Commentary on Hebrews 12:5-6
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain
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The grand truth of Divine Chastisement is inexpressibly blessed, and one which we can neglect only to our great loss. It is of deep importance, for when Scripturally apprehended it preserves from some serious errors by which Satan has succeeded (as “an angel of light”) in deceiving and destroying not a few. For example, it sounds the death-knell to that wide-spread delusion of “sinless perfectionism.” The passage which is to be before us unmistakably exposes the wild fanaticism of those who imagine that, as the result of some “second work of grace,” the carnal nature has been eradicated from their beings, so that, while perhaps not so wise, they are as pure as the angels which never sinned, and lead lives which are blameless in the sight of the thrice holy God. Poor blinded souls: such have not even experienced a first “work of Divine grace” in their souls: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
“My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:5, 6). How plain and emphatic is that! God does find something to “rebuke” in us, and uses the rod upon every one of His children. Chastisement for sin is a family mark, a sign of sonship, a proof of God’s love, a token of His Fatherly kindness and care; it is an inestimable mercy, a choice new-covenant blessing. Woe to the man whom God chastens not, whom He suffers to go recklessly on in the boastful and presumptuous security which so many now mistake for faith. There is a reckoning to come of which he little dreams. Were he a son, he would be chastened for his sin; he would be brought to repentance and godly sorrow, he would with grief of heart confess his backslidings, and then be blest with pardon and peace.
The truth of Divine chastisement corrects another serious error, which has become quite common in certain quarters, namely, that God views His people so completely in Christ that He sees no sin in them. It is true, blessedly true, that of His elect it is stated, “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” (Num. 23:21) and that Christ declares of His spouse “Thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee” (Song 4:7). The testimony of Scripture is most express that in regard to the justification or acceptance of the persons of the elect, they are “complete in Him”-Christ (Col. 2:10); “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6)-washed in Christ’s blood, clothed with His righteousness. In that sense, God sees no sin in them; none to punish. But we must not use that precious truth to set aside another, revealed with equal clearness, and thus fall into serious error.
God does see sin in His children and chastises them for it. Even though the non-imputation of sin to the believer (Rom. 4:8) and the chastisement of sin in believers (1 Cor. 11:30-32) were irreconcilable to human reason, we are bound to receive both on the authority of Holy Writ. Let us beware lest we fall under the solemn charge of Malachi 2:9, “Ye have not kept My ways, but have been partial in the law.” What could be plainer than this, “I will make Him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for Him for evermore, and My covenant shall stand fast with Him. His seed also will I make to endure forever and His throne as the days of heaven. If His children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My loving kindness will I not utterly take from Him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail” (Ps. 89:27-33). Five things are clearly revealed there. First Christ Himself is addressed under the name of “David.” Second, His children break God’s statutes. Third, in them there is “iniquity” and “transgression.” Fourth, God will “visit” their transgression “with the rod!” Fifth, yet will He not cast them off.
What could express more clearly the fact that God does see sin in believers, and that He does chastise them for it? For, be it noted, the whole of the above passage speaks of believers. It is the language, not of the Law, but of the Gospel. Blessed promises are there made to believers in Christ: the unchanging loving-kindness of God, His covenant-faithfulness toward them, His spiritual blessing of them. But “stripes” and the “rod” are there promised too! Then let us not dare to separate what God has joined together. How do we know anything concerning the acceptance of the elect in Christ? The answer must be, Only on the testimony of Holy Writ. Very well; from the same unerring Testimony we also know that God chastises His people for their sins. It is at our imminent peril that we reject either of these complementary truths.
The same fact is plainly presented again in Hebrews 12:7-10, “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore 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.” The apostle there draws an analogy from the natural relationship of father and child. Why do earthly parents chastise their children? Is it not for their faults? Can we justify a parent for chastening a child where there was no fault, nothing in him which called for the rod? In that case, it would be positive tyranny, actual cruelty. If the same be not true spiritually, then the comparison must fall to the ground. Hebrews 12 proves conclusively that, if God does not chastise me then I am an unbeliever, and I sign my own condemnation as a bastard.
