Lamentations 3:38
Do not both adversity and good come from the mouth of the Most High?
Sermons
The Source of Evil and of GoodJ.R. Thomson Lamentations 3:38
Address to ComplainersJ. Burns, D. D.Lamentations 3:38-39
Affliction Considered A, PunishmentA. J. Morris.Lamentations 3:38-39
Complaint Under AfflictionD. Conant.Lamentations 3:38-39
God and EvilW. F. Adeney, M. A.Lamentations 3:38-39
Living Men Ought not to ComplainSketches of Four Hundred SermonsLamentations 3:38-39
Sinful Man is a Complaining CreatureLamentations 3:38-39
The Sin and Unreasonableness of Complaints Against ProvidenceG. Mathew, M. A.Lamentations 3:38-39
Through Repentance to FaithJohn Holden, M. A.Lamentations 3:38-39
Wherefore Complain in AfflictionH. Melvill, B. D.Lamentations 3:38-39
This passage may easily be misunderstood. Some have attributed moral evil as well as moral good to the great Ruler of the universe, and by making God the author of sin have introduced confusion into the moral realm. The presence of sin in the world is by the permission of the Most High; but, whilst we cannot understand the reasons for this permission, we are not at liberty to represent him as sanctioning evil. The good and evil of this passage are natural, not moral.

I. THERE IS HERE AN ASSERTION OF UNIVERSAL AND PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE. The inequality of the human lot has ever been the theme of meditation, inquiry, and study. It has been attributed to chance, to men themselves, to the operation of law. But the enlightened and religious mind recognizes the voice and the hand of the Most High in human society, even when the immediate causes of what takes place are apparent. Nothing is so vast as to be above, and nothing is so minute as to be beneath, Providence. The afflictions and sufferings of life, as well as its joys and prosperity, are all allowed and all overruled for good to God's people. And all may become means of grace and blessing to such as receive them in a teachable and submissive spirit. Accordingly -

II. THERE IS HERE AN IMPLICIT SUGGESTION OF THE MANNER IN WHICH GOOD AND EVIL SHOULD BE RECEIVED BY MEN. This is not to be regarded as a speculative question merely, though it is a subject upon which thinking men must needs exercise their thoughts. But inasmuch as we all receive both good and evil in the course of our life, it cannot be other than a matter of supreme concern to us to decide in what spirit all that happens to us shall be accepted.

1. It will be well to remember that there is nothing purposeless; that there is intention, meaning, in all providential arrangements.

2. The devout mind will recognize benevolence in the "dispensations" of providence, will see the movements of a Father's hand and hear the tones of a Father's voice.

3. The Christian cannot overlook the obvious fact that the real good can only be acquired by those who receive the happiness of life with gratitude and bear the afflictions of life with submission and cheerfulness. - T.







Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good?
The eternal problem of the relation of God to evil is here treated with the keenest discrimination. That God is the supreme and irresistible Ruler, that no man can succeed with any design in opposition to His will, that whatever happens must be in some way an execution of His decree, and that He, therefore, is to be regarded as the author of evil as well as good — these doctrines are so taken for granted that they are neither proved not directly affirmed, but thrown into the form of questions that can have but one answer, as though to imply that they are known to everybody, and cannot be doubted for a moment by anyone. But the inference drawn from them is strange and startling. It is that not a single living man has any valid excuse for complaining. That, too, is considered to be so undeniable that, live the previous ideas, it is expressed as a self-answering question. But we are not left in this paradoxical position. The evil experienced by the sufferer is treated as the punishment of his sin. What right has he to complain of that? Quite a number of considerations arise out of the curious juxtaposition of ideas in this passage. In the first place, it is very evident that by the word "evil" the writer here means trouble and suffering, not wickedness, because he dearly distinguishes it from the sin the mention of which follows. That sin is a man's own deed, for which he is justly punished. The poet, then, does not attribute the causation of sin to God; he does not speculate at all on the origin of moral evil. Meanwhile a very different problem, the problem of suffering, is answered by attributing this form of evil quite unreservedly and even emphatically to God. Now, is there not something reassuring in the thought that evil and good come to us from one and the same source? There must be a singleness of aim in the whole treatment of us by providence, since providence is one. Thus, if only as an escape from an inconceivably appalling alternative, this doctrine of the common source of good and evil is truly reassuring. We may pursue the thought further. Since good and evil spring from one and the same source, they cannot be so mutually contradictory as we have been accustomed to esteem them. They are two children of a common parent; then they must be brothers. But if they are so closely related a certain family likeness may be traced between them. This does not destroy the actuality of evil. But it robs it of its worst features. If it is so closely related to good, we may not have far to go in order to discover that it is even working for good. Then if evil and good come from the same source it is not just to characterise that source by reference to one only of its effluents. We must not take a rose-colored view of all things, and relapse into idle complacency, as we might do if we confined our observation to the pleasant facts of existence, for the unpleasant facts — loss, disappointment, pain, death — are equally real, and are equally derived from the very highest Authority. Neither are we justified in denying the existence of the good when overwhelmed with a sense of the evil in life. Is it only by accident that the poet says "evil and good," and not, as we usually put the phrase, "good and evil"? Good shall have the last word. Evil exists; but the finality and crown of existence is not evil, but good. The conception of the primary unity of causation which the Hebrew poet reaches through his religion is brought home to us today with a vast accumulation of proof by the discoveries of science. The uniformity of law, the co-relation of forces, the analyses of the most diverse and complex organisms into their common chemical elements, the evidence of the spectroscope to the existence of precisely the same elements among the distant stars, as well as the more minute homologies of nature in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, are all irrefutable confirmations of this great truth. Moreover, science has demonstrated the intimate association of what we cannot but regard as good and evil in the physical universe. Thus, while carbon and oxygen are essential elements for the building up of all living things, the effect of perfectly healthy vital functions working upon them is to combine them into carbonic acid, which is a most deadly poison; but then this noxious gas becomes the food of plants, from which the animal life in turn derives its nourishment. Similarly microbes, which we commonly regard as the agents of corruption and disease, are found to be not only nature's scavengers, but also the indispensable ministers of life, when clustering round the roots of plants in vast crowds they convert the organic matter of the soil, such as manure, into those inorganic nitrates which contain nitrogen in the form suitable for absorption by vegetable organisms. The more clearly we understand the processes of nature the more evident is the fact of her unity, and therefore the more impossible is it for us to think of her objectionable characteristics as foreign to her being — alien immigrants from another sphere. Physical evil itself looks less dreadful when it is seen to take its place as an integral part of the complicated movement of the whole system of the universe. But the chief reason for regarding the prospect with more than satisfaction has yet to be stated. It is derived from the character of Him to whom both the evil and the good are attributed. We can go beyond the assertion that these contrarieties spring from one common origin to the great truth that this origin is to be found in God. All that we know of our Father in heaven comes to our aid in reflecting upon the character of the actions thus attributed to Him. The account of God's goodness that immediately precedes this ascription of the two extreme experiences of life to Him would be in the mind of the writer, and it should be in the mind of the reader also. The poet has just been dwelling very emphatically on the indubitable justice of God. When, therefore, he reminds us that both evil and good come from the Divine Being, it is as though he said that they both originated in justice. The last verse of the triplet startles the reader with an unexpected thought. The considerations already adduced are all meant to check any complaint against the course of providence. Now the poet appends a final argument, which is all the more forcible for not being stated as an argument. At the very end of the passage, when we are only expecting the language to sink into a quiet conclusion, a new idea springs out upon us, like a tiger from its lair. This trouble about which a man is so ready to complain, as though it were some unaccountable piece of injustice, is simply the punishment of his sin! The deserts of the city are only the deserts of her citizens. It will be for everybody to say for himself how far the solution of the mystery of his own troubles is to be looked for in this direction. A humble conscience will not be eager to repudiate the possibility that its owner has not been punished beyond his deserts, whatever may be thought of other people, innocent children in particular. There is one word that may bring out this aspect of the question with more distinctness — the word "living." The poet asks, "Wherefore doth a living man complain?" While the sufferer has his life preserved to him he has no valid ground of complaint.

