The Discipline of the Lord
May 24th 1888
C. H. Spurgeon
An audio copy of this sermon, Preached by Tony Capoccia, is available on Audio Tape Cassette or CD at www.gospelgems.com
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Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION© 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
“Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law; you grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. For the LORD will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.” [Psalm 94:12-15]
There are times when the wicked seem to have every thing their own way. This earth is not the realm of final justice; we are not yet standing before the Lord’s great judgment-seat. For a while, God permits many things to be confusing. They who are highest with him are often lowest with men; and those for whom he has no regard seem to heap up the treasures of the world until their eyes stand out with fatness, and they often have more than any heart can wish for. Let no child of God be astonished at this arrangement. It has often been this way in the past, and it has been the great mystery that has puzzled the world. The children of God have also sat down, and looked into it; but even to them it has been a great mystery, which they could not comprehend. They have sighed over it, but their sighs have not altered the facts. It is often still true that the wicked triumph, and the servants of iniquity delight themselves in the elevated positions of the world. The righteous need not wonder that they suffer now, for that has been the lot of God’s people all along, and there have been certain times in human history when God has seemed to be completely deaf to the cries of his suffering people. Remember the age of the martyrs, and the days when Christians were hunted down like animals. You must not wonder if the easy places of the earth are not yours, and if the stern duties of the watchman should become your lot. It is so, and so it must be, for God has so ordained it.
To bring comfort to any of the Lord’s children who have begun to worry themselves because things do not go with them as they desire, I have selected this text, and I pray the Lord to bless it to them.
I. First, I will ask you to notice that GOD’S CHILDREN ARE BEING TRAINED.
Other children may run about, and be on vacation; they may wander into the woods, and gather the flowers, and do pretty much what they like; but God’s own children have to go to school. This is a great privilege for them, although they don’t always think so. Children are not often good judges of what is best for them. No doubt we would like to play hooky from school, we would be very glad to put away our school-bags, and quit school, and go out by ourselves, and wander at our own sweet will; but our heavenly Father loves us too much to let that happen. Because we are His children, He must therefore train and prepare us for that great destiny which awaits us in the future.
Note how this training is described in our text; the very first word concerning it is, “discipline.” “Blessed is the man you discipline, the man you teach,” as if the discipline were the primary part of the teaching, as if it occupied so large a share of it that it was put first: “Blessed is the man you discipline, the man you teach.” In God’s schoolhouse the rod is still present; with the Lord, to discipline is to teach. He does not spoil his children; but disciplines them, yes, even punishes them, as the apostle puts it. His discipline is most severe to those whom he loves best: “because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Some of us know what it is to be taught through discipline. I have often told you that I am afraid I have never learned anything from God except by the rod; and, in looking back, I am afraid that I must confirm that statement. I have forgotten some of the gentle lessons; but when they have been whipped into me, I have remembered them. I met with a friend, the other day, who said that it was the very reverse with him. He could not remember any benefit that he had ever gained by being disciplined, and he thought that all the good he had received from the Lord had come to him by tenderness and prosperity. I did not argue with him about the matter, for the experiences of God’s people may differ; but this I know, dear friends, that some of us have learned a great deal from the Lord’s rod of discipline.
For instance, we have learned from discipline the evil of sin.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” There are some sorrows that obviously come as the result of our own folly. We have to reap the harvest of the seed that we sow; and by this process we are made to see that it is a very evil and bitter thing to sin against God. This is an important lesson; I wish that more of God’s people had carefully learned it. I wish that some who profess to be Christians had some basic concept of the extreme sinfulness of sin; but I believe that instruction on this point often comes from the disciplining hand of God.
The discipline we receive from God teaches us the unsatisfactory nature of worldly things.
We can easily become attached to the things, which we possess. It is a very difficult thing to handle gold without having it stick to your fingers; and when it gets into your wallet, you need a lot of grace to prevent it from getting into your heart. Even our children can soon grow into idols, and our health and our comfort may make us forget God. I have never known an affliction or trial make us do that; but like with Jonah, when the shade of the vine is taken away, then the sun shines on us. How often has God shaken all the leaves off our trees, and then we have seen the heavens which we never saw when all the leaves were green! By losing this, and losing that, we are made to feel that all the things which we possess are such temporary joys that we cannot hope to fill our hearts with them.
Don’t we also learn by affliction our own frailty, and our own impatience?
