And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience;
To see a man rejoicing, notwithstanding his sufferings, in the good of his portion, were nothing remarkable; but his glorying even in the very evil itself, one would be disposed, in the ignorance of any other cause, to ascribe to mental derangement. Now, what is the light in which the gospel teaches us to regard the evils of life? When the apostle says, "We glory in tribulations," are we to understand that the evils of life, in place of being regarded as indications of God's displeasure, are really to be looked upon by all men as tokens of His love and favour? Not so, we conceive, by any means. Affliction, even when viewed in the light of the gospel by the unrepentant, though it may be looked upon by them as the doing of a God who still waits to be gracious, cannot, while their relation to God is unchanged, be regarded as so divested of its penal character that they can at all glory in it. The best fruits it can as yet yield to them is that sorrow which worketh repentance, and it is only when it operates thus that it operates aright. There is, then, manifestly just one class of men who on reasonable grounds can glory in their tribulations, and that is those who have already turned to God and found reconciliation — to them alone it is given to extract anything like the oil of gladness out of the bitter herbs of temporal suffering; and so it is that we here find glorying in tribulations ranked by the apostle among the privileges of the justified. And it is worthy of being remarked, too, that it is not the first in the enumeration — that first peace of conscience, and joyful hope of sharing the promised glory, must have resulted from justification before a man can bring himself to regard his tribulations as a ground of rejoicing. We would now call attention to the grounds of his so glorying, as here stated by him.
1. "Tribulation worketh patience." That patience, which is a Christian grace, is not mere mental composure in the midst of outward troubles, and fixedness of purpose when excited passion threatens to bear the spirit away from its firmest resolves, but it is all this from right religious views and principles. It is because the mind of a Christian is stayed upon God that it is kept calm and steady in the day of trouble. He has such confidence in the character of God, and has taken such a hold upon His promises, and understands, moreover, so well the design of His fatherly correction, that when affliction does come, instead of loosening his hold of God, it tends, on the contrary, to lead him to cleave to Him still more closely. It being granted, then, that tribulation worketh patience, what ground, it may be asked, has a man for rejoicing in tribulation because it so operates? The Christian is taught to regard the improvement of character — the having his mind and will brought into perfect conformity to the mind and will of God — as that above all things else to be desired by him. Any advance he can make in this way he looks upon as the greatest gain, not only on account of its present advantage, but especially because of its eternal recompense. Show him, then, that he has gained in character, that he has brought his will more nearly to coincide with the will of God, and he will be satisfied that he has cause to rejoice in the acquisition, whatever may bare been the sacrifice or suffering through which it was obtained. Now, how are such acquisitions made? First, we answer, by endeavouring, in the strength of Divine grace sought and relied on, to do the will of God, as made known in His holy commandments; and secondly, by endeavouring, through the same Divine aid, patiently to submit to God's will as made known in His providential dispensations.
2. But the patient enduring of tribulation not only tends to the improvement of a character, but it also serves to test the character and so to manifest its genuineness. And this is the meaning of the apostle when he says that patience worketh experience. When a man is put into the furnace of affliction and comes out unscathed, then he has the best evidence to conclude that they are genuine.
3. The value to the believer of this judgment of self-approval will fully appear when we consider that it worketh hope, even a hope that maketh not ashamed. The connection between a believer's judgment of self-approval and his hope of glory is very evident. The fact of his being a believer implies that he has faith in the unseen realities of the future world. He may believe this, however, without having any assured hope of being himself a partaker of the inheritance. He knows that it is promised to men of a certain character only; so it is clearly only when he has been enabled to pronounce judgment on himself favourably and decidedly that his hope of future glory will be brightened up into full assurance. He need not mourn though this earth be made darkness around him, who has the hope of heaven's glory to cheer him; and if it be in the dark night of sorrow that the light of heavenly hope is made to shine most brightly, he need not be impatient for the coming of the dawn. The apostle, to give confirmation to his argument and to show that the process by which this gladdening hope is extracted out of the believer's tribulations, is not one that is carried on independently of the aid of Divine grace, adds, "Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us." The Divine Spirit, by infusing love towards God into the believer's heart, gives him assured grounds to regard himself a child of God; and being assured of this, and knowing that on this point there is no delusion or self-deception, then he knows for certain that his hopes can never be disappointed — that be they ever so bright they shall be far more than realised.
Parallel VersesKJV: And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;