BLESSED ARE THE BUFFETED
by Timothy Cross
The dictionary defines the verb ‘to chasten’ as ‘to discipline by suffering; refine, temper’. When we consider that divine chastisement - that is, being disciplined by God Himself - is both the clear teaching of Scripture and the common experience of every Christian who has been truly born-again, it is perhaps surprising that the subject is not covered more often in Christian sermons and Christian literature than it is:-
‘Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you’ (Deuteronomy 8:5).
‘Blessed is the man whom Thou dost chasten, O LORD …’ (Psalm 94:12)
‘Do not despise the LORD’S discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the LORD reproves Him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights’ (Proverbs 3:11,12).
And the definitive statement on divine chastisement in Hebrews 12:3-11 tells us that ‘the Lord chastens every son whom He receives’ for ‘He disciplines us for our good’ (v.10).
Not a punishment for sin
It is then ‘through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Acts 14:22). To be forewarned is to be forearmed. When painful providences come our way however, many of God’s people lapse in their thinking, and fear that they are being punished for their sin. This though is not so, for such thinking denies the heart of the Gospel. The Christian Gospel proclaims a salvation from eternal punishment. The Christian Gospel is that Christ has taken the eternal punishment for our sins, and He did so when He died in our place at Calvary’s cross: ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ (Galatians 3:13). He is ‘the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10), so that those who are truly trusting in Him will never undergo the divine punishment which their sins deserve:-
Payment God cannot twice demand
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand
And then again at mine.
Chastening for sin
Whilst the above is blessedly true - it is literally the Gospel truth - it is also true to say that God’s own children - unlike the children of the world - cannot sin deliberately in this life and escape from God‘s chastening hand. Our heavenly Father’s love for us and interest in us sees that when we sin against His revealed will, in a blatant, ‘high-handed’ manner, we will be given a painful ‘spank’ to humble us, make us confess our sin and culpability, and so be restored to that close fellowship with Him which we enjoyed previously - as well as being watchful against future occasions of sin. ‘I know, O LORD, that Thy judgements are right, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me’ (Psalm 119:75). ‘It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes’ (Psalm 119:71).
Perhaps the most notorious Scriptural example of chastening for sin is David’s adultery with Bathsheba. David perhaps thought that the matter would be forgotten with time, but, ‘the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David …’ (1 Samuel 12:13) with the consequence that ‘David therefore besought God …’ (1 Samuel 12:16). Psalm 51 reveals that David was truly penitent, and his desire for unhindered fellowship with God was greater than the desire he had, in a moment of madness, to break God’s law.
God’s discipline of us when we know that we have done wrong in His sight is, of course, painful, humbling and even humiliating. Yet it is a blessing. For such proves that we are His children by adoption and grace. It is the unsaved whom he leaves to ‘prosper’ in their sin (see Psalm 73). As a general principle, we can state that the non-elect will know few judgements in this life, but eternal judgement in the next: whilst God’s own people will known many judgements in this life, but eternal bliss in the next. Painful chastisement for known sin in our lives then, paradoxically, can cause us to praise God for the wonderful salvation He has bestowed upon us. ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are’ (1 John 3:1).
Training for usefulness
What though when painful providences occur in the life of one of God’s children when we know that, in our heart of hearts, whilst we are not sinless, we are nevertheless not guilty of any deliberate sin? How are we to react when the losses and crosses, and pains and perplexities of this life - ill health, disappointment, failure, redundancy, stress at home, work or in the church etc - come our way?
i. First of all, the Bible assures us that dark providences are not accidental but providential. They are divinely ordained and sent. ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things’ (Romans 11:36). ‘We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
ii. Secondly, Scripture encourages us to view difficult providences as divine chastisement. ‘It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?’ (Hebrews 12:7).
Divine chastisement here though is not so much a rebuke for wrong doing, but a loving father’s training and education of his own children whom he dearly loves and for whom he desires the very best. Suffering then is the Christian’s training ground. It shows that God has not finished with us, but is refining and polishing us. On this training ground we are made more prayerful and dependent upon God. On this training ground we learn more of God’s total sufficiency for our insufficiency. On this training ground we learn valuable lessons in humility and Christian sympathy. This training ground painfully prunes us so that we can bear more fruit to God’s glory (John 15:2), weaning us away from the trivial things of time which can so engross us, and drawing us that much more closer to God and the promises of His Word. In a nutshell, the training ground of divine chastisement makes us more like the Saviour Who first loved us.
Blessed are the buffeted
When suffering comes our way, our nature is such that we are inclined to worry. In the light of the Bible though, perhaps we should be more worried if suffering does not come our way, for the experience of divine chastisement is one of the evidences that we are the children of God, by adoption and grace. 2 Corinthians 2:17 tells us that ‘this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.’ Romans 8:18 tells us that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’. We can be sure that in the light of eternity, we will never want anything to have been other than the way it has been.
Divine chastisement cannot be divorced from the doctrine of divine adoption - a doctrine central to the Reformed Faith of the Bible. The Westminster Confession, in its chapter which extols the wonder of God’s adoption of sinners, reminds us that divine chastisement is divine adoption’s necessary corollary. For those adopted into God’s family:-
‘are taken into the number and enjoy the liberties of the children of God, have His name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry Abba Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, AND CHASTENED BY HIM, as by a Father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.’
In a poetic vein, John Newton was surely Scriptural when, putting words into the mouth of the Almighty Himself, he imagines God saying to His children by way of explanation:-
‘These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in Me.’
Timothy CrossLast Update: 2016-09-01 12:11