GRACE AND TRUTH by Octavius Winslow

"Holiness, the Fruit of the Chastening of Love"

"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." Hebrews 12:10

It is not an exaggerated observation that the greatest of all afflictions is an affliction lost. An affliction sent as the servant of God, and yet not permitted to fulfil its mission of love in the soul's experience- a messenger bearing like a dove from heaven, an olive branch of peace plucked as from the tranquil bowers of paradise, and yet finding the door of the heart closed against its entrance- a season that might have been made the occasion of a more advanced proficiency in the knowledge of God, and a greater preparedness for heaven, entirely lost- lost no more to return. I repeat, that it is not an exaggerated sentiment, that the greatest of all afflictions is an affliction lost!

In the preceding chapter, we considered the chastisements of the believer as springing from the deep, unchangeable love of God. We should leave this intensely interesting theme but partially discussed, did we not place before the reader some of the great blessings which our heavenly Father designs to convey through this particular channel. The apostle's reasoning is clear and his argument conclusive: "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."

In the unfolding of this second branch of the subject, we shall present some observations upon the holiness of God; then show in what sense all true believers are partakers of the Divine holiness; and then remark that they especially become so by the sanctified chastening of love. HOLINESS is an essential perfection of God. It is an inseparable part of His being. To conceive of a God infinite in essence, divine in majesty, almighty in power, wise in counsel, and eternal in duration, and yet destitute of holiness- infinite, essential purity- to suppose such a Being possessed of the least contagion of moral evil, would be to portray to the imagination- in reverence be it written- an Infinite Monster! We would picture Him before us arrayed with infinite power, wisdom, and duration, and yet lacking in that perfection which tempers, chastens, and beautifies all, and which makes Him truly what His word reveals Him to be- a God of love.

A denial of His being would not be a crime so fearful, nor involve a guilt of deeper dye, than would be a denial of his holiness. He who refuses to acknowledge that God is immaculately holy, breathes a more tremendous libel against God, than the Atheist, who, standing in the midst of ten thousand overwhelming demonstrations of His existence, yet impiously declares there is no God!

But how rich and palpable are the Scripture proofs- rather
say, revelations and unfoldings of God's holiness! One or two must suffice. That is a sublime and conclusive one uttered by the lips of the veiled cherubim- "And one cried unto another, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke." Was there no other Divine perfection which they might have thus extolled? O yes! Jehovah was infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely good; but HOLINESS was the greatest and grandest of all, and so they cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" thus breathing forth their adoration to the Holy, Triune God.

Again, "Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David." Why did not God swear by His veracity, by His wisdom, or by His power? Because He was about to enunciate a great truth to the house of David; and with a view of imparting to that truth its greatest force, solemnity, and beauty, He swears by His holiness. As if He did say, "holiness is my illustrious perfection, my grandest attribute, and by it I swear that I will make good my word, that I will not lie unto David." For as 'men verily swear by the greater,' so God swears by His holiness, His greatest perfection, and highest glory. O you saints of the Most High, who, standing in the region of doubt, and enshrouded by dark providences, are led to ask, "Will God make good the promise upon which He has caused my soul to rest?"- look at this great truth- God has sworn by His holiness that He will not lie; and you have the warrant and the encouragement to trust in God, to confide in His word, and to resign yourself and all your interests into His fatherly, faithful, though chastening hands. By this solemn oath He has bound Himself to make good to the letter His every precious promise.

Take yet another view of this subject. Holiness is the image which God transfers from Himself to the renewed creature. God, in regeneration, draws upon the soul of man His own moral portrait. And what is the image of Himself which He thus transfers, glorious and imperishable, to the renewed mind? Is it His wisdom? No! Is it His truth? No! Is it His love? No! It is His holiness! As if He would say, "I will draw my image upon the renewed man, and it shall be that which is my glory, my beauty, my grandest perfection; and in making the creature holy, I will make him like myself." How strikingly has the Holy Spirit brought out this truth: "And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,"- a truth worthy of our profoundest study. In nothing does the renewed soul so closely resemble God as in holiness. May the Lord the Spirit write this truth deeply upon our heart!

