GOD’ S people can never by any possibility be punished for their sins. God has punished them already in the person of Christ; Christ, their substitute, has endured the full penalty for all their guilt, and neither the justice nor the love of God can ever exact again that which Christ has paid. Punishment can never happen to a child of God in the judicial sense; He can never be brought before God as his Judge, as charged with guilt, because that guilt was long ago transferred to the shoulders of Christ, and the punishment was exacted at the hands of his surety. But yet, while the sin cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned, he can be chastised; while he shall never be arraigned before God’s bar as a criminal, and punished for his guilt, yet he now stands in a new relationship — that of a child to his parent: and as a son he may be chastised on account of sin.
Folly is bound up in the heart of all God’s children, and the rod of the Father must bring that folly out of them. It is essential to observe the distinction between punishment and chastisement. Punishment and chastisement may agree as to the nature of the suffering: the one suffering may be as great as the other, the sinner who, while he is punished for his guilt, may suffer no more in this life than the Christian who is only chastised by his parent. They do not differ as to the nature of the punishment, but they differ in the mind of the punisher and in the relationship of the person who is punished. God punishes the sinner on His own account, because He is angry with the sinner, and His justice must be avenged, His law must be honored, and His commands must have their dignity maintained. But He does not punish the believer on his own account; it is on the Christian’s account, to do him good. He afflicts him for his profit, He lays on the rod for His child’s advantage; He has a good design towards the person who receives the chastisement. While in punishment the design is simply with God for God’s glory; in chastisement, it is with the person chastised for his good, for his spiritual profit and benefit. Besides, punishment is laid on a man in anger; God strikes him in wrath, but when He afflicts His child, chastisement is applied in love, His strokes are, all of them, put there by the hand of love. The rod has been baptized in deep affection before it is laid on the believer’s back. God doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve us for nought, but out of love and affection, because He perceives that if He leaves us unchastised, we shall bring upon ourselves misery ten thousand-fold greater than we shall suffer by His slight rebukes, and the gentle blows of His hand. Take this in the very starting, that whatever thy trouble, or thine affliction, there cannot be anything punitive in it; thou must never say: “Now God is punishing me for my sin.” Thou hast fallen from thy steadfastness when thou talkest so. God cannot do that. He has once for all done it. “The chastisement of our peace was upon HIM, and by HIS stripes we are healed.” He is chastising thee, not punishing thee; He is correcting thee in measure, He is not smiting thee in wrath. There is no hot displeasure in His heart. Even though His brow may be ruffled, there is no anger in His breast; even though His eye may have closed upon thee, He hates thee not; He loves thee still. He is not wroth with His heritage, for He seeth no sin in Jacob, neither iniquity in Israel, considered in the person of Christ. It is simply because He loves you, because ye are sons, that He therefore chastises you.
Why shouldst thou murmur against the dispensations of thy heavenly Father? Can He treat thee more hardly than thou deservest? Consider what a rebel thou wast once, but He has pardoned thee. Surely, if He chooses now to lay the rod upon thee, thou needest not cry out. Hast thou not read, that amongst the Roman emperors of old it was the custom when they would set a slave at liberty, to give him a blow upon the head, and then say, “Go free?” This blow which thy Father gives thee is a token of thy liberty, and dost thou grumble because He smites thee rather hardly? After all, are not His strokes fewer than thy crimes, and lighter than thy guilt?
Art thou smitten as hardly as thy sins deserve? Consider the corruption that is in thy breast, and then wilt thou wonder that there needs so much of the rod to fetch it out? Weigh thyself, and discern how much dross is mingled with thy gold; and dost thou think the fire too hot to get away so much dross as thou hast? Why, thou hast not the furnace hot enough, methinks.
There is too much dross, too little fire; the rod is not laid on hardly enough, for that proud spirit of thine proves that thy heart is not thoroughly sanctified; and though it may be right with God, thy words do not sound like it, and thine actions do not portray the holiness of thy nature. It is the Old Adam within thee that is groaning. Take heed if thou murmurest, for it will go hard with murmurers. God always chastises His children twice if they do not bear the first blow patiently. I have often heard a father say; “Boy, if you cry for that, you shall have something to cry for by-and-by.” So, if we murmur at a little, God gives us something that will make us cry. If we groan for nothing, He will give us something that will make us groan. Sit down in patience; despise not the chastening of the Lord; be not angry with Him, for He is not angry with thee; say not that He deals so hardly with thee, Let humility rise up and speak — “It is well, O Lord! Just as Thou art in Thy chastising, for I have sinned; righteous art Thou in Thy blows, for I need them to fetch me near to Thee; for if Thou dost leave me uncorrected and unchastised, I, a poor wanderer, must pass away to the gulf of death, and sink into the pit of eternal perdition.” There is the first sense in which we may despise the chastening of the Lord: we may murmur under it.
