GRACE AND TRUTH by Octavius Winslow – “The Chastening of Love”
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Rev. 3:19.
Who is the speaker of these words? Even Jesus, described as the “faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead, the prince of the kings of the earth, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.” Not Jesus as in the days of His humiliation; but Jesus in the height of His glory. Not Jesus when the tear was in His eye, and the shade upon His brow, and sadness in His heart; but Jesus exalted above all sorrow, manifested to the exile of Patmos in the splendor of his glorified humanity. The exalted and enthroned Savior is the speaker.
And to whom are these words spoken? They were addressed to the self-sufficient, self-approving church of Laodicea, whose spiritual state was neither warm nor cold, but such as God hated, as Jesus loathed. “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue you out of my mouth. You say, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” And yet to this church was addressed one of the tenderest and most sublime truths of the Bible; and immediately, too, after this severe and searching rebuke- “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”
The CHASTENING OF LOVE is the interesting theme which these words suggest. The Lord Jesus declares that He loves His people, and especially the people whom He chastens. Had we not a ‘thus says the Lord’ for its truth, its greatness would render it incredible; and had we not some experience of it in our own souls- alas! how small the measure! -it would be too spiritual and glorious for our conception. But who are the people upon whom the heart of Jesus is set? They are not angels; and yet He loves angels because they are elect and holy; He loves them as the creatures of His power, and as the messengers of His will. But God loves not angels as He loves man. The Lord Jesus bears not the same affection towards those unfallen and pure spirits as He does towards a poor sinner hiding in His wounded side, cleansing in His blood, and enfolding himself within the robe of His righteousness. He never took part of the nature of angels, nor wept over angels, nor bled for angels- but all this He did for man!
It is His Church, then, which is represented as the object of His love- His own people, the donation of His Father, the creatures of His choice, the subjects of His grace, the treasure of His heart. Is it asked wherein has He loved them? Rather might we ask wherein has He not loved them! Look at His assumption of their nature! What a mighty stoop was this- the Infinite to the finite! Were it possible for me to save the life of an insect by assuming the form of that insect, I should, by so doing, manifest my great benevolence. But behold the love of our incarnate God! His heart was bent, His whole soul was set, upon saving man. But He could save man only by becoming man. He could not raise our nature, but as He stooped and assumed that nature. He must not only look upon it, and pity it, and weep over it, but He must take it into the closest and most indissoluble union with Himself.
Nor was it the mere exchange, or blending together of natures so as to form one new nature. It was not the absorption of the Infinite into the finite, for He ceased not to be God, when He became man; He only veiled, He did not extinguish the glory of His Deity. In this consisted the mightiness of the stoop. I see no humiliation in the Savior’s life but as it springs from this one fact- His condescension in taking up into union with His own divine our human nature. This was the first and greatest step in the path that conducted Him to the cross. All the acts of abasement and ignominy which follow were engrafted upon this. And, oh, what humiliation! Look at your nature! Contemplate it in some of its severest forms of degradation, and wretchedness, and woe. Are you not often constrained to blush that it is your own? Do you not turn from it at times with loathing and abhorrence, ashamed to confess that you are a man? Above all, what self-loathing, what self-abhorrence, when the Holy Spirit opens the chambers of iniquity in your own heart, and makes you acquainted with the abominations that are there! And yet this was the nature which the Son of God assumed! Herein is love! When He saw your nature fallen, ruined, and accursed- ejected from paradise as a loathsome thing- He came and allied Himself to it, in order that He might save it. If this truth, dear reader, has no glory to your eye, nor sweetness to your soul, what is your Christianity? From the depths of my heart I pity you. It is the foundation of Christianity, it is the marrow of the Gospel, it is the hope of the soul, it is that truth which takes every ruffle from the pillow of death. “I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
And is not this just the truth we need as a suffering and a tried people? When do we extract the sweetest honey from this bitter of bitters? Is it not when our humanity is wounded, oppressed, and cast down? When do we most value and love the humiliation of the Incarnate God? Is it not when by suffering we are driven to it, then to learn the tenderness and the sympathy that are in Christ? O blessed affliction, sweet sorrow, friendly chastisement, that brings my soul into the deeper experience of what God is in my nature!
