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Discipline

Discipline

Introduction 

The Scottish government recently voted on a bill that outlaws the use of reasonable physical chastisement on children[1]. In doing so they violate the word of God, for it is unequivocally clear on this matter:

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” (Prov 23:13-14).

This verse shows that physical chastisement has eternal implications. Failure to chastise fosters rebellion and pride in a young heart. Rebellion and pride are eternally condemnable.

Man’s wisdom is not above God’s and we are to obey him in this instance (Ac 5:29). Solomon writing under inspiration is not advocating harming children, because he knows that the abuse of the rod is sinful. But the violation of a good thing does not invalidate its proper use. For example, the abuse of food results in gluttony, the abuse of sleep results in slothfulness, the abuse of the rod results in damage. But the proper use of all these is a virtue and necessary good. 

Proof of Life 

The use of the rod (or wooden spoon as I had it) is not the primary aim of this article. Where does the idea of discipline come from anyway? Is it merely a societal construct? Or is it really the sadistic monstrosity the world makes it out to be?  Discipline is a divine construct, it comes from the Father of glory and there is none so good, wise and loving as he. The Hebrew writer says:

Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb 12:6-8).

The same principle is seen here as in Proverbs; discipline has eternal consequences. The fact that God chastises his children is proof that they have been born again. If you have experienced the chastening of the Lord, this is proof of salvation - God is your Father.

Just as folly is bound up in the heart of a child (Prov 22:15), we as the children of God are often marked by stubbornness, self-will and carnality. We are prone to wandering and rebellion and are plagued by sins of the flesh. It would be most unloving of God to leave us live in such a way. But because God in his love desires the betterment and enrichment of his children, he wields the rod of correction upon us. Just as Jonah needed to spend 3 days in the Whale’s belly in order to yield to the will of God, we too experience chastening in order to learn submission to God. 

In Practise 

God’s discipline in practise varies from individual to individual. We are on subjective grounds here, but God’s discipline of his children can take the form of difficult circumstances, trials, physical pain and the conviction of his word. The Lord in his providence uses what he wills so that we learn the lesson.

The Father corrects us in order “that we might be partakers of his holiness” (Heb 12:20). We would be insufferable rouges and awful cretins were it not for his loving hand in discipline. Left to self we slide into unholiness, the rod and staff of the divine Shepherd keep us on the narrow way.

Bearing Fruit 

The Lord also disciplines us in order that we might live fruitful lives. Sometimes a plant sprouts a gall, and these blister-like growths hang on to the stem and sap the plant of energy and nutrients. A good farmer will cut them off. Likewise, the Lord Jesus said “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (Jn 15:1-2). Perhaps your life is currently sprouting habits of disobedience, and carnality that need to be cut out. The Lord, in His grace, undertakes this task in order that we might serve him better. This pruning process is not pain-free, but it is for our betterment. 

The chastening, shepherding and pruning of the Lord in our life is for his glory and our good. Though society round about despises discipline let us humbly realise that we are people who need to be corrected and that it is the Father of lights who has ordained it so. Discipline is a good gift that comes down from him (Jas 1:17), and “no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). 

John Newton wrote a hymn titled “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow”, though it’s not about discipline, we could well apply some of its words to the topic. Here it is:

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev'ry grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

 'Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

 I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He'd answer my request
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of the heart
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in ev'ry part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I'd schemed
Blasted my gourds and laid me low 

Lord why is this I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death
‘Tis in this way the Lord replied
I answer prayer for grace and faith

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may'st seek Thy all in me


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