"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Afterwards, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11
Believers sometimes distress themselves because they cannot take pleasure in pain. They read of those who have rejoiced in Gethsemane; who, like Paul, have "gloried in tribulation." It is consolatory that the very exhortation to filial resignation in Hebrews 12 recognizes the fact that "no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous."
"Chastening" means child-training. There would be no training in repentance, patience, faith, if the rod caused no pain. Divine trust does not ignore human nature. Peter, sharing Paul's magnanimity, writes to the "elect" as those who were "in heaviness through manifold trials." They are "chosen of God," "sanctified by the Spirit unto obedience," on their way to "an inheritance incorruptible," "kept by the power of God," "greatly rejoicing"—and yet "in heaviness!" (1 Peter 1:2-7.) "This the apostle blames not, but aims at the moderating of it; seeks not altogether to dry up the stream, but to bound it and keep it within its banks. Grace does not destroy the life of nature, but adds to it a life more excellent; yes, does not only permit, but requires some feeling of afflictions." (Leighton.)
Weep then, sorrowing one; tell your trouble to sympathizing friends; above all, to your fellow-Sufferer in Gethsemane; but let your sorrow be soothed by the "afterwards." The corn-field, ploughed, harrowed, weeded, storm-swept, snow-covered, shall bear golden sheaves, not only after, but by reason of, such culture. The husbandman "has patience." The vinedresser with kind care uses the knife, yet sometimes with a seeming severity which makes an ignorant observer think he will kill the tree. But he knows that the abundant pruning will produce abundant fruitage afterwards.
Christ said, "I am the Vine, you are the branches." Insincere professors are no real part of the tree, but as branches tied on; not to be pruned, but cut off, unless they repent. "But every branch that bears fruit He pruneth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." Does not the "more fruit" repay the more pruning? Should not the process, though painful, be prized for the result? Is our highest end to display mere leafage, or to glorify God? "Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples." Ought we to be satisfied to bear only so much as to secure us from being altogether cut away? Should not every Christian desire to be as fruitful as possible, so as best to prove his discipleship and glorify God?
These results are described as "the peaceable fruits of righteousness." Submission to pruning and desire for righteousness are evidences of being children of God, fruits of the Spirit, the pledge of the fuller harvest, "the Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God." They prove that we have faith; by faith we are justified; and, being justified, "we have peace with God, through Jesus Christ." Reconciliation is peace. Contention has given place to harmony, restless searching to contented finding, painful doubting to glad assurance, "the peace of God which passes all understanding."
Affliction, patiently endured, strengthens the habit of confidence in our Father's care, and so we are at peace. Whatever the wildness of the storm, we have proved the safety of our Refuge. Perplexing doubts about the mysteries of Providence are lost in the calm trustfulness of love. But this does not come at once. Like other works of God, the process is gradual. Life is given at once, but the full maturity "afterwards." Suffering a while helps to make us "perfect, to establish, strengthen, settle us."
The early apple is sour, the early peach flavorless; but how sweet, fragrant, beautiful, "afterwards!" When the pain is very acute, the bereavement very fresh, the sufferer may say, with Job, "My grief is heavier than the sand of the sea;" or with David, "Has God shut up his tender mercies?" or with Elijah, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life." But as with those eminent saints, the fruit will gradually become ripe, will ripen afterwards. Trial is not a dead pebble but a living seed, planted and nurtured by God. "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace." "And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever" (Jas. 3:18, Is. 32:17).
After a long war, how joyful the proclamation of peace! After the tempestuous storm, how delightful the clear sky, the calm waters! Still more delightful when we can look back at the warfare and the storm, not as injuries but as blessings; when, however fierce the battle and wild the storm, we can bless God for it all, and testify
"That care and trial seem at last,
"That all the jarring notes of life
"And so the shadows fall apart,
There are Christians whose piety is strong but not tender, sublime but not lovely, who need sorrow to soften and to make them more like their Lord, more useful to others. A Devonshire wall, when first built up of undressed stones, though strong, is rough and unsightly; but when winds and storms have carried to it the seeds of ferns and flowers, which sunshine has developed into Nature's unrivalled tapestries, how lovely becomes the lane thus bounded by walls no less strong than before, but how soft and beautiful!
I have watched the Matterhorn in its stern sublimity, with jagged precipices and black frowning peak overhanging the valley, until I have turned away oppressed with its threatening strength. And then has rolled up a dark cloud, from which the forked lightning has gleamed, while the pealing thunder has made the ground to tremble. But presently the cloud has dispersed, and the sun has shone on a transfigured scene. Those rugged precipices, those pointed rocks, that threatening peak, are now invested with a soft and stainless robe; sublimity is arrayed in beauty; and awe has been forgotten in delight.
This chastening is said to yield these fruits "unto those who are exercised thereby." The word is from gumnazo, from which comes our gymnastics. As the athlete willingly undergoes discipline in hope of the prize; and as "afterward," when mature in strength and skill, he does not regret the training, even so the followers of the "Captain of Salvation" should not regret being "exercised," gymnastisized. We were not born as molluscs or sloths, to live merely for ease and enjoyment, but for growth in all true manliness and womanliness, for virtue and usefulness, for God and eternity.
The marble block, could it speak, would not resent the chisel that cut away what imprisoned the angel to be revealed afterwards. The rough, dull diamond would not quarrel with the grinder's tool that enabled it to flash back all the glory of the solar ray, and be a fit ornament for a kingly crown. The swelling Nile, which seems to devastate the land, leaves the fertilizing deposit that afterwards enriches it with plenty. The soul may not complain of the plough and the harrow that yield in autumn the "peaceable fruit of righteousness."
How much more in eternity will be understood the meaning of "afterwards"! In this life we may have to wrestle long in the gymnasium. During some night of polar duration, from the depths of some dark valley, from the vortex of the cyclone, from the inner recesses of some Gethsemane of grief, the cry may be continuous—"Not joyous, but grievous!" But how rapturous and never-ending the Hallelujah song "Afterwards!"
"Now the sowing and the weeping—