II. What are the causes of afflictions?

The causes of the punishments of the wicked are:
1. Sin, which is the impelling cause. They are made to suffer, that satisfaction may thus be made by a just punishment for their sins.
2. The justice of God, which is the chief efficient cause which inflicts punishment for sin.
3. The instrumental causes are various: they are such as angels and men, both good and bad, and other creatures, all of whom are armed against the sinner, and fight under God's banner.

The causes of the cross which is peculiar to the godly, are:

1. Sin, which, however, is to be viewed differently in the godly from what it is in the wicked. The godly are afflicted on account of sin, not for the purpose of making satisfaction to the justice of God, but that sin may be acknowledged by them, and removed, through the cross. They are paternally chastised, that they may be led to a knowledge of their faults. These chastisements are to them sermons, and call to repentance. "When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." God, however, gives loose reigns to the wicked, that they may rush into destruction, lie confers upon them the blessings of this life, with a short season of repose and rejoicing, because they are his creatures, that their ingratitude may become apparent, and that he may render them inexcusable. But he corrects and improves the character of the godly through the cross.

2. That we may learn to hate sin, the devil, and the world. "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own." " We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers." "Love not the world." (John 15:19. Eph. 6:12. 1 John 2:15.)

3. That we may be exercised and tried, that thus our faith, hope, patience, prayer, and obedience, may be strengthened and confirmed; or that we may have matter and occasion for exercising and proving ourselves, and that our faith, hope, and patience, may be made manifest both to ourselves and others. When all things go well, it is an easy thing for us to glory in regard to our faith; but in adversity, the grace or beauty of virtue becomes apparent. He that has not been tempted, what knoweth he? "Experience worketh hope." (Rom. 5:4.)

4. The peculiar faults and slidings of the saints. Manasseh had his peculiar faults; Jehoshaphat had his; and other saints have other failings and sins peculiar to themselves. Hence the chastisements by which God shows that he is also displeased with the sins of the saints, and will avenge them more severely, unless they repent, are various and different. "That servant which knew his Lord's will, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes." (Luke 12:47.)

5. The exhibition and manifestation of the glory of God in the deliverance of the church, and of the godly. God often brings his church and people into extreme danger, that the deliverance which he effects may be the more glorious, as was the case with the oppression of the children of Israel in Egypt, and their captivity in Babylon, &c. In these instances the deliverance which God wrought was truly glorious, and gave evidence of his wisdom in discovering a way of escape where no creature could hope for it. "The Lord bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up." (1 Sam. 2:6.)

6. The conformity of the members to Christ, their head in affliction and glory. "If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him." "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son." "The servant is not greater than his Lord, nor the disciple above his master." (2 Tim. 2:12. Rom. 8:29. Matt. 10:24.)

7. That the saints, by their sufferings and death, may bear witness to the truth of the doctrine of the gospel: for when the faithful endure every form of suffering, and even death itself for the sake of their profession of Christianity, they give the most satisfactory testimony that they themselves are fully persuaded of its truth, and that they cannot from any consideration be induced to renounce it; and also that it affords them real and solid consolation, even in death itself, and must therefore necessarily be true. It was foretold to Peter by what death he should glorify God. (John 21:19.

8. The afflictions of the godly are evidences of a judgment to come and of eternal life. The truth and justice of God both require that it should at length go well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked. This however is not fully the case in this life. Therefore there must be another life after this, in which God will render to every one according to his just deserts. "Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer." (2 Thes. 1:5.)

Having made these remarks in relation to the afflictions of the godly, we may easily reply to the objection which the men of the world are wont to bring against the providence of God. The church, say they, is oppressed throughout the whole world, and trodden under foot by all men. Therefore it is not the true church, and is not cared for on the part of God. But this, instead of proving any thing against the church, is rather an argument in its favor: for if the church were of the world, then this opposition and persecution would cease, for the world loves its own. The reasons of the afflictions of the church are therefore manifest; and the end of things will convict and condemn the world.