Lam_3:27-29. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone, and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope.
THERE are in the Holy Scriptures many passages which appear strange and paradoxical, but which do indeed contain the most important truths. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting,” says Solomon: and again, “Sorrow is better than laughter [Note: Ecc_7:2-3.].” These, taken in conjunction with our text, “It is good for a man that be bear the yoke in his youth,” are as much opposed to the general sense of mankind, as any assertions can be: yet, the more they are considered, the more just and important will they be found. The truth is, that men judge of things only by their reference to time; but God’s estimate is formed with a more; immediate reference to eternity. If we consider only the operation of natural causes, we may see that the declaration in our text is just: for it is a common proverb, that ‘practice makes easy;’ and the earlier we are initiated into any art or science, the greater progress in it may be expected: but trials are indispensably necessary for the exercise of many of the Christian virtues: faith is called forth by difficulties; meekness and patience by provocations; forgiveness by injuries: so that a growth in these graces may be considered as materially advanced by early and long-continued occasions for their exercise. But, such is the corruption of our nature, that we need trials to purge it away: it is by fire that even good men must be refined from their dross: and, if we are called to experience afflictions in early life, we may hope our improvement will be proportionably great. In confirmation of this sentiment, we propose to shew the benefit of early afflictions.
In a general point of view—
David, who had had a long and early experience of troubles, confessed “it was good for him that he had been afflicted [Note: Psa_119:71.].” And beyond a doubt, much benefit may be reaped,
From temporal afflictions—
[The loss of health, of friends, of property, are heavy afflictions — — — yet, if duly improved, they may become real blessings to the soul. Illness in early life, though in many respects to be lamented and deprecated, tends exceedingly to counteract the vanity of the youthful mind, and the ardour of youthful passions. It renders a person sober, thoughtful, temperate, and willing to listen to subjects of a more serious cast; and keeps him from innumerable snares and difficulties, to which a buoyant spirit and a vigorous constitution would have exposed him.
Bereavements also (whether of friends or property), and disappointments in life, give us an early taste of the emptiness of the world, and the vanity of all created enjoyments. They have a tendency to direct the mind to higher pursuits, and to make us seek satisfaction, where alone it can be found, in the knowledge, the service, and the enjoyment, of God. The more we are made to feel that the creature is only a broken cistern, the more shall we be disposed to seek our consolation in the fountain of living waters.]
From spiritual afflictions—
[These are far heavier than any which mere temporal things can ever produce. “A man may sustain any trial respecting earthly things; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Yet are the groans and mournings of a deserted soul far preferable to the mirth and gaiety of a thoughtless sinner. A fear of God’s wrath, though so distressing to the soul, has indeed a kindly influence upon us. How does it embitter to us the remembrance of former sins! How does it dispose us to desire true repentance, and to long for an interest in the Saviour! What a different aspect does the sacred volume bear under such a state of mind! and how tremendous its threatenings; how glorious its promises! how happy they to whom those promises are made! In a word, an apprehension of God’s wrath assimilates the mind thus far to the mind of God himself; since it invariably inspires this thought, “Happy art thou, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord!”]
From afflictions for righteousness’ sake—
[These are often very deeply felt. A person who has embraced the Gospel feels in himself a change that should rather recommend him to the favour of the world: his tempera, his dispositions, his habits, his conduct, are all greatly improved; and yet he finds, that he is become an object of dislike, perhaps too of indignation and abhorrence. This is painful to the young disciple: when he begins to love his fellow-creatures, then he himself begins to be hated by then. His former habits, if ever so licentious, exposed him to a little blame perhaps, but not to hatred: but his love to the Gospel exposes him to all manner of hatred and contempt. This, I say, is painful; but yet it is very beneficial to his soul. He would be ready, like Lot, to linger in Sodom; but these persecutions tend to drive him out. They serve in a very peculiar manner to confirm in his mind the principles of the Gospel; because he is taught in that very Gospel to expect the treatment which he has received, and to bear his cross after Christ. He find too in the Gospel, that to suffer for righteousness’ sake is a matter for self-congratulation; that he is to “rejoice in it, and leap for joy;” to account it the highest honour; and to expect from it the richest reward. Thus a new set of feelings are brought into his soul; a set of feelings as far superior to any that he ever before experienced, as the most reined sensations of the soul are above the lowest appetites of a beast.]
