By F.B. Meyer
Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." (HEBREWS 12.6).
It is hardly possible to suppose that any will read these lines who have not drunk of the bitter cup of affliction. Some may have even endured a great fight of afflictions. Squadron after squadron has been drawn up in array, and broken its regiments on the devoted soul.
It has come to us in different forms, but in one form or another it has come to us all. Perhaps our physical strength and health have been weakened in the way, or we have been racked with unutterable anguish in mind or body; or have been obliged to see our beloved slowly slipping from the grasp of our affection, which was condemned to stand paralysed and helpless by.
In some cases, affliction has come to us in the earning of our daily bread, which has been procured with difficulty and pain, whilst care has never been long absent from our hearts, or want from our homes. In others, homes which were as full of merry voices as the woods in spring of sweet-voiced choristers are empty and silent. Ah, how infinite are the shades of grief! How extended the gamut of pain! How many can cry with the Psalmist, "All Your waves and Your billows are gone over me!
We can see clearly the reason of all this suffering. The course of nature is out of joint. Man's sin has put not himself only, but the whole course of nature into collision with the will and law of God, so that it groans and travails in its pains. Selfishness has also alienated man from his fellows, inciting him to amass all that he can lay hands on for himself, oblivious to the bitter sufferings of those around him, and careless of their woes. Whilst behind the whole course of nature there is the incessant activity of malignant spirits, who, as in the case of Job, may be plotting against us, revelling in any mischief, which, for some great reasons, they are permitted to work to our hurt.
There are different ways in which affliction may be borne. Some despise it (verse 5). They refuse to acknowledge any reason in themselves for its infliction. They reject the lesson it was designed to teach. They harden themselves in stoical indifference, resolving to bear it with defiant and desperate courage.
Some faint under it (verse 5). They become despondent and dispirited, or lose heart and hope. Like Pliable, they are soon daunted, and get out of the Slough of Despond with as little cost as possible to themselves, or, like Timorous and Mistrust, turn back from the lion's roar.
We ought to be in subjection, lifting the cup meekly and submissively to our lips, calmly and trustfully saying "Amen" to every billow and wave, lovingly trying to learn the lesson written on the page of trial, and bowing ourselves as the reeds of the river's edge to the sweeping hurricane of trial.
But this, though the only true and safe course, is by no means an easy one. Subjection in affliction is only possible when we can see in it the hand of the Father of spirits (verse 9).
So long as we look at the second causes, at men or things, as being the origin and source of our sorrows, we shall be filled alternately with burning indignation and hopeless grief. But when we come to understand that nothing can happen to us except as our Father permits, and that, though our trials may originate in some lower source, yet they become God's will for us as soon as they are permitted to reach us through the defence of His environing presence, then we smile through our tears, we kiss the dear hand that uses another as its rod, we realise that each moment's pain originates in our Father's heart, and we are at rest.
Judas may seem to mix the cup, and put it to our lips, but it is nevertheless the cup which our Father gives us to drink, and shall we not drink it? Much of the anguish passes away from life's trials as soon as we discern our Father's hand. Then affliction becomes chastisement. There is a great difference between these two.
Affliction may come from a malignant and unfriendly source, chastisement is the work of the Father, yearning over His little children, desiring to eliminate from their characters all that is unlovely and unholy, and to secure in them entire conformity to His character and will.
But, before you can appropriate the comfort of these words, let me earnestly ask you, my reader, whether you are a child? None are children in the sense of which we are speaking now, save those who have been born into the divine family by regeneration, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Of this birth, faith is the sure sign and token, for it is written: "Those that believe on his name are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
Are you a child? Does the Spirit witness with your spirit that you are born of God? Can you look up into his face and cry, "Abba, Father"? If so, you are surrounded by your Father's tender, loving care. Nothing can reach you without passing through the cordon of His protection.
If, therefore, affliction does lay its rough hand upon your arm, arresting you, then be sure that it must first have obtained permission from One Who loves you infinitely, and Who is willing to expose both you and Himself to pain because of the vast profit on which He has set His heart.
All chastisement has a Purpose. There is nothing so absolutely crushing in sorrow as to feel one's self drifting at the mercy of some chance wave, sweeping forward to an unknown shore. But a great calm settles down upon us when we realise that life is a schoolhouse, in which we are being taught by our Father Himself, Who sets our lessons as He sees we require them.
The drill-sergeant has a purpose in every exercise, the professor of music an object in every scale, the farmer an end in every method of husbandry. "He does not thresh fitches with a sharp threshing instrument, neither is a cartwheel turned about upon cummin, but the fitches He permits us to feel. There is nothing fortuitous or empirical or capricious in His dealings with his own.
The purposes which chastisement subserves are very various. Of course we know that the penalty of our sins has been laid on the head of our great Substitute, and that, therefore, we are forever relieved from their penal consequences. But though that is so, yet often chastisement follows on our wrongdoing. Not that we expiate the wrongdoing by suffering, but that we may be compelled to regard it in its true light.
Amid the pain we suffer we are compelled to review our past. The carelessness, the unwatchfulness, the prayerlessness which have been working within us pass slowly before our minds. We see where we had been going astray for long months or years. We discover how deeply and incessantly we had been grieving God's Holy Spirit. We find that an alienation had been widening the breach between God and our souls, which, if it had proceeded further, must have involved moral ruin. Perhaps we never see our true character until the light dies off the landscape, and the clouds overcast the sky, and the wind rises moaningly about the house of our life.