But how has God manifested His holiness? He has not only revealed the fact in His word, but He has exhibited the perfection in various ways. Its most palpable, awful, and august demonstration is in the cross of His Son Jesus Christ. Behold the redemption which He has wrought; contemplate this the most stupendous of God's works, and where will you find such a demonstration of God's holiness as that which the cross of the incarnate God exhibits? Not all the vials of judgment that have ever been poured, or that ever will be poured out- not the flaming furnace in the conscience of the ungodly- not the irretrievable vengeance of God against the angels who kept not their first estate- not all the woe and suffering of the condemned in hell, convey any adequate idea of the holiness of God compared with the death of His own beloved Son. There hung the holy, spotless Lamb of God! He had never sinned; there had never been the slightest hostility of his will to his Father's; He had never harbored one treason thought against Jehovah, but had "always done those things which pleased him." Yet we behold Him exhausting the cup of Divine wrath, His human soul scathed by the lightning stroke of Divine justice, and His sinless body bruised, and wounded, and slain.

And what do we learn from the spectacle, but that God was so righteous, so holy, He could not pass by the iniquity of the Church, but as He punished it with the utmost severity in the person of its Surety? And what was the perfection of God, the contemplation of which in the hour of His agony upheld him? In prophetic language He tells us, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but you hear not; and in the night season, and am not silent: but you are holy." This was the truth which gave His agitated soul rest beneath its overwhelming pressure. He saw God so holy in His withdrawment, so holy in the billows which went over His soul, so holy in taking vengeance for His people's sins, that He bowed His head in meek acquiescence to the Divine will: "but you are holy."

Hell is full of the Divine holiness; holiness in the manifestation of justice, holiness in its most glorious exercise. How fearfully are the lost now learning this truth! Think it not a trifling matter, unconverted reader, to look into the bottomless pit, and to know that there is but a step and you are there! You walk to the end of the treacherous plank, and you are gone! O solemn thought- but one step between you and the quenchless flame; but one step between you and endless torment! Throughout eternity the lost soul will be testifying to this truth- "God is holy; I was a sinner; I rejected His salvation, I turned my back upon His gospel, I despised His Son, I hated Himself, I lived in my sins, I loved my sins, I died in my sins, and now I am lost- to all eternity lost! And God is righteous in my condemnation.

But a more pleasing contemplation of the subject awaits us- the sense in which all true believers in Jesus are partakers of the Divine holiness. There is a holiness in God, let it be premised, that cannot be communicated to any creature. We allude to His essential holiness. It is utterly impossible that any creature can be a partaker of this. But there is a Divine holiness in which His saints, His holy ones, share- a holiness that is communicable. The creature was originally holy. He lost it by his union with the first Adam, he recovers it by his union with the second Adam: "That you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." Couple this passage with another- "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the Divine nature." Thus, in the regeneration of the soul, we become partakers not of the Divine immutability, nor of the Divine wisdom, nor of the Divine power, but of the Divine holiness. We are "renewed in the spirit of our minds," are born again of the Holy Spirit, and have the germ of imperishable holiness implanted in the soul.

The ingrafting of the truth in the heart also assimilates the believer to the Divine holiness. The truth of God must be from its source and in its nature holy. The abuse or the perversion of any single truth does not and cannot affect the pure character and sanctifying tendency of that truth. Truth may be denied, tortured, and forced to the martyr's stake- it still remains, Divine, holy, and immortal- God's great instrument of sanctifying His chosen: "Sanctify them through your truth." To be a partaker of God's truth is to be a partaker of God's holiness.

Nor must we omit the indwelling of the "Spirit of holiness" in the believer. In this view he becomes in a high and solemn sense a "partaker of the Divine holiness." His body is a "temple of the Holy Spirit!" Surely no angel in heaven is such a partaker of God's holiness as he. He bears about with him- solemn thought!- the in-being grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, the third person in the ever-blessed Trinity! Surely there must be in Him a Divine nature, a holy principle, approximating to, and assimilating with, the Divine holiness.

