Chapter Four Chastening - Purposes.

Let us discover now seven reasons why Divine chastening is permitted to come upon God’s people, each of which has a specific purpose in view.

(1) To Teach Obedience.

We have already noticed the experiences of the Psalmist, and we quote again, “Before I was afflicted

I went! astray: but now have I kept Thy word … It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:67, 71). Again, “When Thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth.” (Psalm 39:11).

In this Psalm David has found God’s hand heavy upon him, and the experience is yielding the result desired of God. David writes, “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.” (verse 1). The truth of this is illustrated throughout Scripture.

Let me use the “Barley Field” incident described in 2 Samuel 14. Absalom, David’s son, had, been guilty of the murder of his brother and fled the country. Through a subterfuge of Joab, David’s Commander-in-Chief, he had been brought back to the land, but not into David’s home. Absalom, because of secret and sinister reasons, wanted complete reconciliation to his father, so sent for Joab to make this request to the king. Joab refused to hearken to Absalom’s messengers bidding him to come to their royal master. When Absalom sent again, but without success, he commanded his servants to burn Joab’s barley field. They did. When Joab saw the flames ravage his precious barley he went to Absalom in a hurry. Absalom made it clear to him that had he come when he first sent for him his barley field would not have been destroyed. Many a saint has lost his “barley field” because of disobedience to a Divine command.

When it seemed that Joseph’s brethren were in jeopardy—their lives, perhaps, not worth a moment’s purchase—as Joseph accused them of being spies we know he was testing them. He spake through an interpreter, so that they remained in ignorance of his identity; to them he was a strange Egyptian prince. Freely among themselves in the Hebrew tongue they discuss their guilt in their atrocious deed twenty-two years before. Conscience is smiting them; abject terror siezes them as they find themselves in the shadows of the gallows; or, so they think. It is evident they would never again perpetrate such action as the betrayal of their brother. Later when Joseph further tests them in the matter of Benjamin, suggesting that Benjamin remain with Joseph in Egypt while they return to Caanan their repentance is genuine. The fruit of righteousness is seen, and Joseph’s heart is satisfied. A precious and happy reconciliation takes place. Ten chastened men have learned obedience to the claims of righteousness.

Naomi’s sad experience further illustrates. She with Elimelech and her two sons left Judea and departed for the land of Moab. There they dwelt in plenty, while famine gripped God’s country. Better far, Naomi, hadst thou dwelled in Palestine, in fellowship with God and His people, than to “dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (How many a dear saint of God has followed Naomi’s path, leaving the fellowship of God and His people today for places where material advantages and gain were better, but without the fellowship). It was a costly experience for this dear woman. She lived in Moab for ten years—the bitterest of her life. Three times she visited an open grave; three times she said good-bye to the nearest on earth. But, she returned to Bethlehem, her home, to God and His people. She was warmly welcomed, but, O! what a change in her. She is barely recognized; the women cry out, “Is this Naomi?” Poor Naomi! Her response is touching: “Call me not Naomi; call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty.” (Ruth 1:20, 21). Back in Moab’s cold dust lie the remains of Elimelech and the two sons. A bitter, bitter lesson, but, it has been learned, thank God. The disciplining hand has not been stretched forth in vain. See! Naomi is home—a chastened soul—with happier days now lying before her.

The brethren of Joseph would join with Naomi and cry out with the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted that I might learn Thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71). The old hymn is right:

Trust and obey; for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

(2) To Deepen Spirituality.

What is spirituality? The word practically explains itself. It is the development of the Holy Spirit’s work in a redeemed heart.

I have chosen my text for this second purpose in Divine chastening from John 15:2. “Every branch that beareth fruit He (the Husbandman) purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit.”

The parable of the vine is the story of: 1) The tree; 2) the branch; 3) the fruit; 4) the husbandman. Respectively they represent the Lord, the Christian, the Christ-life and the Father.

