Back to Difficulties and Trials
Jesus attained His joy through His endurance, and so shall we. "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (v. 2). He underwent the most painful and ignominious of deaths—such a death as that of the cross—disdaining to shrink from any kind of shame. In Jesus, therefore, we have the two kinds of faith of which the Apostle is thinking—the faith of assurance, the faith of endurance. Jesus endured because He looked for a future joy as His recompense; He attained the joy because of His endurance.
The word "looking," apharao, means to consider attentively. It signifies, as Delitzsch says, "a voluntary looking off from objects which involuntarily press themselves upon our view towards something else which we choose to make an object of contemplation." It implies a concentration of looks in one direction.
Continuing in the imperative the Apostle says: "Take into consideration him that hath endured such contradiction from the sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied, fainting in your souls" (Hebrews 12:3). "Weigh this in the balance; compare this quality of faith with your own; and when you have put your sufferings in the scale with His, then how light yours will seem. Consider who He was and who you are. When you have well understood the difference, remember that He endured, as you endure, by faith; He put His trust in God (2:13). The gainsaying of men brought Him to a violent death. Only the Captain has shed His blood—as yet. Your hour may be drawing nigh! Therefore be not weary in striving to reach the goal! Faint not in enduring the conflict!"
They would be unworthy of the fellowship of the saints of the olden days had they shunned the conflict. Without coming into conflict with men they could not enter into fellowship with God. Communion with Him, as we have previously seen, requires fitness of character. This fitness is the result of discipline, and discipline implies endurance.
This concentration of looks upon the greatest of that martyr-band, who was also far more than a martyr, will promote endurance in conflict and patience under discipline. It will remind us how necessary suffering is. If He, the Captain, could not be perfected without it, much less we who belong to the rank and file. If suffering wrought such blessing in Him, what blessing will it not work in us, for whose sakes He was made perfect! Discipline, instead of being hurtful, has been consecrated as the minister of the divine purpose. It is now one of the teachers in God's school. Instead of trembling at it, shrinking from it, or fainting under it, let us rather rejoice in it. When we pass through the doorway above which DISCIPLINE is written, let us give praise to God, for in that school we shall learn the most precious of lessons. "Let us rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, probation; and probation hope; and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us" (Rom. 5:3-5 RV).
Jesus stands before us, then, as the Chief of Sufferers, showing us also how to suffer; teaching us how close a relationship there is between suffering and love, between suffering and maturity of character, between suffering and glory. As our sympathetic High Priest "He is touched with" every pain and every pang.
"He in the days of feeble flesh
Poured out His cries and tears;
And, though exalted, feels afresh
What every member bears."
As the Omnipotent Redeemer, He ever lives to breathe His own life and strength into us, and make us in "all these things more than conquerors."
Let us now look at the temptations to which we are exposed during rebuke and discipline.
(a) The first is a cowardly avoidance of it. They were maintaining the contest so feebly as to be quite unworthy of the heroic souls who had gone before them. They had not left the arena, it is true, but they were showing themselves to be greatly lacking our courage. Shall we be pardoned if we say they were chicken-hearted? In the days of their first love they took joyfully the confiscation of their property; now they were seeking to escape the cross by a sinful conformity to the world. They were actually, as this Epistle shows again and again, living on the very border land of apostasy, in imminent danger of "shrinking back unto perdition." Instead of concentrating all their looks upon Jesus and boldly taking up the cross, they were refusing it or fleeing from it, forgetful of the fact stated in verse 7, "It is for discipline you are enduring." In other words, your heavenly Father's purpose in sending or permitting sufferings is to discipline you. Instead, therefore, of seeking to avoid it by unworthy concession, which is as perilous as it is unworthy, endure it, that God's loving purpose may not be frustrated.
(b) The next temptation is to despise discipline. "Ye have clean forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto sons: My son, despise not the Lord's discipline" (Heb. 12:5). The word here rendered despise (oligoreo) is literally "to have little regard for"; i.e., "to disesteem." In the Revision it gives to "regard not lightly." God sends to us one of His messengers named Trial, Pain, Disappointment, or Bereavement. The messenger's mien is so unattractive and his errand so unwelcome that when he knocks at our door we show him but scant courtesy. With both hands we welcome Wealth, Prosperity, Popularity; but these unlovely messengers we are tempted to treat with positive disesteem. Yet who can tell the loss we sustain by regarding them lightly and showing ourselves unwilling to learn the lesson they have come to teach us?
