“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,
and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”
The crosses of a Christian are inseparably linked to the cross of his dear Savior —in their nature, in their purpose, and in their effect— so that only a true believer in the Lord Jesus and in His vicarious atonement for the sins of the world has crosses laid upon him, recognizes their salutary purpose at the hand of his heavenly Father, and profits from them in accordance with His good and gracious will.
Dr. Luther spoke highly of the crosses under which we Christians are called upon to suffer here in this world, characterizing them as a sort of badge we wear, the “marks of Christ,” not merely “painted on the wall” —not merely an external identification which can be erased or covered over if and when convenient— but “branded in the flesh and blood of the Christians,” as St. Paul also describes them in Galatians 6:17. In fact, Luther’s personal seal, with which all of us surely are familiar, depicts the blessedness of Christian crossbearing, with the heart of the believer resting on a bed of roses, even as it languishes beneath the cross. [“Des Christen Herz auf Rosen geht, wenn’s mitten unterm Kreuze steht.” — “The Christian’s heart rests on roses, e’en when it ‘neath the cross reposes.”]
What then are the crosses that the Christian bears? As noted above, the cross of a Christian is inseparably linked to the cross of his Savior — not merely in the outward similarity of both being a source of pain and suffering, but in this, that the Lord Jesus willingly endured HIS cross, despising the shame, the pain, the anguish and the mockery heaped upon Him, all to purchase our release from the slavery of sin and bondage to the devil (Hebrews 12:2-3); therefore we, as the children of God by faith in Christ’s redemptive work, must be willing to bear our crosses —our “mini-crosses” in comparison to His— after Him (Matthew 10:38; Luke 14:27), as evidence of our faith and in demonstration of our thanksgiving for His sacrifice in our place. Thus it is only a CHRISTIAN who is said to bear “crosses;” for those crosses consist in the suffering that a believer is called upon to bear for JESUS’ sake, for the sake of HIS cross, for the sake of the Gospel of “Christ crucified” (I Corinthians 1:23), for the sake of “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39), whom He sent “to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10). They are the fruit of our faith in Him, whereby “we are all the children of God” (Galatians 3:26) and as such enjoy very particularly the reconciliation He purchased and won for us with His heavenly Father (Romans 5:10; II Corinthians 5:19).
The question then very naturally arises in man’s sin-blinded reason: If Christians, as the children of God, are at peace with Him (Romans 5:1) and dwell in His love (I John 3:1; 4:16), how is it that they must suffer for Christ’s sake (Romans 8:17), suffer so manifold and so grievous a load of trials and tribulations (I Peter 1:6-7)? How is it that they must suffer at all??
As the result of Christ’s redemptive work, because of the justification or forgiveness of the whole world by God on account of that work, and because of our personal enjoyment of peace with God through faith in that Objective Justification for Jesus’ sake, we Christians are indeed in a most blessed state of comfort and joy, of peace and hope. Nevertheless, the full glory that is ours even now as the inheritance of those who are God’s adopted children and heirs with Christ, that glory has not yet been revealed in us and delivered to us in full measure, but is anticipated, “hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1; I Peter 1:3-4), as definitely to be expected in heaven. For the Apostle John writes in his first Epistle, chapter 3: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”
In the meantime, God has ordained that our high dignity as His children and the glory in store for us should be concealed, and that our present existence should be characterized by a lowliness reminiscent of our SAVIOR’S lowliness in His State of Humiliation. Thus we are called upon to “suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). Moreover, “the sufferings of this present time” (Romans 8:18), often make it look to others and, in our weakness, even to us, as if we were NOT the children of God because, to the simpleminded, sinwarped manner of human thinking and human judgment, it should be the wicked that suffer, not the righteous; it should be the devil’s children that should be tortured and tormented, not the children of God! (Job 21:715). Nevertheless, under the cross it goes just the opposite: The wicked prosper, while the righteous suffer want; the scoffer is revered, while the believer is smeared; the unbelievers are exonerated before the world, often “getting away with murder,” as we commonly say, while Christ’s “disciples indeed” are accused of “all manner of evil…falsely for [His] sake” (Matthew 5:11). And this seems to be a strange and puzzling phenomenon to those who do not understand the “end” of the wicked from God’s own Word (Psalm 73) and who do not likewise appreciate “the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
But this matter of crossbearing MUST be well understood, yea, properly understood, by every Christian, lest in time of trial and temptation he lose heart, despair of the love of God, despise the chastening of the Lord, and end up a “bastard” child (Hebrews 12:8), giving up his birthright, his legitimate claim to the heavenly Father’s inheritance. For such are they “which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away,” Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower, Luke 8:13. “From this preserve us, Heavenly Father!” [Luther, 1st Petition].