Having thus rapidly traversed this important ground, we are better prepared to consider our main topic- THE PROMOTION OF THE BELIEVER'S HOLINESS THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF DIVINE CHASTISEMENT. "He for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." It would be incorrect to suppose that the chastisements of our heavenly Father were in themselves pleasant and desirable. They are no more so than the physician's therapy, or the surgeon's lancet. But as in the one case, so in the other, we look beyond the medicine to its therapeutic qualities; we forget the bitterness of the medication in its remedial results. Thus with the medicine of the soul- the afflictions sent and sanctified by God. Forgetting the bitter and the pain of God's dealings, the only question of moment is, what is the cause, and what the design of my Father in this cause? The answer is- our deeper sanctification.

This is effected, first, by making us more thoroughly acquainted with the holiness of God Himself. Sanctified chastisement has an especial tendency to this. To suppose a case. Our sense of God's holiness, previously to this dispensation, was essentially defective, unsound, superficial, and uninfluential. The judgment admitted the truth; we could speak of it to others, and in prayer acknowledged it to God; but still there was a vagueness and an indistinctness in our conceptions of it, which left the heart cold and rendered the walk uneven. To be led now into the actual, heartfelt experience of the truth, that in all our transactions we had to deal with the holy, heart-searching Lord God, we find quite another and an advanced stage in our journey, another and a deeper lesson learned in our school. This was the truth, and in this way Nehemiah was taught. "Howbeit you are just (holy) in all that is brought upon us; for you have done right, but we have done wickedly." O blessed acknowledgment! Think not that we speak unfeelingly when we say, it were worth all the discipline you have ever passed through to have become more deeply schooled in the lesson of God's holiness.

One most fruitful cause of all our declensions from the Lord, will be found wrapped up in the crude and superficial views which we entertain of the character of God, as a God of infinite purity. And this truth He will have His people to study and to learn, not by sermons, nor from books, not from hearsay, nor from theory, but in the school of loving chastisement- personally and experimentally. And thus, beholding more closely, and through a clearer medium, this Divine perfection, the believer is changed more perfectly into the same moral image. "He for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness."

The 'rod of the covenant' has a wonderful power of discovery. Thus, by revealing to us the concealed evil of our natures, we become more holy. "The blueness (that is, the severity) of a wound cleanses away evil." This painful discovery often recalls to memory past feelings and sins. David went many years in oblivion of his departure from God, until Nathan was sent, who, while he told him of his sin, with the same breath announced the message of Divine forgiveness. Then it was the royal penitent kneeled down and poured forth from the depth of his anguished spirit the fifty-first Psalm- a portion of God's word which you cannot too frequently study. "I do remember my sin this day," is the exclamation of the chastened sufferer. Thus led to search into the cause of the Divine correction, and discovering it- perhaps after a long season of forgetfulness- the 'blueness of the wound'- the severity of the rod- 'cleanses away the evil;' in other words, more deeply sanctifies the soul. "Show me why you contend with me."

Submission to the Divine will is a great advance in holiness; and this is mainly and effectually attained through sanctified chastisement. In prosperity, how full are we of self-sufficiency! When the Lord asks our obedience, we give Him our counsel. But when He sends the rod, and by the accompanying grace of His Spirit sanctifies its stroke, we learn in what true obedience consists. It was in this school our blessed Lord Himself was taught. "Though He was a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." He learned to obey in suffering; to bring His will in suffering into complete submission to His Father's will. God has not in His family such obedient children as those who, 'passing under the rod,' are 'brought into the bond of the covenant.' Oh what a high Christian attainment is submission to the will of God! It is the noblest grace attainable upon earth!