The word “purgeth” in our text and its associate “purged” are only used once in Scripture. The other reference is in Hebrews, where we read, “Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” (Chapter 10:2). It is an interesting word. Literally a pruning knife is seen in the former, while figuratively the knife of circumcision is seen in the latter. The explanation of the second Scripture is found in these words: “In Whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” (Colossians 2:11). This passage has been rendered by one expositor, “the circumcision with which He cuts us off.” So we see in each case there is, literally and figuratively, a cutting-off; suffering is involved.

In the experience of the Lord Jesus suffering was inescapable, since His chosen lot was to “bear our griefs and carry our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:4). A profound passage (Hebrews 5:8) bows the soul in worship: “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” Again, “For it became Him…in bringing many sons unto glory to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:10). It should be noted that here in this passage “perfect” is not used in any moral sense; but, rather in the sense of fitness or equipment. As our Captain He is perfectly fitted to lead us, since He has passed through suffering before us.

If that Christ-life is to be developed in the believer it must be through suffering; it was the Savior’s path. The purging (pruning) knife cuts, suggestive, as we have seen, of suffering; but, the result is “more fruit.” In this way the branch draws attention to the vine; the vine is seen, but the branch is forgotten. It is, as Paul expressed it, “Not I, but Christ.” (Galatians 2:20).

Many a dear saint seeking to live for God has felt the keen, cutting edge of the knife; he may have wondered why. But, exercised in the presence of God he learns he is in the hand of the Heavenly Husbandman; he yields. That very yieldedness is a manifestation of the Christ-life. Christ is seen in him now more than before. Others seeing Christ in his life now learn more of Christ than before. The spiritual Vine is advertised.

It is reasonable to conclude that such a saint will now abide in Christ more than ever. His joy will also increase, and a new vista of blessing will appear on his horizon. The Savior said, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (verse 7). Yes, that suffering, yielded and Christ-abiding saint may expect answers to prayer.

Mr. George Müller of the Bristol Orphan Homes in England accepted this promise literally, and his life of answered prayer proves how wonderfully true it was in his experience.

Jacob characterized Joseph in a sentence when he said, “Joseph is a fruitful bough.” Was there ever a more fruitful bough? Was there ever a more chastened life? Jacob added: “The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him.” (Genesis 49:23). The Psalmist said, “Whose feet they hurt with fetters; his soul came into iron.” (Psalm 105:18, margin). Joseph suffered in his father’s house, in his master’s house, and in the prison; nevertheless, standing silently in the shadows was God. He tried him, and in the final analysis Joseph can be described “a fruitful bough whose branches run over the wall.”

If chastening produces abiding in Christ, and abiding in Christ produces the Spirit-filled life blessing then must flow to others. Jesus said, “He that believeth on Me…out of his belly (inner self) shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.” (John 7:37, 38).

It is sad today to reflect that so few believers manifest this Spirit-filled life in view of the solemn pronouncement, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ He is none of His.” (Romans 8:9). The passage indicates that the true believer is not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but he is one whose life is controlled by the Spirit. As he directed the steps in the pathway of Christ so should he direct the footsteps of His humble followers.

George Mathieson had learned something of this when he penned the words:

O Cross, that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Happy the saint, who, when chastened, discovers the fruit of a Christ-filled life.

(3) To Produce Humility.

Chastening may take the form of a trial, which, a saint reflecting upon, sees as a milestone in life’s pathway—a hurdle successfully passed in the Christian race. Another form of chastening abides with him, and may possibly dog his footsteps all along the pilgrim way—a “thorn in the flesh.”

Paul writes of “a man in Christ” who had a remarkable experience fourteen years previous to the time of writing of the experience. It is generally understood that Paul himself is the “man” in the story. Fourteen years before he was shamefully handled by a mob while preaching in Lystra. This mob was incited by hate-filled Jews to stone Paul and leave him for dead. As such he was mourned by the beloved disciples, but, in the midst of the mourning he rose to life before their eyes. (Acts 14).

The strange story corresponds with the equally strange account rendered by the apostle (2 Corinthians 12). He says of the “man,” “whether in the body I cannot tell; whether out of the body I cannot tell.” Neither can he describe the remarkable visions seen during that remarkable period; but, they were calculated to make the privileged person “exalted above measure.” As a result Paul must for the rest of his life know a new experience—he carries a “thorn in the flesh.”

