A Cloud of Heavenly Witnesses
Works III, pp. 282-284.
“To suffer adversity with the people of God.” (Heb. 11:25).
Here we may observe what is the ordinary state and condition of God’s church and people in this world—namely, to be in affliction and under the cross. Hence Paul says that “we must come to heaven through manifold afflictions” (Acts 14:22). The Lord knows what is best for His servants and children. And therefore He has set down this for a ground that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Thus the Lord deals with His children for special causes. For,
1. Afflictions stir us out of sin.
First, all crosses, as loss of goods, friends, liberty, or good name—they are means to stir up and awake God’s people out of the slumbering fit of sin, for the godly are many times overtaken this way. The wise virgins sleep, as well as the foolish. Now, afflictions rouse them out of the sleep of security. See this in Joseph’s brethren, who went on a long time without any remorse for selling their brother. But when they were stayed in Egypt, then they are roused up and can say, “This trouble is come upon us for selling our brother” (Gen. 42:21).
2. Afflictions humble God’s children.
Secondly, afflictions serve to humble God’s children (Lev. 26:41). So the church of God speaks, “I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him” (Mic. 7:9).
3. Afflictions drive us from the love of this world.
Thirdly, they serve to wean the people of God and to drive them from the love of this world; for if men might always live in ease, they would make their heaven upon earth, which may not be. And herein God deals with His children like a nurse. When she will wean her child, she lays some bitter thing upon the pap’s head, to make the child to loathe the pap. So the Lord, to draw our hearts from the world and to cause us to love and seek after heaven and heavenly things, He makes us to taste of the bitterness of affliction in this world. Fourthly, affliction serves to make God’s children to go out of themselves to seek sincerely unto God and to rely only upon Him, which in prosperity they will not do. This Paul confesses of himself and others. “We,” says he, “received the sentence of death in ourselves, because we should not trust in ourselves, but in God” (2 Cor. 1:9). So good king Jehoshaphat, when he was compassed of his enemies, he cried to the Lord and said, “Lord we know not what to do; but our eyes are toward thee” (2 Chron. 20:12). Yea, the rebellious Jews are hereby driven to seek the Lord, whom in prosperity they forsook, as we may see at large (Ps. 107:6, 12–13, 19).
4. Afflictions manifest the grace of God.
Lastly, afflictions serve to make manifest the graces of God in His children. “The Lord,” says Job, “knoweth my way and trieth me” (23:10). “Remember all the way,” says Moses to the Israelites, “which the Lord thy God led thee this forty years, for to prove thee and to know what was in thine heart” (Deut. 8:2). Hence James calls temptations “the trial of faith” (1:2–3). And Paul makes “patience, the fruit of tribulation” (Rom. 5:3). For look as the showers in the springtime cause the buds to appear, so do afflictions make manifest God’s graces in His children. Patience, hope, and other virtues lie close in the heart in the day of peace; but when tribulation comes, then they break forth and show themselves.
Suffering is not always a token of God’s wrath.
Hence we learn that it is not always a token of God’s wrath to suffer affliction. If any man or people be laden with crosses, it is no argument that therefore they are not children of God—for as Peter says, “Judgments begin at God’s house” (1 Peter 4:17). And any cross upon a people, family, or particular persons, if it bring forth the fruit of grace in them, is a true sign that they belong to God. Yea, when men wander from God by an evil way, these afflictions are means to call them home to God. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray” (Ps. 119:67). And they that forsake their sin and return to God in time of affliction are certainly God’s people, for the wicked man frets and murmurs against God when a cross comes, and he cannot abide it. But the godly man is humbled thereby, and it makes him more obedient in all duties unto God.
By the use of affliction we show ourselves to be God’s children.
This we should consider; for by an outward profession, we bear the world in hand that we are God’s children. And therefore we come to hear God’s Word and to learn how to behave ourselves as beseems His children. But if we would be known to be God’s children indeed, then when any of God’s judgments do befall us, we must make this use of them—namely, labor thereby to be humbled for our sins and to forsake our sins and to make conscience of all bad ways forever afterward. And then we show ourselves to be God’s children indeed. But if under the cross or after the cross we be as dissolute as ever we were and still follow our old sins, then we cannot be judged to be God’s people and children but rather a wicked and stubborn generation, which the more they are corrected, the worse they are—like a forge: the more it is beaten, the harder it is. Let us therefore by the use of God’s judgments show ourselves to be God’s children. So shall we say with David, with much joy and comfort, “It is good for us that we have been in trouble” (Ps. 119:71).