But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
If we consider the condition of those Jews to whom the apostle directs this Epistle, we shall find that as they were a dispersed, so they were aa afflicted and persecuted people. To these dispersed and distressed Christians, the apostle directs this his Epistle, and exhorts them, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations" (ver. 2) — 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 1 Now, in this are included two things, which should mightily futher their joy.
1. That all their sufferings 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: tie tries whether it be weak or strong; whether it be able to support itself 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 afflictions: for these will help you to determine this important question. 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.
2. 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." If thy sorrows 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. "Let patience have her perfect work," and then you shall have cause to rejoice. Let her go on to finish what is begun; and then shall ye "be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." It is not enough 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 unto the end, so you must suffer the whole will of God, and put no earlier period to your patience than to your obedience. Patience ought not to prescribe, either to the kind, measure, or degree of our sufferings.From the words we may observe these two prepositions —
1. That a Christian's patience ought to accomplish all the work that is proper for it while he lies under afflictions: "Let patience have her perfect work."
2. That the perfection of patience is the perfection of a Christian: "That ye may be per. feet and entire, wanting nothing." And herein I shall prosecute this method.
I. WHAT IS THIS PATIENCE which a Christian ought to exercise and accomplish when he is under sufferings? 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 acknowledgment of His infinite sovereignty, wisdom, justice, and mercy, in those afflictions which He is pleased to bring upon him. Negatively.
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; for that is no suffering which is not felt. And those who are stupified under the hand of God, and who take no notice of His judgments, are no more to be accounted patient than a block is when it is hewn and cut. Nay, patience is so far from taking away the sense of sufferings, that it rather quickens it. There is no man that more feels an affliction than a Christian doth; for he refers his chastisements to his deserts.
2. Patience doth not stifle all modest complaints and moderate sorrow. A patient Christian may well be allowed this vent for his grief to work out at. Grace never destroys, but only regulates and corrects nature. It will permit thee to shed tears, so long as they run clear, and the course of them doth not stir up the mud of thy sinful passions and violent affections. And, again, a patient Christian may make use of all the doleful signs of sorrow which God hath allowed and nature exacts, and yet his spirit not be moved beyond its due temper and consistency; like a tree whose boughs are agitated by every gust and storm of wind, when yet the root remains unmoved in the earth.
3. Patience doth not oblige us to continue under afflictions when we may lawfully and warrantably release ourselves from them. It doth not require us to solicit troubles. It is a sign of a vitiated palate if our physic taste not somewhat unpleasing to us; and of an obstinate mind if we be not careful to shun the discipline of the rod. If God bring sore, and perhaps mortal, diseases upon thee, it is not patience, but presumption, to refuse the means which are proper for thy recovery, under pretence that thou art willing to bear whatsoever it pleaseth God to lay upon thee.
4. Much less doth patience oblige us to invite sufferings. It is fortitude enough if we manfully stand their shock when they assault us; but it is temerity to provoke and challenge them. Neither is it patience to bear those invented severities which blind devotionalists inflict upon themselves: they may soon enough lash themselves into pain, but never into patience; this is a virtue which thongs and whipcord can never teach them. And thus I have showed you what patience is not.Positively. In patience there must be —
1. A quiet, willing submission to the hand of God.
2. A quieting of our unruly passions. A calming of all those impetuous storms which are apt to arise in a man's heart when he is under any heavy sufferings.
3. All this must be done upon right grounds. Indeed, there is a natural patience — a patience that may be found in natural men devoid of true grace — which proceeds only upon natural and moral principles: as, that it is folly to strive against fate, and that it is equally folly to torment ourselves about what we can help. And thus we see what this grace of patience is.
II. WHAT IS THE PROPER WORK OF PATIENCE.
1. The first work of patience is the quieting and composing the spirit of the afflicted. He is calm within, though his outward condition be full of storms (Acts 20:24).
2. Another work of patience is to put a stop to all immoderate complaints.
3. Another work of patience under sufferings is self-resignation to the sovereign will and disposal of Almighty God. And there be two notable ingredients which go to the composition of it — self-denial and submission.