We "despise" discipline when we come in any degree under the influence of Fatalism, which says it is inevitable; or Stoicism, which adopts an attitude of hardened defiance resulting in a blunting of all the finer sensibilities of our nature; or Pride, which will not confess that discipline is deserved, and which will not admit to have been in any degree benefited by it; or Epicurianism, which says, let us escape suffering, by enjoying pleasure: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
Sometimes it is the unlooked-for way in which the discipline comes that leads us to regard it lightly. We see no possible resemblance to angels in these unlovely messengers who crowd about our path; yet they are angels in disguise, and come to bring us nearer to God. Happy are they who have learned to look behind the outward form of the agencies that are permitted by God for their chastening to the loving heart that will spare us no suffering, if only we can be made partakers of the divine holiness.
(c) Another temptation is to faint when we are rebuked by Him (Heb. 12:3,5). How many are there who succumb under God's correcting hand! As Dr. Dale says: "The soul that can bear to sin is often unable to bear any adequate punishment for sin. It faints. There is no care for any duty, no courage to meet any difficulty, no hope that things will ever become better, no strength to remember the cause of the suffering, no disposition except to lie and moan under it." To all such God says, "If thou faint in the day of adversity thy strength is small."
Having looked briefly at these various forms of temptation, let us now consider the reasons here given for gladly submitting ourselves to the divine correction.
Before dealing with these reasons, however, let us direct attention to a very important distinction. Archbishop Trench points out that "to rebuke" and "to chasten" are often found together, but that it is by no means difficult to distinguish between them. The word translated "rebuke" is elegcho, which means "to convict." It is not empty censure that is suggested, but conviction. It is the same verb as in John 16:8—the Holy Ghost will convince (rebuke to conviction) the world of sin. The word translated "chasten" is paideuo, and means "to instruct by chastisement"; "to educate through the discipline of love."
This distinction is of the highest importance, for confusion of thought will lead us, as it has led multitudes, to misinterpret God's dealings, and by rebellion and resistance to prolong an experience that should only be temporary and which is only a means to an end.
This "rebuking to conviction" is designed to discover to us the remains of the carnal and natural life and to perfect us in holiness. While the carnal
life is dominating us in any degree, God's purposes are frustrated, for He must have us all to Himself. Every hindrance to the inflow and outflow of His life must be removed, and until He convicts us of latent evil and leads us to loathe and hate it, what prospect can there be of our deliverance from its power?
God said of Moab: "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed" (Jer. 48:11). "This is a reference to wine, or to the process by which it is prepared and finished. It is first expressed from the grape when it is a thick, discolored fluid or juice. It is then fermented, passing through a process that separates the impurities and settles them as lees at the bottom. Standing thus upon its lees, it is not further improved. A gross and coarse flavor remains, and the scent of the feculent matter stays by and becomes fastened, as it were, in the body of the wine itself. To separate this, and so to soften or refine the quality, it is now drawn off into separate jars or skins. After a while it is done again, and then again; and so being emptied from vessel to vessel, the last remains of the lees or sediment are finally cleared, the crude flavors are reduced, the scent itself is refined by ventilation, and the perfect character is finished."
We need this agitation, this "emptying from vessel to vessel," else the taint of our carnal nature will cling to us in the end of our life. We cannot be refined and matured in any course of life that is uniformly prosperous and secure. Consequently as Lord Bacon remarked, adversity is as characteristic of the New Testament as prosperity is of the Old. Without this disturbance and deprivation we shall dream ourselves to be rich and have need of nothing, while at the same time we are "poor and miserable, and blind and naked." Nothing can be more perilous for us than to be allowed to stand upon our lees, knowing nothing of spoliation and disturbance. "Providence is an agitating power to break the incrustations of evil, and let the gales of the Spirit blow where they list in us. And so by a double process, God's Providence and God's Spirit, both in unity (for God is always at one with Himself), we are perfected in holiness and finished in the complete beauty of Christ." So the ways of pain and grief in us, the transient ways, are discovered, searched out, and cleaned away, and the unpleasant odor of the carnal life gives place to a life redolent with God.