What was this “thorn”? God has wisely refrained from telling us the nature of it, but He does reveal three things about it. First, it was a gift; Second, it was a physical affliction; Third, it was “the messenger of Satan.”

This particular affliction, whatever it was, was “given.” Satan may have hurled it at Paul, but the Lord gave it to him. The incident may be regarded as a commentary on the precious promise, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee.” (Psalm 55:22). The word for “burden” reads in the margin “gift.” Another rendering is, “the portion He has assigned thee.” It may seem incongruous to think of a “burden” being a “gift”; but, when our pilgrimage is over many a saint will learn that his portion of affliction has been a blessing in disguise; it was indeed a “gift” from the Lord.

One bitter cold day a few winters ago a Scottish mailman struggled up a snow-covered driveway of a well-to-do Scottish house. He had a large parcel for the address of the house. It seemed to grow heavier with every passing step, and gladly did he anticipate the end of another day’s duties. The prospect of his warm fireside glowed in his heart. Depositing his heavy burden in the hands of the lady who opened the door, in response to his knock, he started down the drive. He was rather startled and annoyed to hear her cry, “Excuse me, postie, you’ve made a mistake; this parcel is not for me.” Visions of having to carry the heavy thing back to the Post Office caused him to return to the door most disgruntedly. As he took the parcel again into his arms the lady suggested he re-read the address on its label. Slowly this time he read: “To the mailman who delivers the mail at________” (There followed the address of the house at which he stood).

The explanation was simple. A friend of the occupants of the house who lived in United States had been sending food parcels to them, living at that time under war-imposed austerity in Great Britain. Either the donor or the recipient conceived the happy thought of sending a parcel to the mailman on the job. Seeing the familiar package I suppose the mailman thought of it as just another for the folks, and did not bother to carefully peruse the label. Up the drive he had trudged with his burden; back down the drive he cheerily departed with his gift.

Before looking at the purpose of Paul’s “thorn” let me continue in this comforting strain in chastening.

The tribe of Levi had the “service of burdens” in the Tabernacle in the desert travels. When David established the Tabernacle in Jerusalem, “after the ark had rest,” the Levites were charged with the “service of song.” (Cf. Numbers 4:47 and 1 Chronicles 6:31).

One day in glory the weary pilgrim shall rest with Christ, Who waits for the consummation of His rest— fruit of Calvary’s toil. Desert days and weary ways shall be behind forever, and our “burdens” changed to glad, eternal “songs.”

The Burden and the Song

The service of the burden (Numbers 4:47).
The service of song
(1 Chron. 6:31).

All through the desert’s sultry day
A weary load to carry;
Who envied then the toilsome way
Of Kohath and Merari?
Now priest and Ark alike find rest
Where God His temple raises;
And they who served with burdens pressed,
Now only serve with praises.

How perfect are the ways of God!
How just His compensation!
How long the path they humbly trod;
How high their exaltation!
No needless load on thee He’ll lay,
No unrequited sorrow.
The burden-bearer of to-day
Is the singer of to-morrow.

J. S. Tait.

Why did Paul get a “thorn”? Five words explain, “Lest I should be exalted.”

Human nature, whether in a godly Paul, or, in a carnal Saul is ever the same. Pride, the antithesis of humility, is a trait common to every child of the human family; we come by it naturally; it is ours by birth. Mother Eve transmitted it to all her offspring.

“A proud look” is something God specifically states that he hates. If the proud look is seen in one who has nothing to be proud about, much more will be the tendency to pride in one who has had an exalted experience. If the saintly Paul must feel the humiliation of a “thorn,” much more must we.

It has often been noticed that saints who have been singularly blessed, materially or spiritually, have carried a burden. But, the carrying of that burden, the enduring of the “thorn” has been as ballast to the ship; a “tail” to the soaring kite. How pleasant to see such a saint, endowed of God above his fellows, maintaining a humility that makes all Christians, not so similarly blessed, feel perfectly unembarrassed in his presence. Surely in such a case chastening has royally served its Divine purpose.