But we will proceed to notice this subject,
In that particular view which is specified in the text—
There are two things in particular to which our attention is called, and which are of the greatest possible advantage to the soul;
Seclusion from the world—
[When there is nothing to oppress the mind, we are apt to be off our guard, and to degenerate into a dead and worldly name. We too easily mix with worldly company, and are thereby led to adopt their sentiments, and to drink into their spirit. But when trouble comes upon us, we lose our relish for society: we affect retirement rather, that we may muse over the subjects of our grief; or, as our text expresses it, “We sit alone, and keep silence [Note: Jer_15:17.].” O, who can estimate the benefits arising from this source? By communing with our own hearts in their secret chamber, we attain a knowledge, which is not to be gained either from men or books,—the knowledge of our own hearts. In these seasons too we gain such views of God, of his goodness, his mercy, his power, his grace, as are acquired only in the school of affliction. It is on these occasions also that the Lord Jesus Christ particularly endears himself to our souls, and communicates to us the abundance of his grace. In persons thus instructed there is for the most part a maturity of wisdom and of spiritual understanding that is rarely found amongst those who have never experienced the discipline of adversity. In comparison of others, they manifest the beauty and sweetness of religion in a high degree; excelling others as much as the experienced mariner does the man who has never combated a storm.]
Submission to God—
[“Tribulation worketh patience, experience, and hope.” By directing the thoughts inwards, it leads us to see, what abundant occasion there is within us for Divine chastisements, and how much more lenient they are than we deserve; and they dispose us to say, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him [Note: Mic_7:9.].” At first, perhaps, nature revolts, and is impatient; but after a season, when we have “listened to the rod, and to Him that has appointed it,” we become desirous only that it may drive out the folly that is hound up in our hearts. Then “we put our mouths in the dust,” as penitents that are “dumb before God;” and we wait God’s time, “if so be there may be hope,” and his purpose may be ultimately accomplished, and the trials be sanctified to our eternal good. What a blessed state is this! like Aaron,“ to hold our peace;” like Eli, to say, “Let him do what seemeth him good;” like Job, to bless the Lord; and, like David, to say, “Thou in very faithfulness hast afflicted me!” Surely to learn such lessons as these in early life is most desirable: and, if they cannot be learned without affliction, there is no affliction so severe, but that it will be richly recompensed by such an attainment.]
Those who have experienced no particular affliction—
[Whilst, on account of God’s forbearance towards you, you have reason to be thankful, you have great reason also to fear: for, “if we are without chastisement, we are bastards, and not sons.” At all events, there is much danger lest you become sad witnesses of that truth, “The prosperity of fools destroys them.” Be watchful against the vanity of your deceitful hearts, and beg of God to augment towards you the Communications of his grace in proportion to your peculiar necessities.]
Those who are called to bear the yoke—
[Remember that your trials are the fruit of God’s love to your souls: for “whom he loveth, he chasteneth:” and, instead of thinking your lot hard, learn to “glory in your tribulations.” and to “take pleasure in your distresses [Note: Rom_5:3. 2Co_12:10.]”. It was not an ignorant or enthusiastic man that said, “We count them happy that endure;” and who from that conviction exhorts us, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [Note: Psa_94:12. with Jam_1:2; Jam_1:12; Jam_5:11.].” Only take eternity into the account, and all your trials will appear light and momentary in the view of that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory which they are working out for you [Note: 2Co_4:17-18.].]