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SONGS IN THE NIGHT.
sons are, at the best, darksome; it being one part of the punishment of offenders, to be debarred of the benefit of the light. But this, to make it more sad, was the inner prison; the dungeon of that woeful gaol: where, yet, they are not allowed the liberty, either to move or stand; but have their hands manacled, and their feet fast locked in the stocks. There lie thy two precious servants, in little ease; their backs smarting, with their late merciless stripes; their legs galled, with their pinching restraint: when, in their midnight, thou gavest them Songs of such sweetness and power, that the earth and the stones of their prison did move, and as it were dance at that melody; the doors fly open; the fetters fall off; the keeper trembles; the whole house is filled with affright and amazement. The fellow-prisoners, whose durance had been inured to nothing but sighs and moans, wondered to hear such music, in their cold cells, at midnight: but, when they felt their irons shaken off, and the bolts burst, and the doors seeming to invite them to a sudden liberty; how were they astonished to think of the power heavenly charm, which had wrought so miraculous a change!
Neither was it otherwise, with the rest of those blessed messengers of glad tidings of salvation. What other was it, than the night of persecution, with Peter and the other Apostles, when they were scourged for preaching the Gospel of Peace? How pleasing Songs didst thou give them, in this Night of their pain! Neither were their backs more full of wales, than their mouths of laughter, for they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus; Acts v. 41.
And, as all these are animated by one and the same spirit, what other was the disposition and carriage of all those glorious Martyrs and Confessors of all times, which sealed the truth of the Gospel with their blood? When the Night was darkest, their Songs were sweetest. Even when tyranny had wearied itself with their torments, their exultations were at the highest. Never have there been more. heavenly ditties, than those, which have been sung at the stake: neither hath any man gone with more joy to his wedding, than these holy souls have gone to meet their Saviour in those flames.
Neither may we think, that the melody of these Nightly Songs hath been only reserved for these evangelical worthies; but the same divine notes have been put into the mouths of ali God's Saints, in all ages of his Church. The distresses of all the darlings of God upon earth have still been thus alleviated, with the divine strains of spiritual comfort.
Such were the Songs of Noah, when, from the close prison of the ark, he descended to the altar; offering a cheerful sacrifice to his God, in the praise of his gracious preservation; Gen. viii. 21. Such was Jacob's, upon his hard night's lodging in Bethel. Such was Joseph's, in Pharaoh's gaol. Such was Moses's, more than once in the desert. Such was Jonah's in the belly of hell, as he styles the loathsome gorge of the dreadful sea-monster; Jonah ii. 2. But, above all, the Sweet Singer of Israel must pass for the most
glorious pattern, not only of the sacred music of the day, but of Songs also in the Night. Those heavenly composures of his represent him to us, as never void, either of troubles or gratulations; yea, of cheerful gratulations, in the midst of his troubles. Do I hear him passionately bewailing his heavy condition; My soul is sore troubled: I am weary of my groaning: every night wash I my bed with my tears? Ps. vi. 3, 6. Lo, whilst I am ready to pity his hopeless distress, and to say, "Alas, what evil will become of this woeful soul?" comfort breaks forth from heaven; and the next breath triumphs over the insultations of his enemies, and cheers him up with a confident assurance of mercy; Away from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. v. 8. It was no small pang of discomfort, that made him say, Thou didst turn away thy face from me, and I was troubled; Ps. xxx. 7, Lo, this was David's night, when the sun of heavenly consolations was withdrawn from him: will you hear his Song in this Night Lord, thou hast turned my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; v. 11. The case may seen to have been much worse with him, when he cries out, Thy hand is heavy upon me day and night, and my moisture is like the drought of summer; Ps. xxxii. 4: but, in the darkest Night of his sorrow, his Song is loud and cheerful; Thou shalt preserve me front trouble: thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Be glad, ye righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; and be joyful, all that are true of heart; vv. 7, 11. What was it other than Night with him, when he complains to be neglected of the Highest? How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord; for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? Ps. xiii. 1: and what merrier note could there be, than that, which he instantly sings, But my trust is in thy mercy, and my heart is joyful in thy salvation: I will sing of the Lord, because he hath dealt so bountifully with me? vv. 5, 6. Lastly, for nothing were more easy than to trace the footsteps of the holy Psalmist through all his heavenly ditties, no Night could be equally dark to that wherein he cries out, The snares of death compassed me round about, and the pains of hell got hold upon me; Ps. cxvi, 3: no Song could be sweeter, than gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful: I was in misery, and he helped me. Turn again to thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee: For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling; vv. 5-8.