Augustine said: “Humility is the first, second and third steps to Heaven after conversion.”

The bird that soars on highest wing
Builds on the ground her lowly nest;
And she who doth so sweetly sing,
Sings in the shade when all things rest.
In lark and nightingale we see
What honor hath humility.

The saint who wears Heaven’s highest crown
Doth low in adoration bend;
The weight of glory bows him down
The most, when most his soul ascends.
Nearest the throne itself must be
The footstool of humility.

We conclude our remarks on this purpose of chastening by noting that Paul had the blessing of Asher, “As thy days so shall thy strength be.” (Deuteronomy 33:24). The “thorn” was his all his days, but so was God’s sufficient grace ever his daily portion.

Dear saint, have you a “thorn”? There is grace—grace sufficient to give the needed strength—so that you, as Paul did, may finish your course down here with joy, triumphing in the grace supplied.

The testimony of a very aged saint, recalling a terrible experience, of almost fifty years before, said in our hearing, “I’ve learned that God’s word is true; I’ve proven His promise. His grace has been sufficient. In the accident (as men speak) he lost his eyes, his hands, and his capacity for any kind of employment. Deserted by the nearest and dearest he was left without funds or pension. God raised up a godly helper, and now he draws to the close of his pathway. His “hedge of thorns was sharp,” but sufficient grace has never left him.

Courage, weary pilgrim. God is faithful, and Asher’s blessing will never fail.

(4) To Increase Patience.

A little text of three words gives us our Scripture for this purpose of chastening. “Tribulation worketh patience.” (Romans 5:3).

Some of the saints to whom the Apostle James wrote his epistle knew something of tribulation. They suffered at the hands of unrighteous men. The Lord had not interfered in their behalf, and they had need of patience. James wrote: “Be patient therefore brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7). He then cites three examples of patience.

There is the husbandman who patiently waits for the fruit of the earth; the prophets patient in the midst of affliction; and Job, whose patience is proverbial. In all of these patience has her perfect work.

The Hebrew saints experienced pain and suffering because of their testimony for Christ. The apostle seeks to comfort them by reminding them in their willing submission to the persecution and ordeals through which they were passing they were doing the will of God. He reminds them of their need of patience, and cheers their hearts with the promise of the coming of Christ. (Hebrews 10:32-37).

The suffering saints in Smyrna passed through fearful tribulation. Upon them the Lord urged faithfulness, and exhorted them with patience to endure to receive the crown of life. (Revelation 2:8-10).

The Apostle Peter outlines seven facets of our faith in his second epistle (chapter 1:5-7), and it is interesting to note that patience stands in the middle of the seven. As he traces these he must have been painfully aware of his own failure in all of them.

As he writes of patience his mind may have wandered to the post-resurrection incident when, in an impulsive mood, he led six of his brethren with him back to fishing, from which the Lord had called him. Poor Peter could not with patience wait, for the fulfillment of the Savior’s commission to him. He was to go forth as a herald of the Cross. He was to effectively use “the keys of the kingdom,” but he was required to wait.

Another incident may have been recalled to mind. Perhaps he thought of his impatience that night in the Upper Room—the night of the Lord’s betrayal. As the Savior quietly washed the disciples’ feet he reached the side of Peter. Before He can cleanse those tired and dusty feet of his fisherman-disciple Peter remonstrates, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Poor Peter! He ought to have known that the Lord must have had a very good lesson to teach His own in thus washing their feet, but in his natural impatience he cannot wait to learn.

Dare we criticize Peter? How often have we looked into the mirror of his heart to find our own reflection there! The heated, rash and unjust word so quickly spoken; the wilful step we longed to retrace; the harsh criticism of a kind and Heavenly Father. But, if patience is allowed to work within our heart the fruit of patience—sweet resignation to the Divine will—will result.

There could be nothing nobler in the life of any saint than sitting quietly in the presence of God under heavy trial, confessing His Name is blessed, as exemplified in Job’s case.

