It is good for a man that he bear the yoke of his youth.
The crosses we meet with are not the effects of blind chance, but the results of a wise and unerring providence, which knoweth what is fittest for us, and loveth us better than we can do ourselves. There is no malice or envy lodged in the bosom of that blessed being whose name and nature is love. He taketh no delight in the troubles and miseries of His creatures: He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. Holiness is the highest perfection and greatest happiness we are capable of: it is a real participation of the Divine nature, the image of God drawn on the soul; and all the chastisements we meet with are designed to reduce us to this blessed temper, to make us like unto Himself, and thereby capable to be happy with Him to all eternity.
I. This will more clearly appear if we reflect on THE NATURAL TEMPER OF OUR MINDS AND THE INFLUENCE WHICH PROSPEROUS OR ADVERSE FORTUNE IS WONT TO HAVE UPON THEM.
1. We are naturally proud and self-conceited; we have an high esteem of ourselves, and would have everybody else to value and esteem us. This disease is very deeply rooted in our corrupt nature: it is ordinarily the first sin that betrays itself in the little actions and passions of children; and many times the last which religion enables us to overcome. Pride alone is the source and fountain of almost all the disorders in the world; of all our troubles, and of all our sins: and we shall never be truly happy, or truly good, till we come to think nothing of ourselves, and be content that all the world think nothing of us. Now, there is nothing hath a more natural tendency to foment and heighten this natural corruption, than constant prosperity and success. Sanctified afflictions contribute to abate and mortify the pride of our hearts, to prick the swelling imposthume, to make us sensible of our weakness, and convince us of our sine.
2. Another distemper of our minds is our too great affection to the world and worldly things. We are all too apt to set our hearts wholly upon them; to take up our rest, and seek our happiness and satisfaction in them. But God knows that these may well divert and amuse a while, they can never satisfy or make us happy; that the souls which He made for Himself can never rest till they return unto Him, and therefore He many times findeth it necessary either to remove our comforts or imbitter them unto us; to put aloes and wormwood on the breasts of the world, that thereby we may wean our hearts from it, and carry them to the end of their being, the fountain of their blessedness and felicity.
3. Another bad effect which prosperity is wont to produce in our corrupt natures, is, that it makes us forgetful of God, and unthankful of His mercies: We put very little value on our food and raiment, and the ordinary means of our subsistence, we have been sometimes pinched with want. We consider not how much we are indebted to God for preserving our friends, till some of them be removed from us. How little do we prize out health, if we have never had experience of sickness or pain! Where is the man who doth seriously bless God for his nightly quiet and repose! And yet, if sickness or trouble deprive us of it, we then find it to have been a great and invaluable mercy, and that it is God who giveth His beloved sleep.
4. Prosperity rendereth us insensible of the miseries and calamities of others. But afflictions do soften the heart, and make it more tender and kindly; and we are always most ready to compassionate those griefs which ourselves have sometime endured: the sufferings of others make the deepest impressions upon us, when they put us in mind of our own.
II. TAKE NOTICE OF THE SEASON WHICH IS HERE MENTIONED AS THE FITTEST FOR A MAN TO BEAR AFFLICTION. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. We are all willing to put off the evil day; and, if we must needs bear the yoke, we would choose to have it delayed till we grow old. We think it sad to have our morning overcast with clouds, to meet with a storm before we have well launched forth from the shore. But the Divine wisdom, which knoweth what is fit for us, doth many times make choice of our younger years, as the most proper to accustom us to the bearing of the yoke.
1. It is then most necessary. For youth is the time of our life wherein we are in greatest danger to run into wild and extravagant courses: our blood is hot, and our spirits unstayed and giddy; we have too much pride to be governed by others, and too little wisdom to govern ourselves. The yoke is then especially needful to tame our wildness and reduce us to a due stayedness and composure of mind.
2. Then also it is most supportable. The body is strong and healthful, less apt to be affected with the troubles of the mind; the spirit stout and vigorous, will not so easily break and sink under them. Old age is a burden, and will soon faint under any supervenient load. The smallest trouble is enough to bring down grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. And therefore, since we must meet with afflictions, it is certainly a favourable circumstance to have them at the time of our life wherein we are most able to endure them.
3. And, lastly, the lessons which afflictions teach us, are then most advantageous when we learn them betimes, that we may have the use of them in the conduct of our after lives.
III. THE PARTICULAR ADVANTAGE OF AFFLICTIONS WHICH IS MENTIONED IN THE TEXT: "He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him." The words are capable of a twofold interpretation, and both suit well with the purpose: for we may either understand them properly, of solitude and silence; or metaphorically, of patience and quiet submission; both of which are the good effects of sanctified and well-improved afflictions: and accordingly we shall say something to both.
1. Nature hath made us sociable creatures: but corruption hath carried this inclination unto excess; so that most persons think it an intolerable burden to be any considerable time alone. Though they love themselves out of measure, yet they cannot endure their own conversation; they had rather be hearing and discoursing of the most naughty and trivial things, than be sitting alone and holding their peace. Outward prosperity heightens this humour. When the heart is dilated with joy, it seeketh to vent itself in every company. Crosses, on the other hand, render a man pensive and solitary; they stop the mouth, and bind up the tongue, and incline the person to be much alone.