The crosses that the Christian bears are, in and of themselves, manifestations of God’s holy Law by which He “chasteneth” His children, that is, whips them, as does an earthly father when he spanks his own son or daughter (Hebrews 12:910). Indeed, His chastenings are often so “grievous” (v. 11a) that He characterizes them in the title-text of our article as “scourges” (v. 6). They are His “rebuke” and “correction” (vv. 5 and 9), which are functions of the Law. But these crosses are laid upon the Christians by their heavenly Father, not because He hates them, not because He desires their hurt, but because, in Christ Jesus, He dearly loves them and deals with them “as with sons” (v. 7). Contrary to one’s initial, carnal reaction, there are no contradictions in these sacred truths, but rather a blessed and reassuring comfort “unto them which are exercised thereby” (v. 11). And yet the devil, the “father of lies” from the beginning (John 8:44), creeps up to us in the midst of tribulation and attacks us, saying: “IF ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26), why does He cause you to suffer so?? “YEA, HATH GOD SAID, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth’?? You, my naive Christian sufferer, have been had! You are indeed a firstclass chump and sucker if you honestly believe that God loves you!! He surely has a strange way of showing it!!”
Indeed, the devil uses this very fact that the afflictions of the believers and of unbelievers are, outwardly at least, indistinguishable from one another, as a source of doubt, misgiving and even despair to the suffering Christian. Satan would thereby endeavor to convince him that, in spite of his justification by God’s grace for Christ’s sake through faith, God is still angry with him and holds his sins against him. Thus the devil not only tries to weaken the Christian’s confidence in the love of God to poor sinners for Jesus’ sake; but he wants to destroy the individual Christian’s faith altogether and to convince him that God hates him rather than loves him, that God is punishing him instead of having forgiven him, that God is dealing with him according to His justice and has withdrawn from him His mercy!! Such lying, tempting and conniving on the part of Satan belongs to the Christian’s cross, to that temptation which God permits the devil to visit upon him (as he did upon Job) to test and refine his faith. And it is certainly a chastening that “for the present seemeth to be…GRIEVOUS” (Hebrews 12:11a) and a source of frustration to the Christian, as he seeks to determine what good purpose God could possibly intend thereby.
Nay, the crosses, trials, tribulations and chastisements which God lays upon us must have an altogether different purpose, a purpose not flowing from divine wrath (which has been removed from us in justification), but from the heavenly Father’s loving intention to discipline us, as any responsible and loving Christian father would discipline his legitimate child. For in Hebrews 12:7, the verse immediately following the title-text of our present article, the holy writer says: “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with SONS; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Thus our heavenly Father “chastens” us, disciplines us with His Law, in order to bring about in us, as the end result of this process, “the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (v. 11).
Here a word is in order concerning the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel in the matter of God’s chastisements. As we confess in the exposition of the Small Catechism, “the Law curbs to some extent the coarse outbursts of sin,” also for the Christian in his flesh, “shows us our sins” and our need for a Savior, and “teaches us Christians what works we must do to lead a Godpleasing life” (Q/A 90). Consequently, within the scope of the LAW, we find God’s “rebuke,” “correction,” “chastening” and “instruction” as He disciplines us, as well as all those visitations which are “grievous” instead of “joyous,” namely, “chastenings,” “afflictions,” “trials,” “tribulations,” “infirmities,” and “temptations.” But the Law can work in us nothing good whatever. Works motivated by the Law are not Godpleasing, since they flow not from faith but from fear; and so the Law, as well as the vicissitudes of life, do not in themselves work sanctification. Instead, it is the Gospel, for which our hearts have been prepared by the Law, which confirms to us the blessed fact that “we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26) “…and, if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:7). It is the Gospel which points the suffering Christian to the “silver lining” of his chastisements, saying: “Behold, what manner of LOVE the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” (I John 3:1). It is the Gospel which takes the grievous chastenings and afflictions and trials and rebukes of the Law and turns them to our benefit, yielding “the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11).
How, then, should we Christians regard the crosses laid upon us, and how we are to muster the strength necessary to bear them after our Lord Jesus? If we Christians, since our regeneration, were completely rid of the Old Adam of sin, chastisements would not be necessary at all; for we would be perfect in every respect and in need of no improvement whatsoever. But we must confess in all humility with the Apostle Paul: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). It is our flesh that needs the cross to convict it, rebuke it, curb it and chastise it; yet it is our flesh that resists the cross, chafing under its weight, and would have us despise it, escape it, and, if forced to bear it, murmur against it. Therefore, Solomon writes in the Proverbs, chapter three, verse eleven: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction” (Cf. Hebrews 12:5).
Moreover, that same flesh, when faced with chastisements, rears up within us like a horse refusing bit and bridle, and tries to escape the cross, to run away like Jonah of old, like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, like many in our own day and time who would sacrifice the truth of God’s Word rather than suffer any inconvenience, endure any trial, bear any persecution, or make any sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel! They would rather be “bastards” than “sons,” the writer to the Hebrews tells us in verse 8 of chapter 12! To them the Lord Jesus speaks an urgent warning concerning the magnitude of the consequences of their evasion: “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Escape the cross?? At what COST??!
