Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
~ Levitucus 26:28
Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more: That which I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more. Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
~ Job 34:31-32, Acts 14:22
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.
~ Proverbs 19:18, Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 23:13-14, Proverbs 29:17
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.
~ Proverbs 13:24, Hebrews 12:6, Zechariah 13:9
For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
~ Psalm 73:14-15, Psalm 90:15, 1 Peter 5:9-10
It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
~ Psalm 119:71
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
~ Acts 5:41
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
~ Acts 9:11-16
Chastisements for Sin, by Samuel Bolton. The following is from Chapter Four of his work, “The True Bounds of Christian Freedom”.
4. Chastisements for Sin
Query 2: Are Christians freed from all punishments and chastisements for sin?
If we examine the Scriptures, they seem to hold out this teaching to us, that God’s people, those whose sins are pardoned, may yet bear chastisements for sin. That they have at sundry times been under the rod, the corrections and chastisements of God, is plain. Abraham, Moses, David, and indeed all were; and the apostle tells us: ‘If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons’ (Heb. 12. 8). God scourges every son He receives. That these corrections have been inflicted on them for sin, the Scripture seems to teach in Lam. 3. 39-40: ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.’ Also in Micah 1. 5: ‘For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel.’ Also in Micah 7. 9: ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.’ Nay, it is laid down as a condition which must of necessity precede God’s removal of calamities from them, that they were to humble themselves for sin, and turn from sin before God will deliver them. Thus the Lord speaks to Solomon (2 Chron. 7. 14), and thus also do we read in Lev. 26. 41: ‘If their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant. ‘What does this mean? This: that if they would justify God in His proceeding against them, if they would lie down in the dust and own their punishment, and say that their sins deserved it; if they would acknowledge God’s justice in afflicting them; then would God remember His covenant and help them. All this was done by the princes of Israel when they were punished by the hand of Shishak of Egypt (2 Chron. 12. 6). It is said, They humbled themselves, and said. The Lord is righteous’, that is. He justly afflicts us for the sin that we have committed. This proves that they were punished for their sins; for they were to humble themselves for sin under affliction, if they were to justify God in His dealings with them; surely, then, God afflicted them for sin.
But against this it may be said that this was spoken of the whole congregation, and not of those alone who were godly. I grant this, yet the godly themselves were to perform the same duties as the rest; they were granted no exemption; they too were to humble themselves for sin, as we find Daniel and Ezra doing. And if sin was not the cause, and if the calamities were not inflicted on them for sin, then they would have been acting an untruth. To humble themselves for sin as the cause of the going out of God’s hand against them, and to accept of the punishment of their iniquity, even while they declared that God was righteous in it, would indeed have been acting an untruth if God was not actually chastening them for sin, and such acting we cannot allow.
Yet, admitting that this was spoken of the entire congregation, we have other Scriptures as evidence that God has punished His own people for sin, including His choicest ones. Moses and Aaron were shut out of Canaan; God would not allow them to enter the land of promise. This was a great affliction; and in Numbers 20. 12 it is made clear that the cause of their exclusion was sin, because they had not sanctified God at the waters of Meribah. ‘Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.’
David, the man after God’s own heart, as God Himself says, is another instance of God’s chastisement of a godly man. His child dies, the sword does not depart from his house, his own son rises up in rebellion against him. These were great calamities. The Scripture declares that the cause of them was his sin, his act of murder and his adultery:, Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife’ (2 Sam. 12. 10).
Does Chastisement Pertain to the Old Testament Only?
But against this it may and will be replied that these were examples under the Old Testament, and therefore do not prove our contention, for the godly now live under a different covenant. To this I answer as follows: I have already explained that some divines distinguish between three kinds of covenant – a covenant of nature, a covenant of grace, and a subservient covenant. This last was that which was made with the Israelites at Sinai and was contained in the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws. It was a covenant which, though it stood upon opposite terms to the covenant of grace, served the purposes of the covenant of grace subserviently. It was a covenant which God made with Israel when they were to enter into Canaan, and it had chief respect to the good or evil which would come upon them in that land. In it God promised blessings upon obedience, and threatened calamities and judgments on them if they disobeyed. All this is set out clearly in the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth chapters of Deuteronomy. Yet, as I have explained, it was subservient to the covenant of grace, for when they saw that they were neither able to obtain life and outward mercies, nor to ward off death and temporal evils, by their obedience to it, they were to look for the promise of grace and to long for the coming of the Messiah, and to expect all these upon better grounds. Into this covenant they all entered, and bound it with a solemn oath to God, and a curse, as is shown in Deut. 29. 12 and 19. God for His part engaged Himself to bless them in the land of Canaan whither they went, if they obeyed His commands; He also threatened to punish them there if they failed to obey Him. To all this they subscribed, and bound it with an oath and a curse. therefore some interpret the words, ‘Do this and live’, as if they merely had respect to their well-being in the land of Canaan, and during this life.