The most striking illustration of this spoliation is to be found in the Book of Job. This servant of God, whose life was so prosperous and secure, is delivered over into the hands of Satan to be emptied from vessel to vessel, that the life which had been so largely unto self might be entirely unto God.
Every kind of trial which could touch him externally was endured, and "in all this he sinned not." His breakdown dates from the dark, suspicious looks, and the bitter, reproachful words of his friends. In Job chapter 3:25 he says: "The thing which I feared is come unto me, and that which I am afraid of cometh unto me." He knew how calamity was interpreted, and he had a fear that his friends would add the last bitter ingredients to his cup of sorrow. So he goes on to say in verse 26: "I am not at ease, neither am I quiet, neither have I rest; but trouble cometh." In other words, "From the time my troubles began I have had no rest; there has been no intermission of sorrows; now a fresh and overwhelming trouble cometh: my friends suspect that I am a hypocrite." Job's weak, vulnerable point was his reputation.
Listen to him when he is, as we should say, in the "thick" of his trouble: "Know that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with His net. Behold, I cry out, Violence! but I am not heard: I cry for help, but there is no judgment. He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and hath set darkness in my paths. He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head. He hath broken me down on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath He plucked up like a tree. He hath also kindled His wrath against me, and He counteth me unto Him as one of His adversaries. His troops come on together, and cast up their way against me, and encamp round about my tent" (Job 19:6-12 RV).
In these pregnant words, abounding in striking imagery, Job describes the process of spoliation. The greatest man in the East is stripped of everything, and lies, bewailing his condition, in the dust: not knowing that God was leading him down into the grave to raise him again in full resurrection life; not knowing that this pathway of deprivation would end in a life as long and abundant as his death had been severe and bitter. Alluding to Bildad's words (Job 18:8), Job says: "It is not in my own net I have been caught; God has encompassed me in His." He was conscious of a general sense of entanglement. A thousand Liliputian trials had tied him down, and he was held so fast that he seemed delivered over to their malignity and heartlessness.
He likens himself in the next verses (Job 19:7,8) to a wayfarer surprised by brigands. He cries out, Violence! but is not heard. He cries for help, but no one hastens to his rescue. His way, he says, is fenced up. There is no loophole of escape; and even if there were, the darkness is so dense that he could not see it. His next image is that of a deposed king. He says God has stripped him both of his robes and of his crown; and so, deposed and dishonored, he is left naked, and exposed to all the storms of a pitiless earth and an offended heaven (v. 9). Quickly changing his figure again, he compares himself to a great tree that has lost its sap, and which, owing to the raging tempest and the violent shaking to which it has been exposed, has at last been torn up by the roots and lies fallen in the dust (v. 10). And yet, once more, he is a besieged city (vv. 11, 12). God is like a general commanding armies. He draws up His troops against him: the Adversary, the Chaldeans, the Sabeans, the wind from the wilderness, fire from heaven, a loathsome disease, wife, servants, friends—all are passing before his mental vision. He represents his enemies as raising embankments to hem him in—"raising up a way against him," from which to batter down his defenses. This hostile army he sees encamped around his tabernacle, leaving him neither friend nor neighbor to comfort him.
It is the most graphic picture of this experience that was ever written. Job had yet to learn that the way "to reduce a soul to total ruin is to take away from it all support, and to destroy it on all sides; for if it found the least prop, and the least support, it could not be destroyed. The comparison of himself to a tree is a very good one; because if there remains only a little root, it will shoot forth. Likewise if there remains anything of the self-life in us, which is not taken away, it will gradually spring up and increase. This is why, when God wishes to be very merciful to a soul, He does not allow the least subsidence to remain."
Job's robes of righteousness are gone; his crown, his symbol of power, is gone; and he is brought thus into this place of darkness, that along the painful path of death to his carnal and natural life he might find the way to true kingship. God's kings are they who have both hated their life and renounced it, finding in the forbidding grave the ladder that leads up to fellowship with Jesus and participation in His life and glory. By-and-by Job's words are ended (31:40). Silent before God, he begins to see light in God's light, and learns that God's rod blossoms and bears precious fruit to those who have learned to kiss it.
"I had heard of thee," he says at last, "by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:5,6). The lofty tongue is silent, the self-righteousness is stripped off, the man who had boasted of his integrity lies "stripped and stunned" before God; and out of the grave of Job God brought forth a New Covenant saint in Old Covenant days. "And the Lord accepted Job. And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (vv. 9,10). And now Job could say, with infinitely greater meaning than in chapter 19: "He hath broken me down on every side, and I am gone" (19:10).
