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PART FIFTH.
ON THE WILL OF GOD, AND THE UNION OF THE DIVINE AND HUMAN WILL.



CHAPTER VII.


ON THE RELATION OF SUFFERING TO DIVINE UNION.


Of the connection between suffering and holiness. — The separation from objects of unholy desire necessarily involves suffering. — When separated from such objects, man is led to seek God. — Suffering to be regarded as a spiritual privilege. — Reasons for this view. Dyonysius the Areopagite. — Explanation of the " divine darkness."


THE way of those who truly and deeply believe, like that trodden by the divine Master in whom they have trusted, is a path of trial. "Whosoever," says the Saviour, "doth not bear his cross and come after me,
cannot be my disciple." [Luke 14:27.] The most eminent Christians have, as a general thing, been called to pass through the greatest sufferings. Infinite wisdom, which explains the means it uses by the results that follow, has seen fit to connect their sufferings with their sanctification. God has seen it to be necessary that they should suffer, not only for the good of others, which they could easily understand, but also for their own good, the reasons of which it was the more difficult to see. A few remarks will explain, in part, the nature of this necessity.

2. A heart
unsanctified, which is the same thing as a heart not united with God, is a heart which has become disordered both in its faith and in its attachments. Its desires, in consequence of its faith being wrongly placed, are separated from their true centre; and, consequently, are either given to wrong objects, or, by being inordinate, exist in a wrong degree. The sanctification of the heart is its restoration from this wrong state. And this is done by a course the reverse of that which sin has previously prompted it to take, namely, by the substitution of a right faith for a wrong one; by taking the desires from wrong objects, and by suppressing all their inordinate action. But this is a process which is not ordinarily gone through without much suffering.

3. The faith and desires of the man who is disunited from God, are necessarily placed upon himself; including in himself those things which he claims and rests in as
his own. A man, for instance, has faith in his riches, in the lands he has purchased, and the houses he has built. His affections naturally follow in the channel of his faith; and he loves what he believes in. His possessions become his God. In what way can this bond of unholy union be sundered? It is by destroying, in whole or in part, the objects to which this wrong confidence and these wrong affections attach themselves. If the objects remain in their strength and beauty, and fulfill all the purposes which are expected of them, how is it possible to destroy confidence and attachment? "I spake unto thee," says God, " in thy prosperity, and thou saidst I will not hear." [Jeremiah 2l: 21.] And accordingly, he is compelled, as it were, to send his flood and fire, his pestilence and famine. Smitten and blasted in the work of his hands, man's faith in human toil and acquisition at last fails; and he exclaims, with the wise preacher of the Scriptures, "All is vanity and vexation of spirit." It is then, and not till then, that he is ready to hear and obey the voice of his Maker.

4 Again, man has confidence in his reputation. With care and labor he has established a good name, which seems to him a tower of strength. His love corresponds to his faith; and he loves his honor, as he terms it, still more than his wealth. But since the fall of man, selfishness, instead of holy love, has become the basis of humanity; and envy, base, malignant, and insidious, always follows in the track of fame. God, who knows his idol, has allowed the destroyer to cast it down. Before he is aware of it, his good name, which had been secured by years of toil and care, which shone high and bright as the sunbeam, is prostrated in the dust. His tears show how great and bitter is his disappointment. From that hour, ceasing to place confidence in himself, he can say, what he never said before: "I called upon the Lord in distress. The Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man." [Ps. 118:5, 8.]

5. And it is thus in other things. Looking everywhere except to God, man is everywhere doomed to disappointment. And God, in the exercise of his mercy, means that he shall be. It is in mercy that the divine hand is heavily upon him. In his wealth, in his health, in his good name, in his worldly wisdom in everything which separates him from God, the storms from heaven sweep away the sandy foundation on which his frail house is built. Ceasing, under such circumstances, to have faith in himself, and in anything which depends upon himself, he has nothing left him but hopelessness and despair. And it is in this necessity that he begins to think of the true source of help. Despair of himself leads him to seek God.

6. There is truth in the saying which is found in experimental writers, that the loss of ourselves is the possession of God. The sad experience in our state of sin, that faith in the created and the finite has no adequate foundation, leads us back, or rather is the occasion, through the grace of God, of our
being led back to him, who is the only proper object of faith. When the vessel of our own making sinks, when the frail plank to which we had clung passes from under us, it is then, and not till then, that we seize the strong hand of him who walks upon the winds and waves. We sink that we may rise; we suffer that we may be healed again; we die that we may live.

7. In connection with what has been said, we may properly make the remark further, that suffering, considered as a nurse of holiness, may justly be regarded as a spiritual privilege. Certain it is, that the only true pleasure, the only true privilege, which heaven or earth affords, is that of doing and suffering the will of God. All pleasure which is separate from God, is only evil and wretchedness in disguise.

It is well for us to suffer, among other things, that we may have a better understanding of the situation of others who suffer, and may have more sympathy with them. A fallen world, where evil is continually striving with good, is not the garden where true and unalloyed happiness may be expected to grow. Suffering, whatever distinctions grace may make among men, places us on a level with the common lot of humanity, and leads us continually to think of the situation of sinners, and to feel for them.

Another of the benefits connected with the endurance of suffering, is, that, when endured in the fulness of Christ's dispositions, it imparts true liberty of spirit. It Is hardly necessary to say, that there can be no bondage to the mind that cheerfully lays all the world's gifts upon God's altar. It finds its riches in having nothing, and realizes the feeling of its freedom in the fact that it has no choice separate from God's choice.

8. Again, when suffering is attended with right affections, it becomes one of the strongest, and perhaps the only satisfactory evidence of true love. If God should bestow upon us mercies alone, without trials, it might be difficult to say, whether we loved him for himself, or only for the blessings he gave. But if our affection remains unshaken under the trials he sees fit to send, we have good reason to regard it as true. The love which exists and flourishes at such times is not a mere accessory, dependent for its continuance upon circumstances, but is a permanent principle.

One remark more remains to be added. The tendency of suffering is not only to lead us to God, as the only being who can help us, but to keep us there. The general result, in the case of Christians, is, the more they suffer, the more they trust; and the more they trust, the more will the principle of trust or faith be strengthened. So that affliction, by impressing the necessity of higher aid than human, tends not only to originate faith in God, but indirectly to increase it; tends not only to unite us with God, but to strengthen that union.

Indeed, it is difficult to see how faith can be much strengthened in any other way. When we walk by faith, we walk, in a certain sense, in darkness. If it were perfectly light around us, we should not walk by faith, but by open vision. Faith is a light to the soul; but it is the very condition of its existence, that it shall have a dark place to shine in. It is faith which conducts us, but our journey is through shadows. And this illustrates the meaning of certain expressions fre­quently found in the experimental writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, and found also in other writers who hold similar views, such as the "
night of faith," "the divine darkness," "the obscure night of faith," and the like.

It is hardly necessary to say, that darkness or night, in its application to the mind, is a figurative expression, and means trial or suffering, attended with ignorance of the issues and objects of that suffering. And, accordingly, these writers teach, in harmony with other experimental writers, that seasons of trial, leading to the exercise of faith, are exceedingly profitable. The biblical writers, whom they profess to follow, obviously teach the same. "Persecuted," says the apostle, "but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." And again, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." 2 Cor. 4:9, 10, 17.