I have read a story of the Sadducees who denied the resurrection, and consequently, I suppose, the immortality of the soul. They were men skilful in the law and observant of it, though they held this great error. A certain man, observing their keeping of the commandments, asked them why they kept them, seeing they denied the resurrection and a future life. They answered: In order that it might go well with them in this life, that they might inherit temporal blessings by their obedience to them. I will not say that they served the end of the law in this, for certainly God gave the law for higher ends. But this I may say, that it is possible they served the end of it better than the man who asked the question. It may be that the questioner was keeping the law to be justified by it. We read of such a spirit in Rom. 10. 3-4 where the apostle speaks of some who thought they would be justified by obedience to the law, and that was further from the mind of God in giving it than was the motive of those who kept the law that it might go well with them in this life. For the former there is not a tittle of support in the Book of God, but for the latter there seems much. We read of something to this purpose in the fifth commandment: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which thou goest to possess.’ There is something of it, too, in the second commandment, and a great deal more in Deut. 26. 16-19, and throughout the whole of its twenty-eighth chapter; though under these temporal blessings spiritual things were shadowed and apprehended by those who were spiritual.
It is true, the things that were commanded or forbidden were morally good or evil, and therefore of perpetual obligation. Yet the terms on which they seem to be commanded or forbidden, and on which the people obeyed (prosperity or calamity, good or evil, in the land of Canaan), are clean gone. Yet, while the terms lasted, the people were said to break God’s covenant by their disobedience. This cannot mean the covenant of grace, for that cannot be broken; it is an everlasting covenant, like that of the waters of Noah (Isa. 54. 9). The covenant of grace does not depend upon our walk and our obedience; it is not made upon our good behaviour. Obedience might be the end, but it was not the ground or motive God had in making it. Nor could it be a covenant of works with reference to life and salvation, for that, once broken, is not capable of renewal and renovation. But the covenant under which the Israelites were put was a subservient covenant.
I only suggest this and am not peremptory in respect of it But I do not see that it will involve us in any difficulties. But (and this is the greatest concession that can be allowed to objectors), admitting that the Israelites were under a different covenant, and that it was of the character we have just explained, yet they were under a covenant of grace also, as well as we. That surely will be granted; for the apostle speaks plainly of it in Acts 15.11: ‘We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.’
Without doubt, there were some who were God’s choice people, who were not only under, but in, this covenant of grace, and yet they were chastised and afflicted for sin – Moses, David and Hezekiah are examples. This objection cannot therefore overthrow our proposition, namely, that God afflicts His own people for sin.
I have already noticed the cavil that the persons I have instanced as having been chastened for sin are taken from the Old Testament, and that therefore they do not apply to the case as it stands now; but such an attitude actually is full of danger, and would lead to more difficulties than at first appear. The harmony of Scripture must be preserved, for it is one way to discover the truth on doubtful points, and it is the work of the ministers of the Gospel, their great work, to unfold and preserve this harmony, and to show that one part of the Word does not quarrel with and clash against another. The two Testaments are always in sweet harmony and full agreement. God is the same in both; and had we wisdom, we should see the mutualness, the harmonies and the agreements, even in those places that seem to be opposites.
New Testament Teaching about Chastisement
But in this matter I shall meet the cavilling of opponents by showing that the New Testament does nothing but confirm the Old Testament on this matter of chastisement: I think We shall find that both Testaments speak the same language in this matter.
