The Work of Patience
My brethren count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
James Chapter 1 Verse 2-4
The patient life is the perfect life – the life most conformed to Christ’s image. Those believers who are most patient in suffering most resemble their Master. This patience is not natural to men nor is it attained in the Christian course but ‘Through many tribulations.’
This epistle was addressed to men who were suffering persecution for their faith. The apostle’s was of encouraging them might appear strange and startling in the circumstances in which they were placed. ‘Count it all joy’ he say ‘when ye fall into divers temptations.’ He does not mean that they were to rejoice in trial for its own sake but rather for the purpose of God behind their trial – for the good it would do them, the stability it would work in them and the eternal weight of glory it would bring them.
1. The nature of Christian patience.
Christ, after he had foretold the dangers and sufferings to which His followers were to be exposed in the world, says: ‘In your patience possess ye your souls’, as if to say, ‘Whatever you meet with, however fiery the trial, retain possession of yourselves. Do not let your passions carry you away.’ Patience, then is to be immovable when all in our lot seems in confusion: we are to keep a clear view of our duty in every turn of providence.
The words teach us that this state is brought about by trial – ‘Knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience.’ Trial, then, is the test God puts upon faith as the storm puts upon the anchor and proves how much it will bear. In calm weather and cable will hold the ship, but it is the storm which proves which anchor will hold.
The pounding to which the ship is subjected in the storm testifies no less to the stability of its mooring than to the violence of the winds and waves. And in the same way the believer’s ability to endure temptation is the best proof of the soundness of his faith.
‘Divers temptations’ imply the different forms in which they come; Satan’s artifices to divert our minds from the object of faith to the things which try us. In certain circumstances it is comparatively easy to resist a single temptation, but repeated trials have a tendency to exhaust and enfeeble us.
Satan multiplies his temptations to make us weary of resisting. One moment he taunts us with the charge that in the matter of our salvation we took too much for granted and that our hope is without foundation.
The next he conceded our discipleship and aims at making us presume upon it by formality in worship and a superficial attachment to the means of grace. Temptations no more ‘spring out of the ground’: they are the agencies of Satan, and originate in one directing mind. The persistence with which in our day the forces of evil throughout the world propagate their doctrines is symptomatic of the assiduity with which he assails every individual follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hence, when temptations come they resemble Job’s messengers. ‘Deep calleth unto deep’ until perhaps there is no spot of sensibility in the soul without its special wound.
In such situations faith rises above the trial, breaks through the clouds and grasps the promises, refusing to let feelings rob it of its comforts. One of our worthies used to call faith ‘the champion of the world.’ Faith has this testimony from God’s own word – ‘this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.’
In trial, faith, ‘the substance of things hoped for’, brings distant things near. We see God ordering our trials in wisdom. Faith reasons that what His wisdom has ordained for us is best for us and that He has infinite power to accomplish what he has ordained. This view of our lot reconciles us to our trials. This is trial working patience. Those who believe in a God stripped of every attribute but love cannot but be confounded at dealings whose severity seem at times at complete variance with His Love.
2 The Work of Patience
‘Let patience have her perfect work.’ A certain work is here ascribed to patience. And what is that? The work of patience is to subdue the evils that trials discover. Trials cut deep into the soul, as the pruning knife into the branch of the tree. Very often the thoughts that possess the mind as such times do not seem compatible with the exercise of grace.
Not patience but rebellion and resistance are the first effects of trial. We pray for its removal but it continues, It is there for a purpose, a purpose which unfolds as the trial lengthens. Our prayers become violent, but by ‘kicking against the pricks’ we only increase our sufferings.
But God has ways of reconciling us to trial. He reveals Himself as the true portion of the soul. Our trials become the key to the interpretation of His Word, and the Word explains His purpose in the trial. Our spiritual vision is clarified to see more clearly the nature of the world in which we live, its dangers and pitfalls and the dire peril of those who live ‘without God and without hope in the world.’
Like our Lord when He ‘beheld the city and wept over it,’ we are, moved with compassion’ as we behold a doomed world. Our prayers are multiplied for the spread and success of the gospel among nations; that in Christ ‘the earth His way and nations all may know His saving grace.’ We see the evils of divisions and the wickedness of those men who perpetuate those evils by the propagation of another gospel. In trial the means of grace are made precious.