We are wonderfully patient when we have nothing to suffer, as we are all great heroes and very courageous when there is no fighting to be done. We sometimes say to one another, “What great faith that brother has! What a vast mountain of faith that sister possesses!” We are almost inclined to envy them; but we remember the fable of the stag which had such magnificent antlers that he said to himself, as he looked at his fine figure in the water, “It is most absurd for us stags to be afraid of dogs. The next time I hear a dog bark, I will just toss him on my horns, and that will be the end of him.” Yes, so he thought; but just then the barking of a dog was heard in the distance, and the boastful stag took to his heels, and ran as fast as the rest of the herd did. It is often the same way with those who seem to have great faith when they don’t need it; but when they do need it, where is it? Lay some men on a bed of sickness for a week or two, and see whether they will be able to boast at the rate they now do. They would sing another song, I assure you, if they had to suffer the pain that some of us have had to endure, and the beads of perspiration would stand on their brow while they tried to bear it. Oh, yes, we find how great our weakness is when first one thing is taken away, and then another, and God’s hand of discipline makes the blows fall thick and heavy on us!
Don’t we then learn also the value of prayer?
I said to my friend who had suffered on his sick bed, “Didn’t you pray much more when you were under your affliction than you did before?” “Oh, yes!” he replied; “I grant you that -
“Trials give new life to prayer.”
We never pray with such deep seriousness as when everything seems to be sinking from under our feet, and our sweetest cups are full of bitterness? Then we turn to God, and say, “tell me what charges you have against me.” I don’t think that we ever pray with such fervor of supplication in our prosperity as we do in our adversity. And then how precious the promises become! Just like we only see the stars in the darkness of the night, so the promises shine out like newborn stars when we get into the night of affliction. I am sure that there are passages of Scripture, which are full of consolation, the depths of which we do not even imagine yet, and we never will know all that is in them until we get into the troubled depths of our soul. There are points of view from which scenery is to be seen at its best; and, until we find out those points of view, we may be missing the sight of some of the most beautiful objects in nature. God leads us one way and another through discipline that we may understand and prize his promises. And, oh, dear friends, how would we ever know the faithfulness of God if it were not for affliction? We might talk about it and understand it in theory; but to try to prove the greatness of Jehovah’s love, and the absolute certainty of his eternal faithfulness - this only comes through affliction and trial.
I might talk on forever about the sweet uses of adversity, and not exhaust the subject. You experienced people of God know even more than I do about this matter, for some of you have sailed in deeper waters than I have in my little ship; and yet, I think, my bow has cut through some of the deep places in the sea of trouble, and there may still be deeper depths before me. I believe that I have probably said enough to sufficiently prove to you that disciplining is a divine way of instructing us. You will discover that, if you want to find the most Christ-like saints, and the most deeply experienced believers, and the Christians who are best acquainted with the Word of God, that you must look for them among those who are the most intimately acquainted with the fiery furnace and its burning heat.
If you read through the text, dear friends, you will notice that the rod is not without the Word.
I call your special attention to that: “Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law.” The rod and the Bible go together; the rod drives us to the Bible, and the Bible explains the meaning of the rod; we must have both of them if we would be fully instructed in the things of God.
The Word of God is our school-book. At first, it is our elementary textbook; and when we advance further in grace, it will be to us our greatest classic; and all the way along it will supply us with the choicest poetry and everything else that we desire.
We look to the Bible for comfort when we are disciplined.
We turn over its pages, and seek to find a passage, which fits our case, and ministers relief to our needs. Have you not often done so? Why, the Bible is something like the locksmith’s bunch of master keys! Perhaps you have lost the key to your desk, and you cannot get at your things. You send for the locksmith, and he keeps on trying different keys until he finally finds the one that fits your lock exactly. So, if you keep on looking intently into the promises, you will eventually come to one that was made specifically for your case. Perhaps your lock is one that needs a very special key; you could never understand why it was that way; but now that you have found the key that opens it, you understand that both the lock and the key were made to fit each other.
The Word of God is not only used at such times for comfort, but also for direction.
How often you have been unable to see your way? You have wished that there was some prophet of God with the Urim and Thummim, that he might tell you what to do. However, you must remember, that the great guiding principles of God’s truth, his law and his gospel, faith in him and in his providential care, have furnished you with a direction quite as clear as if some prophet had plainly told you what to do. You have sought the direction of the Word of the Lord when you have gone into your closet to enquire of Him, he has answered you out of the secret place of thunder, and you have known without doubt the way that you should take.
During times of discipline we have also proved, dear friends, the power of the Word of God.
When your vessel is sailing along in smooth waters, the Word of God may grow to be a dead letter within you; but when the waves that are rolling by seem to be as high as mountains, and are smashing over you, and you are soaked through and through, and are afraid that the deep will swallow you up, then you begin to test the promises, and to prove the power of the Word of God. When its inexpressible sweetness reaches your heart, then you can indeed feel that you have been taught out of God’s Word. You see how the two things go together: “Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law.” O Lord, still use the rod if you see that it is necessary; but go on teaching us out of your Word! We are slow to learn, and poor scholars at the best; but you may still make something of us.