But what do I instance in these singular patterns of a holy cheerfulness under affliction, when the Chosen Vessel ranks it amongst the gracious dispositions of the faithful soul? Not sa only, saith he to his Roman converts, but we glory in tribulations also; Rom. v. 3. And his fellow Apostle, no less sweetly, seconds him: My brethren, count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations; James i. 2.
Lo, these divine oracles do not tell us of joy, after our sorrows aud afflictions: this were no news to God's children in this vale of tears: Weeping may endure for a night, saith the Psalmist : joy cometh in the morning; Ps. xxx. 5: but they speak of joy, in the very brunt
of our sufferings; as if they laid before us Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego singing in the midst of their flames; Dan. iii.
This is a temper of the soul, not more excellent, than hard to be attained. We all aspire towards it: not many reach up to it. To be patient under a heavy cross, is no small praise: to be contented, is more: but, to be cheerful, is the highest pitch of Christian fortitude. Not to send forth the juice of sorrow, such is our tears, when we are hard pressed, is manly: but, to smile upon torture, and to sing when others shriek, is no less than heroical.
There is, I confess, no little advantage, this way, in the difference of constitutions: whereof some are more soft and melting; others, more hardy and obdurate: some are naturally more malleable to afflictions; others, more waxen to all impressions of grief. Wise Seneca observed some, in his time, that took a kind of pride and contentment in being slashed and mangled; whereas, others, for but a box on the ear, are ready to cry out " Murder." The va. liant Goths held it a perpetual shame, for one of their sword-men to wink in receiving a wound; when as a delicate Sybarite complains, that the rose-leaves lie doubled under his back.
But, as weak hearts do commonly break under heavy afflictions; so the strongest shall find it difficult enough, not to buckle under the weight of some crosses: but, to go lightly and nimbly away with the most pressing load of this kind, is more than a merely human strength can perform. Neither would the Holy Ghost have appropriated to himself the title of Comforter, and the God of all Comfort, if any mortal power could be able to do this great work without him; John xiv, 26. 2 Cor. i. 3. Isa. li. 12.
THE Holy Spirit then, as being a most free agent, is sometimes pleased, immediately to cast into the soul the comfortable gleams of heavenly consolations; but, ordinarily, he causeth this gracious cheerfulness in the heart of believers, by working them to strong resolutions, grounded upon powerful and irrefragable motives; such as are fetched from the Author, the Intention, the Nature, the Issue of our affliction.
THE Temanite said well, Affliction cometh not forth of the dust; neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Job v. 6. It is not of so base an original as earth, but DERIVES ITSELF FROM HEAVEN; even from the Father of all Mercies. That Great and Holy God, who is most justly jealous of his own honour, will not lose the glory of
working and managing the far greater part of human occurrences: since the contentments, that we can hope for, are not the tythe of those miseries, which we must look to meet with in this our earthly pilgrimage. This right, therefore, the Almighty wholly challengeth to himself: I make peace and create evil: I, the Lord, do all these things; Isa. xlv. 7. Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? saith the Prophet; Amos iii. 6.
