Why the Paternal Love of God Sends Us Afflictions

Taken from, “The Great Duty of Resignation to the Divine Will in Affliction”
Written by William Bates, The Queen’s Puritan, Published 1645.

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The Lord disciplines the one he loves,
                                                               and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
                                                                                                 –Hebrews 12:6.

The rule is general: 

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 hath given me, shall I not drink it?’ 

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?’ Rom. 8:32. Which words, among all that the Holy Ghost hath 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.  I shall produce one convincing instance of this. The apostle Paul, who by an incomparable privilege was rapt up to the celestial paradise, and heard ineffable things, yet was tormented by the angel of Satan, and his earnest repeated prayer for deliverance not presently granted. Did not God love that blessed apostle, whose internal love to Christ almost equaled the seraphim, those pure everlasting flames, and was expressed in the invariable tenor of his life, by such miraculous actions and sufferings for the propagating and defense of the faith of Christ, and the glory of his name?  ‘If we love him because he first loved us,’ as the apostle John testifies; certainly he that returned such a superlative affection to Christ, received the greatest love from him. Now if Christ did love Paul, why did he not upon his earnest repeated prayer, deliver him from his wounding trouble, whatsoever it was? That permission was a demonstration of the love of Christ to him, as it is acknowledged by himself; ‘lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelation, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, and the messenger of Satan to buffet me.’ 2 Cor. 13:7. 

That the auctions of the saints proceed from God’s love, will be evident, by considering:  First. His gracious design in sending them.  Secondly. His compassionate providence over them, and his assisting power afforded to his people in their troubles. Thirdly. The happy issue of them.

First; His gracious design in sending them. ‘God doth not afflict willingly, but if need be; not for his own pleasure, but for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. Heb. 12:10. The expression is high and emphatic, ‘his holiness,’ the brightest glory of his nature, the divinest gift of his love. 

The two principal parts of holiness, are ceasing from doing evil, and learning to do well.  And afflictions are ordained and sent as profitable for both these effects. 

For the prevention or cure of sin, which is an evil incomparably worse in its nature, and terrible consequents in this and the next world, than all the mere afflicting temporal evils.  Sin defiles and debases the soul, which is the proper excellency of man, and separates from God our supreme good. ‘Your sins have separated between you and your God, and have hid his face from you.’ Isa. 59. 2. All afflictions that can befall us here in our persons or concernments, the most disgraceful accidents, the most reproachful contumelious slanders, the most loathsome contagious diseases, that cause our dearest friends to withdraw from us, yet cannot deprive us of union with God by faith and love, nor of the fruition of his propitious presence. Lazarus when covered with ulcers, was kissed with the kisses of his mouth: but sin hath this pernicious effect, it separates from his gracious presence here, and, if continued in without repentance, will exclude, from his glorious presence forever. Now afflictions are medicinal applications for the cure of sin, the disease and death of the soul, and therefore infinitely worse than the sharpest remedies.

