Comfort for Christians (P1 of 2)
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain
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The work unto which the servant of Christ is called is many-sided. Not only is he to preach the Gospel to the unsaved, to feed God’s people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15), and to take up the stumbling stone out of their way (Isa 57:14), but he is also charged to “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression” (Isa. 58:1 and cf. 1 Tim. 4:2). While another important part of his commission is stated in, “Comfort ye, My people, said your God” (Isa 40:1).
What an honorable title, “My people!” What an assuring relationship: “your God!” What a pleasant task: “comfort ye My people!” A threefold reason may be suggested for the duplicating of the charge. First, because sometimes the souls of believers refuse to be comforted (Psa 77:2), and the consolation needs to be repeated. Second, to press this duty the more emphatically upon the preacher’s heart, that he need not be sparing in administering cheer. Third, to assure us how heartily desirous God himself is that His people should be of good cheer (Php 4:4).
God has a “people,” the objects of His special favour: a company whom He has taken into such intimate relationship unto Himself that He calls them “My people.” Often they are disconsolate: because of their natural corruption’s, the temptations of Satan, the cruel treatment of the world, the low state of Christ’s cause upon earth. The “God of all comfort” (2Co 1:3) is very tender of them, and it is His revealed will that His servants should bind up the broken-hearted and pour the balm of Gilead into their wounds. What cause have we to exclaim “Who is a God like unto Thee!” (Mic 7:18), who has provided for the comfort of those who were rebels against His government and transgressors of His Law.
May it please Him to use His Word as expounded in this book to speak peace to afflicted souls today, and the glory shall be His alone.
—A. W. Pink, 1952
Rom 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”
“There is therefore now no condemnation.” The eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans concludes the first section of that wonderful epistle. Its opening word “Therefore” (“There is” is in italics, because supplied by the translators) may be viewed in a twofold way. First, it connects with all that has been said from 3:21. An inference is now deduced from the whole of the preceding discussion, an inference which was, in fact, the grand conclusion toward which the apostle had been aiming throughout the entire argument. Because Christ has been set forth “a propitiation through faith in His blood” (Rom 3:25); because He was “delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:25); because by the obedience of the One the many (believers of all ages) are “made righteous,” constituted so, legally, (Rom 5:19); because believers have “died (judicially) to sin” (Rom 6:2); because they have “died” to the condemning power of the law (Rom 7:4), there is “therefore now NO CONDEMNATION.”
But not only is the “therefore” to be viewed as a conclusion drawn from the whole of the previous discussion, it is also to be considered as having a close relation to what immediately precedes. In the second half of Romans 7 the apostle had described the painful and ceaseless conflict which is waged between the antagonistic natures in the one who has been born again, illustrating this by a reference to his own personal experiences as a Christian. Having portrayed with a master pen (himself sitting for the picture) the spiritual struggles of the child of God, the apostle now proceeds to direct attention to the Divine consolation for a condition so distressing and humiliating. The transition from the despondent tone of the seventh chapter to the triumphant language of the eighth appears startling and abrupt, yet is quite logical and natural. If it is true that to the saints of God belongs the conflict of sin and death, under whose effect they mourn, equally true is it that their deliverance from the curse and the corresponding condemnation is a victory in which they rejoice. A very striking contrast is thus pointed. In the second half of Romans 7 the apostle treats the power of sin, which operates in believers as long as they are in the world; in the opening verses of chapter eight, he speaks of the guilt of sin from which they are completely delivered the moment they are united to the Saviour by faith. Hence in 7:24 the apostle asks “Who shall deliver me” from the power of sin, but in 8:2 he says, “hath made me free,” i.e. hath delivered me, from the guilt of sin.
“There is therefore now no condemnation.” It is not here a question of our heart condemning us (as in 1Jn 3:21), nor of us finding nothing within which is worthy of condemnation; instead, it is the far more blessed fact that God condemns not the one who has trusted in Christ to the saving of his soul. We need to distinguish sharply between subjective and objective truth; between that which is judicial and that which is experimental; otherwise, we shall fail to draw form such Scriptures as the one now before us the comfort and peace they are designed to convey. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. “In Christ” is the believer’s position before God, not his condition in the flesh. “In Adam” I was condemned (Rom 5:12); but “in Christ” is to be forever freed from all condemnation.
“There is therefore now no condemnation.” The qualifying “now” implies there was a time when Christians, before they believed, were under condemnation. This was before they died with Christ, died judicially (Gal 2:20) to the penalty of God’s righteous law. This “now,” then, distinguishes between two states or conditions. By nature we were “under the (sentence of) law,” but now believers are “under grace” (Rom 6:14). By nature we were “children of wrath” (Eph 2:2), but now we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Under the first covenant we were “in Adam” (1Co 15:22), but now we are “in Christ” (Rom 8:1). As believers in Christ we have everlasting life, and because of this we “shall not come into condemnation.”
Condemnation is a word of tremendous import, and the better we understand it the more shall we appreciate the wondrous grace that has delivered us from its power. In the halls of a human court this is a term which falls with fearful knell upon the ear of the convicted criminal and fills the spectators with sadness and horror. But in the court of Divine Justice it is vested with a meaning and content infinitely more solemn and awe-inspiring. To that Court every member of Adam’s fallen race is cited. “Conceived in sin, shapen in iniquity” each one enters this world under arrest – an indicted criminal, a rebel manacled. How, then, is it possible for such a one to escape the execution of the dread sentence? There was only one way, and that was by the removal from us of that which called forth the sentence, namely sin. Let guilt be removed and there can be “no condemnation.”
Has guilt been removed, removed, we mean, from the sinner who believes? Let the Scriptures answer: “As far as the east is from the west so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa 103:12). “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions” (Isa 43:25). “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa 38:17). “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb 10:17).
But how could guilt be removed? Only by it being transferred. Divine holiness could not ignore it; but Divine grace could and did transfer it. The sins of believers were transferred to Christ: “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). “For he hath made him to be sin for us” (2Co 5:21).
“There is therefore no condemnation.” The “no” is emphatic. It signifies there is no condemnation whatsoever. No condemnation from the law, or on account of inward corruption, or because Satan can substantiate a charge against me; there is none from any source or for any cause at all. “No condemnation” means that none at all is possible; that none ever will be. There is no condemnation because there is no accusation (Rom 8:33), and there can be no accusation because there is no imputation of sin (Rom 4:8).