There are certain things that happen to us in life, which we immediately set down for a providence. If a grandfather of ours should die and leave us five hundred pounds, what a merciful providence that would be! If by something strange in business we were suddenly to accumulate a fortune, that would be a blessed providence! If an accident happens, and we are preserved, and our limbs are not hurt, that is always a providence. But suppose we were to lose five hundred pounds, would not that be a providence? Suppose our establishment should break up, and business fail, would not that be a providence? Suppose we should during the accident break our leg, would not that be a providence? There is the difficulty. It is always a providence when it is a good thing. But why is it not a providence when it does not happen to be just as we please? Surely it is so; for if the one thing be ordered by God so is the other. It is written, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” But I question whether that is not despising the chastening of the Lord, when we set a prosperous providence before an adverse one, for I do think that an adverse providence ought to be the cause of as much thankfulness as a prosperous one; and if it is not, we are violating the command, “In everything give thanks.” But we say, “Of what use will such trial be to me? I cannot see that it can by any possibility be useful to my soul. Here I was growing in grace just now, but there is something that has damped all my ardor, and overthrown my zeal. Just now I was on the mount of assurance, and God has brought me to the valley of humiliation.
Can that be any good to me? A few weeks ago I had wealth, and I distributed it in the cause of God; now I have none. What can be the use of that? All these things are against me.” Now, you are despising the chastening of the Lord, when you say that is of no use. No child thinks the rod of much value. Anything in the house is of more use than that rod in his opinion. And if you were to ask the child which part of the household furniture could be dispensed with, he would like chairs, tables, and everything else to remain but that the rod he does not think of any good whatever. He despises the rod. Ah! and so do we. We think it cannot benefit us; we want to get rid of the rod and turn it away. “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.” Let me show thee how wrong thou art. What! doth thine ignorance effect to say that God is unwise? I thought it was written that He was too wise to err; and I did think that thou wast a believer, that He was too good to be unkind. And doth thy little wisdom arrogate to itself the chair of honor? Doth thy finite knowledge stand up, before thy Maker and tell Him He is unwise in what He doth? Wilt thou dare to say that one of His purposes shall be unfulfilled, that He does an unwise act? Oh, then, thou art impudently arrogant; thou art impudently ignorant if thou wilt thus speak! Say not so, but bend meekly down before His superior wisdom, and say, “O God I believe that in the darkness Thou art brewing light, that in the storm-clouds Thou art gathering sunshine, that in the deep mines Thou art fashioning diamonds, and in the beds of the sea Thou art making pearls. I believe that however unfathomable may be thy designs, yet they have a bottom. Though it is in the wirlwind and in the storm, Thou hast a way, and that way is good and righteous altogether. I would not have thee alter one atom of thy dispensations; it shall be just as thou wilt. I bow before thee, and I give my ignorance the word to hold its tongue, and to be silenced while Thy wisdom speaketh words of right.” “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord” by thinking that it can be of no possible service to thee.
Many a man has been corrected by God, and that correction has been in vain. I have known Christian men, men who have committed some sin; God, by the rod, would have shown them the evil of that sin; they have been smitten and seen the sin, and never afterwards corrected it. That is despising the chastening of the Lord. When a father chastises a son for anything he has done, and the boy does it again directly, it shows that he despises his father’s chastening; and so have we seen Christians who have had an error in their lives, and God has chastened them on account of it, but they have done it again. Ah! you will remember there was a man named Eli. God chastened him once when He sent Samuel to tell him dreadful news — that because he had not reproved his children, those children should be destroyed; but Eli kept on the same as ever; he despised the: chastening of the Lord although his ears were made to tingle: and in a little while God did something else for him. His sons were taken away, and then it was too late to mend, for the children were gone. The time he might have reformed, his character had passed away. How many of you get chastened of God, and do not hear the rod! There are many deaf souls that do not hear God’s rod; many Christians are blind and cannot see God’s purposes, and when God would take some folly out of them the folly is still retained.
It is not every affliction that benefits the Christian; it is only a sanctified affliction. It is not every trial that purifies an heir of light, it is only a trial that God Himself sanctifies by His grace. Take heed if God is trying you, that you search and find out the reason. Are the consolations of God small with you? Then, there is some reason for it. Have you lost that joy you once felt? There is some cause for it. Many a man would not have half so much suffered if he would but look to the cause of it. I have sometimes walked a mile or two, almost limping along because there was a stone in my shoe, and I did not stop to hook for it. And many a Christian goes limping for years because of the stones in his shoe, but if he would only stop to look for them, he would be relieved. What is the sin that is causing you pain? Get it out, and take away the sin, for if you do not, you have not regarded this admonition which speaketh unto you as unto sons — “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.”