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PATIENCE UNDER AFFLICTIONS.
JAMES i. 4.
BUT LET PATIENCE HAVE HER PERFECT WORK, THAT YE MAY BE PERFECT AND ENTIRE, WANTING NOTHING.
Ir we consider the state and condition of those Jews, to whom the Apostle directs this Epistle, we shall find, that, as they were a dispersed, so they were an afflicted and persecuted people. There was always a most implacable hatred, in other nations, against the Jews; accounting them the most base, perverse, and infamous people under heaven. And, doubtless, though the whole body of them, which lived in Judea, were well enough secured from their affronts and injuries; yet, such parcels of them as were scattered into other countries sadly felt the effects of this natural aversion and antipathy. Yea, so low and despicable was their condition, that their own brethren, in scorn and contempt, call them the dispersed among the Gentles: John vii. 35. Their ancient religion, which they had received from Moses, was so odious to the Heathen, among whom they lived, that they accounted it the most ridiculous and sordid superstition that ever was invented: and, because they firmly adhered to a way of worship, which was so contradictory to that gross idolatry which had generally obtained in the world, they both derided them as credulous, and hated them as stubborn and inflexible. There is no hatred so bitter and irreconcileable, as that, which ariseth from different religions: for, religion being avowedly the highest concern of mankind, those who differ in this cannot but mutually accuse one another of folly and madness: and this begets mutual contempt, and ends in malice and violence; whilst each seeks to take the part of his God, and to vindicate his own wisdom in choosing him, against those, who must needs be concluded to despise, because they do not worship him.
And, therefore, as these scattered Jews were hated and persecuted upon the account of their own native religion, so much more, when divers of them were converted to the faith of Christ; because they then took up and professed a religion, more contrary to the Gentile impiety, than Judaism itself was. Yea, they were not only hated by the Gentiles, but by their own countrymen, the unbelieving Jews; who took all occasions to stir up the people against them, and to expose them, as the maintainers of a pestilent sect, to the fury of the enraged multitude: and we read frequently, in the Acts, what tumults, and uproars, and persecutions, were raised against them by this
To these dispersed and distressed Christians, the Apostle directs this his Epistle, and exhorts them, ver. 2. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations: that is, when ye fall into divers tribulations; for, by temptations here, he means not the inward assaults of the Devil, but the outward assaults of his instruments. A strange command, one would think, to bid them rejoice at such a time, and in such circumstances as these! What! to rejoice when they were buffeted, reviled, spoiled, and murdered! appointed as sheep to the slaughter! enjoying their lives only at the courtesy of their enemy's malice! expecting hourly to be haled out, to suffer torments and death! Is this a proper occasion for joy? is it not rather, for sorrow and dejection? No, saith the Apostle: although your trials be great and manifold, yet account it joy; yea, count it all joy when ye fall into these divers temptations:
But, certainly, so strange an exhortation as this, which seems so quite contrary to the inclinations of nature, had need be backed by some strong motive to enforce it. And that the Apostle gives them in the third verse: Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience; and, therefore, count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations.
Now, in this are included Two things, which should mightily further their joy.
First. That all their sufferings and afflictions are for the Trial of their Faith.
God, by these, tries whether your faith be well-grounded and saving, or whether it be only temporary and flitting: he tries, whether it be weak or strong; whether it be able to stay and support itself only upon a promise, or wants the crutches of
sense and visible enjoyments to bear it up; whether it be a faith that is wrought in you only by conviction, or a faith that hath wrought in you a thorough conversion; whether it be a faith wrought in you only by evidence of the truth, or a faith that is accompanied with a sincere love of the truth. And, therefore, rejoice in your sufferings and afflictions; for these will help you to determine this great and important question. If your faith be such as can overcome the world; if it can persuade you to esteem the reproach of Christ, greater riches than the treasures of the world; if it respect more the promises of God than the threatenings of men, and future rewards more than present advantages; if it can bear both the anvil and the furnace: this is a faith, that is true and genuine; and, when it is thus tried, it shall be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ; as the Apostle speaks, 1 Pet. i.7. Such a faith as this, that can endure the fire and lose nothing of its weight and substance, is truly precious; more precious than gold that perisheth: such a faith, that can bring you to die for Christ, will certainly bring you to live with Christ. And, have you not great cause, then, to rejoice in afflictions, which afford you a means to know, whether your graces be genuine or spurious? whether they be such as will bear his judgment and trial hereafter, by bearing afflictions and chastisements here? Certainly, that Christian hath great reason to suspect himself, who cannot rejoice that he is going to heaven, though God sends a fiery chariot to fetch him. And,
Secondly. This trial of their faith worketh Patience.
