Seven Reasons God Sends Affliction

William Perkins
Cases of Conscience
Works VIII, pp. 179-181.

The fourth ground of comfort in affliction is that every affliction upon the servants of God has some special goodness in it. “We know that all things work together for good unto them that love God” (Rom. 8:28). And in regard hereof, the crosses which are endured by God’s children, are so far from being prejudicial to their salvation, that they are rather helps and a furtherance of the same. Now this goodness is perceived two ways: first, by the fruits and effect of it; and, second, by the quality and condition thereof. In both respects, afflictions are good.

Fruits of Affliction

Touching the fruits of afflictions, because they are manifold, I will reduce them to seven principal heads.

1. Consideration of sins.

First, afflictions make men to see and consider their sins. Joseph’s brethren, for twenty years together, were little (or not at all) troubled for their wickedness in selling their brother, yet upon their affliction in Egypt, they began to consider what they had done. “We have,” say they, “verily sinned against our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear him: therefore is this trouble come upon us” (Gen. 42:21). Manasseh, in the time of his peace, gave himself to witchcraft and the worshipping of strange gods. But when he was captive in Babylon, then he was brought to the sight of his sins, and moved to humble himself before God for them.

2. Humiliation before God.

Second, afflictions serve to humble men in their souls before God. The young unthrift in the gospel, called the prodigal child, while his portion lasted, he spent liberally, and was grieved for nothing. But when he came to be pinched with hunger, and that through his own folly, then he humbled himself before his father, and returned home unto him (Luke 15:17). David says of himself, that “in his prosperity he thought he should never be moved, because the Lord of his goodness had made his mountain to stand strong: but,” says he, “thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled, then cried I unto the Lord.

3. Repentance from sin.

Third, they serve to work amendment of life. “No chastising,” says the author to the Hebrews, “for the present seemeth to be joyous, but afterward it bringeth the quiet fruit of righteousness to them that are thereby exercised” (Heb. 12:11); that is, afflictions and chastisements that seize upon God’s children do leave after them amendment of life, as the needle passes through the cloth and leaves the thread behind it. “When we are judged,” says the apostle, “we are nurtured of the Lord, that we might not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32). And David confesses, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119). And the good husbandman purges and prunes the vine, so that it may bring forth more and better fruit (John 15).

4. Self-denial.

Fourth, they cause men to deny themselves, and to rely wholly on the mercy of God. Thus, Paul “received the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself, but in God, that raiseth the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9).

5. Afflictions make us cry out to God.

Fifth, they produce invocation. For afflictions make us to cry heartily and fervently unto God, to bring ourselves into His presence, and there to abase ourselves before Him. Thus, the Lord said of the old Israelites, that “when he slew them, then they returned, and sought him early” (Ps. 78:34). And elsewhere He says of His children, that “in their affliction they will seek him diligently” (Hos. 5:15).

6. Patience.

Sixth, they produce patience. “Affliction bringeth forth patience, patience experience” (Rom. 5:3). As if he should say, “Because the love of God is shed in our hearts, therefore in afflictions we are patient.” Now while we patiently bear the cross, we have experience of the mercy and love of God towards us. And having once in some notable deliverance tried and tasted the mercy of God, we do by hope (as it were) promise to ourselves the said favor and mercy for time to come.

7. Obedience.

Seventh, the last fruit they produce is obedience. The Holy Spirit teaches this to have been the fruit of the suffering of Christ, when He says “Though he were the Son, yet learned he obedience, by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

Afflictions are a pledge of the Christian’s adoption by God.

In the next place, afflictions are good in regard of their quality and condition, which is that they are tokens and pledges of our adoption, when we make the best use of them. “If ye endure chastening,” says the Holy Spirit, “God offereth himself unto you as unto sons” (Heb. 12:7); that is, He comes to you in the cross, not as a Judge and Avenger, but as a kind and loving Father. And the cross imposed is (as it were) His Fatherly hand wherewith He chastises us. And, therefore, Job praises God for his affliction, saying, “God hath given, and God hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

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