by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
|"And ye have forgotten
the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, 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. 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
"Train up a child in the
way he should go" is the injunction God lays on us. But it is, moreover,
the principle on which He Himself is acting with His Church. He is training
up His children here. This is the true character of His dealings with them.
The education of His saints is the object He has in view. It is training
for the kingdom; it is education for eternity.
How momentous, then, is
the training! It is God who is carrying it on by the Holy Spirit. It is
the Church, which is the Body of Christ, that is the subject of it. And
it is to prepare her for an everlasting kingdom! In bringing many sons
unto glory, it was needful that even the Captain of their salvation should
be made perfect through suffering. Surely, then, God lays vast stress upon
this discipline. In His estimation it is no unimportant nor unmeaning exercise.
Knowing this, the apostle exhorts us on this very point, "My son, despise
not the chastening of the Lord." It is too solemn to be despised, too momentous
to be overlooked. The education of God's family is concerned with it. The
preparation of an heir of glory depends on it.
This discipline begins at
our conversion. The moment we are taken into the family it commences. "He
scourges every son whom he receives." It is not always visible; neither
are we at all times conscious of its operation. Nevertheless, from the
very day that "we are begotten again to a lively hope" it begins.
It ends only with life,
or in the case of the last generation of the Church, with their being "caught
up to meet the Lord in the air." It is a whole lifetime's process. It is
a daily, an hourly discipline which admits of no cessation. The rod may
not always be applied, but still the discipline goes on.
1. It is the discipline
of love. Every step of it is kindness. There is no wrath or vengeance in
any part of the process. The discipline of the school may be harsh and
stern, but that of the family is love. We are sure of this; and the consolation
which it affords is unutterable. Love will not wrong us. There will be
no needless suffering. Were this but kept in mind there would be fewer
hard thoughts of God among men, even when His strokes are most severe.
I know not a better illustration of what the feelings of a saint should
be, in the hour of bitterness, than the case of Richard Cameron's father.
The aged saint was in prison "for the Word of God and the testimony of
Jesus Christ." The bleeding head of his martyred son was brought to him
by his unfeeling persecutors, and he was asked derisively if he knew it.
"I know it, I know it," said the father, as he kissed the mangled forehead
of his fair-haired son, "it is my son's; my own dear son's! It is the Lord!
good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me or mine, but who has
made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days."
2. It is the discipline
of wisdom. He who administers it is the "God only wise." What deep wisdom
then must there be in all His dealings! He knows exactly what we need and
how to supply it. He knows what evils are to be found in us, and how these
may be best removed. His training is no random work. It is carried on with
exquisite skill. The time and the way and the instrument are all according
to the perfect wisdom of God. The fittest time is chosen, just the very
moment when discipline is called for, and when it would be most profitable.
The surest, most direct, and at the same time gentlest method is devised.
The instrument which will be surest yet safest, most effectual yet least
painful, is brought into operation. For all is wisdom in the discipline
3. It is the discipline
of faithfulness. "In faithfulness you have afflicted me," said David. All
is the doing of a faithful God- a God who is faithful to us as well as
faithful to Himself. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," says Solomon;
and the believer finds in trouble the faithfulness of the truest of friends.
He is so faithful that He will not pass by a single fault that He sees
in us, but will forthwith make it known that it may be removed. He gave
this command to Israel, "You shall in any wise rebuke your neighbor, and
not suffer sin upon him," (Lev_19:17) and He Himself acts upon the command
He gave. He is too faithful a Father to suffer sin upon His children unreproved.
He is true to us, whether in sending the evil or the good; shall we not
say, truer and more faithful when He inflicts the evil than when He bestows
the good? It almost at times seems to break the heart of a loving friend
to be obliged to say or do anything severe toward the friend he loves.
Yet for love's sake he will do it. In faithfulness he will not shrink from
it. And in doing so, is he not true to his friend? So with a chastening
God. He is faithful when He blesses- more faithful when He chastens. This
surely is consolation. It may well allay all murmuring and establish our
hearts in peace.
4. It is the discipline
of power. He who is carrying it on is not one who can be baffled and forced
to give up His design. He is able to carry it out in the unlikeliest circumstances
and against the most resolute resistance. Everything must give way before
Him. This thought is, I confess, to me one of the most comforting connected
with the discipline. If it could fail! If God could be frustrated in His
designs after we have suffered so much, it would be awful! To be scourged
and suffer pain by one who is not able to make good to us the profit of
this would add inconceivable bitterness to the trial. And then our hearts
are so hard, our wills so stubborn, that nothing save an Almighty pressure
applied to them can work the desired change. Oh, when the soul is at strife
within itself, battling in desperate conflict with its stormy lusts, when
the flesh rises up in its strength and refuses to yield, when the whole
heart appears like iron or is adamant, it is most blessed to think upon
God's chastisements as the discipline of power! It is this that assures
us that all shall yet be well. And it is in the strength of this assurance
that we gird ourselves for the battle, knowing that we must be more than
conquerors through Him that loved us.
