"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."—Revelation 3:19
"For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted—He is able to help those who are tempted."—Hebrews 2:18
Let these two verses be conjoined; we shall see the reason as we proceed.
(1.) "As many as I LOVE I rebuke and chasten!"What! speak of loving dealings when "the axe is being laid to the root of the tree;" its ringing sound heard amid cherished earthly groves; the ground strewn with lopped branches, scattered leaves, yes, too, and unspared, young saplings of promise! Yes! It is even so. "The wind passes over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more! But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him" (Ps. 103:16, 17).
The words of this first of our motto-verses, moreover, observe, were spoken, not by the lips of Christ the Sufferer on earth, but by the glorified lips of Christ the Exalted King. They come wafted to us from within the Heavenly gates.
"No chastening for the present seems to be joyous but grievous!" This trouble from which you are now suffering may be utterly incomprehensible. Jehovah's name to you, as it often has been to His tried and afflicted children, may be that which He gave to Manoah—"Wonderful," "Secret," "Mysterious." But, be assured, that your present place and season of bereavement is the figurative "wilderness," where He "allures" His people (Hosea 2:14); rousing them from the low dream of earth, from the sordid and the secular, from busy care and debasing solicitude, to the divine and the heavenly—leading them to exchange the mess of earthly pottage for the bread of life, perishable substance for the fine gold of heavenly gain and durable riches.
Yours is the cruel blighting of young hope and pure affection—holiest ties formed, the memory of which is all that remains; the music of the streams and rivulets which once gladdened your pilgrim-way heard no more. The rills are dried by Him to lead to the great Fountainhead; the earthly links are broken in order that stronger and more enduring ones may be formed above; the breaches have been made in the house of clay, only to render more inviting "the building of God, the house not made with hands;" stimulating to live more for that world where all is perfection, where we shall stand "without fault before the throne."
A writer notes that migratory birds are carried high by contrary winds, and that, by being so carried, their flight is assisted. So is it with trial. "The wind is contrary," but it impels to an upward and a Godwards flight. It is often in the cloudy day that the mountains look near us; so often in the soul's gloomiest seasons the hills of God are brought nearest. Tribulation is the first link in the Apostle's golden chain. Dr. Trench, in his "Study of Words," tells us that "tribulation" is derived from the Latin tribulum, which was the machine by which the grain was sifted. Tribulation is the process of sifting, by which God clears away the chaff and the golden grain is retained. See, too, the gracious result of this sifting process. "Tribulation," to use the comment we have heard in applying the reference, "works," what? We might have expected the natural result, "impatience." It is the reverse; by the imparted grace of Him in whose hands the sifter is, "tribulation works patience" (Rom. 5:3).
Suffering Christian! you may well trust Him who uttered the startling saying which heads this meditation—who gave the mightiest pledge of love He could give by giving His own life—that there is some all-wise "needs be" in the trial He has laid upon you. It is designed to bring you nearer Himself. It is one of His own appointed gateways, opening up and admitting to great spiritual blessings. He rebukes and chastens just because He loves; and, contradictory as the remark may seem, we believe never is His love more tender than when the rod is in His hand and the rebuke on His lips. The rebukes of other earthly friends are often mistimed; the result, it may be, of passion or caprice—"but He disciplines us for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness" (Heb. 12:10).
"I do not ask my cross to understand,
God our Maker is said to give "songs in the night." The birds of earth which sing among the branches are silent, except in the day. Not so with those perched on the Tree of Life, His true people. Their melody often most sweetly rises in hours of darkness. To change the figure, are they themselves "Trees of Righteousness"? Often in the gloom of sorrow their foliage may appear to be dripping with rain, when they are in truth laden with the night-distilled dews of heaven!
Had Christ, indeed, seen fit, He might have ordained that His people's pathway was to be without gloom or darkness, trial or tear; leading along sunny slopes, verdant valleys, and bright clusters of palm trees, with sunlit fronds. But to keep them humble, to teach them their dependence on Himself, to make their present existence a state of discipline and probation, He has ordered it otherwise. Their journey; as travelers, is at times through 'mist and cloudland'; their voyage, as seamen, through alternate calm and storm. They are like the vessel building in the dockyard. The unskilled and uninitiated can hear nothing but clanging hammers; they can see nothing but unshapely timbers and glare of torches. It is a scene of din and noise, dust and confusion. But all will at last be acknowledged as needed portions in the spiritual workmanship, when the soul, released from its earthly fastenings, is launched on the summer seas of eternity. "Then shall we know," to use the words of an earnest thinker, "that the dark scenes were dark with light too bright for mortal eye; the sorrow turning into dearest joys when seen to be the filling up of Christ's; who withholds not from us His own crown, bidding us drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism; and saying to our reluctant hearts, 'What I do you know not now, but you shall know hereafter.'" "Glory to God for all," was Chrysostom's last saying.