(1) Patience works the soul to a self-denying frame and temper. Fretfulness and impatience do always proceed from self-love. A cross lies very heavy upon a selfish man. And he that makes this world his all, must needs look upon himself as utterly ruined if God take from him that wherein he placeth his highest felicity; and therefore no wonder if he break out into passionate exclamations. But a truly patient soul puts a lower estimate upon these things; he values them, indeed, as comforts, but not as his chief good, otherwise he would have no patience in sustaining the loss of them. Yet still be looks not upon himself as undone; still he hath his God and his Christ, and his grace left. God doth but deny him that wherein he hath learned to deny himself.
(2) As patience works the soul to a self-denying, so it does likewise to a submissive frame and temper. When it hath brought a man to renounce his own will, it then resolves him into the will of God. The will of His precept He hath made known unto us by His Word, and to that we ought to submit our wills by a cheerful performance of what He hath commanded. The will of His purpose He makes known unto us by His providence; and to that we ought to submit, by a quiet bearing of whatsoever He shall see good to inflict. Christ is willing not to have His own will, and so every patient Christian brings his will to this submission; that it is his will, that not his, but God's will should be fulfilled.
4. Another work of patience is a holy endearing of our afflictions to us; when it bring us to account them precious, as choice mercies bestowed upon us. Patience will make the soul thankful for corrections, esteeming it a token of God's special regard and condescension that He will vouchsafe to afflict us. We are all prone to think that God never minds us, but when He is continually heaping new mercies upon us; and if any calamity befall us, we presently fear that. God hath forgotten us; but patience teacheth a Christian to believe that in every affliction God doth most particularly regard our concerns; that He is as mindful of us when He chastises as when He favours us. And therefore we should account afflictions as dear a pledge of God's love as prosperity. And as weeds grow fastest in a fat and rank soil, so our corruptions thrive and are ready to overrun our souls when our outward condition is most prosperous; and therefore God's love and care of us constrain Him sometimes to use severe discipline.
5. Another work of patience is the reconciling of a man to the instruments of his sufferings, to make him willing to forgive them himself, and to pray to God for their pardon, who is far more offended by them than we can be.
6. Another work of patience is to obstruct all dishonourable or unlawful ways of deliverance from those sufferings under which we lie. Patience will not suffer a man to accept of deliverance if he cannot free the honour of God and the purity of his own conscience from stain, as well as his outward man from trouble.
III. WHEN IT IS THAT PATIENCE HATH ITS PERFECT WORK.
1. Patience hath, then, its perfect work when it is proportionable to the sufferings and affliction, under which we lie, and that both in duration and fortitude. And therefore —
(1) If thy afflictions and sorrows be of long continuance, thy patience, that it may be perfect, must be prolonged. If thy patience wear off one day before thy trouble cloth, it hath not its perfect work. Now, then, O Christian 1 look upon thyself as a traveller, and make account that whatsoever burden God is pleased to lay upon thee, He may perhaps not take it off till thou comest to thy inn, to take up thy lodging in the grave.
(2) Sometimes our sorrows and sufferings are very deep, our burdens very heavy and pressing; and God may give thee a deep draft of the bitter cup, and squeeze into it the very quintessence of wormwood. Now, in this case, that thy patience may be perfect, it must be strong, as well as lasting; it must have sinews in it, to bear weighty burdens (Proverbs 24:10).
2. That our patience may be perfect, it must be proportionable also to the need of the sufferer. For then hath patience its perfect work, when a man bears whatsoever is necessary for him. Now, both the cure and thy patience are then perfect when, of a proud and high-minded person, He hath brought thee to an humble and meek spirit; when, of a worldly and self-seeking person, He hath made thee a public-spirited and self-denying Christian; when, of a drowsy and secure, He hath made thee a vigilant, zealous, and active Christian.