(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Nothing could be more dismal than the opening of this third lament over the ruin which had befallen the Holy City, and the dire calamities which had overtaken her people; but there is some radiant shining at the heart of it. One side of a mountain is often wrapped in clouds, while the other is bathed in noonday brightness. "I never have a chagrin," said Goethe, "but I make a poem of it." Some of the divinest poems we know have been the result of the saddest mortifications of life. The author sings from the heart of a fiery experience of his own, as well as that which he has shared with his nation. He comprehends the depths if not the heights of human experience, and yet he has "kept the faith." He can still declare that the Lord is his portion, and that his mercies are a "multitude," "new every morning." Ah! these are the men to speak to us about the compassion of God: men who have had "to climb the climbing way," and who declare the truth in tones that were born in the darkness and sorrow of the night. It is easy enough for most of us, whose lives have fallen in pleasant places, to talk to the broken-hearted about the love of God, and to persuade ourselves that He is the Father of us all and infinitely good. But if we have taken a light skimming view of life, if we have lived where it is "always afternoon," it becomes us to be silent, or to speak only in the name of those who have faced the sternest realities, and have yet believed. We can listen with patience to these ancient seers. They speak without mocking the world's trouble. They have stood where life wails its saddest notes and have not lost hope. True, this man had been tempted to believe, in one dark moment, that though God was leading him, He was against him; but when we follow him into the light when his night is past and "jocund day stands tip-toe on the mountains," we hear him speak of the compassions which "fail not." Oh, this is faith, is it not, when a man can stand face to face with all the contradictions of life, face to face with his own unbelief, and say, "I will not let Him go; I will have God in the whole of my life, in its tragedies as well as in its bliss, in its broken fortunes as well as in its sunny days? Out of the mouth of the Most High cometh there not evil and good?" "For though He cause grief yet will He have compassion, according to the multitude of His mercies." This is the faith that overcomes all repining. The Hebrew singer is one with the great prophets in this, that he is in no confusion about the source and meaning of Israel's trouble. He does not find the good hand of God in His deliverances alone. There is mercy even in the exile; in the sweeping disasters which have overtaken the nation. He who has been with His people in the calm is with them in the storm. Nay, He creates the storm, and causes the grief, and the "living" man has no ground of complaint though he be punished for his sins, for "the wages of sin is death" and it is "of the Lord's mercies" that he is "not consumed." And here is the key to the man's faith. These are not songs of sorrow alone; they are songs of confession and repentance, and therefore of hope. Here are the Jews in Babylon far away from the city they love. Their hearts are broken and their eyes are dimmed with tears; but they are tears of remorse leading to a searching of heart and a trying of their ways. The author would have them believe that exile is the outcome of their sin. It is not faithfulness that has compassed their downfall. The Lord has afflicted Zion not "willingly," but "for the multitude of her transgressions." He has suffered His people to go into exile that it may work its moral discipline and bring them back to confidence in Him, and to righteousness of life. "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord." There is some suffering, it does not need to be said, that is not for punishment. The sharpest pang of the singer as he thinks of the miseries of Israel comes from the cry of suffering children. But thinking not of children but of men and women, it is a commonplace to say that some of the noblest and saintliest lives have been shaped in affliction. "It is the accent of self-righteousness that finds in all your suffering the punishment of sin. A man whose heart has never been broken should have little to say to another man of his sins." And yet, surely, no man need ask why he suffers. If you have sinned, your own heart will tell you plainly what is the sin for which you suffer. If you have not sinned, you will have something still to do with your sorrow. There were some devout Jews who were not the cause of Israel's exile, and they too had lessons to learn which have enriched all posterity. But the lesson for all of us is this: that transgression leads to exile; that the broad way narrows; that to the man who persists in sin there must come a day when he will be confronted by fearful threatenings and apprehensions, and when the judgments of the Most High will breathe within him their Divine protest against his sin. He whose compassions "fail not" can yet cause grief. The Most High sends forth evil as well as good. In the heart of the Father dwells a most exacting righteousness, that will "by no means clear the guilty" until they have acknowledged their offence. Oh listen; there is suffering which is for sin. This man is speaking of facts; addressing living men, conscious of grievous wrongdoing, bidding them take all the punishment honestly and humbly, and count it a mercy "new every morning" that a throbbing heart and beating pulse are God's assurance that He will have compassion, if they will return to the Lord. The one hope of our coming to this faith in His compassions is in confession and repentance. The Gospel of forgiveness and peace will never find the man who does not know the bitterness and guilt of sin. The experiences we have with conscience are to produce in us that "godly sorrow" which "worketh repentance unto salvation." This, indeed, is the Gospel for all of us. Whatever be our trouble repentance is our first need. You may not be able to trace your sorrow to any particular sin. It may not be due to any sin of yours at all; but I tell you, the one spirit to which God's reason for causing any grief is never revealed, is the spirit that has not known and will not know repentance. Who are we, the best of us, to say that this or that trial of life has nothing to do with our sin? Nay, it sometimes troubled these holy men of old, lest when they had confessed the sin of which they were conscious, there should be lurking within them latent evil, beyond their finding out, and only to be revealed to them by Him from whom nothing is concealed, who will have "truth in the hidden parts." "Search me, O God," they cried, "and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any way of wickedness in me." It is only to the penitent soul that the secret of the Lord's compassions can be revealed; you cannot believe that "deep love lieth under these pictures of time," if you are among "the wise and prudent"; but if you are among the "babes," of a humble and receptive spirit, the day will come when you can say, in the face of every perplexity, "even so Lord, for so it seemeth good unto Thee." These, I say, are the men to speak to us about the compassion of God. They know the love that passeth knowledge, for they know the sin that love bears. And Divine love cannot further go than that. It was for this He came, who was "a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief"; for this that He stood in dark Gethsemane and died the death of the Cross. And when you and I stand with Him there, and enter into the fellowship of His suffering, then all life is transformed for us. There is something for the heart to rest upon in the deepest distresses. We can go bravely to our encounter with whatever shall come to us, for He is with us who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Has the Most High caused you any grief? Surely He has! There is some pathetic thing concealed in every heart. Then what will you do? Will you complain, will you resent it as a bitter and undeserved wrong? Will you go on to the end remembering nothing but "the wormwood and the gall"? Or will you say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, send whatsoever ordeal "Thou wilt, so that at the last I may know thy salvation"? Then you are on the way to that attitude of soul which is faith.

