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"My Son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him" (Hebrews 12:5).
Not all chastisement is sanctified to the recipients of it. Some are hardened thereby; others are crushed beneath it. Much depends on the spirit in which afflictions are received. There is no virtue in trials and troubles in themselves: it is only as they are blest by God that the Christian is profited thereby. As Heb. 12:11 informs us, it is those who are "exercised" under God's rod that bring forth "the peaceable fruit of righteousness." A sensitive conscience and a tender heart are the needed adjuncts. In our text the Christian is warned against two entirely different dangers: despise not, despair not. These are two extremes against which it is ever necessary to keep a sharp look-out. Just as every truth of Scripture has its balancing counterpart, so has every evil its opposite. On the one hand there is a haughty spirit which laughs at the rod, a stubborn will which refuses to be humbled thereby. On the other hand, there is a fainting which utterly sinks beneath it and gives way to despair. Spurgeon said, "The way of righteousness is a difficult pass between two mountains of error, and the great secret of the Christian's life is to wind his way along the narrow valley."
I.Despising the Rod. There are a number of ways in which Christians may "despise" God's chastenings. We mention four of them:
1.By callousness. To be stoical is the policy of carnal wisdom- make the best of a bad job. The man of the world knows no better plan than to grit his teeth and brave things out. Having no Divine Comforter, Counsellor or Physician, he has to fall back on his own poor resources. It is inexpressibly sad when we see a child of God conducting himself as does a child of the Devil. For a Christian to defy adversities is to "despise" chastisement. Instead of hardening himself to endure stoically, there should be a melting of the heart.
2. By complaining. This is what the Hebrews did in the wilderness; and there are still many mumurers in Israel's camp. A little sickness, and we become so cross that our friends are afraid to come near us. A few days in bed, and we fret and fume like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. We peevishly ask, Why this affliction? What have I done to deserve it? We look around with envious eyes, and are discontented because others are carrying a lighter load. Beware, my reader: it goes hard with murmurers. God always chastises twice if we are not humbled by the first. Remind yourself of how much dross there yet is among the gold. View the corruptions of your own heart, and marvel that God has not smitten you twice as severely. "My Son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord."
3. By criticisms. How often we question the usefulness of chastisement. As Christians we seem to have little more spiritual good sense than we had natural wisdom as children. As boys we thought that the rod was the least necessary thing in the home. It is so with the children of God. When things go as we like them, when some unexpected temporal blessing is bestowed, we have no difficulty in ascribing all to a kind Providence. But when our plans are thwarted, when losses are ours, it is very different. Yet, is it not written, "I form the light and create darkness. I make; peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (Isa. 45:7)? How often is the thing formed ready to complain, "Why hast thou made me thus?" We say, I cannot see how this can possibly profit my soul. If I had better health I could attend the house of prayer more frequently! If I had been spared those losses in business I would have more money for the Lord's work! What good can possibly come of this calamity? Like Jacob, we exclaim: "All these things are against me. What is this but to "despise" the rod? Shall thy ignorance challenge God's wisdom? Shall thy shortsightedness arraign omniscience?
4. By carelessness. So many fail to mend their ways. The exhortation of our text is much needed by all of us. There are many who have "despised" the rod, and in consequence they have not profited thereby. Many a Christian has been corrected by God, but in vain. Sickness, reverses, bereavements have come, but they have not been sanctified by prayerful self-examination. Oh brethren and sisters, take heed. If God be chastening thee "consider your ways (Hag. 1:5), "ponder the path of thy feet" (Prov. 4:26). Be assured that there is some reason for the chastening. Many a Christian would not have been chastised half so severely had he diligently inquired the cause of it.
II . Fainting Under It. Having been warned against "despising" the rod, now we are admonished not to give way to despair under it. There are at least three ways in which the Christian may "faint" beneath the Lord's rebukes:
1. When he gives up all exertion. This is done when we sink down in despondency. The smitten one concludes that it is more than he can possibly endure. His heart fails him; darkness swallows him up; the sun of hope is eclipsed, and the voice of thanksgiving is silent. To "faint" means rendering ourselves unfit for the discharge of our duties. When a person faints, he is rendered motionless. How many Christians are ready to completely give up the fight when adversity enters their life. How many are rendered quite inert when trouble comes their way. How many, by their attitude, say, God's hand is heavy upon me: I can do nothing. Ah, beloved, "sorrow not, even as others which have no hope" ((I Thess. 4:13). "Faint not when thou are rebuked of Him." Go to the Lord about it: recognize His hand in it. Remember thine afflictions are among the "all things" which work together for good.
2.When he questions his sonship. There are not a few Christians who, when the rod descends upon them, conclude that they are not sons of God after all. They forget that it is written "Many are the afflictions of the righteous (Psa. 34:19), and that "we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). One says, "But if I were His child I should not be in this poverty, misery, pain." Listen to verse 8: "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." Learn, then, to look upon trials as proofs of God's love purging, pruning, purifying thee. The father of a family does not concern himself much about those on the outside of his household: it is they who are within whom he guards and guides, nurtures and conforms to his will. So it is with God.
3.When he despairs. Some indulge the fancy that they will never get out of their trouble. One says, I have prayed and prayed, but the clouds have not lifted. Then comfort yourself with this reflection: It is always the darkest hour that precedes the dawn. Therefore, "faint not" when thou art rebuked of Him. But, says another, I have pleaded His promise, and things are no better. I thought He delivered those who called upon Him; I have called, and He has not answered, and I fear He never will. What, child of God, speak of thy Father thus! You say He will never leave off smiting because He has smitten so long. Rather say He has now smitten so long I must soon be delivered. Despise not: faint not. May Divine grace preserve both writer and reader from either sinful extreme.
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