Wherefore Complain in Affliction
Lamentations 3:38-39
Out of the mouth of the most High proceeds not evil and good?

This question suggests two considerations; each of which demonstrates the injustice of the complaint. Why should a living man complain? — a living man! Life is still left thee; and of whatsoever thou hast been stripped, there is such a counterpoise in the continuance of life that complaint must be groundless. "A man for the punish. meat of his sins!" There hath nothing befallen thee saving the just recompense of thy misdoing. How can a complaint against justice be itself just! Thus are these two arguments of the text demonstrative of the unfairness of human complaint when the dealings of the Most High pass under review. And these two arguments we will apply, first, to God's general dealings; and, secondly, to His individual.

I. How easy and how common is to it discourse in A QUERULOUS STRAIN ON THE FACT OF OUR BEING MADE TO SUFFER FOR A FOREFATHER'S TRANSGRESSIONS AND ON THE FACT OF OUR DERIVING A POLLUTED NATURE FROM GUILT IN WHICH PERSONALLY WE TOOK NOT ANY SHARE. And we do not deny that the question of original sin is one of great difficulty; and that there requires a chastened and subjugated intellect ere the doctrine can be received in its full and scriptural extent. Nevertheless the transactions of paradise were not so dark and unintelligible that we can decipher nothing of the fitness and justice of the present dispensation. Let it be remembered that not only was Adam the natural parent of the human race; he was also their federal representative; he stood forth as their head, so that by his obedience they were to stand, and by his disobedience to fail. And no appointment could be presented unto the human population with so great a likelihood of duty and blessing. Had the choice been in our power, we would gladly have given our fate into the keeping of Adam; stimulated as he must have been to obedience by so rich a deposit. For there was an infinitely greater probability that Adam, with the fall of millions committed to his keeping, would have watched diligently against the assaults of temptation, than that any lonely individual of his descendants, left to obey for himself, and disobey for himself, should have maintained his allegiance and preserved his fidelity. Therefore do we say, that in appointing mankind to stand or fail in Adam, God dealt with them by a measure of the widest benevolence. No other arrangement can be conceived which would have been equally likely to have advanced their well-being. But if so, complaint is at once removed by the second consideration which the text suggests. It is for the punishment of our sins that we are born the children of wrath and condemnation; and, if for just punishment of our sins, by what right do we complain? If it be in unison with the attributes of God that we should all be reckoned to have taken share in Adam's transgression, it follows that whatever there be of bitterness in our birthright, it has been imposed only as a punishment of sin; and all complaint at our condition is complaint against justice, and therefore itself must be unjust. And this one part of the question of Jeremiah applies itself to reproof of complaint at God's general dealings with man; namely, the part which represents suffering as the punishment of sin. Will not the other part do the same "Wherefore doth a living man complain?" You learn that the threatening by which Adam was warned in tasting the tree of knowledge was most explicit and decisive, whereas the mode in which the threatening was executed seems hardly to accord with the denunciation, "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," was the threatening; but Adam died not on the day that he ate, though, we believe, that he then became liable to death. And we may well suppose that the actual infliction of death was suspended through the interposition of the Mediator; and that when Adam sinned, and with him the whole race of which he might be the progenitor, it was only because Christ Jesus had undertaken from all eternity to achieve redemption that the guilty pair were not immediately destroyed. And, therefore, I can never feel within me the boundings of life, nor avail myself of the furniture of mental endowment, nor survey the varied loveliness of-creation, nor mark the springing of flowers, nor hear the warbling of birds without being reminded that I am reaping the fruits of the Mediator's passion; for unless there had been His omnipotent interposition, the original curse might have received literal execution; and the throbbings of life have ceased to beat throughout this creation. If our very life have been given to us only in return for the marvellous humiliation to which Deity was subjected by tabernacling in the flesh, we have all been the subjects of a loving kindness so vast, so transcendent, so overpowering, that it were base effrontery to describe ourselves as having cause of complaint against God. Living men — living only because Christ died — "wherefore should they complain?" Yes, you may argue, if you will, that to a great mass of the human race life is no blessing at all; but we meet you upon this point. We affirm, on the contrary, that life is so invaluable a blessing that all of us have cause to join heartily in the general thanksgiving of our Church, "We bless Thee for our creation." Is not life then a blessing? Does it cease to be a blessing just because I may debase, and prostitute, and desecrate it? Am I not rather warranted in declaring that life is so vast a blessing that it is a counterpoise to all those disadvantages which are consequent upon the fall, so that he who is disposed to arraign God's general dealings with his race, may justly at once be silenced by the interrogation of our text? Yes, it may in the first place most truly be said, that as the children of a disobedient race, whatever suffering we have to undergo, we endure it for the punishment of our sins. But this is not all: we are living creatures; and not merely living a frail and mortal life, but baptised into the faith of Him who is "the resurrection and the life"; so that we may live forever in glory without measure; in happiness without bounds. Let, then, all murmuring be hushed. Who will dare to repine?

