Part III: The Implications for Daily
Punishment or Chastening?
of a saint takes a lifetime. When the individual has matured
‹ and the word perfection in the Greek seems to have
this connotation ‹ that individual may be said to have apprehended
that for which he is apprehended in Christ Jesus (Philippians
3:12). Or to put this in more colloquial terms, when the individual
has realized the level of development in Christ which the Father
has seen as the maximum potential in keeping with opportunity,
endowment, and experience, then that individual is mature. And
I suspect that that individual is also ready to go home to heaven.
When the Lord Jesus Christ was
mature in this sense (Hebrews 5:8, 9) He was ready to go home
to glory, and if He had chosen He need never have come down again
from the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Hebrews 12:2
tells us, however, that "instead of" (so the Greek)
* entering into this joy that was at that moment open to Him,
He turned back, came down from the Mount and set his face like
a flint to go to Jerusalem, there to despise the shame and endure
crucifixion. He made that choice because it was a choice that
He was free to make. He was not made as we are made but with
the potential for endless life (Hebrews 7:16); like Adam before
he sinned, He was not subject to death and need never have
died. He had been made perfect (i.e., mature) by the things which
He had experienced and was ready to enter into heaven by transformation
without tasting death at all. That this is possible even for
mortal man is clear from 1 Corinthians 15:51. For Paul is saying
in this passage that when the Lord returns there will be a number
of his children who will pass into glory without the experience
of dying. As he wrote: "Behold, I show you a mystery: We
shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment,
in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet
shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and
we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52). In that
* The use of anti followed by the genitive
clearly indicates this meaning.
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moment, the dead in Christ
will be raised, and the living will be transformed.
It may be that Enoch was transformed
and taken home without experiencing death (Hebrews 11:5) because
in some extraordinary way he had, in a manner of speaking, prematurely
matured so that his time of "graduation" came unexpectedly.
For he had this testimony, that he pleased God. It is difficult
to know whether anyone else ever has really achieved such complete
maturity, except the Lord Jesus Himself (John 8:29); and if not,
how to reconcile this failure with the sovereignty of God's grace.
It seems very doubtful if the majority of us who are the Lord's
children do ever achieve our maximum potential as God sees it
for each of us individually in Christ. Perhaps such maturing
is part of God's desiring rather than part of his willing? I
suppose this means that in some way we are all taken home when
we have reached our potential and when allowing us to remain
would not serve to mature us any further. For the great majority
of us, it must be that we fall short of what God would like,
but that cannot come as any surprise to Him. God's sovereignty
is matched by his omniscience, and all his plans must be based
upon his sure foreknowledge of what will be.
We are in a quandary here for if
the child of God is taken home only when God sees the maturing
process has gone as far as it can, are we to assume that there
is a built-in potential that is probably almost never realized?
Is this then a thwarting of the will of God?
Perhaps the problem is with the
word mature. Could it be that maturity is not perfection
in the sense of having achieved maximum potential for good but
in the sense of having achieved perfect hatred of sin?
Many older Christians experience a growing despair at the apparent
lack of progress towards purity of heart that they once dreamed
of in their earlier walk with the Lord. But it is possible that
such despair may itself be a matter for rejoicing, because it
could signify not so much a greater measure of failure to achieve
holiness of life in the commonly accepted sense, but a greater
measure of awareness of un-holiness. The truth is that
the closer we are to the Lord the more clearly we begin to see
ourselves for what we really are. The brighter the light, the
deeper the shadows and the more likely are we to see the dirt.
In our house, when the sun shines right down the hall in the
evening, we suddenly become aware of the cobwebs festooning the
ceiling ‹ one of the penalties of living in the country,
where spiders abound! Throughout the day these cobwebs don't
show and we are apt to be quite happy with the general state
of our housekeeping. This is a parable from life and is reflected
in John 3:19: "Men loved darkness rather than light because
their deeds were evil."
Progress towards maturity is not
to be measured by victory over the sins we are aware of, but
by hatred of the sins which we had overlooked and which we now
see all too clearly. The nearer we come to the Lord, the more
sinful we shall undoubtedly
feel ourselves to be. When we hate sin with a perfect hatred,
then it may be we are ready to be taken into the presence of
the King, for to hate sin perfectly is to have our love made
perfect also (1 John 4:17). In a sense this would suggest that
the darkest period of our lives may well be just before the dawn:
"He turns the shadow of death into the morning" (Amos
Now if the Lord
chastens his loved ones in order to complete this perfecting
process, how does He carry out this chastening? He uses the world.