There might be love in the
dealing- love to the uttermost- and yet all be in vain. For love is oftentimes
helpless, unable to do anything for the beloved object. There might be
wisdom, too, and yet it might prove wholly ineffectual. There might also
be untiring faithfulness, yet no results. It might be altogether impotent
even in its fondest vigilance. It might be baffled in its most earnest
attempts to bless. But when it is infinite power that is at work, we are
sure of every obstacle being surmounted, and everything that is blessed
coming most surely to pass. My sickbed may be most lovingly tended, most
skillfully provided for, most faithfully watched, and I may be most sweetly
soothed by this fond and unwearied care; yet, if there be no power to heal,
no resistless energy such as sweeps all hindrances before it, then I may
still lie hopeless there; but, if the power to heal be present, the power
that makes all diseases flee its touch, the power that, if need be, can
raise the dead, then I know of a truth that all is well.
Oh, it is blessed and comforting
to remember that it is the discipline of power that is at work upon us!
God's treatment must succeed. It cannot miscarry or be frustrated even
in its most arduous efforts, even in reference to its minutest objects.
It is the mighty power of God that is at work within us and upon us, and
this is our consolation. It is the grasp of an infinite hand that is upon
us, and nothing can resist its pressure. All is love, all is wisdom, and
all is faithfulness, yet all is also power. The very possibility of failure
is thus taken away. Were it not for this power there could be no certainty
of blessing, and were it not for this certainty, how poor and partial would
our comfort be! He, yes, He who chastises us is "able to do exceeding abundantly
above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us"
Hence to a soul, conscious
of utter helplessness and weary of the struggle within, between the spirit
and the flesh, there is "strong consolation" in remembering the power of
Him whose hand is now grasping him so firmly on every side. His sorely
tossed spirit finds peace in calling to mind "the years of the right hand
of the Most High"- all the "works of the Lord and his wonders of
old." The "strength of Israel" is the name he delights in, as the name
of his Chastener. He thus bethinks himself, "The God who made these heavens
and stretched them out in their vastness and majesty, who moves these stars
in their courses and arrests them at a word, is the God who is chastening
me. He who raises and stills the mighty deep and all the multitude of its
waves, the God of the tempest and of the earthquake, the framer of light
and dark, the wielder of the lightning and the builder of the everlasting
hills, is the God who is now laying His rod so heavily upon me." Thus each
new proof or aspect of Jehovah's power becomes a new source of consolation
in the day of chastisement and sorrow.
Such, then, is the nature
of the family discipline when viewed in reference to God. Love, wisdom,
faithfulness, and power unite to devise and carry it out. It must, then,
be perfect discipline, the completest and most successful that can be thought
of or desired. It is well to look at it in this light, for it is thus that
we become entirely satisfied with all that comes to pass and feel that
"it is well." But let us consider it in another aspect. We have seen what
it is when flowing out of God; let us see what it is when operating upon
As we observed before, God's
object in chastisement is the education of His children, the training up
of the saints. It is their imperfect spiritual condition that makes this
so necessary. And now we proceed to inquire in what way it works, and toward
what regions of the soul it is specially directed. For while, doubtless,
it embraces the whole soul in all its parts and powers, it may be well
to consider it as more especially set to work upon its mind, its will,
its heart, and its conscience.
1. It is the training of
the mind. We are naturally most unteachable as well as most ignorant, neither
knowing anything nor willing to know. The ease of prosperous days augments
the evil. God at length interposes and compels us to learn. "The rod and
reproof give wisdom" (Pro_29:15). He sends trial and that makes us willing
to learn. Our unteachableness gives way. We become aware of our ignorance.
We seek teaching from on high. God begins his work of instruction. Light
pours in on every side. We grow amazingly in knowledge. We learn the meaning
of words now which we had hitherto used but as familiar sounds. Scripture
shines out before us in new effulgence; it flashes into us; every verse
seems to contain a sunbeam; dark places become light; every promise stands
out in illuminated splendor; things hard to be understood become in a moment
How fast we learn in a day
of sorrow! It is as if affliction awoke our powers and lent them new quickness
of perception. We advance more in the knowledge of Scripture in a single
day than in years before. We learn "songs in the night," though such music
was unknown before. A deeper experience has taken us down into the depths
of Scripture and shown us its hidden wonders. Luther used to say, "Were
it not for tribulation I should not understand Scripture." And every sorrowing
saint responds to this, as having felt its truth- felt it as did David,
when he said, "Blessed is the man whom you chasteness, . . . and teach
him out of your law"(Psa_94:12). "It is good for me that I have been afflicted;
that I might learn your statutes" (Psa_119:71). What teaching, what training
of the mind goes on upon a sickbed, or under the pressure of grief! And,
oh, what great and wondrous things will even some little trial whisper
in the ear of a soul that is "learning of the Father"!
In some cases this profit
is almost unfelt, at least during the continuance of the process. We think
that we are learning nothing. Sorrow overwhelms us. Disaster stuns us.
We become confused, nervous, agitated, or perhaps insensible. We seem to
derive no profit. Yet before long we begin to feel the blessed results.
Maturity of judgment, patience in listening to the voice of God, a keener
appetite for His Word, a quicker discernment of its meaning- these
are soon realized as the gracious results of chastisement. The mind has
undergone a most thorough discipline, and has, moreover, made wondrous
progress in the knowledge of divine truth through the teaching of the Holy
2. It is the training of
the will. The will is the seat of rebelliousness. Here the warfare is carried
on. "The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh."