“There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” When treating of the conflict between the two natures in the believer the apostle had, in the previous chapter, spoken of himself in his own person, in order to show that the highest attainments in grace do no exempt from the internal warfare which he there describes. But here in 8:1 the apostle changes the number. He does not say, There is no condemnation to me, but “to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This was most gracious of the Holy Spirit. Had the apostle spoken here in the singular number, we should have reasoned that such a blessed exemption was well suited to this honored servant of God who enjoyed such wondrous privileges; but could not apply to us. The Spirit of God, therefore, moved the apostle to employ the plural number here, to show that “no condemnation” is true of all in Christ Jesus.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” To be in Christ Jesus is to be perfectly identified with Him in the judicial reckoning and dealings of God: and it is also to be one with Him as vitally united by faith. Immunity from condemnation does not depend in any-wise upon our “walk,” but solely on our being “in Christ.” “The believer is in Christ as Noah was enclosed within the ark, with the heavens darkening above him, and the waters heaving beneath him, yet not a drop of the flood penetrating his vessel, not a blast of the storm disturbing the serenity of his spirit. The believer is in Christ as Jacob was in the garment of the elder brother when Isaac kissed and blessed him. He is in Christ as the poor homicide was within the city of refuge when pursued by the avenger of blood, but who could not overtake and slay him” (Dr. Winslow, 1857). And because he is “in Christ” there is, therefore, no condemnation for him. Hallelujah!
The Christian’s Assurance
Rom 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.“
How many of God’s children have, through the centuries, drawn strength and comfort from this blessed verse. In the midst of trials, perplexities, and persecutions, this has been a rock beneath their feet. Though to outward sight things seemed to work against their good, though to carnal reason things appeared to be working for their ill, nevertheless, faith knew it was for otherwise. And how great the loss to those who failed to rest upon this inspired declaration: what unnecessary fears and doubtings were the consequence.
“All things work together.” The first thought occurring to us is this: What a glorious Being our God be, who is able to make all things so work! What a frightful amount of evil there is in constant activity. What an almost infinite number of creatures there are in the world. What an incalculable quantity of opposing self-interests at work. What a vast army of rebels fighting against God. What hosts of super-human creatures over opposing the Lord. And yet, high above all, is GOD, in undisturbed calm, complete master of the situation. There, from the throne of His exalted majesty, He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). Stand in awe, then, before this One in whose sight “all nations are as nothing; and they are counted as less than nothing, and vanity ” (Isa 40:17). Bow in adoration before this “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa 57:15). Lift high your praise unto Him who from the direct evil can educe the greatest good.
“All things work.” In nature there is no such thing as a vacuum, neither is there a creature of God that fails to serve its designed purpose. Nothing is idle. Everything is energized by God so as to fulfill its intended mission. All things are laboring toward the grand end of their Creator’s pleasure: all are moved at His imperative bidding.
“All things work together.” They not only operate, they co-operate; they all act in perfect concert, though none but the anointed ear can catch the strains of their harmony. All things work together, not simply but conjointly, as adjunct causes and mutual helps. That is why afflictions seldom come solitary and alone. Cloud rises upon cloud: storm upon storm. As with Job, one messenger of woe was quickly succeeded by another, burdened with tidings of yet heavier sorrow. Nevertheless, even here faith may trace both the wisdom and love of God. It is the compounding of the ingredients in the recipe that constitutes its beneficent value. So with God: His dispensations not only “work,” but they “work together.” So recognized the sweet singer of Israel—”He drew me out of many waters” (Psa 18:16).
“All things work together for good to,” etc. These words teach believers that no matter what may be the number nor how overwhelming the character of adverse circumstances, they are all contributing to conduct them into the possession of the inheritance provided for them in heaven. How wonderful is the providence of God in over-ruling things most disorderly, and in turning to our good things which in themselves are most pernicious! We marvel at His mighty power which holds the heavenly bodies in their orbits; we wonder at the continually recurring seasons and the renewal of the earth; but this is not nearly so marvelous as His bringing good out of evil in all the complicated occurrences of human life, and making even the power and malice of Satan, with the naturally destructive tendency of his works, to minister good for His children.
“All things work together for good.” This must be so for three reasons. First, because all things are under the absolute control of the Governor of the universe. Second, because God desires our good, and nothing but our good. Third, because even Satan himself cannot touch a hair of our heads without God’s permission, and then only for our further good. Not all things are good in themselves, nor in their tendencies; but God makes all things work for our good. Nothing enters our life by blind chance: nor are they any accidents. Everything is being moved by God, with this end in view, our good. Everything being subservient to God’s eternal purpose, works blessing to those marked out for conformity to the image of the Firstborn. All suffering, sorrow, loss, are used by our Father to minister to the benefit of the His elect.
“To them that love God.” This is the grand distinguishing feature of every true Christian. The reverse marks all the unregenerate. But the saints are those who love God. Their creeds may differ in minor details; their ecclesiastical relations may vary in outward form; their gifts and graces may be very unequal; yet, in this particular there is an essential unity. They all believe in Christ, they all love God. They love Him for the gift of the Saviour: they love Him as a Father in whom they may confide: they love Him for His personal excellencies – His holiness, wisdom, faithfulness. They love Him for His conduct: for what He withholds an for what He grants: for what He rebukes and for what He approves. They love Him even for the rod that disciplines, knowing that He doth all things well. There is nothing in God, and there is nothing from God, for which the saints do not love Him. And of this they are all assured, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
“To them that love God.” But, alas, how little I love God! I sofrequently mourn my lack of love, and chide myself for the coldness of my heart. Yes, there is so much love of self and love of the world, that sometimes I seriously question if I have any real love for God at all. but is not my very desire to love God a good symptom? Is not my very grief that I love Him so little a sure evidence that I do not hate Him? The presence of a hard and ungrateful heart has been mourned over by the saints of all ages. “Love to God is a heavenly aspiration, that is ever kept in check by the drag and restraint of an earthly nature; and from which we shall not be unbound till the soul has made its escape from the vile body, and cleared its unfettered way to the realm of light and liberty” (Dr. Chalmers).
“Who are called.” The word “called” is never, in the New Testament Epistles, applied to those who are the recipients of a mere external invitation of the Gospel. The term always signifies an inward and effectual call. It was a call over which we had no control, either in originating or frustrating it. So in Rom 1:6-7 and many other passages: “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called saints.” Has this call reached you, my reader? Ministers have called you: the Gospel has called you, conscience has called you: but has the Holy Spirit called you with an inward and irresistible call? Have you been spiritually called from darkness to light, from death to life, from the world to Christ, from self to God? It is a matter of the greatest moment that you should know whether you have been truly called of God. Has, then, the thrilling, life-giving music of that call sounded and reverberated through all the chambers of your soul? But how may I be sure that I have received such a call? There is one thing right here in our text which should enable you to ascertain. They who have been efficaciously called, love God. Instead of hating Him, they now esteem Him; instead of fleeing from Him in terror, they now seek Him; instead of caring not whether their conduct honored Him; their deepest desire now is to please and glorify Him.