The beginnings and progress of conversion to God, are by sanctified afflictions. Indeed, considering our folly, and perverse abuse of his blessings, they are the most congruous means for our recovery. The light of God’s law doth not so powerfully convince us of the evil of sin, till felt in the effects of it. ‘Thy own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee; know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord of hosts.’ Jer. 2. 19. The instructions of the rod are more sensible than of the word; as the feeling of a tormenting disease produces another kind of understanding of it, than the reading of its nature in books of physic; and they make us more attentive to God’s call, and leave a deeper impression on us.  It is Elihu his observation, ‘if sinners be bound in fetters, and held in cords, then he shows them their works, and their transgressions, that they have exceeded.’ Job 36. 8. 9. Affliction clarifies their sight, makes sin to be as heinous in the view of conscience, as in its own foul nature. It follows, ‘he opens also the ear to discipline, and commands that they return from their iniquity.’ Ver. 10. Gentle methods were lost upon them, but by judgments he effectually commands, they relent and return to their duty. And after conversion, we need their discipline, to make us more circumspect and obedient.  The Psalmist declares, ‘it is good for me that I have been afflicted:’ Ps. 119. for before he was afflicted he went astray: he was reduced from the error of his ways by his troubles: and it was his experimental observation, ‘I know in faithfulness’ (from the constancy of love) ‘thou hast afflicted me.’  Nothing so cools our zeal to eternal things, as the love of the world. Vital heat declines and languishes, as the feverish heat is inflamed; and till we feel the vexations, we are allured by the vanities of the world: Therefore, God is pleased by such bitter means to make us more holy and heavenly.  Sometimes he removes with jealousy those objects to which our hearts are so entirely engaged, that the enjoyment of them intercepts the ascending of our affections to himself. Besides, he will not suffer us to perish in prosperity. ‘We are chastened of the Lord for our amendment, that we may not be condemned with the unreformed world.’ 1 Cor:11. And is not this an infallible testimony of his love? David said, ‘let the righteous smite me, and it shall be a kindness; let him reprove me, and it shall be an excellent oil.’ Ps. 141:5. If he valued the reprehensions that were not contumelious and injurious, not to upbraid but reform him, as a favor and dear obligation, how much more should we the corrections of our heavenly Father? And it will be a greater incitement to an humble and grateful acceptance of this discipline, if we consider what a severe neglect it is, when God suffers the wicked to lead a voluptuous life without disturbance: they are encircled with riches and honors, softened with pleasures, charmed with enticing objects, and thus become hardened in sin; they are riotous and luxurious, and give the reins to their corrupt unruly appetites without control; the slaves of sense, led, only by principles of pleasure, and hereby are inexcusable, and made ripe for perdition, and reserved for final vengeance. Others, though not guilty of scandalous enormities, yet are by continual prosperity settled upon their lees, careless and secure, ‘neglect the great salvation’ and say in their hearts, ‘it is good to be here;’ and their damnation is as certain, though not so visible, as of those who commit gross and open wickedness. Sad preterition! In the midst of pleasures they are truly miserable. They have just reason to be abandoned to sorrow, being forsaken of the love of God. The bramble is not cut, when the vine is pruned till it bleeds, in order to its fruitfulness: this letting them alone, to take their fill of pleasures is a heavy presage at final ruin. When the patient is desperate, the physician lays no restraint upon the diseased appetite, but permits him to take what he craves. Heb. 4. 14. Besides, the intention of God is by affliction to exercise and illustrate their graces. The most excellent Christian virtues would be comparatively of little use, without hard trials. Unfeigned faith in the truth and power of God to accomplish his promises, sincere love to him, humble self-denial, persevering patience then appear in their radiance and vigor. What a blessed advantage is it, by the loss of temporal comforts to increase in the graces of the spirit? They are the truest riches, the fullest joy, and the highest honor of a Christian. The apostle Peter declares, ‘the trial of our faith is much more precious than of gold that perishes;’ 1 Pet. 1. 7. It is refined and resplendent by the fire of affliction, and ‘will be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Christ.’ It is the advice of the apostle James, ‘Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. Knowing this, that the trial of your faith worketh patience.’ Jam. 1. 2, 3. Though afflictions simply considered, may be very grievous, yet if we advisedly weigh, and rightly compare things, even when our sorrowful passions are moved, our judgments will esteem them matter of joy, not only in expectation of future happiness, but as divine grace is thereby drawn forth in the most noble operations.  In short, the ultimate design of God in afflicting his people, is thereby to bring them to heaven. Affliction mortifies the lusts of the flesh, purifies the spirit, ‘and makes us fit for the inheritance of the saints in light.’ By persevering patience in sufferings, they are approved of God, and obtain a right and title to the kingdom of glory. For according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, heaven shall be conferred as a reward to those that overcome. Rev. 22. If there be no enemy, there will be no fight; and if no fight, no victory; if no victory; no triumph; only those who conquer are crowned. 