At conversion the will is bent in the right direction, but it is still
crooked and rigid. Rebelliousness is still there. Prosperous days may sometimes
conceal it so that we are almost unconscious of its strength. But it still
exists. Furnace heat is needed for softening and strengthening it. No milder
remedy will do. "It requires," says a suffering saint, "all the energy
of God to bend my will to His." Yet it must be done. The will is the soul's
citadel. Hence, it is the will that God seems so specially to aim at in
chastisement. Fire after fire does He kindle in order to soften it; and
blow after blow does He fetch down on it to straighten it. Nor does He
rest until He has made it thoroughly flexible and hammered out of it the
many relics of self which it contains. He will not stop His hand until
He has thoroughly marred our self-formed plans and shown us the folly of
our self-chosen ways.
This is specially the case
in long-continued trials; either when these come stroke after stroke in
sad succession, or when one fearful stroke at the outset has left behind
it consequences which years perhaps will not fully unfold. The bending
and straightening of the will is often a long process, during which the
soul has to pass through waters deep and many, through fires hot and ever
kindling up anew. Protracted trials seem specially aimed at the will. Its
perversity and stiffness can only be wrought out of it by a long succession
of trials. It is only by degrees that it becomes truly pliable and is brought
into harmony with the will of God. We can at a stroke lop off the unseemly
branch; but to give a proper bent to the tree itself, we require time and
assiduous appliances for months or years. Yet the will must give way. However
proud, however forward, it must bend. God will not leave it until He has
made it one with His own.
3. It is the training of
the heart. Man's heart beats false to God. It is true to many things but
false to Him. When first the Holy Spirit touches it, and shows it "the
exceeding riches of the grace of God," then it becomes in some measure
true. Yet it is only in part. Much falseheartedness still remains. It clings
too fondly to the creature. It cleaves to the dust. It is not wholly God's.
But this cannot be. God must have the heart; no, and He must have it beating
truly toward Him. He is jealous of our love, and grieves over its feebleness
or its falling away. It is love that He wants, and with nothing but truehearted
love will He be satisfied. For this it is that He chastises.
These false throbbings of
the heart; these goings out after other objects than Himself He cannot
allow, but must correct or else forego His claim. Hence, He smites and
spares not until He has made us sensible of our guilt in this respect.
He strips off the leaves whose beauty attracted us; He cuts down the flowers
whose fragrance fascinated us; He tears off one string after another from
the lyre whose music charmed us. Then when He has showed us each object
of earth in its nakedness or deformity, then He presents Himself to us
in the brightness of His own surpassing glory. And thus He wins the heart.
Thus He makes it true to Him. Thus He makes us ashamed of our falseheartedness
to Himself and to the Son of His love.
Yet this is no easy process.
This training is hard and sore. The heart bleeds under it. Yet it must
go on. No part of it can be spared. Nor will it cease until the heart is
won! If the Chastener should stop His hand before this is effected, where
would be His love? What poor, what foolish affection! He knew this when
He said, "Let them alone"; and it was the last thing that His love consented
to do, after all else had failed. One of the sharpest, sorest words He
ever spoke to Israel was, "Why should you be stricken any more?" Let us
remember this, and not faint, even though the heart has been long bleeding.
Let us remember it, and seek to make the sorrow shorter by gladly joining
with Him in His plan for getting possession of our whole heart. We need
not grudge it. He has "good measure" to give us in return. His love will
taste the sweeter, and it will abide and satisfy us forever. It is well
for us to be thus trained to love Him here, with whom, in love and fellowship
unbroken, we are to spend the everlasting day.
4. It is the training of
the conscience. A seared conscience is the sinner's heritage. It is upon
this that the Holy Spirit first lays His hand when He awakens the soul
from its sleep of death. He touches the conscience, and then the struggles
of conviction come. He then pacifies it by the sprinkling of the blood,
showing it Jesus and His cross. Then giving it to taste forgiveness, it
rests from all its tumults and fears. Thoughts of peace are ever breathed
into it from the sight of the bleeding sacrifice. It trembles no more,
for it sees that that which made it tremble is the very thing concerning
which the blood of Christ speaks peace. "Their sins and their iniquities
will I remember no more." Thus it is softened. Its first terrors upon awakening
could not be called a softening. But now conscious forgiveness and realized
peace with God have been to it like the mild breath of spring to the ice
of winter. It has become soft and tender. Yet only so in part.
God's desire, however, is
to make it altogether tender. He wishes it to be sensitive in regard to
the very touch of sin, and earnest in its pantings after perfect holiness.
To effect this, He afflicts; and affliction goes directly home to the conscience.