Why then do I not thus argue with myself in my sufferings? "Is it not the hand of my good God, that lies thus heavy upon me? Can I, but acknowledge him, to be a God of infinite wisdom and infinite mercy? If of infinite wisdom, how can he but know what is best for me? if of infinite mercy, how can he but do what he knows to be best? And, if it be best for me to suffer, why should I not be cheerful in suffering? What do I looking to second hands? This man, that beast; this fever, that tempest; this fire, that inundation, are but his rods: the hand is his, that wields them their malignity is their own: nothing, but goodness, proceeds from him, that useth them to niy advantage: It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good; 1 Sam. iii. 18. If but as a creature, O God, thou hast full right to dispose of me as thou wilt; I am thy clay, fashion me as thou pleasest: but, as thy redeemed one, as thine adopted one, I have full and dear interest in thee as a Father; and thou canst be no other than thyself. Let it not be enough for me, to hold my peace, because thou Lord hast done it; but, let me break silence, in praising thy Name, for that thou, in very faithfulness and love, hast afflicted me; Ps. cxix. 75. The fathers of our flesh, even though they whip us unduly and out of passion, yet we kneel to their persons, and cling to their knees, and kiss their rods: how much more should I adore thine infinite goodness, in all thy holy, righteous, merciful corrections! It is for a slave, to grudge at the scourges of a cruel master: he is not worthy to pass for thy child, that receives not thy stripes with a reverent meekness. Tears may be here allowed; but a reluctant frown were no better than rebellion. Let infidels then and ignorants, who think they suffer by chance, and impute all their crosses to the next hand, looking no higher than their own heads, repine at their adversities, and be dejected with their afflictions: for me, who know that Í have a Father in Heaven, full of mercy and compassion, whose providence hath measured out to a scruple the due proportions of my sorrows, counting my sighs and reserving the tears which he wrings from me in his bottle; why do I not patiently lie down, and put my mouth in the dust, (Lam. iii. 29.) meekly submitting to his holy pleasure, and blessing the hand from which I smart ?"
THE INTENT of the Agent must needs work a great difference, in our construction of the act.
An enemy, we know, strikes with an intention to wound, and
kill: no father means to maim his child, in beating him his ten. der heart is far from intending any bodily hurt to the fruit of his loins. The chirurgeon and the executioner do both the same act: both cut off the limb: but, the one, to save a patient; the other, to punish an offender.
O Father of Mercies, since it is thou, that strikest me, I know thou canst have no other thoughts, but of love and compassion to my soul. O thou Heavenly Physician, if thou hast decreed me to be blooded or cauterized, I know it cannot be but for my health: and if, for my bodily cure, I do not only admit of these painful re medies, but reward them; how should I bless thee for this beneficial pain thou puttest me to, for my spiritual and eternal welfare! What an unthankful wretch shall I be, if I be not more sensible of. thy favour, than of my own complaint !
Thus much of thy will, O God, hast thou revealed to us, as to let us know, that all thine intentions, in the afflictions of thy chosen ones, have respect either to thyself, or to them: to thyself, in the Glory that redounds to thy Name, in their sustentation and deliverance; to them, whether for their Trial or their Bettering.
1. Thine Israel, O God, had never endured so hard a bondage under Pharaoh, as to be over-swelted in the Egyptian furnaces, to be laded with merciless stripes, to be stinted unto impossible tasks, had it not been to magnify thy Almighty power, in supporting them against the rage of tyranny; and revenging their wrongs upon their oppressors, by miraculous plagues, and an unexampled "de
When thy disciples, O Saviour, upon the sight of the poor blindborn beggar, took the boldness to ask thee who had sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind; it pleased thee to return them this quick answer, Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him; John ix. 3. Surely, the event justified thy words. All the eyes of the beholders of this poor dark soul did not win so much glory to thee, as this man's want of eyes, so omnipotently supplied by thy divine power. Restoring of sight was nothing, in comparison of creating it: nature, and art, hath done that; none, but the God of Nature, could effect this. No doubt, this now-seeing beggar could not but bless thee for his blindness, that gave thee occasion of shewing this miraculous proof of thy Deity; and applauded his own happiness, in being made the subject of so convictive a miracle.
Had not Lazarus sickened, and died, and smelt of the grave, where had been the glory, which accrued to thee, by his resuscitation?
Had not Daniel lodged in the lion's den, and the three children taken possession of the fiery furnace, where had been the glory of their admired preservation?
Most just it is, then, O Lord, that thine eye should be most upon