Uses of Chastisement
By James W. Alexander
It is only in the Word of God, that we learn to consider affliction as a blessing. The utmost which the most refined philosophy can effect, is to remove our sorrows, by that which is imaginary — to divert the attention from the cause of distress — or to produce a sullen and stoic resignation, more like despair than hope.
The religion of the gospel grapples with the evil itself, overcomes it, and transforms it into a blessing! It is by no means included in the promises made to true Christians — that they shall be exempt from suffering. On the contrary, chastisement forms a necessary part of that paternal discipline by which our heavenly Father fits his children for their eternal rest and glory. The Psalmist asserts the blessedness of the man who is chastened by the Lord, with this qualification as necessary to constitute it a blessing — that he is also instructed in divine truth. "Happy are those you discipline, Lord — those you teach with your instructions." Psalm 94:12. By this, we understand that the influence of chastisement is not physical; that mere suffering has no inherent efficacy; but that the afflictions of this life are, in the hand of God, instrumental in impressing divine truth upon the heart, awakening the attention of the believer to the consideration of his own character and situation, the promise of the gospel, and the rewards of heaven.
The child of God is assured that all things work together for his good; in this is plainly included the pledge, that chastisements and afflictions shall eventually prove a blessing; and this is verified by the experience of the whole church.
Times of affliction afford some natural facilities for cultivating repentance. Occasions of sin are then removed; the world is excluded. The man confined to the silence of the sick-room, or the house of mourning, cannot, by idle pursuits, divert his mind. He is forced to think; and to think of his sins. He considers his ways, bewails his transgressions, and renews his covenant. He learns to confess, "Surely it is fit to be said unto God: I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again." Job 34:31-32.
Now, in these experiences of the afflicted, there is a real consolation. Such tears are sweet, and it will probably be the unanimous testimony of all true penitents, that they have enjoyed a tender and refined delight in those moments of grief in which they came to God as a forgiving God, and heard Him say to their souls, in accents at once of gentle rebuke and comfort: "See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction!" "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will take you back. In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while. But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you — says the Lord, your Redeemer!"
The apostle Peter, in comforting the dispersed saints, explains to them this end of their chastisement, "If need be, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
There is no expression in the Word of God better suited to reconcile the Christian to trials, than that of the Apostle: "God chastens us for our profit — that we may be partakers of His holiness!" What words are these! This is the very summit of your desires. This you have been toiling for, and longing after. This you have earnestly implored — and are you now ready to shrink from the very means by which your Father in heaven is about to promote your sanctification? Will you be led to relinquish this appointment of God for your good. No, it is by these very trials — that your graces are to be invigorated.
The most valuable truths of the Christian are, "the exceeding great and precious promises." He does not feel the need of these promises — while he is indulging in that self-pleasing which usually accompanies prosperity. In penning these lines, it is said advisedly — that no man can fully value health, who has not been sick; nor appreciate the services of the kind and skillful physician, until he has been healed by him. And thus also, no man can fully prize or fully understand the promises of the Scriptures — until they are made necessary to his support in adversity.
Many of the most precious portions of revelation are altogether a dead letter to such, as have never been exercised by the trials to which they relate. The believer who is in sufferings or straits of any kind, comes to God by prayer; and in attempting to pray, seeks some promise suitable to his precise needs. Blessed be God! he needs not to search long — so rich are the treasures of the Word. These promises he takes are the very truth of God, He pleads them at the throne of grace; he believes them, relies on them, rejoices in them. If you taste of the sweetness of his promises — then each of you shall say with David: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted!"
It is common to hear those who are ignorant of the Scriptures caviling at the representation of Job as a man of eminent patience. We see Job suffering in one day — the total loss of immense wealth, and of ten beloved children, and still saying, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."
It was, no doubt, a visitation as sudden and alarming as a stroke of lightning, when Aaron beheld his sons consumed by fire from the Lord. It was an awful sanction to that rule, "Among those who approach me — I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored." Yet on seeing and hearing these things, the bereaved father, "held his peace," Lev. 10:3. It is a bitter medicine, but the soul which is convinced of God's justice and goodness, lays down every thought of rebellion and discontent.
This is the temper which sanctified affliction always begets, so that the prostrate soul dares no longer to impose terms on Jehovah, but yields itself to his sovereign discretion. There is peace in such a surrender, a peace which is altogether independent of any expected mitigation of the stroke. Wave after wave often goes over the child of God, before he is brought to this state of self-renunciation. Murmuring may for a time prevail, yet the Great Physician, who applies the painful remedy, cannot be baffled, and triumphs to his own glory, and the unspeakable benefit of the believer's soul.
Chastisement is useful, because it leads the believer to look for complete happiness in heaven only. He is the happy man who dwells most on the thoughts of heaven. Like Enoch — he walks with God. Like Job, he can say, "I know that my Redeemer lives," etc. Like David, he glories, "You will show me your salvation!" Like Paul, he triumphs, "For I am now ready to be offered," etc.
In every case of suffering, it is the prime wisdom of the Christian to fix his eyes upon the heavenly crown. In every other hope you may be disappointed, in this you cannot. Try as you may all other fountains for your solace, there is a time coming when you must be driven to this. Become familiar with meditation on heavenly glory! Daily contemplate that joyful deliverance from evil, that indissoluble and ecstatic union with the Lord Jesus Christ! Then, when death lays upon you his cold hand, you can say, "I am prepared for this hour. I have longed for this deliverance to meet my Lord in His house. I have lived in communion with the blessed Lord of heaven." "Lo, this is my God, I have waited for Him, and He will save me; this is the Lord, I have waited for Him; I will rejoice and be glad in His salvation."