In Psalm 23:4 David wrote: "Thy rod and thy staff they
comfort me." We read the words rod and staff
as though the rod were a magic wand to smooth out our path when
we run into roadblocks, and the staff a kind of shepherd's crook
to haul us out of pits we fall into when we have wandered out
of the way. But how does the rest of Scripture view these "comforting"
rods and staffs?
Well, consider Isaiah 10:5 as a
case in point. Isaiah is here warning Israel of the fate that
awaits them at the hands of the Assyrians, who are about to descend
on their land to lay it waste and carry them into captivity.
Here are the Lord's words written by Isaiah under inspiration:
"O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff
in their hand is mine indignation." Here, then, are
God's rod and staff in one aspect. Israel was both to be punished
in anger and chastened in concern. The many in the nation who
had no true "membership" in God's commonwealth would
perish in the massacres which were to accompany the country's
devastation at the hands of the Assyrians or would die languishing
in Assyria as captives. The remnant of the Lord's people still
faithful but caught up in the fate of the nation as a whole would
in many cases no doubt also die in Assyria and Babylonia like
their countrymen, but not in despair. What was to be punishment
for the many would be chastening for the few. The rod and staff
were to perform both offices. Above all, Israel would be permanently
purged of any temptation towards the kind of idolatry to which
their forefathers had constantly fallen prey while they were
in the Promised Land. Seventy years later their children would
return to Palestine and never again revert to the worship of
idols, even after their worship of the Lord God of their fathers
had decayed to a mere formality.
When the Lord promised to David
a son who would establish his kingdom gloriously and finally
build the Temple which David had dreamed of building, the Lord
said to David (2 Samuel 7:14, 15): "I will be his father
and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten
him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the children
of men, but my mercy shall not depart away from him..."
Men are the Lord's rod.
As the day of Israel's captivity
drew near, the part that the worldly nations around them were
to play in their chastening became more and more explicit. Thus
in Isaiah 7:20 the prophet warned Israel: "In the same day
shall the Lord shave
with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the
river, by the king of Assyria, the head and hair of the feet
and it shall consume the beard." Note that the Lord was
to do this shaving and it was to be total, and furthermore that
He would hire a razor (the Assyrians and the Babylonians) as
his barber. Then again in Jeremiah 47:6, 7: "O thou sword
of the Lord, how long will it be ere you be quiet? Put up yourself
into your scabbard, rest, and be still. How can it be quiet,
seeing the Lord has given it a charge against Ashkelon, and against
the sea shore!" Here, then, the razor has become a sword.
One always thinks of the "sword of the Lord" as being
a pure Excalibur in the hand of God, perhaps even the Word of
God itself. But here we find it to be nothing else than a line
of oriental monarchs who were about as ruthless as the world
had ever seen up to that time. History tells us that these Babylonian
and Assyrian Emperors sometimes beheaded virtually every conquered
male who could possibly bear arms, and piled up the heads in
huge pyramids outside the devastated cities as a warning to any
inhabitants who might have escaped their wrath. Were these men
really the "sword of the Lord"? Apparently they were
‹ "appointed of God."
But what was to be punishment for
the many was still only to be correction for those who remained
faithful in Israel. And Habakkuk 1:12 seems to have been penned
by and for this remnant: "Are You not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, You have
ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, You hast ordained
them for correction." So here we have a single agency in
the hands of God used to punish the faithless in Israel
but to correct the faithful. Superficially it must have
seemed at the time that all were being treated alike. But it
was not really so, and we have to assume that the saints were
actually experiencing as chastening what the wicked were at the
same time experiencing as punishment. Such a conviction would
surely be a tremendous comfort to those who found themselves
sharing the national calamity. To the many it was an evil; to
the few it was a good.
overtakes a community there must surely be always this fundamental
difference in response to the circumstances; for to the one,
catastrophe is either meaningless or is seen as a punishment,
whereas by the other it may be seen for what it is ‹ chastening.