(1) He who considers, on the one hand, the guilt we are wont to contract, and the prejudice which we sustain, by too much conversation with others, and, on the other hand, the excellent improvement we may make of solitude and retirement, will account it a good effect of afflictions, that they incline and dispose us unto it. In considering the evils of frequent conversation, we are not to prosecute the grossest and more scandalous vices of the tongue. We rather choose to mention such evils as are wont to be less noticed, and can he more hardly avoided. And, first, experience may teach us all, that much conversation doth ordinarily beget a remissness and dissolution of spirit; that it slackeneth and relaxeth the bent of our minds, and disposeth us to softness and easy compliances. Another prejudice we receive by society, is, That it fills our minds with noxious images, and fortifies our corrupt notions and opinions of things. When we are alone in a sober temper, and take time to reflect and consider of things, we are sometimes persuaded of the vanity and worthlessness of all those glittering trifles whereunto the generality of mankind are so sadly bewitched: but when we come abroad, and listen to the common talk, and hear people speak of greatness, and fiches, and honour with concern and admiration, we quickly forget our more sober and deliberate thoughts, and suffer ourselves to be carried away with the stream of the common opinion. And though the effects be not so sudden and observable, yet these discourses are still making some secret and insensible impressions upon us. Thus also is our judgment corrupted about the qualities and endowments of the mind. Courage and gallantry, wit and eloquence, and other accomplishments of this nature, are magnified and extolled beyond all measure; whereas humility, and meekness, and devotion, and all those Christian graces which render a soul truly excellent and lovely, are spoken of as mean and contemptible things: for though men have not the impudence formally to make the comparison, and prefer the former; yet their very air, and way of discoursing about these things, sufficiently testifies their opinion. I shall mention but another of those evils wherewith our conversation is commonly attended. The most ordinary subject of our entertainments are the faults and follies of others. Were this one theme of discourse discharged, we would oft-times find but little to say. I scarce know any fault whereof good persons are so frequently guilty, and so little sensible.
(2) But solitude and retirement do not only deliver us from these inconveniencies, but also afford very excellent opportunities for bettering our souls. The most profane and irreligious persons will find some serious thoughts rise in their minds if they be much alone. And the more that any person is advanced in piety and goodness, the more will he delight in retirement, and receive the more benefit by it. Then it is that the devout soul takes its highest flight in Divine contemplations and maketh its nearest approaches to God. Little doth the world understand those secret and hidden pleasures which devout souls do feel when, having got out of the noise and hurry of the world, they sit alone and keep silence, contemplating the Divine perfections, which shine so conspicuously in all His works of wonder; admiring His greatness, and wisdom, and love, and revolving His favours towards themselves; opening before Him their griefs and their cares, and disburdening their souls into His bosom; protesting their allegiance and subjection unto Him, and telling Him a thousand times that they love Him; and then listening unto the voice of God within their hearts, that still and quiet voice, which is not wont to be heard in the streets, that they may hear what God the Lord will speak: for He will speak peace unto His people, and to His saints, and visit them with the expressions of His love.
(3) But I would not be mistaken, as if I recommended a total and constant retirement, or persuaded men to forsake the world, and betake themselves unto deserts. No, certainly; we must not abandon the stations wherein God hath placed us, nor render ourselves useless to mankind. Solitude hath its temptations, and we may be sometimes very bad company to ourselves. It was not without reason that a wise person warned another, who professed to delight in conversing with himself. Have a care that you be keeping company with a good man. Abused solitude may whet men's passions, and irritate their lusts, and prompt them to things which company would restrain. And this made one say, that he who is much alone, must either be a saint or devil. Melancholy, which inclines men most to retirement, is often too much nourished and fomented by it; and there is a peevish and sullen loneliness, which some people affect under their troubles, whereby they feed on discontented thoughts, and find a kind of perverse pleasure in refusing to be comforted. But all this says no more, but that good things may be abused; and excess or disorder may turn the most wholesome food into poison. And therefore though I would not indifferently recommend much solitude unto all; yet, sure, I may say, it were good for the most part of men that they were less in company, and more alone.
2. Thus much of the first and proper sense of sitting alone and keeping silence. We told you it might also import a quiet and patient submission to the will of God; the laying of our hand on our mouth, that no expression of murmur or discontent may escape us. We cannot now insist in any length on this Christian duty of patience, and submission to the will of God; we shall only say two things of it, which the text importeth.
(1) That this lesson is most commonly learned in the school of afflictions.
(2) That this advantage of afflictions is very great and desirable; that it is indeed very good for a man to have borne the yoke in his youth, if he hath thereby learned to sit alone and keep silence when the hand of the Lord is upon him. There is nothing more acceptable unto God, no object more lovely and amiable in His eyes, than a soul thus prostrate before Him, thus entirely resigned unto His holy will, thus quietly submitting to His severest dispensations. Nor is it less advantageous unto ourselves; but sweeteneth the bitterest occurrences of our life, and makes us relish an inward and secret pleasure, notwithstanding all the smart of affliction: so that the yoke becomes supportable, the rod itself comforts us; and we find much more delight in suffering the will of God than if He had granted us our own.
(H. Scougal, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.