“According to His purpose.” The call is not according to the merits of men, but according to the Divine purpose: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to this own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2Ti 1:9). The design of the Holy Spirit in bringing in this last clause is to show that the reason some men love God and others do not is to be attributed solely to the mere sovereignty of God: it is not for anything in themselves, but due alone to His distinguishing grace.
There is also a practical value in this last clause. The doctrines of grace are intended for a further purpose than that of making up a creed. One main design of them is to move the affections; and more especially to reawaken that affection to which the heart oppressed with fears, or weighed down with cares, is wholly insufficient—even the love of God. That this love may flow perennially from our hearts, there must be a constant recurring to that which inspired it and which is calculated to increase it; just as to rekindle your admiration of a beautiful scene or picture, you would return again to gaze upon it. It is on this principle that so much stress is laid in Scripture on keeping the truths which we believe in memory: “By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you” (1Co 15:2). “I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance,” said the apostle (2Pe 3:1). “Do this in remembrance of me” said the Saviour. It is, then, by going back in memory to that hour when, despite our wretchedness and utter unworthiness, God called us, that our affection will be kept fresh. It is by recalling the wondrous grace that then reached out to a hell-deserving sinner and snatched you as a brand from the burning, that your heart will be drawn out in adoring gratitude. And it is by discovering this was due alone to the sovereign and eternal “purpose” of God that you were called when so many others are passed by, that your love for Him will be deepened.
Returning to the opening words of our text, we find the apostle (as voicing the normal experience of the saints) declares, “We know that all things work together for good.” It is something more than a speculative belief. That all things work together for good is even more than a fervent desire. It is not that we merely hope that all things will so work, but that we are fully assured all things do so work. The knowledge here spoken of is spiritual, not intellectual. It is a knowledge rooted in our hearts, which produces confidence in the truth of it. It is the knowledge of faith, which receives everything from the benevolent hand of Infinite Wisdom. It is true that we do not derive much comfort from this knowledge when out of fellowship with God. Nor will it sustain us when faith is not in operation. But when we are in communion with the Lord, when in our weakness we do lean hard upon Him, then is this blessed assurance ours: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee” (Isa 26:3).
A striking exemplification of our text is supplied by the history of Jacob—one whom in several respects each of us closely resembles. Heavy and dark was the cloud which settled upon him. Severe was the test, and fearful the trembling of his faith. His feet were almost gone. Hear his mournful plaint: “And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me” (Gen 42:36). And yet those circumstances, which to the dim eye of his faith wore a hue so somber, were at that very moment developing and perfecting the events which were to shed around the evening of his life the halo of a glorious and cloudless sunset. All things were working together for his good! And so, troubled soul, the “much tribulation” will soon be over, and as you enter the “kingdom of God” you shall then see, no longer “through a glass darkly” but in the unshadowed sunlight of the Divine presence, that “all things” did “work together” for your personal and eternal good.
Rom 8:18 “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us“
Ah, says someone, that must have been written by a man who was a stranger to suffering, or by one acquainted with nothing more trying than the milder irritations of life. Not so. These words were penned under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and by one who drank deeply of sorrow’s cup, yea, by one who suffered afflictions in their acutest forms. Hear his own testimony: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2Co 11:24-27).
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” This, then was the settled conviction not of one of “fortune’s favorites,” not of one who found life’s journey a carpeted pathway, bordered with roses, but, instead, of one who was hated by his kinsmen, who was oft-times beaten black and blue, who knew what it was to be deprived not only of the comforts but the bare necessities of life. How, then shall we account for his cheery optimism? What was the secret of his elevation over his troubles and trials?
The first thing with which the sorely-tried apostle comforted himself was that the sufferings of the Christian are but of brief duration—they are limited to “this present time.” This is in sharp and solemn contrast from the sufferings of the Christ-rejector. His sufferings will be eternal: forever tormented in the Lake of Fire. But far different is it for the believer. His sufferings are restricted to this life on earth, which is compared to a flower that cometh forth and is cut down, to a shadow that fleeth and continueth not. A few short years at most, and we shall pass from this vale of tears into that blissful country where groans and sighs are never heard.
Second, the apostle looked forward with the eye of faith to “the glory.” To Paul “the glory” was something more than a beautiful dream. It was a practical reality, exerting a powerful influence upon him, consoling him in the warmest and most trying hours of adversity. This is one of the real tests of faith. The Christian has a solid support in the time of affliction, when the unbeliever has not. The child of God knows that in his Father’s presence there is “fullness of joy,” and that at His right hand there are “pleasures forever more.” And faith lays hold of them, appropriates them, and lives in the comforting cheer of them even now. Just as Israel in the wilderness were encouraged by a sight of what awaited them in the promised land (Num 13:23, Num 13:26), so, the one who today walks by faith, and not by sight, contemplates that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, but which God by His Holy Spirit hath revealed unto us (1Co 2:9-10).
Third, the apostle rejoiced in “the glory which should be revealed in us.” All that this means we are not yet capable of understanding. But more than a hint has been vouchsafed us. There will be:
1. The “glory” of a perfect body. In that day this corruption shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal, immortality. That which was sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory, and that which was sown in weakness shall be raised in power. As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (1Co 15:49). The content of these expressions is summarized and amplified in Php 3:20-21 : “For our conservation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”
2. There will be the glory of a transformed mind. “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1Co 13:12). O what an orb of intellectual light will be each glorified mind! What range of light will it encompass! What capability of understanding will it enjoy! Then will all mysteries be unraveled, all problems solved, all discrepancies reconciled. Then shall each truth of God’s revelation, each event of His providence, each decision of His government, stand yet more transparently clear and resplendent than the sun itself. Do you, in your present quest for spiritual knowledge, mourn the darkness of your mind, the weakness of your memory, the limitations of your intellectual faculties? Then rejoice in hope of the glory that is to be revealed in you—when all your intellectual powers shall be renewed, developed, perfected, so that you shall know even as you are known.
3. Best of all, there will be the glory of perfect holiness. God’s work of grace in us will then be completed. He has promised to “perfect that which concerneth us” (Psa 138:8). Then will be the consummation of purity. We have been predestinated to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29), and when we shall see Him, “we shall be like him” (1Jn 3:2). Then our minds will be no more defiled by evil imaginations, our consciences no more sullied by a sense of guilt, our affections no more ensnared by unworthy objects.
What a marvelous prospect is this! A “glory” to be revealed in me who now can scarcely reflect a solitary ray of light! In me—so wayward, so unworthy, so sinful; living so little in communion with Him who is the Father of lights! Can it be that in me this glory shall be revealed? So affirms the infallible Word of God. If I am a child of light—through being “in Him” who is the effulgence of the Father’s glory—even though now dwelling amid the world’s dark shades, one day I shall outshine the brightness of the firmament. And when the Lord Jesus returns to this earth. he shall “be admired in all them that believe” (2Th 1:10).