II. But having thus applied the considerations suggested by the text to the complaints which are grounded on the ruin and sinful condition of mankind, we proceed to make A LIKE APPLICATION TO THE COMPLAINTS CALLED FORTH BY INDIVIDUAL AFFLICTION. Whosoever thou art, on whom God hath laid heavily the rod of chastisement; and whatever the visitation beneath which thou art bowed, let all murmuring be hushed with the demand, "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" When God sends affliction, without doubt He designs that it should be felt as affliction. The cross is a burden which we must carry on our shoulders, and not throw it into the fire. But it is one thing to be sensible of affliction, and another to complain of it. And while we may feel acutely, and yet not transgress; we cannot murmur and be blameless. And it is against a repining and not against a suffering spirit that our text must be considered as directing its censure. And, therefore, it applies to none but those who would question the justice of God's dealings; and not to those who resign themselves meekly, although deeply wounded. But before we can bring the considerations suggested by our text to bear upon this complaint, we must examine in what sense it may be affirmed that affliction is allotted to us in punishment of our sins. There may often be an error here. Wherever and whatever I suffer, I suffer as a sinner; but there is no such nice proportion maintained between what I do as a sinner, and what I feel as a sufferer, that for every grief inflicted, I shall be able to produce an offence committed. Sometimes, indeed, it wilt happen that the judgment bears a distinct and palpable reference to the iniquity, so that the particular cause of God's wrath can hardly be overlooked; but we have no warrant for expecting that sin and sorrow should thus necessarily correspond; or that we should be able to calculate precisely the fault to which God hath apportioned present calamity. And it is in exact accordance with these remarks that our text represents affliction as a punishment, not of this sin, or of that sin, but generally, for the punishment of a man's sins. And this should suffice to show you the injustice of complaint. It is much, as we have already shown you, that every one of us transgressed in Adam; that in virtue of his standing as our federal representative, we have fallen from our first estate. It is much that as the result of the earliest rebellion we are all involved in one vast condemnation, so that when successive generations rise up and possess this earth, there is between each individual and his God such a separation that he has right to expect nothing but unmitigated wrath. But when you add to the contemplation of original sin, all the complicated catalogue of actual sin; when you remember that man is a transgressor, not only by imputation, but by every positive and personal working of evil, surely the marvel must be not that so much of wormwood should drug the cup of human life, but that so much of sweetness should still have been left, and that so much of brilliancy should still sparkle on the waters. Is it justice that man impeaches, or is it mercy, when he utters complaints against the dispensations of God? Justice! which of us is there unto whom, if he were dealt with by strict measure of justice, there would not be assigned so stripped and wasted an inheritance that no solitary flower should bloom on him, no smile of friendship gladden him, no voice of affection cheer him? And as to mercy — shall mercy be impeached by those who do daily a scornful despite to the attributes of God? Invert the calculation. Measure the mercy not by what is denied, but by what is bestowed; not by what is taken away, but by what is left — by what we have rather than by what we have not; and mercy stands forth wonderful in its extent; putting out even on behalf of a vast company, energies which are not to be expressed by all the imagery of the material universe. And this too — far worse than this! — for a being who has thrown himself, by his iniquities, out of the pale of loving kindness, and who if he were left like a blasted tree on the mountain top, leafless and branchless — the sole survivor of a goodly forest, torn by the tempest, and scathed by the lightning, might, nevertheless, be pronounced a monument of mercy. And once more. We are living men. And whatever the woe and bitterness of our portion, wherefore should living men complain? Ye all know that this our mortal estate has been appointed by God as a probation for our immortal. Ye all know that we suffer for a while in these houses of clay; that when they shall have been demolished by the inroads of death, our souls must unite and form anew and hasten to a sphere of new and untried being. And life when regarded as the seed time of eternity — life must appear to be so enormous in value that its sternest and most aggravated sorrows dwindle away into comparative nothingness. Living is never so terrible that man does not shrink from dying, and thus he practically owns that he retains the greater blessing, though he may have been stripped of the lesser. May it not then be said of him, with all the emphasis of an indignant remonstrance, Wherefore, yes, wherefore, dost thou a living man complain? And this gift of life should repress the murmurings of the righteous as well as of the unrighteous, for a disposition to complain shows that patience has not yet done its perfect work, and the prolongation of life gives opportunity for this work to be completed. And, therefore, as the waters of the raging sea soothed themselves into calmness at the mandate of the Redeemer, let every rebellious and unholy passion be hushed before the Lord our Creator. "Be still, and know that I am God."

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?

WEB: Doesn't evil and good come out of the mouth of the Most High?

Through Repentance to Faith
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