The beloved disciple, with his brother, though allied to our Savior by blood relations, who expected by special favor to be glorified without a preparatory trial, yet he tells them, ‘without drinking of his cup, they could not have a share in his kingdom:‘ and this should reconcile our spirits ‘to all our troubles; for the apostle declares, who was a competent judge, having been thoroughly acquainted with griefs, and had a prospect into the glorious kingdom; ‘I reckon that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.’ Rom. 8. 

Secondly. God’s love is discovered in his compassionate providence over them, and assisting power afforded to them in their afflictions: he speaks to the afflicted and disconsolate, ‘my son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:’ Heb. 12:5. to sweeten by that tender expression, the rigor of his discipline; to signify his dear sympathy with their anguish and sufferings. 

Heavenly consolation! God himself bears a share in their sorrows, ‘is afflicted in their afflictions:’ and the effect of this love is, that he always tempers and moderates their trials to their strength; or increases their strength in proportion to the trial. His corrections are deliberate dispensations, that proceed from judgment, not from fury, which the prophet earnestly deprecates. Jer. 8. His rods are bound up with mercy, his faithfulness joins with his affection, in moderating their sufferings. It is one clause of the covenant of grace, made with Christ, typified by David, ‘if his children break my statutes, and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgression with a rod,’ to amend not to destroy them; ‘but my loving kindness I will not take away from them, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.’ Ps. 89:31,32,33. The apostle assures believers, ‘that God is faithful, who will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able, but will with the temptation make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it.’ I Cor. 10. 13.  Our Redeemer in his agony was relieved by heavenly succor, the presence of an angel with a message of comfort. St. Paul found it verified by his own experience, ‘that as the sufferings of Christ abounded in him, so his consolations abounded by Christ,’ 2 Cor.1:5.; 2 Cor.12:9. and the divine power was accomplished, illustriously appeared in supporting his weakness.  How many have enjoyed comforts of a more precious nature, and more abundant, in want of supplies from the world, than in the possession of them? When there is a total eclipse below, the blessed Comforter descends with light, and fills the soul with joy in believing. 

The historian tells us of a clear vein of water that springs from Mongibel, (that great furnace, that always sends forth smoke or flames,) yet is so cool, as if it distilled from a snowy mountain: thus the saints in the fiery trial have been often refreshed with divine comforts; and such humble submissions, and gracious thanksgivings have proceeded from their lips, as have been very comfortable to those about them. 

Thirdly. The issue out of all, is the most sensible declaration of God’s love to them.  The person under affliction is limited by his tender love, till they are prepared for mercy. The prosperity of the wicked is wine in the beginning, and lees at the bottom; but the worst and afflicted state of the saints is first, and will at length certainly end in felicity. In the tragedy of Job, the devil was the author, Chaldeans and Sabeans were the actors, ‘but the end was from the Lord.’  We are instructed by the apostle, ‘that although no chastisement for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness, unto them that are exercised thereby.’ Heb. 12:11.  It is an allusion to the rewards in the Olympic games, when the persons that overcame in those exercises; were crowned with wreaths of olive leaves, the emblem of peace.  Thus Christians, who with unfainting perseverance in their duty suffer affliction, shall be rewarded with holiness in conjunction with peace. This peaceable fruit of righteousness is not the natural product of affliction: grapes do not spring from thorns, nor figs from thistles; neither can it be so properly ascribed to the afflicted person, as to the powerful virtue, and special grace of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies afflictions, and makes them profitable for effecting God’s intention by them.  And when the afflicted person becomes more humble, more holy, more weaned from the world, more resigned to the will of God, this ‘fruit unto holiness’ will compensate all their pains and sorrows. And in conjunction with holiness, there is a divine peace, a joyful calm and quietness of conscience, the sense of God’s favor; his answers of peace are usually a reward, according to the operations of grace: his comforts are dispensed as encouragements to obedience.  Besides, when the sinful corruptions are purged out, which caused perpetual disturbance, and our affections and actions are correspondent to the divine law, there is that clearness and serenity of mind, that rest and ease in the soul, arising from its just and due subordination unto God which the disobedient, in all their seeming prosperity, never enjoy. ‘There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.’  These beginnings of happiness are obtained here, but the perfection of it is in the next life. ‘Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of righteousness, which God hath promised to them that love him.’ James I.12. The richness and value of the ‘crown of life’ is so great, that God, the most wise and just esteemer of things, gave the precious blood of his Son to purchase it for us. It is a felicity so transcendent in its quality, and stable in its duration, that the blessed God cannot give us a greater; for what greater good is conceivable than himself? And what more stable enjoyment of it than eternity? The hope of this makes a Christian blessed in the midst of the greatest miseries. ‘Our light afflictions that are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ 2 Cor. 4. 