The death of the widow's son at Sarepta immediately awakened her conscience,
and she cried to the prophet, "O man of God, are you come to call my sin
to remembrance?"(1Ki_17:18). So God by chastisement lays His finger upon
the conscience, and forthwith it springs up into new life. We are made
to feel as if God had now come down to us, as if He were now looking into
our hearts and commencing a narrow search. Moreover, we see in this affliction
God's estimate of sin. Not, indeed, the full estimate. No, that we only
learn from the sufferings of Jesus. But still we gather from this new specimen
of sin's bitter fruits somewhat of His mind regarding sin. This teaches
the conscience by making the knowledge of sin a thing of experience- an
experience that is deepening with every new trial. "If they be bound in
fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction; then he shows them their
work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded. He opens also their
ear to discipline, and commands that they return from iniquity"(Job_36:8
In these last days how little
is there of tenderness of conscience! The world seems to know nothing of
it save the name. It is a world without a conscience! And how much do we
find the Church of Christ a partaker in the world's sins! "Evil communications
corrupt good manners." It is sad to observe in many saints, amid much zeal
and energy and love, the lack of a tender conscience. For this God is smiting
us, and will smite us yet more heavily until He has made it thoroughly
tender and sensitive all over, "hating even the garments spotted by the
flesh." This training of the conscience is a thing of far greater moment
than many deem it. God will not rest until He has wrought it. And if the
saints still continue to overlook it, if they will not set themselves in
good earnest to ask for it, and to strive against everything that would
tend to produce searedness and insensibility, they may yet expect some
of the sharpest strokes that the hand of God has ever yet administered.
Such, then, is the family
discipline! We have seen it as it comes forth from God, and we have seen
it as it operates upon man. And is it not all well? What is there about
it that should disquiet us, or call forth one murmur either of the lip
or heart? That which opens up to us so much more of God and lets us more
fully into the secrets of His heart must be blessed, however hard to bear.
That which discovers to us the evils within ourselves, which makes us teachable
and wise, which gives to the stiff will, flexibility and obedience, which
teaches the cold heart to love and expands each narrowed affection, which
melts the callous conscience into tender sensitiveness, which trains up
the whole soul for the glorious kingdom- that must be precious indeed.
Besides, it is the Father's
will; and is not this enough for the trustful child? Is not chastisement
just one of the methods by which He intimates to us what He would have
us to be? Is not His way of leading us to the kingdom the safest, surest,
shortest way? It is still the fatherly hand that is guiding us. What though
in seeking to lift us up to a higher level, it has to lay hold of us with
a firmer, or it may be a rougher grasp? It is still the paternal voice
"that speaks unto us as unto children"- dear children- only in a louder,
sharper tone to constrain the obedience of His too reluctant sons.
One remark more would I
add to these concerning this family discipline. It is not designed even
for a moment to separate them and their God, or to overshadow their souls
with one suspicion of their Father's heart. That it has done so at times,
I know; but that it ought never to do so I am most firmly persuaded. Is
it not one of the tests of sonship, and shall that, without which we are
not accounted sons, make us doubt our sonship, or suspect the love of our
God? That love claims at all times, whether in sorrow or in joy, our simple,
fullhearted, peaceful confidence. It is at all times the same, and chastisement
is but a more earnest expression of its infinite sincerity and depth. Let
us do justice to it, and to Him out of whom it flows. Let us not give it
the unworthy treatment which it too often receives at our thankless hands.
Let us beware of "falling from grace" at the very time when God is coming
down to us to spread out before us more largely than before all the treasures
of His grace. "We have known and believed the love that God has to us,"
is to be our song. It ought always to be the family song! And shall it
cease or sink low at the very time when it ought to be loudest and strongest?
Should not trial just draw from us the apostle's triumphant boast: "Who
shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress,
or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" "No, in all
these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us; for
I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom_8:35 - Rom_8:39). For is it not
just when we are brought under chastening that we enter upon the realities
of consolation, the certainties of love, and the joys of heavenly fellowship
in ways unknown and unimagined before?
The Family Rods
God's rods may seem to speak
in frowns and anger, but it is not so; there is not a glance of vengeance
in the Chastener's eye. It is a correcting rod, but not a destroying one.
Its object is not to punish but to chasten; not to injure but to bless.
God has, however, not one rod for His children, but many. For each child
He has a peculiar rod, and at different times He uses different rods. It
will be profitable for us to consider what those are, and how they are
1. Bodily sickness. The
body operates very powerfully upon the soul both for good and for evil.
In what way or to what extent we cannot tell. Nor do I wish to discuss
this question at all. But, knowing how the soul is acted on by the body,
I cannot help think that one of God's designs in sickness is to operate
upon the soul through the body. We are not conscious of this; we cannot
analyze the process; the effects are hidden from view. Yet it does seem
as if sickness of body were made to contribute directly to the health of
the soul in some way or other known only to God. Hence, the apostle speaks
of delivering "such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh,
that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1Co_5:5). On
this point, however, I do not dwell; only it would be well for us to consider
whether God is not by this intimating to us the exceeding danger of pampering
the flesh: for the weakening of the flesh does help forward the strengthening
of the spirit; and the mortifying of our members which are upon the earth-
the crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts- does tend to quicken
and invigorate the soul. Apart from this, however, there are other things
to be kept in view.
Sickness prostrates us.
It cuts into the very center of our carnal nature; it exposes in all their
deformity "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of
life." What vanity is seen in these upon a sickbed! These are our three
idols; and these, sickness dashes down into the dust.