(John Holden, M. A.)

Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his Sins
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.)

I. THE NATURE OF SINFUL COMPLAINTS.

1. Complaints as to our situation in life. Not satisfied with our lot. Not content with the bounties of providence.

2. Complaints as to providential visitations. Disappointments in business, blighted prospects, loss of friends, seasons of affliction, etc.

3. Complaints as to spiritual sorrows. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, etc.

4. Disappointed prayers and expectations. David, for his child; Paul, for the removal of the thorn.

II. THE EVIL OF SUCH COMPLAINTS.

1. It is a sin against reason. Who so fit to manage for us as God?

2. It is a sin against goodness. Then how ungrateful to complain!

3. It is a sin against Divine faithfulness and truth. God's declarations run thus, that "He will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly." "My God shall supply all your need," etc. Now to complain is the essence of unbelief, the essence of distrust.

4. It is a sin especially against Divine condescension and abounding mercy.

5. It is a sin fraught with evil consequences to ourselves. It must incur God's righteous displeasure. See the fire of the Lord consuming the Israelites in the camp (Numbers 11:1). And for what? They complained against the Lord. See, also, Jude 1:16. It deprives of all the enjoyment of Divine goodness.

III. THE REMEDY FOR SINFUL COMPLAINTS.

1. Look within yourselves. See your utter unworthiness.

2. Look abroad. You are poor; others are destitute, naked, starving. You are afflicted, but how lightly!

(J. Burns, D. D.)