Poor Job! He has received four bearers of evil tidings. In a matter of minutes, from being the wealthiest man (and perhaps the happiest man) in the earth he is reduced to abject poverty, desolation and misery. In quick succession the blows fall, each one severer than its predecessor.

His first loss is a thousand oxen and five hundred asses together with the servants. His second loss is seven thousand sheep and the servants. His third loss is three thousand camels and the servants. In the midst of his grief following such staggering losses comes the fourth bearer of heavy tidings, announcing the greatest loss of all. In one terrible stroke every member of his family is wiped out. Job is now a father bereft of ten sons and daughters.

But, O! his patience. Like a sturdy ship in the midst of an ocean gale he rides his storm of adversity. Faith, like a bright beacon in a dark night, beckons, and he follows. Pathetic his lamentation, but glorious his patience. He cries, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).

In commending Job before his affliction God said he was “perfect…upright,…feareth God, and escheweth evil.” (Chapter 1:8). Excellent as these virtues are they seem to be eclipsed by the precious patience of which James has so much to say. Surely, to be patient is to be Christ-like.

What grace, O! Lord, and beauty shone
Around Thy steps below;
What patient love was seen in all
Thy life and death of woe.

If sorrow in our lives has resulted in patient resignation God is glorified, and fruit abounds. Let us then remember our text—“Tribulation worketh patience”— is a Divine truism.

(5) To Experience Comfort.

“Blessed be God…the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).

That’s it! Saints of tribulation are Divinely fitted to be saints of comfort.

God may afflict a saint, causing him deep exercise in heart. He may ponder his ways to learn if there has been anything to cause the hand of affliction to be laid upon him, and fail to discover any reason. He still enjoys his Bible, the presence of God and the communion of saints. So, he wonders, and asks, Why?

Perhaps days, weeks and even months pass by before he gets the answer to his question. His path crosses the path of another saint passing through an affliction, similar to the one he himself experienced. He has a sympathy (fellow-feeling) for his suffering brother, and as they commune comfort that he experienced from the hand of God is now conveyed to this Christian in his sorrow. Herein lies the essence of true sympathy.

The origin of the word sympathy is most interesting; it comes from two words: sum (with) and pathos (feeling). It is rendered “be touched with the feeling of” (Hebrews 4:15). Christ is the perfect Friend in trouble. His very name—Jesus—connotes sorrow, trial and affliction in this vale of tears. The passage in Hebrews reads, “Tempted (tried) like as we are, yet without sin. Here is Divine capacity to share our sorrows. In measure then this capacity becomes ours in affliction to help others along “life’s thorny road.”

A delightful incident has often been related in the life of the late Queen Victoria. She had lost the Prince Consort, and felt the loss most keenly; her royal heart was bowed in sorrow. Shortly afterwards she visited the widow of a humble cottager on the Royal estates at Balmoral Castle in the highlands of Scotland. When the distinguished visitor had left some of the women in the other cottages, burning with curiosity, came to enquire of the old woman what the Queen had said. “Nothing,” replied the old soul. “Well, what did she do?” they next enquired. “Held my hand and grat (wept)” was her simple reply.

That day a beloved Queen, known the world over, and an obscure common widow linked hands in the truest bond of sympathy. Each knew the other’s heart and comforted one another.

“Ye know the heart of a stranger” (Exodus 23:9), God said to Israel when He had taken them out of the land of Egypt. He then instructed His people to be kind to them. Their bitter experiences as strangers in a strange land were now to stand them in good stead when strangers should cross their path.

What a ministry! What a need! Sorrow and affliction are the heritage of all saints—young and old, great and small, rich and poor, spiritual and carnal. All may qualify for this rich service to the saints, and discover this is the gift of “helps.” (1 Corinthians 12:28).

We recall that the first words from the risen Savior’s lips were addressed to a weeping woman—words of tender comfort. “Woman, why weepest thou?” He asked poor distressed Mary Magdalene. What an example he left us! Let us follow His steps.

