth this, How many times do people grow more desperate, more obstinate and impenitent in every evil way, by the judgements upon them? The Prophet Isaiah complaineth of them, O Lord, when thy hand is lifted up they will not see, Isa, 26. 11. Though a fool be brayed in a morter, yet he will not learn wisdom, Prov. 27. 22.
The Second Error to be avoided, is to attribute any merit or worth to a pati∣ent * bearing of afflictions, as if by this we could merit either grace or glory. The Apostle indeed saith of Afflictions, That they do work an eternal weight of glory, 2 Cor. 4. 17. but the word doth not there signifie a proper causality, onely God doth make afflictions advantagious for his children glory: Do not then think, that because thou hast a miserable life here, God is bound to make thee amends in the life to come: Those that say such things, know not that their sins have deserved all wrath in this world, and the world to come. This stone being removed out of the way, I proceed to describe the manner how these outward calamities may further conversion.
And first, They are very advantagious to set the word preached upon our hearts:*I spake unto thee in thy prosperity, saith God, but thou heardest not, Jer. 22. 21. The word of God is never so likely to have a powerful impression, as when men are in miseries; then their proud spirits, their lofty hearts are tamed: As the rod in the school, and discipline makes instruction easily enter into the negligent childe; so when God teacheth you by his word, and afflicts you by his works, this may provoke to conversion: Doth God therefore put thee in this fiery fur∣nace? say, This is to bring all that hath been preached to me to my minde; God hath a special regard to his word, it is the precious seed sown, and there∣fore he ploweth and harroweth the ground; he afflicts and humbles Hearers, that they may get good by it: This is the proper use of all chastisements, to make way for the word preached, to mollifie and soften, that it may enter; and there∣fore what hearers are more obstinate and opposite to the word, then such as live in jollity and security, that have their hearts ease? These have a fat heart, and so are not sensible.
Secondly, Affliction helpeth much to make men sober and wise, to give our selves to understanding; and by understanding we come to be converted. Solomon often * tells us, That the rod gives wisdom; and therefore God takes this way with us, we being far more stupid and senseless in spiritual things, then any childe can be to humane Learning: Now when God depriveth us of our joy, of our com∣forts, of all outward delights, this is apt to make a man to consider the vani∣ty of all things, What are Riches, what are Honors, what are External mercies to be me thus afflicted, thus broken and bruised? When thou rebukest man for his sin, all his desireable things perish; when then God takes away the desire of thy eyes, the desire of thy heart, this is to make thee wise; as you take away the childes babies, to make it learn its lesson: Its better to go to the house of Page 451 mourning then laughter, for the living will lay it to heart. The Prodigal never came to his true minde, till he was brought to bitter extremity: Oh then, if thou finde Gods hand heavy upon thee, say, This is the time to get wisdom, speak now Lord, for my heart is ready to hear: If thou doest not know more, and understand more then ever, thou losest the benefit of thy af∣fliction.
Thirdly, Affliction may further conversion, in that it doth sensibly teach a man, how*sad and bitter a thing it is to sin against God: Sin is compared to gall and worm∣wood, but it is never perceived to be so, till God bring us into external miseries: Thus Jeremy, Jer. 2. 19. Then shall ye know, it is a bitter thing to depart from God: Therefore though men in jollity and outward ease, never think of turning unto God, yet how is it that you refuse, whose sins have found you out. These Ser∣pents have now put out their stings upon you; you finde your iniquities no longer smiling on you, no longer tickling and pleasing of you, but they have said you in a tormenting bed of sorrow: Thou hast received thy good things, but now thy time is come for evil things: Every man doth quickly settle upon his lees, if he be not removed from affliction to affliction: How fit then and congruous is it for that man, who lieth under the smart of his sins, to depart from them! What is the cause of thy present misery, of thy present troubles? is it not sin? What hath brought thee into that deep gulf thou art in? is it not sin? What hath turned all thy waters into blood, as it was with the Egyptians? all those comforts and delights thou usest to refresh thy self with? is it not sin? Then why doest thou not say? If sin make all this evil, if that bring all this misery, why shall I imbrace it any louger? And a Christian will further argue, If these beginnings be so heavy, what will the after end be? if in this life it sting and wound so deeply, what will it in the life to come? What is hell and the tor∣menting flames thereof, if now sin be so terrible?