Sickness takes us aside
and sets us alone with God. We are taken into His private chamber, and
there He converses with us face to face. The world is far off, our relish
for it is gone, and we are alone with God. Many are the words of grace
and truth which He then speaks to us. All our former props are struck away,
and we must now lean on God alone. The things of earth are felt to be vanity;
man's help useless. Man's praise and man's sympathy desert us; we are cast
wholly upon God that we may learn that His praise and His sympathy are
enough. "If it were not for pain," says one, "I should spend less time
with God. If I had not been kept awake with pain, I should have lost one
of the sweetest experiences I ever had in my life. The disorder of my body
is the very help I want from God; and if it does its work before it lays
me in the dust, it will raise me up to Heaven." It was thus that Job was
"chastened upon his bed with pain, and the multitude of his bones with
strong pain," that after being tried he might "come forth as gold" (Job_23:10).
Sickness teaches that activity
of service is not the only way in which God is glorified. "They also serve
who only stand and wait." Active duty is that which man judges most acceptable;
but God shows us that in patience and suffering He is also glorified. Perhaps
we were pursuing a path of our own and required to be arrested. Perhaps
we were too much harassed by a bustling world and needed retirement, yet
could find no way of obtaining it until God laid us down, and drew us aside
into a desert place, because of the multitude pressing upon us.
No one of the family rods
is more in use than this, sometimes falling lightly on us, at other times
more heavily. Let us kiss the rod. Let us open our mouth wide to the blessing,
seeking so to profit by each bodily ailment, slight or severe, that it
may bring forth in us the peaceable fruits of righteousness. "I know,"
says one, "of no greater blessing than health, except pain and sickness."
2. Bereavement. This is
the bitterest of all earthly sorrows. It is the sharpest arrow in the quiver
of God. To love tenderly and deeply and then to part; to meet together
for the last time on earth; to bid farewell for time; to have all past
remembrances of home and kindred broken up- this is the reality of sorrow.
To look upon that face that shall smile on us no more; to close those eyes
that shall see us no more; to press those lips that shall speak to us no
more; to stand by the cold side of father, mother, brother, sister, friend,
yet hear no sound and receive no greeting; to carry to the tomb the beloved
of our hearts, and then to return to a desolate home with a blank in one
region of our souls, which shall never again be filled until Jesus come
with all His saints; this is the bitterness of grief; this is the wormwood
and the gall!
It is this rod which ever
and anon God is laying upon us. Nor is there any that we need more than
this. By it He is making room for Himself in hearts that had been filled
with other objects and engrossed with other loves. He is jealous of our
affection, for He claims it all as His own; and every idol He will utterly
abolish. For our sakes as well as for His own He can allow no rival in
the heart. Perhaps the joys of an earthly home are stealing away our hearts
from the many mansions above. God breaks in upon us in mercy and turns
that home into a wilderness. Our sin finds us out; we mourn over it and
seek anew to realize our heavenly citizenship and set out anew upon our
pilgrim way, alone and yet not alone, for the Father is with us. Perhaps
we are sitting "at ease in Zion," comfortable and contented, amid the afflictions
of a suffering Church and the miseries of a world that owns no Savior and
fears no God. Jehovah speaks and we awake. He takes to Himself some happy
saint, or smites to the dust some wretched sinner. We are troubled at the
stroke. We mourn our lethargy. While we slept, a fellow-saint has gone
up to be with Christ, and a fellow-sinner has gone down to be with the
devil and his angels. The death of the one stirs us up; the death of the
other solemnizes and overawes us.
Thus as saint after saint
ascends to God, we begin to feel that Heaven is far more truly the family
home than earth. We have far more brethren above than we have below. And
each bereavement reminds us of this. It reminds us, too, that the coming
of the Lord draws near, and makes us look out more wistfully from our earthly
home for the first streaks of the rising dawn. It kindles in us strong
desires for the day of happy meeting in our Father's house, when we shall
clasp inseparable hands and climb in company the everlasting hills. Meanwhile
it bids us give our hearts to Jesus only. It does for us what the departure
of the two strangers from Heaven did to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration-
it leaves us alone with Jesus. It turns into deep experience that longing
for home contained in the apostle's words, "having a desire to depart and
to be with Christ which is far better."
The more that bereavement
transforms earth into a desert, the more are our desires drawn up to Heaven.
Our treasures having been transferred to Heaven, our hearts must follow
them. Earth's hopes are smitten, and we are taught to look for "that blessed
hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ."
The night is falling and the flowers are folding up; but as they do so
they bid us look upward and see star after star appearing upon the darkening
3. Adversity. This may be
the loss of substance, or it may be the loss of our good name, or it may
be the falling away of friends, or it may be the wrath of enemies, or it
may be the disappointment of our hopes- these are what is meant by adversity.
But let Job tell us what it means. "Behold, he breaks down, and it cannot
be built again, he shuts up a man, and there can be no opening" (Job_12:14).
"He has made me weary: you have made desolate all my company.... I was
at ease, but he has broken me asunder: he has also taken me by my neck,
and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark; his archers compass
me round about, he cleaves my reins asunder, and does not spare; . . .
he breaks me with breach upon breach, he runs upon me like a giant....
