Taken from, “The Great Duty of Resignation to the Divine Will in Affliction”
Written by William Bates, The Queen’s Puritan, Published 1645.
‘And he went a little farther, and fell on his face,
and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible,
let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will,
but as you wilt.’ –Matthew 26:39
1 God’s original supreme right in our persons, and all things we enjoy.
The enjoyment of all our blessings is from his pure goodness, and rich bounty, which requires our humble and affectionate thankfulness; and his resumption of them should be entertained with a holy and patient submission. He gives them freely, and may recall them at his pleasure. In whatsoever instance his will is declared, we must with humility and meekness submit; for he has an equal empire in disposing all things that are equally his own, and we are bound by an equal obedience to acknowledge his dominion.
When Eli received the terrible message of the ruin of his family; the final excision of it from the dignity of the priesthood, he patiently submits: ‘It is the Lord, let him do what seems to him good.’ The mere desire of exemption from his overruling will, is a heinous sin; and a stubborn uncompliance with it in the issues of things, is direct rebellion, mixed with ingratitude, obstructive to our present peace, and future happiness.
If the afflicted would for a while suspend their tears and sighs, and with free reason consider, that whatsoever relation they had in their dearest loss, whether of a father, a son, of a husband or wife, or any other amiable and passionate terms, yet God has a nearer right and more just claim in those persons, being his by his best titles of creation and redemption, it would silence murmurings and impatience, and stop the scope of inordinate sorrow. Our property in them was derived from his favor, and our possession was depending on his will, for his right in all his creatures is unalienable. This consideration was the foundation of Job’s patience; when he was stripped of all his outward comforts, how composed was he in his mind! how considerate in his words! he reflects upon his native poverty, ‘Naked came I into the world, and naked shall I return thither:’ and adores God’s dominion, ‘The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken, blessed be his name.’
Add farther, that which by immediate connection follows, the consideration of the glorious majesty of God, and our natural meanness and unworthiness. The distance and disproportion is so vast between him and us, that we are not able to conceive the full and just idea of his excellent greatness: we are fain to assist our minds in the thoughts of God by sensible representations; and to express our conceptions by borrowed terms; his immensity by the ocean; his eternity by the returning of a circle into itself; his power, by thunder; his majesty by the sun in its meridian splendors. As the flying fishes, (shoals of which are met in sailing to the Indies,) can fly no longer than their wings remain moist; when those membranes are dry, they cannot move, and are forced to dip themselves again in the sea, that by softening them, they may renew their flight: thus when we ascend in our minds to God, we form no conceptions but what take their rise from sensible things, which infinitely fall short of his perfections.
Who can fully understand the transcendent excellencies of his nature? Who can describe what is ineffable, and most worthy to be adored with silent admiration and ecstasy of mind? ~ ‘He dwells in that light which is inaccessible;’ the angels, the most comprehensive spirits, ‘veil their faces in the presence of his glory.’ He is his own original, but without beginning: alone, but not solitary; one ever blessed God, yet communicates his entire Deity to the Son and Spirit; he is not divided in number, nor confused in unity. He is not compelled by necessity, nor changed by Liberty, nor measured by time: if we ascend to the first fountains of all ages, then his infinite understanding comprehended in one clear view, the whole compass, extent and duration of all things. His powerful word made the visible and invisible world, and upholds them. That which was spoken with flattery, of a Roman emperor, by Seneca, (who as much degenerated from the dignity of a Stoical philosopher, in licking Nero, as in biting Alexander) is absolutely true of the sovereign Lord of the world: his providence is the band that unites the parts of the universal commonwealth, the vital spirit and virtue that sustains all: without his eye and hand, his dispositive wisdom and power, the whole frame would disband and fall into confusion and ruin. He is seated upon the throne of the universe. ‘Thousand thousands of glorious spirits minister unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him,’ in the quality and humility of his servants, ready to execute his commands. He is the Judge of the living and the dead, that disposes of heaven and hell forever.
And what is man? a little breathing dust. He is infinitely above us, and so strangely condescends, in having a tender care of us, that the psalmist was swallowed up in ecstasy and amazement at the thoughts of it: ‘Lord, what is man that you are mindful of him? or the son of man that you regard him?’ Nay, we are beneath his anger, as a worm is not worthy of the indignation of an angel. Now the more we magnify God, and exalt his authority in our judgments, the more our wills are prepared to yield to him: ‘His excellency will make us afraid to oppose his providence.’ When the Son of God appeared to Saul in his glory, and commanded in person, he presently let fall his arms of defiance, and says, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ His resignation was absolute; nothing was so hard to do, nothing so formidable to suffer; but he was ready to accomplish and endure in obedience to Christ.