An old proverb is: “An ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory.” To see a saint in affliction comforted, cheered and encouraged because another who had passed that way before him showed him sympathy will bring Divine compensation to the comforting saint.

Let us all in our measure be comforters one of another, drawing from the precious sources of our own trials and afflictions the comfort God graciously gave to us.

(6) To Test Faith.

The fundamental difference between a believer and a sinner is faith. The work of the Holy Spirit in a believer is to strengthen faith, and the means sometimes employed are the trials of life. That his faith should increase is the desire of every spiritually-minded believer.

In Hebrews 11—“The Westminster Abbey of the Bible”—we see that it is faith that has put them there. This will explain why names like Samson and Rahab are placed alongside such illustrous names like Abraham and Moses. When we read that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (verse 6) it is hardly necessary to write that faith is a pre-requisite in the economy of a believer’s life. Three times in the New Testament we have an Old Testament statement, “The just shall live by faith.” (Cf. Habakuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). Three is the number of Divine testimony, so, it can be safely stated, The stronger is one’s faith the deeper is his spiritual life.

John Bunyan said, “Faith is the noblest act there is.” Faith rests where reason fails. It is faith in the sense of a child-like trust in God of which now we write.

Let us note a five-fold development of faith outlined in the New Testament:

We go from “no faith” (Mark 4:40) to “little faith” (Matthew 16:8) through “growing faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:3 and “strong faith” (Romans 4:20) to “fullness of faith” (Acts 6:8). Perhaps this progress of faith may be traced in the life of Abraham.

If as a Chaldean we see him without faith we see faith develop in him and grow until he was not just a patriarch of little faith, but a man, as Paul described him in Romans, “Strong in faith.” When he died the word of God says he died “full (of faith).” One margin (Newberry) says “satisfied.”

Abraham’s life was a life of crisis, in each of which his faith is put to the test of sacrifice. First, he was asked to sacrifice his country. Second, he must sacrifice his nephew, Lot. Third, he must sacrifice a son, Ishmael. Fourth, the crowning crisis of all, he must sacrifice his only Isaac. (Cf. Genesis, chapters 12, 13, 21 and 22).

His life might be summed up in four statements: he “went out,” “went down,” “went up,” and “went on.” (Genesis 12:4, 10; 13:1, 3). In chapter 22 where he sacrifices Isaac we read, “he went unto the place of which God had told him” (verse 3). From the low level of Chaldea’s idolatrous country to the high level of Mount Moriah’s lofty faith! But, who can know the anguish and grief that tore those tender heart strings as painfully he toiled up the side of the mount?

Sometimes I think we know the story too well to appreciate it; we climb down the mount before we have climbed up! What we know—God’s miraculous intervention—Abraham did not know; instead, he saw his beloved Isaac bleed and die under his (the father’s) hand. He visualized his manly form laid in ashes! But, from those ashes his faith could see dear Isaac rise again! Together, he believed, they would return to the young men with the ass.

One night, years before, he had stood with God under a starry sky and reverently listened as the Lord assured him that his seed would equal the stars he could never count. He never did forget that promise; he refuses to forget it now on Moriah, as he stands by his terrible altar. His faith stands the shock of that awful request, “Take now thy son, thine only Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (chapter 22:2). Now, when the crucial moment has arrived, his faith rallies his quivering heart and hand.

Was there ever such a demand made by God of any of His children? As He indicates the sacrifice to be made each word pierces deeper into the old man’s soul: “Take now thy son.” It was not to be an animal, nor, a servant; it is a son. Further, God adds”…thine only (son) Isaac.” Yes, Isaac was the only son now, for Ishmael is gone. Isaac alone remains—the son of promise, born in miraculous circumstances. The closing words of the strange request probe deepest of all, “…whom thou lovest.” Did Abraham love that son? Why should we ask? His birth made the old pilgrim’s heart sing for joy; he laughed in his supreme happiness, and called him Isaac, for the name means laughter. Must he now offer that son? Reason fails completely, but faith believes God can make no mistake.

Faith is rewarded. Heaven acknowledges it, and the word from the Lord rings with sweet music in his poor, tried and suffering heart: “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only from Me” (verse 12).

