THE PURPOSE OF THE BELIEVER’S JUDGMENT
alone knows the responsibility of true Christians in the world today; and the
awful spiritual and moral collapse of the present day Church in this country,
is the inevitable consequence of its neglect and disbelief of His conditional
promises; none of us knows to what degree the Church in Britain is responsible
for its share in the Iraq war judgment; and none of us knows our personal
degree of responsibility. Therefore, in
what we ourselves may yet have to pass through - as individual Christians, as
individual assemblies, or as the whole
The spiritual danger in the background of the revelation is exactly ours at this very moment. "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" - you have not been tortured or slain, you have not experienced the wounded flesh or the slaughtered life; "and you have forgotten the word of encouragement that addresses you as sons" (Heb. 12: 4). Those whom the Apostle addressed were in danger of fainting under afflictions far less than afflictions which others - persecuted or martyred - had successfully mastered, and they had forgotten the very principle of all affliction for the child of God. Suffering is either destructive or corrective: it is either solely penal or solely purging: the truth now emerges - for the child of God it is only and utterly purging. A visitor to the Southern States of America saw a potter take a lump of clay in one hand, and pound it mercilessly with the other. The tourist asked him what he was doing. He replied:- "I am getting the air-bubbles out of it. One of these little bubbles, left in, would mar all my work; so I beat it mercilessly until all the bubbles are out."
This entire truth is at once based, by God, on one foundation - sonship. "My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline" - for there must be some reason in a father hurting his son; "and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son". Scourging is the sharpest form of flogging. "The best of believers is unworthy to take the place of sonship before God, and needs education from above to enable him joyfully to dwell with God" (Govett). So the golden truth is revealed that all a believer’s sufferings, that are God-inflicted, have their source in the love of a heavenly Father, and their reason in His resolve is for our perfection: in our tears God buries the seed of our coming joy and glory. The medicine may be bitter; but it cures. We may not understand each particular infliction, nor its place in the map, but here is revealed the grand and ultimate plan - our perfection.*
[* Perfection can only come after resurrection, and since the "First Resurrection" is shown by to be rewarding and selective, it is apparent that not all regenerate believers will be judged worthy to have attained unto it. (Rev. 20: 4-6.)]
So now is revealed our right reaction to this truth. "Endure hardship for discipline"; we ought to be reconciled to it because we know what its fruit will be - the heart purified, the life transfigured, the mind ennobled: "God is treating you as sons; for what son is not disciplined by his father?" Parental discipline, when properly exercised springs from anxiety to correct a child’s faults, to form his character, to perfect his manhood: when a father resorts to the rod, it is because he has no choice, if the child is to become all he wishes it to be.* Howard Ward Beecher gives his own experience of disciplinary love. "I had a teacher," he says, "when I was a boy, who used to love me and let me off easy in my lessons, and I thought he was splendid. I had another teacher who, out of school and out of doors, was almost like a brother and a father to me, but who was very rigid with me in the mathematical room - and with me especially; and when I once complained to him that he did not treat any other boy as he did me, he said, ‘No, I do not, for I do not love any other boy as much as I do you.’ He brought the screw down on me tremendously: at last he developed in me an energy and an enterprise that led to results that I never should have achieved under any other training than that." It is with the believer as a ‘servant’ that Scripture usually links responsibility, and therefore punishment, but here punishment is radically associated with the believer as a ‘child of God’ a ‘son’: he is chastened as a son; and every believer, without exception, is therefore, in some form or another, ‘judged’. God does not love to smite: He smites because He loves. Catherine Booth, wife of the founder of the Salvation Army, as devoted and influential a woman as the nineteenth century produced, said on her deathbed that she could not recall one day of her life that had been free from pain.
[* Today’s present scourge upon society and the massive increase in crime rates, can rightly be attributed to an absence of parental discipline and just punishment of guilty offenders.]
So fundamental is this truth that a [regenerate] believer is actually identified as such by his chastisement. "If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons" * If a man dying of cancer is not operated upon, it is because the surgeon despairs of a cure: so if God’s knife is not used upon a soul, cutting away sin, it is because He is not curing it at all. Such is sinful mankind, that, when a soul is to be lost, all that has to be done is to let it alone.
[* Regenerate believers may appear for a time to escape punishment in this life, but they must face the consequences of wilfull sin and disobedience after death. (Gal. 6: 7, 8; Heb. 10: 26, 27). All judgments upon the unregenerate are not for correction, but for their eternal punishment; for in the unregenerate there is nothing good to respond to correction: an electric shock is useless on an aged corpse. But judgement can also bring the unregenerate to repentance and possession of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.]
"He feels perchance that all is well,
And every fear is calm'd:
He lives - he dies - he wakes in Hell*
Not only doom’d, but damned."