Yet it is very necessary for us to point out, at this stage, that all the sufferings of believers in this world are not Divine rebukes for personal transgressions. Here too we need to be on our guard against lopsidedness. After we have apprehended the fact that God does take notice of the iniquities of His people and use the rod upon them, it is so easy to jump to the conclusion that when we see an afflicted Christian, God must be visiting His displeasure upon him. That is a sad and serious error. Some of the very choicest of God’s saints have been called on to endure the most painful and protracted sufferings; some of the most faithful and eminent servants of Christ have encountered the most relentless and extreme persecution. Not only is this a fact of observation, but it is plainly revealed in Holy Writ.
As we turn to God’s Word for light on the subject of suffering among the saints, we find it affirmed, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). Those “afflictions” are sent by God upon different ones for various reasons. Sometimes for the prevention of sin: the experience of the beloved apostle was a case in point, “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” (2 Cor. 12:7). Sometimes sore trials are sent for the testing and strengthening of our graces: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2, 3). Sometimes God’s servants and people axe called on to endure fierce persecution for a confirmatory testimony to the Truth “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
Yet here again we need to be much on our guard, for the flesh is ever ready to pervert even the holy things of God, and make an evil use of that which is good. When God is chastising a Christian for his sins, it is so easy for him to suppose such is not the case, and falsely comfort himself with the thought that God is only developing his graces, or permitting him to have closer fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. Where we are visited with afflictions personally, it is always the safest policy to assume that God has a controversy with us; humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand, and say with Job, “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (10:2); and when He has convicted me of my fault, to penitently confess and forsake it. But where others are concerned, it is not for us to judge-though sometimes God reveals the cause to His servants (Amos 3:7).
In the passage which is to be before us, the apostle presents a third consideration why heed should be given unto the exhortation at the beginning of Hebrews 12, which calls to patient perseverance in the path of faith and obedience, notwithstanding all the obstacles, difficulties, and dangers which may be encountered therein. He now draws a motive from the nature of those sufferings considered in the light of God’s end in them: all the trials and persecutions which He may call on His people to endure are necessary, not only as testimonies to the truth, to the reality of His grace in them, but also as chastisements which are required by us, wherein God has a blessed design toward us. This argument is enforced by several considerations to the end of verse 13. How we should admire and adore the consummate wisdom of God which has so marvelously ordered all, that the very things which manifest the hatred of men against us, are evidences of His love toward us! How the realization of this should strengthen patience!
O how many of God’s dear children have found, in every age, that the afflictions which have come upon them from a hostile world, were soul-purging medicines from the Lord. By them they have been bestirred, revived, and mortified to things down here; and made partakers of God’s holiness, to their own unspeakable advantage and comfort. Truly wondrous are the ways of our great God. Hereby doth He defeat the counsels and expectations of the wicked, having a design to accomplish by their agency something which they know not of. These very reproaches, imprisonments, stripes, with the loss of goods and danger of their lives, with which the world opposed them for their ruin; God makes use of for their refining, consolation and joy. Truly He “maketh the wrath of man to praise Him” (Ps. 76:10). O that our hearts and minds may be duly impressed with the wisdom, power and grace of Him who bringeth a clean thing out of an unclean.
“In all these things is the wisdom and goodness of God, in contriving and effecting these things, to the glory of His grace, and the salvation of His Church, to be admired” (John Owen). But herein we may see, once more, the imperative need for faith-a God-given, God-sustained, spiritual, supernatural FAITH. Carnal reason can see no more in our persecutions than the malice and rage of evil men. Our senses perceive nothing beyond material losses and painful physical discomforts. But faith discovers the Father’s hand directing all things: faith is assured that all proceeds from His boundless love: faith realizes that He has in view the good of our souls. The more this is apprehended by the exercise of faith, not only the better for our peace of mind, but the readier shall we be to diligently apply ourselves in seeking to learn God’s lessons for us in every chastisement He lays upon us.
