I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ…
Kingdom and patience I a very singular conjunction of terms, to say the least, as if in Jesus Christ were made compatible authority and suffering, the impassive throne of a monarch and the meek subjection of a cross, the reigning power of a prince and the mild endurance of a lamb. What more striking paradox! And yet in this you have exactly that which is the prime distinction of Christianity. It is a kingdom erected by patience. It reigns in virtue of submission. Its victory and dominion are the fruits of a most peculiar and singular endurance. We too commonly take up the impression that power is measured by exertion; that we are effective simply because of what we do, or the noise we make; consequently, that when we are not in exertion of some kind, we are not accomplishing anything; and that if we are too humble, or poor, or infirm, to be engaged in great works and projects, there is really nothing for us to do, and we are living to no purpose. This very gross and wholly mistaken impression I wish to remove, by showing that a right passivity is sometimes the greatest and most effective Christian power, and that if we are brothers and companions in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, we are likely to fulfil the highest conception of the Christian life. Observe, then, first of all, that the passive and submissive virtues are most of all remote from the exercise or attainment of those who are out of the Christian spirit and the life of faith. It is commonly not difficult for men to be active or even bravely so; but when you come to the passive or receiving side of life, here they fail. To bear evil and wrong, to forgive, to suffer no resentment under injury, to be gentle when nature burns with a fierce heat and pride clamours for redress, to restrain envy, to bear defeat with a firm and peaceful mind, not to be vexed or fretted by cares, losses, or petty injuries, to abide in contentment and serenity of spirit when trouble and disappointment come — these are conquests, alas how difficult to most of us! Accordingly it will be seen that a true Christian man is distinguished from other men not so much by his beneficent works as by his patience. Consider also more distinctly the immense power of principle that is necessary to establish the soul in these virtues of endurance and patience. Here is no place for ambition, no stimulus of passion, such as makes even cowards brave in the field. Here are no exploits to be carried, no applauses of the multitude to be won. The disciple, knowing that God forgives and waits, wants to belike Him; knowing that he has nothing himself to boast of but the shame of a sinner, wants to be nothing, and prefers to suffer and crucify his resentments, and, since God would not contend with him, will not contend with those who do him injury. He gets the power of his patience wholly from above. We can act out of the human, but to suffer well requires participation of what is Divine. Hence the impression of greatness and sublimity which all men feel in the contemplation of that energy which is itself energised by a self-sacrificing and suffering patience. And accordingly there is no power over the human soul and character so effective and so nearly irresistible as this. Notice again, yet more distinctly, what will add a yet more conclusive evidence, how it is chiefly by this endurance of evil that Christ, as a Redeemer, prevails against the sin of the human heart and subdues its enmity. Just upon the eve of what we call His Passion, He says, in way of visible triumph, to His disciples, "The prince of this world is judged"; as if the kingdom of evil were now to be crushed, and His own new kingdom established by some terrible bolt of judgment falling on His adversaries. It was even so; and that bolt of judgment was the Passion of the Cross. When law was broken, and all the supports of authority set up by God's majesty were quite torn away, God brought forth a power greater than law, greater than majesty, even the power of His patience, and by this He broke for ever the spirit of evil in the world. The new-creating grace of Christianity is scarcely more, in fact, than a Divine application of the principle, that when nothing else can subdue an enemy patience sometimes will. Again, it is important to notice that men, as being under sin, are set against all active efforts to turn them, or persuade them; but never against that which implies no effort — viz., the gentle virtues of patience. They provoke no opposition, because they are not put forth for us, but for their own sake. They fix our admiration, therefore, win our homage, and melt into our feeling. They move us the more, because they do not attempt to move us. They are silent, empty of all power but that which lies in their goodness, and for just that reason they are among the greatest powers that Christianity wields. Once more, it is important for every man, when he will cast the balance between the powers of action and of passion, or when he will discover the real effectiveness of passive good, to refer to his own consciousness. See how little impression is often made upon you by the most strenuous efforts to exert influence over you, and then how often you are swayed by feelings of respect, reverence, admiration, tenderness, from the simple observation of one who suffers well; receiving injury without resentment, gilding the lot of poverty and privation with a spirit of contentment and of filial trust in God; forgiving, gentle, unresisting, peaceful, and strong, under great storms of affliction. Let every Christian carefully observe his own consciousness here, and he will be in the least possible danger of disesteeming patience as a barren or sterile virtue, or of looking upon effort and action as the only operative and fruitful Christian powers. Let us notice some of the instructive and practical uses of the truth illustrated.
1. It is here that Christianity makes issue with the whole world on the question of human greatness. It works out the recovery of transgressors by the transforming power of sacrifice. And so it establishes a kingdom, which is itself the reign of the patience of Jesus. The whole plan centres in this one principle, that the suffering side of character has a power of its own, superior in some respects to the most active endeavours. And in this it proves its originality by standing quite alone.
2. The office of the Christian martyrs is hero explained. We look back upon the long ages of woe, the martyr ages of the Church, and we behold a vast array of active genius and power, that could not be permitted to spend itself in works of benefaction to the race, but was consecrated of God to the more sacred and more fruitful grace of suffering. The design was, it would seem, to prepare a Christly past, to show whole ages of faith populated with men who were able, coming after their Master and bearing His cross, to suffer with Him, and add their human testimony to His.
3. We see in this subject how it is that many persons are so abundantly active in religion with so little effect; while others who are not conspicuous in action accomplish so much. The reason is that one class trust mainly to the virtues of action, while the others unite also the virtues of patience. One class is brother and companion in the kingdom and works of Jesus, the other in the kingdom and patience of Jesus.
4. The reason why we have so many crosses, trials, wrongs, and pains, is here made evident. We have not one too many for the successful culture of our faith. The great thing, and that which it is most of all difficult to produce in us, is a participation of Christ's forgiving, gentleness, and patience. This, if we can learn it, is the most difficult and the most distinctively Christian of all attainments. Therefore we need a continual discipline of occasions, poverty, sickness, bereavements, losses, treacheries, misrepresentations, oppressions, persecutions; we can hardly have too many for our own good, if only we receive them as our Saviour did His cross.
(H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.