Comfort for Christians
by Arthur W. Pink, 1952
"My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord,
nor faint when you are rebuked by Him." (Hebrews 12:5)
It is of first importance that we learn to draw a sharp
distinction between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement—important for
maintaining the honor and glory of God, and for the peace of mind of the
Christian. The distinction is very simple, yet is it often lost sight of.
God's people can never by any possibility be punished for their sins, for
God has already punished them at the Cross. The Lord Jesus, our Blessed
Substitute, suffered the full penalty of all our guilt, hence it is written
"The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin." Neither the
justice nor the love of God will permit Him to again exact payment of what
Christ discharged to the full. The difference between punishment and
chastisement lies not in the nature of the sufferings of the afflicted—it is
most important to bear this in mind. There is a threefold distinction
between the two.
First, the character in which God acts. In the
former God acts as Judge, in the latter as Father. Sentence of punishment is
the act of a judge, a penal sentence passed on those charged with guilt.
Punishment can never fall upon the child of God in this judicial sense
because his guilt was all transferred to Christ: "Who His own self bore our
sins in His own body on the tree."
But while the believer's sins cannot be punished, while
the Christian cannot be condemned (Romans 8:3), yet he may be chastised. The
Christian occupies an entirely different position from the non-Christian: he
is a member of the Family of God. The relationship which now exists between
him and God is that of parent and child; and as a son he must be disciplined
for wrongdoing. Folly is bound up in the hearts of all God's children, and
the rod is necessary to rebuke, to subdue, to humble.
The second distinction between Divine punishment and
Divine chastisement lies in the recipients of each. The objects of
the former are His enemies. The subjects of the latter are His children. As
the Judge of all the earth, God will yet take vengeance on all His foes. As
the Father of His family, God maintains discipline over all His children.
The one is judicial, the other parental.
A third distinction is seen in the design of each.
The one is retributive, the other remedial. The one flows from His anger,
the other from His love. Divine punishment is never sent for the good of
unrepentant sinners, but for the honoring of God's law and the vindicating
of His government. But Divine chastisement is sent for the well-being of His
children: "We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected
them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and
live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best;
but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness."
The above distinction should at once rebuke the thoughts
which are so generally entertained among Christians. When the believer is
smarting under the rod let him not say—God is now punishing me for my
sins. That can never be. That is most dishonoring to the blood of Christ.
God is correcting you in love—not smiting in wrath! Nor should the
Christian regard the chastening of the Lord as a sort of necessary evil to
which he must bow as submissively as possible. No, it proceeds from God's
goodness and faithfulness, and is one of the greatest blessings for which we
have to thank Him. Chastisement evidences our Divine sonship. The father of
a family does not concern himself with those on the outside: but he guides
and disciplines his own children, to make them conform to his will.
Chastisement is designed for our good, to promote our highest interests.
Look beyond the rod—to the All-wise hand which wields it!
The Hebrew Christians to whom this Epistle was first
addressed were passing through a great fight of afflictions, and miserably
were they conducting themselves. They were the little remnant out of the
Jewish nation who had believed on their Messiah during the days of His
public ministry, plus those Jews who had been converted under the preaching
of the apostles. It is highly probable that they had expected the Messianic
Kingdom would at once be set up on earth and that they would be allotted the
chief places of 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
suffering go to show that God no longer regarded them with favor?
Now it is most instructive and blessed to see how the
Apostle met the unbelieving reasoning of their hearts. He appealed to their
own Scriptures! He reminded them of an exhortation found in Proverbs
3:11-12, and applied it to their case. Notice, first, the words we place in
italics: "You have forgotten the exhortation which speaks unto you."
This shows that the exhortations of the Old Testament were not restricted to
those who lived under the old covenant: they apply with equal force and
directness to those of us living under the new covenant. Let us not forget
that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable" (2
Tim. 3:16) The Old Testament equally as much as the New Testament was
written for our learning and admonition.
Second, mark the tense of the verb in our opening text:
"You have forgotten the exhortation which speaks." The Apostle quoted
a sentence of the Word written one thousand years previously, yet he does
not say "which has spoken," but "which speaks." The same principle is
illustrated in that sevenfold "He who has an ear, let him hear what the
Spirit says (not "said") unto the churches" of Rev. 2 and 3. The Holy
Scriptures are a living Word in which God is speaking today!
Consider now the words "You have forgotten." It was not
that these Hebrew Christians were unacquainted with Proverbs 3:11 and 12—but
they had let them slip. They had forgotten the Fatherhood of God and their
relation of Him as His dear children. In consequence they misinterpreted
both the manner and design of God's present dealings with them, they viewed
His dispensation not in the light of His Love, but regarded them as signs of
His displeasure or as proofs of His forgetfulness. Consequently, instead of
cheerful submission, there was despondency and despair. Here is a most
important lesson for us—we must interpret the mysterious providences of
God not by reason or observation, but by the Word. How often we "forget"
the exhortation which speaks unto us as unto children, "My son, despise not
the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him."