I. IT COMES FROM GOD. The text points us to the moral Governor of the world, to Him who has made us, and made us men, and who orders things with reference to our condition and character as souls and as sinners. The Bible, of course, traces all suffering to God. It teaches us that He creates evil and good; that He causes light and darkness; that He appoints the rod; that if evil is in the city He hath done it; that is, it ascribes trouble to Him, as it ascribes everything else to Him, of whom, through whom, and to whom all things are, who made all things, for Himself, even the wicked for the day of His wrath. Apart from questions of inspiration, such language is natural. The natural piety and scientific ignorance of men would delight, and be obliged, to use it; piety longing to make as much of God as possible, and ignorance not knowing what else to do. There is, no doubt, a sense in which God does all things. That is, since He has a plan, and accomplishes that plan — in other words, since He is all-wise and all-powerful, He must exercise a universal superintendence and control. God may be said to bring about results, even in the case of the voluntary acts of men, if He has so ordered the existing system that those results shall follow those acts. For our present purpose it is enough that in any true sense what happens to us is referable to His will; that it is His pleasure that it should happen; that He knows of it, and either causes it, or intentionally allows it. Our miseries, of every kind and source, are from Him; that is, from a Being having intelligence and will; not from what we call, with or without meaning, "chance," or "fate"; a personal God, a Father, a moral Ruler, means them. It is "punishment" — shall we "complain"?

II. WE HAVE OURSELVES ONLY TO BLAME FOR OUR TROUBLES. It is quite true, generally, that we suffer because we sin. We should not know trouble if we were not guilty. We are not to vex ourselves, as good people often do, with inquiries as to the individual reasons and designs of our troubles; we are not to ask, in the sense of Job, "Show me wherefrom Thou contendest with me; we are not to institute a particular search into the occasions of our trials, as if each had a special meaning, and indicated a special sin, after the manner of Adonibezek's punishment. It is enough for us that we are sinful, and therefore sorrowful; that we should not be where we are if we were not what we are; that God has placed us in a world of thorns and briers as well as flowers and fruits; in bodies whose organs pain as well as please; in a system of "wicked and unreasonable men"; and many more very weak and thoughtless, intercourse with whom must often vex and distress us, because we were, in His foresight, creatures meriting chastisement, and able to profit by it. But we may go much farther than this in reference to many of our troubles. We cause them by our own acts. They are the direct results of our own conduct, of single deeds, or of courses of conduct. And we may know it, and ought to know it. "Sins" are of many kinds, but they are always violations of rule. "Sin is the transgression of the law." And law always has penalty, sooner or later, milder or more severe. Take the case of physical health. Many of our grievances are bodily. We have "trouble in the flesh." And as Gideon "took thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them taught the men of Succoth," so we learn from material experiences, and they are often painful ones. Indeed, many people can learn no otherwise. "The messenger of Satan," is only in return for some foolish message of our own; and "the thorn in the flesh" is there a pressure we ought to have avoided. The father of a family is struck down by paralysis; all the mystery of the case is in his persisting, in spite of friends and feelings, in putting two days' work and worry into one. A young woman has just died of consumption; the only marvel is that she let herself, and others let her, go out of a heated room into the cold air, or wear a dress that compressed the action of her vital organs. A young man comes home from school or university to die; there is nothing inscrutable about it, except in the unnatural strain of brain or body by work or play. Wherefore should a man "complain for the punishment of his sins"? And the same remarks apply to the lowness and gloom of spirits, and a hundred evils of mind and soul, that flow from a diseased or languid action of the bodily powers. Despondency, and even despair, may come from indigestion. Unstrung nerves may make any one "walk in darkness, and have no light." Many Christians go to the Divine for comfort, when they should go to the doctor for cure. They think God is "hiding His face," when He is really showing Himself, showing His love for them and for all men, in upholding the order of things, in which their welfare and that of all men is concerned. Wherefore should "a man complain for the punishment of his sins"?