The more we debase and vilify ourselves, the more easy it will be to bear what God inflicts; humility disposes to submission. Our passions are not excited at the breaking of an ordinary glass; but if a vessel of crystal be broken, it moves us: the lower esteem we have of ourselves, the less we shall be transported for any breach that is made upon us. We read in the history of Job, many heavy complaints uttered by him of his sufferings, all the sad figures of passionate eloquence made use of to represent them, and the fruitless essays of his friends, that did rather exasperate than appease his spirit: and it is very observable, that when the Lord interposed himself to justify the ways of his providence, he did not charge upon him the guilt of his sins that deserved the severest judgments, but appears in his glory, and reminds him of his original nothing. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you hast understanding.’ He opens to him some of the excellencies of the Deity in the works of creation and providence, and the present effect was, Job adored with humble reverence the divine majesty, and acknowledged his own unworthiness: ‘Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth; now mine eyes see thee, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ The thickest smoke by ascending, dissipates and vanishes. If the troubled soul did ascend to heaven, and consider that even the worst evils are either from the operation or permission of the divine providence, the cloudy disturbing thoughts and passions would be presently scattered.
David had a blessed experiment of this in his distress: ‘I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because you didst it.’ Psalms 39:8. Such an awful apprehension he had of God, as transcendently superior to him, and unaccountable for his proceedings. When any impatient thoughts arise, we should presently chain them up, for there are folly and fury in them: what am I, that my sullen spirit should dispute against the orders of heaven? that my passions should resist the will of the highest Lord? That my desires should depose him from his throne? For thus by implication and consequence they do, who are vexed at his providence. A holy soul will tremble at the thoughts of it. Methinks God speaks to the afflicted and disturbed soul, in the words of the psalm, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ The actual consideration of his supremacy will be powerful to lay the growing storm of passions. Impatience arises from the ignorance of God and ourselves.
II The righteousness of God in all his ways, if duly considered, will compose the afflicted spirit to quiet and humble submission.
He is never injurious to us when he deprives us of our sweetest and most precious comforts, because we have incurred the forfeiture of all. He is not cruel in laying the heaviest punishments upon us, for we deserve them. If we were free from actual sins, yet our depraved nature, so repugnant to the pure law of God, involves us under an obligation to punishment. If we had not been attainted with the guilt of original sin, yet the sins committed in the course of our lives, make us deeply obnoxious to divine justice: how much more the concurrent guilt of original and actual sins? The acts of, sin are transient and pass away; but the guilt and stain of sin, and the conscience of sin remain, and no less than eternal punishment is commensurate to the obliquity. From hence there is the clearest reason to justify God in all his proceedings. ‘Righteousness establishes his throne.’ The prophet saith ‘thy righteousness is like the great mountains, thy judgments are a great deep.’ Psalms 36. 6. The special ends of God in severe dispensations, are sometimes indiscernible, but never unjust; his righteousness is obvious to every eye. The actual consideration of this is powerful to silence the uproar of the passions, and to make us lie humbly at his feet under the sorest chastisements. ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord’ (without murmuring, saith the afflicted church) ‘because I have sinned against him.’ Micah 7:9.
As disobedience in our inclinations and actions, is a tacit reflection upon the equity of his law, as if the restraints of it were unreasonable; so impatience and fretful discontent is upon the equity of his providence, as if the afflicting dispensations of it were not due to us: and the sense of our sinfulness, and God’s righteousness, is an excellent preventive of it. If you are in great afflictions, and feeling any tumultuous thoughts, any rebellious risings within thee, consider you are a sinner, guilty of ten thousand provocations, and dare you to appear before his enlightened and terrible tribunal, and challenge him for any unrighteous proceedings? ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?’ Lamentations 3:39. Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I will not offend any more. That which I know not, teach you me; and if I have done iniquity, I will do no more. Job 34:31,32. Besides, all the punishments of men here, are with merciful allays, not in just proportion to their guilt. The church in its calamitous state, described in the most doleful lamentations of Jeremiah, when the greatest number of the Jews perished by the sword, or famine that attended the war, their city and temple were laid in ruins, and the unhappy people that escaped the fury of the Chaldeans, were the captives and triumphs of their enemies; yet in that unparalleled affliction she acknowledges, ‘it is the Lord’s mercies that we are not’ utterly and totally ‘consumed’ Lamentations 3:22; and lays her mouth in the dust, a posture of the lowest abasement.