The infinite wisdom of God orders all things in the best manner for his own glory, and the final good of his people. 

If he governed by absolute empire, none in heaven or earth might say unto him, What dost thou? But there is an inseparable connection between his wisdom and his will; he is ‘the King eternal,’ and ‘the only wise God,’ 1 Tim:1. As the apostle joins those divine titles. In this the excellence of the divine liberty shines, that it is always regulated by infinite wisdom ‘he works all things according to the counsel of his will:’ Eph. 1:11. This is spoken according to human conceptions, but must be understood in a sense becoming the perfections of God : for counsel cannot properly be attributed to God, whose understanding is infinite, and in one view comprehends all things; but as those things are most complete that are the product of our deliberate reasonings and deep contrivance; ‘so his work is perfect, for all his ways are judgment.’ Deut. 32:4.  Whenever we are dissatisfied or displeased with his proceedings, it is from the error of our minds, and the viciousness of our affections; we presume to correct his providence, as if he were defective in regulating the affairs of this lower world; but ‘he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.’ Isa. 28. 29.  In the creation this regular and beautiful world was formed out of darkness and confusion: and his providence, that is now mysterious and veiled to us, will bring into glorious order and sweet agreement, those things in their final resolution, that now seem so perplexed to our apprehensions. It was a confounding reproach from God to Job, ‘who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’ Job 32:2.  His passionate exclamations were such, as if the divine wisdom had not disposed all the afflicting circumstances in the series of his sufferings; and that holy man being convinced of his presumptuous folly, repeats the charge against himself with tears of confusion: ‘who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not, things too wonderful for me, which I knew not; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes:’ Job 42.3,6. more particularly, 

All things are so wisely ordered, that God shall be ‘glorified in the event; and it is the noblest disposition of a Christian, to prefer the advancement of his glory, before all the comforts of this life, and life itself. Our blessed Savior in the forethoughts of his sufferings, was in distress and perturbation of mind, like the darkening of the sky before a great shower: ‘now is my soul troubled, what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour.’ John 12:27.  But the short conflict of nature was presently at an end, he willingly ridded up himself to be a sacrifice to the divine honor, and said, ‘Father, glorify thy name.’  Moses and Paul, whose admirable zeal, had only a parallel between themselves in the same degree of holy heat, desired the salvation of the Jews before their own, if God might be more glorified by it. This is the first petition in order and dignity, in that complete form of prayer composed by our Savior, as the rule of all our desires. ‘Thy name be hallowed and glorified in us, and by us.’  The admirable history of Jephtha’s only daughter, is applicable to this purpose; she joyfully came forth to meet her father, returning victorious and triumphant after his war with the Ammonites. Judg. 11:36. He had made a rash vow, to offer up in sacrifice to God, whoever should first meet him after his victory, and upon the sight of his daughter was so deeply wounded with sorrow, that his triumph was converted into lamentations : but the grief was only in the father; for in that first surprise of such a terrible sentence to be executed upon her, she did not answer his tears with tears, nor lamentations with lamentations, but said unto him, ‘my father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth, forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee on thine enemies.’ Methinks the admirable love and generosity in a young virgin, to whom her father’s honor and exaltation was more dear than her life, upbraids us for our unwilling submission to those providential dispensations that are ungrateful to flesh and blood wherein the glory of God is advanced.  If we were called to martyrdom for his truth, and our lives should bleed forth, as sacrifices on the altar, or our bodies be consumed as incense on the censer, it were an unjust and ungrateful complaint, to express passionate reluctanc against his providence. If there were no other consequences of our present sufferings, but the glorifying God, we should be content. That is the worthiest end which he proposes to himself, and will accomplish: his divine excellencies will be illustrated by the wickedness of men, that at present obscures the glory of his government; his wisdom, power, holiness, mercy and justice will be acknowledged, admired and magnified at last. 