The opening “And” of verse 5 shows the apostle is continuing to present motives to stir unto a perseverance in the faith, notwithstanding sufferings for the same. The first motive was taken from the example of the O.T. worthies (verse 1). The second, from the illustrious pattern of Jesus (verses 2-4). This is the third: the Author of these sufferings-our Father-and His loving design in them. There is also a more immediate connection with 5:4 pointed by the “And:” it presents a tacit rebuke for being ready to faint under the lesser trials, wherewith they were exercised. Here He gives a reason how and why it was they were thus making that reason the means of introducing a new argument. The reason why they were ready to faint was their inattention to the direction and encouragement which God has supplied for them-our failure to appropriate God’s gracious provisions for us is the rise of all our spiritual miscarriages.
The Hebrew Christians to whom this epistle was first addressed were passing through a great fight of afflictions, and miserably were they acquitting 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 honor 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 sufferings go to show that God no longer regarded them with favor?
Now it is most blessed and instructive to see how the apostle met the unbelieving reasoning of their hearts. He appealed to their own scriptures, reminding them of an exhortation found in Proverbs 3:11, 12: “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastenings of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). As we pointed out so often in our exposition of the earlier chapters of this Epistle, at every critical point in his argument the apostle’s appeal was to the written Word of God-an example which is binding on every servant of Christ to follow. That Word is the final court of appeal for every controversial matter, and the more its authority is respected, the more is its Author honored. Not only so, but the more God’s children are brought to turn to its instruction, the more will they be built up and established in the true faith. Moreover, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4): it is to them alone we must turn for solid comfort. Great will be our loss if we fail to do so.
“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you.” Note well the words we have placed in italics. The exhortation to which the apostle referred was uttered over a thousand years previously, under the Mosaic dispensation; nevertheless the apostle insists that it was addressed equally unto the New T. saints! How this exposes the cardinal error of modern “dispensationalists,” who seek to rob Christians of the greater part of God’s precious Word. Under the pretense of “rightly dividing” the Word, they would filch from them all that God gave to His people prior to the beginning of the present era. Such a devilish device is to be steadfastly resisted by us. All that is found in the book of Proverbs is as much God the Father’s instruction to us as are the contents of the Pauline epistles! Throughout that book God addresses us individually as “My son:” see Hebrews 1:8, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, etc. Surely that is quite sufficient for every spiritual mind-no labored argument is needed.
The appositeness of Proverbs 3:11, 12 to the case of the afflicted Hebrews gave great force to the apostle’s citing of it here. That passage would enable them to perceive that their case was by no means unprecedented or peculiar, that it was in fact no otherwise with them than it had been with others of God’s children in former ages and that long before the Lord had graciously laid in provision for their encouragement: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction: For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a Father the son in whom He delighteth” (Prov. 3:11, 12). It has ever been God’s way to correct those in whom He delights, to chastise His children; but so far from that salutary discipline causing us to faint, it should strengthen and comfort our hearts, being assured that such chastening proceeds from His love, and that the exhortation to perseverance in the path of duty is issued by Him. It is the height of pride and ingratitude not to comply with His tender entreaties.
But the apostle had to say to the suffering Hebrews, “Ye have forgotten the exhortation.” To forget God’s gracious instruction is at least an infirmity, and with it they are here taxed. To forget the encouragements which the Father has given us is a serious fault: it is expressly forbidden: “Beware lest thou forget the Lord” (Deut. 6:12). It was taxed upon the Jews of old, “They soon forgat His works… They forgat God their Savior, which had done great things in Egypt” (Ps. 106:13, 21). Forgetfulness is a part of that corruption which has seized man by his fall: all the faculties of his soul have been seriously injured-the memory, which was placed in man to be a treasury, in which to lay up the directions and consolations of God’s Word, has not escaped the universal wreckage. But that by no means excuses us: it is a fault, to be striven and prayed against. As ministers see occasion, they are to stir up God’s people to use means for the strengthening of the memory-especially by the formation of the habit of holy meditation in Divine things.