Times of affliction lead to heart-searchings, and we become increasingly aware of sins of which we had hardly thought at all. And even though the offence may be confessed and put away, so long as affliction lasts there is a subdued temper of heart and mind, which is most favourable to religious growth.
We cannot forget our sin so long as the stroke of the Almighty lies on our soul, and we are compelled to maintain a habit of holy watchfulness against its recurrence.
It is also in affliction that we learn that fellowship with the sufferings of Christ and that sympathy for others which are so lovely in true Christians.
That is not the loftiest type of character which, like the Chinese pictures, has no background of shadow. Even Christ could only learn obedience by the things that He suffered, or become a perfect High-Priest by the ordeal of temptation. And how little can we enter into the inner depths of His soul, unless we tread the shadowed paths, or lie prostrate in the secluded glades of Gethsemane! We who attempt to assuage the griefs of mankind must ourselves be acquainted with grief, and become men of sorrows.
Be sure, then, that not one moment's pain is given you to bear that could have been dispensed with. Each has been the subject of divine consideration before permitted to come, and each will be removed directly its needed mission is fulfilled.
Special discipline is evidence of special love (verse 6). It costs us much less to fling our superfluities on those we love than to cause them pain. Indulgence is a sign not of intense but of slender love. The heart that really and wisely loves will bear the pain of causing pain, will incur the risk of being misjudged, will not flinch from misrepresentation and reproach, from all of which a less affection would warily shrink.
It is because our Father loves us that He chastens us. He would not take so much trouble over us if we were not dear to His heart. It is because we are sons that He sets Himself to scourge us. But oh, how much He suffers as He wields that scourge of small cords! Yet, hail each blow; for each sting and smart cries to you that you are being received into the inner circle of love.
When suppliants for His healing help came to our Lord, for the most part He hastened to their side. But on one occasion He lingered yet two days in the place where He was. He dared to face the suspicion of neglect and the loving impeachment of bereaved love, because He loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. He loved them too much to be satisfied with doing small things for them, or revealing only fragments of His great glory. He longed to enrich them with his precious revelation of resurrection life.
But His end could only be reached at the cost of untold sorrow, even to death. Lazarus must die, and lie for two days in the grave, before His mightiest miracle could be wrought. And so he let the thundercloud break on the home He loved, that He might be able to flash on it light which broke into a rainbow of prismatic glory.
If you are signally visited with suffering, such as you cannot connect with persistence in carelessness or neglect, then take it that you are one of Heaven's favourites. It is not, as men think, the child of fortune and earthly grace, dowered with gifts in prodigal profusion, who is best beloved of God, but oftenest the child of poverty and pain and misfortune and heartbreak. "If you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then you are bastards and not sons." Oh, you who escape the rod, begin seriously to ask whether indeed you are born again!
Pain is fraught with precious results. (verses 10-11). " Not joyous but grievous: nevertheless afterward." How full of meaning is the "afterward." Who shall estimate the hundredfold of blessing from each moment of pain?
The Psalms are crystallised tears. The Epistles were in many cases written in prison. The greatest teachers of mankind have learned their most helpful lessons in sorrow's school. The noblest characters have been forged in a furnace. Acts which will live forever, masterpieces of art and music and literature, have originated in ages of storm and tempest and heart-rending agony. And so also is it with our earthly discipline. The ripest results are sorrow-born. "The path of sorrow, and that path alone, Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
Holiness is the product of sorrow, when sanctified by the grace of God. Not that sorrow necessarily makes us holy, because that is the prerogative of the divine Spirit, and, as a matter of fact, many sufferers are hard and complaining and unlovely. But that sorrow predisposes us to turn from the distractions of earth to receive those influences of the grace of God which are most operative where the soul is calm and still, sitting in a veiled and darkened room, whilst suffering plies body or mind. Who of us does not feel willing to suffer, if only this precious result shall accrue, that we may be "partakers of His holiness" ?
Fruit is another product (verse 11). Where, think you, does the Husbandman of souls most often see the fruit He loves so well, and hear the tones of deepest trust? Not where His gifts are most profuse, but where they are most meagre. Not within the halls of successful ambition or satiated luxury, but in cottages of poverty, and rooms dedicated to ceaseless pain. Genial almost to a miracle is the soil of sorrow. Necessary beyond all count is the pruning-knife of pain.
Count, if you will, the precious kinds of fruit. There is patience, which endures the Father's will, and trust that sees the Father's hand behind the rough disguise, and peace, that lies still, content with the Father's plan, and righteousness, that conforms itself to the Father's requirements, and love, that clings more closely than ever to the Father's heart; and gentleness,hich deals leniently with others, because of what we have learned of ourselves.
Nor is it for very long. Jesus, Who endured the cross and shame and spitting, is now set down on the right hand of the throne of God. Ere long we too shall come out of the great tribulation, to sit by His side. Every tear kissed away, every throb of anguish stayed, every memory of pain allayed by God's anodyne of bliss. The results will be ours forever.
But sorrow and sighing, which may have been our daily comrades to the gates of the celestial city, will flee away as we step across its threshold, unable to exist in that radiant glory. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain." "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." "Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees."