The Chastening of the Lord
February 21st, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-60 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The announced sermons printed in your program are going to be changed. The sermon announced for tonight I am preaching this morning, and the sermon announced for this morning I am preaching tonight. The sermon for tonight, therefore, will be entitled Stripping for the Race which is Hebrews 12:1 to 3. And the sermon that I am preaching this morning is entitled The Chastening of the Lord. The Scripture passage for it is Hebrews 12:5-13. I would also like to change the invitation hymn. The hymn for the sermon that is to be delivered this morning is 355: "Have Thine Own Way." Now the reading of the text, Hebrews 12:5-13:
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children. My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him:
For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastening, whereof all are partakers, then are ye illegitimate, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chasteneth us after their own pleasure; but God for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised thereby.
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
This was written to a little congregation that was in great trial and affliction, and the author of this letter is seeking to encourage them. And he does it in a most unusual way, and a way that I pray God shall help me reveal unto you this morning.
Affliction comes to us all. Everyone shall drink of the bitter cup. There are sorrows in childhood that are no less real because an adult might judge it to be trivial. The tears, the sobs, and the cries of little children are as real to them as the sobs and cries that come to maturity. The hurts of youth are as deeply felt. They are as real as the hurts of manhood and womanhood. The decisions that youth has to make and the trials that youth has to bear and the pains in the heart and soul are real to young people. By and by, in the providence of God, when we reach manhood and womanhood, all of us shall know the inexpressible, unutterable agony of mind and soul and in many instances the pain, racking, overwhelming, of a broken body, a diseased organ, a failing life. Affliction comes in infinite shades and variety, and how extended is the garment of pain. The psalmist in his forty-second number said, "All Thy waves and billows have passed over me" [Psalm 42:7]. When therefore this writer speaks to the little congregation about their afflictions and their sorrows, by and by, he is speaking to us all.
There are several ways that we can face affliction and sorrow; one he mentions here is some despise it. "My son, despise not thou the discipline of the Lord" [Hebrews 12:5], the chastening, the sorrows that come in life; some do despise it. They refuse to profit by the lessons it is designed to teach. They face up to affliction and sorrow and trial with stoical indifference, with a desperate courage, with a determined indifference. They are reluctant in their pride to admit that they might be profited thereby. They are like Job who contended with God in the sorrows that had overwhelmed him, and it was only when God had broken his spirit and had spoken to him heart-to-heart that Job finally said, "I had just heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now that mine eye seeth Thee; I abhor myself, and repent in dust and in ashes" [Job 42:5-6]. The obdurate soul, however stoical, however courageous, who despises the sorrows and afflictions and trials of life will never, ever profit thereby.
Then he says there are those who faint under it. "My son, despise not thou, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him." There are some who are downcast and who fall into unutterable grief and despair before the trials and the afflictions of life. He says here in his appeal, "Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" [Hebrews 12:12]. They because of their affliction were preparing to give up their faith, to renounce their religion: "There is no God that sees, nor is there any heavenly heart that cares." They were preparing to disown and disassociate themselves from any hope and any faith they had in God, their hands hanging down, their knees buckling under the discouragement and the trials that they faced; they were fainting before the disciplines of life. Then he says, "Rather, as we face it, we are to be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, that we might live" [Hebrews 12:9].
It is a heavenly Father who yearns over His children, and if we belong to the household of faith, we shall know the correction and the discipline of the Lord. Even as this author wrote in the fifth chapter of his book, and the eighth verse: "Our Lord, though a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." We are not to remonstrate against God or to be displeased with God, much less lose faith in our Lord. We are not to be rebellious, but we are to "be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live," and he says we are to look to the ultimate end of the sorrow, of the affliction, of the chastening, of the instruction, of the discipline. For God has a great purpose in it: that we might be partakers of His holiness, that we might yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness [Hebrews 12:10-11]. There is a design, a purpose that lies back of all of the trials and afflictions that come upon the children of God.
