Friday, September 30, 2016

The Difference Between Chastisement and Punishment

I was reading one of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons[1] the other morning and came across an explanation concerning the difference between punishment and chastisement, using our relationship with God as an example. However, I believe there is also a lesson concerning the proper and improper uses of chastisement (spanking) in parenting. He says,

"Well, but, saith one, 'how is it that God does punish his children?' I answer he does not. He chastises them as a father, but that is a different thing from the punishment of a judge. If the child of a judge were brought up to the bar, and that child were freely forgiven all that he had done amiss, if justice exonerated and acquitted, it might nevertheless happen that there was evil in the heart of that child which the father, out of love to the child, might have to whip out of him. But there is a great difference between a rod in the hand of the executioner, and a rod in a father's hand. Let God smite me, if I sin against him, yet it is not because of the guilt of sin, there is no punishment in it whatever, the penal clause is done away with. It is only that he may cure me of my fault, that he may fetch the folly out of my heart. Do you chasten your children vindictively because you are angry with them? No; but because you love them; if you are what parents should be, the chastisement is a proof of your affection, and your heart smarts more than their body pains, when you have to chasten them for what they have done amiss. God is not angry against his children, nor is there a sin in them which he will punish. He will whip it out of them, but punish them for it he will not. [Emphasis mine.]

There was a time when I justified punishing our children in anger for their sins. I had the mistaken idea that I had to be like a judge toward them, meting out justice on behalf of whomever they had offended. I thought displaying my angry displeasure was good for them to see how God was angry with them.

While there are times we must be stern with our children in order that they see the seriousness of their transgressions, I see now that lashing out at them in fleshly anger is a gross misrepresentation of how God deals with His own children. In the sermon quoted above, one may see how Spurgeon differentiates between the execution of justice by a judge and the disciplinary actions of a loving parent.

I believe he uses an appropriate word here to describe how I often felt in punishing our erring children: vindictively or, in other words, with revenge. How many times was my temper stirred toward a rebellious child, and did I spanked them in anger until my revenge was satisfied? I blush to recall my own sin in this matter.

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, 
but the end thereof are the ways of death. 

Proverbs 14:12 rings true in regard to the abuse of the rod in that, unless there is repentance on the part of the erring parent, the end result is often that the child has a wrong view of God. An angry, vindictive parent can give their children the idea that God is like they are: unforgiving, without pity, and unapproachable. They confuse the fear (respect) of God with being afraid of Him. As a preacher of old once said:

The thought you make of God is the thought which makes you...If you think God hard, you will live a life of terror and gloom. If you think God effeminate, your life will be characterised by moral laxity. Mark, then, how deeply vital is the occasion when we give ideas of God to little children. We are putting into their lives germs of tremendous power. I have met with old men who in their later years have not been able to shake themselves free from the bondage of a false idea received in the days of their youth.[2]

Thus, we do not want to be guilty of instilling a wrong view of God in our children by administering the rod of correction in a vengeful, abusive manner.

Another misuse of the rod of correction is in using it for every transgression. I once heard of a father who carried a "spanking spoon" to church in his shirt pocket as if it were a fly swatter ready to smack down any annoying action in his children. Not only is this abuse of power, it has the potential of being ineffective. Eventually, the child gets used to being spanked and endures it without any learning from it. It carries no weight.

Consequently, chastisement should be reserved for only the worst transgressions and then only with a heart of love, not only with the intention of bringing about a reformation of their behavior, but also with the hope of their true repentance.

This is also why the event should be done in private, with a controlled temper, and in a spirit of love. If possible, it should be prefaced by a discussion of what they have done wrong against God and man, followed by an appeal for their repentance and reconciliation.

If you see you have sinned in misusing the rod of correction, I encourage you to seek your own repentance and reconciliation. Seek the Lord's forgiveness, then go to your children and ask for their's as well. Pray for God's grace to discipline the children He has placed in your care in a godly way, both for His glory and for their good.

Future generations will also be blessed if you repent of this error today. Even if your children are already grown and have children of their own, it is never too late to make a true confession. In fact, it is crucial that you do so. It is very likely your repentance and reconciliation may prevent the same mistakes from being made in their homes.

Because of the potential for abuse, some people say spanking should never be used in the discipline of children. However, I cannot see how they get that from Scripture or from the preaching of godly men throughout church history. However, that is a study I will have to share in another post.

If you are looking for resources on godly parenting, I have found Tedd Tripp's books to be very helpful and balanced. The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo is also very good. Then there's Dr. David Powlison's new book Good and Angry which is most helpful if you struggle with anger issues in general. (I just did a book review for it here. Very helpful.)

May the Lord bless you as you seek to be the parent He has made you to be. Seek His grace through prayer. He delights in giving wisdom. All we have to do is ask.

[1] "The Treasure of Grace," The Spurgeon Archive,
[2] "The Difference Between Fearing God and Being Afraid of Him," J.H. Jowett, Bible Hub,