Thus it was with the Hebrews, in some measure at least: they had “forgotten” that which should have stood in good stead in the hour of their need. Under their trials and persecution, they ought, in an especial manner, to have called to mind that Divine exhortation of Proverbs 3:11, 12 for their encouragement: had they believingly appropriated it, they had been kept from fainting. Alas, how often we are like them! “The want of a diligent consideration of the provision that God hath made in the Scripture for our encouragement to duty and comfort under difficulties, is a sinful forgetfulness, and is of dangerous consequence to our souls” (John Owen).
“Which speaketh unto you as unto children.” It is very striking indeed to observe the tense of the verb here: the apostle was quoting a sentence of Scripture which had been written a thousand years previously, yet he does not say “which hath spoken,” but “which speaketh unto you!” The same may be seen again in that sevenfold exhortation of Revelation 2 and 3, “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith (not “said”) unto the churches.” The Holy Scriptures are a living Word, in which God speaks to men in every generation. Holy Writ is not a dumb or dead letter: it has a voice in it, ever speaking of God Himself. “The Holy Spirit is always present in the Word, and speaks in it equally and alike to the church in all ages. He doth in it speak as immediately to us, as if we were the first and only persons to whom He spake. And this should teach us, with what reverence we ought to attend to the Scriptures, namely, as to the way and means whereby God Himself speaks directly to us” (John Owen.)
“Which speaketh unto you as unto children.” The apostle emphasizes the fact that God addresses an exhortation in Proverbs 3:11 to “My son,” which shows plainly that His relation to the O.T. saints was that of a Father to His children. This at once refutes a glaring error made by some who pose as being ultra-orthodox, more deeply taught in the Word than others. They have insisted that the Fatherhood of God was never revealed until the Son became incarnate; but every verse in the Proverbs where God says “My son” reveals their mistake. That the O.T. saints were instructed in this blessed relationship is clear from other passages: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). This relation unto God is by virtue of their (and our) union with Christ: He is “the Son,” and being one with Him, members of His body, they were “sons” too.
This precious relationship is the ground of the soul’s confidence in God. “If God speaks to them as to children, they have good ground to fly to God as to a Father. and in all time of need to ask and seek of Him all needful blessings (Matthew 7:11), yea, and in faith to depend on Him for the same (Matthew 6:31, 32). What useful things shall they want? What hurtful thing need such to fear? If God deal with us as with children, He will provide for them every good thing, He will protect them from every hurtful thing, He will hear their prayers, He will accept their services, He will bear with their infirmities, He will support them under all their burdens, and assist them against all their assaults; though through their own weakness, or the violence of some temptation, they should be drawn from Him, yet will He be ready to meet them in the mid-way, turning to Him-instance the mind of the father of the prodigal towards him” (W. Gouge).
The problem of suffering is a very real one in this world, and to not a few of our readers a personal and acute one. While some of us are freely supplied with comforts, others are constantly exercised over procuring the bare necessities of life. While some of us have long been favored with good health, others know not what it is to go through a day without sickness and pain. While some homes have not been visited by death for many years, others are called upon again and again to pass through the deep waters of family bereavement. Yes, dear friend; the problem of suffering, the encountering of severe trials, is a very personal thing for not a few of the members of the household of faith. Nor is it the external afflictions which occasion the most anguish: it is the questionings they raise, the doubts they stimulate, the dark clouds of unbelief which they so often bring over the heart.
