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the promise of an angel to lead them; for little can any possible supply be made by any creature to make up that loss. It was indeed high time for them to put off their ornaments, and be humbled, when their great Ornament and their great Strength, was gone from them in displeasure. Then they put off their garbs of war, and appeared in the penitential dress of sackcloth and ashes.
III. The end of God's thus afflicting His people. And we have these two things to consider in it, both here clearly expressed; 1st. God's intention in the means; 2dly, The power of these means for effecting it. I will go till they acknowledge their offences and seek my face, and, in the time of my absence, which will certainly be the time of their heaviest affliction, they will seek me early.
1. This is God's end in scourging His people; it is only to bring them to a sorrow for their offences, and an ingenuous confession of it. And if He withdraw Himself, it is not to leave them for ever and look at them no more. On the contrary, it is, that they may learn whether it is better to enjoy Him, or their sins; and that, finding themselves miserable without Him, they may leave those sins with which He will not dwell, and may come and entreat His return to them; which He is willing, being entreated, to grant them. And this He removes from them, that, on their return to Him, and their earnest and humble seeking of His return to them, they may find Him, and enjoy more of His presence than before, and learn to keep it better. He throws His people into the furnace, and goes away, and leaves them there ; yet, it is not to let them lie still there, but He is skilful in this work, and knows the time needful for their refining, and then returns and takes them out. His purpose is, to purge away the dross, but He will not lose the gold. Isa. xxvii. 9. By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this will serve to take away his sin. As that sin was the meriting cause of the affliction, it clears God's justice; the end He aims at, when He declares His graciousness and mercy to His people, being no other than
this, to destroy the meriting cause of the affliction, by their trouble; to take away that sin which procured it, and then to give them peace. That is His design. He takes no pleasure in their affliction for itself, more than they themselves do. Indeed, in punishing His enemies, there is pure justice: their punishments are not for a better end, so far as concerns them, but are appointed to torment them. But to His own people, His purpose is, by afflicting them, only to draw them from their sins, which drive Him away from them. And as we see in this the bounty of God, so, it instructs us, for our own practice, in the just way both of preventing trouble to ourselves that it come not, and of removing it if it be come upon
Is this the thing God seeks in punishing us, a sense and acknowledgment of sin committed ? Then, if we give Him his end, He will not at all needlessly make use of the means. If, therefore, we either carefully shun sinful provocations, or, being guilty, speedily return and humble ourselves before Him, He will not enter into displeasure against us; He will be appeased towards us. And on our seeing that which is His intent in punishing, before He begins to punish, He is very
well pleased to be thus prevented. So then, if either we follow the advice of the Psalmist, Psal. iv. 4. Stand in awe and sin not, or that other which follows, that we examine our hearts concerning sin, before the decree of punishment go forth, or be put in execution on our guiltiness, pronouncing ourselves guilty, (as the word is here in the text,) which is indeed acknowledging our offences, this is the way to prevent it; and, if it be begun upon us, this is the ready way to remove it, for this is the end of it. When the Lord sees His children grieved for their offences and entreating pardon, He is a tender-hearted father, the very Father of mercies. Those confessions and prayers that His children utter, enter His paternal ears, the rod falls out of His hand, and He turns his stripes into embraces, and His frowns into smiling. There may be, indeed, a confused cry from the sense of the smart, without repentance, that moves Him not. As He directs parents in correcting a peevish child, Thou shalt not spare for his crying, (Prov. xix. 18,) so, He himself doth not spare nor leave off for that kind of crying. It is confession and submission that He seeks, not the howling and complaining which nature draws from any under sharp affliction. This, the Lord complains of in His people, by the same prophet, Hos. vü14. They did not cry unto me with their hearts ;. they only howled upon their beds. A man that is upon the rack for extorting confession, he will cry
and roar when he confesses nothing; but it is not that which is sought of him, pain forces him to that; it is confession, and when he begins the least word of that, they presently stay and release him. Thus it was with David, and he tells it us, and distinguishes these two expressly, Psalm xxxii. 3-5. He tells us of his roaring under the hand of God, but that did no good: he found no ease by that, so long as he kept silence from this confession. But as soon as he began, or did but offer at acknowledgment, one word of confession, yea, the promise of it, brought him the release that a whole day's roaring could not obtain. I roared all day long, but Thou helpedst me not; still Thy hand continued heavy upon me. But I acknowledged my sin; I said, I would confess: my transgression, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.
