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DEUT. Iv. 30, 31.
come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn
The utility and benefits of affliction as a means of religious discipline are not, as was remarked in a former discourse, to be computed by a reference to the amount of our actual suffering, or the length of time in which we are personally sensible of pain and trouble ; for, whatever may be our condition at this moment, or however diverse the present experience of individuals, the Almighty has instructed us all to expect afflictions, and thereby supplied us with an immediate and continual inducement to the culture of reli-. gion-to that holiness of character which infers our title to the promises of the Gospel, and anticipates a final and eternal exemption from suffering in the world to come. But what is most important on this subject is to ask ourselves - How, but by encountering and overcoming in anticipation the afflictions to which we may be destined, shall we "in patience possess our souls” under actual suffering, and prove, in our own experience, the value of our faith as Christians? How shall we illustrate its efficacy “to overcome the world”—to overcome it in its power to subdue the fortitude, as well as the virtue, of mankind? How can we hope to support with honour those trials which it may have pleased Divine Providence to appoint unto us, whether of our patience or integrity, but by previously informing the mind with religious knowledge ; retaining that knowledge in habitual contact, so to speak, with our thoughts and feelings; and premeditating its use and application ?-as well-disciplined warriors in times of peace accustom themselves to the weight and use of their armour, perform beforehand the various evolutions, and well nigh feel the plight, of battle? But, neglecting this previous inurement and exercise of the soul, can we wonder that the faith which we profess so often fails to endue us with a moral courage, a devout fortitude, akin to the spirit which distinguished the first professors of our religion, and which the sacred writers so manifestly aim to inspire ? Can we wonder that, in so many instances, our knowledge of the Gospel rather aggravates the sufferings of this life by awakening an inquietude of conscience, and gloomy apprehensions of the future !--that, when called to “endure a great fight of afflictions,” the armoury of God supplies the combatant with weapons which he can neither bear nor use? If, as the soldiers of Christ, in our conflict with trouble or with sin, we resemble those degenerate armies which served in the decline of the Roman glory, whose armour, instead of being habitually worn and used, was laid aside
in light chariots which followed the march, · what can be expected but that, like them, we should, as the historian writes, “at the ap“ proach of the enemy, resume with haste and “ reluctance the unusual incumbrance.” If we would vanquish the world, whether in its sufferings or temptations, we must adopt into our spiritual warfare the policy which distinguished the military character of a more ancient and illustrious time; when the name of an army denoted, not the actual conflict: with the enemy, but the preparation to meet him;* when it was observed that “ the effusion of blood was the only circumstance which distinguished a field of battle from a field of exercise;"—nay, when it was provided “ that the arms destined for the imitation of war should be double the weight which was 'required in real action." It may indeed seem impracticable to acquire an equanimity of character exceeding the necessity of our con-, dition, or more than equal to the probable exigencies of human life ; but it cannot be doubted that Christians ought, and by the Divine assistance are enabled, so to familiarize and imbue their minds with the counsels and promises of holy writ, so to entwine their affections with the consolatory and encouraging truths of their religion, as to be fully prepared to suffer whatever ills may await them; to support the worst conditions of human life ; and “ to hold fast their confidence" even to the end.
For these reasons, the necessity of affliction, in its personal experience, to awaken the sense of religion, and to incline us“ to turn to the Lord our God, and be obedient unto his
* Exercitus. Gibbon, ch. i. . :
voice," betrays a foolish and criminal neglect of forecast and preparation; and accuses our slowness to meditate and apply the instructions of Divine Providence. The text, however, reminds us that such, in numerous instances, is our untractableness to the heavenly discipline-such our reluctant and dilatory application of the heart unto wisdom. “ When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice, (for the Lord thy God is a merciful God,) he will not forsake thee.” It was not expected that the Israelites would renounce the idolatrous worship and forbidden practices into which it was predicted they would fall, in prosperous and peaceful times. On the contrary, it was foreseen that continued security from their enemies would harden them in their iniquity, and accumulate matter for repentance in the day of their calamitous visitation. The crisis of invasion and captivity—of the nation's overthrow and prostration by its enemies, was the hopeful period--the season when awakened from the intoxication of national success and glory, they might mourn their departure from the Divine Author of all their prosperity, and the