I begin with i Cor. 11. 30: For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.’ The apostle here tells them of the fearful sin of profaning the Lord’s Table, and of partaking of the ordinance unworthily. Finally he tells them that, though they did not take notice of it, yet this was the great cause of the sickness, weakness, and death which God had inflicted on them, and which now reigned among them. For this cause’, says he, by which he signifies an unworthy partaking. Can there be a clearer proof of what I am asserting than this? Here we find affliction and punishment set down, and here is the sin set down; and lest all this should not be enough, he tells them plainly that for this sin is this punishment — ‘For this cause many are sick’.
But it may be objected that this was not spoken of God’s people, but that those of whom it is spoken were unworthy partakers of the sacrament; God’s people cannot be unworthy partakers of the sacrament.
In explanation of this matter, observe that there is a twofold unworthiness, the unworthiness of the person, the unworthiness of present disposition. The unworthiness of the person is seen when a man comes without the wedding garment, unjustified, unsanctified. After this fashion God’s people cannot be unworthy for they are not found in this state of unworthiness.
But there is also unworthiness of present disposition, or of the manner of partaking of the Supper, when we do not come with those dispositions and affections which are required in such an ordinance. Habitual preparation there may be, and at the same time the lack of actual preparation, which consists of self-examination, and the excitation of our graces, as the apostle speaks:, Let a man examine himself and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup’; lack of this actual preparation may make a man an unworthy receiver. A similar thing may be seen in the prayer of Hezekiah: The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not prepared according to the preparation of the sanctuary’ (2 Chron. 30. 18- 19). They had habitual preparation (their hearts were prepared to seek God), but they lacked actual preparation according to the requirements of the sanctuary. Thus may God’s people have habitual preparation but yet may lack sacramental preparation. That the Corinthians were God’s people may be seen from 1 Cor. 11. 32: ‘We are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.’ It was not a punishment, but a chastisement, a term peculiar to saints, and the purpose of it was that they might not be condemned with the unbelievers. This place then is clear enough on the matter. We now look further.
Let us turn to Rom. 8. 10:, If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin’. Here the apostle shows that death is the result of sin, and though a man be in Christ, yet he must die because of sin; sin brings death. A saying in Heb. 12. 6-8 speaks to the same effect: ‘He scourgeth every son whom he receiveth: what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?’ And why does he chastise his son? Because he is a son? No, that cannot be the reason. It is because he is a sinner. Correction, though not invariably, here surely implies an offence. So, too, in 1 Pet. 4. 17: ‘Judgment must begin at the house of God.’ With this, compare Rev. 2. 12-16, where it is said to the angel of the Church at Pergamos (of whom God gives this testimony, that he had kept the Name of Christ, and had not denied the faith of Christ) that there were some sins among them, and that the Lord bade them repent of them, lest He should come and fight against them. This shows that their sins would bring calamity if they repented not.
And again, in 1 Cor. 10. 5-12: ‘With many of them God was not well pleased:… neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them… all these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.’ And how are they admonitions to us, if we are not to share with them in the same strokes if we go on with them in the same sins?
Various Cavils Answered
Thus have I called your attention to some parts of Scripture which seem to hold out this truth firmly to us, that God’s people may be chastised for sin, and that God does chastise His people for sin. Now we shall ask the objectors to show us their strength, so that we may see whether they can stand against the strength and clearness of this truth. We will look first at some of their cavils, which are their forlorn hope, and then we shall look at the main body of their arguments, and shall keep strength in reserve to bring to bear afterwards, thus to make the victory of truth more complete and perfect. What then are some of their cavils?
God, they say, does not afflict His people for sin, but chastises them from sin, and they add: the father does not give his child medicine to make him sick, but to take away bad humours, to prevent or remove diseases.