III. TROUBLE, AS AND BECAUSE PUNISHMENT, MIGHT HAVE BEEN WORSE, AND MAY BE BETTER. "Wherefore should a living man complain?" Stress is to be laid upon this. The trouble, whatever it is, might have been greater. It has exceptions and alleviations. The darkness does not cover the whole sphere of vision. The ingredients of the cup are not all bitter. We are not afflicted in all kinds, and in all degrees, like Job. We can imagine worse trouble. We can find worse. We deserve worse. We cannot have the worst while "living." There are sorer sorrows after death: the sorest here might be but "the beginning of sorrows," a foretaste and an earnest of the uttermost wrath of God. While living, we are not wholly lost. "To him that is joined unto all the living, there is hope" — hope of living even here, and hope of living in the fulness and infinitude of life hereafter. And this punishment of the living is to prevent their ever dying, in the full import of that awful word. This trouble, while it might have been worse, may be better — may be best of all. In the highest sense we may say, "This sickness is not unto death, but unto life. This loss is not unto ruin, but unto wealth. This sorrow is not unto hopeless misery, but exceeding and eternal joy."

(A. J. Morris.)

We will on this subject meet at once the tenets of the boldest complainants.

1. It is asserted, then, by some, that, under all the circumstances of this life, they. cannot consider creation as a blessing, and cannot offer up thanksgivings for it; that, born into the world without their own consent, they have a right to the good things of it; that, although a distant heaven may be promised, yet, as a distant hell is also threatened, the hopes of the one are more than counterbalanced by the fears of the other; and that it would be better not to have been born, than to live so circumstanced. These are high words against your Maker. They proceed, he assured, either from ignorance of the true state of things, or from a mind perverted by some love of sin. When you complain of being born into the world without your own consent, it should seem that you consider yourself flung into it, by some blind necessity, or senseless chance. But is this the real state of things? You know it is not. From the moment of your birth, you became the care of an almighty, all-seeing, all-merciful God: in your progress through this world to that for which He graciously designs you, there is not a step in your path but you are surrounded by His presence, and upholden by His power!

2. But it is not, perhaps, under a distrust of the general providence of God that you look upon life as no blessing; but under a view of your own individual situation, as born, according to the scriptural representation of you, subject to misery and death. Had that curse upon your first parents, which subjected you to these calamities, left you under them; had the future generations of mankind been, from that awful hour, devoted unto wrath, anti forsaken, some excuse might be urged for pleading, — though even then with the deepest reverence of Omnipotence, — "Why hast Thou made me thus?" But search the Scriptures, and see whether such pleading will bear you out. Earth at one and the same time heard the denunciation of death, and the promise of redemption. Man was to be gradually fitted for that heaven, which, from the first, was designed him. The care of Omnipotence was thenceforth exerted in preparing the world for the coming of Him, in whom the nations of the earth were to be finally blessed.

3. Now, had Adam never fallen, or had it been ordained you to live with him in his early days of innocence and peace; had it been your lot, after a few years thus sojourning in peace in the garden of Eden, to have been removed from the shadows of this world to the realities of a better; will you say that creation would have been no blessing to you? that it would be nothing to have been brought from the dust of the earth into the everlasting fruition of spiritual bliss? I will not degrade your reason by thinking it capable of harbouring a thought so low and so unworthy. Well, then, if a spiritual immortality be deemed a blessing, what is there in the trials and sorrows of this life to check your aspirings after it? Shall the land of your inheritance be given up, because a boisterous Jordan rolls before you, and the sons of Anak must be struggled with? I would require you, with the book of revelation in your hand, to descend into your heart; to mark its pride, its sensuality, its worldly-mindedness, and vanity; and would urge you to say whether anything was ever more weak, more earthy, less fitted to mingle with the saints in light! You will plead that this pride and vainly proceed from a corruption inherent in your nature; and that their existence is no fault of yours. But it is your fault that they are not corrected. The Almighty has promised His everlasting Spirit to them that ask it. You have not asked it as you ought. Why, then, should a living man complain, — man for the punishment of his sins?

4. We may go yet farther, and even ranking you among those whose errors are the most venial, and omissions of duty the fewest, may ask you whether you ever felt real cause for lasting repining at the occasional mixture of evil with your good. Indeed, the nearer you approach to fulness of obedience, and to a perfect love of God, the more thankful you will be for those warnings which tend to estrange you from the things of earth. Consider, therefore, this world m its true nature; consider it as a scene of preparation for another: that no state is so dangerous as undisturbed prosperity; that, during our continuance here, we must be purified to qualify us for perfect happiness in the presence of God: that such purification must be effected by triads and temptations; and that trials and temptations necessarily suppose troubles and afflictions. Let these considerations take place in the mind, and, at the brightness before them, clouds and darkness shall disperse, doubts and difficulties shall vanish away.

