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Christ, “whose service is perfect freedom.” Indeed
How widely different would it have been with him, had he from the beginning cast himself upon the covenanted fatherhood of God, taken his assigned place in Christ's kingdom, and claimed the continued guidance and indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, as a right purchased for him by the precious blood of Christ, out of which, were he but faithful, he could be kept neither by earth nor hell,-neither by men nor devils !
Yet if he will even now turn to his father with penitent heart, he will be met with a gracious welcome. The history of the Prodigal in the Gospel is given him for both guidance and encouragement. His first act was to break away altogether from his
father, as soon as it became possible to do so, withdrawing himself into a far country, and forsaking at once his duties and his blessings. There, unrestrained, he led his separate and independent life. He chose his own ways, following the dictates of " the flesh and of the mind.” It was not until adversity fell heavily upon him, and he found himself left to the husks which the swine did eat, that “he came to himself.”
It may be that God, following this wanderer unseen, has hedged up his
way, and kept him from the gross and flagrant sins of the Prodigal. But the alienation is the same; alienation from that one to whom the deepest love and the most faithful service were due.
If now he be repentant and anxious to return, perhaps he feels at the same time crushed to the earth by the dreadful apprehension that he may not be accepted. Perhaps he is inquiring into his right to approach God as a child, seeking with troubled heart to get into some state of feeling, some frame of mind, or to do some previous act which may give him, as it were, a claim upon God. But it was not so with the Prodigal. He knew that he had a father to go to; that thought was as light in his darkness, and in his helpless misery he arose and went to him as a father. And so must this bewildered sufferer do. He is no more worthy to be called his son, whose family he has thus forsaken. Yet let him not be hindered by that secret pride which pretends to be humility, or by half-hearted
ness, or by any other cause, from seeking with all his soul the fulfilment of those blessed promises which he had forgotten or despised—which he had never sought to realize, since the day when they were visibly sealed to him in baptism. The humblest station, the lowest room, so that it be only appointed by his father, is all he seeks: for if he is indeed a penitent, he will choose rather to be henceforth a door-keeper in the house of his God, than to dwell in the tents of the ungodly. But coming thus, his Father will meet him and welcome him with better blessings than he dared to look for, and there will be joy in heaven over this repentant sinner.
Such instances may serve, not indeed to give any idea of the vast range over which it pleases God to send affliction as his messenger, but to suggest to those who have not before considered the subject, how these calamities, which fall so frequent around us, may each have some special work to do. To many, alas! such visitations come in vain. Some persons are quite lost in the mere sense of pain or grief. The severity of physical suffering, the restlessness of its fever, the consciousness of danger which it brings, the hurry of spirit which accompanies it, the illconcealed anxiety of friends, all combine to perplex and distract the mind. There may be a blind reaching forth after help, but there is no real power to grasp or retain it; and thus a fearful lesson is often given us of the peril of delaying until sickness comes that for which sickness may only render us less capable. But even when the pressure of the trial is less severe, such seasons are, to them, times of infinite disquiet and distress, and nothing more. The best blessings lie neglected at their door. They assent indeed to any amount of religious truth which may be brought before them, but without the least attempt to make it their own. Religion is to them, under such circumstances, a not unpleasant lullaby ; but they seek no good from it, and find none.
Others, less absorbed by their troubles, yet fail to perceive their need of them. It may be that for months, or even years, they are bearing the burthen of some sickness, some grievous loss, or some deep disappointment, and yet they have not found out the secret of all this affliction. They have not thought of it as meant to bring them nearer to God, but are tempted to complain of the severity of what seems to them purposeless suffering.
Alas! there are some, who, going still beyond this, do not fear to speak of God's visitation as cruel and unjust, and even as it were a personal unkind
Nor are there wanting those who receive affliction with a strange sort of satisfaction, almost as if it had, —what of course none of our sufferings ever can have,-a sort of atoning efficacy : and who feel that it is well to have, as they will sometimes say, all their punishment in this life, and thus to pay the penalty of their sins now, rather than face the tremendous future.
Against these various and opposite errors the comprehensive injunction seems directed—“My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, neither faint when thou art rebuked of him.” are met by the assurances of God's word, that affliction is his discipline ; that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth :" that it is sent “ for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness :” and that it comes from the very same good and gracious Lord who has already Himself made satisfaction for our sins. It is not therefore to be slighted,-it is not objectless,-far less can it be cruel and unjust,-neither is it possible that it should have any atoning quality.
Meantime there is much that must ever be mysterious to us in the distribution of suffering. We perceive that a large portion of it follows upon evil doing as its consequence; as when disease is the result of excess, or poverty pursues the spendthrift. But much remains for which we cannot thus account. It is clearly not apportioned according to any law that we can assign of retributive punishment. We cannot determine, from a comparison of the characters of any two nien, the amount of trial which will be sent to each. It is enough for us to know, that when God sends affliction to the faithful, it has relation not so much to the respective demerits, as to the positive necessities and capacities of those to whom it is appointed : and thus that He ordains for every individual Christian that extent of suffering