When our Lord taught His disciples to ask to the Father for the spread of holiness, He embodied the petition in these words, "Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." The universal and complete holiness of heaven springs from the universal and complete perfection in which the will of God is done by angels and glorified spirits. In proportion as the Divine will prevails upon earth, holiness will reign. And oh what a beauteous earth, and what a blissful world would this be, were the will of God done by every creature! In the new earth, in which will dwell righteousness, it will be so. The original harmony of this fallen universe will then be restored, its pristine beauty recovered, and God, in the person of His Son, will once more reign over, and walk in the midst of, a people whose will shall be but the reflection of His own.

Then to approximate to the Divine will, is to assimilate with the Divine holiness. What God will, how God will, and when God will, defines the rule which should govern all the conduct and limit all the desires of the child of God. The instant the overwhelmed heart is brought into this state, the afflicted believer has planted his feet upon the rock that is higher than he. All is peace, all is composure, because all is submission to the will of God. "The Lord reigns" is the truth whose all-commanding yet gentle whisper has stilled the tempest, and calmed the waves. In its intense anxiety that the Divine will might be done, the chastened soul is but breathing after deeper holiness; and every fervent desire for the attainment of holiness, is holiness already attained. Blessed chastening of love, that produces in this bitter and uncongenial world, the buds and blossoms and fruits of heaven! A richer fruit grows not within the Paradise of God than HOLINESS. And yet, in the experience of a chastened believer, bleeding under the rod of his heavenly Father, there may be obtained such victories over sin, such purification of heart, such meekness of spirit, such Christ-like conformity, and such a discipline of the will, as to make him a rich "partaker of the Divine holiness."

But how shall we enumerate all the blessings which result from the chastening of love? We might tell how prayer is quickened, how pride is abased, how weanedness is attained, how charity is increased, how character is formed, how meditation and solitude are sweetened, how Christ is endeared, and how God is glorified. It will be recollected that in the ark of the covenant there was "Aaron's rod that budded." Our glorious covenant of grace has, too, its rod, its budding, its blossoming rod- and precious is the nature and rich the variety of the fruit which it bears. But in that ancient ark there was also the "pot of manna." "Mercy and judgment," bitter and sweet, light and shade, are blended in the covenant-dealings of God with His people. The rod and the pot of manna go together. If the one is bitter, the other is sweet. God will never send the rod unaccompanied with the manna. Jesus exhibited in the word, but unfolded by the Spirit, in the sweet sympathy of His nature, in the tenderness of His heart, as the "Brother born for adversity," is the manna, raising, sustaining, and strengthening the believer passing under the covenant rod of God. Thus, if afflictions be grievous, the fruit they bear is gracious.

In the history of the Jewish Church there is yet another type beautifully illustrative of God's dealings with the chastened Christian. I allude to the 'pillar' which guided the pilgrimage of the Church in the wilderness. By night it was a pillar of fire, and by day it was a pillar of cloud. The darkest night of weeping that can possibly enshroud the child of God, has its bright light- its alleviation, its promise, its guiding. And in the most prosperous period in the Christian's experience it is ordered by unerring wisdom and infinite love that there should be some counter-dispensation of trial to preserve the just balance of the soul. It has been well remarked that "Things never go so well with God's children, but they have still something to groan under; nor so bad, but they have still some comfort to be thankful for."

There are two portions of God's word so confirmatory of the leading principles laid down in this chapter, which, although probably familiar to the Christian reader, I would venture once more to recall to his attention. The passages to which I refer set forth the great truth before us- holiness, the fruit of Divine chastisement. "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." "Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the refiner." Mark the great and glorious end of this fiery process- a righteous offering to the Lord; and a vessel formed, prepared, and beautified for the Refiner; a "vessel unto honor, fit for the Master's use." Blessed result! O the wonders wrought by the fire of God's furnace! Not only is 'God glorified in the fire,' but the believer is sanctified.

