DEVICE 9: Satan presents the crosses, losses, reproaches, sorrows, and sufferings, that those who walk in the way of holiness face daily. Satan says, Don’t you see that there are no more troubled, afflicted, and tossed people in the world than those who walk more conservatively and holily than their neighbors? They are a joke at home, and a reproach abroad; their miseries come upon them like Job’s messengers, one the heals of another, and there is no end of their sorrows and troubles. Therefore, Satan says, you were better to walk in ways that are less troublesome, and less afflicted, though they are more sinful; for only a madman would spend his days in sorrow, trouble, and affliction, if it can be prevented by walking in the ways that I set before him?
Remedy (1). The first remedy against this device of Satan is, to carefully consider, That all the afflictions that come upon the people of God, are the kind that will be for their profit and glorious advantage. In their affliction they will discover the depth of the filthiness and vileness in sin.
A Christian in Germany once said of his own sickness, ‘In this disease I have learned how great God is, and what the evil of sin is; I never knew in my experience, who God was, nor what sin meant—until now.’ Afflictions are a crystal glass, where we see the clearest sight of the ugly face of sin. In this glass the soul comes to see sin as something bitter-sweet; yes, in this glass the soul comes to see sin not only to be an evil—but to be the greatest evil in the world, to be an evil far worse than hell itself.
Again, afflictions will contribute to the mortifying and purging away of their sins (Isa. 1:15, and 27:8, 9). Afflictions are God’s furnace, by which he cleanses his people from their dross. Affliction is a fire to purge out our dross, and to make virtue shine. Afflictions are medicines which heal spiritual diseases, better than all the remedies of physicians. Aloes kill worms; colds and frosts do destroy vermin; so afflictions remove the corruptions that are in our hearts. The Jews, under all the prophet’s thunderings, retained their idols; but after their Babylonian captivity, we see no idols found among them.
Again, Afflictions are sweet preservatives to keep the saints from sin, which is a greater evil than hell itself. As Job spoke, ‘Surely it is fit to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more. That which I see not, teach me; if I have done iniquity, I will do it no more. Once have I spoken foolishly, yes, twice, I will do so no more’ (Job 34:31, 32; 40:5). The burnt child dreads the fire. Ah! says the soul under the rod, sin is but a bitter-sweet; and for the future I intend, by the strength of Christ, that I will not buy repentance at so dear a rate.
Salt brine preserves from putrefaction, and salt marshes keep the sheep from the rot: so do afflictions the saints from sin. The ball in the Emblem says, the harder you beat me down in affliction, the higher I will bounce in affection towards heaven and heavenly things.
The Rabbis, to scare their scholars from sin, were accustomed to tell them, ‘That sin made God’s head ache.’ And saints under discipline have found by woeful experience, that sin makes not only their heads—but their hearts ache also.
Augustine, by wandering out of his way, escaped one who was waiting to harm him. If afflictions did not put us out of our way, we would many times meet with some sin or other, that would harm our precious souls.
Again, They will cause the saints to be more fruitful in holiness (Heb. 12:10, 11): ‘But he afflicts us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.’ The flowers smell sweetest after a shower; vines bear the better fruit, after pruning; the walnut tree is most fruitful when most beaten. Saints spring and thrive most internally when they are most externally afflicted. Afflictions are called by some ‘the mother of virtue.’ Manasseh’s chain was more profitable to him than his crown. Luther could not understand some Scriptures until he was in affliction. The Christ-cross is no letter, and yet that taught him more than all the letters in the row. God’s house of correction is his school of instruction. All the stones that came about Stephen’s ears only knocked him closer to Christ, the corner-stone. The waves lifted Noah’s ark nearer to heaven; and the higher the waters grew, the more near the ark was lifted up to heaven.
Afflictions lift up the soul to more rich, clear, and full enjoyments of God (Hosea 2:14): ‘Behold, I will allure her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably to her’ (or rather, as the Hebrew has it), ‘I will earnestly or vehemently speak to her heart.’ God makes afflictions to be but inlets to the soul’s more sweet and full enjoyment of his blessed self. When was it that Stephen saw the heavens open, and Christ standing at the right hand of God- when the stones were about his ears, and there was but a short step between him and eternity? And when did God appear in his glory to Jacob—but in the day of his troubles, when the stones were his pillows, and the ground his bed, and the hedges his curtains, and the heavens his canopy? Then he saw the angels of God ascending and descending in their glistering robes.