This I regard as a mere cavil. Afflictions have respect both to time past and time to come. God both afflicts His people for sin, and chastises them (to use the cavillers’ phrase) horn sin. The father not only corrects his child to make him beware of falling into the fault in the future, but also for the fault already committed. He does it to bring him to repentance and sorrow for his fault, and to work out of him the disposition to it. Or (to use their own similitude), he gives him medicine, not to increase his bad humours, but to remove them. We grant it, and we say, God chastises for sin; not to increase sin, but to remove sin. But we add this, that the reason a father gives his son medicine is bad humours, for if there were no bad humours there would be no need of medicine. Likewise, sin is the cause of the affliction; if there were no sin, there might be no affliction. And if a father may give medicine for the purging out of bad humours before they actually break out, and much more for the correction of them and the cure of them when they do break out, so it is spiritually. If God may afflict men for the purging out of a sinful disposition, much more may He correct them for the actual breaking out of sin in consequence of this disposition. The mistake of the objectors lies here, that they look upon afflictions merely as medicine, and this does not truly answer the case. Afflictions are both medicines and rods. They are called rods (as in Micah 6. 9; Job 9. 34; Lam. 3. 1) because they correct us for sin committed, and medicines to prevent sin in the future. But if a man looks upon them as medicine only, let him remember that medicine has two purposes: first, to purge out our present distemper, which teaches us that afflictions are for sin; second, to promote our future health, which teaches us that afflictions are from sin.
A second cavil is this, that we confound things, and regard that as a cause which is but an occasion for chastisement, God, they say, may take occasion from sin to chastise His people, when yet their sin is not the cause of the chastisement. For instance, consider David’s sin in numbering the people of Israel. When he did this, God brought a pestilence upon Israel. David’s sin, say the cavillers, was not the cause of the pestilence; Israel’s sin was the cause; David’s sin was but the occasion; for it is said in 2 Sam. 24. 1: ‘The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.’ God had displeasure against Israel, and David’s sin was not the cause of procuring, but the occasion which God took to inflict this judgment on them. The same may be said of Hezekiah’s sin in glorying in the riches of his treasure and the abundance of his store, as appears in Isa. 39. 2. He showed all his riches to the ambassadors from Babylon, upon which act of pride and vainglory God sent the prophet to tell him that, as he had thereby tempted God, so also had he tempted an enemy and showed him where he might have a booty if he would only come and fetch it. And that indeed would be the issue of the matter, for all this treasure and show of strength which he had revealed would be carried into Babylon. Now this particular sin of Hezekiah, for which God seems to threaten this calamity, was not the actual cause of it, but at the worst it was but an occasion for it. Therefore it is a great mistake in these and other places to make out those things to be causes which are but occasions. Such is the cavil which we are invited to answer.
Before I answer, let me say that I wish the cavillers were no more guilty of confounding things than we are. Certainly the want of clear conceptions of things has been the ground of those mistakes and erroneous opinions which they have put forth. But we will not recriminate, but proceed to the answer.
We grant as much as this, that this or that particular sin may sometimes be said rather to be the occasion than the cause of affliction. But to this we add that sin is not only an occasion, but it is oftentimes a cause, not only of chastisement in general, but of this or that particular act of chastisement. As is seen in i Cor. 11. 30: ‘For this cause many are weak and sickly, and many are fallen asleep.’ See also Ps. 39. 11. As for the cases cited by the cavillers, I conceive that they will afford them little success. As for the case of Hezekiah, I am so far from thinking that his particular sin was the cause, that I will not even admit it to be the occasion of the calamities threatened. I grant it to be the occasion of the prediction, but not of the punishment. By reason of his sin, God takes occasion to foretell the calamity which He had decreed, but this was no occasion either of the decree itself or of the evil decreed. As for the other case, that of David, it was not merely an occasion taken, but there was an occasion given by David’s sin. It was not only an occasion, but a cause, too. If Israel’s sin was the deserving cause, David’s sin was the immediate and apparent cause. If Israel’s sin procured the affliction, David’s sin gave the finishing and concluding stroke. Not only his sin in numbering the people, but the omission of the duty which God required, which was:, When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them’ (Exod. 30. 12-15). This being omitted, God brought a plague on them.
This is all I shall say for answer to these cavils which are made. I will come next to their main body of arguments.
Main Arguments Against Chastisement Stated and Answered
Their first argument, whereby they would prove that God does not punish for sin, is this: If God takes away the cause, then He takes away the effect also. Sin is the cause of all punishment, punishment is the effect of sin. If God takes away the cause, namely, sin, then too He takes away the effect, which is the punishment of sin. If the body is removed, the shadow goes too. Sin is the body and punishment the shadow; take away the sin and the punishment must needs be taken away. This seems to be implied in that phrase which is used in Scripture for the pardon of sin: ‘I will remember your sins no more’, that is, never to condemn you for them, nor to charge them against you, nor yet to punish you for them. Where God pardons sin, there He forgives the punishment. This seems to be granted in the thing itself, the pardon of sin. What is the pardon of sin but a removing of guilt? What is guilt but an obligation and binding us over to punishment, spiritual, temporal, eternal? Therefore, if God takes away the guilt of sin, then does He take away the punishment also.