Very often it is in seasons of trial and trouble that Satan is most successful in getting in his evil work. When he perceives the uselessness of attempting to bring believers under the bondage in which he keeps unbelievers, he bides his time for the shooting at them of other arrows which he has in his quiver. Though he is unable to drag them down to the commission of the grosser outward forms of sin, he waits his opportunity for tempting them to be guilty of inward sins. Though he cannot infect them with the poison of evolutionism and higher criticism, he despairs not of seducing them with questions of God’s goodness. It is when adversity comes the Christian’s way, when sore trials multiply, when the soul is oppressed and the mind distressed, that the Devil seeks to instill and strengthen doubtings of God’s love, and to call into question the faithfulness of His promises.
Moreover, there come seasons in the lives of many saints when to sight and sense it seems as though God Himself had ceased to care for His needy and afflicted child. Earnest prayer is made for the mitigation of the sufferings, but relief is not granted. Grace is sought to meekly bear the burden which has been laid upon the suffering one; yet, so far from any sensible answer being received, self-will, impatience, unbelief, are more active than ever. Instead of the peace of God ruling the heart, unrest and enmity occupy its throne. Instead of quietness within, there is turmoil and resentment. Instead of “giving thanks always for all things unto God” (Eph. 5:20), the soul is filled with unkind thoughts and feelings against Him. This is cause for anguish unto the renewed heart; yet, at times, struggle against the evil as the Christian may, he is overcome by it.
Then it is that the afflicted one cries out, “Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord, why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1). To the distressed saint, the Lord seems to stand still, as if He coldly looked on from a distance, and did not sympathize with the afflicted one. Nay, worse, the Lord appears to be afar off, and no longer “a very present help in trouble,” but rather an inaccessible mountain, which it is impossible to reach. The felt presence of the Lord is the stay, the strength, the consolation of the believer; the lifting up of the light of His countenance upon us, is what sustains and cheers us in this dark world. But when that is withheld, when we no longer have the joy of His presence with us, drab indeed is the prospect, sad the heart. It is the hiding of our Father’s face which cuts to the quick. When trouble and desertion come together, it is unbearable.
Then it is that the word comes to us, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). Ah, it is easy for us to perceive the meetness of such an admonition as this while things are going smoothly and pleasantly for us. While our lot is congenial, or at least bearable, we have little difficulty in discerning what a sin it is for any Christian to either “despise” God’s chastenings or to “faint” beneath them. But when tribulation comes upon us, when distress and anguish fill our hearts, it is quite another matter. Not only do we become guilty of one of the very evils here dehorted from, but we are very apt to excuse and extenuate our peevishness or faintness. There is a tendency in all of us to pity ourselves, to take sides with ourselves against God, and even to justify the uprisings of our hearts against Him.
Have we never, in self-vindication, said, “Well, after all we are human; it is natural that we should chafe against the rod or give way to despondency when we are afflicted. It is all very well to tell us that we should not, but how can we help ourselves? we cannot change our natures; we are frail men and women, and not angels.” And what has been the issue from the fruit of this self-pity and self-vindication? Review the past, dear friend, and recall how you felt and acted inwardly when God was tearing up your cozy nest, overturning your cherished plans, dashing to pieces your fondest hopes, afflicting you painfully in your affairs, your body, or your family circle. Did it not issue in calling into question the wisdom of God’s ways, the justice of His dealings with you, His kindness towards you? Did it not result in your having still stronger doubts of His very goodness?
In Hebrews 12:5 the Christian is cautioned against either despising the Lord’s chastenings or fainting beneath them. Yet, notwithstanding this plain warning, there remains a tendency in all of us not only to disregard the same, but to act contrary thereto. The apostle anticipates this evil, and points out the remedy. The mind of the Christian must be fortified against it. But how? By calling to remembrance the source from which all his testings, trials, tribulations and troubles proceed, namely, the blessed, wondrous, unchanging love of God. “My son, despise not thou the chastenings of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him. FOR whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” Here a reason is advanced why we should not despise God’s chastening nor faint beneath it—all proceeds from His love. Yes, even the bitter disappointments, the sore trials, the things which occasion an aching heart, are not only appointed by unerring wisdom, but are sent by infinite Love! It is the apprehension and appropriation of this glorious fact, and that alone, which will preserve us from both the evils forbidden in 5:5.
