Suffering for Christ and Chastening

Hebrews 12:1‑13  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Hebrews 12:1-131Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. 4Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. 5And 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: 6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9Furthermore 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? 10For 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. 11Now 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. 12Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; 13And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:1‑13)
In the former chapter the Apostle has been speaking of the various forms which faith took in the midst of the trials and difficulties through which the saints of old times had to pass; whether the patience which waited for the accomplishment of promise, or the energy which overcame the difficulties of the way, closing it with the distinct and definite contrast between them and ourselves. In what follows he is applying this for our encouragement in the race which is before us. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the rest ran a part of this race of faith, and died in faith that is, did not receive the promises. But if we look at Jesus, we see one who has get to the end of the course, and as regards His personal glory, He has got the promised joy. Besides, He has run the whole course of faith, gone through every trial of it; begun and finished it. You never can find yourself in any place of trial, where a believer can be found, that Christ has not been: in it. He has trod the whole path, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. There is where the road leads to; so do not give up the cross. Jesus has borne it and has sat down there. It is worth running for. He came, no doubt, in divine love, but He walked in the path in which we have to walk, with all the motives which sustain and cheer us. He had before Him the joy of being before God in that blessed place. What comfort, in the path of difficulty and trial, to see that He has trodden it all, and was sustained in fit all in the very way we are, by the joy of -doing God's will and in dependence on Him.
" Wherefore let us lay aside every weight." It seems here as if the Apostle treated the difficulties we feel, very lightly; but, if we weigh the words, we shalt be led into the blessed secret which made affliction light and the path a plain one for, him. If a thing is a mere weight it is easy to lay it aside. If my eye is single and the only thing I care for is the race, it is felt only as a weight and it is easy to throw hindrances. away. When it is otherwise with us it is difficult, felt to be impossible; but it is not because of the power of the thing, but because we are caring for it. We do not cling to weights, when they are only weights, in a race we desire to win. If you are talking of a sacrifice, you are talking of your love to the thing you are going to sacrifice. When the eye is singly set on the object before us, whatever hinders is as dross for oneself, because of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.
This, then, is the secret of the Apostle's seemingly strange language. For it does seem strange, to a heart burdened and trammeled with conflicts and distracting circumstances inter, woven with all its movements, to be told in a short sentence, You have only to throw them aside. The question lies within. The heart is divided. The weight which burdens its strength and the cords which entangle the feet are loved weights and cherished cords. The question is inside the things that beset it. It lies in the state of the heart itself. The moment all else is dross and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, it is easy to understand and to do what the apostle says. There is no great sacrifice in getting rid of dross and dung-one is glad of it. It has to be done, but it is easy to do it, and the weight itself is gone-the snare is broken. A heart, through grace, filled with Christ for His own sake, is the secret of running the race to win Christ.
But this supposes the whole truth of the certainty of redemption, The race begins by redemption. All experiences before that are the experiences, not of a race; but experiences to know whether God will have me. If I am going to run to Canaan and I do not know whether God will have me at the end, I shall run very uncertainly; but if redeemed and set in the race by Jesus, I shall run in liberty and joy; for He is my object at the end as well as my pattern along the way.
In what follows we get instruction on another point. It is this, that all along the way we pass towards the rest in glory, God is exercising our hearts to make us partakers of His holiness: This supposes a life which has desires according to the divine holiness and can partake of and enjoy it: that which is in its nature holy. We have already seen that it supposes redemption, True desert-work with God, that work in which God humbles us and suffers us to hunger, and feeds us with manna, that we may know what is in our heart, that He may do us good at the latter end, is after the Red Sea. Experiences there were before, but they ended in being shut up by judgment and of pressed by terror. The salvation of God was shown there. Experiences after that were with God, who had redeemed them and when there was an end of belonging to Egypt. Slavery went before. Desert patience and proving what was in the heart and Canaan conflicts followed after the full; deep, complete bringing out of what they heart of man is with God. But these exercises have a double character, as we shall now see. "Ye hate not," says the passage, yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin." Here we have two principles which nothing but the Spirit of God could connect; first; resisting unto blood, that was in suffering for Christ; and secondly, at the same time suffering in a conflict against sin, and by which it is practically judged in us. God connects our striving against sin with suffering for Christ; resisting unto blood is dying for Christ, but as this is in the conflict With sin, it cannot be truly carried on When the principle of sin and our own Will is active in us. Hence this same suffering serves as discipline, and so in the next verse it is added, '" My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord." Who would think of God's chastening us at the very time We were suffering for Christ? But so it is, for self is so subtle; it mixes itself up even with suffering for Christ, and hinders our service, and we may fear even to dishonor rather than to serve Him. We are apt to get discouraged when we have thus to judge ourselves in the midst of conflict and, it may be tempted to sit down and do nothing at all. The judgment of self is right, but not the discouragement. Suppose I am serving Christ, and that I get discouraged in the warfare. Whence is this? Confidence in my own misuse of power-want of faith in God's working His own work. Now what is God doing here? God is using it to exercise me so as to judge self. There is not a step of our lives that is not part of the process in which God is dealing with us. Before deliverance at the Red Sea it is a process to break down flesh so as to cast me over on the salvation of God. After this deliverance it is a system of experiences to exercise me along with God. The question of deliverance never arises again, but there is a quantity of things to be judged that I may enjoy that for which I am delivered. It is hence., forth a question of communion with God.