Unhappily there is no word in the English language which
is capable of doing justice to the Greek term here. "Paideia" which is
rendered "chastening" is only another form of "paidion" which signifies
"young children," being the tender word that was employed by the Savior in
John 21:5 and Hebrews 2:13. One can see at a glance the direct connection
which exists between the words "disciple" and "discipline": equally close in
the Greek is the relation between "children" and "chastening."
Son-training would be better. It has reference to God's education,
nurture and discipline of His children. It is the Father's wise and loving
discipline which is in view.
It is true that much chastisement is the rod in the hand
of the Father, correcting His erring child. But it is a serious mistake to
confine our thoughts to this one aspect of the subject. Chastisement is by
no means always the scourging of His refractive sons. Some of the saintliest
of God's people, some of the most obedient of His children, have been and
are the greatest sufferers. Oftentimes, God's chastenings instead of being
retributive are corrective. They are sent to empty us of self-sufficiency
and self-righteousness: they are given to discover to us hidden
transgressions, and to teach us the plague of our own hearts. Or again,
chastisements are sent to strengthen our faith, to raise us to higher levels
of experience, to bring us into a condition of usefulness. Still again,
Divine chastisement is sent as a preventative, to keep under pride, to save
us from being unduly elated over success in God's service. Let us consider,
briefly, four entirely different examples.
DAVID. In his case the rod was laid upon him for
grievous sins, for open wickedness. His fall was occasioned by
self-confidence and self-righteousness. If the reader will diligently
compare the two Songs of David recorded in 2 Samuel 22 and 23, the one
written near the beginning of his life, the other near the end, he will be
struck by the great difference of spirit manifested by the writer in each.
Read 2 Samuel 22:22-25 and you will not be surprised that God allowed him to
have such a fall. Then turn to chapter 23, and mark the blessed change. At
the beginning of verse 5 there is a heart-broken confession of failure. In
verses 10-12 there is a God-glorifying confession, attributing victory unto
the Lord. The severe scourging of David was not in vain.
JOB. Probably he tasted of every kind of suffering which
falls to man's lot: family bereavements, loss of property, grievous bodily
afflictions came fast, one on top of another. But God's end in it all was
that Job should benefit therefrom, and be a greater partaker of His
holiness. There was not a little of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness
in Job at the beginning. But at the end, when He was brought face to face
with the thrice Holy One, he "abhorred himself" (42:6). In David's case the
chastisement was retributive, in Job's corrective.
ABRAHAM. In him we see an illustration of an entirely
different aspect of chastening. Most of the trials to which he was subjected
were neither because of open sins nor for the correction of inward faults.
Rather were they sent for the development of spiritual graces.
Abraham was sorely tried in various ways, but it was in order that faith
might be strengthened and that patience might have its perfect work in him.
Abraham was weaned from the things of this world, that he might enjoy closer
fellowship with Jehovah and become the "friend" of God.
PAUL. "And lest I should be exalted above measure through
the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the
flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above
measure (2 Cor. 12:7). This "thorn" was sent not because of failure and sin,
but as a preventative against pride. Note the "lest" both at the
beginning and end of the verse. The result of this "thorn" was that the
beloved apostle was made more conscious of his weakness. Thus, chastisement
has for one of its main objects the breaking down of self-sufficiency, the
bringing us to the end of our selves.
Now in view of these widely different aspects chastenings
which are retributive, corrective, educative, and
preventative, how incompetent are we to diagnose, and how great is the
folly of pronouncing a judgment concerning others! Let us not conclude when
we see a fellow-Christian under the rod of God that he is necessarily being
taken to task for his sins.
We shall now consider the spirit
in which Divine chastisements are to be received. "My son,
despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are
rebuked by Him." (Hebrews 12:5)
Not all chastisement is sanctified to the recipients of
it. Some are hardened thereby; others are crushed beneath it. Much depends
on the spirit in which afflictions are received. There is no virtue in
trials and troubles in themselves; it is only as they are blessed by God
that the Christian is profited thereby. As Heb. 12:11 informs us, it is
those who are "exercised" under God's rod that bring forth "the peaceable
fruit of righteousness." A sensitive conscience and a tender heart are the
needed adjuncts. In our text the Christian is warned against two entirely
different dangers: despise not, despair not. These are two
extremes against which it is ever necessary to keep a sharp look-out. Just
as every truth of Scripture has its balancing counterpart, so has every evil
its opposite. On the one hand there is a haughty spirit which laughs at the
rod, a stubborn will which refuses to be humbled thereby. On the other hand,
there is a fainting which utterly sinks beneath it and gives way to despair.
Spurgeon said, "The way of righteousness is a difficult pass between two
mountains of error, and the great secret of the Christian's life is to wind
his way along the narrow valley."
