Doctrine. It behoves every one to arm and prepare himself for the evil day of affliction and death, which unavoidably he must conflict with. The point hath three branches. First. The day of affliction and death is an evil day. Second. This evil day is unavoidable. Third. It behoves every one to provide for this evil day.
First Branch. The day of affliction, especially death, is an evil day. Here we must show how affliction is evil, and how not.
- It is not morally or intrinsically evil; for, if it were evil in this sense, God could not be the author of it. His nature is so pure, that no such evil can come from him, any more than the sun’s light can make night. But this evil of affliction he voucheth for his own act. ‘Against this family do I devise an evil,’ Micah 2:3, yea more, he so appropriates it to himself, that he will not have us think any can do us evil beside himself. It is the prerogative he glories in, that there is no evil in the city, but it is of his doing, Amos 3:6. And well it is for the saints that their crosses are all made in heaven; they would not else be so fitted to their backs as they are. But for the evil of sin, he disowns it, with a strict charge that we lay not this brat, which is begotten by Satan upon our impure hearts, at his door. ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man,’ James 1:13.
- If affliction were thus intrinsically evil, it could in no respect be the object of our desire, which sometimes it is, and may be. We are to choose affliction rather than sin, yea, the greatest affliction before the least sin. Moses chose affliction with the people of God, rather than the pleasures of sin for a season. We are bid rejoice when we fall into divers temptations, that is, afflictions. But in what respects then may the day of affliction be called evil?
(1.) As it is grievous to sense in Scripture, evil is oft put as contradistinguished to joy and comfort. ‘We looked for peace, and behold not good.’ A merry heart is called a good heart, a sad spirit an evil spirit, because nature hath an abhorrency to all that opposeth its joy, and this every affliction doth, more or less, Heb. 12:11. No affliction, while present, is joyous, but grievous; it hath, like physic, an unpleasing farewell to the sense. Therefore Solomon, speaking of the evil days of sickness, expresseth them to be so distasteful to nature, that we shall say, ‘We have no pleasure in them.’ They take away the joy of our life. Natural joy is a true flower of the sun of prosperity, it opens and shuts with it. It is true indeed, the saints never have more joy than in their affliction, but this comes in on another score; they have a good God that sends it in, or else they would be as sadly on it as others. It is no more natural for comfort to spring from afflictions, than for grapes to grow on thorns, or manna in the wilderness. The Israelites might have looked long enough for such bread, if heaven had not miraculously rained it down. God chooseth this season to make the omnipotency of his love the more conspicuous. As Elijah, to add to the miracle, first causeth water in abundance to be poured upon the wood and sacrifice, so much as to fill the trench, and then brings fire from heaven by his prayer, to lick it up; thus God pours out the flood of affliction upon his children, and then kindles that inward joy in their bosoms which licks up all their sorrow; yea, he makes the very waters of affliction they float on, add a further sweetness tot he music of their spiritual joy, but still it is God that is good, and affliction that is evil.
(2.) The day of affliction is an evil day, as it is an unwelcome remembrancer of what sinful evils have passed in our lives. It revives the memory of old sins, which, it may be, were buried many years ago in the grave of forgetfulness. The night of affliction is the time when such ghosts use to walk in men’s conscience’s; and as the darkness of the night adds to the horror of any scareful object, so doth the state of affliction, which is itself uncomfortable, add to the terror of our sins, then remembered. Never did the patriarchs’ sin look so ghastly on them, as when it recoiled upon them in their distress, Gen 42:21. The sinner then hath more real apprehensions of wrath than at another time; affliction approximates judgement, yea, it is interpreted by him as a pursuivant sent to call him presently before God, and therefore needs beget a woeful confusion and consternation in his spirit. O that men would think of this, how they could bear the sight of their sins, and a rehearsal sermon of all their ways, in that day! That is the blessed man indeed, who can with the prophet then look on them, and triumph over them. This indeed is a dark parable, as he calls it, as ‘I will open my dark saying upon the harp; wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?’ Ps. 49:4,5.