For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.
This passage is interesting if only as an evidence of the care with which the apostles studied the spiritual conditions of the separate churches which were committed to their care. They conceived of their office, not as a temporary lectureship, but as, in modern phrase, a " cure of souls." Preaching was for them only a means to an end. That end was the salvation and sanctification of human souls. Wherever anything went wrong, there the anxious eye of the apostle rested, to warn, to encourage amendment. At Thessalonica they had forgotten present duties through their absorbing interest in the second coming of +,he Lord. At Rome the strongminded members of the Church were dealing with the scruples of their weaker brethren in a spirit of scornful indifference. At Corinth party spirit had reached an unexampled height, and an incestuous union was actually tolerated in a man who remained a member of the Church of the apostles. In Galatia baptized Christians were for having themselves circumcised as if they were merely Jews. At Colosse a theosophy, which afterwards became Gnosticism, was dethroning the Divine Redeemer in many a man's intellect. At Philippi there was the public scandal of a quarrel between two prominent ladies — Euodias and Syntyche. And so, as the apostle, probably dictating what he had to say in general terms to St. Luke, thinks of this church of converts from Judaism, and of the dangers which encompassed them, and of the shortcomings which were peculiar to them, we read the words, "Ye have need of patience."
I. PATIENCE NEEDED UNDER PERSECUTION. Why did the Hebrew Christians need patience? These Hebrew Christians needed patience, first of all, because they had been exposed and were still exposed to persecutions involving some degree of physical suffering. They had been, on some occasion respecting which no details have reached us, "spoiled of their goods." This trouble, the writer says, the Hebrew Christians had borne " cheerfully, knowing that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance." They had suffered also, it would seem, as objects of popular ridicule. It is hard to be identified with a cause which is treated as ridiculous; and, when ridicule is accompanied by leagalised robbery, and by worse things than robbery looming in the distance, then the exercise of patience becomes exceedingly difficult. On the other hand, it seems clear that, as yet, in this particular Church no life had been taken. There had as yet been no martyr. "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood." This is interesting if only as showing that the Hebrews addressed in the Epistle cannot have been members of the Church of Jerusalem. Many years had passed in that Church since Stephen had sunk outside the city gate beneath the stones of his murderers, many since James the son of Zebedee had been slain by the sword of Herod. But the fact that there bad been no martyr is of moral as well as critical and historical interest. It shows that the persecution which called especially for the exercise of patience was a moderate persecution — moderate as persecutions went in those days; and for this reason patience may have been more difficult to practise than would have been the case had the persecution been fiercer.
II. LESSER TRIALS MAY DEMAND MORE PATIENCE THAN GREATER. Many a man will not utter a murmur when he knows that he is lying in agony between life and death, and when those around him know that each hour may be his last; but let that same man be afflicted with a malady which entails great distress, but something less than very acute suffering — which implies no danger to life, but which nevertheless makes him a confirmed invalid — which is of a character to allow those who wait on him to reflect less frequently on the seriousness of his illness than on the trouble which it entails upon themselves, and patience becomes, in average cases, very difficult. There is here felt to be no demand for a supreme effort at self-mastery — an effort which cannot or may not be necessary for long. There is here no sense of such support as is yielded by friends kneeling around a bedside — by sympathies stimulated to the very highest point of tension. It is more difficult to be patient when the irritation is great and when the situation is commonplace.
III. MENTAL PERPLEXITY DEMANDS PATIENCE. In their time of trouble their Jewish neighbours would have plied the recent converts with arguments for returning to the old synagogue which they had left. To begin with, it would have been urged that they would thus escape a great deal of trouble. The Jewish religion was an old, respectable religion, well known to the authorities of the empire, and, in ordinary circumstances, tolerated, if not very much liked. It was legally recognised, and by belonging to it a man escaped numberless annoyances which attached to membership of a body which, in the eyes of the pagan world, was a new sect, to which neither law nor society as yet had much to say that was not offensive or insulting. Why not, then, come back to the synagogue, the old religion which, besides having a recognised place in the world, was in possession of so much with which Christians had presumably parted company?
IV. SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. The sum of the answer is that in possessing Jesus Christ our Lord Christians had everything that the religion of Israel could possibly give them and a great deal more. The angels ministered to Christians, too, as the heirs of salvation; but Christ was greater than the highest angel, to none of whom — no, not to the highest — had it ever been said, "Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee." Moses was, no doubt, a ruler in the house of God, but he ruled as God's viceroy. Christ ruled in it as a Son over His own house. He ruled that which He had made and which He owned. And if the glories of Aaron's priesthood were undisputed, Christ, too, was a priest, but in a higher sense — after the order of Melchisedek. And the Jewish sacrifices — what were they but " shadows of the good things to come" — shadows of the realities which Christ brought with Him from heaven? That most solemn action of all — the entry into the earthly Holy of Holies — what was it but a figure of the entrance of our ascended Lord into the inmost sanctuary of the heavens, where His presence is of itself an intercession?