In answer to this argument, it is necessary to distinguish between various kinds of punishments – temporal, spiritual, and eternal. As for eternal punishment, all are agreed that it can never lay hold on those whom Christ has set free, that is to say, those whose sins are pardoned. In respect of spiritual punishments, as they have relation to, or are subordinate to, eternal punishment, so we are freed from them also. Not only so, but we are likewise freed from all temporal punishments as far as they are part of the curse for sin, and as far as they are satisfactions for sin, either satisfaction by way of purchase or satisfaction by way of punishment; for God’s justice, both vindictive and rewarding, commanding and condemning, is satisfied. Further, believers are freed from temporal punishments as they are the fruits of sin, or as merely penal, for to this extent are they parts of the curse, and so are inflicted on wicked men, but not upon the godly, all of whose troubles are fruitful, not penal, troubles. As far as temporal punishments are the effects of vindictive justice, and not of fatherly mercy, believers are freed from them. God has thoughts of love in all He does to His people. The ground, the manner, the end of all His dealings with them is love, that He may do them good and make them partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12. 10) and hereafter make them partakers of His glory.
But there is another argument which I must answer. It is this: If Christ has borne whatever our sins deserved, and by doing so has satisfied God’s justice to the full, then God cannot, in justice, punish us for sin, for that would be to require the full payment from Christ and yet demand part of it from us. Therefore, there can be no temporal punishments for sin.
I grant that God’s justice is fully satisfied in Christ. He can require no more that what Christ has already done and suffered. Abundant satisfaction has been made. Therefore, far be it from any to say that God chastises His children for their sins as a means of satisfying His justice. Christ having done that has left nothing for us to bear by way of satisfaction. The Papists indeed say that our sufferings are satisfactions, and therefore they punish themselves and submit to penances. But no Protestant divines say so. We say that God does not chastise us as a means of satisfaction for sin, but for rebuke and caution, to bring us to mourn for sin committed, and to beware of the like.
It must always be remembered that, although Christ has borne the punishment of sin, and although God has forgiven the saints for their sins, yet God may God – fatherly correct His people for sin. Christ endured the great shower of wrath, the black and dismal hours of displeasure for sin. That which falls upon us is a sunshine shower, warmth with wet, wet with the warmth of His love to make us fruitful and humble. Christ drank the dregs of that bitter cup, so much of it as would damn us, and left only so much for us to drink as would humble us for our sin. That which the believer suffers for sin is not penal, arising from vindictive justice, but medicinal, arising from a fatherly love. It is his medicine, not his punishment; his chastisement, not his sentence; his correction, not his condemnation. In brief, then, God, for various reasons may chastise the saints for those sins for which Christ has rendered satisfaction, and which He Himself has forgiven. Augustine names three such reasons – the demonstration of man’s misery, the amendment of his life, and the exercise of his patience. I shall give five reasons:
Five Reasons Why God Chastens His People
(i) God may do it for the terror of wicked men, that they may read their destiny in the saints’ miseries. If it be thus done with the green tree, what shall become of the dry tree? If it thus befall the sheep of Christ, what shall become of the wolves and the goats? If God deals thus with His friends, what shall become of His enemies? If judgment begins at the house of God, where shall the wicked appear?
(2) God may do it for the manifestation of His justice, that He may show to the world that He is just. If He should punish others for sin, but spare His own, wicked men would say that He was partial, that He respected persons. Therefore, to declare that He is just and impartial, He will chastise His own.
(3) God may do it to remove scandal. The sins of the saints bring scandal upon religion; their sins are the sins of public persons; every one stands for many. God was more dishonoured by David’s uncleanness than by all the filth of Sodom. The ways of God were blasphemed thereby, as the prophet tells him; and upon that ground, because he had given the occasion, God would chastise him (1Sam. 12).
(4) Again, He may do it for caution to others. Others’ woes should be our warnings; others’ sufferings our sermons, and standing sermons to us to beware of the like. God chastises lest sin should spread to others. The apostle shows this at length in i Cor. 10. 5-12. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt to season us.