Have you ever observed the process of the sculptor in the preparation of his beautiful ornament? After removing it from its mold, skillfully and beautifully formed, he then traces upon it the design he intended it should bear, dipping his brush in varied hues of the brightest coloring. But the work is not yet finished. The shape of that ornament is yet to be fixed, the figures are to be set, the colors perpetuated, and the whole work consolidated. By what process? By passing it through the fire. The fire alone completes the work. Thus is it with the chastened soul- that beautifully constructed vessel, which is to adorn the palace of our King through eternity- the gaze, and wonder, and delight of every holy intelligence. God has cast it into the Divine mold, has drawn upon it the 'image of His Son,' with a brush dipped in heaven's own colors- but it must pass through the furnace of affliction, thus to stamp completeness and eternity upon the whole. Calmly, then, repose in the hands of your Divine Sculptor, asking not the extinguishment of a spark until the holy work is done. God may temper and soften- for He never withdraws His eye from the work for one moment; but great will be your loss if you lose the affliction unsanctified!

"We need not ask for suffering: when its test
Comes, we may prove too faithless to endure
We need not ask for suffering- it were best
We wait God's holy orderings, to insure
Our highest good. But we may ask from Him
That not one throb of grief, one dart of pain,
One burning pang of anguish, pierce in vain
This feeble being, in its faith so dim,
This fainting frame, or this over-burdened heart
We may implore Him He would grace impart,
And strength, to suffer still as the beloved
Of His own bosom. For, of all below,
The one affliction in this world of woe,
Most sad- is an affliction unimproved."

Oh! could we with a clearer vision of faith but see the reason and the design of God in sending the chastisement, all marvel would cease, all murmuring would be hushed, and not a painful dispensation of our Father would afford us needless trouble. David's pen never wrote more sweetly than when dipped in the ink of affliction; and never did his harp send forth deeper, richer melody than when the breath of sadness swept its strings. This has been the uniform testimony of the saints of God in every age. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; for before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept your law."

Learn to see a Father's hand, yes, a Father's heart, in every affliction. It is not a vindictive enemy who has chastened you, but a loving Friend; not an unfeeling stranger, but a tender Father, who, though He may cast you down in the dust, will never cast you off from His love. The Captain of your salvation- Himself made perfect through suffering- only designs your higher spiritual promotion in His army, by each sanctified affliction sent. You are on your way to the mansion prepared for you by the Savior, to the kingdom bestowed upon you by God. The journey is short, and time is fleeting; what though the cross is heavy and the path is rough- you have not far nor long to carry it. Let the deep-drawn sigh be checked by the throb of gladness which this prospect should create. "He will not always chide, nor remain angry forever." The wind will not always moan, nor the waters be always tempestuous; the dull vapor will not forever float along the sky, nor the sunbeams be forever wreathed in darkness. Your Father's love will not always speak in muffled tones, nor your Savior hide Himself forever behind the wall, or within the lattice. That wind will yet breathe music; those waters will yet be still; that vapor will yet evaporate; that sun will yet break forth; your Father's love will speak again in unmuffled strains, and your Savior will manifest Himself without a veil.

Pensive child of sorrow! weary pilgrim of grief! timid, yet prayerful; doubting, yet hoping; guilty, yet penitent; laying your hand on the head of the great appointed Sacrifice, you look up with a tear, confess your sin, and plead in faith the blood of sprinkling. O rejoice that this painful travail of soul is but the Spirit's preparation for the seat awaiting you in the upper temple, where the days of your mourning will be ended. You may carry the cross to the last step of the journey- your tear, even up to heaven's gate- but there you shall lay that cross down, and the last bitter drop shall there be wiped away forever! "Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all those who wait for him." Truly we may exclaim, "Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach him from your law!" "He chastens us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness."

"Lord unto You I lift a troubled heart,
A tearful eye;
But if Your hand has sent the sting, the smart,
If You be near,
Near, though unseen- upon my knees I'll pray,
Dry not those tears- take not that sting away."
"Clothe me with sackcloth, mingle my food
With ashes-still
I'll bless the hand that is 'educing good
From seeming ill'
Should I thus walk in darkness if my sight,
Could bear undazzled more of Heaven's own light?"
"Not until the molten gold be purified
Do you ease the flame;
Give me but grace Your will to abide.
To see Your aim,
To know that You are with me in the fire,
I need no more, and nothing else desire."