Finally, the apostle here weighed the “sufferings” of this present time over against the “glory” which shall be revealed in us, and as he did so he declared that the one is “not worthy to be compared” with the other. The one is transient, the other eternal. As, then, there is no proportion between the finite and the infinite, so there is no comparison between the sufferings of earth and the glory of heaven.
One second of glory will outweigh a lifetime of suffering. What were the years of toil, of sickness, of battling with poverty, of sorrow in any or every form, when compared with the glory of Immanuel’s land! One draught of the river of pleasure at God’s right hand, one breath of Paradise, one hour amid the blood-washed around the throne, shall more than compensate for all the tears and groans of earth. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” May the Holy Spirit enable both writer and reader to lay hold of this with appropriating faith and live in the present possession and enjoyment of it to the praise of the glory of Divine grace.
The Great Giver
Rom 8:32 “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?“
The above verse supplies us with an instance of Divine logic. It contains a conclusion drawn from a premise; the premise is that God delivered up Christ for all His people, therefore everything else that is needed by them is sure to be given. There are many examples in Holy Writ of such Divine logic. “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you?” (Mat 6:30). “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). “If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat 7:11). So here in our text the reasoning is irresistible and goes straight to the understanding and heart.
Our text tells of the gracious character of our loving God as interpreted by the gift of His Son. And this, not merely for the instruction of our minds, but for the comfort and assurance of our hearts. The gift of His own Son is God’s guarantee to His people of all needed blessings. The greater includes the less; His unspeakable spiritual gift is the pledge of all needed temporal mercies. Note in our text four things:
1. The Father’s Costly Sacrifice.
This brings before us a side of the truth upon which I fear we rarely meditate. We delight to think of the wondrous love of Christ, whose love was stronger than death, and who deemed no suffering too great for His people. But what must it have meant to the heart of the Father when His Beloved left His Heavenly Home! God is love, and nothing is so sensitive as love. I do not believe that Deity is emotionless, the Stoic as represented by the Schoolmen of the middle ages. I believe the sending forth of the Son was something which the heart of the Father felt, that it was a real sacrifice on His part.
Weigh well then the solemn fact which premises the sure promise that follows: God “spared not His own Son”! Expressive, profound, melting words! Knowing full well, as He only could, all that redemption involved—the Law rigid and unbending, insisting upon perfect obedience and demanding death for its transgressors. Justice, stern and inexorable, requiring full satisfaction, refusing to “clear the guilty.” Yet God did not withhold not the only suitable Sacrifice.
God “spared not His own Son,” though knowing full well the humiliation and ignominy of Bethlehem’s manger, the ingratitude of men, the not having where to lay His head, the hatred and opposition of the ungodly, the enmity and bruising of Satan—yet He did not hesitate. God did not relax ought of the holy requirements of His throne, nor abate one whit of the awful curse. No, He “spared not His own Son.” The utmost farthing was exacted; the last dregs in the cup of wrath must be drained. Even when His Beloved cried from the Garden, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me,” God “spared” Him not. Even when vile hands had nailed Him to the tree, God cried “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts; smite the Shepherd” (Zec 13:7).
2. The Father’s Gracious Design.
“But delivered him up for us all.” Here we are told why the Father made such a costly sacrifice; He spared not Christ, that He might spare us! It was not want of love to the Saviour, but wondrous, matchless, fathomless love for us! O marvel at the wondrous design of the Most High. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Verily, such love passeth knowledge. Moreover, He made this costly sacrifice not grudgingly or reluctantly, but freely out of love.
Once God had said to rebellious Israel, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” (Hos 11:8). Infinitely more cause had He to say this of the Holy One, His well-beloved, the One in whom His soul daily delighted. Yet, He “delivered Him up”—to shame and spitting, to hatred and persecution, to suffering and death itself. And He delivered Him up for us—descendants of rebellious Adam, depraved and defiled, corrupt and sinful, vile and worthless! For us who had gone into the “far country” of alienation from Him, and there spent our substance in riotous living. Yes, “for us” who had gone astray like sheep, each one turning to “his own way.” For us “who were by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” in whom there dwelt no good thing. For us who had rebelled against our Creator, hated His holiness, despised His Word, broken His commandments, resisted His Spirit. For us who richly deserved to be cast into the everlasting burnings and receive those wages which our sins so fully earned.
Yes, for thee fellow Christian, who art sometimes tempted to interpret your afflictions as tokens of God’s hardness; who regard your poverty as a mark of His neglect, and your seasons of darkness as evidences of His desertion. O, confess to Him now the wickedness of such dishonoring doubtings, and never again question the love of Him who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.
Faithfulness demands that I should point out the qualifying pronoun in our text. It is not God “delivered him up for all,” but “for us all.” ‘This is definitely defined in the verses which immediately precede. In v. 31 Rom 8:31 the question is asked, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” In v. 30 Rom 8:30 this “us” is defined as those whom God did predestinate and has “called” and “justified.” The “us” are the high favorites of heaven, the objects of sovereign grace. God’s elect. And yet in themselves they are, by nature and practice, deserving of nothing but wrath. But yet, thank God, it is “us all” —the worst as well as the best, the five-hundred-pounds-debtor equally as much as the fifty-pence-debtor.
3. The Spirit’s Blessed Inference.
Ponder well the glorious “conclusion” which the Spirit of God here draws from the wondrous fact stated in the first part of our text, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things.” How conclusive and how comforting is the inspired reasoning of the apostle. Arguing from the greater to the less, He proceeds to assure the believer of God’s readiness to also freely bestow all needed blessings. The gift of His own Son, so ungrudgingly and unreservedly bestowed, is the pledge of every other needed mercy.
Here is the unfailing guaranty and talisman of perpetual reassurance to the drooping spirit of the tried believer. If God has done the greater, will He leave the less undone? Infinite love can never change. The love that spared not Christ cannot fail its objects nor begrudge any needed blessings. The sad thing is that our hearts dwell upon what we have not, instead of upon what we do have. Therefore the Spirit of God would here still our restless thoughts and quiet the ignorant discontent with a soul-satisfying knowledge of the truth; by reminding us not only of the reality of our interest in the love of God, but also of the extent of that blessing that flows from that love.
Weigh well what is involved in the logic of this verse. First, the great Gift was given unasked; will He not bestow others for the asking? None of us supplicated God to send forth His Beloved; yet He sent Him! Now, we may come to the throne of grace and there present our requests in the virtuous and all-efficacious name of Christ.
Second, the one great Gift cost Him much; will He not then bestow the lesser gifts which cost Him nothing save the delight of giving! If a friend were to give me a valuable picture, would he begrudge the necessary paper and string to wrap it in? Or if a loved one made me a present of a precious jewel, would he refuse a little box to carry it in? How much less will He who spared not His own Son, withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly.