My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death"
(Job_16:7,Job_16:12,Job_16:13,Job_16:14,Job_16:16). "My days are past,
my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart" (Job_17:11).
"He has fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness in
my paths; he has stripped me of my glory and taken the crown from my head;
he has destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and my hope has he removed
like a tree . . . He has put my brethren far from me, and my acquaintance
are verily estranged from me" (Job_19:8 - Job_19:10,Job_19:13). These are
some of the drops in the bitter cup of adversity that was given to that
patient saint to drink. And they are recorded for our use, on whom the
ends of the world have come, and to whom these last days may perhaps fill
a cup as bitter and protracted as his.
Yet let us count it all
joy when we fall into diverse tribulations, knowing this, that the testing
of our faith works patience: but "let patience have her perfect work, that
you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing" (Jam_1:2 - Jam_1:4). We
are cast into poverty, but how can we be poor so long as Christ is rich;
and is not this poverty sent to make us prize His unsearchable riches and
to buy of Him the gold tried in the fire that we may be rich? Our good
name is lost through slander and false accusation. The finger of public
scorn is perhaps pointed at us, and wicked men are exalted over us triumphing
in our reproach. Yet have we not the approving eye of God, and is it not
enough if He still honors us and knows our innocence? Let our good name
go if God sees fit thus to humble us. We have the "white stone, and in
the stone a new name written, which no man knows but he that receives it"
Friends fall off and enemies
arise: false brethren turn against us, and we are doomed to bear the revilings
and persecutions of those whom we have never wronged but ever loved. But
the friendship of Jesus is still ours. No earthly disaster or persecutor
can ever rob us of that. No, the coldness of those we counted on as tried
and true only draws us the closer to Him, the warmth of whose love knows
no abatement nor end. Joseph passed thoroughly this trial, and the Lord
set him upon Pharaoh's throne.
Moses passed through it
and became "king in Jeshurun." Job passed through it and was blessed a
thousandfold. Daniel passed through it and was exalted with double honor.
Let us "take the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for
an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them
happy who endure. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen
the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy"
Oftentimes nothing but adversity
will do for us. "I spoke unto you in your prosperity; but you said, I will
not hear. This has been your manner from your youth, that you obey not
my voice" (Jer_22:21). We need to be stripped of every earthly portion
that we may seek entirely our portion in Jehovah Himself. We need to be
turned out of a home on earth that we may seek a home in Heaven. Earth's
music is too seducing and takes away our relish for the new song. God must
either hush it or take us apart into a desert place that we may no longer
be led captive by it but may have our ear open only to the heavenly melody.
We cannot be trusted with too full a cup, or too pleasant a resting-place.
We abuse everything that God has given us, and prove ourselves not trustworthy
as to any one of them. Some God cannot trust with health; they need sickness
to keep them low and make them walk softly all their days. They need spare
diet, lest the flesh should get the mastery. Others He cannot trust with
prosperity; they need adversity to humble them, lest, like Jeshurun, they
should wax "fat and kick." Others He cannot trust with riches; they must
be kept poor, lest covetousness should spring up and pierce them through
with many sorrows. Others He cannot trust with friends; they make idols
of them, they give their hearts to them; and this interferes with the claims
of Jehovah to have us altogether as His own.
But still in all this God
deals with us as with the members of His own family. Never for a moment
does He lose sight of this. Neither should we. So that when these things
overtake us, when we are thus "judged," we should feel that we are "chastened
of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world"; we should
learn not merely to submit to the rod, but to kiss and welcome it, not
merely to acquiesce in chastisement, but to "rejoice in tribulation, knowing
that tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience
hope, and hope makes not ashamed." We should learn not merely to praise
God in affliction, but to praise Him for it. We should see that the lot
of the afflicted is far more enviable than that of him who is "let alone";
and, instead of trembling when we see the dark cloud of sorrow coming over
us, we should tremble far more when we see it passing off, lest, perchance,
that which came charged with blessing to us, should, through our stoutheartedness
and unteachableness, leave us callous and unblessed.
Christians are "living stones,"
placed one by one, upon the great foundation stone laid in Zion for the
heavenly temple. These stones must first be quarried out of the mass. This
the Holy Spirit does at conversion. Then, when cut out, the hewing
and squaring begin. And God uses affliction as His hammer and chisel for
accomplishing this. Many a stroke is needed; and after being thus hewn
into shape, the polishing goes on. All roughness must be smoothed away.
The stone must be turned around and around on every side that no part of
it may be left unpolished.
As the stones of Solomon's
temple were all to be prepared at a distance and then brought to Jerusalem,
there to be built together; so the living stones of the heavenly temple
are all made ready here on earth, to be fitted in without the noise of
an axe or hammer into the glorious building in heaven made without hands.
Every Christian then must
be polished here on earth; and while there are many ways of doing this,
the most effectual is suffering. And this is God's design in chastisement.
This is what the Holy Spirit effects: as like a workman He stands over
each stone, touching and retouching it, turning it on every side, marking
its blemishes and roughness, and then applying His tools to effect the
desired shape and polish. Some parts of the stone are so rugged and
hard that nothing except heavy and repeated strokes and touches will smooth
them down. They resist every milder treatment. And yet, in patient love,
this heavenly Workman carries on the Father's purpose concerning us. He
labors until every part is polished and shaped according to His likeness.
