An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
(Hebrews 12:7, 8)
The all-important matter in connection with Divine chastenings, so far as the Christian is concerned, is the spirit in which he receives them. Whether or not we "profit" from them, turns entirely on the exercises of our minds and hearts under them. The advantages or disadvantages which outward things bring to us, is to be measured by the effects they produce in us. Material blessings become curses if our souls are not the gainers thereby, while material losses prove benedictions if our spiritual graces are enriched therefrom. The difference between our spiritual impoverishment or our spiritual enrichment from the varied experiences of this life, will very largely be determined by our heart-attitude toward them, the spirit in which they are encountered, and our subsequent conduct under them. It is all summed up in that word "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7).
As the careful reader passes from verse to verse of Hebrews 12:3-11, he will observe how the Holy Spirit has repeatedly stressed this particular point, namely, the spirit in which God’s chastisements are to be received. First, the tried and troubled saint is bidden to consider Him who was called upon to pass through a far rougher and deeper sea of suffering than any which His followers encounter, and this contemplation of Him is urged "lest we be wearied and faint in our minds" (verse 3.). Second, we are bidden to "despise not" the chastenings of the Lord, "nor faint" when we are rebuked of Him (verse 5). Third, our Christian duty is to "endure" chastening as becometh the sons of God (verse 7). Fourth, it is pointed out that since we gave reverence to our earthly fathers when they corrected us, much more should we "rather be in subjection" unto our heavenly Father (verse 9). Finally, we learn there will only be the "peaceable fruit of righteousness" issuing from our afflictions, if we are duly "exercised thereby" (verse 11).
In the previous articles we have sought to point out some of the principal considerations which should help the believer to receive God’s chastisements in a meet and becoming spirit. We have considered the blessed example left us by our Captain: may we who have enlisted under His banner diligently follow the same. We have seen that, however severe may be our trials, they are by no means extreme: we have not yet "resisted unto blood"—martyrdom has not overtaken us, as it did many who preceded us: shall we succumb to the showers, when they defied the fiercest storms! We have dwelt upon the needs-be for Divine reproof and correction. We have pointed out the blessed distinction there is between Divine punishment and Divine chastisement. We have contemplated the source from which all proceeds, namely, the love of our Father. We have shown the imperative necessity for the exercise of faith, if the heart is to be kept in peace while the rod is upon us.
"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 chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (verses 7, 8). In these verses another consideration is presented for the comfort of those whom God is chastening. That of which we are here reminded is, that, when the Christian comports himself properly under Divine correction, he gives proof of his Divine sonship. If he endure them in a manner becoming to his profession, he supplies evidence of his Divine adoption. Blessed indeed is this, an unanswerable reply to Satan’s evil insinuation: so far from the disciplinary afflictions which the believer encounters showing that God loves him not, they afford a golden opportunity for him to exercise and display his unquestioning love of the Father. If we undergo chastisements with patience and perseverance, then do we make manifest, both to ourselves and to others, the genuineness of our profession.
In the verses which are now before us the apostle draws an inference from and makes a particular application of what had been previously affirmed, thereby confirming the exhortation. There are three things therein to be particularly noted. First, the duty which has been enjoined: Divine chastisements are to be "endured" by us: that which is included and involved by that term we shall seek to show in what follows. Second, the great benefit which is gained by a proper endurance of those chastisements: evidence is thereby obtained that God is dealing with us as "sons:" not as enemies whom He hates, but as dear children whom He loves. Third, a solemn contrast is then drawn, calculated to unmask hypocrites and expose empty professors: those who are without Divine chastisement are not sons at all, but "bastards"—claiming the Church for their mother, yet having not God for their Father: what is signified thereby will appear in the sequel.
"If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons." This statement supplements what was before us in verse 5. Both of them speak of the spirit in which chastisements are to be received by the Christian, only with this difference: verse 5 gives the negative side, verse 7 the positive. On the one hand, we are not to "despise" or "faint" under them; on the other hand, they are to be "endured." It has become an English proverb that "what cannot be cured must be endured," which is but another way of saying that we must grit our teeth and make the best of a bad job. It scarcely needs pointing out that the Holy Spirit has not used the term here in its lowest and carnal sense, but rather in its noblest and spiritual signification.