We realise the value of gospel privileges, also how great are our obligations to seek constantly to know and to obey God’s will and to live our allotted time here to His glory. We are thankful for the trial. This patience having ‘her perfect work.’
3 The Fruits of Trial
The work of faith is to empty us of self sufficiency, as the boatman keeps baling his leaking craft. In trial the exceeding sinfulness of sin appears and instead of justifying ourselves we now justify God in His dealings with us. Our afflictions appear much less than our sins deserve.
This helps us to exercise patience. In trial love also is seen in exercise, not in our feelings, but in our determination to do God’s will, no matter the opposition. Not only do we seek to do His will but we are ready to suffer for His sake.’ Patience is necessary because of the difficulties connected with all the duties of the Christian life, many of which arise from ‘the sin which dwelleth in us’ and to which the doing of God’s will is offensive.
Some of these difficulties arise from the circumstances in which we are placed, the people among whom we dwell as well as the times in which we live. To choose God’s will is to choose the way of suffering. ‘Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God’ – those who do God’s will. To do God’s will is to go straight on in the path which we feel to be the path of our duty, as if there were no opposition and difficulties. Patience alone will enable us to keep up and to keep going.
Love to the Person of Christ grows in the trial. So it was with Habakkuk, the prophet, when God broke the staff of bread in the land. After viewing the desolation around him he says: ‘Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and there shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.’
His livelihood depended in the things which failed. Yet he says: ‘I will rejoice in the Lord.’ Having nothing, he yet possessed all things in God Himself. It is this that ‘makes the bitter sweet.’ ‘We are more than conquerors’ but it is ‘through Him who loved us.’ A sense of His presence will bear up the soul in any situation. We are assured of this not only by the knowledge that He loved us but by the consciousness of His love being ‘shed abroad in our hearts.’
This enables the believer to bear up under all his troubles. He may be conscious of being chastened for his sins in his being tried but he sees that it is God’s good pleasure that it should be so. He rejoices that God’s will is done as Paul rejoiced that the Gospel was preached, though some preached ‘even of envy and strife.’ His love to God makes the doing of His will precious even when it is done on him as well as by him.
So it was with Eli when Samuel was commissioned by God to convey to him the awful tidings of the ruin of his house; he simply bowed himself and said: ‘It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth him good. ’So it was with Job when his ten children and all his earthly substance were removed in one day: he said, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’
And to refer to more recent times, so it was in the experience of the saintly Sandy Gair. One day while crossing the moor, he inquired of a stranger who crossed his path if he had any news. The stranger, unaware of his questioner’s identity, replied that Sandy Gair’s two sons had been drowned that morning. This was his intimation of the tragedy. Broken and crushed by the stroke, his answer was, referring to himself, ‘He has not yet received what he deserves.’
Milleniums separated the patriarch Job and Sandy Gair. Conditions in the East and in the ‘far North’ differed as widely as night and day but the same Spirit taught and activated them both. And their utterances, though differing in words, are identical in spirit. Both were men of prayer. Both had prayed for their families, and yet these were cut off, apparently in wrath. Both might say, as some have said and others are now saying – and as God’s people will be saying to the end of time – ‘By fearful works unto our prayers, Thine answer dost express.’ But patience enabled them to go back to pray. Patience had ‘her perfect work.’
Is this, reader, what trial does for you? Does it bring you to God? Does it teach you your need of patience? Has it taught you how much you need it, the good it had done you and the good it will do? Then patience is having her perfect work.
And you, who are careless and indifferent, also have trials, for ‘man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.’ Your trials work in you no repentance because you put the evil day far off from you. You intend to repent sometime.
Meantime you are taken up with concerns which require all your time. And it is now you intend to seek after salvation: you think that to repent is the easiest thing in the world and that there is plenty of time. But why should God keep you alive? To go on sinning against Him?
You look to the future for some favourable opportunity to improve, but the best opportunity you will ever have is ‘now.’ ‘Behold now is the accepted time.’ Even though you were sure of the future, the present is better. It will give you the longest time to serve God, and to help others.
It is the best time because of the uncertainty of life and the dangers to which you are exposed, and of the certainty of being accepted. Read the Book of Proverbs, chapter 1, verses 24-33. lay the awful words to heart.
‘Because I have called and ye refused: I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof;
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you;
Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me;
For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.
They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.
For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.’