Third, the one Gift was bestowed when we were enemies; will not then God be gracious to us now that we have been reconciled and are His friends? If He had designs of mercy for us while we were yet in our sins, how much more will He regard us favorably now that we have been cleansed from all sin by the precious blood of His Son!
4. The Comforting Promise.
Observe the tense that is used here. It is not “how has he not with him also freely given us all things,” though this is also true, for even now are we “heirs of God” (Rom 8:17). But our text goes further than this: “How shall he not with Him also freely give us all things?” The second half of this wondrous verse contains something more than a record of the past; it supplies reassuring confidence both for the present and for the future. No time-limits are to be set upon this “shall.” Both now in the present and forever and ever in the future God shall manifest Himself as the great Giver. Nothing for His glory and for our good will He withhold. The same God who delivered up Christ for us all is “without variableness or shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17).
Mark the manner in which God gives: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” God does not have to be coaxed; there is no reluctance in Him for us to overcome. He is ever more willing to give than we are to receive. Again; He is under no obligations to any; if He were, He would bestow of necessity, instead of giving “freely.” Ever remember that He has a perfect right to do with His own as He pleases. He is free to give to whom He wills.
The word “freely” not only signifies that God is under no constraint, but also means that He makes no charge for His gifts, He places no price on His blessings. God is no retailer of mercies or barterer of good things; if He were, justice would require Him to charge exactly what each blessing was worth, and then who among the children of Adam could find the wherewithal? No, blessed be His name, God’s gifts are “without money and without price” (Isa 55:1), unmerited and unearned.
Finally, rejoice over the comprehensiveness of this promise: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” The Holy Spirit would here regale us with the extent of God’s wondrous grant. What is it you need, fellow Christian? Is it pardon? Then has He not said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9)? Is it grace? Then has He not said, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2Co 9:8)? Is it a “thorn in the flesh”? this too will be given “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh” (2Co 12:7). Is it rest? Then heed the Saviour’s invitation, “Come unto Me . . . and I will give you rest (Mat 11:28). Is it comfort? Is He not the God of all comfort (2Co 1:3)?
“How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Is it temporal mercies that the reader is in need of? Are your circumstances adverse so that you are filled with dismal forebodings? Does your cruse of oil and barrel of meal look as though they will soon be quite empty? Then spread your need before God, and do it in simple childlike faith. Think you that He will bestow the greater blessings of grace and deny the lesser ones of Providence? No, “My God shall supply all your need” (Phil. 4:19). True, He has not promised to give all you ask, for we often ask “amiss.” Mark the qualifying clause: “How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” We often desire things which would come in between us and Christ if they were granted, therefore does God in His faithfulness withholds them.
Here then are four things which should bring comfort to every renewed heart. (1) The Father’s costly sacrifice. Our God is a giving God and no good thing does He withhold from them that walk uprightly. (2) The Father’s gracious design. It was for us that Christ was delivered up; it was our highest and eternal interests that He had at heart. (3) The Spirit’s infallible inference. The greater includes the less; the unspeakable Gift guarantees the bestowment of all other needed favors. (4) The comforting promise. Its sure foundation, its present and future scope, its blessed extent, are for the assuring of our hearts and the peace of our minds. May the Lord add His blessing to this little meditation.
The Divine Rememberer
Psalm 136:23 “Who remembered us in our low estate: for His mercy endureth forever“
“Who remembered us.” This is in striking and blessed contrast from our forgettings of Him. Like every other faculty of our beings, the memory has been affected by the Fall and bears on it the marks of depravity. This is seen from its power to retain what is worthless and the difficulty encountered to hold fast that which is good. A foolish nursery-rhyme or song heard in youth, is carried with us to the grave; a helpful sermon is forgotten within twenty-four hours! But most tragic and solemn of all is the ease with which we forget God and His countless mercies. But, blessed be His name, God never forgets us. He is the faithful Rememberer.
We were very much impressed when, on consulting the concordance, we found that the first five times the word “remember” is used in Scripture, in each case it is connected with God. “And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark” (Gen 8:1). “And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth” (Gen 9:16). “And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt” (Gen 19:29), etc. The first time it is used of man we read, “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (Gen 40:23)!
The historical reference here is to the children of Israel, when they were toiling amid the brick-kilns of Egypt. Truly they were in a “low estate”: a nation of slaves, groaning beneath the lash of merciless task-masters, oppressed by a godless and heartless king. But when there was none other eye to pity, Jehovah looked upon them and heard their cries of distress. He “remembered” them in their low estate. And why? Exo 2:24-25 tells us: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto it.”
Our text is not to be limited to the literal seed of Abraham: it has reference to the whole “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). The saints of this present Day of salvation also unite in saying, “Who remembered us in our low estate.” How “low” was our “estate” by nature! As fallen creatures we lay in our misery and wretchedness, unable to deliver or help ourselves. But, in wondrous grace, God took pity on us. His strong arm reached down and rescued us. He came to where we lay, saw us, and had compassion on us (Luk 10:33). Therefore can each Christian say, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (Psa 40:2).
And why did He “remember” us? The very word “remember” tells of previous thoughts of love and mercy towards us. As it was with the children of Israel in Egypt, so it was with us in our ruined condition by nature. He “remembered” His covenant, that covenant into which He had entered with our Surety from everlasting. As we read in Tit 1:2 of eternal life “which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world was. Promised to Christ, that He would give that eternal life to those for whom our covenant Head should transact. Yes, God “remembered” that He had “chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), therefore did He, in due time, bring us from death unto life.
Yet this blessed word goes beyond our initial experience of God’s saving grace. Historically, our text refers not only to God remembering His people while they were in Egypt, but also, as the context shows, while they were in the Wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land. Israel’s experiences in the desert but foreshadow the saints’ walk through this hostile world. And Jehovah’s “remembrance” of them, manifested in the daily supply of their every need, adumbrated the rich provisions of His grace for us while we journey to our Home on High. Our present estate, here on earth, is but a lowly one, for we do not now reign as kings. Yet, is our God ever mindful of us, and hourly does He minister to us.
“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Not always are we permitted to dwell upon the mount. As in the natural world, so in our experiences. Bright and sunny days give place to dark and cloudy ones: summer is followed by winter. Disappointments, losses, afflictions, bereavements came our way, and we were brought low. And ofttimes just when we seemed to most need the comfort of friends, they failed us. Those we counted on to help, forgot us. But, even then, there was One “who remembered us” and showed Himself to be “the same yesterday and today and forever,” and then did we prove afresh that “His mercy endureth forever” (1Ch 16:34)
“Who remembered us in our low estate.” There are some who may read these lines that will think of another application of these words: namely, the time when you left your first love, when your heart grew cold, and your life became worldly. When you were in a sadly back-slidden state. Then, indeed, was your estate a low one; yet even then did our faithful God “remember” thee. Yes, each of us has cause to say with the Psalmist “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psa 23:3).
