My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations;…
This positive injunction of the Christian ethics may seem too difficult, if not impossible to be obeyed. And even if the natural repugnance to suffering can be vanquished, the moral sense still shrinks from what is here commanded, to rejoice in temptation. The paradox is not to be removed by violently changing the established meaning of the word, which never means affliction simply, but in every case conveys the idea of a moral trial, or a test of character. A temptation, to which patience is the proper antidote, must be specifically a temptation to impatience, a rebellious temper, to which we are tempted by a state of suffering. We must, therefore, understand the words as having reference to those providential trials of men's faith and patience in which they are rather passive than active, and under which their appropriate duty is not so much resistance as submission. But even these trials and temptations are not to be sought for or solicited. It is not the mere name, or pretence, or some infinitesimal degree of joy, that believers under trial are to exercise, but "all joy" as opposed to none, and to too little, and to every kind of counterfeit. So far from repining when you fall into divers trials, "count it all joy." But as we know, both from Scripture and experience, that no "chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, and that afterward (ὕστερον) it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11). This is perfectly consistent with the form of expression (ὃταν περιπέσητε) which might even be translated to mean "when" or "after," "ye have fallen into divers trials." This precise determination of the time at which the joy is to be exercised, as not the time of actual endurance, much less that of previous expectation, but rather that of subsequent reflection — I mean subsequent, if not to the whole trial, yet at least to its inception — this may throw some light on two points. The first is the paradoxical aspect of the exhortation to rejoice in that which necessarily involves pain and suffering. The paradox, to say the least, may seem less startling if we understand the text as calling upon men to rejoice, not that they are suffering, or while they suffer, although even this does not transcend the limits of experience, as we know from the triumphant joy of martyrs at the stake, and of many a lowlier believer on his death-bed, but that they have suffered, that it has pleased God, without their own concurrence, to afford them the occasion of attesting their fidelity, and submission to His will. The other point on which the same consideration may throw some light, is the choice of an expression which, although it primarily signifies no more than moral trial or a test of character, in general usage does undoubtedly denote a positive solicitation to do wrong. For even in this worst sense of temptation, it may be a subject of rejoicing, not beforehand, no, nor in the very crisis of the spiritual conflict; but when that is past, looking back upon the fearful risk which has been escaped, not merely with gratitude for its deliverance, but with unaffected joy that there was such a risk to be delivered from, because it has now, served to magnify God's grace, and at the same time to attest its own fidelity. Just as the soldier, who would have been guilty of the grossest rashness, if he had deliberately thrown himself into the way of a superior enemy, may — when unexpectedly surrounded and attacked, he has heroically cut his way through — rejoice, not only in his safety, but in the very danger which compelled him to achieve it. But the joy experienced in the case before us is not merely retrospective, but prospective also. It is not an ignorant or blind joy, but is founded in knowledge, not only of the principles on which men ought to act, but of the consequences which may be expected from a certain course of action or of suffering. The trials or temptations of the Christian are the test of his faith, both in the strict and comprehensive sense. They put to the proof his trust in God, his belief of a hat God says, of what He promises. But in so doing, they afford the surest test of his whole religious character. Specific trust in God's veracity and faithfulness cannot be an insulated act, or habit. It must have its causes and effects homogeneous to itself in the man's creed, in his heart, in his life. But it does not merely furnish present evidence of faith. It produces a permanent effect upon the character. It generates a habit of patient endurance in the way of God's commandments, For of patience, as of faith, it may be said that it cannot stand alone, independently of other graces of Christian character. The principle of active and passive obedience is the same. He who will not do God's will cannot endure it in a Christian spirit. He can only endure it in the way of punishment. Evangelical patience carries with it evangelical obedience or activity. It therefore comprehends a very large part of practical religion, and to say that it is matured by trial is to say that trial or temptation, in the sense here put upon the term, is an important means of grace, of spiritual growth, and instead of being angrily complained of as a hardship, ought not indeed to be desired any more than medicines, especially when composed of poisons, should be used as ordinary food; but when administered, without our agency or even option, by the Great Physician, should be thankfully submitted to, and afterwards rejoiced in, as a potent agency of God's appointment which produces great effects, not by a sudden change, but, as the original expression seems to mean, by a gradual and long-continued process; for the trial of our faith "worketh out," elaborates, and as it were laboriously cultivates a habit of persistent obedience and submission to the will of God, both in the way of doing and suffering. That the patience thus commended is not a sluggish principle, much less a mere condition of repose, but something active in itself and tending to activity in others, is evident enough from the apostle's exhortation not to hinder it in its operation, but to let it have its perfect work or full effect. Could tills be said of mere inertia, or even patient nonresistance? All this affords abundant room for wise discrimination. It is evidently not a matter which can be conducted to a safe issue by mere audacity or force of will, by cutting knots which ought to be untied, which can neither solve themselves nor be solved by any intellectual force short of wisdom in the highest sense. This wisdom, the idea of which was familiar to the wisest of the heathen, has been realised only in the school of revelation. And woe to him who undertakes, without it, to solve the intricate and fearful problem of man's character and destiny!
(J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;