Our comfort under discipline, therefore, is immense. "Fear not: these stripes are the tokens of His love. He is no son that is not beaten; yea, till he smart, and cry; if not, till he bleed. No parent corrects another’s child; and he is no parent that corrects not his own. O rod, worthy to be kissed, that assures us of His love, of our adoption" (Bishop Hall).
aim of the suffering is now beautifully revealed. "Our fathers disciplined us" - for life’s
little spell, as distinct from eternity, for which our Father is preparing us -
"for a little while as they thought best"
- it might be unwise, or capricious, or excessive chastisement; "but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share
in his holiness". The love guarantees that the pruning of
the branch shall not be excessive, for excessive, unnecessary pruning could
only be the mutilation of an enemy.* God disciplines for our profit: what
profit? A profit out-weighing the
millions of the Bank of England - a holiness equal to
mastery of our evil tendencies, the due regulation of our desires, the
elevation of our motives, and aims, the higher and complete discharge of the
claims of life, the stricter integrity, purity, and spirituality of our characters,
the closer our likeness to Christ and our fellowship with God - these make us
‘kiss the rod’ " (G. B. Johnson). When
[* "If I were Minister of Agriculture," says Mr. D. L. Storrie, Chairman of the Fruit Committee of the Caledonian Horticultural Society, "I would make an order prohibiting the pruning of all fruit trees in private gardens for the duration of the war. The effect of this, while in many cases resulting in untidy trees, would be a vast over-all increase of fruit in the country from existing trees. The annual loss of fruit due to incessant and indiscriminate cutting back of trees must be colossal."]
But our immediate application of this truth is of extraordinary importance. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness" - no pruned branch fruits the moment it is cut; how long afterward we ourselves decide - "it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY IT". In a Greek interlinear the above text reads: "On one hand discipline for indeed the present seems not of joy to be but of grief, later on the other [hand] the fruit peaceable to the ones through it having been exercised it gives back of righteousness". In the Greek ‘trained’ and ‘exercised’ means gymnastics: the training master challenged youths to combat - to strike, to guard, to wrestle; and the riposte [quick return] produced the perfection. Backsliding believers, who die as such, are not ‘trained by it’ and the process has to be completed after the Judgment Seat: the cut branch, which refuses to fruit, is cast into the ripening flame after the Judgment Seat (John 15: 6; cf., Heb. 6: 4-7; Rom. 11: 17-24.). But it will fruit at last; for "neither the present, nor the future ... will be ABLE to separate us from THE LOVE OF GOD" (Rom. 8: 38). The discipline is continued until the end - holiness like God’s - is attained, and attained for ever. Dr. Bushnell lost a son. When, a year or two after, he went into the country to preach for an old friend, the latter noticed an increased fervour in his preaching; and in intimate talk, alluded to it, and Dr. Bushnell replied:- "I have learned more of experimental religion since my little boy died than in all my life before."
So we can be "greatly encouraged in all our troubles" (2 Cor. 7: 4). In the lovely words of William Penn:- "No pain, no palm; no thorn, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown." So we see the wonderful attitude towards God this truth produces. The negative side a Prime Minister of England illustrates. When in 1885 the Editor of The Times, Mr. Buckle, approached Lord Salisbury, he was astonished by the Prime Minister’s outburst. "It is a pleasure to see you," Lord Salisbury exclaimed warmly. "You are the first person who has come to see me in the last few days who is not wanting something at my hands - place, or decoration, or peerage. You only want information!" Then, in a burst of speech unusual in him - the outcome, no doubt, of long-restrained exasperation - he went on to express the ‘surprise and shock’ from which he was suffering. "Men whom I counted my friends and whom I should have considered far above personal self-seeking have been here begging, some for one thing, some for another, till I am sick and disgusted.* The experience has been a revelation to me of the baser side of human nature." The positive side of the truth is illustrated by a little child. A minister once found it necessary to punish his little daughter. Climbing into his lap, and throwing her arms round his neck, she said, "Papa, I do love you." "Why, my child," he said, "do you love?" "Because," she said, "you try to make me good."
[* a parallel situation can be witnessed all around us today amongst ministers of religion, who seek only to please their congregations by false promises of coming glory: how disgusting it all must appear in the sight of a holy and righteous Judge Who will award everyone according to their works.]
At least there is hope for a tree. If it be cut down, it will sprout again ..." (Job 14: 7). I remember years ago just such a crisis presented itself in my own life. By gentle and persuasive means the Holy Spirit was urging me to yield to God certain things which I dreaded to let go. Deep in my heart of hearts was the desire to be wholly consecrated to the Lord, but some of the pleasures and ambitions of earth hindered me, and my soul responded to the Lord in some such strain as this: ‘If necessary, Lord, wrest these things out of my poor clinging hands, but nevertheless I shall cling to them as long as I may.’ My faithful Saviour waited in His love, digging and fertilizing by gentle providences until I compelled Him by my continued obstinacy to "cut down" the tree. By awful and prolonged physical suffering (from which I was at length only delivered in answer to the prayer of faith) and by sharp mental and spiritual conflicts, was the pruning accomplished, and then the ‘new hope’ was manifested and the ‘tender branch, sprang up.’ "
- CARRIE JUDD MONTGOMEIRY.