My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations;…
James calls the converted among the twelve tribes his brethren. Christianity has a great uniting power: it both discovers and creates relationships among the sons of men. It reminds us of the ties of nature, and binds us with the bonds of grace. Whatever brotherhood may be a sham, let the brotherhood of believers be the most real thing beneath the stars. Beginning with this word "brethren," James shows a true brotherly sympathy with believers in their trials, and this is a main part of Christian fellowship. If we are not tempted ourselves at this moment, others are: let us remember them in our prayers; for in due time our turn will come, and we shall be put trite the crucible, Remembering the trials of his brethren, James tries to cheer them, and therefore he says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials." It is a part of our high calling to rise ourselves into confidence; and it is also our duty to see that none of our brethren despond, much less despair. The whole tendency of our holy faith is to elevate and to encourage. The message of the gospel is one of gladness, and were it universally received this world would be no longer a wilderness, but would rejoice and blossom as the rose.
I. THE ESSENTIAL POINT WHICH IS ASSAILED by temptation or trial.
1. It is your faith which is tried. It is supposed that you have that faith. You are not the people of God, you are not truly brethren unless you are believers. It is this faith of yours which is peculiarly obnoxious to Satan and to the world which lieth in the wicked one. The hand of faith is against all evil, and all evil is against faith. Faith is that blessed grace which is most pleasing to God, and hence it is most displeasing to the devil. He rages at faith because he sees therein his own defeat and the victory of grace. Because the trial of your faith brings honour to the Lord, therefore the Lord Himself is sure to try it that out of its trial praise may come to His grace by which faith is sustained. It is by our faith that we are saved, justified, and brought near to God, and therefore it is no marvel that it is attacked. Faith is the standard bearer, and the object of the enemy is to strike him down that the battle may be gained. It is by our faith that we live; we began to live by it, and we continue to live by it, for "the just shall live by faith." Hold fast, therefore, this your choice treasure. It is by faith, too, that Christians perform exploits. Faith is the conquering principle: therefore it is Satan's policy to slay it even as Pharaoh sought to kill the male children when Israel dwelt in Egypt.
2. Now, think of how faith is tried. According to the text we are said to fail into "manifold temptations "or into "divers temptations" — that is to say, we may expect very many and very different troubles. In any case these trials will be most real. Our temptations are no inventions of nervousness nor hobgoblins of dreamy fear. Ay, and note too, that the trials of Christians are such as would in themselves lead us into sin. A man is very apt to become unbelieving under affliction: that is a sin. He is apt to murmur against God under it. He is apt to put forth his hand to some ill way of escaping from his difficulty: and that would be a sin. Hence we are taught to pray, "Lead us not into temptation"; because trial has in itself a measure of temptation, and if it were not neutralised by abundant grace it would bear us towards sin. I suppose that every test must have in it a measure of temptation. Did ever a flower of grace blossom in this wretched clime without being tried with frost or blight? Our way is up the river; we have to stem the current, and struggle against a flood which would readily bear us to destruction. Thus, not only trials, but black temptations assail the Christian's faith. As to what shape they take, we may say this much: the trial or temptation of each man is distinct from that of every other, That which would most severely test me would perhaps be no trial to you; and that which tries you might be no temptation to me. This is one reason why we often judge one another so severely, because feeling ourselves to be strong in that particular point we argue that the fallen one must have been strong in that point too, and therefore must have wilfully determined to do wrong. This may be a cruel supposition. "Divers trials," says the apostle, and he knew what he said. And sometimes these divers trials derive great force from their seemingly surrounding us, and cutting off escape. James says, "Ye fall into divers temptations": like men who fall into a pit, and do not know how to get out; or like soldiers who fall into an ambuscade.
II. THE INVALUABLE BLESSING WHICH IS GAINED BY THE TRIAL OF OUR FAITH. The blessing gained is this, that our faith is tried and proved. The effectual proof is by trials of God's sending. The way of trying whether you are a good soldier is to go down to the battle: the way to try whether a ship is well built is not merely to order the surveyor to examine her, but to send her to sea: a storm will be the best test of her staunchness. They have built a new lighthouse upon the Eddystone: how do we know that it will stand? We judge by certain laws and principles, and feel tolerably safe about the structure; but, after all, we shall know best in after-years when a thousand tempests have beaten upon the lighthouse in vain. We need trials as a test as much as we need Divine truth as our food. Admire the ancient types placed in the ark of the covenant of old: two things were laid close together — the pot of manna and the rod. See how heavenly food and heavenly rule go together: how our sustenance and our chastening are equally provided for! A Christian cannot live without the manna nor without the rod. The two must go together. Sanctified tribulations work the proof of our faith, and this is more precious than that of gold which perisheth, though it be tried by fire.