"O past and gone!
How great is God! how small am I!
A mote in the illimitable shy,
Amidst the glory, deep, and wide, and high,
Of Heaven's unclouded sun.
There to forget myself for evermore;
Lost, swallowed up in love's immensity,
The sea that knows no sounding and no shore,
God only there, not I.
"More near than I unto myself can be
Art Thou to me;
So have I lost myself in finding Thee,
Have lost myself for ever, O my Sun!
The boundless Heaven of Thine eternal love
Around me, and beneath me, and above;
In glory of that golden day
The former things are passed away,
I, past and gone."
Having thus dealt with the subject of rebuking to conviction and spoliation, let us look at some of the reasons which are here assigned for the exercise of discipline.
(a) Discipline is an indispensable part of our education. "Endure for education; God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father does not discipline? But if ye be without education, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Heb. 12:7,8). All lawful, genuine sons are disciplined. As we go over the roll of names of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, saints, and, above all, the Divine Son, not one was without discipline. "If excepted from the scourge," says Augustine, "thou art excepted from the number of the sons." God had one Son without sin; He has no sons without suffering. It is one of the badges of sonship. It is a proof that God is doing something with us. He means us to stand forth before the world as men who so fully understand His purposes that directly He brings us into an experience of trial we shall begin to glory in it. The old man will groan, but the new man will glory; the old man will repine, the new man will rejoice; the old man will rebel, the new man will repose in the center of God's perfect will.
Having been despoiled of self-righteousness, self-will, self-direction, and self-originating power, the center of God's will is our true and only home.
Here is a circle marked the Will of God. Inside is another circle marked Blessedness, for no blessedness is to be found outside that circle. Tens of thousands are seeking it without, but no one ever found it. Inside is yet another circle marked Discipline. To be within that circle does not mean to be beyond the reach of discipline. That would mean poverty of spiritual life, weakness, immaturity of character, inability to sympathize with others. The one place of restfulness and endurance, of light and life, of purity and power, is within the center of the divine will. There, no weapon that is formed against us can prosper (Isa. 54:17). There, we are hidden securely in the secret of His pavilion from the strife of tongues (Psa. 31:20). To know that no unkind word can be spoken to us, that no unkind letter can be written to us, that no bereavement of any kind can touch us, that no temptation can assail us, but by divine permission, is to know a gospel that is glad tidings indeed. How it takes off the keen edge of the sorrow to remember this: "I am in the center of my Father's will; this cannot have touched me but with His consent; He has permitted it, not because He loves to see me suffer, but because He desires my holiness rather than my happiness; He has some lesson to teach me; I will look into the face of this messenger of sorrow and welcome it with both hands, because it is one of His angels to beckon me, 'Nearer, my God, to Thee!'"
(b) Discipline is intended to bring us into the place of creature nothingness. As we study the lives of God's saints we find a marked progression in the trials to which they were subjected. Abraham's trials increased in intensity as he grew in faith and in the knowledge of God.
"Quantity must ever diminish as quality increases. It is so in nature. There we find quality always in the inverse ratio to quantity. As men or things rise in quality, the quantity of their similars or associates must decrease. Becoming ever stronger, ever firmer, ever more independent of all but God, they must naturally have calls and crosses of a higher order. Their strong souls must ever walk a wilder wilderness and stand in a fiercer blast. As they come ever into closer personal association with the Creator they must become more completely independent of the creature. Their souls must necessarily become more absolutely weaned from creature-comforts, encouragements, and even of understanding God's way. The Master will ever have meat to eat that the disciple knows not of. Through all these degrees, the test of a soul's growth will always be its independence of the human and the sufficiency of the Divine; while at the same time those who have best learned to do without creature-love will be themselves the most truly loving to all creatures."
"Now I know," said the angel of the Lord to Abraham, "that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me" (Gen. 22:12). The word "fearest" in the Hebrew conveys the idea that Abraham now so thoroughly entered into God's purposes that he was willing that He should do with him whatsoever He pleased. God immediately set His seal to Abraham's loyalty by promising under oath the blessings of plenty (v. 17), power, (v. 17), perpetuity (v. 18). And this wealth of blessing was vouchsafed, "Because thou hast obeyed my voice."