His wisdom will order all things, even the most afflicting and dolorous, for the good of his people. This is a fearful paradox to a carnal mind, that judges of good and evil, as present things are pleasant or unpleasant to sense, without regard to what is future. It is like Samson’s riddle to the Philistines, ‘out of the devourer came meat, and out of the strong came sweetness.’ But to the mind that hath spiritual discerning, and judges of good and evil, as things are conducive or destructive to the happiness of the soul, it is a clear undoubted truth. ‘We know,’ saith the apostle with the greatest assurance, ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God.’ Rom. 8:28. All things, the most averse to their present desires, are so disposed and overruled by his providence, as if there were a secret intelligence and conceit between them, to promote the happiness of the saints: thus in mixed bodies the contrary qualities are reduced to such a just measure and temperament by the wisdom of the divine Maker, that a sound and healthful constitution results from them.  We have a rare instance of this in the history of Joseph; his envious brethren were the instruments of his exaltation; they sold him for a slave into Egypt to frustrate his prophetic dreams; and there, by many admirable turns of providence, he was advanced to the highest dignity; and then was verified in him and his brethren, ‘that his sheaf arose and stood upright, and their sheaves stood round, and did obeisance to his sheaf.’ God had reserved purposes of greater good for Joseph, than if he had continued under his father’s tender eye and care; therefore, it is said in his history, that they perfidiously ‘sold him, but God sent him.’  He that attentively reads the journeys of the Israelites through the wilderness to Canaan, cannot but wonder at the circuits and indirect motions in their tedious travel for forty years; and when near the borders of the place, so long and ardently desired, they were often commanded to retreat in the same line wherein they had advanced to it: had they chose the shortest way, and disobeyed the divine conductor, they had never entered into the land of promise: but following the pillar that directed their march, though they seemed lost in their intricate wanderings, yet they obtained the joyful possession of it. This was a type of the saints’ passage through a troublesome world, to the true rest above, and that they are guided through many cross ways directly to the kingdom of heaven.  ‘Who knows,’ saith Solomon, ‘what is good for a man in this life, all the days of his vain life, which he spends as a shadow? Eccles. 6:12.  That which is desired with importunity, as tending to his happiness, often proves his woe: some had not been so wicked, and consequently so miserable, if their lusts had not been excited by riches and power: others had not been secured from destructive temptations, but in a low and afflicted state. It is therefore both our duty and interest not to pray absolutely for any temporal thing; but when our desires are most passionate, to say with the humility and holiness, the reverence and obedience of our Savior, ‘not my will, but thine be done.’ We shall find ourselves more happy by the divine disposal of things, than if we had obtained our dearest wishes, and most ardent prayers. And when we shall come to the top of the holy hill, and look down on the various circuits of providence by which we ascended, we shall then understand that wisdom and love conducted us safely to felicity; we shall approve and admire all the divine methods in order to our blessed end. Now the belief of this should compose us to a patient and cheerful resignation of ourselves to God’s providence and pleasure. Who would not accept of the counsel of a friend that proceeds from love, though his judgment were not so exact as to be relied on? Much more should we thankfully receive the appointments of God, whose knowledge and affection are equally superlative, in whom there is united the wisdom of a father’s, and the tenderness of a mother’s love to his children.  Briefly, as Jonathan by tasting the honey at the end of his rod, had his eyes enlightened; so the end of the severest chastisements will convince them, that the providence of God was more benign and propitious than they could imagine. ‘His ways are as far above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts; as the heavens are above the earth.’ This point is applicable to us. 