It is impossible to present at a single glance all the evidences of Christ’s love to His people. We may refer to His suretyship engagement in their behalf as a most wonderful manifestation of His love. It includes all that is precious to the believer. He became our Surety, and in consequence He suffered as such. The teaching of the word of God on the subject of suretyship is clear and decided. It would appear to be a thing, if not forbidden, at least discountenanced as incurring risk, and exposing to sorrow. “He that is surety for a stranger shall suffer for it: and he that hates suretyship is safe.” “If you be surety for your friend, if you have stricken your hand with a stranger, you are snared with the words of your mouth.” “Do not be one of those who strike hands, or of those who are sureties for debts.” Such is the teaching of the Holy Spirit on this subject. Were this precept more honored by the observance of God’s people, how much loss and suffering would be prevented! What ruin and what sorrow have been entailed upon individuals and upon families by its total disregard! How few have ever thus ‘struck hands’ who have not been made to ‘suffer for it’?
But we return to our Great Surety- the Lord Jesus Christ. He made Himself responsible to Divine law and justice in behalf of His people. He undertook to discharge all their debts, to meet every claim, and to reimburse the moral government of God the honor it had lost. His suretyship involved the provision of a righteousness which should completely justify His church; a righteousness, abused though it may be, and denied though it is, yet on its basis the believing sinner finds acceptance with God, and shall as certainly be in heaven as the saints who are already there. “Whom he justified, those he also glorified.” It is just the righteousness we need, dear reader, at the end of our most holy day. When a close inspection, a careful dissection of that which has appeared the most spiritual and God-glorifying, lays the mouth in the dust, then, O then, how blessed to have one flawless, spotless, finished work to fall back upon, and on which we dare take our stand before the holy Lord God, and plead it with Him for acceptance and for heaven.
It is just the righteousness we need to deepen our view of sin, to increase our self-loathing, and to bring the peace of God into the soul in all its soothing and sanctifying influence. It is just the righteousness we need to sustain us amid the swellings of Jordan, when all other confidences give way, when the past seems one mass of sin, and the spirit trembles upon the confines of the dread future- then, O then, by faith to wrap around this robe, and with it strike the billows that they part asunder, and allow the soul to pass over, singing, “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!” Oh, herein is love!
The suretyship of Jesus also secured to His people the entire and free forgiveness of sin. “Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree,” or, to the tree. “Who was made sin (or a sin-offering) for us.” “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities.” Blessed announcements! Not the less hateful, nor hated, is the sin because it is forgiven and entirely blotted out. Oh no! Let the Lord touch the heart, Christian reader, with a sense of His pardoning love, with the assurance of His forgiveness, and you will go and hate, and mortify, and forsake it, more resolutely and effectually than ever. And must the Son of God become the Son of man, that they who are by nature children of wrath, might become the sons of God? Must God, the eternal God, the high and lofty One, stoop so low as to become incarnate, and that for sinners; for me, a poor worthless sinner! To save me from eternal woe, must the Son of man suffer, agonize, and die; die in my stead, die for my sins, die an accursed death! Ah, Lord, what must sin be, what must my sin be! How little have I thought of it, how little have I mourned for it, still less have I hated it as I ought to have hated it! Lord, how vile, how unutterably vile I am! “And is this the return that I have made,”- exclaims the poor, humbled, abased, contrite soul, when it reflects on some instances of transgression against light and love, against rebukes, against restorings, against God Himself- “did the Lord deserve this at my hands? Oh base ingratitude! Oh hated sin! Do you forgive it, Father of my mercies? This only makes it more hateful still. Never, never can I forgive myself.”
Yes! the Lord loves His people. The Father loves them, for He chose them. The Son loves them, for He died for them. The Spirit loves them, for He dwells in them. Look at the care which the Lord takes of them- the supplies of grace measured out to them- the yearnings of His heart over them- the gentleness of His dealings towards them- seeing how He is collecting them one by one to Himself, that they might be with Him where He is, and behold His glory! And never more ask, Wherein has He loved us?
