Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
It is of greatest importance that we understand the way that the Lord deals with us when He chastens us. If we do not understand this there is a great danger that the evil one will lead us to discouragement and despair. Particularly at times in our life when we are experiencing great difficulty and trials, he will tempt us to deny the truth of God’s Word and to forsake the Lord. It has even happened in the lives of Gods people that failure to understand Gods way of chastisement has led them far from the Lord for a time in their lives, and caused them to become bitter with the Lords ways until God in His great mercy brought them back. I have seen this as a pastor.
It is of great interest and spiritual profit for all of us to examine what the Bible has to say on this subject. Even a cursory study of the Scriptures will indicate how often the subject of divine chastisement is dealt with. Both the Old and the New Testaments speak of it repeatedly. The most extensive treatment of this subject is found in Hebrews chapter 12. God has preserved in the Scriptures great examples of His saints who endured the Lord’s chastening hand in their lives, and of the great spiritual benefit and blessing they received from the Lord.
This is in a sense a very solemn and serious subject. Few in our superficial age, when it is imagined that the Christian life is to be only ease and luxury and joy and pleasure, ever contemplate the teaching of the Lord about chastisement. Some will dismiss the whole subject as too serious and unnecessary to consider at length. But we dare to say that this subject is going to become very important to every child of God at some time in his life. We want to spend some time writing on this subject in the next couple of articles in this rubric of the Standard Bearer.
The Bible clearly teaches that every child of God will at times in his life be chastened of the Lord. In fact the Word of God states very strongly that if we are without chastisement, then we are not sons of God at all but bastards (Heb. 12:8). Every true child of God needs at times to be chastened. When we rightly understand the chastening of the Lord in our lives, then we are truly the children of God.
Let us begin by saying something about the meaning of the word “chastisement.” Literally this word means to deal with as children. The Greek word used here comes from the same root as the word used in the Greek for children. It is a word that is used to describe the whole of the training, instruction, and upbringing of a child. It includes the admonition, correction, and discipline of children. The word used here can be applied to all that is done for a child to bring him to maturity.
Implied in the word as it is used in the Scriptures therefore is the great truth that we are the children of God. Not all in the world are children of God. It is the unique and high privilege of God’s people to be called the children of God. By nature we are the children of wrath. We are children of God through the action of Gods great love and grace in His Son Jesus Christ. We are children of God by the wonder of adoption through the blood of Jesus Christ. God made us spiritually His children through the work of regeneration in our hearts. The Lord molds and forms us as His children through the process of sanctification. When God chastens us He deals with us as His dear children. Chastisement is an important aspect of God’s work of sanctification. All those who truly believe are the children of God. God gives His children the faith to believe in Him. He tries the faith of His children often through chastisement. When Job understood this in his life he had the hope that he would come forth from the chastening process as gold tried by fire to the praise and glory of God.
When the word chastisement is used in Scripture it usually refers especially to the difficulties and trials through which the Lord leads us during our life on earth. It describes the dealing of the Lord with us during fiery trials and stormy troubles. He may chasten us by suddenly taking away from us something very dear and precious. He may chasten us by sending us a prolonged grievous illness. God chastened Job. In one day He took away all his riches and all his children. God may sometimes chasten us by taking one of our dear children from our bosoms. Maybe He chastens us by taking out of this life a dear, godly husband or wife with whom we have lived for many years in the covenant of marriage and leaves us alone in the world. The Lord may sometimes chasten us with a sickness that we have to live with for a long time and that is so awful that no doctor on earth can cure us. He may chasten us so severely that we finally die from such a disease. The Lord may chasten us by sending trouble and disappointment in our life. Maybe He will lead us in the way of failing in our attempt to attain to some great goal that we had set for ourselves. Sometimes the Lord chastens us by financial hardship and loss, so that we have really to struggle to make ends meet, and maybe even have to go hungry sometimes.