In order to ascertain the force and scope of any word which is used in Holy Scripture neither its acceptation in ordinary speech nor its dictionary etymology is to be consulted; instead, a concordance must be used, so as to find out how it is actually employed on the sacred page. In the case now before us, we do not have far to seek, for in the immediate context it is found in a connection where it cannot be misunderstood. In verse 2 we read that the Savior "endured the cross," and in verse 3 that He "endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself." It was in the highest and noblest sense that Christ "endured" His sufferings: He remained steadfast under the sorest trials, forsaking not the path of duty. He meekly and heroically bore the acutest afflictions without murmuring against or fainting under them. How, then, is the Christian to conduct himself in the fires? We subjoin a sevenfold answer.
First, the Christian is to "endure" chastisement inquiringly. While it be true that all chastisement is not the consequence of personal disobedience or sinful conduct, yet much of it is so, and therefore it is always the part of wisdom for us to seek for the why of it. There is a cause for every effect, and a reason for all God’s dealings. The Lord does not act capriciously, nor does He afflict willingly (Lam. 3:33). Every time the Father’s rod fails upon us it is a call to self-examination, for pondering the path of our feet, for heeding that repeated word in Haggai "Consider your ways." It is our bounden duty to search ourselves and seek to discover the reason of God’s displeasure. This may not be a pleasant exercise, and if we are honest with ourselves it is likely to occasion us much concern and sorrow; nevertheless, a broken and contrite heart is never despised by the One with whom we have to do.
Alas, only too often this self-examination and inquiring into the cause of our affliction is quite neglected, relief therefrom being the uppermost thought in the sufferer’s mind. There is a most solemn warning upon this point in 2 Chronicles 16:12, 13, "And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great; yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but the physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers." How many professing Christians do likewise today. As soon as sickness strikes them, their first thought and desire is not that the affliction may be sanctified unto their souls, but how quickly their bodies may be relieved. We do not fully agree with some brethren who affirm that the Christian ought never to call in a doctor, and that the whole medical fraternity is of the Devil—in such case the Holy Spirit had never denominated Luke "the beloved physician," nor had Christ said the sick "need" a physician. On the other hand, it is unmistakably evident that physical healing is not the first need of an ailing saint.
Second, the Christian is to "endure" chastisement prayerfully. If our inquiry is to be prosecuted successfully, then we are in urgent need of Divine assistance. Those who rely upon their own judgment are certain to err. As our hearts are exercised as to the cause of the chastening, we need to seek earnestly unto God, for it is only in His light that we "see light" (Ps. 36:9). It is not sufficient to examine ourselves: we must request the Divine physician to diagnose our case, saying "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23, 24). Nevertheless, let it be pointed out that such a request cannot be presented sincerely unless we have personally endeavored to thoroughly search ourselves and purpose to continue so doing.
Prayer was never designed to be a substitute for the personal discharge of duty: rather is it appointed as a means for procuring help therein. While it remains our duty to honestly scrutinize our hearts and inspect our ways, measuring them by the holy requirements of Scripture, yet only the immediate assistance of the Spirit will enable us to prosecute our quest with any real profit and success. Therefore we need to enter the secret place and inquire of the Lord "show me wherefore Thou contendest with me" (Job 10:2). If we sincerely ask Him to make known unto us what it is in our ways He is displeased with, and for which He is now rebuking us, He will not mock us. Request of Him the hearing ear, and He will tell what is wrong. Let there be no reserve, but an honest desire to know what needs correcting, and He will show you.
Third, the Christian is to "endure" chastisement humbly. When the Lord has responded to your request and has made known the cause of His chastening, see to it that you quarrel not with Him. If there be any feeling that the scourging is heavier than you deserve, the thought must be promptly rejected. "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment (or chastisement) of his sins?" (Lam. 3:39). If we take issue with the Most High, we shall only be made to smart the more for our pains. Rather must we seek grace to heed that word, "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God" (1 Pet. 5:6). Ask Him to quicken conscience, shine into your heart, and bring to light the hidden things of darkness, so that you may perceive your inward sins as well as your outward. And then will you exclaim, "I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Ps. 119:75).