And yet He CHASTENS them- but it is the chastening of love. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” It is not always, nor in every circumstance of trial, that the children of adoption can receive this truth. While passing under His hand, while yet smarting from the rod, while the bitter cup still presses the lip, it is most difficult for the believer to comprehend and discern the Lord’s love to him- yes, what seems to be still more hard to believe, that Jesus chastens him because He loves him. And yet, “those whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” The spring-head of all Divine chastisement is Divine love. There is not, there cannot be, one drop of wrath in the heart of God towards His people. Their Divine Surety bore it all- suffered it all- took it all away. One drop of infinite wrath left in the heart of God must have borne down the Church forever. That single portion would have been too much for it to bear. How, then, can poor, Christless, impenitent sinners, bear up under the deluge of the wrath which is to come? Had not our Surety been Divine as well as human, He could not have sustained it. And all who are out of Christ, who have no union to Christ, and no acceptance in Christ, must bear that wrath alone. “Who can stand before him when once he is angry?”
But Divine love chastens, because it sees the necessity for the correction. The Lord’s love is not a blind affection. It is all-seeing, and heart-searching. When has He ever shown Himself blind to the follies of His people? When has His love been ignorant of their sinful departures? Was He blind to the unbelief of Abraham? He chastened him for it. Was He blind to the deception of Jacob? He chastened him for it. Was He blind to the impatience of Moses? He chastened him for it. Was He blind to the self-applause of Hezekiah? He chastened him for it. Was He blind to the adultery and murder of David? He chastened him for it. Was He blind to the idolatry of Solomon? He chastened him for it. Was He blind to the disobedience of Jonah? He chastened him for it. Was He blind to the self-righteousness of Job? He corrected him for it. Was He blind to the denial of Peter? He rebuked him for it.
It is our mercy to know that love marks our iniquity, and that love and not justice, grace and not vengeance, holds the rod, and administers the correction. Do you think, O chastened child of the Lord, that your Father would have touched you where your feelings are the most acute, where your anguish is the deepest, had He not seen a real necessity? Had He marked no iniquity, no flaw, no departure, no spot, you would have known what the ‘kisses of His mouth’ were, rather than the strokes of His rod. And yet believe it, for He has declared it, those stripes of His rod are as much the fruit and the expression of His love as are the ‘kisses of His mouth.’ “For whom the Lord loves he chastens.” Sin is the cause of afflictions; were we free from sin we should be free from scourges. Afflictions cease not until sin is quite destroyed, which will not be in this world. Justice finds enough in every believer to punish, and mercy finds enough to pardon.
But all the afflictions of the believer are the effects of Divine love. They can resolve themselves into nothing else. While the same stroke, falling upon an unbelieving, rebellious, sin-loving sinner, may be the first-fruits of eternal punishment, to the saint of God it may prove the first-fruits of eternal glory. The correction which you at present consider as an argument of wrath, may be an evidence of love and an act of mercy. God will prune you, but not hew you down. The ‘right hand of His mercy’ knows what the ‘left hand of His severity’ is doing. Better for you to be a chastened son, than an undisciplined child of the devil. Oh yes! there was no anger, no vindictiveness, no vengeance in that heavy stroke which laid your heart’s fondest treasure in the dust. Love smote, but love yearned while it smote.
The Lord’s love likewise appears in appointing the rebuke and in tempering the chastisement. That rebuke might have been heavier, that chastisement might have been severer. The deep and dark waters might have engulfed the soul. The language of the chastising Father is most tender. “I will not make a full end of you: but I will correct you in measure.” Thus perhaps your prayer has been answered, “O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” And then has followed the pleasant psalm of grateful acknowledgment and praise: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger forever. He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” O could we always analyze the cup, how astonished should we be to find that in the bitterest draught that ever touched our lips, the principal ingredient was love! That love saw the discipline needful, and love selected the chastisement sent, and love appointed the instrument by which it should come, and love arranged the circumstances by which it should take place, and love fixed the time when it should transpire, and love heard the sigh and saw the tear and marked the anguish, and never for one moment withdrew its beaming eye from the sufferer.
Alas! how much is this truth overlooked by the disciplined believer! Think, suffering child of God, of the many consoling, alleviating, and soothing circumstances connected with your chastisement. How much worse your position might be, how much more aggravated the nature of your sorrow, and how much heavier the stroke of the rod. Think of the disproportion of the chastisement to the sin, for “know that God exacts of you less than your iniquity deserves.” Think of the many Divine supports, the precious promises, the tenderness of God, the gentleness of Christ, the sympathy and affection dwelling in the hearts of the saints- and all this will demonstrate to you that the chastisement of the saints is the chastening of love.