The way to victory over suffering is to keep sorrow from filling the soul: “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). So long as the waves wash only the deck of the ship, there is no danger of its foundering; but when the tempest breaks through the hatches and submerges the hold, then disaster is nigh. No matter what floods of tribulation break over us, it is our duty and our privilege to have peace within: “keep thy heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23): suffer no doubtings of God’s wisdom, faithfulness, goodness, to take root there. But how am I to prevent their so doing? “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), is the inspired answer, the sure remedy, the way to victory. There, in one word, we have made known to us the secret of how to overcome all questionings of God’s providential ways, all murmurings against His dealings with us.
“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” It is as though a parent said to his child, “Keep yourself in the sunshine:” the sun shines whether he enjoys it or not, but he is responsible not to walk in the shade and thus lose its genial glow. So God’s love for His people abides unchanging, but how few of them keep themselves in the warmth of it. The saint is to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17); “rooted” like a tree in rich and fertile soil; “grounded” like a house built upon a rock. Observe that both of these figures speak of hidden processes: the root-life of a tree is concealed from human eyes, and the foundations of a house are laid deep in the ground. Thus it should be with each child of God: the heart is to be fixed, nourished by the love of God.
It is one thing to believe intellectually that “God is love” and that He loves His people, but it is quite another to enjoy and live in that love in the soul. To be “rooted and grounded in love” means to have a settled assurance of God’s love for us, such an assurance as nothing can shake. This is the deep need of every Christian, and no pains are to be spared in the obtaining thereof. Those passages in Scripture which speak of the wondrous love of God, should be read frequently and meditated upon daily. There should be a diligent striving to apprehend God’s love more fully and richly. Dwell upon the many unmistakable proofs which God has made of His love to you: the gift of His Word, the gift of His Son, the gift of His Spirit. What greater, what clearer proofs do we require! Steadfastly resist every temptation to question His love: “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Let that be the realm in which you live, the atmosphere you breathe, the warmth in which you thrive.
This life is but a schooling. In saying this we are uttering a platitude, yet it is a truth of which all Christians need to be constantly reminded. This is the period of our childhood and minority. Now in childhood everything has, or should have, the character of education and discipline. Dear parents and teachers are constantly directing, warning, rebuking; the whole of the child-life is under rule, restraint and guidance. But the only object is the child him-self—his good, his character, his future; and the only motive is love. Now as childhood is to the rest of our life, so is the whole of our earthly sojourn to our future and heavenly life. Therefore let us seek to cultivate the spirit of childhood. Let us regard it as natural that we should be daily rebuked and corrected. Let us behave with the docility and meekness of children, with their trustful and sweet assurance that love is behind all our chastenings, that we are in the tender hands of our Father.
But if this attitude is to be maintained, faith must be kept in steady exercise: only thus shall we judge aright of afflictions. Sense is ever ready to slander and belie the Divine perfections. Sense beclouds the understanding and causes us to wrongly interpret God’s dispensations with us. Why so? Because sense estimates things from their outside and by their present feeling. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous” (Heb. 12:11), and therefore if when under the rod we judge of God’s love and care for us by our sense of His present dealings, we are likely to conclude that He has but little regard for us. Herein lies the urgent need for the putting forth of faith, for “faith is the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the only remedy for this double evil. Faith interprets things not according to the outside or visible, but according to the promise. Faith looks upon providences not as a present disconnected piece, but in its entirety to the end of things.