The ground may be broken, it may be mercilessly and relentlessly harrowed, the depths may be opened up and exposed to the wind, and the rain, and the cold, and frost, and the snow, but the husbandman has an ultimate purpose in breaking open the heart of the earth. For any farmer would say that as the earth is exposed to the wind and the rain and the snow, the clods are mellowed and the ground is prepared for the sowing. If you have ever watched those great, great orchards in California, after the season is passed, in preparation for the harvest yet to come, the vine is pruned back and cut back and back until you would think it could hardly exist; under such sharpness and severity of pruning it would surely die. But there is a purpose that lies back of the knife of the husbandman, and it lies in the harvest ahead. So God makes His saints in the chastisement, and the discipline, and the correction, and the trials, and the sorrows, the agonies and the disappointments of our lives: "that we might be partakers of His holiness." God has a purpose in the things that come upon us in our lives.
Now to begin my message for us: what this author is doing as he speaks to this afflicted and persecuted little church: he says that if we are children of God, if we belong to the household of faith, he says that chastening and discipline are no longer adventitious, fortuitous, purposeless. But, he says, it changes the affliction into the discipline, the chastisement of God. The thing that happens happens in the hand and in the will of God. This word here translated "chastening, the chastening of the Lord" – the Greek word for "child" is paidos, and the Greek word here in the verbal form is paideuo, which means to train the child, to instruct the child, to discipline a child, translated here "to chasten." You can see the actual meaning of the word is to correct the child, to instruct the child, to discipline the child, to bring up the child as the child ought to be brought up, translated here "to chasten." The substantive of the word is paideia, paideuo, "to correct," paideias, "correction, instruction, discipline," translated here "chastening." Now, he says that to the child of God, all of the afflictions and sorrows and trials we experience in life become the discipline of God, the chastening of God, the correction of God, under God’s hands.
For example, as Jesus faced the ordeal of His Passion, He said to the disciples that remonstrated that upon Him should fall such sorrows and such agonies, He said, our Lord said, "The cup which My Father hath offered Me, hath given Me, hath prepared for Me: that cup, shall I not drink it? It is handed Me from the hand of God" [John 18:11]. In that passage I just quoted, in Hebrews 5:8: "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered," and as Isaiah prophesied: "In His chastisement is our peace, and in His stripes is our healing" [Isaiah 53:5]. "For Himself," said Matthew, quoting Isaiah again, "For Himself bare our diseases and carried our infirmities" [Matthew 8:17]. These things are not fortuitous and accidental, but they are God’s corrective discipline under His gracious, gracious and merciful hands.
Now that thing is hard for a child of God, for righteous people to understand. I can understand it easily, even without thinking, even without philosophizing, even without theorizing, I can easily see that in the wicked – very easy. For the punishment is nothing but an exact outline, shadow of the substance. It is the harvest of the sowing. It is the fruit of the seed. I can see that easily, without even philosophizing or discoursing or cogitating or thinking. It is just obvious in the wicked: here’s a drunken soul, here’s a sot, here’s a man of the gutter. Well, I can see that. He has forfeited his respectability and his life and his job and his self-esteem and the dignity of his family in drinking. There he is in the gutter. I can see that. What he has done, this is the fruit of it. That’s very obvious. Here’s a man who has dissipated his life. He has thrown everything God has given him away. He’s ruined his body. He’s ruined his place in the hearts of people by dissipation. I can see that. Well, it is endless. I can see how the dishonest man sent to prison is an ex-convict. I can see all of those things, how the chastisement, the affliction is a shadow of the substance of the evil of his life. And if I could pause for a moment to follow that through, in every realm, that thing has a shadow. There is no such a thing as a deviation from the call and righteousness of God but that it has its repercussion. You will find it even in the dereliction of spirit and of temper and of lack of watchfulness and prayerfulness and devotion. You will find its repercussion.