By way of reproof for our unsubmissive behavior in afflictions, our incompliance with the divine disposals. Some are in a secret discontent at God’s afflicting providence; and this raises the memory of former mercies, and takes away the relish of present mercies; as the sweet showers of heaven that fall into the sea are turned into its brackish taste: such neither enjoy God nor themselves. What egregious folly and vile ingratitude is this! All we have, is from his most free favor; and shall we peevishly slight his benefits, because our desires are not gratified in every respect?  Others are moved with anger and vexation for the evils that befall them: as the red hot iron under the blows of the hammer casts abroad fiery sparks; so their stubborn fierce spirits, when afflicted, break forth in expressions of impatience and displeasure. They count it a base abjectness of mind, a despicable pusillanimity, to humble themselves under God’s judgments, and with contrition for their sins to implore his clemency. ‘The voice of the Lord makes the dear to calve, the timorous and weak creatures: but when the heavens roar, the lions thunder back again.’ Thus strong and stubborn sinners, when they feel the effects of God’s anger, are raging and furious in their passions and expressions. ‘The foolish man perverts his way, his most grievous sufferings are the fruits of his sins, and his heart frets against the Lord as the inflictor of them.’ Prov. 19:3. This is a high indignity to God, and an injury to themselves. For a vile creature, a base guilty wretch to murmur and storm against God’s righteous judgments, argues a prodigious forgetfulness, both of its dependence and obnoxiousness to the divine tribunal. It is said of the adherents of antichrist, ‘That they were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over the plagues, and they repented not to give him glory.’ Rev. 16. 9. Infinite insolence! Such obstinate souls the prince of darkness possesses as his peculiar dominion; they have more need of conversion than consolation. Besides, by impatience and vexatious fretting, they exasperate their pains, turn the rod into a serpent, vipers into dragons; and God’s mighty hand is more heavy by their resistance. Bold postulations irritate his anger, rather than incline his mercy; the willful man never wants woe. ‘With the froward,’ saith the psalmist, ‘thou wilt show thyself froward,’ Ps. 80. or, as it is rendered in the margin ‘wrestle.’  The strongest sinner is not a match for the Almighty; if his anger excites his power, how easily, ‘how sudden are they destroyed without remedy?’ Stubborn impatience under the inflictions of God’s righteous providence, is the nearest step to final ruin. Others are so dejected and broken with afflictions, that their continuance in the world is but a living death: everything entertains their grief, and the best means afforded for their reviving and comfort are ineffectual. Sorrow flows into despair, they lament and languish as if their case were hopeless and remediless. The fountain of this black stream, is a superlative esteem and affection to inferior things: and what is reserved for the blessed Creator? If a temporal loss be the most afflicting evil, it is a sign that God was not valued and loved as the chiefest good. The difficulty of receiving consolation, shows the necessity of their being afflicted: the language of such resolved sorrow is, ‘They have taken away my gods; and what have I more?’ The sole objects of their felicity are removed, and they refuse to be comforted; as if no less sacrifice were due to the remembrance of their loss, but life itself. What a disparagement is this of the divine excellencies? ‘Are the consolations of God small to us?’ Is not his love able to compensate the loss of a frail, mutable, mortal creature? Cannot he please and satisfy us without the fruition of one earthly comfort? This dejection of spirit is equally undutiful as uncomfortable; our griefs are sometimes as vain and as guilty as our joys; there is a tincture of disobedience in our tears; for we are commanded ‘to mourn as if we mourned not, for the fashion of the world passes away;’ and we at once break his law and our own peace.  Our disobedience in this is aggravated, as being contrary not only to the authority and sanctity of the Lawgiver, but to his loving-kindness and compassion. Ah, the miserable blindness of human minds! and the more miserable, because voluntary. Who is more deservedly unhappy than one that sits upon the bank of a river, and yet is tormented and dies with thirst? The clear, fresh stream passes before him, allures and invites him, but he will not stoop to drink; this is the case of those who neglect and refuse the spiritual consolations in the gospel, John 3:38, 39. that are compared to the flowing rivers of living water, for their cooling, refreshing quality. They meritoriously and actively bring trouble to their souls; their passions are the instruments of their misery. He that is his own executioner, has no excuse of dying; he is justly, because willfully miserable.