“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Still another application of these words may be made, namely, to the last great crisis of the saint, as he passes out of this world. As the vital spark of the body grows dim and nature fails, then too is our “estate” low. But then also the Lord remembereth us, for “His mercy endureth for ever. Man’s extremity is but God’s opportunity. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. It is then that he “remembers” us by making good His comforting promises, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” (Isa 41:10).
“Who remembered us in our low estate.” Surely this text will furnish us with suitable words to express our thanksgiving when we are at Home, present with the Lord. How we shall then praise Him for His covenant faithfulness, His matchless grace, and His loving kindness, for having “remembered us in our low estate! Then shall we know, even as we are known. Our very memories will be renewed, perfected, and we shall remember all the way the Lord our God hath led us” (Deu 8:2), recalling with gratitude and joy His faithful remembrances, acknowledging with adoration that “His mercy endureth for ever.”
Tried by Fire
Job 23:10 “But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold“
Job here corrects himself. In the beginning of the chapter we find him saying: “Even today is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning” (Job 23:1-2). Poor Job felt that his lot was unbearable. But he recovers himself. He checks his hasty outburst and revises his impetuous decision. How often we all have to correct ourselves! Only One has ever walked this earth who never had occasion to do so.
Job here comforts himself. He could not fathom the mysteries of Providence but God knew the way he took. Job had diligently sought the calming presence of God, but, for a time, in vain. 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” (vv. 8, 9). But he consoled himself with this blessed fact—though I cannot see God, what is a thousand times better, He can see me—”He knoweth.” One above is neither unmindful nor indifferent to our lot. If He notices the fall of a sparrow, if He counts the hairs of our heads, of course “He knows” the way that I take.
Job here enunciates a noble view of life. How splendidly optimistic he was! He did not allow his afflictions to turn him into a skeptic. He did not permit the sore trials and troubles through which he was passing to overwhelm him. He looked at the bright side of the dark cloud—God’s side, hidden from sense and reason. He took a long view of life. He looked beyond the immediate ‘fiery trials” and said that the outcome would be gold refined. “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” Three great truths are expressed here: let us briefly consider each separately.
1. The Divine Knowledge of My Life.
“He knoweth the way that I take.” The omniscience of God is one of the wondrous attributes of Deity. “For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings” (Job 34:21). “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Pro 15:3). Spurgeon said, “One of the greatest tests of experimental religion is, What is my relationship to God’s omniscience?” What is your relationship to it, dear reader? How does it affect you? Does it distress or comfort you? Do you shrink from the thought of God knowing all about your way? perhaps, a lying, selfish, hypocritical way! To the sinner this is a terrible thought. He denies it, or if not, he seeks to forget it. But to the Christian, here is real comfort. How cheering to remember that my Father knows all about my trials, my difficulties, my sorrows, my efforts to glorify Him. Precious truth for those in Christ, harrowing thought for all out of Christ, that the way I am taking is fully known to and observed by God.
“He knoweth the way that I take.” Men did not know the way that Job took. He was grievously misunderstood, and for one with a sensitive temperament to be misunderstood, is a sore trial. His very friends thought he was a hypocrite. They believed he was a great sinner and being punished by God. Job knew that he was an unworthy saint, but not a hypocrite. He appealed against their censorious verdict. “He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” Here is instruction for us when like circumstanced. Fellow-believer, your fellow-men, yes, and your fellow Christians, may misunderstand you, and misinterpret God’s dealings with you: but console yourself with the blessed fact that the omniscient One knows.
“He knoweth the way that I take.” In the fullest sense of the word Job himself did not know the way that he took, nor do any of us. Life is profoundly mysterious, and the passing of the years offer no solution. Nor does philosophizing help us. Human volition is a strange enigma. Consciousness bears witness that we are more than automatons. The power of choice is exercised by us in every move we make. And yet it is plain that our freedom is not absolute. There are forces brought to bear upon us, both good and evil, which are beyond our power to resist. Both heredity and environment exercise powerful influences upon us. Our surroundings and circumstances are factors which cannot be ignored. And what of providence which “shapes our destinies”? Ah, how little do we know the way which we “take.” Said the prophet, “O Lord I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jer 10:23). Here we enter the realm of mystery, and it is idle to deny it. Better far to acknowledge with the wise man, “Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Pro 20:24).
In the narrower sense of the term Job did know the way which he took. What that “way” was he tells us in the next two verses. “My foot hath held his steps. his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:11-12). The way Job chose was the best way, the scriptural way, God’s way—”His way.” What do you think of that way, dear reader? Was it not a grand selection? Ah, not only “patient,” but wise Job! Have you made a similar choice? Can you say, My foot hath held his steps. his way have I kept, and not declined?” (Job 23:11). If you can, praise Him for His enabling grace. If you cannot, confess with shame your failure to appropriate His all-sufficient grace. Get down on your knees at once, and unbosom yourself to God. Hide and keep back nothing. Remember it is written “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9). Does not Job 23:2 verse 12 explain your failure, my failure, dear reader? Is it not because we have not trembled before God’s commandments, and because we have so lightly esteemed His Word, that we have “declined” from His way! Then let us, even now, and daily, seek grace from on high to heed His commandments and hide His Word in our hearts.
“He knoweth the way that I take.” Which way are you taking?—the Narrow Way which leadeth unto life, or ‘the Broad Road that leadeth to destruction? Make certain on this point, dear friend. Scripture declares, “So every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:12). But you need not be deceived or uncertain. The Lord declared, “I am The Way” (Joh 14:6).
2. Divine Testing
“When he hath tried me.” “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts” (Pro 17:3). This was God’s way with Israel of old, and it is His way with Christians now. Just before Israel entered Canaan, as Moses reviewed their history since leaving Egypt, he said, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, and to know what as in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no” (Deu 8:2). In the same way God tries, tests, proves, humbles us.
“When he hath tried me.” If we realized this more, we should bear up better in the hour of affliction and be more patient under suffering. The daily irritations of life, the things which annoy so much—what is their meaning? why are they permitted? Here is the answer: God is “trying” you! That is the explanation (in part, at least) of that disappointment, that crushing of your earthly hopes, that great loss; God was, is, testing you. God is trying your temper, your courage, your faith, your patience, your love, your fidelity.
“When he hath tried me.” How frequently God’s saints see only Satan as the cause of their troubles. They regard the great enemy as responsible for much of their sufferings. But there is no comfort for the heart in this. We do not deny that the Devil does bring about much that harasses us. But above Satan is the Lord Almighty! The Devil cannot touch a hair of our heads without God’s permission, and when he is allowed to disturb and distract us, even then it is only God using him to “try” us. Let us learn then, to look beyond all secondary causes and instruments to that One who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). This is what Job did.
