Thanks to Banner of Truth, William Swan Plumer's commentary on the Psalms has been a blessing to the church not only in the 19th century, but in the 20th and 21st centuries as well. Unfortunately, his commentaries on Hebrews and Romans have not remained in print. Yet they contain the same exegetical, theological, practical, and pastoral gems that are found in his work on the Psalms. Here is a beautiful example, from his note on Hebrews 12:1-2:
Hebrews 12:1-12 largely introduces to us the subject of afflictions. To pious people this matter possesses special interest. They and all their friends are liable to suffer. For some kinds of grief custom allows us to hang out signals of distress, and to call on friends for lively sympathy. But many sorrows must be borne in silence and retirement. The dove lays her wing over the arrow that pierced her. The wounded hart seeks the silent dell there to die, and the child of sorrow often goes to his chamber to weep alone. The widow in her weeds may be truly sad, but her neighbor without a yard of black crape may be suffering ten times more. It is often a relief when we can say: “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me,” Job 19:21. But often we are compelled like the sad prophet to “weep in secret places,” Jer. 13:17.
Sometimes tears come to the relief of the sorrowing. Then again their moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Dry sorrow drinks up their blood and spirits. Some afflictions are brief; others are lasting. Sadness sends some to their closets: others, to their graves. It covers some with wrinkles; others, with the clods of the valley. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
Very good men have bad punishments sent on them for particular sins. What sufferings came on Jacob for supplanting his brother? Leah is deceitfully given him for Rachel. And all his worldly goods are imperiled, yea and his life also by Esau. The rebellion of Absalom was a punishment on David for a particular sin, 2 Sam. 12:9-12. The father of John the Baptist, though he and his wife habitually walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, was yet by the judgment of God made dumb for nearly a year as a punishment for his unbelief, Luke 1:20. So that all temporal punishments are not confined to the reprobate. Yet we should guard against censoriousness and uncharitableness, when we see others suffering. It is seldom proper for us to say that a given calamity befalling one of our neighbors is a punishment for a particular sin. This was the great error of Job’s friends. Our Saviour warned us against this offence when he spoke of the fall of the tower in Siloam, etc., Luke 13:1-5.
We are less apt to err in regarding particular afflictions sent on ourselves as punishments for particular transgressions. Thus even a heathen said: “As I have done, so God hath requited me,” Jud. 1:6. The pious Jews confessed that the Babylonish captivity was in punishment for their great sins, Ezra 9:13. To Israel God said: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities,” Amos 3:2. Yet even pious men may misinterpret God’s dealings with them, and without a cause write bitter things against themselves. We may reverently pray, “Shew me wherefore thou contendest me;” but we may not always decide that our afflictions are judgments sent on us for particular sins.
Some afflictions are exemplary. God often makes his people a spectacle to angels and to men. He commonly keeps the path to heaven moist with tears, and often with the blood of his saints. To this end in part the worthies of old suffered. “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.” Jas. 5:10. Rich treasures have been laid up for the church in the illustrious heroism of her suffering members. In the days of legal persecution the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. Mohammedanism triumphed by the blood of its foes; Christianity, by the blood of its friends. To this day the history of the martyrs ministers strength to the faith and fortitude of God’s suffering people. The Lord’s people are never sent a warfare at their own charges. Perhaps they are never more sustained than when outward things look dark. So thought Paul: “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” 2 Cor. 1:5. Nor could the people of God from age to age do well without such examples. They stir them up to do and suffer all God’s will. To the plain and obscure they often give vast opportunities for usefulness. To a heathen tyrant, who was posing her with hard questions, a poor woman said: “I cannot dispute for Christ, but I can burn for him.” I have seen a whole community turn aside to admire the grace of God in one of his people, rustic in manners, poor in worldly goods, and weak in intellect, yet remarkable for severity of sufferings, and patience of spirit.
Some afflictions are designed to prevent worse evils. Sin is more to be dreaded than any earthly sorrow. God often makes men sick to teach them their weakness. Many things are permitted deeply to mortify us, that pride may not be our ruin. The cruel deceit of some gay worldling drives us from the giddy circle, which jeopards our salvation. In this life good men are often sorely chastened that they may not be condemned with the world. 1 Cor. 11:32. When God undertakes a man’s salvation, he will not permit any of his sins to have dominion over him. To do this, he sees best to spoil their pleasant things, write “vanity of vanities” on the glories of earth, and bring down their hearts with labor and sorrow. Low as are the attainments of God’s people, they would have been far less but for divine chastenings.
God’s people are also afflicted in the way of discipline. “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.” It is well for the Lord to correct us, if we may thereby be made partakers of his holiness. In his last sickness Dr. Archibald Alexander said: “My pains are intended for my purification.” The good husbandman prunes every fruitful vine that he may make it more productive. Christ often calls the languishing graces of his people into lively exercise by methods as strange as they are salutary. We wish to walk by sight, God would have us to walk by faith. Like Job in distress we cry out, “Oh that I knew where I might find him. Behold I go forward; but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him,” Job 23:8, 9. Yet one thus tried may soon be able to say: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” All the graces of the Spirit, not excepting joy, thrive best when the waters of affliction somewhat moisten their roots. Let us not object to the treatment God gave to the prophets, martyrs and confessors, who reached the kingdom of heaven through great tribulation Yea the Captain of our salvation himself was made perfect through sufferings.
In all our afflictions, whatever their design, let us in patience possess our souls. “He, who composes his own mind, is greater than he, who composes a book.” “He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.” “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. He sitteth alone, and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope.” To be as a weaned child is a great attainment.
Plumer continues this train of thought for several more pages, discussing the truths that God has told us in order that we might behave wisely and quietly under trials, and the several things that we learn by way of application from Hebrews 12:1-2 in particular. If you are teaching or preaching through Hebrews or Romans, take advantage of Plumer!