Consider also what a reproach is cast upon Christianity, that so many virtuous heathens in great afflictions, were in some measure supported by the precepts of human wisdom; and that Christians, to whom there is revealed from heaven, that an eternal state of glory and joy shall be the reward of their patient sufferings, remain utterly disconsolate.  I will single out one example. Stilpon the philosopher, when his city was destroyed, with his wife and children, and he escaped alone from the fire, being asked whether he had lost anything? Replied, ‘All my treasures are with me,’ justice, virtue, temperance, prudence, and this inviolable principle, not to esteem anything as my proper good, that can be ravished from me: his mind was erect and steadfast under the ruins of his country. And others upon lower and less generous considerations, have born up in their sufferings.  How do such examples upbraid us, that their twilight excels our noonday brightness? If common cordials raised such courageous spirits in them, shall not the waters of life, the divine strong comforts of the gospel, fortify us to bear all sufferings with a valiant resignation to the good will of God? Can the spirit of a man, by rational principles sustain his infirmities, and cannot the spirit of God, the great comforter, support us under all troubles?  What a blot is this to religion? Those who will not be comforted, will not be Christians; by the same Holy Spirit who is styled the comforter, we are the one and the other. If the precious promises of the gospel do not alleviate our sorrows, it is not from infirmity, but from infidelity. It is an incredible miracle, that a person can be in reality a Christian, and not capable of consolation; as if eternal life were not purchased by Christ for his people, or the present sufferings were comparable to the future glory; or the possession of it were to be obtained after a thousand years of hard trial: but if it were delayed so long, that sensible duration should sink our spirits; for the misery that passes with time, is not of moment with respect to the blessedness that is established forever.

Let us be excited to transcribe this divine lesson (so full of excellency and difficulty) in our hearts and lives.  It is easy in speculation to consent to the reasonableness of this duty, but how hard to practice it, and to bear not too sensibly such evils as are incurable here? A deliberate, universal, constant subjection to God’s will, though contrary to our carnal desires and interests, how rarely is it to be found among those who in title and profession are his servants? In active obedience, some will readily perform some particular commands, but withdraw subjection from the rest; they seem to make conscience of the duties of piety, but neglect righteousness; or else are just in their dealings, and careless of devotion. Some are liberal, but irreconcilable. They will give for their honor, but forgive no contempt or injury; and as the dividing living twins destroys them, so the life and sincerity of obedience, that consists in the union and entireness of its parts, is destroyed by dividing our respects to some commands, neglecting the rest. And in ‘passive obedience,’ many will submit to lighter and shorter afflictions, but if an. evil comes that nearly touches the heart, or that remains long without redress, they become impatient, or so dejected as to neglect their duty. 

God’s Right of Ownership, and our Duty of Submission

Taken from, “The Great Duty of Resignation to the Divine Will in Affliction”
Written by William Bates, The Queen’s Puritan, Published 1645.

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‘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.