V. THE HEBREW CHRISTIANS NEEDED PATIENCE WHEN DEALING WITH EACH OTHER. They could keep at times and to a certain extent, out of the way of their pagan persecutors, out of the way of Jewish controversialists. They were thrown into intimate and constant contact with other members of the Church; and it seems more than probable that the Church of Alexandria, like the Churches of Rome and Corinth, contained in those first ages very different elements, the co-existence of which was a trial to patience. At Rome we know there was a quiet but vigorous struggle between the converts from Judaism and the converts from heathenism. At Corinth, to the indignation of the apostle, Christians even went to law with Christians in the courts of the pagan empire, or, as he puts it, "brother with brother, before the unbelievers." At Alexandria there would have been, from the nature of the case, very different degrees of Christian attainment, very different ways of dealing with questions of the day. It is impossible that the whole Church of Alexandria can have been meant by the writer's vivid description of those "dull of hearing," who needed "milk" when they ought to rejoice in "strong meat," who, considering the time that had elapsed since their conversion, ought to have been teachers, and yet needed that some one should teach them what were " the first principles of the doctrines of Christ." There must have been others to whom this description did not apply, but who may well have been tempted to irritation with those to whom it did. For them, perhaps, such sentences as the following were intended: .... Lift up the hands which hang down and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for the feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed"; "Follow peace with all men."
VI. THE SLOW GROWTH OF CHARACTER. In no department of life is patience more necessary than in dealing with human character. The young, the slow, the undeveloped, the timid, claim it at our hands. No character that is worth anything develops all at once — develops at a single impulse. It grows gradually, first from silence and reserve to decision and explicitness, and then to full productiveness and beauty. As our Lord has said, "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." And yet how often is patience wanted on the part of older people when dealing with and judging of the young. We expect the work of ten years to be crowded into ten weeks. We expect the growth of character to reveal itself to some moral microscope of ours, or to the naked eye, when we will.
VII. PATIENCE DEMANDED IN THE PRESENT DAY. The great change which Jesus Christ introduced into man's estimate of conduct was the exaltation of the passive virtues. The old pagan world meant by a "virtuous" man a brave, strong, just, energetic human being, who might be, but who probably would not be, humble, submissive, self-subduing. The gospel ideal of character is described under the title of "the works of the Spirit," and it runs thus: "Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." For the old pagan or for his modern representative virtue is mainly active, pushing, aggressive, demonstrative. Virtue is the warrior; it is the athlete; it is the ruler of men. Anyhow, it is the proud self-assertion of conscious force. It thinks cheaply of Christendom, with its ideal of patience and submission. It has a quiet contempt for the martyr, as though he were wanting in manly dignity and self-respect. Christian patience, it says, is the slave cringing beneath the lash of his master — cringing because he is weak and ignorant.
VIII. PATIENCE IS STRENGTH. If "better is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city," then most assuredly the action of the will represented by patience is higher than the action of the will represented by physical courage; for, in the latter case, will is exerted upon something external to man; in the former it is turned in upon man himself: it is engaged in controlling the very force which animates it. It would be far easier, I apprehend, for nine men out of ten to join a storming party than to lie on a rack or to hang on a cross without repining. Yes, patience is strength, and patience is moral strength: it is wisdom. In exercising it we, the creatures of a day, make one of the nearest approaches possible for us to the life of God.
IX. PATIENCE OF GOD. Of God, St. has finely said, "Pattens quia aeternus" (Because He lives for ever, He can afford to wait).
X. PATIENCE THE LAW OF PROGRESS. IS not patience the very law of your conquests in science? Those revelations of new powers in nature which from time to time astonish the world those discoveries which make man's power over the conditions of his existence sensibly greater than they ever were before — have been prepared for, are being prepared for, by a group of moral and intellectual efforts under the presidency of patience — patience which neglects no facts, patience which is wearied by no disappointments, patience which inspires, which controls, which combines all the group of workers which obey her. And is not patience, I will not dare to say the law, but the hope of your art? Why does our architecture at its very best fall so far short of those great creations of days when our forefathers had neither our knowledge, nor our wealth, nor our marvellous resources? There may be more answers to that question than one, but one is that we have not the patience which is needed for these splendid efforts. We care more to see what we attempt in its completeness than to forego our personal satisfaction for the sake of the grandeur of our work, and our work is dwarfed and impoverished accordingly. Or what is the most necessary quality for any who would promote man's social or political welfare? Wisdom, no doubt, is necessary, and energy, and freedom from the chains of prejudice, and buoyant courage, and readiness to recognise the conditions under which success is possible; but above all these is patience.
XI. CONDITIONS OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE UNCHANGED. And as for individual life its conditions are just as they were eighteen centuries ago. Here the modern is just as the ancient world. Sin remains; death remains. When science has so revolutionised our life as not only to alleviate but to banish pain, as not only to postpone but to do away with death, then we may do away with patience. Till then patience is as necessary as it ever was. Patience is needed to enable us to meet the inevitable, and to transfigure it by joyfully accepting as a Father's will that which else must overtake us as if it were the iron will of a relentless fate. And in this, as in all other virtues, Jesus Christ our Lord is our highest model.
Parallel VersesKJV: For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.