“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” —Luke 9:23
Yet, even with such warnings in great abundance in the Holy Scriptures, the flesh continues to “lust against the spirit” (Galatians 5:17). If not permitted by our New Man of faith to despise chastenings, if not allowed to slough them off and escape them, our flesh then whines and complains “beneath the chastening rod,” murmuring against the Lord like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, concerning whom the Apostle warns us in I Corinthians 10:10, “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the Destroyer!”
Let us note yet one particularly vicious ploy of Satan which he uses to drive troubled Christians to hopelessness and despair: Sometimes a child of God is hounded by the idea that God somehow overestimated his strength as a Christian, underestimated the burden that the weight of a certain cross would be for him, and laid upon his back a chastisement much greater than he could bear. The devil perpetuates this myth by keeping the suffering Christian’s eyes away from the Holy Scriptures; for he knows full well that the believer can find no comfort apart from the Gospel. Fortunately for us, we have by God’s rich grace in His Holy Word a most wonderful assurance, of which the Apostle Paul writes, I Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful, who will NOT suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Here the Lord links this gracious assurance with His ultimate purpose in sending the Christian crosses: If the heavenly Father did not truly love us in Christ Jesus our Savior, He would simply “hang us out to dry,” as it were, and forget about us altogether! Instead He does just the opposite! He assures us ahead of time that He and He alone determines and measures the severity of our trials, tailormakes them to fit our needs for our ultimate benefit, and provides an “end” or termination for them. What a gracious and loving Father we have by faith in Christ Jesus, our Savior!
Though the flesh is weak, “the spirit indeed is willing” (Matthew 26:41). What the Old Adam in us, in the service of Satan, abhors, despises and rejects, the New Man of faith is ready, willing, yea, eager to do, prompted by the Holy Spirit by means of the Gospel. Thus, the Christian’s NEW Man says with the Psalmist: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (Psalm 119:71), an acknowledgment worked in him by the testimony of the Spirit of God that he is indeed a child of God, his heavenly Father, by faith in Christ Jesus, and that he earnestly desires to be dealt with as such, as a “son,” as a legitimate heir of God through Christ (Romans 8:17).
Our New Man rejoices in the cross, knowing both its divine Source and gracious purpose, as Job declares: “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth,” but then also adds a word of admonition because of the flesh and its melancholy under the cross: “Therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty!” (5:17). Thus it was the New Man in the Apostle Paul who said: “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake” (II Corinthians 12:10). And yet Paul was not without the same flesh that constantly plagues you and me; for he readily admits: “The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not that I do… for I delight in the Law of God after the inward man, but 1 see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” That constant battle between the spirit and the flesh makes us too cry out in utter frustration: “O wretched man that I am!! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death??” (Romans 7:1924). Fortunately for Paul (and for us as well), this cry of anguish is not without its answer, the answer of God’s grace, proclaimed to us in the Gospel to which our crosses drive us: “I thank GOD, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25a). God, our dear heavenly Father for Jesus’ sake has already delivered us from eternal death and from the sting of temporal death as well; and He will surely deliver us at length also from the wretchedness of this battle with the flesh when He calls us to His heavenly home. Then we shall forever be rid of the Old Adam, the corrupt and plaguing “albatross” which we now still must carry about with us, and yet, at the same time, mortify by daily contrition and repentance.
In the meantime, however, we must endure chastenings “now for a season” as God sees fit in His perfect wisdom and according to His loving purpose, being “in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of [our] faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:67). The purpose is good, because it flows from God’s love for us as His children; and it is that good and salutary purpose upon which we must keep our eyes of faith focused so that, though they be clouded over at times by tears of weakness, according to our New Man we may be “always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10).
This is a “tall order” indeed, and an impossibility for us without the comfort and assurance of the Gospel. Therefore we go to our dear heavenly Father in prayer and ask Him (as dear children here in this world ask their dear father) with all boldness and confidence: “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). “Give me, according to Thy great love and mercy to me in Christ my Savior, a rich measure of Thy grace, which is sufficient for me; ‘for [Thy] strength is made perfect in [my] weakness’” (II Corinthians 12:9).
And has He not already heard our plea, before we even called upon Him and before we were done speaking (Isaiah 65:24), all for the sake of His fatherly love for us in Christ Jesus?? Has He not already assured us: “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine! When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior!” (Isaiah 43:13a)??
Indeed, “whom the Lord LOVETH, He chasteneth.” And that great, yea, immeasurable and unfathomable love for us in Christ Jesus moves Him to pour out abundantly of His enabling grace, that we, by Him, can bear the crosses that He in love has laid upon us! “Hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). Thus, when we in faith confidently assume the cross to mortify the Old Adam, to be disciplined, exercised and instructed by the heavenly Father for our ultimate good and blessing, our New Man boldly declares with Paul: “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13); “for it is God which worketh in [me] both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (2:13).
Let this then be our comfort, our joy, our hope, our confidence, and our neverfailing source of strength to bear the crosses He has laid upon us, the crosses which are evidence of His fatherly LOVE to us, His dear children in Christ our Savior:
— D. T. M.