In my vacation last summer, last August, I went to church at a Sunday morning hour, and walking down the street, crossed the railroad track. And playing on the railroad track were four very blond, very nice-looking little boys, obviously brothers – very dirty. And I stopped and watched them a minute and walked over and stood in their midst, four little stair-step blond boys. And I said to them, "Fellows, did you go to Sunday school this morning?" I knew they hadn’t because you couldn’t have gotten that dirty in that length of time. "No," they said, "we haven’t gone to Sunday School." So I turned to the smallest one, and I said, "Why didn’t you go?" And he said, "Because he didn’t go." And he pointed to the next one, and I turned to that one, and said, "Why didn’t you go?" And he said, "Because he didn’t go." And he pointed to the next one, and asked that one, "Why didn’t you go?" And he pointed to the eldest one, and he said, "Because he didn’t go." And I turned to the eldest boy. I said, "Son, why didn’t you go?" And he said, "I didn’t go because I had a headache." I did not pursue it any further. Guess whom he heard say, "I didn’t go because I had a headache"? I don’t know his mama and I don’t know his father, but I can just hear that mother say, when the pastor calls over the telephone or the Sunday school teacher visits in the house – "Why didn’t you come to church last Sunday?" – and she says, "I had a headache."
Now I am going to leave that. That is just a little example, but there is no thing – no thing but that has its shadow. And all up and down the gamut of human iniquity and dereliction and deviation, it always has that shadow that accompanies it. It falls, it has its influence, and with the evil there lies always the chastening; they go together.
Now I go back. I can see that – very obvious – all up and down. But what I have trouble with, and the reason I agonize in preparing this sermon, what I have trouble with is when the affliction comes and the visitation of sorrow is received against our will into the household of a righteous and good man; then, Lord, what of that? For example, here is a man who is hurt dreadfully in honest toil, in honest labor. An accident overwhelms him. The truck fell on him, or his hand was caught in the thrashing machine, or some other great accident overtook him while he was toiling to support himself and his family. Or here is a man like when I was the pastor of country people: they build their hopes upon paying the doctor and getting out of debt, and suddenly out of the stormy sky there falls a terrible hail, and the whole harvest is destroyed. What of that? Or the bank fails and it was no fault of this man at all. Or war came and the indescribable agonies that are concomitant. Or death visits the home. What of that? For you see, that’s the same perplexity that fell upon this little church. There they were, bravely trying to be followers of Jesus, and to be Christians, and to love God, and to serve Him; there that little band was, bravely standing up for the Lord, and in the midst of their standing, these trials and sorrows and afflictions overwhelmed them!
And this author comes along, and he says that is the correction of the Lord, that’s the chastening of the Lord, that’s the discipline of the Lord: why, you nearly lose your mind over it! Lord, that little band of Hebrew Christians, in the face of overwhelming odds, trying to stand up for Jesus, and their property is confiscated, and they are made a reproach and a gazingstock, and they are persecuted and afflicted. And this author writes, "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked, For whom the Lord loveth He scourgeth, and chasteneth every son that He receiveth" [Hebrews 12:5-6]. Why, to put those things together almost overwhelms your heart. Well, by and by, if you haven’t, you will be overwhelmed by it, too.
This sorrow that comes, this tragedy, this hurt, this indescribable, unutterable agony of soul or mind or spirit or body; Lord, why and where, you’ll ask it. Now, this author has a great, great answer. The first one is this: we ought to bend and to bow and to humble ourselves in subjection as he says [Hebrews 12:9]. For remember, he has searched us and known us, and there is in all of us unwatchfulness and prayerlessness and known and unknown sin in all of us. All of us!