(G. Mathew, M. A.)

Observe here —

1. The fault taxed, complaining. It denotes an action that passeth on a man's self, and intimates fretting, whereby one torments himself increasing his own grief and sorrow for his affliction.

2. The unjustifiableness of this before the Lord. Losers think they may have leave to speak; but religion teaches rather to lay our hands on our mouths, and our mouths in the dust before the Lord, who does us no wrong.

3. On what accounts it is unjustifiable, what are these things that may silence all our complaints? We are men that should act more rationally. We are living men that might therefore be in a worse condition. We are Sinful men, whose hardships are the just punishment of our sins. We are men that have another thing to do. Let each man complain for his sin.

I. THERE IS A SINFUL COMPLAINING UNDER CROSSES AND AFFLICTIONS.

1. Let them complain of themselves, as the causes of their own woe. The sinful nature, heart and life, are father, mother, and nurse to all the miseries that come u n us. These are the carcass to which these eagles gather together. Remove that, and they would all quickly fly away. If the clouds return after the rain, let us blame our own misguidance.

2. Let them complain to God and welcome (Psalm 102:1-11).(1) We must not complain of God.(2) We must not complain of our lot, or murmur because better has not fallen to our share.(3) We must not arrest our complaining eye on the unjust instruments of our afflictions, like the dog snarling at the stone, but looking not to the hand that casts it.

II. SINFUL COMPLAINING IS SELF-TORMENTING.

1. To God whose Spirit is grieved with it, and provoked to anger by it.

2. To others, as marring the harmony of society, and often when people give way to that black passion, God in His just judgment inhibits others, that they have no power to help the complainer.

3. To a person's self it is disagreeable and tormenting. It is a breach of the sixth commandment, a sin against one's own life, destructive to the body. The sinful complainer puts a load above his own burden. For if one's will were submitted to the will of God, how easy would it be to bear afflictions; but when the proud heart cannot stoop, the apprehension magnifies the cross, and of a molehill makes a mountain.

III. MAN, SINFUL MAN, IS A COMPLAINING CREATURE.

1. Men do not entertain due thoughts of the sovereignty of God, and His awful majesty (Matthew 20:11-15).

2. Men, often see not the designs of holy providence, and they are apt to suspect the worst, for guilt is a nurse and mother of fears.

3. Pride of heart is the cause of sinful complaining. Men are naturally like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. An unsubdued spirit under a cross makes a heavy burden.

4. Unmortified lust, when crossed with afflictions makes a fearful mutiny. If men were not too much addicted to the creature, too closely wedded to the things of time, they would not raise such complaints on the loss of them. Grasp hard a man's hand that hath a sore finger, he presently cries out; but if his hand was whole, he would take it kindly.

5. Want of a due sense of the evil of sin and of our unworthiness on that account.

6. Overlooking our mercies.

7. Dwelling and poring upon crests and difficulties. This is just taking an unbelieving lift of our own burden, which will certainly increase it.

8. Unbelief is the great cause of all It was the generation that believed not that murmured in the wilderness. Faith brings the soul to rest in God in all conditions. It satisfies the soul with a full Christ in the want of all things (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

IV. BECAUSE WE ARE MEN WE OUGHT NOT TO COMPLAIN.

1. We are men and not brutes. We are endowed with rational faculties, by which we may take up such considerations, from the sovereignty of God and the demerit of our sins, that might silence our complaints.

2. We are men and not gods, creatures and not creators, subjects and not lords, and therefore ought to submit and not to complain.

3. We are men and not angels. We are not inhabitants of the upper regions, where no storms blow, where there is an eternal spring and uninterrupted peace. Can we think that the rocks must be removed for us, that God's unchangeable purpose in the management of the world must be changed for us?