3. That thy patience may be per-feet, it must be a joyful patience.
IV. That which remains is to ENFORCE upon you this exhortation of the apostle.
1. For the motives to patience, they are many and powerful. And such, indeed, they had need be, to persuade our fretful natures to the exercise of so hard a grace. Yet grace can work those wonders which nature cannot. And there be several considerations that will tend mightily to hush all the disturbances of our spirits, under all our sorrows and sufferings.
(1) That there is nothing more necessary for a Christian, in the whole conduct of his life, than the work and exercise of patience (Hebrews 10:36). And this especial necessity of patience will appear, if we consider that our whole life is but a scene of sorrows and troubles. Consider that patience is necessary to alleviate and lighten the afflictions we suffer. The same burden shall not, by this means, have the same weight in it. There is a certain skill in taking up our load upon us to make it sit easy; whereas others, that take it up untowardly, find it most cumbersome. Let the very same affliction befall two persons — the one a patient, meek, and self-resigning soul; the other a proud, fretful wretch, that repines every disappointment — and with how much more ease shall the one bear it than the other! The burden is the very same; but only the one is sound and whole, and it doth not wring nor pinch him; but the other's impatience hath galled him, and every burden is more intolerable to him, because it lies upon a raw and sore spirit. It is not so much the wearing as the striving with our yoke that galls us; and as it is with beasts caught in a snare, so is it with impatient men — the more they struggle, the faster they draw the knot, and make their sufferings more uneasy and their escape more impossible.
(2) Another motive to patience may be to consider who is the Author and Inflicter of all the sufferings which thou undergoest. Consider that God is the absolute and uncontrollable Sovereign of all the world. Consider that God is not only our Sore. reign, but He is our Proprietor. Consider the relation wherein God stands unto thee. Consider, again, that it is an infinitely wise God that afflicts thee; and, therefore, thou mayest well acquiesce in His providences. All thy sorrows are chosen out for thee by that God who doth inflict them. He knows the just proportion of what thou art to undergo. He is the Wise Physician, that knows what ingredients, and what quantities of each, are fittest for thee to take. He knows and considers the events and the consequences of things, which are hid in a profound obscurity from us short-sighted creatures. Possibly He intends the greatest mercy when Be brings the sorest trials upon thee. Consider God is a faithful God. To this let me add one consideration more concerning God; and that is, that He is the God of Patience (Romans 15:5). And that, not only as He is the God that requires patience from us; not only as He is the God that gives patience to us; not only as He is the God that doth own and crown patience in us; but as He is the God that doth Himself exercise infinite patience towards us. He bears more from us than we can possibly bear from Him.
(3) Consider what thou hast deserved. And this will be a most unanswerable argument for patience under what thou feelest.
(4) A fourth motive to patience may be the consideration of the great benefits and advantages that accrue to us by afflictions (Hebrews 12:11). As the ploughing up of a field seems utterly to spoil the beauty of it, when its smoothness and verdure are turned into rough and unsightly furrows, and all its herbs and flowers buried under deformed clods of earth; but yet, afterwards, in the days of harvest, when the fields laugh and sing for joy, when the furrows stand thick with corn and look like a boundless sea and inundation of plenty, they yield an incomparable delight to the eyes of the beholders and welcome sheaves into the bosom of the reapers; so when God ploughs up any of His children, it may seem a strange method of His husbandry thus to deform the flourishing of their present condition; but yet, afterwards, when the seed which He casts into these furrows is sprung up, both the wisdom and goodness of Divine Providence will be made apparent in thus converting a barren prosperity into a more fruitful adversity. Improvements and advantages that we may make of our afflictions. As they are the exercises of our graces, so they keep them lively and active. Exercise, you know, though it weary the body for the present, yet conduceth to its health and soundness. Afflictions are the soul's exercise, by which God keeps our graces in breath, which else would languish and he choked up. Indeed, experience and custom facilitate all things, and make that very easy which before we accounted difficult. All birds when they are first put into their cage fly wildly up and down, and beat themselves against their little prison, but within two or three days sit quietly upon their perch and sing their usual notes. So it fares with us. When God first brings us into straits, we wildly flatter up and down, and beat and tire ourselves with striving to get free; but at length custom and experience will make our narrow confinement spacious enough for us; and though our feet should be in the stocks, yet shall we, with the apostles, be able even there to sing praises to our God. Another advantage of afflictions is this: that they are physic to the soul, to expel and purge out its corruptions. A patient bearing of afflictions is a clear evidence of our adoption. Indeed, our sufferings only prove us to be the sons of Adam, on whom the curse is entailed through his primitive transgression; but our patience is a strong proof that we are the sons of God. All metals may be melted in the furnace; but it is the property of gold only to endure the fire, and lose nothing of its weight or worth. Consider that a patient suffering of affliction will make rich additions to the weight and splendour of thy crown of glory.
