The Lord may be said spiritually to "bring evil upon all flesh," when he lays trouble and calamity upon the flesh, and upon all that the flesh loves. The blow falls upon the fruits of the flesh, when it cuts down fleshly religion, and roots up false hopes, vain confidence, and self-dependence. The effect of these strokes is to lay the soul poor and needy at the footstool of mercy; and as the Holy Ghost enlightens the eyes to see, quickens the soul to feel, and raises up power to ask, there is now a seeking after real things—substance as opposed to shadows.
Thus pardon, mercy, the testimony of God in the soul, the lifting up of the light of his countenance, the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus upon the conscience, with all the other spiritual blessings revealed in the gospel, are sought after, valued, and prized. It is not enough now that they are heard from a minister, assented to in the judgment, or received on the testimony of others. They are only now so far enjoyed as they are tasted, felt, and handled in the depths of the heart. I believe I can say for myself until evil came upon me in this way, chiefly through a long illness, (though if I have life now, I had it before that visitation), yet until trouble came, and I was brought low in body and soul, I was never seeking as I have done since, the visitations and manifestations of the Lord's favour.
Deceived by satan and my own heart, I was seeking rather to make myself wise in the letter, than to feel the power of vital godliness in my soul. But ever since then, amidst many discouragements, and with many alternations and changes, I have felt led, as I never knew before, or at least not from the same pressing sense of need, to seek after the visitations and manifestations of the Lord's favour; the dew of his Spirit, the application of his atoning blood, and the inward testimonies of his love and grace. Nor can I rest for salvation upon anything else. I am not, therefore, speaking at a peradventure; I know the ground, for I have travelled it; I have lined it with laborious footsteps; and therefore having tracked it out, I speak in my measure, that which I know; and testify that which I feel.
When the Lord, then, thus brings evil upon our flesh, it is not to sweep away any real religion that we may possess. It is to sweep away our false religion. This winnowing fan is to fan away the chaff, and leave the pure grain. This keen knife of the heavenly Anatomist is only to cut away the diseased excrescences, and unhealthy tumours, and leave the sound parts uninjured. When the Lord brings distress into the soul, it is not to destroy any one grace that has been communicated by the blessed Spirit, but to fulfil that word, "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." He puts his "vessels of gold and silver" into the furnace to take away their dross, that they may be "sanctified, and meet for the Master's use." For he has chosen his Zion in the furnace of affliction; and he "sits as a refiner and purifier of silver, that he may purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Mal. 3:3).