In the opening chapter of the book which bears his name we find Satan obtaining permission to afflict God’s servant. He used the Sabeans to destroy Job ‘s herds (Job 1:15): he sent the Chaldeans to slay his servants (Job 1:17 ): he caused a great wind to kill his children (v. 19). And what was Job’s response? This: he exclaimed “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job looked beyond the human agents, beyond Satan who employed them, to the Lord who controls all. He realized that it was the Lord trying him. We get the same thing in the New Testament. To the suffering saints at Smyrna John wrote, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried” (Rev 2:10). Their being cast into prison was simply God trying them.
How much we lose by forgetting this! What a stay for the trouble-tossed heart to know that no matter what form the testing may take, no matter what the agent which annoys, it is God who is “trying” His children. What a perfect example the Saviour sets us. When He was approached in the garden and Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, the Saviour said, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (Joh 18:11). Men were about to vent their awful rage upon Him, the Serpent would bruise His heel, but He looks above and beyond them. Dear reader, no matter how bitter its contents, (infinitely less than that which the Saviour drained) let us accept the cup as from the Father’s hand.
In some moods we are apt to question the wisdom and right of God to try us. So often we murmur at His dispensations. Why should God lay such an intolerable burden upon me? Why should others be spared their loved ones, and mine taken? Why should health and strength, perhaps the gift of sight, be denied me? The first answer to all such questions is, “O man, who art thou that repliest against God?”! It is wicked insubordination for any creature to call into question the dealings of the great Creator. “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). How earnestly each of us need to cry unto God, that His grace may silence our rebellious lips and still the tempest within our desperately wicked hearts!
But to the humble soul which bows in submission before the sovereign dispensations of the all-wise God, Scripture affords some light on the problem. This light may not satisfy reason, but it will bring comfort and strength when received in child-like faith and simplicity. In 1Pe 1:6 we read; “Wherein (God’s salvation) ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (or trials): That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Note three things here. First, there is a needs-be for the trial of faith. Since God says it, let us accept it. Second, this trying of faith is precious, far more so than of gold. It is precious to God (cf. Psa 116:15) and will yet be so to us. Third, the present trial has in view the future. Where the trial has been meekly endured and bravely borne, there will be a grand reward at the appearing of our Redeemer.
Again, in 1Pe 4:12-13 we are told: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings: that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” The same thoughts are expressed here as in the previous passage. There is a needs-be for our “trials” and therefore we are to think them not strange—we should expect them. And, too, there is again the blessed outlook of being richly recompensed at Christ’s return. Then there is the added word that not only should we meet these trials with faith’s fortitude, but we should rejoice in them, inasmuch as we are permitted to have fellowship in “the sufferings of Christ.” He, too, suffered: sufficient then, for the disciple to be as his Master.
“When he hath tried me.” Dear Christian reader, there are no exceptions. God had only one Son without sin, but never one without sorrow. Sooner or later, in one form or another, trial-sore and heavy—will be our lot. “And sent Timotheus our brother . . . to establish you, and comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1Th 3:2-3). And again it is written, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). It has been so in every age. Abram was “tried,” tried severely. So, too, were Joseph, Jacob. Moses, David, Daniel, the Apostles, etc.
3. The Ultimate Issue
“I shall come forth as gold.” Observe the tense here. Job did not imagine that he was pure gold already. “I shall come forth as gold,” he declared. He knew full well that there was yet much dross in him. He did not boast that he was already perfect. Far from it. In the final chapter of his book we find him saying, “I abhor myself” (Job 42:6). And well he might: and well may we. As we discover that in our flesh there dwelleth “no good thing,” as we examine ourselves and our ways in the light of God’s Word and behold our innumerable failures, as we think of our countless sins, both of omission and commission, good reason have we for abhoring ourselves. Ah, Christian reader, there is much dross about us. But it will not ever be thus.
“I shall come forth as gold.” Job did not say, “When he hath tried me I may come forth as gold,” or “I hope to come forth as gold,” but with full confidence and positive assurance he declared, “I shall come forth as gold.” But how did he know this? How can we be sure of the happy issue? Because the Divine purpose cannot fail. He which hath begun a good work in us “will finish it” (Php 1:6).How can we be sure of the happy issue? Because the Divine promise is sure: “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psa 138:8). Then be of good cheer, tried and troubled one. The process may be unpleasant and painful, but the issue is charming and sure.
“I shall come forth as gold.” This was said by one who knew affliction and sorrow as few among the sons of men have known them. Yet despite his fiery trials he was optimistic. Let then this triumphant language be ours. “I shall come forth as gold” is not the language of carnal boasting, but the confidence of one whose mind was stayed upon God. There will be no credit to our account—the glory will all belong to the Divine Refiner (Jas 1:12).
For the present there remain two things: first, Love is the Divine thermometer while we are in the crucible of testing—”And he shall sit (the patience of Divine grace) as a Refiner and Purifier of silver,” etc. (Mal 3:3). Second, the Lord Himself is with us in the fiery furnace, as He was with the three young Hebrews (Dan 3:25). For the future this is sure: the most wonderful thing in heaven will not be the golden street or the golden harps, but golden souls on which is stamped the image of God—”predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son!” Praise God for such a glorious prospect, such a victorious issue, such a marvelous goal.
Hebrews 12:5 “Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou are rebuked of him“
It is of first importance that we learn to draw a sharp distinction between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement: important for maintaining the honour and glory of God, and for the peace of mind of the Christian. The distinction is very simple, yet is it often lost sight of. God’s people can never by any possibility be punished for their sins, for God has already punished them at the Cross. The Lord Jesus, our Blessed Substitute, suffered the full penalty of all our guilt, hence it is written “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jn 1:7). Neither the justice nor the love of God will permit Him to again exact payment of what Christ discharged to the full. The difference between punishment and chastisement lies not in the nature of the sufferings of the afflicted: it is most important to bear this in mind. There is a threefold distinction between the two. First, the character in which God acts. In the former God acts as Judge, in the latter as Father. Sentence of punishment is the act of a judge, a penal sentence passed on those charged with guilt. Punishment can never fall upon the child of God in this judicial sense because his guilt was all transferred to Christ: “Who his own self bear our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pe 2:24)
But while the believer’s sins cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned (Rom 8:3), yet he may be chastised. The Christian occupies an entirely different position from the non-Christian: he is a member of the Family of God. The relationship which now exists between him and God is that of parent and child; and as a son he must be disciplined for wrongdoing. Folly is bound up in the hearts of all God’s children, and the rod is necessary to rebuke, to subdue, to humble.
The second distinction between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement lies in the recipients of each. The objects of the former are His enemies. The subjects of the latter are His children. As the Judge of all the earth, God will yet take vengeance on all His foes. As the Father of His family, God maintains discipline over all His children. The one is judicial, the other parental.