(5) Another motive may be this: that a patient bearing of affliction is a very great honour, both to ourselves and to God. To ourselves (consult 1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 1:7). It brings in a great revenue of glory unto God.
(6) Consider that patience under afflictions is the best way to be freed from afflictions. (a) If they be immediately from men, patience is of such a sweet, winning nature, that, unless they have quite divested humanity, they cannot long persevere in a causeless wronging of those who quietly bear and pass by their former injuries. Patience withdraws fuel from wrath: it finds no new occasion to stir up strife by opposition. If our sufferings be immediately from God, a patient bearing of them will the sooner put a period to them; because usually one great end why God doth afflict us is to teach us patience.
(7) Consider that all thy sufferings in this life are in themselves tolerable. They are but the infirmities of a man, which the spirit of a man may bear; for they are only partial. All thy afflictions and sufferings have a great mixture of mercy in them.
(8) Consider how many thousands in the world are in a far worse condition than yourselves, and would account themselves happy were they in your circumstances.
(9) As another motive to patience, consider of how short duration and continuance all the troubles and afflictions of this life are. Though your way be thorny and miry, yet it is but short. Let thy afflictions be as grievous as thy passion can describe them, yet doth God afford thee no lucid intervals? Hast thou no intermission from thy sorrows? This is mercy, and this time of thy refreshment ought not to be reckoned into the suffering, as commonly it is. Indeed, men have got an art of making their sorrows longer than they are. Ask one who labours under a chronic distemper how long he hath been troubled with it; straight he will tell you for so many months or for so many years, when yet, perhaps, the greater part of that time he enjoyed ease and freedom between the returning periods of his disease. If thou hast been long under afflictions, yet perhaps they have been varied. Even this is mercy, that He will not strike long upon one place, nor scourge thee where thou art sore already.
(10) The tenth, and last, motive to patience, which ought to be very effectual with all true Christians, shall be taken from the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Consider that His sufferings were infinitely greater than any that we can possibly undergo. Consider that all His unknown sufferings were not for His own, but for our offences.
2. The next thing in order is to show those distempers of spirit which are great hindrances of patience, and give a very great advantage to every cross to ruffle and discompose it. And they are such as these —
(1) An effeminate softness and delicacy of spirit, when the mind is lax and fluid and hath not its due consistency. Consider the indecency and unbecomingness of impatience. It sits ill upon a man, and renders him contemptible and ridiculous. Consider the vanity and folly of impatience. To what purpose is it that thou torturest yourself? Couldst thou relieve thyself by it, this might be some reasonable pretence. Consider that impatience is not only unseemly and foolish, but it is unchristian too. There is nothing more directly contrary to the true spirit and genius of Christianity.
(2) Another great hindrance of patience is a fond love and admiration of these creature enjoyments.
(3) Another great hindrance to patience is pride and self-love.
(4) Reflecting too much upon the instruments of our sufferings is oftentimes a mighty hindrance to the composure and patience of our spirits. And there are these considerations, that make us impatient under sufferings. The meanness and contemptible vileness of the instrument. It heightens impatience when we reflect upon the nearness of those who are the occasions and instruments of our sufferings. It many times heightens impatience to reflect upon the base ingratitude and foul disingenuity of those from whom we suffer.
(5) Reflecting upon a former more prosperous condition is oftentimes a great provocation unto impatience under our present sufferings.
(Bp. E. Hopkins.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.