And holy Ezra reflecting upon that dreadful calamity, acknowledges their punishment was beneath their desert, as their deliverance was above their expectation: ‘and for all that is come upon us for our evil deeds and great trespasses, seeing you hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and given us such a deliverance as this.’ Ezra 9:13. Our deserts are less than the least of God’s mercies, and our offences greater than the greatest of his judgments. This should make us not only patiently submit, ‘but humbly accept the punishment of our iniquity, as far less than what is deserved.’ Leviticus 26:41. If the sentence of death against a malefactor be exchanged for banishment, or banishment be remitted for a short confinement, is there not incomparably more cause to be thankful for what is pardoned, than to complain for what is suffered?
What ingratitude is it to be impatient and murmuring for these ‘light afflictions that are but for a moment,’ when we deserve an eternal and insupportable weight of misery in hell? It is infinitely more becoming us and safe, to argue against our irregular passions, than to tax his righteous dispensations.
III His power is immense and uncontrollable, and it is a vain attempt to contend with him, as if the eternal order of his decrees could be altered or broken.
The contest between God and the sinner, is, whose will shall stand. It is his glorious work to depress the proud, and subdue the stubborn refractory spirits.
The punishment of the first pride in the angels, is an eternal and terrible example of his powerful justice; and how intolerable a crime it is, that heaven could not bear, but presently opened, and the guilty fell into the bottomless pit. Now pride is a seminal evil, and lies at the root of stubbornness and impatience under judgments. Proud dust is apt to fly in God’s face upon every motion of the afflicting passions. And by the resistance of self-will he is provoked to more severity. ‘Woe be to him that strives with his Maker.’ Isaiah 45:9.
It is our duty and interest to observe the blessed apostle’s direction, ‘humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and he shall exalt you.’ 1 Peter 5:6. There is a passive humbling by his irresistible providence, and an active voluntary humbling, which implies a subjection to his law, and a submission to his providence: this is infinitely pleasing to him, it is the right disposition that prepares us for mercy, and is the certain way of exaltation; for then God obtains his end. The humble prostrating ourselves at his feet to receive his correction, causes his bowels to relent, and stops his hand: the seeming humiliation of Ahab procured a respite of those fearful judgments denounced against his house. It is said of the generosity of the lion, that he spares his prostrate adversary. In short, our salvation depends upon our humble demeanor under afflictive dispensations. ‘We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much more be in subjection to the father of spirits, and live?’ Hebrews 12:9. Unsubmission induces a deadly guilt upon the rebellious.
IV His paternal love in sending afflictions, is a sufficient argument to win our compliance with his will.
The blessed apostle applying medicine to the afflicted, propounds two divine truths, that if seriously thought of, and steadfastly believed, are powerful to mitigate the acerbity of all sufferings, and support the spirit in the greatest agony.
The first is, ‘God scourges every son whom he receives:’ Hebrews 12:6. and the other that is joined with it is, ‘Whom the Lord loves, he chastens.’
The rule is general:
(1.) All his sons are under the discipline of the rod; and who would be so unhappy as to be exempted from that number, for all the prosperity of the world? Afflictions, sanctified, are the conspicuous seal of their adoption and title to heaven: and who would forfeit the honor of that adoption, and lose the benefit annexed to it, the eternal inheritance, rather than patiently bear his fatherly chastisements?
Others that enjoy a perpetual spring of pleasure here, are declared bastards, and not sons: they are indeed within the compass of his universal providence, but not of that peculiar care that belongs to his sacred and select progeny. His corrections are an argument of his authority as our father, and an assurance that we are his children: this should induce us not only with submissive temper of soul, but with thankfulness to receive the sharpest correction from the hands of our heavenly Father. This was the reason of our Savior’s meek yielding himself to the violence and cruelty of his enemies. ‘The cup which my father has given me, shall I not drink it?’
(2.) Chastisement is the effect of his paternal love: he is the father of our spirits, and that divine relation carries with it a special love to the spirits of men, and in that degree of eminence, as to secure and advance their happiness, though to the destruction of the flesh.
The soul is of incomparably more worth than the body, as the bright orient pearl than the mean shell that contains it: this God most highly values; for this he gave so great a price, and on it draws his image. If temporal prosperity were for our best advantage, how willingly would God bestow it on us? ‘He that spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ Romans 8:32. Which words, among all that the Holy Ghost has dictated to the interpreters of God’s heart to his people, are most expressive of his love and bounty, and most for their comfort.
He that gives grace and glory, the most real testimonies of his love, certainly withholds no good thing from them.