Why should a living man complain?
By Thomas Goodwin

It is an excellent speech, to our purpose, of the church in that humbled frame of heart you find her in, Lam. iii. 39, ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?’ The church expresseth it as the most brutish, improper incongruity, unbecoming a man, such as there could not be imagined a greater. What? for a man to complain and think much at the punishment of his sins! a man to murmur, as the word is, against God! a sinful man against the holy God, his righteous judge! And it is certain that thinking much is the ground of all impatiency; and, on the contrary, a submissive temper of spirit unto God is the ground of all patience. But why doth she put in, besides, to convince such a one of the folly, injustice, and iniquity of it that he is a living man; ‘Why doth a living man complain?’ Art thou alive? Art a living man still in this world? Then hast thou little cause to complain, whatever thy misery be. Whilst thou art alive, thou art not destroyed. Consider how hell and destruction is thy portion, and the due punishment of thy sins; and so thou hast infinitely less than thou deservest, and therefore thou hast no reason to complain. The church, out of her own sense and apprehension of this, had said before, ver. 22, ‘It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.’ She saith not, that our goods are not consumed, or that our houses are not burnt ; for indeed that was the church’s very case when she spake this. Jerusalem was burnt, their women ravished, their goods plundered, their bodies famished, as you read in the same Lamentations almost everywhere. But yet there was a remnant of persons who were not consumed ; and this, said she, is of the Lord’s mercies, of his tender mercies, out of his bowels, as the word there is. And this being less than destruction, or being consumed, is her reason for that expostulation forementioned, ver. 39. As also of that her so great submission, from that ver. 22 unto the 39th verse. You find the very same to this, as a ground of patience, expressed elsewhere, after the captivity ended : Ezra ix. 13, ‘Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds,’ say they, ‘and for our great trespasses.’ Shall, then, a living man complain for the punishment of his sin, when it is so infinitely far less than he deserves? This consideration works patience, as it hath reason. If a man deserves to he hanged, drawn, and quartered, and he is but burnt in the hand, shall this man complain? Let that man down on his knees at the bar, and thank the judge or prince that he had not his due desert, the gallows. And the consideration of this is that also which makes a man accept the punishment of his iniquity, as you have it in Lev. xxvi. 41, ‘If ye accept the punishment,’ he; that is, if ye kiss the rod. And what makes a man come to accept the punishment of his iniquities? Oh the punishment of my iniquity is infinitely far less than I deserve, for, thinks he, damnation is my portion. This is the first thing that works patience, the consideration of our own deservedness to be destroyed, and this is from the emptying work of faith.

Thomas Goodwin

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