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FEW words of Scripture have been oftener than these laid as a healing balm on wounded hearts. They may be long unnoticed on the page, like a lighthouse in calm sunshine, but sooner or later the stormy night falls, and
then the bright beam flashes out and is welcome. They go very deep into the meaning of life as discipline; they tell us how much better God’s discipline is than that of the most loving and wise of parents, and they give that superiority as a reason for our yielding more entire and cheerful obedience to Him than we do to such.
Now, to grasp the full meaning
of these words, we have to notice that the earthly and the heavenly disciplines
are described in four contrasted clauses. which are arranged in what students
call inverted parallelism — that is to say, the first clause corresponds
to the fourth and the second to the third. ‘For a few days’ pairs off with
‘that we might be partakers of His holiness.’ Now, at first sight that
does not seem a contrast; but notice that
Then, as for the other contrast — ‘for their own pleasure,’ or, as the Revised Version reads it, ‘as Seemed good to them’ — ‘but He for our profit.’ Elements of personal peculiarity, whim, passion, limited and possibly erroneous conceptions of what is the right thing to do for thechild, enter into the training of the wisest and most loving amongst us; and we often make a mistake and do harm when we think we are doing good. But God’s training is all from a simple and unerring regard to the benefit of His child. Thus the guiding principles of the two disciplines are contrasted in the two central clauses. Now, these are very threadbare, commonplace, and old-fashioned thoughts; but, perhaps, they are so familiar that they have not their proper power over us; and I wish to try in this sermon, if I can, to get more into them, or to get them more into us, by one or two very plain remarks.
I. I would ask you to note, first, the grand, deep, general conception, here firmly laid hold of, of life as only intelligible when it is regarded as education or discipline.
God corrects, chastens, trains, educates. That is the deepest word about everything that befalls us. Now, there are involved in that two or three very obvious thoughts, which would make us all calmer and nobler and stronger, if they were vividly and vitally present to us day by day.
The first is that all which befalls us has a will behind it and is co-operant to an end. Life is not a heap of unconnected incidents, like a number of links flung down on the ground, but the links are a chain, and the chain has a staple. It is not a law without a law-giver that shapes men’s lives. It is not a blind, impersonal chance that presides over it. Why, these very meteors that astronomers expect in autumn to be flying and flashing through the sky in apparent wild disorder, all obey law. Our lives, in like manner, are embodied thoughts of God’s, in as far as the incidents which befall in them are concerned. We may mar, we may fight against, may contradict the presiding divine purpose; but yet, behind the wild dance of flashing and transitory lights that go careering all over the sky, there guides, not an impersonal Power, but a living, loving Will He, not it; He, not they, men, circumstances, what people call second causes — He corrects, and He does it for a great purpose.
Ah! if we believed that, and not merely said it from the teeth outwards, but if it were a living conviction with us, do you not think our lives would tower up into a nobleness, and settle themselves down into a tranquillity all strange to them to-day?
But, then, further, there
is the other thought to be grasped, that all our days we are here in a
state of pupilage. The world is God’s nursery. There are many mansions
in the Father’s house; and this earth is where He keeps the little ones.
That is the true meaning of everything that befalls us. It is education.
Work would not be worth doing if it were not. Life is given to us to teach
us how to live, to exercise our powers, to give us habits and
But that conception of the meaning of each event that befalls us carries with it the conception of the whole of this life, as being an education towards another. I do not understand how any man can bear to live here, and to do all his painful work, unless he thinks that by it he is getting ready for the life beyond; and that ‘nothing can bereave him of the force he made his own, being here.’ The rough ore is turned into steel by being
And heated hot with hopes and fears,
And battered with the shocks of doom’
And then — what then? Is an instrument, thus fashioned, and tempered and polished, destined to be broken and ‘thrown as rubbish to the void’? Certainly not. If this life is education, as is obvious’ upon its very face, then there is a place where we shall exercise the faculties that we have acquired here, and manifest in loftier forms the characters which here we have made our own.