Fourth, the Christian is to "endure" chastisement patiently. Probably that is the prime thought in our text: steadfastness, a resolute continuance in the path of duty, an abiding service of God with all our hearts, notwithstanding the present trial, is what we are called unto. But Satan whispers, "What is the use? you have endeavored, earnestly, to please the Lord, and how is He rewarding you? You cannot satisfy Him: the more you give, the more He demands; He is a hard and tyrannical Master." Such vile suggestions must be put from us as the malicious lies of him who hates God and seeks to encompass our destruction. God has only your good in view when the rod is laid upon you. Just as the grass needs to be mown to preserve its freshness, as the vine has to be pruned to ensure its fruitfulness, as friction is necessary to produce electric power, as fire alone will consume the dross, even so the discipline of trial is indispensable for the education of the Christian.
"Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9). Keep before you the example of Christ: He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, yet before His shearers He was "dumb." He never fretted or murmured, and we are to "follow His steps." "Let patience have her perfect work" (James 1:4). For this we have to be much in prayer; for this we need the strengthening help of the Holy Spirit. God tells us that chastisement is not "joyous" but "grievous": if it were not, it would not be "chastening." But He also assures us that "afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11). Lay hold of that word "afterward": anticipate the happy sequel, and in the comfort thereof continue pressing forward along the path of duty. "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit" (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
Fifth, the Christian is to "endure" chastisement believingly. This was how Job endured his: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Heb. 1:21). Ah, he looked behind all secondary causes, and perceived that above the Sabeans and Chaldeans was Jehovah Himself. But is it not at this point we most often fail? Only too frequently we see only the injustice of men, the malice of the world, the enmity of Satan, in our trials: that is walking by sight. Faith brings God into the scene. "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13). It is an adage of the world that "Seeing is believing:" but in the spiritual realm, the order is reversed: there we must "believe" in order to "see." And what is it which the saint most desires to "see"? Why, "the goodness of the Lord," for unless he sees that, he "faints." And how does faith see "the goodness of the Lord" in chastisements? By viewing them as proceeding from God’s love, as ordered by His wisdom, and as designed for our profit.
As the bee sucks honey out of the bitter herb, so faith may extract much good from afflictions. Faith can turn water into wine, and make bread out of stones. Unbelief gives up in the hour of trial and sinks in despair; but faith keeps the head above water and hopefully looks for deliverance. Human reason may not be able to understand the mysterious ways of God, but faith knows that the sorest disappointments and the heaviest losses are among the "all things" which work together for our good. Carnal friends may tell us that it is useless to strive any longer; but faith says, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15). What a wonderful promise is that in Psalm 91:15, "I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him." Ah, but faith alone can feel that Presence, and faith alone can enjoy now the assured deliverance. It was because of the joy set before Him (by the exercise of faith) that Christ "endured the cross," and only as we view God’s precious promises will we patiently endure our cross.
Sixth, the Christian is to "endure" chastisement hopefully. Though quite distinct, the line of demarcation between faith and hope is not a very broad one, and in some of the things said above we have rather anticipated what belongs to this particular point. "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Rom. 8:24, 25). This passage clearly intimates that "hope" relates to the future. "Hope" in Scripture is far more than a warrantless wish: it is a firm conviction and a comforting expectation of a future good. Now inasmuch as chastisement, patiently and believingly endured, is certain to issue in blessing, hope is to be exercised. "When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10): that is the language of confident expectation.
While it be true that faith supports the heart under trial, it is equally a fact—though less recognized—that hope buoys it up. When the wings of hope are spread, the soul is able to soar above the present distress, and inhale the invigorating air of future bliss. "For our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen" (2 Cor. 4:17, 18): that also is the language of joyous anticipation. No matter how dark may the clouds which now cover thy horizon, ere long the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. Then seek to walk in the steps of our father Abraham, "who against hope, believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations" (Rom. 4:18).