For many of us, that might be hard to imagine, but there are always saints of God on the earth somewhere who are chastened in such a manner. The Lord sometimes chastens His saints through the persecution and hatred of the world. The Hebrew Christians whom the inspired writer of the, epistle to the Hebrews addressed were experiencing such chastisement. The Lord can sometimes use even the devil to trouble us, and by that same affliction He chastises us. The classic example of that is of course the whole story of Job. The Lord dealt also with David in such a manner in connection with the numbering of Israel. And we are told that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a “messenger of Satan to buffet him.” Chastisement can sometimes be so severe that we groan in agony. The chastisement of the Lord can even last the whole of our life on earth. In many cases the Lord chastises elderly saints more severely than He does youthful ones. He sometimes sends one affliction after the other and gives sorrow upon sorrow. Sometimes the Lord chastens by withdrawing the consciousness of His favor and lovingkindness so that the Christian gropes in darkness and despair and cries out to God. Sometimes in our Christian life we are afflicted by doubts and fears that are part of God’s chastisement.
It is impossible to understand God’s way of chastisement unless we know and believe the greatest truth of all the Bible, the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty. God rules over heaven and earth in His goodness and wisdom. He rules not only over the mighty events of history but also over all the circumstances of our personal life. He blesses us with health and strength, with the vigor and beauty of youth, and also rules over the days of our decline and all the infirmities that come along with this. He often uses the circumstances of our life, which are all completely under His control, to chasten us.
Chastisement is an act of Gods love for His children. When He chastens His children He never does so out of cruelty or vindictiveness on account of their sins. God loves us with the tender love of a Father and is compassionate to us in all of our afflictions and trials. He knows what is necessary for our salvation. He does not afflict us without a cause or because- He delights in seeing His beloved children suffering. He always seeks the end of our salvation for the glory of His own name. He deals with us only in perfect love and wisdom.
There is a constant refrain found throughout Scripture. In at least five books of the Bible the same phrase appears: “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” It is very important that we fully understand and believe this. For if we do not understand this we will inevitably become discouraged under the chastening hand of the Lord, and in times of severe chastisement become bitter against the Lord. If we do not fully understand this, we will imagine that God is cruel and harsh with us. We will imagine that we do not deserve what He sends us in life and will begin to murmur and complain against Him. This all comes from a wrong understanding of the chastening of the Lord. The Lord chastens only in His great and tender love and affection. His love for us in Christ Jesus is absolutely sovereign and unchangeable. It will never fail. Nothing in this life or in the life to come can ever separate us from the love of God. We must steadfastly believe this by faith in order to endure the chastening of the Lord.
There is a very great difference between the punishment and the chastisement of the Lord. The Lord in holy wrath punishes the wicked. The Bible says that He is angry with the wicked every day. He curses them in all their doings. When He sends them affliction it is in His wrath and displeasure against their sins. Even when the Lord sends prosperity to the wicked He sets them upon slippery places to cast them down to destruction (Ps. 73). God punishes the wicked in order finally to destroy them in hell. Our Lord Jesus Christ, however, has borne away all the punishment of the sins of His people through His death on the cross. God will not punish us a second time for our sins. We must never imagine that when the Lord is chastening us He is actually punishing us for our sins. If we do that, we deny the cross of Christ. Truly there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. God does not chasten us to punish us for our sins.
The Lord may chasten us in connection with certain specific sins in our life, as we shall consider later, but. He will not punish us for those sins. The difference is very important to understand. God chastens His children who are first of all made righteous at the cross of Jesus Christ. God chastens His children in love and always for their good and salvation. If we understand this rightly we will not carelessly go to the Lord in prayer and insist that He always remove every trial and hardship from the pathway of our life. Rather we will pray that the Lord will give us grace that we might be able to endure His chastening hand and that every chastisement He sends us will be for our good and salvation, (But who prays such a prayer today?) The Lord has prepared a particular place in glory for each of His saints in Christ Jesus. Through chastisement He prepares us for that place which is reserved in heaven for us.
There are two more things we want to consider in our next article. We want to examine carefully God’s purpose in chastisement. And finally we want to say something about how we as the children of God must endure the chastisement of the Lord.