“The Lord hath heard thy affliction.” (Genesis 16:11).
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Robert Hill’s 1604 Preface to
The Combat between Christ and the Devil Displayed
By William Perkins
The Works of William Perkins, Vol. 1
Now of all other temptations, it pleases God to suffer His church to be tempted with afflictions. It is never free either from the sword of Ishmael, which is a reviling tongue [Gen. 21:9]; or the sword of Esau, a persecuting hand [Gen. 27:41]. Neither was there yet ever a Christian man found, who had not his part in the cup of affliction. We must drink of the same cup our Master did [Matt. 20:23]: “the disciple is not above his master” [Matt. 10:24].
The reasons why God does visit us thus with afflictions, are:
1. To humble us.
2. To wean us.
3. To winnow us.
4. To prevent us.
5. To teach us.
6. To enlighten us.
7. To honor us.
8. To cure us.
9. To crown us.
10. To comfort us.
11. To protect us.
12. To adopt us.
And last of all, to teach and comfort others.
To humble us, that we be not proud [Eccl. 3:20]; to wean us, that we love not this world [Ps. 119:67]; to winnow us, that we be not chaff [Luke 22:31]; to prevent us, that we do not sin [Ps. 119:71]; to teach us, that we be patient in adversity [Pss. 39:9; 40:1]; to enlighten us, that we see our errors [Gen. 42:21]; to honor us, that our faith may be manifest [James 5:11]; to cure us, that we surfeit [overindulge] not of security [Deut. 32:15]; to crown us, that we may live eternally [2 Tim. 4:8]; to comfort us, that He may send His Spirit [John 16:33]; to protect us, that He may guide us by His angels [Acts 12:7]; to adopt us, that we may be His sons [Heb. 12:7]; and to teach others, that they seeing how sin is punished in us, they may take heed it be not found in them [2 Peter 2:3]; that they seeing our comforts in troubles, may not be discouraged in the like trials [2 Cor. 1:6].
Thus a Christian man’s diet is more sour than sweet; his physic is more aloes than honey; his life is more a pilgrimage than a progress; and his death is more despised than honored. This if men would think of before, afflictions would be as welcome to the soul of man, as afflicted Ruth was to the field of Boaz [Ruth 2:8]. But because we look not for them before they come, think not on God’s doing when they are come, and do desire to be happy both here and hereafter; therefore we can away with the name of Naomi, but in no case would be called “Mara” [Ruth 1:20]. We see the sea, not the whale [Jonah 1:15]; the Egyptian, not the salvation [Ex. 14:11]; the lion’s mouth, not Him that stops the lion’s mouth [Dan. 6:16, 22]. If we could see God in our troubles, as Elisha did in his, then would we say: “There are more with us, than there are against us” [2 Kings 6:16]. But because we do not, therefore at every assault of the Assyrians, we say, as the servant to Elisha did: “Alas master, what shall we do?” [2 Kings 6:15]. And with the disciples: “Carest thou not master that we perish?” [Mark 4:38]. Yet it is good for us to suffer affliction: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” [James 1:12; Job 5:17]. It is commanded by God [Prov. 3:11], practiced by Christ [Matt. 4:2], yielded to by the saints [2 Tim. 3:12], assigned by God’s providence [Ps. 119:71], and good for us each way. We are God’s trees, we shall grow better by pruning [Ps. 1:3]; God’s pomander [perfume], smell better by rubbing; God’s spice, be more profitable by bruising; and God’s conduits, we are the better by running. Let us suffer afflictions, they are momentary in respect of time [2 Cor. 4:17]; they are favors, if we respect God’s love [Phil. 1:29], and a means to bring us to the kingdom of God. If they did consume us, we might wish them an end; but they do purge us, let us be content. They are God’s fan, we are God’s wheat [Acts 14:21]; they are God’s bolter [a device for sifting flour], we are God’s meal [1 Peter 1:5]; they are God’s flame, we are God’s bush [Ex. 3:7]; they are God’s cords, we are God’s sacrifice [Gen. 22:9]; they are God’s furnace, we are God’s gold. The wheat will not be good without the fan, nor the meal without the bolter, nor the bush without the flame, nor the sacrifice without the cords, nor the gold without the furnace; they are trials, not punishments, if we be sons; punishments, not trials, if we be slaves. Let us then bear them, they will have an end [Ps. 37:37]; joy will follow [Ps. 126:5]; they show us our weakness [Isa. 38:10]; they move us to pray [Hos. 5:15]; they show we are in the pathway to heaven [Luke 24:26]; and they make us condemn this present world [Eccl. 1:2]. By them we learn to repent us of sin past [2 Sam. 24:17], to take heed of sin present, and to foresee sin to come [Gen. 39:9]. By them we receive God’s Spirit [Acts 2:2]; are like to Christ [Phil. 3:10]; are acquainted with God’s power [Dan. 3:17]; have joy in deliverance [Ex. 15:1]; know the benefit of prosperity; made more hardy to suffer; and have cause to practice many excellent virtues [1 Peter 1:6–7]. They cause us (as one says) to seek out God’s promise; the promise to seek faith; faith to seek prayer; and prayer to find God. Seek, and you shall find [Matt. 7:7]; call, and He will answer [Job 21:27]; wait, and He will come [Hab 2:3].
…Job’s messengers came not so fast on him [Job 2:11], but Job’s afflictions may come as fast upon us. Has David slain a bear [1 Sam. 17:37]? He shall encounter with a lion. Has he killed a lion? He must fight with Goliath [1 Sam. 17:40]. Has he subdued Goliath? He must make a ride upon the Philistines. Are the Philistines conquered? Saul will assault him [1 Sam. 21]. Remember David’s troubles, and foresee what may be our troubles. The more righteous we are, the more manifold are our troubles; and the better we are, the better we may endure them.