Seventh, the Christian is to "endure" chastisement thankfully. Be grateful, my despondent brother, that the great God cares so much for a worm of the earth as to be at such pains in your spiritual education. O what a marvel that the Maker of heaven and earth should go to so much trouble in His son-training of us! Fail not, then, to thank Him for His goodness, His faithfulness, His patience, toward thee. "We are chastened of the Lord (now) that we should not be condemned with the world" in the day to come (1 Cor. 11:32): what cause for praise is this! If the Lord Jesus, on the awful night of His betrayal, "sang a hymn" (Matthew 26:30), how much more should we, under our infinitely lighter sorrows, sound forth the praises of our God. May Divine grace enable both writer and reader to "endure chastening" in this sevenfold spirit, and then will God be glorified and we advantaged.
"If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons." This does not mean that upon our discharge of the duty enjoined God will act toward us "as with sons"; for this He does in the chastisements themselves, as the apostle has clearly shown. No, rather, the force of these words is, If ye endure chastening, then you have the evidence in yourselves that God deals with you as sons. In other words, the more I am enabled to conduct myself under troubles as becometh a child of God, the clearer is the proof of my Divine adoption. The new birth is known by its fruits, and the more my spiritual graces are exercised under testing, the more do I make manifest my regeneration. Furthermore, the clearer the evidence of my regeneration, the clearer do I perceive the dealings of a Father toward me in His discipline.
The patient endurance of chastenings is not only of great price in the sight of God, but is of inestimable value unto the souls of them that believe. While it be true that the sevenfold description we have given above depicts not the spirit in which all Christians do receive chastening, but rather the spirit in which they ought to receive it, and that all coming short thereof is to be mourned and confessed before God; nevertheless, it remains that no truly born-again person continues to either utterly "despise" the rod or completely "faint" beneath it. No, herein lies a fundamental difference between the good-ground hearer and the stony-ground one: of the former it is written, "The righteous also shall hold on his way" (Job. 17:9); of the latter, it is recorded, "Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, immediately he is offended" (Matthew 13:21).
A mere suffering of things calamitous is not, in itself, any evidence of our acceptance with God. Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards, so that afflictions or chastisements are no pledges of our adoption; but if we "endure" them with any measure of real faith, submission and perseverance, so that we "faint not" under them—abandon not the Faith or entirely cease seeking to serve the Lord—then do we demonstrate our Divine sonship. So too it is the proper frame of our minds and the due exercise of our hearts which lets in a sense of God’s gracious design toward us in His chastenings. The Greek word for "dealeth with us as with sons" is very blessed: literally it signifies "he offereth Himself unto us:" He proposeth Himself not as an enemy, but as a Friend; not as toward strangers, but as toward His own beloved children.
"But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (verse 8). These words present the reverse side of the argument established in the preceding verse: since it be true, both in the natural and in the spiritual realm, that disciplinary dealing is inseparable from the relation between fathers and sons, so that an evidence of adoption is to be clearly inferred therefrom, it necessarily follows that those who are "without chastisement" are not children at all. What we have here is a testing and discriminative rule, which it behoves each of us to measure himself by. That we may not err therein, let us attend to its several terms.
When the apostle says, "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers," it is obvious that his words are not to be taken in their widest latitude: the word "all" refers not to all men, but to the "sons" of whom he is speaking. In like manner, "chastisement" is not here to be taken for everything that is grievous and afflictive, for none entirely escape trouble in this life. But comparatively speaking, there are those who are largely exempt: such the Psalmist referred to when he said, "For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men" (Ps. 73:4, 5). No, it is God’s disciplinary dealings which the apostle is speaking of, corrective instruction which promotes holiness. There are many professors who, whatever trials they may experience, are without any Divine chastisement for their good.
Those who are "without chastisement" are but "bastards." It is common knowledge that bastards are despised and neglected—though unjustly so—by those who illegitimately begot them: they are not the objects of that love and care as those begotten in wedlock. This solemn fact has its counterpart in the religious realm. There is a large class who are destitute of Divine chastisements, for they give no evidence that they receive them, endure them, or improve them. There is a yet more solemn meaning in this word: under the law "bastards" had no right of inheritance: "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord" (Deut. 23:2): No cross, no crown: to be without God’s disciplinary chastenings now, means that we must be excluded from His presence hereafter. Here, then, is a further reason why the Christian should be contented with his present lot: the Father’s rod upon him now evidences his title unto the Inheritance in the day to come.