Our response to these two alternative interpretations of events
is bound to be different. If we see catastrophe as punishment,
we are made bitter or craven; if we see it as chastening, we
may look heavenward and be comforted. To ensure the latter, two
things must be believed: first, God knows what He is about and
is sovereign, and the men of the world who are the source of
our grief are his servants; and secondly, God is our Father,
and acts towards us only in loving concern and for our good.
What destroys the faith of the many may
confirm the faith of
the few. One has to use the word may in these propositions
because we are so slow to believe and trust, and we understand
so little of the Lord's ways with us.
Yet no chastening seems pleasant
at the time (Hebrews 12:11); if it did, it could not be serving
its intended purpose! So we naturally cry out against it. Although
David must certainly have known that the chastening of the Lord
was for his own good and absolutely necessary, yet in Psalm 17:13,
14 he prayed: "Arise O Lord...deliver my soul from the wicked,
which is your sword: from men which are your hand,
O Lord, from men of the world, who have their portion in this
life." And it appears that one day the tables will perhaps
be turned and Israel will become the rod in God's hand to punish
the nations who are the rod in God's hand today chastening Israel's
children. As Jeremiah 51:20 put it: "You [Israel] are my
battle-ax and weapons of war: for with you will I break
in pieces the nations, and with you will I destroy kingdoms."
Meanwhile, the saints are chastened
and the rest are punished; and in both cases God in his sovereignty
uses men as his weapons, as his sword, his razor, his
battle-ax, his rod, and his staff. And sometimes
He uses the saints to chasten one another.
When we are chastened by the world
we are apt to see it as a form of persecution. In our conceit
we may imagine that this persecution comes because the world
finds our "righteousness" offensive. But in point of
fact it may be because it is the Lord who is displeased with
us, with our unrighteousness, and determines that it must be
corrected. When our friends, our brothers and sisters in the
Lord, are chastened we may very well be tempted to mistake it
for punishment. We are terribly confused in our thinking about
these things. But what a tremendously comforting thing it is
to remind ourselves when "the boss" comes down hard
on us (even if we deserve it) that this same boss is the Lord's
rod or staff which is really intended to comfort us, to chasten
us, not for our hurt but for our good. Rightly understood, such
persecution ought to be a source of thankfulness, not complaint.
A life lived in such a spirit would make it somewhat easier for
us to fulfill Paul's injunction: "In every thing give thanks:
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you"
(1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Yet how difficult it is to be thankful
when we are troubled in this way. And the difficulty almost always
stems from our inability to grasp the fact once for all that
"there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are
in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Penalty has become merely
consequence, and even this consequence may not ensue unless the
Lord sees that it will serve a purpose for good. The consequence
which follows upon our failures does not have the nature of penalty
but rather of occasion for concerned action on God's part. The
consequence is not penalty but loving kindness. The element of
condemnation is missing entirely, not because a sinful
action is no longer sinful,
but because the aspect of sinfulness has been removed by being
laid upon the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. The penal aspect
has been dealt with once for all, and what remains is an occasion
which God may or may not decide to make use of for our good.
it is that in John 15:15 the Lord says: "Henceforth I call
you not servants; for the servant doesnt know what his lord does:
but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard
of my Father, I have made known unto you!" What does this
mean? Well, first of all, it means that the Lord's children have
had their status changed from that of servant to friend. All
men are servants of God by reason of their being his creatures
(Psalm 119:91). They are like hired men, and have their allotment
of life as the hired man has his term of employment. Job 14:6
acknowledges this fact thus: "Turn from him [from man] that
he may rest, till he shall accomplish as a hireling his day."
Men fulfill God's will by his overruling of the circumstances
of their lives. They are not as a rule aware of this unless it
is specifically revealed to them. Under normal circumstances
they do not do his will consciously, knowing what it is. There
is no deliberate desire to please the Lord. On the other hand,
it is the prerogative of friends to act knowingly, and
only actions knowingly performed are meritorious, for it is the
motivation that is rewarded. The servants who merely did what
they were commanded to do were in this sense "unprofitable"
Paul spoke of having a commission
to preach and he said: "Yea, woe is me if I don't preach
the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16). But then he added, "If
I do this thing willingly. I have a reward" (verse
17). He says that necessity was laid upon him; and yet he could
rise above the fact of necessity and choose to do what was laid
upon him by compulsion, thus converting it from a compelled to
a voluntary act, and receive accordingly the reward of consciously
pleasing his Lord. The secret of his statement is in the words,
"If I do this thing willingly, I have a reward." And
he could do it willingly only if he could do it knowingly; and
he could do it knowingly only if his relationship to the Lord
was not merely that of a servant but of a friend, for the servant
doesn't know what his lord is up to.
