What Are the Usual Sins which are Incident to Sharp and Tedious Afflictions?
by Thomas Manton
1. Impatience and murmuring against God. When our wills are crossed we cannot bear it. To be sick of the fret is a disease very incident to such as have not learned to deny their own wills, and entirely to give up themselves to the conduct of God's providence: Gen. 30:1, 'Give me children, or I die;' Ps. 37:1, 'Fret not thyself because of evil-doers.' We should not vex and fret, but we are apt to do so, to murmur and repine against God, and that for small matters, as Jonah for a gourd: 'I do well to be angry,' Jonah 4:9. So strangely are men transported! Pettish desires earnestly solicited, and finally disappointed, breed this impatience in us. In every frame of heart, when notably stirred, we should say, Is this well? God puts the question to Jonah, 'Dost thou well to be angry?' What! to be discontented with God's own providence, especially in small matters? But we let loose the reins to our passions, and if we be crossed a little, then 'Let me die.' Some of this impatience was in good David, for it presently followeth the text, ver. 84, 'How many are the days of thy servant?' If the affliction must last yet longer, then even let me know when I shall die.
2. A spirit of revenge against the instruments of our trouble. When we dare not let fly against God, we vent our passions freely against men, and seek their hurt and loss, and think we are safe. Whereas Christianity establisheth a universal and diffusive charity, even to enemies, that we should pray for them, and seek their good: Mat. 5:44, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.' The command of love doth not extend only towards kindred and friends and acquaintance, but even to enemies. I say into you, Christ will try our sincerity and obedience by this precept, by forgiving wrongs, and forbearing all unjust and unmerciful revenge, and our love by loving our enemies. It is hard to bring the revengeful heart of man to it. The faults they have committed against us do not exempt us from the general law of charity, from doing good to them according to our power. As we must not hate or curse, or requite injury with injury, so we must love, bless, do good, and pray for them, wishing them all the good in the world, especially that which they most want, the good of their souls; returning friendly words for railing and evil speaking; feeding and clothing them when hungry, thirsty, or naked; desiring pardon and grace. This is our rule; but how few Christians comply with it, and conquer their unruly passions! No; rather justify them by the greatness of their temptations, and if they be kept from retaliating of injuries, that is rare. Most have too great a coldness and indifference for enemies: Prov. 24:29, 'I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.' This is to take the work out of God's hands, to review the arrogance of Adam, 'Be as gods.' Generally men are vindictive and transported with uncomely passions when wronged by men: 2 Sam. 16:9, 'Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.' This was the ruffling humour of Abishai; but David was in a calmer, cooler frame and temper of spirit: No; 'God bid him curse.' Many a man can bear afflictions, but not injuries. No man is troubled at a shower of rain, but if one cast a bucket or basin of water upon us, we shall not let it pass, if it be in the power of our hands, without revenge.
3. Using indirect means for our relief. It is better to pine away in affliction than to be freed from it by sin, to be as a bottle in the smoke than to forget our duty; therefore no trouble should drive us to sin, or to use sinful means for our escape; though worn out with expectation, let our duty hold our hands from evil. Whatever our trouble be, from the hand of God or men, we have no reason to go to the devil to ease us of it; as Saul goeth to the witch of Endor: 1 Sam. 28:7, 'Seek me out a woman that hath a familiar spirit.' And to the devil we go when we use bad means. Carnal shifts are very natural to us, and when we cannot trust God, and depend upon him, we presently are apt to take some indirect course of our own. Affliction is often compared to a prison, and the sorrows which accompany it to fetters and chains. Now, God, that puts us into prison, can only help us out again, for he is the governor and judge of the world. Now, to use carnal shifts is an attempt to break prison. We are not able to hold out till God send a happy issue, but take some carnal course of our own. If the heart be not the better resolved, thus it will be. The devil will make an advantage of our afflictions, if he can; he tempted Christ when he was hungry, Mat. 4:3, so he tempteth us when he seeth us needy, disgraced, reproached, trampled under foot. No; though our estate be low, and the fountain of our supplies be dried up, though our credit be smutched and blacked with slander and reproach, though we be cast out as useless things, as an old withered skin-bottle, counted unfit to hold wine, yet we must not forget God's precepts. We need not take a sinful course for the vindication of our credit from unjust reproaches: Isa. 51:7, 'Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law: fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be afraid of their revilings.' You that make reckoning of keeping close to my word, that have my law not only in your heads, but in your hearts, God hath his times to vindicate you; you need not distrust the providence of God under straits. When Jacob was low, he tells Laban, 'My righteousness shall answer for me,' Gen. 30:33. The hand of God will help us and reward honest labours, without our being false or unfaithful to men. We need not make a foul retreat in the day of trial, nor shift for ourselves by complying with the lusts of men, nor wax weary of our duty as quite discouraged and disheartened, Heb. 12:3, as we are apt to do when troubles are grievous, and long continued.
4. Another evil is desponding and distrustful thoughts of God. David, after all his experiences, was surprised with this kind of thoughts: 1 Sam. 27:1, 'I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.' He had a particular promise and assurance of the kingdom, and had seen much of God's care over him, and yet after all this David doubted of the word of God, and bewrayed his weakness of faith and affiance in him, who had watched over him, and delivered him out of many great and imminent dangers in a marvellous manner, when there was less appearance of hope than now, 1 Sam. 22:5; so Ps. 31:22, 'I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless, thou heardest the voice of my supplications, when I cried unto thee.' God hath no more care and thought of me than if I were not. This was said at the very time when deliverance was coming. Here David yielded a little to foolish haste, and lost the staidness of his faith: so Ps. 77:7, 8, 'Will the Lord cast off for ever? will he be favourable no more? is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?' Questions to appearance full of despair and despondency, yet there is some faith couched under them. Will the Lord cast off? It implieth the soul cannot endure to be thrust from him. Will he be favourable no more? It implieth some former experience, and desire of new proof. Is his mercy clean gone? I have deserved all this, but God is merciful. Will not mercy help? To appearance indeed despair carrieth it from faith; that is uppermost
5. Questioning our interest in God merely because of the cross. Our Lord hath taught us to say My God in the bitterest agonies; but few learn this lesson: Judges 6:13, 'If God be with us, why is all this befallen us?' As if they were never exercised with trouble who have God with them. Sometimes we question the love of God because we have no afflictions, and anon because we have nothing but afflictions; as if God were not the God of the valleys as well as of the mountains, and his love did change with our outward condition, and worldly prosperity were a mark of grace, which, when lost, our evidence were gone. How hardly soever God dealeth with his people, yet he loveth them: Heb. 12:6, 'Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth;' so Rev. 3:19, 'As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.' A father is a father when he smileth and when he frowneth; he may have love in his heart when a rod in his hand; and we have no reason to question our adoption merely because we are put under the correction and discipline of the family.
6. Not only despairing thoughts do arise, but atheistical thoughts, as if there were no God, no providence, no distinction between good and evil, and it were in vain to serve him: Ps. 73:13, 'I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.' The flesh is importunate to be pleased, and therefore, when it meeteth not with desired satisfaction, we are apt to question all, and to cast off the fear of God, and all regard of his service: Mal. 3:14, 'Ye have said, It is in vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?' When temptations are sore, and afflictions tedious, thoughts of so horrid a complexion may float in our minds.
These are the distempers which are incident to those who have been long afflicted, and are often disappointed in the issue which they expect.
Source: Expostion of Psalm 119, by Thomas Manton