That leads me to say next, that, according to our text, God himself is our teacher.
He is not satisfied with giving us the Bible, and striking us when we are inattentive to its teachings; but he himself teaches us. Was there ever a teacher so full of wisdom, a teacher who understood his pupils so well, a teacher so completely the master of the whole art of instruction? Was there ever a teacher so patient, so able to apply his lessons to the heart itself, so full of power to give understanding as well as to make the thing clear to our minds when it is given? Happy are the people who have God as their Tutor! However, even though you are happy pupils, yet when the school-bell rings, you are inclined to stay away, and play with the other children who do not belong to your school, yet happy are you if you are truly God’s scholars. Even if, every now and then, your days are spent in weeping, and your lessons are so badly done that they bring the rod on you, yet you are happy children. “Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law.”
II. Now let me say a little on our second point, and only a little. We have seen God’s children being trained; now let us look at GOD’S CHILDREN EDUCATED.
The Lord has disciplined and taught his child for this purpose: “to grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.” “What!” you ask, “disciplined to grant us relief? My friends, it is normal for discipline to irritate us.” Yes, I know that it is true with other types of discipline; but in fact, this is the way in which God gives relief to his people.
First, we learn to rest in the will of God.
Our natural will is very stubborn; and when we are disciplined, at first we kick against it, like a bull unaccustomed to the yoke; but by degrees we feel that we must bear the yoke. We then go a little further, and we feel that we ought to bear it, even though God should lay on us anything he pleases, and we even know that it feels very irritating. In time, the yoke begins to fit our neck, and we come even to love it. I don’t suppose that many of us will ever get to be like Samuel Rutherford, when he said that he began to wonder which he loved best, Christ or his cross, for the cross had brought him so much blessing that he was quite in love with it. No, we have not reached that point yet, so that we love our cross; still, we can say this, that we have learned that it is -
“Sweet to lie passive in his hand,
And know no will but his.”
If we struggle against God’s will, we only increase our sorrow. Our self-will usually lies at the root of our greatest griefs. Give way, and you have won; yield to God, and you have obtained the blessing you desire. The bitterness will be removed from your grief when you consent to be grieved if God will have it to be so.
We make advances in our spiritual education when we learn to rest after our afflictions.
When any trouble is over, great happiness often come to us. It is the same with us as it was with our Master; he had been with the wild beasts; worse still, he had been tempted by the devil; but angels came, and ministered to him. There is, to a believer, sometimes, a wonderfully clear shining of the sun after the rain. Perhaps there is no happier period of life than the state of convalescence, when the sick man is gradually recovering his former strength after a long illness. So God gives surprising peace to his people when he takes away their troubles, but he also gives them a great measure of peace in their troubles. Thus, for another lesson, we learn to rest in adversity. The Lord disciplines us in order that we may learn how to stand firm, and bear up bravely while the trouble is still with us.
I have often noted how exceptional is my Lord’s great love and tenderness to me in my time of need. I do not say that it is exceptional for him, for he gives it often; but it is exceptional in the fact that the Lord does it when nobody else could or would do it. He gives us comfort when nobody else is either willing or able to provide any comfort to us. This very afternoon, I have had a remarkable instance of how encouragement is sent to me by my gracious God just when I most need it. My heart was heavy and sad, and there came to my door, to see me, a foreign gentleman, and an officer of considerable rank in the Italian army. He spoke to me in very good English, but I cannot tell you all that he said to me, though it was most encouraging and kind. I asked him why he should come so far just to see me. He spoke of me as though I were a great man, and I assured him that he was quite mistaken, for I was nothing of the kind. As we talked on he said, “But you are the greatest man in all the world to me.” “Why is that?” I asked; and he answered, “I was a Roman Catholic, and a bad Catholic, too. I did not rightly know anything about the Lord Jesus Christ, and I was fast becoming an infidel; but I read a sermon of yours that was translated into Italian, by reading it I was brought into the light and liberty of the gospel; I found the Savior, and I felt that I must come, and tell you about it.” Then he further brought joy and encouragement to my heart by letting me see how much he knew of our Lord Jesus, and he had learned it all solely from the Bible itself, which he had read after being guided to it by a stray sermon of mine. “Well,” I thought, “my Master sends this man all the way from the south of Italy to come just at this particular time, when I was deep in need of just such a comforting message.” Why should he do this? Only because he likes, when his children have to take bitter medicine, to give them a piece of sugar after it. Therefore, my brother, be willing to take your medicine, or else there may come a sharp disciplining with it. Oh, for grace to suffer, and to endure, that we may just give ourselves up into the hands of the ever-blessed One, and thus he will perfect in us the teaching of his wonderful Word! Then will it be true that the Lord has given us relief even in the days of our trouble.