A third distinction is seen in The design of each: the one is retributive, the other remedial. The one flows from His anger, the other from His love. Divine punishment is never sent for the good of sinners, but for the honoring of God’s law and the vindicating of His government. But Divine chastisement is sent for the well-being of His children: “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Heb 12:9-10).
The above distinction should at once rebuke the thoughts which are so generally entertained among Christians. When the believer is smarting under the rod let him not say, God is now punishing me for my sins. That can never be. That is most dishonoring to the blood of Christ. God is correcting thee in love, not smiting in wrath. Nor should the Christian regard the chastening of the Lord as a sort of necessary evil to which he must bow as submissively as possible. No, it proceeds from God’s goodness and faithfulness, and is one of the greatest blessings for which we have to thank Him. Chastisement evidences our Divine son-ship: the father of a family does not concern himself with those on the outside: but those within he guides and disciplines to make them conform to his will. Chastisement is designed for our good, to promote our highest interests. Look beyond the rod to the All-wise hand that wields it!
The Hebrew Christians to whom this Epistle was first addressed were passing through a great fight of afflictions, and miserably were they conducting themselves. They were the little remnant out of the Jewish nation who had believed on their Messiah during the days of His public ministry, plus those Jews who had been converted under the preaching of the apostles. It is highly probable that they had expected the Messianic Kingdom would at once be set up on earth and that they would be allotted the chief places of honour in it. But the Millennium had not begun, and their own lot became increasingly bitter. They were not only hated by the Gentiles, but ostracized by their unbelieving brethren, and it became a hard matter for them to make even a bare living. Providence held a frowning face. Many who had made a profession of Christianity had gone back to Judaism and were prospering temporally. As the afflictions of the believing Jews increased, they too were sorely tempted to turn their back upon the new Faith. Had they been wrong in embracing Christianity? Was high Heaven displeased because they had identified themselves with Jesus of Nazareth? Did not their suffering go to show that God no longer regarded them with favour?
Now it is most instructive and blessed to see how the Apostle met the unbelieving reasoning of their hearts. He appealed to their own Scriptures! He reminded them of an exhortation Found in Pro 3:11-12, and applied it to their case. Notice, first, the words we place in italics: “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you.“ This shows that the exhortations of the Old Testament were not restricted to those who lived under the old covenant: they apply with equal force and directness to those of us living under the new covenant. Let us not forget that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2Ti 3:16) The Old Testament equally as much as the New Testament was written for our learning and admonition. Second, mark the tense of the verb in our opening text: “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh.” The Apostle quoted a sentence of the Word written one thousand years previously, yet he does not say “which hath spoken,” but “which speaketh.” The same principle is illustrated in that sevenfold “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith (not “said”) unto the churches” of Rev. 2 and 3. The Holy Scriptures are a living Word in which God is speaking today!
Consider now the words “Ye have forgotten.” It was not that these Hebrew Christians were unacquainted with Pro 3:11-12, but they had let them slip. They had forgotten the Fatherhood of God and their relation of Him as His dear children. In consequence they misinterpreted both the manner and design of God’s present dealings with them, they viewed His dispensation not in the light of His Love, but regarded them as signs of His displeasure or as proofs of His forgetfulness. Consequently, instead of cheerful submission, there was despondency and despair. Here is a most important lesson for us: we must interpret the mysterious providences of God not by reason or observation, but by the Word. How often we “forget” the exhortation which speaketh unto us as unto children: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.”
“Unhappily there is no word in the English language which is capable of doing justice to the Greek term here. “Paideia” which is rendered “chastening” is only another form of “paidion” which signifies “young children,” being the tender word that was employed by the Saviour in Joh 21:5 and Heb 2:13. One can see at a glance the direct connection which exists between the words “disciple” and “discipline”: equally close in the Greek is the relation between “children” and “chastening.” Son-training would be better. It has reference to God’s education, nurture and discipline of His children. It is the Father’s wise and loving correction.
Much chastisement comes by the rod in the hand of the Father correcting His erring child. But it is a serious mistake to confine our thoughts to this one aspect of the subject. Chastisement is by no means always the scourging of His refractive sons. Some of the saintliest of God’s people, some of the most obedient of His children, have been and are the greatest sufferers. Oftentimes God’s chastenings instead of being retributive are corrective. They are sent to empty us of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness: they are given to discover to us hidden transgressions, and to teach us the plague of our own hearts. Or again, chastisements are sent to strengthen our faith, to raise us to higher levels of experience, to bring us into a condition of usefulness. Still again, Divine chastisement is sent as a preventative, to keep under pride, to save us from being unduly elated over success in God’s service. Let us consider, briefly, four entirely different examples.
David. In his case the rod was laid upon him for grievous sins, for open wickedness. His fall was occasioned by self-confidence and self-righteousness. If the reader will diligently compare the two Songs of David recorded in 2 Samuel 22 and 23, the one written near the beginning of his life, the other near the end, he will be struck by the great difference of spirit manifested by the writer in each. Read 2Sa 22:22-25 and you will not be surprised that God suffered him to have such a fall. Then turn to chapter 23, and mark the blessed change. At the beginning of 2Sa 23:5 there is a heart-broken confession of failure. In 2Sa 23:10-12 there is a God-glorifying confession, attributing victory unto the Lord. The severe scourging of David was not in vain.
Job. Probably he tasted of every kind of suffering which falls to man’s lot: family bereavements, loss of property, grievous bodily afflictions came fast, one on top of another. But God’s end in it all was that Job should benefit therefrom and be a greater partaker of His holiness. There was not a little of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness in Job at the beginning. But at the end, when He was brought face to face with the thrice Holy One, he “abhorred himself” (Job 42:6). In David’s case the chastisement was retributive, in Job’s corrective.
Abraham. In him we see an illustration of an entirely different aspect of chastening. Most of the trials to which he was subjected were neither because of open sins nor for the correction of inward faults. Rather were they sent for the developmen of spiritual graces. Abraham was sorely tried in various ways, but it was in order that faith might be strengthened and that patience might have its perfect work in him. Abraham was weaned from the things of this world, that he might enjoy closer fellowship with Jehovah and become the “friend” of God.
Paul. “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (2Co 12:7). This “thorn” was sent not because of failure and sin, but as a preventative against pride. Note the “lest” both at the beginning and end of the verse. The result of this “thorn” was that the beloved apostle was made more conscious of his weakness. Thus, chastisement has for one of its main objects the breaking down of self-sufficiency, the bringing us to the end of our selves.
Now in view of these widely different aspects chastenings (retributive, corrective, educative, and preventative), how incompetent are we to diagnose, and how great is the folly of pronouncing a judgment concerning others! Let us not conclude when we see a fellow-Christian under the rod of God that he is necessarily being taken to task for his sins. In our next meditation we shall consider the spirit in which Divine chastisements are to be received.