(c) Discipline interprets God's great concern for character. He chastens "for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness" (v. 10). This is the summary of His purpose. He has set His heart upon bringing the nature made so discordant and inharmonious by sin and selfishness back again into harmony with Himself and filling every part of it with the music of heaven.
We may learn a lesson from the tuning of a piano. The pitch is taken from the tuning-fork. A chord is then brought up to that pitch to become a standard. Then the next note is taken, and as the tuning-key is put on the chord, the chord that is inharmonious rises little by little, until it comes up to the pitch. All the discordant keys are thus brought up, groaning and sighing, to the standard, until at last no discord whatever remains. It is so with our lives. God will have us up to concert pitch, so that the sighs may be transmuted into songs. How glad we can make our Father's heart by telling Him that we are more covetous to possess character that pulsates with His own purity and life than anything else in the world, and that we thank Him and love Him for putting us in places where we can glorify Him in the fires, for putting us where all the discord may be brought out of our life and our whole nature purified and reconstructed, harmonized with His, and filled with the music of heaven.
In the contrasts between the discipline exercised by "the fathers of our flesh" and our Heavenly Father, the great point is the duration of our relation to Him. They are called "the fathers of our flesh" in contrast with "the Father of spirits" (12:9). He is the Source and Sustenance of life spiritual and everlasting. They disciplined us "for a few days," our relations to them being such that as life advanced their control of us ceased. He disciplines us with reference to eternity, and discipline can never be understood unless we put eternity into the balance and look at every trial in its light.
They disciplined us "after their own pleasure," or "as seemed good to them"; they did it in much infirmity; for what parent can properly estimate the offense, the circumstances which led to it, and the punishment it merits? There often is misjudgment, caprice, and not infrequently some element of passion in the discipline of "the fathers of our flesh." God's discipline, on the contrary, is dealt out with unerring wisdom and with infinite love. The fact that He is the Author of it, or that He permits it, is a guarantee that we shall not be tried beyond our powers of endurance. He will either restrict our trials so that they do not exceed our strength, or increase our strength until it passes the severity of our trials. "He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind" (Isa. 27:8).
(d) Discipline when submitted to will yield "peaceable fruits." "All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous, but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby" (v. 11). Two metaphors are employed here; the one being that of a garden, and the other that of a gymnasium. The word "exercised" (gumnazo) means to train for athletic encounters. The trials which come into our life are God's drill-sergeants. We only profit by their instruction as in glad submission we are "exercised thereby." The gymnasium of tribulation is the place where God drills and trains those strong souls whose loyalty to Him makes His heart glad, and who, because of their experience, are qualified to teach and comfort others. "The pain of moral conflict," as one says, "must precede the glory of moral conquest."
The fruit is "peaceable fruit, even fruit of righteousness." The Christian is trained in the gymnasium of affliction, and when the conflict is over he reaps peaceable fruit. Delitzsch says it is "fruit which consists in righteousness, and whose taste is peace; i.e., perfect satisfaction and rest after strife and labor." "Peaceable," from the Greek eirene, is very suggestive, denoting as it does, "to set at one again." The purpose of God in all discipline is the simplicity and harmony of our nature, and it can only be accomplished by deliverance from the mixed or carnal life and introduction into that life which is from God, in God and for God.
We shall do well to think much in hours of testing of the "Nevertheless afterwards" of which the Apostle speaks. Discipline must be regarded as a little portion of God's speech to us, which can only be fairly judged by looking at its relation to the context. Unless we do this we shall surely faint. Remembering this, "We faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; 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" (II Cor. 4:16-18). Between the chemical properties in the soil and the ripe, luscious fruit which hangs on the tree, there is the working of God's hand; no power but His can produce such results, for no gardener in the world can produce fruit. He can only see that the tree is in the right relation for fruit-bearing. Likewise, between the affliction and the glory is the same mighty but loving working of God. If we will but leave ourselves in that Hand, by a husbandry that is Divine, our Father will do something worthy of Himself, and affliction and pain will be transmuted into glory.
"Leave to His sovereign sway
To choose, and to command;
So shalt thou wondering own His way,
How wise, how strong His hand."
“Better Discipline,” taken from Better Things From Above by J. Gregory Mantle, pp., 169-184
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