How strong was Abraham’s faith? Mount Moriah gives the answer; without that experience we never would have known. God knew. He had always known; yet, He says, “Now I know that thou fearest God.” Why? Abraham has just now demonstrated the confidence God had already placed in His servant. He leaves the Divine “school” that day with Heaven’s coveted “sheep-skin”—the commendation of the opened sky!

Furthermore, Abraham has a fresh revelation of God; he sees Him now for the first time as “Jehovah-Jireh, and secures for saints to posterity the knowledge that “The Lord will provide.”

Beloved, not as Abraham heard will you hear the Divine commendation, but it will be faithfully recorded. One day you shall see and understand. O! the joy in that day of revelation to know that in the day of severe testing, as Abraham’s did, your faith stood the test. Although perhaps blinded by tears your heart could still say,

“I cannot, Lord, Thy purpose see,
But, all is well that’s done by Thee.”

In the midst of your trials too let the memory of Moriah stand shining clear before the eyes of your faith. God is still “Jehovah-Jireh,” and no matter how hard the afflicting hand may fall He will see; He will provide.

Bless His holy Name!

(7) To Vindicate God.

This purpose of Divine chastening is most mysterious. The afflicted saint may never learn down here why certain pain and suffering came his way. To such the words of the Savior to Peter must bring comfort, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13:7). This purpose will never be revealed until that day when “the books shall be opened.”

Between the Lord and Satan there had been a controversy, the subject of which was God’s servant, Job. That Job ever learned this seems most improbable.

The Lord asked Satan, “Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?” (Job 1:8). Satan immediately challenged this with the insinuating remark, “Doth Job fear God for nought?” He dared God to afflict him, saying, if He did, Job will “curse Thee to Thy face” (verse 11). The Lord accepted the challenge and went on trial.

We have already in this paper seen how he became the object of the “fiery darts of the wicked one.” They were “the messenger of Satan”; but let us notice here that Satan was forced to admit that he was powerless to afflict Job without Divine permission. We can surely thank God for the truth of Satan’s remark, “Hast Thou not made an hedge about him?” (verse 10). Let us never forget the “hedge.”

The Lord allowed Satan to enter the hedge, but even then with restraint in both the first and final onslaughts upon poor Job.

This same restraint is seen in the experience of suffering Smyrna. To them the Lord said: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. (Revelation 2:10). Ten is the number of Divine testing, so beyond this period Satan cannot go.

Wave after wave of affliction sweep across Job’s defenseless head, but he crests the billows with triumphant faith. He cries, “The Lord gave … the Lord hath taken away,” and he worships! He makes no mention of the Satanic agency at work, but sees a hand that is Divine. Satan was miserably mistaken; his vaunted boasting suffered a shattering blow, but into the affray he returns to again challenge the Lord.

It is with diabolical malevolence we hear him say to God, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” (Chapter 2:4). The Lord accepts the second challenge in which he boasts he can make Job curse God to His face.

Again Job feels the weight of that heavy hand in affliction. Sore boils cover his body until the dear man becomes the object of misery and woe. But, his faith triumphs again even when taunted by his wife to do what already Satan had predicted—“curse God.” He rebukes her, and acknowledges the righteousness of God in receiving both good and evil from His hand. Later, in heated conflict with his three friends he sees himself in the hand of Divine wisdom, and exclaims, “But, He knoweth the way that I take: when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Job’s patience, faith and resignation to the will of God completely vindicated God. The Lord was justified in His boast of His beloved servant. Satan may do his worst, but still, Job will cling to the side of God and valiantly declare His righteousness.

Who can deny that God sometimes today in the life of a choice saint brings inexplicable suffering, or, shall we say, allows it, that once again He may boldly manifest to Satan His grace in a believer’s heart?

Courage, dear, tried and trusted saint. You shall yet come forth as gold as you glorify God in the midst of suffering. Perhaps He boasted of your faith, and was not disappointed.

Not till the loom is silent,
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unfurl the canvas
And explain the reason why:
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skilful hands,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.