No pains are spared, no watchfulness relaxed, until we are made entirely
like Him, being changed into the same image from glory to glory by the
Spirit of the Lord.
To make us "partakers of
his holiness" is God's great design in chastisement. Come, then, let us
question ourselves and endeavor to ascertain what affliction has been doing
for us and what progress we are making in putting off the old man and in
putting on the new. Am I getting rid of my worldliness, and becoming heavenly
minded? Am I getting rid of my pride, my passion, my stubbornness, and
becoming humble, mild, and teachable? Are all my idols displaced and broken,
and my creature comforts do I use as though I used them not? Am I caring
less for the honors of time, for man's love, man's smile, man's applause?
Am I crucified to the world and is the world crucified to me by the cross
of Christ; or am I still ashamed of His reproach, and am I half-reluctant
to follow Him through bad report and through good, through honor and through
shame? Do I count it my glory and my joy to walk where He has led the way,
to suffer wherein He suffered, to drink of the cup of which He drank?
Do I shrink back from the
crown of thorns? Am I every day becoming more and more unlike the children
of earth, more and more fashioned after the likeness, and bearing the special
characteristics of Jesus. Do I realize this earth as neither my portion
nor my rest, and, knowing that one chain may bind me as fast to the world
as a thousand, am I careful to shake off every fetter that may bind me
to the vanities of a world like this? Is chastisement really purifying
me? Am I conscious of its blessed effects upon my soul?
It may have been long since
the Holy Spirit awoke us from our sleep of death. Into that same deep sleep
we know that we shall never fall again. He who awoke us will keep us awake
until Jesus come. In that sense we shall sleep no more.But still much of
our drowsiness remains. We are not wholly awake, and oftentimes much of
our former sleep returns. Dwelling on the world's enchanted ground, our
eyes close, our senses are bewildered, our conscience loses its sensitiveness,
and our faculties their energy; we fall asleep even upon our watchtower,
forgetful that the night is far spent, and the day is at hand.
While thus asleep, or half-asleep,
all goes wrong. Our movements are sluggish and lifeless. Our faith waxes
feeble; our love is chilled; our zeal cools down. The freshness of other
years is gone. Our boldness has forsaken us. Our schemes are carelessly
devised and drowsily executed. The work of God is hindered by us instead
of being helped forward. We are a drag upon it. We mar it. But God will
not have it so. Neither for His work's sake nor for His saints' sake can
He allow this to continue. We must be aroused at whatever cost. We are
not to be allowed to sleep as do others. We must watch and be sober, for
we are children of the light and of the day, not of the night nor of darkness.
God cannot permit us thus to waste life, as if its only use were to be
sported with or trifled away. Duties lazily and lifelessly performed; halfhearted
prayers; a deportment, blameless enough perhaps, but tame and unexpressive,
and, therefore uninfluential; words well and wisely spoken perhaps but
without weight - these are not things which God can tolerate in a saint.
It is either the coldness of Sardis to which He says, "If you shall not
watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you shall not know what hour
I will come upon you." Or it is the lukewarmness of Laodicea to which He
says, "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue
you out of my mouth."
In arousing us God proceeds
at first most gently. He touches us slightly, as the angel did Elijah under
the juniper tree, that He may awaken us. He sends some slight visitation
to shake us out of our security. He causes us to hear some distant noise:
it may be the tumults of the nations, or it may be the tidings of famine,
or war, or pestilence afar off. Perhaps this entirely fails; we slumber
on as securely as ever. Our life is as listless and as useless as ever.
Then He comes nearer, and makes His voice to be heard in our own neighborhood
or within the circle of our kindred. This also fails. Then He comes nearer
still, for the time is hurrying on and the saint is still asleep. He speaks
into our very ears. He smites upon some tender part until every fiber of
our frame quivers and every pulse throbs quicker. Our very soul is stricken
through as with a thousand arrows. Then we start up like one awakening
out of a long sleep, and, looking round us, wonder how we could have slept
But oh, how difficult it
is to awaken us thoroughly! It needs stroke upon stroke in long succession
to do this. For after every waking up there is the continual tendency to
fall back again into slumber. So that we need both to be made awake and
to be kept awake. What sorrows does our drowsiness cost us- what bleeding,
broken hearts! The luxury of "ease in Zion" indulged in perhaps for years
has been dearly bought.
"Think of living," was the
pregnant maxim of the thoughtful German. "Your life," says another, quoting
the above, "were you the pitifulest of all the sons of earth is no idle
dream, but a solemn reality. It is your own. It is all you have to confront
eternity with. Work then, like a star, unhasting yet unresting."
There are some Christians
who work, but they do not work like men awake. They move forward in a certain
track of duty, but it is with weary footstep. Their motions are constrained
and cold. They do many good things, devise many good schemes, say excellent
things, but the vigorous pulse of warm life is lacking. Zeal, glowing zeal-
elastic and untiring- is not theirs. They neither burn themselves, no do
they kindle others. There is nothing of the star about them save its coldness.
They may expect some sharp stroke of chastisement, for they need it.