III. I must now move on to my third point, which is, that GOD’S CHILDREN ARE STILL DEAR TO HIM.
We have reflected on God’s children at school, disciplined and instructed, and we have seen them learning a few lessons. Now let us notice how dear they are to their Lord at all times, for the text says, “The Lord will not reject his people, he will never forsake his inheritance.”
First, then, the Lord will not reject his people.
Sometimes you feel ignored; but you are never rejected. Sometimes others reject you; but the
Lord will not reject his people. Sometimes you are thrown into the furnace; yes, it may be true, but in the furnace you are not rejected. Metal put into the furnace is not thrown away; had it been worthless, it might have been thrown on the scrap pile; but it is put into the furnace because it is of value. When you are put into the furnace, and into the greatest heat that can be attained, it is that the Lord may take away your impurities, and thus purify you for his service.
“In the furnace God may prove thee.
Thence to bring thee forth more bright;
But can never cease to love thee:
Thou art precious in his sight:
God is with thee,
God thine everlasting light.”
“The Lord will not reject his people.” Lay hold of that precious assurance. Even if Satan would come, and whisper to you, “The Lord has rejected you,” do not believe it; it cannot be. The devil has his rejects, but God has no rejects. Sometimes he takes the devil’s rejects, and makes them to be the trophies of his mighty grace; and when he has done so, they are his people, about whom the psalmist says, “The Lord will not reject his people.”
Then, further, the Lord will never forsake his people, for it is added, “he will never forsake his inheritance.”
He chose them to be his inheritance, he has bought them as his inheritance, and he will never forsake them. You will be supported by the Lord, for he will never forsake you; you will be owned by him, for he will never forsake you. You will be kept, defended against all comers, and preserved to be the Lord’s own people, for he will not forsake his inheritance.
I don’t feel that I need say much more on this theme; for it is enough for me just to remind you of those precious words of our great and gracious Father, which are many times repeated in his Word, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Take those words, and feed on them. May God enable you to know the full comfort of them!
IV. I will now close with this fourth point, GOD’S PEOPLE WILL BE RIGHTED IN THE END: “Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.”
Right now, judgment seems to be held back.
It does not always appear to exist on earth and there are reasons for its absence. Judgment is being withheld, perhaps, that it may try the faith of God’s people. Today the Lord does not strike down the profane, nor slay the hypocrite, as he might if he dealt with them in strict justice. Judgment is being withheld for a while, though it watches and records everything. It is being held back partly for our trial and testing, that we may learn to trust what appears to be an absent God and Savior.
Judgment is also being held back in order that mercy may be extended to the ungodly, that they may live, and that they may turn to God; for God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” Judgment is being held back for a while until the wicked have completed the full measure of their sin, “until a pit is dug for the wicked.” The iniquity of the nations is not yet full; and judgment has been withheld until it is.
Don’t be in a hurry, child of God; the Lord has timed his absence.
Listen to this next word: “Judgment will again be founded on righteousness.” You will hear the trumpet soon; you will hear the sound of that blast, “the loudest and the last,” telling you that the day of the Great Judgment has come, and that the Judge has arrived, to right all wrongs, to punish all iniquity, and to reward all virtue, and all true, faithful service. “Judgment will again be founded on righteousness.” We don’t now how long it will be, but it will again be founded on righteousness.
Christ will come again. As surely as he ascended into heaven, he will “come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” He will judge the earth in righteousness, and his people with his truth. Look, He is coming! And when he comes, judgment will again be founded on righteousness.
And what then? Judgment will be welcomed by the godly.
When it comes, “all the upright in heart will follow it.” The chariot of righteousness will lead the way, and all the people of God will follow it in a glorious procession. Then will they receive their Lord’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” They will follow it, as they wear their golden crowns, no, as they lay them at the foot of the throne, saying, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” Saints will follow the chariot of judgment, coming forth from their concealment, and shining as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. They will come from the places where slander has banished them, and show themselves again, and God will be glorified in them.
Now, you who love the Lord, don’t be in a hurry to have all this fulfilled. Leave your cases in the dear hand of Him who will soon judge everyone with righteousness.
I will finish by simply reminding you that he is damned to hell who has never felt the disciplining hand of God, or sat at his feet to learn from him; but he is indeed blessed who yields himself entirely up to be the disciple of the Lord. May it be with every one of you, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.
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