The plant grows with cutting; after being cut, it flourishes; it resists with the axe, it lives by dying, and by cutting it grows. So do saints by their afflictions; they gain more experience of the power of God supporting them, of the wisdom of God directing them, of the grace of God refreshing and cheering them, and of the goodness of God quieting and quickening of them, to a greater love to holiness, and to a greater delight in holiness, and to a more passionate pursuing after holiness.
It is reported of Tiberius the emperor that, passing by a place where he saw a cross lying in the ground upon a marble stone, and causing the stone to be dug up, he found a great deal of treasure under the cross. So many a precious saint has found much spiritual and heavenly treasure under the crosses they have met as well.
I have read of a fountain, that at noon is cold, and at midnight it gets warm; so many precious souls are cold God-wards, and heaven-wards, and holiness-wards, in the day of prosperity; but grow warm God-wards and heaven-wards, and holiness-wards, in the midnight of adversity.
Again, Afflictions serve to keep the hearts of the saints humble and tender (Lam. 3:19, 20): ‘Remembering my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul has them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me,’ or bowed down in me, as the original has it. So David, when he was under the rod, could say, ‘I was mute, I opened not my mouth; because you did it’ (Psalm 39:4).
I have read of Gregory Nazianzen, who, when anything seemed to be prosperous, would read over the Lamentation of Jeremiah, and that kept his heart tender, humbled, and low. Prosperity does not contribute more to the puffing up the soul, than adversity does to the bowing down of the soul. This the saints by experience find; and therefore they can kiss and embrace the cross, as others do the world’s crown. The more the purest spices are beaten and bruised—the sweeter scent and fragrance they send abroad. So do saints when they are afflicted.
Again, They serve to bring the saints nearer to God, and to make them more persistent and earnest in prayer with God. ‘Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept your word.’ ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.’ ‘I will be to Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away: I will take away, and none shall rescue him.’ ‘I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.’ And so they did. ‘Come,’ say they, ‘and let us return unto the Lord: for he has torn, and he will heal us; he has smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.’ (Psalm 119:67, 71. Hosea 5:14, 15; 6:1, 2.)
So when God had lined their way with thorns, then they say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it with me better than now’ (Hosea 2:6, 7). Ah the joy, the peace, the comfort, the delight, and contentment we had, when we kept close communion with God, this implies our return to God. ‘We will return to our first husband; for then was it with us better than now.’
When Tiribazus, a noble Persian, was arrested, he drew out his sword, and defended himself; but when they told him that they came to carry him to the king, he willingly yielded. So, though a saint may at first stand a little out, yet when he remembers that afflictions are to carry him nearer to God, he yields, and kisses the rod. Afflictions are like the prick at the nightingale’s bosom—which awakens her, and puts her upon her sweet and delightful singing.
Again, Afflictions serve to revive and recover decayed graces; they inflame that love that is cold, and they quicken that faith that is decaying, and they put life into those hopes that are withering, and spirits into those joys and comforts that are languishing. Most men are like a top, which will not go unless you whip it, and the more you whip it the better it goes. You know how to apply it. Those who are in adversity, says Luther, do better understand Scriptures; but those who are in prosperity read them as a verse in Ovid. Bees are killed with too much honey, but quickened with vinegar. The honey of prosperity kills our graces—but the vinegar of adversity quickens our graces. Musk, says one, when it has lost its fragrance, if it is put into the sink among filth—that recovers it. So do afflictions recover and revive decayed graces. The more saints are beaten with the hammer of afflictions, the more they are made the trumpets of God’s praises, and the more are their graces revived and quickened. Adversity abases the loveliness of the world which strives to entice us; it abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which strives to incite us to folly and vanity; and it assists the soul in his quarrel to the two former, which tends much to the reviving and recovering of decayed graces.
Now, suppose afflictions and troubles attend the ways of holiness, yet seeing that they all work for the great profit and singular advantage of the saints, let no soul be so mad as to leave an afflicted way of holiness, to walk in a smooth path of wickedness.