The more a Christian bears, the more he is enabled to bear: his nerves and his sinews knit and grow strong under his burdens. And, therefore also, count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations. For patience is, of itself, such a Christian excellency and perfection, that all trials and afflictions, which tend to increase this, are to be reckoned by us as gain and advantage. If thy sorrows and troubles add any degree of fortitude to thy patience, thou hast far more reason to rejoice, than to repine for nothing in this present life is to be accounted good or evil, but only as it respects the advantage or disadvantage which our graces receive by it. Now, if God confirm and augment thy patience under sufferings, sufferings are mercies, afflictions are favours: he blesseth thee by chastisements; and crowneth thee with glory, even while he seems to crown thee with thorns. And wilt thou not triumph at this, O
Christian! especially, considering the end of thy patience, which is Hope, Peace, and Eternal Life? See that excellent place to this purpose, Rom. v. 3, 4, 5. We glory, saith the Apostle, in tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed. Here is true cause of glory, indeed; when our patience shall cause us to ascend through these degrees, to the top and perfection of all Christian attainments.
And, from this, we may observe, by the way, That it is far better to have patience under afflictions, than to be freed from them it is more cause of joy, to suffer the hand and will of God patiently, than not to suffer at all.
But, having spoken such great things concerning patience, the Apostle comes, in the text, to caution us about it: and tells us what qualifications it must have, to make even our afflictions the matter of our joy and comfort. Let patience have her perfect work; and then you shall have cause to rejoice. Let her go on to finish and accomplish what is begun and undertaken; and then shall ye be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. It is not enough, O Christians! that ye can bear some afflictions, and that only for some time: but, if you will be perfect, as you must do the whole will of God, and that with constancy and verance unto the end; so you must suffer the whole will of God, and put no earlier period to your patience than to your obedience; and to neither, till God shall be pleased to put a full period to your lives. Patience ought not to prescribe, either to the kind, measure, or degree of our sufferings. Say not, therefore," I could easily bear such or such an affliction: but this, which I now lie under, is altogether intolerable:" or, "I could cheerfully bear it, if I could see any issue out of it: but this is endless, and remediless." Believe it; this is but an imperfect patience, and will never perfect you in grace and glory. A perfect patience stoops to the heaviest burdens; and carries them as long as God shall please, without murmuring or repining: and, if that be to the grave, it knows that what is now a load, shall then be found to be a treasure. A Christian doth but carry his own wealth, his crown, and his sceptre; which, though here they be burdensome, shall hereafter be eternally glorious.
From the words, we may observe these Two Propositions: First. That a Christian's patience ought to finish and accomplish all the work that is proper for it, while he lies under troubles and afflictions: Let patience have her perfect work.
Secondly. That the perfection of patience is the perfection of a Christian: That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
It is the first of these, of which I shall at present speak.
Shew what Patience is.
What is the proper Work of patience.
When it is that patience hath its Perfect Work.
I. WHAT IS this PATIENCE, which a Christian ought to exercise and to accomplish, when he is under sufferings? You may take this description of it.
It is a grace of God's Spirit, wrought in the heart of a true Christian, whereby he is sweetly inclined, quietly and willingly to submit to whatsoever the Lord shall think fit to lay upon him; calming all the passions, which are apt to rise up in him against God's dispensations, with the consideration and acknowledgment of his infinite sovereignty, wisdom, justice, and mercy, in those afflictions and chastisements which he is pleased to bring upon him.
This, in the general, is this excellent Grace of Patience, which so much tends to the perfection and completing of a Christian.
Now, a little more to explain this, I shall lay down some particulars both negative and positive, in which may be more fully seen what this grace of patience is.
1. Patience is not a stoical apathy, or a senseless stupidity, under the hand of God.
It is no narcotic virtue, to stupify us, and take away the sense and feeling of afflictions. If it had any such opiate quality in it, it were not commendable, nor praiseworthy: for that is no suffering, which is not felt; and if patience were only to deprive a man of the feeling of his sorrows and sufferings, it would only destroy its own object, and so cease to be any longer patience. And therefore those, who are stupified and insensible under the hand of God, and who take no notice of his judgments when his hand is stretched out against them, are no more to be accounted patient, than a block is, when it is hewn and