Page images



Heb. xii. 5-13. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and Scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 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. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

THE apostle in his letter to the Romans, declared that his "heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel" was, "that they might be saved." The deep working of this feeling is most strikingly exhibited in the epistle under examination. It is here embodied in argument and eloquence unanswerable and overwhelming. His hands here stretch out over his national kindred like those of the Savior himself when he wept over Jerusalem. For all of them he evinces a most affectionate concern. But particularly for those who had made some advances in favor of christianity his heart seems to yearn with unutterable anxiety. He foresaw that fierce trials awaited them-trials which would greatly jeopard their faith. He therefore exerts himself to the utmost to have them fully prepared for the approaching war.

In the passage before us he continues the strain of exhortation which was commenced in the 10th chapter. His design is to present motives to the consideration of his brethren to encourage them to fidelity. He had already designated various particulars for this purpose. Here he speaks of suffering itself as a token of Divine regard, and as a subject of encouragement to perseverance. Apprehensive that they might misunderstand or overlook the true notion of christian suffering, he refers them to a familiar passage in

Proverbs, and sets himself to show how believers are to look upon their tribulations. We will then be led to consider the origin-the universality-the peculiarity—the manner and the design of christian suffering.

1. The origin of christian sufferings The text ascribes them to God. They all come from his fatherly hand. But not exclusive of any desert of suffering on our part. Correctly speaking, all suffering is the product of sin--the consequence of violated law. Jehovah in his works and in his word is represented as a God of love. His infinite benevolence must prevent him from giving existence to such beings as cannot live but to suffer. It must also prevent him from inflicting suffering upon any in whom there has been no irregularity calling for such infliction as a thing of justice. All his laws. are declared to be good; so good that whosoever shall fully obey them will be happy. Hence, wherever there is suffering there must first have been some violation of law. And so are all the sufferings of christians to be traced to sin. Sin not only dug the pit, kindled the fires, and created the worm of hell; but all the woes that have ever been in our world, or that are now in it have sprung from sin. Each tear, each drop of blood that has been shed since man was placed on earth, sin has drained. And if we are made to endure pain, it is to be traced to some violation that we have committed upon the laws of God, or which our parents committed before our birth. If we are made to undergo bereavement and death, it is all ascribed by the Bible to the transgression of our seminal and federal representative in the garden of Eden. If we suffer from the persecutions and the faithlessness of our fellow men, it is because we stand connected with a social machinery which sin has deranged. And if we suffer remorse of conscience, it is because we ourselves have sinned against our God. All suffering issues from the fount of sin. But, although sin is the instrumental cause of the present sufferings of the righteous, there is nevertheless a peculiar sense in which they are to be ascribed to God. This will be further explained when we come to speak of the peculiarity of the christian's sufferings.

2. The universality of christian suffering. The text declares that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." This is the general rule of the Divine administrations. The people of God in all ages have been the sub

[ocr errors]

jects of affliction. It is in view of this fact that Paul exclaims in one place, "If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." It seems too that the most pious and renowned for holiness have had the greatest share of suffering to endure. Some of the patriarchs were great sufferers. The prophets were men of sorrows, and most of them were stoned and slain. The apostles all perished by the malice of an ungodly world. Most of the glorious reformers died martyrs for the truth as it is in Jesus. And the righteous of all nations and all ages have been the children of affliction. Some were tortured, "others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonment." Some "were stoned, sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; and wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and in caves of the earth." And though we as christians may not be called on to endure sufferings of the same or similar kind; we are nevertheless all subject to pains, disease, bereavement, disappointment and death. It is a universal law, that no christian is exempted from the chastening of the Lord.