Remedy (2). The second remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, that all the afflictions which befall the saints, only reach their worse part; they reach not, they hurt not, their noble part, their best part. ‘And who shall harm you, if you be followers of that which is good,’ says the apostle (1 Peter 3:13). That is, none shall harm you. They may thus and thus afflict you—but they shall never harm you. The Christian soldier shall ever be master of the day. He may suffer death—but never conquest.
It was the speech of an heathen, when as by a tyrant he was commanded to be put into a mortar, and to be beaten to pieces with an iron pestle, he cries out to his persecutors: ‘You do but beat the vessel, the case, the husk; you do not beat me.’ His body was to him but as a case, a husk; he counted his soul himself, which they could not reach. You are wise, and know how to apply it.
Socrates said of his enemies, ‘They may kill me—but they cannot hurt me.’ So afflictions may kill us—but they cannot hurt us; they may take away my life—but they cannot take away my God, my Christ, my crown.
Remedy (3). The third remedy against this device of Satan is, seriously to consider, That the afflictions which attend the saints in the ways of holiness, are but short and momentary. ‘Sorrow may abide for a night—but joy comes in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5). This short storm will end in an everlasting calm, this short night will end in a glorious day, that shall never have end. It is but a very short time between grace and glory, between our title to the crown and our wearing the crown, between our right to the heavenly inheritance and our possession of the heavenly inheritance. What is our life but a shadow, a bubble, a flower, a runner, a span, a dream? Yes, so small a while does the hand of the Lord rest upon us, that Luther cannot get diminutives enough to extenuate it, for he calls it a very little cross that we bear. The prophet in Isaiah 26:20, says the indignation does not pass—but overpass. The sharpness, shortness, and suddenness of it is set forth by the travail of a woman (John 16:21). And that is a sweet scripture: ‘For you have need of patience, that after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.’ ‘For yet a little while, he who shall come will come, and will not tarry’ (Heb. 10:36, 37). ‘A little, little, little while.’
There are none of God’s afflicted ones that have not their intermissions and respites whiles under their short and momentary afflictions. When God’s hand is on your back, let your hand be on your mouth, for though the affliction be sharp, it shall be but short.
When Athanasius’s friends came to bewail him, because of his misery and banishment, he said, ‘It is but a little cloud, and will quickly be gone.’ It will be but as a day before God will give his afflicted ones beauty for ashes, the oil of gladness for the spirit of heaviness; before he will turn all your sighing into singing, all your lamentations into consolations, your sackcloth into silks, ashes into ointments, and your fasts into everlasting feasts!
Remedy (4). The fourth remedy against this device of Satan, is seriously to consider, That the afflictions which befall the saints are such as proceed from God’s dearest love. ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten’ (Rev. 3:19). Saints, says God, think not that I hate you, because I thus chide you. He who escapes discipline may suspect his adoption. God had one Son without corruption—but no son without correction. A gracious soul may look through the darkest cloud, and see God smiling on him. We must look through the anger of his correction to the sweetness of his countenance; even as by the rainbow we see the beautiful image of the sun’s light in the midst of a dark and watery cloud.
Augustine asks—If he were beloved, how came he to be sick? So are wicked men apt to say, because they know not that corrections are pledges of our adoption, and badges of our sonship. God had one Son without sin—but none without sorrow.
When Munster lay sick, and his friends asked him how he did and how he felt himself, he pointed to his sores and ulcers, whereof he was full, and said, ‘These are God’s gems and jewels, with which he decks his best friends, and to me they are more precious than all the gold and silver in the world.’ A soul at first conversion is but rough cast; but God by afflictions does square and fit, and fashion it for that glory above, which shows that discipline flows from precious love; therefore the afflictions which attend the people of God should be no bar to holiness, nor no motive to draw the soul to ways of wickedness.