Now, brethren, if we carry these thoughts with us habitually, what a difference it will make upon everything that befalls us! You hear men often maundering and murmuring about the mysteries of the pain and sorrow and suffering of this world, wondering if there is any loving Will behind it all. That perplexed questioning goes on the hypothesis that life is meant mainly for enjoyment or for material good. If we once apprehended in its all applicable range this simple truth, that life is a discipline, we should have less difficulty in understanding what people call the mysteries of Providence. I do not say it would interpret everything, but it would interpret an immense deal. It would make us eager, as each event came, to find out its special mission and what it was meant to do for us. It would dignify trifles, and bring down the overwhelming magnitude of the so called great events, and would make us lords of ourselves, and lords of circumstances, and ready to wring the last drop of possible advantage out of each thing that befell us. Life is a Father’s discipline.
II. Note the guiding principle of that discipline.
‘They... as seemed good to
them.’ I have already said that, even in the most wise and unselfish training
by an earthly parent, there will -mingle subjective elements, peculiarities
of view and thought, and sometimes of
What follows? This, plainly: there is no such thing as evil except the evil of sin. All that comes is good — of various sorts and various complexions, but all generically the same. The inundation comes up over the fields, and men are in despair. It goes down; and then, like the slime left from the Nile in flood, there is better soil for the fertilising of our land. Storms keep sea and air from stagnating. All that men earl evil in the material world has in it a soul of good.
That is an old, old commonplace; but, like the other one, of which I have been speaking, it is more often professed than realised, and we need to be brought back to the recognition of it more entirely than we ordinarily are. If it be that all my life is paternal discipline, and that God makes no mistakes, then I can embrace whatever comes to me, and be sure that in it I shall find that which will be for my good.
Ah, brethren, it is easy
to say so when things go well; but, surely, when the night falls is the
time for the stars to shine. That gracious word should shine upon some
of us in to-day’s perplexities, and pains, and
Now, that great thought does
not in the least deny the fact that pain and sorrow, and so-called evil,
are very real There is no false stoicism in Christianity. The mission of
our troubles would not be effected unless they
The guiding principle of
all that befalls us is God’s unerring knowledge of what will do us good.
That will not prevent, and is not meant to prevent, the arrow from wounding,
but it does wipe the poison off the arrow, and
III. Lastly, here we see the great aim of all the discipline.
The earthly parent trains his son, or her daughter, for earthly occupations These last a little while. God trains us for an eternal end: ‘that we should be partakers of His holiness.’ The one object which is congruous with a man’s nature, and is stamped on his whole being, as its only adequate end, is that he should be like God. Holiness is the Scriptural shorthand expression for all that in the divine nature which separates God from, and lifts Him above, the creature; and in that aspect of the word the gulf can never be lessened nor bridged between us and Him. But it also is the expression for the moral purity and perfection of that divine nature which separates Him from the creatures far more really than do the metaphysical attributes that belong to His infinitude and eternity; and in that aspect the great hope that is given to us is that we may rise nearer and nearer to that perfect whiteness of purity, and though we cannot share in His essential, changeless being, may ‘walk’ — as befits our limited and changeful natures — ‘in the light, as He’ — as befits His boundless and eternal being — ‘is in the light.’ That is the only end which it is worthy of a man, being what he is, to propose to himself as the issue of his earthly experience. If I fail in that, whatever else I have accomplished, I fail in everything. I may have made myself rich, cultured, learned; famous, refined, prosperous; but if I have not at least begun to be like God in purity, in will, in heart, then my whole career has missed the purpose for which I was made, and for which all the discipline of life has been lavished upon me. Fail there, and, wherever you succeed, you are a failure. Succeed there, and, wherever you fail, you are a success.
That great and only worthy end may be reached by the ministration of circumstances and the discipline through which God passes us. These are not the only ways by which He makes us partakers of His holiness, as we well know. There is the work of that Divine Spirit who is granted to every Believer to breathe into him the holy breath of an immortal and incorruptible life. To work along with these there is the influence that is brought to bear upon us by the circumstances in which we are placed and the duties which we have to perform. These may all help us to be nearer and liker to God.
That is the intention of
our sorrows. They will wean us; they will refine us; and they will blow
us to His breast, as a strong wind might sweep a man into some refuge from
itself. I am sure that among my hearers there are
But the sorrow that is meant
to bring us nearer to Him may be in vain. The same circumstances may produce
opposite effects. I dare say there are people listening to me now who have
been made hard, and sullen, and
So, brethren, let us try
to school ourselves into the habitual and operative conviction that life
is discipline. Let us yield ourselves to the loving will of the unerring
Father, the perfect love. Let us beware of getting no good
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