It’s the humble heart that will bow in subjection unto the Father of spirits. The church at Laodicea did not know that it was poor and blind and miserable and naked because it said, "I am rich and have need of nothing!" [Revelation 3:17]. It is very easy for us to be proud in our lives. It is very easy for us to refuse to be rebuked of Him. He says it is infinitely better to bow in the presence of the Father of spirits and live. There are in us, all of us, there are derelictions and shortcomings. There are things of omission and commission. There are things in all of our lives, all of us that God sees and knows, and if He is a loving Father, He yearns over His children. And these are the corrected disciplinary judgments of God by which He prepares us to be true sons of holiness [Hebrews 12:10].
Now I cannot enter into that. Those things belong to an all-wise and infinite God. It is in His hands. He knows us. He searches us. He tries us. But this I can see: I do know there is a purposefulness in the discipline of God, in the sorrows and afflictions that come upon us in this life. There is a purposefulness in it that is stated here that I can plainly see. And in these few minutes that are left, may God help me to make it clear, a comfort to my heart, an encouragement to yours. Our fathers corrected us, disciplined us as we grew up. God does it that we might be partakers of His holiness and that we might yield the fruit of righteousness [Hebrews 12:11]. Now, I want to start, and you think with me in this because we are trying to follow through the great revelation of this author in the trials and afflictions of our life.
You listen! Could you imagine anything more desperately helpless than two things? That the sorrows that come to us in life come without meaning; they come accidentally; they come adventitiously; they come without purpose. Can you think of anything that would plunge you into despair than to think that we do nothing but drift toward an unseen shore and are caught on the waves of a fortuitous sea? And can you think of anything more comforting than to be persuaded that behind that sorrow and that affliction and that trial there lives our heavenly Father? And we’re not to look at men and things and compare ourselves with others. But whatever the fortune – it may come through a malignant act on the part of somebody else, it may come in an overwhelming fortune, yet the cup that is given us to drink is handed to us from God Himself. It may look as if Judas concocted it and the devil gave it to Him in Gethsemane, and it may look as though the vile wickedness of man plunges our Lord into that terrible agony of His Passion, but He says, "The cup that My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" [John 18:11]. It may appear to be the fortuitous circumstances of life coming through cruel hands or an unkind providence, but back of it there is the merciful, gracious, yearning love of God.
Now, why? He says that we might be partakers of His holiness. These chastisements, these disciplines, these sorrows and afflictions come that we might be sainted, that we might be partakers of His holiness [Hebrews 12:10]. Now, I can see that endlessly. In the afflictions and sorrows of life, people think about God, and their thoughts are turned from earth to heaven. And in the afflictions of life, there is soul-searching.
O Lord, my lack of devotion, my lack of prayer, my lack of commitment! O Lord, I’ve just been a nominal Christian. I have just casually looked at the Holy Word. I have been negligent about God’s service. I have been engrossed with the things of this earth. But under the corrective discipline of God in the sorrow and the affliction, there is the searching of the soul, there is the lifting up of the heart to heaven, there is a cry to God, and we are safer in our sickness than in our health! We are safer in our burdens than in our lack of care. We are safer in straightened circumstances than in our affluence. We are safer in our sorrows than in our joys.
I one time heard of a nominal church member, a nominal Christian whose only child, a little girl, died. And beginning that day in that sorrow, every evening, that wonderful businessman went to himself in the home, shut the door, got down the Book – read. And as he read, here and there he would underscore. His blessed wife, wondering what he was doing, while her husband was away at business, got down his Bible and turned through it and looked. And that man with his red pencil, everywhere there was a passage about heaven, he would underscore it with his red pencil. He would never have done that: he would never have closed that door and opened that Book, he would never have taken out that red pencil to underscore what the Book says about heaven had it not been for the indescribable loss that came into his life.
"That we might be partakers of His holiness." That we might be sainted children and that we might yield the fruit of righteousness. Do you remember this famous passage of Paul, "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations"? Can you imagine a man saying that? But that is Christian: "We glory in tribulation: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." Hope! Hope! In some other way, in some other place and some other time and some other day – hope! "And experience worketh hope: and hope maketh not ashamed: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" [Romans 5:3-5]. It yieldeth the fruit of righteousness.