Sense perceives in our trials naught but expressions of God’s disregard or anger, but faith can discern Divine wisdom and love in the sorest troubles. Faith is able to unfold the fiddles and solve the mysteries of providence. Faith can extract honey and sweetness out of gall and wormwood. Faith discerns that God’s heart is filled with love toward us, even when His hand is heavy and smarts upon us. The bucket goes down into the well the deeper, that it may come up the fuller. Faith perceives God’s design in the chastening is our good. It is through faith “that He would show thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is” (Job 11:6). By the “secrets of wisdom” is meant the hidden ways of God’s providence. Divine providence has two faces: the one of rigor, the other of clemency; sense looks upon the former only, faith enjoys the latter.
Faith not only looks beneath the surface of things and sees the sweet orange beneath the bitter rind, but it looks beyond the present and anticipates the blessed sequel. Of the Psalmist it is recorded, “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before Thine eyes” (Ps. 31:22). The fumes of passion dim our vision when we look only at what is present. Asaph declared, “My feet were almost gone, my steps had well-nigh slipped; for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2, 3); but when he went into the sanctuary of God he said, “Then understood I their end” (verse 17), and that quieted him. Faith is occupied not with the scaffolding, but with the completed building; not with the medicine, but with the healthful effects it produces; not with the painful rod, but with the peaceable fruit of righteousness in which it issues.
Suffering, then, is a test of the heart; chastisement is a challenge to faith—our faith in His wisdom, His faithfulness, His love. As we have sought to show above the great need of the Christian is to keep himself in the love of God, for the soul to have an unshaken assurance of His tender care for us: “casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). But the knowledge of that “care” can only be experimentally maintained by the exercise of faith—especially is this the case in times of trouble. A preacher once asked a despondent friend, “Why is that cow looking over the wall?” And the answer was, “Because she cannot look through it.” The illustration may be crude, yet it gives point to an important truth. Discouraged reader, look over the things which so much distress you, and behold the Father’s smiling face; look above the frowning clouds of His providence, and see the sunshine of His never changing love.
“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (verse 6). There is something very striking and unusual about this verse, for it is found, in slightly varied form, in no less than five different books of the Bible:—”Happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17); “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of Thy law” (Ps. 94:12); “Whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:12); “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19). Probably there is a twofold reason for this reiteration. First, it hints at the importance and blessedness of this truth. God repeats it so frequently lest we should forget, and thus lose the comfort and cheer of realizing that Divine chastisement proceeds from love. This must be a precious word if God thought it well to say it five times over! Second, such repetition also implies our slowness to believe it; by nature our evil hearts are inclined in the opposite direction. Though our text affirms so emphatically that the Christian’s chastisements proceed from God’s love, we are ever ready to attribute them to His harshness. It is really very humbling that the Holy Spirit should deem it necessary to repeat this statement so often.
“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” Four things are to be noted. First, the best of God’s children need chastisement—”every son.” There is no Christian but what has faults and follies which require correcting: “in many things we all offend” (James 3:2). Second, God will correct all whom He adopts into His family. However He may now let the reprobate alone in their sins, He will not ignore the failings of His people—to be suffered to go on unrebuked in wickedness is a sure sign of alienation from God. Third, in this God acts as a Father: no wise and good parent will wink at the faults of his own children: his very relation and affection to them oblige him to take notice of the same. Fourth, God’s disciplinary dealings with His sons proceed from and make manifest His love to them: it is this fact we would now particularly concentrate upon.
1. The Christian’s chastisements flow from God’s love. Not from His anger or hardness, nor from arbitrary dealings, but from God’s heart do our afflictions proceed. It is love which regulates all the ways of God in dealing with His own. It was love which elected them. The heart is not warmed when our election is traced back merely to God’s sovereign will, but our affections are stirred when we read “in love having predestinated us” (Eph. 1:4, 5). It was love which redeemed us. We do not reach the center of the atonement when we see nothing more in the Cross than a vindication of the law and a satisfaction of justice: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). It is love which regenerates or effectually calls us: “with loving kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). The new birth is not only a marvel of Divine wisdom and a miracle of Divine power, but it is also and superlatively a product of God’s affection.