In Moses we have an example of these two things; he was suffering for Christ and suffering for his flesh too at one and the same time. The Spirit of God (Heb. 11:24-2624By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24‑26)* tells us of the bright path of faith in which he was walking when he came among the children of Israel; yet the flesh accompanies him here, and with a mixture of human energy, nourished by the position he had been in, he slays the Egyptian. God surely allowed this that the breach might be complete; but he does now fear the wrath of the king. In doing it he looks this way and that way, and when it is known, flies. He was in the main suffering for Christ-bearing the reproach of Christ most blessedly, but much had to be purged out and subdued in him, and if he had to flee because he had identified himself with the people of God, he had to flee that forty years' discipline might wean him from all confidence in human strength. When that is gone, we see how little courage flesh can have in the presence of difficulty. Now, though flesh had indeed shown its weakness, he can be a god unto Pharaoh. Something like this is the case of Peter, only here it was, alas! with an open and dreadful fall. He truly loved the Lord, but he had confidence in the flesh, in himself, yea, in spite of the Lord's warning as to the sifting of Satan and as to himself. Entering into the temptation he dreadfully denies the Lord. This was an extreme case, no doubt. Yet love to the Lord led him, mixed with false confidence in the flesh, which had to be humbled in this dreadful manner. The Lord lets him go through the process that he may learn himself, and what flesh is, and is worth, and where pert feet grace is to be found; and then when converted, that is, his soul restored, he is to strengthen his brethren. If the flesh is not judged, the very effect of the zeal we have is to put us in the place where it comes to be known, and judged.
(* Verse 27 refers to his subsequently leaving Egypt by the power of God.)
In Paul, too, we see the same thing. A thorn in the flesh is given him, lest he should be exalted above measure. We see in him the action of devotedness in the divine life, and the action of the flesh kept down by that which would make him despicable in his preaching. (See Gal. 4:13, 1413Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. 14And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. (Galatians 4:13‑14).) When the Apostle thus suffered, felt the thorn, he was really suffering for Christ; yet it was the needed keeping down of flesh. This is the effect of that wondrous grace which employs those who have yet to learn for themselves, 4s vessels of divine glory and truth to teach others. The vessel must be dealt with, as well as employed. God, in a certain sense, having given occasion to Paul's danger by the abundance of revelations granted to him, secures him from the danger, but by the known and needed spiritual process which is carried on in every soul, though by various means.
How precious is this constant care of God! He is always going on with us. The Hebrews were getting worldly, and persecution comes. It is suffering for Christ, and yet for sin. And the hand of God is there to give through it all senses exercised to discern good and evil. The work is going on, though I do not know all that is going on until afterward. When the work is done, I get more spiritual, and am then able to see what God was doing all the while. His own work He will carry on for His own glory. The chastening is not always for transgression, but if not, it is for the principle that produces it, or that would produce it, for it may not do so. (compare Job 33:17; 36:917That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. (Job 33:17)
9Then he showeth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded. (Job 36:9)
If we look at Israel in the desert, how constant and unceasing the care of God over them! Their foot did not swell, neither did their garments wax old. God was taking care of the very nap of their garments, but taking care at the same time not to minister to self. So in Deut. 8 we see they were to be in constant dependence. "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness,... and he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, (which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know,) that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the month of the Lord doth man live." It was on the one hand that they might know what was in their heart, and on the other, that man lived by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. An humbled and dependent self, and a God who guided them and met their every need. Where was the way in the wilderness? There was no way. And so Moses says, "Show me now," not a way, but "thy way, that I may know thee." Thus he comes to know God as well as himself. And even in the land there is the same tender care. "When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he bath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God," &c. The danger was not of forgetting the land but God. "Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt," &c. In the actual and real enjoyment of our highest blessings, flesh does not work. There is no mixture. When Paul was in the third heavens, there was no need of a thorn, but when he came down, there was the danger of flesh beginning to work about the blessing. When we are walking in this new life, flesh has no part in it; Satan and the world have nothing to offer. Before deliverance; holiness is flight from sin, instead of enjoying God, so it is called "the bread of affliction." (Deut. 16:33Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. (Deuteronomy 16:3).) It presses on the spirit until delivered. When delivered, God leads us through the great and howling wilderness where there is not a drop of water, and feed us with manna, to humble us and to prove us, to do us good at our latter end.