Before proceeding to the next chapter, which will trace the sanctified results of God’s loving correction, we would remark- how great the dignity and precious the privilege of chastened believers! They are the children of God. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” Angels, bright, sinless angels, stand not so closely and endearingly related to God as they. Wonderful love of God! that He should not think it a dishonor to own them as His sons, and to call Himself their Father, who by nature are the children of wrath, slaves to Satan, and the servants of sin. How great our dignity! Seek, reader, to know it, to enjoy it, to live to it. If there has been no sealing of your adoption upon the heart, give the Holy Spirit no rest until there is. If, in the holy, humble confidence of faith, there never has been an ‘Abba, Father,’ upon your lip, as one professing to be a child, and soon to be in eternity, it is time that there should be. Seek it earnestly, seek it importunately, seek it believingly, and you will have it. “You shall call me, my Father.” “If I then be a Father,” says the same God, “where is my honor?” Have you ever honored Him, loved Him, obeyed Him, glorified Him as your Father? Seek, O seek it with your whole soul. Bending over you, the Spirit of adoption waits to impress the great seal upon your heart. Loving you, the Father yearns to clasp you to His bosom, assuring you that you are His loved, pardoned, accepted child. As the loved, then, whom the Lord rebukes and chastens, let our carriage be that of children, even as His discipline is that of a Father. Let us receive the correction with meekness, and hear the voice of the Lord with reverence, since God is parental and loving in all His conduct towards His saints.
Nor let us fail to remember for our comfort that all the chastisement of the children of God are on this side of heaven. “We are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world.” Not so with the ungodly. Sinner! unconverted soul! you may laugh now, and sport now, and rejoice now, but remember- your chastisement is to come! Your condemnation is to come! Your stripes are to come! All your real woe is to come. It is coming now, it comes fast, it is near at hand, even at your door- for there is but a step between you and hell! and have you ever thought what it must be to lie down in eternal torment, what it must be to meet an angry God, to confront a despised Savior? To take the fearful plunge without one ray of hope- a starless, sunless, hopeless eternity? O happy if the Eternal Spirit so bless to your soul the perusal of this page as to awaken you to a solemn, an honest and earnest seeking of the Lord; to give up your procrastinations, your waiting for a more convenient season- your worldly excuses- your refuges of lies- the sparks of your own kindling in which you must lie down in sorrow- your dream of a future, a death-bed repentance; and casting all aside, hastening as a poor, lost, dying sinner to Christ, exclaiming, “I am a dying man! I need a Savior! I need the influence of the Holy Spirit to reveal that Savior, to lead me to that Savior, and to tell me that Savior is mine.”
But no future sorrow awaits the children of God beyond the grave. They are chastened now, that they may not be condemned hereafter. All to come is joy and gladness, is purity and bliss. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.” O learn from this subject that you are not less the object of God’s love because He corrects you. The suspicion has, perhaps, pressed coldly and darkly upon your heart, “He cannot love me, and force this nauseous cup to my lip.” Hush that murmur! Be still that thought! and know, O chastened child, O daughter of sorrow, that God is love; and because you are His loved child, His loving correction now makes you great. Then, in the words of your suffering Head, say, “The cup that my Father has given me, shall not I drink it?”
“Yes, Lord, Your chastening hand is good,
Though painful now to flesh and blood,
It is my Father’s voice of love,
His strength to show, my faith to prove.”
“And shall a murmuring thought arise
Against my God, most good, most wise
My God, who has engaged to grant
Supplies of grace for every want?”
“No! rather would I, meek and mild,
Sit at His feet His chastened child,
And learn of Him my cross to bear,
Transformed into His image fair.”
“I hear His voice in gentle strains
Soothing my sorrows and my pains,
My love I will not from you take,
Nor for one moment you forsake.”
“While you are in the furnace held,
My strength shall be your help and shield;
And your support my arm shall be,
I will be near and solace thee.”
“Do you forget the wounds for you
I bore upon the accursed tree?
Did not my love for you atone?
Then, think not you are all alone!”
“Soon will I come, and take you home,
To reign with me upon my throne;
Soon shall your tears be dried away,
In glory’s cloudless, endless day.
“Then, Lord, my chastened spirit take,
Wholly renew it for Your sake;
May now Your image in me shine,
And fit me for the life divine.”
“And whatsoever Your will may be,
That must be love that comes from Thee;
To You I would my will resign,
My heart, my life, dear Lord, are Thine.”