Why, I can see that – I can see that everywhere in all of the Book. And in all history and in all life and in all experience, I can see that. I see it every day of my life. For in the crucible of tears, and sorrow, and disappointment, and despair, and hurt, and affliction, God makes His greatest saints and His strongest souls. The psalms are nothing but crystallized tears. That’s why I had you read the ninetieth Psalm. I could not tell you the number of times I have heard Dr. Fowler read it at a funeral we were sharing together – the ninetieth Psalm. It is a prayer of Moses, the man of God, when the Lord sent them out and back to die and to waste away in the wilderness. Last night, I got out a little piece of paper and my pencil, and I figured up in thirty-eight years, three million of those people died in the wilderness. They had more than two hundred-sixteen funeral processions every day they wandered in the wilderness.
You can see that in the ninetieth Psalm:
Thou turnest man to the dust. We are carried away as with the flood. In the morning, like grass we flourisheth; In the evening, cut down and withered away. We are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we troubled, Wherefore, O Lord, how long? How long? Let it repent Thee, concerning Thy servants, O make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen trouble.
Why, out of the tears and the agony of seeing a whole nation die in the wilderness, Moses, the man of God, wrote the ninetieth Psalm. You would have never had it any other way. Never!
I haven’t time; if I would, I would like to say of these epistles that are written, they came out of dungeons and out of prisons and out of persecutions and afflictions. Had it not been for the trial in the soul of the man of God, those great truths could never have been revealed. Never! The fruit of righteousness!
And I close with this little word, little word. We are not to forget that the affliction is but for a moment, but the reward, the achievement, the fruit is for an eternity. What did the psalmist say? "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh with the morning" [Psalm 30:5].
What did Paul write in [2 Corinthians 4:17]?
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
– What did he write? –
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
For I reckon (he said), that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
First the cross, and then the crown! First the battle, and then the victory! First the shame and the agony, and then the glory! Just for a moment, and then the eternity, the purpose for which God led us through the wilderness, through the valleys, through the shadow of death; that someday we might be true sainted children of the Lord.
So may God find in us the spirit of obedience, of prayerful commitment: "Thy will, not mine, be done!" [Luke 22:42]. And that’s why I had them sing this song of invitation: "Have Thine own way, Lord; have Thine own way." And while we sing the song, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus. A family you to come into the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word and lead the way, would you make it this morning? In this balcony, up to that farthest seat, coming down one of these stairwells, would you make it now? On this lower floor, into the aisle, down to the front: "Here I come, pastor, and here I am."
We had six to come at the 8:15 o’clock service. At this great 11 o’clock hour, is there not a great group here this morning? "I take the Lord as my Savior. I look up to Him, and here I come," or into the fellowship of the church: "Here I am and here we come." Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Affliction comes to us all
B. Affliction comes in infinite shades and variety(Psalm 42:7)
II. There are several ways we can face affliction and sorrow
A. Some despise it (Hebrews 12:5, Job 42:5-6)
B. Some faint under it (Hebrews 12:5, 12)
C. We are to be in subjection unto the Father(Hebrews 5:8, 12:9)
D. We must look to the ultimate end(Hebrews 12:10-11)
III. To the Christian, affliction becomes the discipline of the Lord
A. Paideuo – to train, instruct, correct, chasten the child(John 18:11, Hebrews 5:8, Isaiah 53:5, Matthew 8:17)
B. Many times difficult to understand
1. Affliction that comes because of flagrant sin is easy to understand
2. Affliction that comes through no fault of our own is difficult
C. The humble heart bows in subjection to the Father of spirits(Hebrews 12:9-10, Revelation 3:17)
IV. All chastisement has a purpose(John 18:11)
A. That we might be partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10)
B. That we might yield the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11, Romans 5:3-5, Psalm 90:3-15)
C. Affliction is for a moment; the reward is for eternity(Psalm 30:5, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Romans 8:18, Luke 22:42)