Remedy (5). The fifth remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That it is our duty and glory not to measure afflictions by the smart—but by the end. When Israel was dismissed out of Egypt, it was with gold and ear-rings (Exod. 11:3); so the Jews were dismissed out of Babylon with gifts, jewels, and all necessary utensils (Ezra 1:7-11). Look more at the latter end of a Christian—than the beginning of his affliction. Consider the patience of Job, and what end the Lord made with him. Look not upon Lazarus lying at Dives’s door—but lying in Abraham’s bosom. Look not to the beginning of Joseph, who was so far from his dream that the sun and moon should reverence him, that for two years he was cast where he could see neither sun, moon, nor stars; but behold him at last made ruler over Egypt. Look not upon David as there was but a step between him and death, nor as he was envied by some, and slighted and despised by others; but behold him seated in his royal throne, and dying in his bed of honor, and his son Solomon and all his glistering nobles about him.
Afflictions, they are but as a dark entry into your Father’s house; they are but as a dirty lane to a royal palace. Now, tell me, souls, whether it be not very great madness to shun the ways of holiness, and to walk in the ways of wickedness, because of those afflictions which attend the ways of holiness.
Afflictions, they are but our Father’s goldsmiths, who are working to add pearls to our crowns. Tiberius saw paradise when he walked upon hot burning coals. Herodotus said of the Assyrians, Let them drink nothing but wormwood all their life long; when they die, they shall swim in honey. You are wise, and know how to apply it.
Remedy (6). The sixth remedy against this device of Satan is, seriously to consider, That the design of God in all the afflictions which befall them, is only to try them; it is not to wrong them, nor to ruin them, as ignorant souls are apt to think. ‘He knows the way that I take: and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold,’ says patient Job, 33:10. So in Deut. 8:2, ‘And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.’ God afflicted them thus, that he might make known to themselves and others what was in their hearts. When fire is put to green wood, there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a ash-heap, so does prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshine day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights. You are wise, and know how to apply it.
Afflictions are like pinching frosts, which will search us; where we are most unsound, we shall soonest complain, and where most corruptions lie, we shall most shrink. We try metal by knocking; if it sound well, then we like it. So God tries his by knocking, and if under knocks they yield a pleasant sound, God will turn their night into day, and their bitter into sweet, and their cross into a crown; and they shall hear that voice, ‘Arise, and shine; for the glory of the Lord is risen upon you, and favors of the Lord are flowing in on you’ (Is. 60:1).
Dunghills raked send out a filthy stream; ointments crushed send out a sweet perfume. This is applicable to sinners and saints under the rod.
Remedy (7). The seventh remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That the afflictions, wrath, and misery which attend the ways of wickedness, are far greater and heavier than those which attend the ways of holiness. Oh, the galling, girding, lashing, and gnawing of conscience, which attend souls in a way of wickedness! ‘The wicked,’ says Isaiah, ‘are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.’ ‘There is no peace to the wicked, says my God.’
There are snares in all their mercies, and curses and crosses attend all their comforts, both at home and abroad. What is a fine suit of clothes with the plague in it? and what is a golden cup when there is poison at the bottom? or what is a silken stocking with a broken leg in it? The curse of God, the wrath of God, the hatred of God, and the fierce indignation of God—always attend sinners walking in a way of wickedness. Turn to Deuteronomy 28, and read from ver. 15 to the end of the chapter; and turn to Leviticus 26, and read from ver. 14 to the end of the chapter, and then you shall see how the curse of God haunts the wicked, as it were a fury, in all his ways. In the city it attends him, in the country hovers over him; coming in, it accompanies him; going forth, it follows him, and in travel it is his comrade. It fills his heart with strife, and mingles the wrath of God with his sweetest morsels. It is a moth in his wardrobe, disease among his cattle, mildew in the field, rot among sheep, and ofttimes makes his children, his greatest vexation and confusion. There is no solid joy, nor lasting peace, nor pure comfort, which attends sinners in their sinful ways. There is a sword of vengeance that every moment hang over their heads by a small thread! And what joy and contentment can attend such souls, if the eye of conscience be but so far open as to see the sword? Ah! the horrors and terrors, the tremblings and shakings, that attend their souls!
Sin brings in sorrow and sickness. The Rabbis say, that when Adam tasted the forbidden fruit, his head ached. Sirens are said to sing curiously while they live—but to roar horribly when they die. So do the wicked.
(Sin often makes men insensible of the wrath of the Almighty. Sin transforms many a man, as it were, into those bears in Pliny, that could not be stirred with the sharpest prickles; or those fish in Aristotle, that though they have spears thrust into their sides, yet they awake not.)