Fourthly, In this afflictions may also prepare for conversion, because they are apt*to dead a mans heart, and all his delights that he took in the creatures: Sin is an aversion from God, and conversion to the creature; now grace is an aversion from sin, and conversion to God; and there is nothing doth so prepare and take off the heart from the creature, as when God afflicts us in them, and by them. As then the breast is made bitter, to wean the child; so God puts bitterness in every comfort, in every condition, makes affliction to grow up with every mercy, a thorn with every flower; that so thou mayest say, Its not good to be here, we must seek a better good then these things are: In their afflictions they will seek me early, saith God, Hosea 5. 15. Oh when God shall make every thing bryars and thorns to thee! when thou lookest for good, and behold nothing but bitterness, now is the time to allure thy soul to God; say, What wilt thou do? whether wilt thou go? Hath not that Star wormwood fallen into every state thou art in? Hath not God bid thee be called no more Naomi, but Marah: Why then doest thou any longer seek for grapes on thorns; for true happiness in the way of sin? God took the Church into the wilderness, and then he spake to her, Hosea 2. 14. Oh when God hath brought thee into a wilderness, all comforts are kept from thee, then take the advantage, then pray, then mourn; now, if ever, that iron of thy heart is in the fire, and it may be beaten into a good frame; and there∣fore the more universal thy affliction is, if it takes thee off from all refuges, leaveth thee not one drop of comfort, the likelier it is to do thee good, for thy spiritual disease and corruption is contumelious, that it must be strong physick, else it will not work on thee: As long as thou canst catch upon any twig, any branch to save thy self, thou wilt not throw thy self into the arms of Christ: Therefore God hedged the Churches way with thorns, Hosea 2. 6. that she might not any way break through for her sins; and when she was thus stopped, then she resolveth to go back to her former husband again. Thus afflictions in these particulars may help on our turning to God, not but that the word is the pro∣per Page 452 instrument, onely this may smooth and prepare the way for the word to en∣ter; insomuch that a man, who hath no afflictions, and who liveth in all the ease and delight of his soul, he may be in a desperate condition, and most dan∣gerous, though he bless himself. Its related of Ambrose, that being in the house of a man who boasted he never had any calamity in all his life; Come, saith he, let us make haste out of this house, lest some remarkable vengeance of God fall upon us: He thought those were most unhappy, that had so much earthly happi∣ness, Nihil infelicius semper felici.
Here is one doubt to be answered, and that is, Why should men be pressed in times of calamities and miseries to turn unto God, seeing that is usually brand∣ed * for hypocrisie; all is out of fear, and extorted, and so not thank worthy: If Israel return to God, because he is framing evil against them, its meerly for fear of evil, and not love of God, or what is good. Doth not the Prophet call the Israelites fastings and mournings, when they were under Gods judgements, by no other name, then howlings, as if they were so many beasts kept up in a den, ready to be famished, that cryed for food onely, Why then should this be urged upon us?
I Answer, These calamities must be the occasion onely and initial motive; they must prepare and make way, but they must not be the principal ground, nor the * onely: Even as the needle draweth on the thread; or as in matter of faith, the true Churches Authority, makes way to receive the truth of God, but af∣terwards we believe for the divine Authority thereof; so these outward miseries, they give the first hint, they begin to make the first shake, but afterwards the soul forsakes sin, and cleaveth to God, not out of fear onely, but love to him: We do not therefore press you, to make your afflictions the onely ground, but let them be sanctified introductions: And so I proceed to the Uses.
First, That no man hath cause to boast and rejoyce of his outward prosperity, that he is not afflicted as others, he liveth and is dandled, as it were, in the worlds * lap: Who knoweth, but that this is the fatting of thee for the shambles? Who can say, but that God is most angry with thee, while he seemeth not to be an∣gry: Oh how much better were it, that God did follow thee by one affliction after another, by one misery after another; this great calm is but the forerunner of a terrible storm; know sin hath it stings, and it will one time or other be ter∣rible. As its said, the Magistrates hath not the sword in vain; so neither are all those threatnings, all those arrows and swords of Gods vengeance in vain, But who believeth our report?
Secondly, That we the people of England, of any Nation in the world, should be a converted generation to him: It should be matter of amazement and asto∣nishment, * if every sinner be not turned from his evil ways; for God hath not onely framed evil against us, but poured it on us; he hath not onely whet his glistering sword, but run it in our bowels; the Lyon hath not onely roared, but torn in pieces: In vain do we speak and hope of Gods turning his wrath from us, till we have turned from our iniquities: We look not to the true cause of all our judgements; the sins we lie in, we live in; the sins that every Town and Village walloweth in, these have been our undoing: Oh then you who say, Your have lost thus much and thus much by the times, be able to say, You have lost your sins also, and found God.