I. Despising the Rod. There are a number of
ways in which Christians may "despise" God's chastenings. We mention four of
1. By callousness. To be stoical is the policy
of carnal wisdom—"make the best of a bad situation." The man of the world
knows no better plan than to grit his teeth and brave things out. Having no
Divine Comforter, Counselor or Physician, he has to fall back on his own
poor resources. It is inexpressibly sad when we see a child of God
conducting himself as does a child of the Devil. For a Christian to defy
adversities is to "despise" chastisement. Instead of hardening himself to
endure stoically, there should be a melting of the heart.
2. By complaining. This is what the Hebrews
did in the wilderness; and there are still many mumurers in Israel's camp. A
little sickness—and we become so cross that our friends are afraid to come
near us. A few days in bed—and we fret and fume like a bullock unaccustomed
to the yoke. We peevishly ask, Why this affliction? What have I done to
deserve it? We look around with envious eyes, and are discontented because
others are carrying a lighter load. Beware, my reader! It goes hard with
murmurers! God always chastises twice if we are not humbled by the first.
Remind yourself of how much dross there yet is among the gold. View the
corruptions of your own heart, and marvel that God has not smitten you twice
as severely! "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord."
3. By criticisms. How often we question the
usefulness of chastisement. As Christians we seem to have little more
spiritual good sense than we had natural wisdom as children. As boys
we thought that the rod was the least necessary thing in the home. It
is so with the children of God. When things go as we like them, when some
unexpected temporal blessing is bestowed—we have no difficulty in ascribing
all to a kind Providence. But when our plans are thwarted, when losses are
ours—it is very different. Yet, is it not written, "I form the light and
create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these
things"? (Isaiah 45:7) How often is the thing formed ready to complain, "Why
have you made me thus?" We say, "I cannot see how this can possibly profit
my soul. If I had better health—I could attend the house of prayer more
frequently! If I had been spared those losses in business—I would have more
money for the Lord's work! What good can possibly come of this calamity?"
Like Jacob, we exclaim: "All these things are against me!" What is this but
to "despise" the rod? Shall your ignorance challenge God's wisdom? Shall
your shortsightedness arraign omniscience?
4. By carelessness. So many fail to mend their
ways. The exhortation of our text is much needed by all of us. There are
many who have "despised" the rod, and in consequence they have not profited
thereby. Many a Christian has been corrected by God—but in vain! Sickness,
reverses, bereavements have come, but they have not been sanctified by
prayerful self-examination. Oh brethren and sisters, take heed! If God be
chastening you—"consider your ways (Hag. 1:5), "ponder the path of your
feet" (Proverbs 4:26). Be assured that there is some reason for the
chastening. Many a Christian would not have been chastised half so severely,
had he diligently inquired the cause of it.
II. Fainting under God's chastenings. Having
been warned against "despising" the rod, now we are admonished not to give
way to despair under it. There are at least three ways in which the
Christian may "faint" beneath the Lord's rebukes:
1. When he gives up all exertion. This is done
when we sink down in despondency. The smitten one concludes that it is more
than he can possibly endure. His heart fails him; darkness swallows him up;
the sun of hope is eclipsed, and the voice of thanksgiving is silent. To
"faint" means rendering ourselves unfit for the discharge of our duties.
When a person faints, he is rendered motionless. How many Christians are
ready to completely give up the fight when adversity enters their life. How
many are rendered quite inert when trouble comes their way. How many, by
their attitude, say, God's hand is heavy upon me: I can do nothing. Ah,
beloved, "sorrow not, even as others who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).
"Faint not when you are rebuked by Him." Go to the Lord about it: recognize
His hand in it. Remember, your afflictions are among the "all things" which
work together for good.
2. When he questions his sonship. There are
not a few Christians who, when the rod descends upon them, conclude that
they are not sons of God after all. They forget that it is written "Many are
the afflictions of the righteous (Psalm 34:19), and that "we must through
much tribulation enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). One says, "But if I
were His child I would not be in this poverty, misery, pain." Listen to
verse 8: "If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline),
then you are illegitimate children and not true sons." Learn, then, to
look upon trials as proofs of God's love purging, pruning, purifying you.
The father of a family does not concern himself much about those on the
outside of his household: it is his children, whom he guards and guides,
nurtures and conforms to his will. So it is with God.
3. When he despairs. Some indulge the fancy
that they will never get out of their trouble. One says, "I have prayed and
prayed, but the clouds have not lifted!" Then comfort yourself with this
reflection: It is always the darkest hour, which precedes the dawn.
Therefore, "faint not" when you are rebuked by Him. But, says another, "I
have pleaded His promise, and things are no better. I thought He delivered
those who called upon Him; I have called, and He has not answered, and I
fear He never will." What, child of God, speak of your Father thus! You say
He will never leave off smiting because He has smitten so long. Rather say
He has now smitten so long—I must soon be delivered. Despise not! Faint not!
May Divine grace preserve both writer and reader from either sinful extreme.