Behold, we count them happy which endure. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord…
We are far too apt to entertain hard thoughts of God. The horrible atheism of our depraved nature continually quarrels with the Most High; and when we are under His afflicting hand, and things go cross to our will, the evil of our nature becomes sadly evident. Let us never forget that our hard speeches and our suspicions of our God have always been libels upon Him. On taking a survey of our whole life, we see that the kindness of God has run all through it like a silver thread. Goodness and mercy have followed us all our days, even pursuing us when we have wickedly fled from them. Even our apparent ills have been real blessings. Let each restored man say, "He healeth all my diseases." Let each tried one now say, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all." Let the aged man bring the Spoils of his experience and lay them down at the feet of the Lord who hitherto hath helped him. Our desire will be to help one another to avoid future mumurings.
I. Notice that when James is exhorting us to full confidence in God in the hour of trial, He gives us AN INSTRUCTIVE INSTANCE. He quotes the story of Job. Observe that when this apostle introduces Job it is with the view of pointing out the tender mercy of God in his case; and he begins by saying, "Behold, we count them happy which endure."
1. The pitifulness and tender mercy of God are to be seen in the happiness of those who are called to suffer. "We count them happy which endure." This arithmetic is only known to faith, and must be learned of the Lord Jesus "We" — that is, the Church of God — count them happy who are counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake. I may venture to say that the more sensible part of mankind in some measure concur with the people of God in this accounting. We count that man happy who has passed through trial and hardship with a brave endurance. Such life is of an interesting and manly kind; but life without struggle and difficulty is thin and tasteless. How can a noble life be constructed if there be no difficulty to overcome, no suffering to bear? When we see what poor, paltry things those are who are nursed in the lap of luxury, and consequently never come to a real manhood, "we count them happy that endure." This counting is not mere fancy, but it is a correct estimate: there is a happiness in affliction which none will doubt who have tasted it. When we look to the end of affliction, when we see all its comfortable fruit, when we mark what it corrects, and observe what it produces, we judge that it is no mean blessing. Happy is the man who has been enabled to endure; he rises from the deeps of woe like a pearl-finder from the sea, rich beyond comparison. The people of God find themselves more buoyant in the saltest seas of sorrow than in other waters. The Cross does in very deed raise us nearer to Christ when it is fully sanctified. Rare gems glisten in the mines of adversity. We never get so near to the source of all heavenly consolation as when earthly comfort is removed far away. God seemeth never so much a Husband to any as to the widow; and never so much a Father as to the fatherless. Endurance also works in the child of God a close clinging to God, which produces near and dear communion with Him. Sorrows reveal to us the Man of Sorrows. Griefs waft us to the bosom of our God. Beside, the Lord has a choice way of manifesting Himself unto His servants in their times of weakness. He draws the curtain about the bed of His chosen sufferer, and at the same time He withdraws another curtain which aforetime concealed His glory, He takes away the delights of health and vigour, and then He implants energy of another and a higher order, so that the inner man waxeth mighty while the outer man decayeth. So wondrously doth grace work beyond nature that it transfigures bodily sickness into spiritual health.
2. Now notice here the notability — I had almost said the nobility — of endurance. As one truly says, Job's bones had lain to this day in the common charnel-house of oblivion if it had not been for his sufferings and his patience. "Ye have heard of the patience of Job." But you would never have heard of Job if he had always been prosperous. Even in worldly histories it is by enduring hardness that men build their memorials. Who that has read the classics has not heard of Mutius Scaevola? and why? He was a valiant man, but he did not win his name by a common deed in battle. His fights are unrecorded; but you have heard of his laying his right hand upon the burning coals of an altar, to let Porsenna see how a Roman could endure pain without shrinking. When he suffered his right hand to burn he was writing his name in his country's annals. A thousand instances prove that only by endurance can names be graven in the brass of history. To make a man a man, to bring his manhood forward, and to make other men see it, there must be endurance.
3. Once again, in order to see the pitifulness of God in sorrow, we must see the Lord's end in it; for, saith the apostle, "Ye have seen the end of the Lord." God's end in affliction is that which proves that He is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. We see not so much how grace works as what it works. The design of the Lord is more to be noted than the method He pursues.
(1) First, remember that the Lord's end in sending affliction to His people is corrective. Sanctified sorrow is a sharp frost which kills the germs of spiritual disease.