What patient grace! Never with drawing His eyes from us; exercising; us to give the full perfect judgment of flesh in the power of the cross of Christ; that all the will, and movement, and activity of the flesh may be' dead,-not in. the sense of our being dead and risen, for we can always say that,-but practically. This is what we have in 2 Cor. 4:1010Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:10), "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." This is the settled purpose of heart, through grace, of the Apostle, to hold himself dead as regards all that was of nature, according to the power of the death of Christ. Then it is added, " For we which live, are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake;" so that there is not only the purpose of heart in the Apostle in keeping the flesh dead, but God delivering to it. Thus Paul is put down, so that not a bit of him as a man is flesh should be there, but the life of Jesus manifest in his mortal flesh. " So, then, death worketh in us, but life in you:" that is, the power of this Christ which wrought in him as death as regards the flesh, being thus freed and delivered from it in its outward operations; wrought as life in others. The fact that the work was practically complete in Paul as bearing always about the dying, caused that the life of Christ was the only thing working in them. In the measure in which the vessel is put to death, in so far does life work. Such a writer as Thomas a-Kempis, however sincere, begins all at the wrong end. He seeks first to die in order to live. This cannot be. In the power of what life are we to die? Life is first. "We who live are alway delivered unto death;" that is, life must precede death. The great blessing is fellowship with God. But, as a matter of fact, there is, in virtue of this, the judgment I form of myself reflectively, and this is of great importance. I am enabled to joy in God in loathing myself, though I may not have always to think of the self I loathe. This is not merely conversion; but, being converted, looking at myself in the presence of God's love. That is repentance. It is the real judgment of good and evil which is in the divine nature, with this difference, that the evil is in myself. Repentance is the holiness of God's nature applied to the judgment of self in its full extent in the presence of God's love. If I do enjoy God with an exercised heart, the effect is to make me discover all that is not light in myself, and I judge it along with God. I am separated from that bit of flesh which I judge. Oh! it is blessed work, and delivering work; for whenever I judge evil along with God. I am delivered from the evil. In all these exercises, the object of God is to do us good at our latter end. We judge of circumstances by their pleasantness or unpleasantness, God by the good of the end. The reason we do not like them is, that we like our own will, and that is the very reason why God sends them.
In verse 5, we have two things, Do riot despise the chastening, and do not faint under it. First, Do not despise it. If you are under chastening there is always a reason for it, for God is love and does not afflict willingly. It will not do to say, I am suffering for Christ. That is very good, but God is not dealing with goodness in chastening, although to bring out goodness. He is dealing with flesh. Take Jacob. God does not let Esau get near him, but He takes him in hand Himself. Jacob feared Esau, because he had not walked with God; but he did not rightly fear God. God met his faith which was true, and would not allow Esau to touch him any more than He did Laban: But if He preserved him froth the hostility of his enemy, it was to deal with him much More closely about his ways and heart, and so the "man" wrestled with him first. Here, how ever, God did not reveal Himself He sustained his faith and blessed him: At Bethel, when all the idols had been put away, God begins by revealing Himself, and calls him, 'Israel,' as if He had never done so. So now is everything even which we have already in such a case with God.
The second thing is; Do not faint when rebuked, for all is in love. It is love putting us through the process of working out that which is hindering. Do not despise, there is reason for chastening. Do not faint, it is love which chastens.
" 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?" Here there is another principle besides confidence in the love of Him who chastens, and that is, reverence. There is a reverence for His divine title over us. God's hand is upon me, and I bow Under it. There is a majesty in it which has its place. Even Christ bowed under the government of God.
Even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." Purging is not that which is in question here, but the Submission of the Will-another part Of the "divine lesson. It may not be a particular fault, it may be independence of spirit that has to be judged; but He governs. Angels See this. "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, because of the angels." " We are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to Men." There is not a step of our lives which is not a part of this spectacle. It is not this merely the good that is done to us that is the effect of these dealings of God, but there is subjection to the Father of spirits. He has this title over us, and we bow to Him. No doubt He does it in perfect love to us, but there is a public government of God. " Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days."
" For they verily, for a few days, chastened us after their own pleasure; but be for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." Here we get another blessed revelation as to God. His heart is always working for our profit. And what is that? Is it merely that I must be holy? Far otherwise. It is not saying, you must have holiness to come to me, but grace, making us partakers of God's holiness. God would have our mind and everything wrought out into what He is. And what a kind of joy we should have in God when made partakers of His holiness.
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous." If I am correcting my child, it is not joyous to him, nor meant to be so. "Nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." What makes us not to be peaceable? It is always our thinking of self. A man is peaceable when his spirit is not hankering after anything. When we have been exercised by the chastening, the new nature produces its fruits in the ungrieved power of the Holy Ghost, and in our hearts we are peaceable. Joy is sudden, something that arises up in our hearts and may sink down again and disappear, it is high and low; but peace is always even. The affections are quietly settled in God, peacefully confiding in Him.
" Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down." Do not be discouraged. It is God who is working, and working in love; and He will do all that is needed to make you partaker of His holiness. Then there is spiritual activity and energy. How perfect His grace! "He with draweth not His eyes from the righteous." How much He has to bear with us! What petty pride, what levity! But He has planted a precious seed, and therefore He never ceases to cherish it.