There is a beautiful illustration
of this principle in the case of Abraham. In Genesis 18:17 the
Lord said: "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?"
And the answer, in effect, was, "No, I will make it known
to him." And why to Abraham? Because according to 2 Chronicles
20:7 and James 2:23, Abraham was in a special sense a "friend
of God." Now the mind of God is revealed in what He
does, whereas the heart of God is revealed in the way
He does it. The distinction between ways and works is an important
one. Psalm 103:7 tells us that "the Lord made known his
ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of
Israel." This is not merely a poetic play upon words. The
difference is reaffirmed in Hebrews 3:9, 10:
"Your fathers tempted
Me, proved Me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore
I was grieved with that generation and said, They do always err
in their hearts; and they have not known my ways."
Putting these two passages together we can see that while the
children of Israel observed the Lord's doings for forty years,
they entirely misunderstood the reasons why the Lord did them;
his motivations were hidden from them. It was otherwise with
Moses. Moses saw not only his work but his way. Indeed, Moses
had prayed that this might be so (Exodus 33:13) when he said
to the Lord; "Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found
grace in your sight, show me now your way, that I may know You,
that I may find grace in your sight."
When in Isaiah 55:8 the Lord says,
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways
my ways," He is not talking about his works, but about the
why and how of his doing them. It is not the prerogative
of the servant to question his master about his reasons for doing
the things that he does, but it is the privilege of a friend
to have these reasons explained to him, unasked. In so far as
we need to know God's reasons, they form an essential part of
Revelation, but they are not set forth in such a way that the
casual reader can easily satisfy idle curiosity. Revealing his
will to us as friends, He is able to communicate what He is about
and thus to invite us to enter by choice and willingly into his
plan and purpose. We are then in the position to undertake voluntarily
what the Lord may nevertheless have predetermined we are to do
willy-nilly. A predetermined act voluntarily undertaken becomes
thereby a free act, and acts performed freely and willingly are
the only acts worthy of reward. The man who does an evil act
willingly is also worthy of reward, namely, to be punished. In
neither case is it the deed itself that counts in the moral balance
of things, but the motive which prompted the doing of it. It
is not the works themselves but the ways in which they are done
that matter in the judgment. Many acts of kindness that we perform
are marred by the way in which we perform them, and we recognize
even an outwardly kind act as morally unworthy if the motive
is self-serving. Is God any less of a judge of our ways than
we are of one another's? God works in the world that they do
his will: He works in his children that they not only do but
also will his will (Philippians 2:13). Thus, by being elevated
to the position of friends, we are also in a position to know
what the Lord is doing.
Now it is a
great comfort for the child of God to be assured that the man
of the world who opposes him in his business life, or rewards
him with evil in his social life, or prevents his worship or
disrupts his study or intrudes into his time of meditation in
his spiritual life, is a servant of God ‹ while he himself
is a child of the King! Suppose in all our daily relations with
men of the world we were to walk always in the light of this
knowledge, what a difference it would make! To know that the
grace of God is sovereign is not
a cold, hard-nosed, and
calculating view of theology. It is a reflection of the truth
of the Word of God, an essential part of the total implication
of the Gospel of salvation by faith without works of merit.
When we hope to find a parking
place and somebody gets there first, when we rush to get in line
for some bargains in the world's market place and they are all
sold out just before our part of the queue reaches the counter,
when the piece of cake on the plate we had our eye on as we moved
along the line is taken by the diner just ahead of us, when we
are by-passed for a position we felt so important to us and so
right for us, when a house we longed to own is sold only a few
days before we can meet the financial or other requirement, when
a person we don't respect is credited by others for a work we
did at some cost to ourselves, when. . . . We could go on indefinitely.
Life seems so full of daily disappointments and little injustices.