4. We are men and not devils. We, at our worst, in this world, are not in that desperate, hopeless, and helpless state in which they are. But have something to comfort us which they have not.

V. BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING MEN WE OUGHT NOT TO COMPLAIN.

1. Our life is forfeited yet continued, therefore there is no reason to complain.

2. Living, we are not in hell, and therefore should we praise and not complain (Lamentations 3:22).

3. Living, we have the means of grace and hopes of glory. So we have access to better our estate in the other world, if it should never be better in this.

4. Living, it may be worse with us ere we go out of the world than it is, if we do complain.

5. Living, we may live to see our case better. While there is life there is hope. We have to do with a bountiful God.

6. We have no surer hold of our life than of the comforts of life. The latter are uncertain, so is the former. The stroke that takes away a comfort might have taken away our life.

7. When other comforts are lost, and our life is continued, that which is best is preserved to us.

8. The time of life is the time for all men's praising, because they sit all at the common table of mercy, and therefore not for complaining.

VI. WE ARE SINFUL MEN JUSTLY PUNISHED FOR OUR SIN AND THEREFORE OUGHT NOT TO COMPLAIN.

1. Our sins are the procuring causes of all afflictions. God hath joined together the evil of sin, and the evil of punishment, hence drawing the first link of this chain, we draw the other also on ourselves, why then do we complain?

2. When our afflictions are at the highest pitch in this world, yet they are not so great as our sins deserve.

3. We receive much undeserved good, while at the worst we get but our deserved evil.

4. Our afflictions are necessary for us. Our hearts are hard to wean from a frowning world, how would we do if it were smiling on every hand. Nay, there are many mercies in thy lot. there must be a mixture of crosses in it, something crooked, something wanting, to be a corrective. Why then should we be so angry with our blessings?

5. We might get out from under them, if we would speedily answer the design of them (Leviticus 26:41, 42).

6. How often is the sin visibly written on the punishment, that men may clearly see the cause of God's contending, and lay their mouths in the dust.

VII. UNDER OUR AFFLICTIONS WE SHOULD TURN OUR COMPLAINTS ON OUR SINS.

1. Instead of complaining of God, let us complain of ourselves to God, instead of taxing a holy God with severity, let us charge ourselves with folly before Him.

2. Instead of the heart's bleeding for trouble, let our hearts bleed for sin.

3. Instead of tossing our cross in our minds to fret ourselves, let us toss our sin there to humble ourselves.

4. Instead of labouring to get up our lot to our mind, let us labour to get our minds brought down to our lot.

(T. Boston, D. D.)

I. SOME COMPLAINTS ALLOWABLE.

1. It is lawful to express what we feel and suffer in those ways nature prompts us.

2. May complain to friends, relations, and acquaintances.

3. To God as well as to men.

II. COMPLAINTS PROMPTED BY IMPATIENCE WITH GOD'S DEALINGS CONDEMNED.

1. It is long before God takes the rod in hand to correct.

2. He is soon prevailed with to lay it aside.

3. He lays no more on us than our sins deserve.

4. We enjoy many mercies in the meantime by which the bitterness of affliction is allayed.

5. God has a sovereignty of power and dominion to deal with us as He pleaseth.

III. COMPLAINTS MAY BE SILENCED —

1. By keeping alive in your heart a sense of God's love in every dispensation.

2. By labouring to have a fresh remembrance of your sins.

3. By considering the extreme danger of quarrelling with and opposing God.

(D. Conant.)

Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.
I. STATE THE MOST COMMON CAUSES OF COMPLAINT.

1. Our circumstances in the world.

2. The sufferings to which we are doomed.

3. Our condition as moral agents.

II. SHOW THE IMPROPRIETY OF SUCH CONDUCT.

1. It is unreasonable.

2. Useless.

3. Impious and profane.

4. Endangers his immortal interests.

III. POINT OUT ITS MOST EFFECTUAL REMEDY.

1. Seek the regeneration of our natures.

2. Consider what pain and punishment we deserve.

3. Think of the sufferings of others.

4. Remember the design of God in afflicting us.

5. Pray that our day of strength may be as our day.

(Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

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