(2) Moreover, affliction is sent for the display of grace. Our graces lie asleep within us, like slumbering soldiers, until affliction strikes its terrible drum and awakens them. You know not what spirit you are of till you have been under tribulation. You count yourself rich, but in the fire your gold is tested. You reckon that your house is well built, but the flames find out the wood, and hay, and stubble. Self-knowledge is never sure if it come not of tests and temptations. Therefore we count them happy that endure, because they are less likely to be deceived. God is to be praised for the discovery of our graces, for thus affliction becomes a blessing without disguise.
(3) Further, our trials are an education for the future. I do not think that Job was fit to have any more substance until his heart had been enlarged by trouble; then he could bear twice as much as before. Prosperity softens and renders us unfit for more of itself; but adversity braces the soul and hardens it to patience. Beloved, I would not have you forget that "the end of the Lord" is always with His tried people to give them greater happiness as the result of it. Mark, in Job 31:40 it is written, "The words of Job are ended," ended amid thistles and cockle; but the end of the Lord was very different, for He loaded His servant with pieces of money and earrings of gold, and blessed his latter end more than his beginning. Thine end, O thou that art tossed with tempest and not comforted, shall come forth from thy God when He shall lay thy stones with fair colours and thy foundations with sapphires. He will restore thy soul even in this life, and give thee joy and rest out of thy sorrow. As for the life to come, how little do we take it into our estimate! It is as the main ocean, and this life is no better than the village brook. The sorrows of time are a mere pin's prick at the most, if we contrast them with the joy eternal. What shall we think of these temporary inconveniences when we reach eternal felicity?
II. OUR APOSTLE MAKES CONSOLING STATEMENT: "The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."
1. Observe that this is the teaching of God's holy Word; and therefore if we have at this moment no evidence of it perceptible to sight or sense, we are bound to believe it all the same. Do not be persuaded by man or devil to think ill of thy God. He has a father's heart even when He makes thee feel the strokes of His hand. Thy God cannot be unkind to thee. He cannot forsake thee.
2. But further, the text tells us that this truth may be seen; and while it is a matter of faith, yet it may be also a matter of sight. Beloved, it is true the Lord has burdened thee; is it not also true that He has sustained thee? Above is the billow, but "underneath are the everlasting arms." See the pitifulness of God in this! How often the mercy of God is seen in sickness and suffering by His mitigating the pain and loss! Those who are washed in the blood of Jesus shall never be drowned in the sea of sorrow. Observe also the tender pity of God in forgiving the sin of His suffering people. When your child has a fever, it may be he is fretful, and begins to talk foolishly. Maybe he talks unkind things against those very persians whom in his heart he loves best. Do you ever say to the child afterwards, "John, I am very grieved that you said such shocking things about me and about your mother"? Far from it; you say, "Poor dear, he does not know what he is talking about; he is wandering ill his mind." So does God deal with our naughtiness when we are under His hand; when He sees that it is rather weakness than wilfulness, He is very pitiful and full of compassion, and blots out the transgressions of His people.
3. See how the tenderness and pitifulness of God are also seen in the revelations lie makes to His saints. So also in the overrulings of our sorrows His love is conspicuous. He often sends a great sorrow that we may not be compelled to bear a greater one. Thank God for the preventive operations of His providence! Bless Him, above all, for the sweet rewards that come to His tried people when afterwards they bear the comfortable fruits of His righteousness, and especially when He comes to them in the riches of His grace, and turns their midnight into everlasting day. In closing the second head i should like to say I wish we could all read the original Greek; for this word, "The Lord is very pitiful," is a specially remarkable one. It means literally that the Lord hath "many bowels," or a great heart, and so it indicates great tenderness. The other word is the complement of the first — "and of tender mercy." There is then, you see, in these two words, pity for misery and mercy for sin: there is inward pity in the heart of God, and outward action in the mercy of God; there is sympathy for suffering, and grace for guilt. These two things make up what we want.
III. THE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED out of the whole subject.
1. The first is, be patient. The Lord never grieves us because lie likes to grieve us. "He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." There is a needs be for every sorrow. Lie still, brother; let the Good Shepherd clip as lie pleases; though He may cut very close to the skin, He is very pitiful, and would only rid thee of that which would harm thee.
2. The next lesson is, be penitent. Seek the Lord while lie may be found, call upon Him while He is near. lie welcomes all who repent; He is eager to forgive; delay no longer.
3. The last lesson is, be pitiful. If God be pitiful and of tender mercy, children of God, you are to imitate Him and to be pitiful too.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.