The epitaph of life for so many is summed up in the one word
For the Lord's child, the worker
is more important than the work, the effect is more important
than the event, the objective than the means, the motive than
the deed. If only we could trust our sovereign Father and his
grace, we would allow Him to mold our character without so much
disappointment and rebellion on our part. And in the rat race
of business life, what a marvellous thing to live daily secure
in the knowledge that "promotion comes neither from the
east. nor the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge:
He puts down one, and sets up another" (Psalm 75:6, 7).
This fact gives force to 1 Peter 5:6, 7: "Humble yourselves
therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may advance you
[so the Greek] in due time: casting all your anxiety upon Him;
for He is concerned about you."
hindrance to this maturing process is the self which must have
its way. This self has to be put to death. It is to be put to
death by crucifixion. The crucifixion of our self in this
pilgrimage is not without its parallels to the crucifixion of
the Lord. The Lord invites us to take up our cross and follow
Him (Mark 8:34), and He has repeated this invitation on several
occasions in the Gospels. Glibly we decide to surrender ourselves
to Him, expecting a joyously fulfilled experience to result,
and anticipating all kinds of fruits in the commonly accepted
meaning of this word. But what happens?
What happens is that, if we really
mean business, the Lord takes us at our word and begins the ordeal
of crucifixion, using the world as executioner! We are
often surprisingly willing, in some particular area of our life,
to "take up our cross" provided that we are permitted
to conduct the execution ourselves and in our own way. But there
is no way a man can crucify himself! There is on record a case
of an individual who tried it. He managed to nail his feet and,
extraordinary though it seems, he even succeeded in nailing
one hand. But then he
was in trouble, for there was no way that he could, now single-handed,
nail the other hand! In the end, after some hours of agony he
was released by friends and is believed to have survived.
Crucifixion has to be done by someone
else. It is a terribly painful, prolonged, and shameful death.
In the olden days it seems to have been a rule that once a man
had taken up the crossbar, his fate was sealed. The prisoner
was reprievable, I believe, until he performed this symbolic
act and started on the journey to the place of execution. It
is almost certain that the condemned man did not, and probably
could not, carry the whole cross. The upright was normally left
in place on some prominent knoll at a decent distance from the
city, ready for its victim. The condemned man was required to
carry only the cross bar (it was called patibulum in Latin),
and when he arrived at the site his outstretched arms were fastened
to it, and it was then hauled up and secured in place. His feet
were tied or nailed and the body rested on a small peg or sedile
between his legs to support some of his weight. Although
initially this sedile must have afforded enormous relief,
in the end it contributed to the prolonging of the agony by extending
survival time significantly. Some men and women are known to
have survived for days in this awful position, and one case of
survival for nine days is on record.
According to Alfred Edersheim,
it was customary once the man had picked up the crossbar for
the crowd to heap upon the condemned prisoner every imaginable
insult and abuse short of actual physical assault. It was, manifestly,
a most awful form of slow death. It is said that men sometimes
had their eyes plucked out by birds, being quite unable to defend
themselves. Some had limbs torn off by wild beasts at night.
In such a position the victim was utterly helpless and exposed,
and during the hours of darkness would be entirely alone.
And this is what the Lord
was inviting us to expose ourselves to when He said we too must
take up the crossbar and walk towards the execution of self,
if we would really come after Him. Crucifixion is something that
is done to us; it is not something that we do to ourselves.
We can only initiate it by picking up the crossbar, that is,
by a completely honest determination, which is undoubtedly what
the Lord meant when He said, "Take up your cross."
The rest is done to us by the world ‹ and even by our friends.
This crucifixion is a daily
process (Luke 9:23). It is a slow process, something
that takes years. It is a passive process that we are
called upon to endure, not a process that we are called upon
to engineer. Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ,"
not, "I crucify myself" (Galatians 2:20). It is a reciprocal
process whereby, as Paul put it in Galatians 6:14, "the
world is crucified unto me and I unto the world," for the
separation tends to be increasingly mutual.
But perhaps the most painful part
of all is that those nearest and dearest
to us are often
called upon to play a role in the process. The wounds that the
Lord felt most keenly were inflicted by his friends (Zechariah
13:6), and He warned his disciples that they too would experience
the same kind of injury.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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But whatever the circumstances,
it is comforting to know that we are always in his care and that
He is always in charge. "And I heard as it were the voice
of a great multitude...saying: Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent
reigns!" (Revelation 19:6). It was martyrs who exulted thus!