James Smith, 1860

There is a great difference between punishment and chastisement; the former is inflicted by the judge on the criminal, the latter is administered by the parent on the child. Our trials, troubles, and afflictions are discipline, intended to form our characters, or reform our lives. "Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools." As sore as were the trials of Israel they were not like the judgments inflicted on their enemies: besides which the design was the very opposite, hence the prophet says, alluding to their chastisements, "By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sins." Isaiah 27:9. Look at,

The DISCIPLINE. It was severe, for they are represented as slain. It was penetrating, and therefore represented by the east wind. It was moderated, for "he stays his rough wind in the day of his east wind." And so says the Apostle, "There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to men; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that you may be able to bear it." It also differs from the treatment of others, as Paul testifies, "We are troubled on every side yet not distressed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; cast down but not destroyed." There is mercy in it, grace comes with it, and we derive benefit from it. Let us not therefore despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when we are rebuked of him. Let us not ascribe our troubles to God's wrath but rather trace them to his paternal love. Look we now at,

The CAUSE of the Discipline, Sin. Our sin grieves God's loving heart, and provokes the eyes of his holiness. The sins referred to by the prophet, were:

Forgetfulness of God. God loves us to think of him, to remember him, and when we forget him, we grieve him. And yet as it was said of Israel, so it may be said of us, "They forgot God their Savior, who had done such great things for them." We forget his presence, his requirements, his promises, and his love.

Earthly-mindedness. They were more affected by the sensual than the spiritual, by the earthly than the Heavenly. And this is very much the case with us. As risen with Christ our affections, desires, and thoughts, should be on things above, rather than on things below and we should aim at the things which are unseen and eternal, rather than at the things which are seen and temporal.

They made self too much their end, instead of living to the Lord, and for the Lord, they lived pretty much to themselves, just as we have too often done. As redeemed unto God, as set apart for God, everything should be done with a view to please God even our dressing, and eating, and drinking, should he attended to with a view to God's glory.

They were guilty of idolatry, they worshiped and served the creature, instead of the Creator, who is over all, and blessed for evermore. Just so have we: the fear of man has affected us, more than the fear of God; the desire to please man, has influenced us more than the desire to please God. We have thought more of man than God, and we have loved man more than God.

Our forgetfulness, our selfishness, and our idolatry have procured for us many strokes, and have brought on us many a trouble! This leads us to,

The DESIGN of this Discipline, "to take away his sin." God's dealings are often intended to detect sin, and bring it to remembrance. To embitter sin, and set the heart against it. To take away sin, that is to take away the love of it, our appetite for it and our indulgence in it. Alas! the love of sin is not entirely destroyed in our souls! We are at times very zealous in a wrong course. We do too often indulge in filthiness of the flesh and spirit.

No discipline endured by us, no pains suffered by us, can ever purge away sin, in the sense of expiating it, or making an atonement for it. No suffering but the suffering of Jesus, no blood but the blood of God incarnate can ever atone for, or take away sin from the sight of God. But sanctified afflictions, will bring us back from the ways of sin, and into the ways of God. The blood of Jesus, put away our sins forever as to the guilt of them; but the work of the Holy Spirit, and his grace attending our trials, deepens our sanctification, and makes sin to us an evil and bitter thing!

Sin grieves our Heavenly Father's heart, and requires that he use the rod, and put us under discipline! Therefore we have to experience severe afflictions, heavy trials, and sore troubles. The reason we are not overwhelmed and carried away with them but bear up under them, and come out into a wealthy place, is because the Lord moderates them, and sends grace with them. And when they are sanctified, they always . . .
set the heart against sin,
turn away the eyes from admiring vanity,
and the feet from the ways of death.

Our God, therefore, is gracious, when most severe. He does not afflict willingly, nor unnecessarily neither does he chastise immoderately but unerring wisdom and mercy guide the rod. In this the saints of God are distinguished from others; God deals with them as with sons; he corrects in measure, and will not leave them wholly unpunished. He gives them grace sufficient for them, and makes his strength perfect in their weakness.

O what a mercy to have God for a father, to know that he never disowns or disinherits his children, and to be assured that every affliction and trial is sent in love! Yes, not for his pleasure but for our profit, are we put to pain, and sometimes treated severely! The time is coming, when for every affliction, we shall bless and praise his holy and adorable name. Gracious Lord, help us to believe your love to us, especially in days of dullness and seasons of trouble help us to hold fast our confidence in you, under all our conflicts and trials and may we hopefully look forward to the period when we shall joyfully allude to all our sorrows and distresses, saying, "Out of them all the Lord delivered me!"

How gracious and how wise
Is our chastising God!
And O! how rich the blessings are,
Which blossom from the rod!

He lifts it up on high,
With pity in his heart;
That every stroke his children feel,
May grace and peace impart.

Sweet fruits afflictions bring,
Like those on Aaron's rod,
They bud, and bloom divinely fair,
Which proves them sent of God.

Dear Father! we consent
To discipline divine;
And bless the pain that makes our souls
Still more completely Thine!