No nobler result of trial surely than this, to lead the mourner to grope his tearful way more meekly and trustfully in search of a Savior's hand, seeking only to hear His guiding voice saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
(2.)Our second motto-verse follows the other in a comforting sequence. There can be no more gracious whisper in the ear of bereavement. What an infinitude of solace to every sorrowing one, including the sacred group of mourners for whom this book is more specially intended, is contained in the simple declaration, "In that He Himself has suffered, being tempted!" Jesus, the Incarnate God, yet "made in fashion as a man," had a mysterious identity of experience with His suffering and tempted people, so that nothing can happen to the members but what has happened to the Head. They can feel that no sorrow shades their souls but the same darkened His. "As He is," so are they "in this world" (1 John 4:17). He Himself—the thorn-crowned King—knows every thorn which pierces them, every pang of spirit and pang of body. The loss of beloved friends, temptations to distrust God's providence, to pervert and misapply His Word, to question the rectitude and reason of His dealings. What unutterable consolation, in every hour of earthly trouble, to look up to the Brother in our nature—"the Prince who has power with God," and to say, "He has suffered, being tempted!" In His glorified state He still commiserates the case of each one of His heart-stricken woe-worn people! He tenderly feels their every wound, seeing that, as the Captain of their salvation, He was Himself "made perfect through sufferings."
Afflicted believer! rejoice that sorrow and suffering have (if the expression dare be used) assimilated Christ with you, and you with Christ, in this your trial-hour. With what a Divine significance, augmented and intensified by subsequent experience, can He say, "I know your sorrows!" If you are bleeding under some severe infliction of the rod, severe in its very tenderness, ready to say in the bitterness of your grief, "No one knows, no one can gauge the depth of my anguish"—He can—He does. "He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust." With reverence we say it—God—the Omnipotent, Omniscient God—cannot, with all the infinitude of His nature, sympathize. He can compassionate; but He cannot sympathize in the way of feeling with us. Sympathy requires, as its two conditions, identity of nature and identity of experience. "We have such an High Priest;" One who is said to be (not touched with our infirmities), but "touched with the feeling of our infirmities."
The beautiful verse which now presents itself, gives more comfort still. The words affirm not merely that Christ has identity of experience—a passive sympathy with His tried people—He is also the succourer of the tempted—"He is able to support those who are tempted."
If He be summoning any of you to bear some peculiarly heavy burden, or exacting from you some peculiarly heavy sacrifice, He will not allow the burden to crush, or the fiery trial to consume. He will keep you in the crucible as long, but no longer, than He sees to be absolutely needful to test your faith and purify your graces. All that concerns you and yours is in His hands.
As we see the Angels of Tribulation with their sevenfold vials issuing forth from the gate of heaven (Rev. 15:1), how blessed to know that they are marshaled, commissioned by the great Lord of Angels, the once suffering but now exalted Redeemer! In Zechariah's vision of "the man on the red horse" (1:8)—behind HIM were angels and providences—"the black, and speckled, and white horses." But He is between them; ordering, regulating, appointing, all that befalls His people, trusting their persons and fortunes not even to an angel's care, without His own guidance, sanction, and direction.
Are you now called sorrowfully to picture and ponder the last hours of some loved one—perhaps the final conflict—the close of all—the silent death-chamber—the sadder sequel of the Early Grave? He—yes, HE—can say with the same exalted sympathy, "I know them all." To the living Christian in his season of affliction He can say, "I am He who lives." But to the dying Christian, or of the dying Christian, He can add, "I am He who was dead." I know well, through the memories of My cross and passion, that struggle-hour! I know what it is, O bereaved, to die! And because I know this, I can follow you to the brink of Jordan as well as in the wilderness! Fear not to think of what your loved ones have passed through. These buffeting billows of the Border river have swept over Me. And with the thought of Me as their precursor, you can take up for them, as one of your "Night Songs," or you can sing it as you anticipate for yourselves the same inevitable hour—"Behold, the Ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into Jordan!" (Josh. 3:11).