1. Now, when we are able to bear it without starting aside, the trial proves our sincerity.
2. Next, it proves the truthfulness of our doctrinal belief.
3. Next, your own faith in God is proved when you can cling to Him under temptation. Not only your sincerity, but the divinity of your faith is proved; for a faith that is never tried, how can you depend upon it?
4. I find it specially sweet to learn the great strength of the Lord in my own weakness. The Lord suits the help to the hindrance, and puts the plaster on the wound. In the very hour when it is needed the needed grace is given. Does not this tend to breed assurance of faith?
5. It is a splendid thing to be able to prove even to Satan the purity of your motives. That was the great gain of Job. I reckon that the endurance of every imaginable suffering would be a small price to pay for a settled assurance, which would for ever prevent the possibility of doubt. Therefore, when you are tempted, "Count it all joy" that you are tried, because you will thus receive a proof of your love, a proof of your faith, a proof of your being the true-born children of God. James says, "Count it." A man requires to be trained to be a good accountant; it is an art which needs to be learned.
III. THE PRICELESS VIRTUE WHICH IS PRODUCED BY TRIAL, namely, patience; for the proof of your "faith worketh patience." The man who truly possesses patience is the man that has been tried. What kind of patience does he get by the grace of God?
1. First, he obtains a patience that accepts the trial as from God without a murmur.
2. The next kind of patience is when experience enables a man to bear ill-treatment, slander, and injury without resentment. He feels it keenly, but he bears it meekly.
3. The patience which God works in us by tribulation also takes another form, namely, that of acting without undue haste. In proportion as we grow like the Lord Jesus we shall cast aside disturbance of mind and fury of spirit.
4. That is a grand kind of patience, too, when we can wait without unbelief. Two little words are good for every Christian to learn and to practise — pray and stay. Waiting on the Lord implies both praying and staying.
5. This patience also takes the shape of believing without wavering, in the very teeth of strange providences and singular statements, and perhaps inward misgivings. If, in a word, we learn endurance we have taken a high degree. You look at the weather-beaten sailor, the man who is at home on the sea: he has a bronzed face and mahogany-coloured flesh, he looks as tough as heart of oak, and as hardy as if he were made of iron. How different from us poor landsmen. How did the man become so inured to hardships, so able to breast the storm, so that he does not care whether the wind blows south-west or north-west? He can go out to sea in any kind of weather; he has his sea legs on. How did he come to this strength? By doing business in great waters. He could not have become a hardy seaman by tarrying on shore. Now, trial works in the saints that spiritual hardihood which cannot be learned in ease.
IV. THE SPIRITUAL COMPLETENESS PROMOTED. "That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Afflictions by God's grace make us all-round men, developing every spiritual faculty, and therefore they are our friends, our helpers, and should be welcomed with "all joy." Afflictions find out our weak points, and this makes us attend to them. Being tried, we discover our failures, and then going to God about those failures we are helped to be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Moreover, our trials, when blessed of God to make us patient, ripen us. A certain measure of sunlight is wanted to bring out the real flavour of fruits, and when a fruit has felt its measure of burning sun it developes a lusciousness which we all delight in. So it is in men and women: a certain amount of trouble appears to be needful to create a certain sugar of graciousness in them, so that they may contain the rich, ripe juice of a gracious character. Sanctified trials produce a chastened spirit. Some of us by nature are untender; but after awhile friends notice that the roughness is depart-ins, and they are quite glad to be more gently handled. Ah, that sick chamber did the polishing; under God's grace, that depression of spirit, that loss, that cross, that bereavement — these softened the natural ruggedness, and made the man meek and lowly, like his Lord. Sanctified trouble has a great tendency to breed sympathy, and sympathy is to the Church as oil to machinery. A man that has never suffered feels very awkward when he tries to sympathise with a tried child of God. He kindly does his best, but he does not know how to go to work at it; but those repeated blows from the rod make us feel for others who are smarting, and by degrees we are recognised as being the Lord's anointed comforters, made meet by temptation to succour those who are tempted.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;