(5) God also chastens His people for their own good here, and for the furtherance of their salvation hereafter. As for the former, it is to humble them the more for their sin. When sin comes clad and arrayed with a cross or sad affliction, then it works the more deeply for humiliation. Afflictions draw men’s thoughts inward. It is with the godly as it is with the wicked; sometimes they have a careless ear that can hear indictments against sin, and yet not lay sin to heart. Therefore, God opens their ear by discipline. In their month you shall find them (Jer. 2. 24). God’s house of correction is His school of instruction. When an affliction comes upon us, then we are ready to listen to the indictments of sin, the checks of conscience, and the reproofs of God, and become ready to abase ourselves and humble ourselves under them. Such is one end in divine chastisements. Another end is to draw the heart further from sin. Another is to prevent the like. Our sufferings will be our warnings. Men who have felt the sting of the serpent, in affliction for sin, will beware of the spawn of the serpent in the pollution of sin. We read that, before the Babylonian captivity, the children of Israel were ever and anon falling into idolatry, and the whole creation was scarcely large enough for them to make idols of. They could scarcely find enough creatures to make idols of. But after God once carried them captive into Babylon, and scourged them soundly for their idolatry, amid all their sins afterwards they never returned to idolatry. Even to this day they abhor pictures.
Many other reasons for the chastisements of believers might be laid down, but the chief is that God chastises them to make them partakers of His holiness here and of His glory hereafter; and, indeed, to sweeten heaven and glory to them. The philosopher Zeno sought torment to assist him to get the most out of pleasure and said that pleasures were nothing worth if they were not thus seasoned: ‘from the disagreeable to the esteemed, from thorns to roses, from commotions to peace, from storms to the harbour, from the cross to the crown’. The apostle’s words are to the same effect: ‘Our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.‘
I shall proceed no further with these unhappy differences between us, but before I conclude this answer will add a few thoughts worthy of consideration.
1. Sin does naturally bring evil upon us. As there is peace and good in the ways of holiness, so there is evil and trouble in the ways of sin. They are never separated. Trouble is the natural and proper fruit of sin, the fruit which it naturally bears. Evil lies in the very bowels of sin. Sin is a universal evil, a big-bellied evil. All evils are born of sin. If you could rip up sin you would find all evil within it. All the evil in punishment lies in the evil which attends upon sin. All the Commandments were given for good, and our good lies in obedience to them. He that breaks the bounds that God sets, necessarily runs into evil and trouble. Sin is born from our hearts, and trouble is born from sin. Trouble is as truly a child of sin as sin is the natural issue of our souls. Not only by consequence and by God’s ordination, but naturally, sin brings forth evil and trouble.
2. The evil that sin brings, and the trouble that comes by sin, is either by chance or by providence and Divine dispensation. But it cannot be by chance. Job tells us so, and surely he tells the truth: ‘Afflictions do not arise out of the dust’ (Job 5. 6), and Christ says that: ‘There cannot a hair fall from your head’, without a providence (Matt. 10. 29-30). And if not a hair, if not the smallest thing without a providence, then much less the greatest. Augustine says that God arranges the various parts of the body of a flea or a gnat. So then, the evil that comes by sin is not by chance, but by providence and Divine dispensation.
3. If evil arises from providence, then either it is from God’s active or from His passive providence, or, if you prefer it this way, from either His permissive providence or by His active ordaining providence. The former – permissive providence – does not so well suit with God, who is all act, nor with the words of the prophet: ‘Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?’ (Amos 3. 6). Understand that this is meant only of the evil of punishment, not of the evil of sin, in which God has no hand. There are many things which God permits in the world, which He does not do; these are the evils of sin. But the evils of punishment, these He permits and does too. Isaiah gives the same answer as Amos in this matter: ‘Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? Did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned?’(Isa. 42. 24-25). We see, then, that all these come from Divine dispensation. God brings this evil, and He tells us, too, that it is on account of sin.