3. The peculiarity of christian suffering. Every one who has given the subject any thought will agree that the sufferings of the righteous are to be looked upon in a different light from those of the wicked. They have a common source, but they bear different relations to the Divine economy. Sinners suffer in a judicial sense. They suffer for the satisfaction of violated law. They suffer in the endurance of penalty. The righteous it is true suffer the penalty of their sins so far as it is executed in this life; but they suffer in accordance with a special arrangement. They suffer a penalty for which an adequate and accepted satisfaction has been made. They may be said to suffer by the special appointment of God. Let us endeavor to obtain a clear conception of this idea. The Gospel you know, provides a complete redemption from all sin. John declares that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." It is said of the Savior, that "he gave himself to redeem us from all iniquity." Again it is said, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us"-that "we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." You know too, that whosoever believes in Christ, and rests on his atonement, is judicially

exempted from the entire penalty of sin. We are "justified by faith," and "there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." These are the free, unqualified, and glorious declarations of the Scriptures. But do we see them realized in fact? We have reason to believe that there are many christians in the world; are any of them fully exempted from the penalties of sin? It was just remarked that all suffering is the product of sin; and do not christians suffer? Do they not spend their lives in sorrow like other men, and then die as if under the very curse which was first pronounced upon transgression? Facts declare most positively that they do. In order then to preserve the integrity of the Gospel, we are driven to seek some other explanation of christian suffering. The truth is that God has deferred to carry the great work of human redemption into full effect until an appointed period in the future. The time intervening between the present and that period, at least so much of it as christians spend on earth, is devoted to the work of moral discipline. And although God has been fully satisfied for the sins of believers, he yet continues them under the sorrowful influences of the present course of things, as a special arrangement for this purpose. He might have carried the whole scheme into immediate effect; but in his wisdom sin itself is first made an instrument to help on his mighty purpose. Christians suffer on account of sin; but here is the peculiarity, they suffer by the direct and particular appointment of God. Sinners indeed suffer because it is the Divine will and purpose that the wicked shall have no peace. But this is a matter of God's ordinary administrations. The sufferings of the righteous belong to the new and special economy of grace. They enter into the great plan of salvation as an essential part. The sinner suffers penally; the christian suffers remedially. The one suffers as a debtor to the law; the other as an heir of glory. The one suffers by way of satisfaction for unpardoned sins; the other as a means of promoting the glory of both the redeemed and the Redeemer. The one suffers as a disowned, neglected, or banished bastard; the other as a beloved and acknowledged son. The one suffers at the hand of justice; the other at the hand of love. The one suffers under the law; the other under the Gospel.

Here then is the reason why christians are not to interpret their sufferings as marks of Divine displeasure. Many good people are

prone to do this. It was so with Job and his "miserable comforters." And there seems to be something natural in it. The soul that is uninstructed as to the true nature of the case will reason to this effect: "The Scriptures teach that whosoever repents of his sins and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ secures the favor and love of God, and his sins are remembered against him no more. From this it is to be concluded, as both the cause of suffering and the frown of deity are removed, all suffering is removed with them. But I am not exempt from suffering, the body I inhabit is full of pains, the circumstances which surround me give me disturbing anxiety, and finally I am to pass through the dreary vale of death. Certainly then I am not to be numbered with the blest company of the redeemed." There appears to be force in this reasoning. The apostle no doubt apprehended that it would drive some of his brethren to despair under the severe afflictions which they were to endure. But its whole force is done away by the doctrine that these sufferings belong to the plan of salvation. God himself has appointed them. Though judicially the whole work is completed, he yet sees fit in his wisdom to let the natural course of things run on for a season-to leave the existing arrangements of Providence undisturbed, as the best way to accomplish his gracious purposes toward man. Consequently, instead of doubting our sonship, because of our suffering, we are to look on the other hand, and expect them as the ordinary accompaniments of the Divine favor. We are rather to construe the absence of suffering into an indication that we are excluded from the arrangements of God for the sanctification of believers. "If ye endure chastening," says Paul, "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."

4. The manner of christian suffering. God chastises his children in a different temper from that with which earthly parents ordinarily correct children. With these there is often much that is the result of hasty emotion-of an irascible temper-perhaps of the mere love of power. There is much that is inflicted without due reflection, and that produces only pain in the bosom of the parent in the recollection. But with God everything is without any intermingling of passion, or any improper feeling. His administration is free from all the defects which attend parental discipline on earth.

« PreviousContinue »