My son, despise not [the] chastening of [the] Lord, nor faint [when] reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12: 5, 6). Divine chastening is a very distinct mark of wisdom’s children, for the passage goes on to say that “if ye are without chastening, of which all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (v8). Everything that tries us, that is a check upon us, causes exercise of heart, and makes us aware of weakness in ourselves, is of the nature of chastisement. It may come in the way of difficulties in the path of faith, or in the shape of those trials and sorrows which are common to all men—loss of property, loss of health, or loss of family. Sometimes it may be as the governmental consequences of sin, but in one way or another all God’s people receive chastisement. Why? Because it is “for profit, in order to the partaking of his holiness” (v10) and serves to break down that which is not of God in us.
I cannot now go into the subject at any length, but I should like to call your attention to the twofold admonition in connection with it. The two things which we are warned against are despising and fainting. To despise the chastening of the Lord is to treat it as if the Lord had nothing to do with it, and that it had happened purely by chance. Suppose I take a bad cold and am laid aside, and I take it just as a matter of course—perhaps blaming myself for not being more careful—that is despising the chastening. It may be true that I was careless in exposing myself unnecessarily to a draught, and that as a natural consequence I became ill. But behind all that the Lord permitted it for my profit, and if I recognize the Lord’s hand in it, and bow to His dealing with me, I shall get blessing out of it. It is wonderful what rest and peace you get under chastisement when you recognise the Lord’s hand in it! The moment you turn to the Lord, and your heart says, ‘I wonder what the Lord intends to teach me by this’, then the character of the chastening is altogether changed for you. Not that it is removed or altered, but it wears quite a different aspect to you. You own the Lord’s hand in it, and then you are divinely exercised by it.
It is very common for believers to say, ‘But my chastening is the result of my sin and foolishness. I am just reaping what I have sowed. How can there be any blessing in that?’ Well, my brother or sister in Christ, if you have judged the sin and folly, and got right with the Lord about it all, then you will be very ready to own His hand in the chastening. You will bow under it in a contrite spirit, and humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and such is His infinite grace that He will now make the consequences of your sin a great spiritual help to you. If the Lord’s hand is in it, it is surely for your blessing. Never allow yourself to cherish the cold despairing thought that you are suffering under the action of an inflexible and mechanical law of nature. Your suffering is “[the] chastening of [the] Lord” (Heb. 12: 5, my emphasis).
It seems to me that the Corinthian saints present to us an example of those who despise chastening. Many were weak and infirm among them, and many had fallen asleep (see 1 Cor. 11: 30), and yet there does not appear to have been any recognition that this was the hand of the Lord. Paul’s epistle gave them light, and recovered them from the terrible condition into which they had fallen. This shows that the ministry of others may be used to enlighten us as to the object of chastening.
The second danger is that we may faint when we are rebuked of the Lord: “neither be weary of his chastisement” (Prov. 3: 11, my emphasis). The recognition of the Lord’s love would preserve us from this. If we see the Lord in the chastisement, we shall not despise it; if we perceive His love in it, we shall not faint under it: “for whom [the] Lord loves he chastens” (Heb. 12: 6). The consciousness that the chastening is all the outcome of divine love will preserve us from fainting. You may have heard of the singer who went to a great master to be trained, and who, to his great surprise and disappointment, was kept singing one sheet of exercises for six years. He became very weary of his exercises—and yet at the end of six years the master dismissed him as a perfect singer. The draining exercises had done their work in training and developing his voice, and all unknown to himself he had profited immensely by them. Many bitter hours of vexation would have been spared him if he had had unwavering confidence in the master’s care. We, like him, have to go through our exercises, and often there is a sameness and monotony about them which makes the tendency to fainting very great. We are often inclined to think that the chastening is doing us no good, and that it is more of a hindrance than a help. Beloved brethren, let us remember that a master hand has ordered those exercises for us, and deep eternal love is behind them all. How blessed to be able to look upon every trial and difficulty, and upon every pressure and cause of exercise, as an express token of the Lord’s love!
The Thessalonians give us an example of the tendency to faint. The enemy seems to have used their tribulations and persecutions to discourage them, and to make them think that they were suffering in wrath from the Lord. The apostle writes to them to beseech them not to be “soon shaken in mind, nor troubled” and he speaks to them as “brethren beloved of [the] Lord” and desires that their hearts might be comforted by “our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us, and given [us] eternal consolation and good hope by grace” (2 Thess. 2: 2, 13, 16, 17). He thus seeks to confirm their hearts in the assurance of divine love, as the great preservative against the tendency to faint.
Let us then neither despise what the Lord allows to disturb our lives, or faint under His hand! Of course “no chastening at the time seems to be a [matter] of joy, but of grief”—it is a very real trial to us (it would not profit us if it were not)—but “afterwards yields [the] peaceful fruit of righteousness to those exercised by it” (Heb. 12: 11).