4. If God in His providence brings evil upon His people, then either it is out of love, or out of anger, or out of hatred. It cannot be out of hatred, for that were an impossibility; there is nothing that God does to His people that is the fruit or effect of hatred. Indeed, afflictions on the wicked are the fruits of hatred, droppings before the great shower of wrath falls upon them; but it is not so with His own people. Then it is either out of love or out of anger. Certainly it is not out of anger apart from love, for the principle, the ground, the end of all His dealings with His people is love. There is nothing He does to them which is separated from His love; there is love in all. Nay, it is from love that the chastisements proceed: for all his ways are ways of mercy to them that fear him (see Ps. 25. 10). But because afflictions and chastisements are evils, and seem to be the works of one who is angry and displeased, therefore I say that, though they come from love, yet it is from love displeased, from love offended. Paul says: ‘God had mercy on Epaphroditus, and not on him only, but on me also’ (in restoring him to health) (Phil. 2. 27). Why was this? Would it not have been a mercy to Paul if he had died too? Are not God’s ways, ways of mercy? And therefore, if he had died, would it not have been a mercy too? What shall we say to this? Shall we say it would have been a mercy in the issue and event, as God would sanctify it to the apostle, and do him good by it, as he himself says, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’ (Rom. 8. 28)? Indeed this is good, but this is not all; sin itself may be a mercy in the issue. But the Psalmist says: ‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.’ Not a step God takes towards His people, not an action that God does, not one dispensation of providence, but it is out of mercy. Therefore, what is the meaning of the saying that God had mercy on Paul in restoring Epaphroditus? Why should he say so, seeing it would also have been a mercy if he had been taken away? Would not God still have showed mercy to Paul even if Epaphroditus had died? Why then does Paul say that God had mercy on him in the restoring of Epaphroditus?
I agree that indeed it would still have been mercy to Paul if Epaphroditus had died, but a correcting mercy, a mercy in chastisement. The apostle seems by this expression of his to imply a medium, or at least a difference between mercy restoring and mercy depriving. It would still have been mercy, but a correcting mercy, if God had taken Epaphroditus away. And so it is in general; though afflictions and chastisements are sent in love, yet because in themselves they are evil, therefore, I say, they proceed often (not always) from love displeased, from love offended. We say indeed that God is angry; not that we are to conceive there is anger in God, for He is without ’passions’ even as He is without ‘parts’; but We say He is angry because He deals with us as men are accustomed to deal with their fellows in such cases; they withdraw from them, they chide them, they rebuke them, they correct them. Likewise does God, in a paternal displeasure, act towards those He dearly loves. I must draw to a close in this matter, but I must first mention a few further particulars so as to give full satisfaction to the exercised.
(1) First, God does not for ever chastise His people for sin. I say this, that not all the chastisements which God inflicts upon His people are for sin. Some are inflicted for the prevention of sin, as in the case of Paul’s temptation; some for the trial of graces, as in the case of Job. Divines distinguish various kinds of afflictions. Some are chastisements for sin, some accompany witnessing to the truth; some are trials of faith and give exercise to our graces. So that, though it be granted that God chastises for sin, yet not all the afflictions which God brings upon us to exercise us are for sin. It may be truly said that sin is the general cause of all calamities, but it cannot always be said that this or that particular affliction is procured by a particular sin. We see this in the case of the trials which came upon Job and Paul.
(2) God sometimes takes occasion by the sins of His people to afflict and chastise them. Thus far most Christians are in full agreement. Many will grant sin to be the occasion, who will not grant that sin is the cause why God afflicts His people; and indeed, this or that particular sin often seems to be an occasion rather than a cause of the chastisement. Sin may be the cause, and yet this or that particular sin may be but the occasion, as I have showed before.
(3) Not only does God take occasion by sin, but often He chastises and afflicts His people for sin. For sin, I say, and not only for the preventing and the curing of sin, but for the punishment and correction of it, as I have already showed at some length. God makes us to see sin in the effects when we will not see it in the cause; to see sin in the fruit of it when we refuse to see it in the root. God reveals sin to us through His works, when we refuse to see it through His Word. That which we will not learn by faith, He will teach us by sense: ‘A rod is for the fool’s back’ (Prov. 10. 13).
(4) When God chastens His people for sin. His chastisements are not the fruits of wrath or parts of the curse, for there is no wrath in them; they are not satisfactions for sin; they are not sent in vindictive justice; they are not merely penal, but medicinal; their reason is displeased love, and their purpose is fuller embraces.
This must suffice for the answer to the second query.