Now, to the end we may confess aright, there must be a searching of our hearts for our sins, and for some particular one or more which God's afflictions aim at. And, First, if we cannot easily find it out, consider the nature of the affliction. Secondly, seek the knowledge of it from God, who will readily, when He corrects His children, tell them what fault it is. Thirdly, however, finding so many, be sure to spare none of them, and then ye cannot but fall on the main one which breedeth you trouble.
2. The other thing here concerning the end of affliction, is, the efficacy of the means for reaching it. In their affliction they will seek me early. It had been early, in a wiser sense, to have sought to Him for a reconcilement before the affliction; but here it expresses a most diligent seeking, according to the original word: for things that men are earnest upon, they will be early stirring to set about. For besides that is a certain prophecy of what was to come to pass in this people, it hath in it this general truth, with which it agrees; to wit, the moral fitness of great affliction to work this diligent seeking of God, before neglected, and acknowledgment of sin before unfelt; which is expressed in the former clause. Together with seeking His face, there must be the sense and acknowledgment of sin. There is no returning to Him, but from it. In following sin, we depart from God, and by forsaking it, we return to Him. These are inseparable; they are but one motion. It was their sin made Him leave them and go to His place; and therefore it were in vain to seek Him, retaining it, for that would drive Him further from them.
Now affliction is apt to bring men to this; such, I mean, as have any knowledge of God. Although they be not converted, yet, it works them to a temporary fit of returning and seeking God, such as they are capable of. And those make up the greatest part in the public humblings of a nation, or any multitude of people, having most of them no more heat of devotion and desire of God, than the fit of present affliction works; and therefore, when that ceases, they have done likewise with their repentance and regard of God. Being stirred only by that outward principle, they act no longer that way, than while they are acted by it. Water will be very hot, yea, boil and make a noise, when it is upon the fire ; but set it off, and it returns, within a while, to its natural coldness. Thus it was often with the same people. See Psalm lxxviii. And there are still daily too many instances of it. Yet the Lord, to shew how much regard He hath to repentance, lets not the very semblance of it go to loss. He is pleased, for the repressing of sin, and the purging of His Church of gross and scandalous profaneness, to make use of public afflictions to work in many even this kind of repentance, and to answer this repentance with the removal of the affliction that wrought it. With God's own children, this method holds in a way peculiar to them. They may, indeed, as well as others, sometimes stand in need of the rod for their bettering, and it may work it, but there is this difference; their grief for sin and seeking after God, do not wholly depend on the lash; they are constant in these things, as having a living principle within them; whence they shew, in all estates, that sin is to them the greatest grief, and the favour of God the greatest good. Again, when they are surprised with sin, and possibly fall into a fit of security, and must be awaked by some affliction, and it is sent for that purpose, that renewing which it works in them, is not, as in others, a mere present violent mo tion only, from the impulse of the affliction, but it is real and inward from the grace which is in them, awaked and only set on work by the correction; and therefore it is more abiding than the other. There is in them a special love to God, working their repentings and returning under the sense of His hand. And it is from God's special love to them, which others share not in, that He stirs them up to renew repentance, and upon their repentance takes off affliction, and shews Himself graciously reconciled to them. To some, likewise, it may be, that God may use some particular cross, as a partial and concurring means to the work of their repentance and conversion to God. But however, there is in that, some peculiar love of God, and that effectual working of His word and Spirit to beget grace in them, by which afflictions are sanctioned and made useful to excite and awaken grace where it
Now, in all these different ways, affliction is apt for this effect: 1st. Because it sets men in upon themselves, calls in their thoughts, which, in a fair season, more readily dissipate and scatter themselves abroad. As they observe, that much light disqualifies the sight of the mind, as well as that of the body, and that in the dark, men's thoughts are more united and deep; thus, in the darkness of affliction, we feel readily more inwards, and that acquaints us better with ourselves and our sins, and so, tends to the first of these two, the acknowledging of our offences. Besides, the particular respect wę