In like manner it is love which ordained our trials and orders our chastisements. O Christian, never doubt the love of God. A quaint old Quaker, who was a farmer, had a weather-vane on the roof of his barn, from which stood out in clear-cut letters “God is love.” One day a preacher was being driven to the Quaker’s home; his host called attention to the vane and its text. The preacher turned and said, “I don’t like that at all: it misrepresents the Divine character—God’s love is not variable like the weather.” Said the Quaker, “Friend you have misinterpreted its significance; that text on the weather-vane is to remind me that, no matter which way the wind is blowing, no matter from which direction the storm may come, still, “God is love.”
2. The Christian’s chastisements express God’s love. Oftentimes we do not think so. As God’s children we think and act very much as we did when children naturally. When we were little and our parents insisted that we should perform a certain duty we failed to appreciate the love which had respect unto our future well-being. Or, when our parents denied us something on which we had set our hearts, we felt we were very hardly dealt with. Yet was it love which said “No” to us. So it is spiritually. The love of God not only gives, but also withholds. No doubt this is the explanation for some of our unanswered prayers: God loves us too much to give what would not really be for our profit. The duties insisted upon, the rebukes given, the things withheld, are all expressions of His faithful love.
Chastisements manifest God’s care of us. He does not regard us with unconcern and neglect, as men usually do their illegitimate children, but He has a true parent’s solicitation for us: “Like as a father pitieth his children so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). “And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:3). There are several important sermons wrapped up in that verse, but we have not the space here to even outline them. God brings into the wilderness that we may be drawn nearer Himself. He dries up cisterns that we may seek and enjoy the Fountain. He destroys our nest down here that our affection may be set upon things above.
3. The Christian’s chastisements magnify God’s love. Our very trials make manifest the fullness and reveal the perfections of God’s love. What a word is that in Lamentations 3:33; “He doth not afflict willingly”! If God consulted only His own pleasure, He would not afflict us at all: it is for our profit that He “scourges.” Ever remember that the great High Priest Himself is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities”; yet, notwithstanding, He employs the rod! God is love, and nothing is so sensitive as love. Concerning the trials and tribulations of Israel of old, it is written, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9); yet out of love He chastens. How this manifests and magnifies the unselfishness of God’s love!
Here, then is the Christian supplied with an effectual shield to turn aside the fiery darts of the wicked one. As we said at the beginning, Satan ever seeks to take advantage of our trials: like the fiend that he is, he makes his fiercest assaults when we are most cast down. Thus it was that he attacked Job—”Curse God and die.” And thus some of us have found it. Did he not, in the hour of suffering and sorrow, seek to remind you that when you had become increasingly diligent in seeking to please and glorify God, the darkest clouds of adversity followed; and say, How unjust God is; what a miserable reward for your devotion and zeal! Here is your recourse, fellow-Christian: say to the Devil, “It is written, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’ “
Again; if Satan cannot succeed in traducing the character of God and cause us to doubt His goodness and question His love, then he will assail our assurance. The Devil is most persevering: if a frontal attack falls, then he will make one from the rear. He will assault your assurance of sonship: he will whisper “You are no child of His: look at your condition, consider your circumstances, contrast those of other Christians. You cannot be an object of God’s favor; you are deceiving yourself; your profession is an empty one. If you were God’s child, He would treat you very differently. Such privations, such losses, such pains, show that you cannot be one of His.” But say to him, “It is written, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’”
Let our final thought be upon the last word of our text: “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” The one whom God scourges is not rejected, but “received”—received up into glory, welcomed in His House above. First the cross, then the crown, is God’s unchanging order. This was vividly illustrated in the history of the children of Israel: God “chose them in the furnace of affliction,” and many and bitter were their trials ere they reached the promised land. So it is with us. First the wilderness, then Canaan; first the scourging, and then the “receiving.” May we keep ourselves more and more in the love of God.