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and God takes off his chariot wheels, so that he drives heavily; withdraws the linch-pin, as it were, or takes away the main-spoke in the wheel of his plan, so that he is compelled to lay it aside. But ordinarily God proceeds more indirectly. He does not speak in a voice from heaven; he is not going to say from the sky, or in a supernatural dream by an angel, You must not go this way or that, or do this or that. He relies
the common sense of his children for the right interpretation of his providences, and he leaves every man to draw his own inferences; only he says, Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, that are void of understanding, whose mouths must be held in with bit and bridle : that is not the way God takes to guide his children, but deals with them as free moral agents, and sometimes relies greatly upon their tenderness of conscience to see and feel quickly his meaning. To this man will I look, even to him that is of a lowly and contrite spirit, and who trembleth at my Word.”
And doubtless, one of the first things which a child of God, who trembleth at his Word, will do in affliction, must be to examine himself, and see what course he has been pursuing, what sin he has been cherishing, what selfish scheme indulging, or what idol he has set up in his heart, and to suspect that that is the thing that God means. But a man may easily deceive himself if he will; he may deal violently with his conscience, and
shut his eye against the lessons God is teaching him, even in the midst of affliction ; and if he does this, he will come out of his affliction a more selfish man than before, and with a radical injury done to his character, instead of a benefit. The flaw in that stone holds on, after all its cutting and filing; nay, it has become more conspicuous, and if God does not have to throw it away, he will be able at most to use it merely to fill up a chink in some obscure place, instead of putting it where it would have shone brightly to his glory.
It is a very precious thing, a very heavenly attainment, to have a quick and keen perception of God's meaning in his discipline, a tender and holy consciousness of its purport, and a sweet readiness to understand and obey its intimations, without forcing God to use greater violence. There is a childlike simplicity in the soul of a man walking closely with God, that finds out his meaning, even when others do not see how he is indicating it ; just as a little child, when it is doing wrong in company, will understand even a gesture of its mother, and not wait to be spoken to. It is tempting God, when a man hardens himself in his adversity. And for a child of God to wait to be spoken to more plainly, when the finger of God's warning providence is lifted in affliction, argues an obstinacy of temper, which God must conquer, or that child will be lost. If God's covenant love is set pon him, God will make him learn obedience by the
things which he suffers, or, if he does persevere in his own way, God will put such ingredients into his fancied cup of happiness, as shall turn it into wormwood.
Temptations or trials, the endurance of which an apostle tells us is blessed, may be of two kinds, inward and external, and without them a man may know nothing of himself, but the hidden evils of his heart may be completely concealed from him. God varies this discipline, according as he sees the state of his people and the accomplishment of his object in the perfecting of their character require. Inward trials are the hardest to bear, and external trials indeed are light things, if a man's inward state be holy and happy, if he have the clear shining of the Saviour's countenance, and a sense of the approbation of his God. And there are so many and such precious promises made to those who are in affliction ; afflictions, rightly received, are so clearly represented as a proof of sonship, and if endured for Christ's sake, are so evidently considered as the greatest of blessings; that when the heart is in the enjoyment and exercise of God's love it is very easy to endure. But when the inward state is wrong, when the soul has departed from God and grace is declining, then external trials are terrible. The mind is not at all prepared for them, they rouse up a sense of sin, and fill the soul with the anguish of conviction, and such a man feels, in his departure from God, when overtaken by such evils, as if he had no friend or reliance either for this world or the next.
External trials in such a case are oftentimes the only means of salvation, the means of awakening, of conviction and repentance. We love our own ease, and in an easy state, if God lets it continue, we may worship our own idols without being aware of it. On the other hand, to a soul that is following hard after God, living near to him, external trials are a great help to its advancement, a great assistance to its graces. External trials in such a case are sometimes as the very windows of heaven to the soul; the light and blessedness of the celestial world come down through them. And they call grace into exercise and strengthen it; they work patience, faith, submission, and all the graces that are to be learned in no other school but that of af. fliction. They are a great means of power in prayer.
Inward trials are of very various kinds, and they sometimes come even in answer to prayer. Sometimes God leaves his dearest children to such a perception and experience of the devices of Satan, the temptations of his malice, and the dreadful evils of the heart, that they are wellnigh overwhelmed and in despair. We have referred already to some instances of such experience as this, recorded abundantly in the Psalms. And the fruits of such trials are blessed. Blessed is the man that endureth such temptation ; we mean, endureth it by fleeing to Christ with it. It is in such trials that the loftiest and most spiritual exercise of faith is called for; and it is out of such trials that there arises a rich, deep, and lasting experience, with strong and blessed points of Christian character. Such trials are good even in the commencement of one's Christian course, better then, perhaps, than ever, for so they early teach the preciousness of Christ and the habit of profound reliance on him, as nothing else can. Therefore let no one be discouraged in passing through such trials. Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay himself upon his God. It is comparatively at an early stage of his progress that Bunyan has put that terrific conflict of Christian with Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation, and the scene of his difficulties in the Valley of the Shadow of Death ties near at hand. With this delineation