There are others who are
only wakeful by fits and starts. They cannot be safely counted on, for
their fervor depends upon the humor of the moment. A naturally impulsive
temperament, of which, perhaps, they are not sufficiently aware, and which
they have not sought either to crucify or to regulate, renders them uncertain
in all their movements. This intermittent wakefulness effects but little.
They do and they undo. They build up and they pull down. They kindle and
quench the flame alternately. There is nothing of the "star" about them.
They stand in need of some sore and long continued pressure to equalize
the variable. fitful movements of their spirit.
There are others who seem
to be always wakeful, but then it is the wakefulness of bustle and restlessness.
They cannot live but in the midst of stirring, and scheming, and moving
to and fro. Their temperament is that nervous tremulous, impatient kind
that makes rest or retirement to be felt as restraint and pain. These seldom
effect much themselves, but they are often useful by their perpetual stir
and friction for setting or keeping others in motion and preventing stagnation
around them. But their incessant motion prevents their being filled with
the needed grace. Their continual contact with the outward things of religion
hinders their inward growth and damages their spirituality. These are certainly
in one sense like the star wakeful and unresting, but they move forward
with such haste that instead of gathering light or giving it forth, they
are losing every day the little that they possessed. A deep sharp stroke
will be needed for shaking off this false fervor and imparting the true
calm wakefulness of spirit, to which, as saints, they are called. It is
the deepening of spiritual feeling that is needed in their case, and it
takes much chastening to accomplish this.
There are others who are
always steadily at work and apparently with fervor too. Yet too little
communion with God shows that they are not truly awake. They work so much
more than they pray that they soon become like vessels without oil. They
are farther on than the last class, yet still they need arousing. They
are like the star, both "unresting and unhasting, yet their light is dim.
Its reflection upon a dark world is faint and pale. It is a deeper spiritual
life and experience that they need; and for this, it may be there is some
sore visitation in store for them.
The true wakeful life is
different from all these. It is a thing of intensity and depth. It carries
ever about with it the air of calm and restful dignity, of inward power
and greatness. It is fervent, but not feverish; energetic, but not excited;
speedy in its doings, but not hasty; prudent, but not timid or selfish;
resolute and fearless, but not rash; unobtrusive and sometimes, it may
be silent, yet making all around to feel its influence; full of joy and
peace, yet without parade or noise; overflowing in tenderness and love,
yet at the same time, faithful and true. This is the wakeful life!
But oh, before it is thoroughly
attained, how much are we sometimes called upon to suffer through the rebelliousness
of a carnal nature that will not let us surrender ourselves up wholly to
God, and present ourselves as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable
service! In thus arousing us from our slumber, chastisement not merely
makes us more energetic, more laborious, but it makes us far more prayerful.
Perhaps it is here that the waking up is most sensibly felt. Nothing so
quickens prayer as trial. It sends us at once to our knees and shuts the
door of our closet behind us. In the day of prosperity we have many comforts,
many refuges to resort to; in the day of sorrow we have only one, and that
is God. Our grief is too deep to tell to any other; it is too heavy for
any other to soothe.
Now we awake to prayer.
It was something to us before, but now it is all. Man's arm fails, and
there is none but God to lean upon. Our closets, in truth, are the only
places of light in a world which has now become doubly dark to us. All
without and around is gloom. Clouds overshadow the whole region. Only the
closet is bright and calm. How eagerly, how thankfully we betake ourselves
to it now! We could spend our whole time in this happy island of light
which God has provided for us in the midst of a stormy ocean. When compelled
at times to leave it, how gladly do we return to it! What peaceful hours
of solitude we have there with God for our one companion! We can almost
forget that the clouds of earth are still above us and its tempest still
rioting around us. Prayer becomes a far more real thing than ever. It is
prized now as it was never prized before. We cannot do without it. Of necessity,
as well as of choice, we must pray, sending up our cries from the depths.
It becomes a real asking, a real pleading. It is no form now. What new
life, new energy, new earnestness are poured into each petition! It is
the heart that is now speaking, and the lips cannot find words with which
to give utterance to its desires. The groanings that "cannot be uttered"
are all that now burst forth and ascend up into the ear of God.
Formerly, there was often
the lip without the heart; now it is far oftener the heart without the
lip. Now we know how "the Spirit helps our infirmities." We begin to feel
what it is to "pray in the Holy Spirit. "There is a new nearness to God.
Communion with Him is far more of a conscious reality now. It is close
dealing with a living, personal Jehovah. New arguments suggest themselves;
new desires spring up; new needs disclose themselves. Our own emptiness
and God's manifold fullness are brought before us so vividly that the longings
of our inmost souls are kindled, and our heart cries out for God, for the
living God. It was David's sorrows that quickened prayer in him. It was
in the belly of the whale that Jonah was taught to cry aloud. And it was
among the thorns of the wilderness and the fetters of Babylon that Manasseh
learned to pray.
Church of Christ- chosen
heritage of the Lord- awake! Children of the light and of the day, arise!
The long winter night is nearly over. The day-star is preparing to ascend.
"The end of all things is at hand: be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer"
(1Pe_4:7). "Why do you sleep? rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation!"