But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
In the New Testament" patience," in almost every case, has a reference to what has to be endured or suffered rather than to what has to be accomplished. Nor is this to be wondered at. The first age of Christianity was an age of labour, but it was more conspicuously an age of endurance. Since that age Christianity has become a conquering religion as well as a suffering religion. The spirit of patience takes a wider range now; and instead of meaning endurance under suffering, it takes in all the difficulties which come in the way of well-doing, and embraces all that might come under the word "perseverance." Let me notice some points in the nature of the Christian life which demand this spirit of patience or perseverance.
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD SNARES, WITH ALL THE WORKS OF GOD, THE CHARACTER OF GROWTH and those who are fellow-workers with Him must accept the laws and conditions of His kingdom, and must, perhaps, wait long. I need hardly dwell on this fact of the growth of the kingdom of God. Take any single element of the character of a good man, or of a Church, or of a nation, and you see how impossible it is that it should all at once attain to perfection. Time, experience, are necessary. And perhaps the greater the virtue is, and the greater the work to be done, the slower will be the growth. It is so in the natural world, where the strongest tree, or the most sagacious and vigorous animal, comes to maturity after many years of slow growth. Civilisation is slow of growth; art, learning, high character in races and in individuals, all are of slow growth; but slower still is the development of religion, of high Christian virtue and character, whether in men or nations. What has strengthened the Christian graces of good men, their wisdom, their faith, their charity, their spirit of watchfulness, their faithfulness? Was it not the daily struggle against evil, the daily need of resorting to God for help, the falling back upon great eternal truths in the heart? If a man had all he wanted at the outset, he might, after a long life, be worse off than when he began. Certainly he would be deficient in many good qualities, and his inner character would be less complete. In countries where the inhabitants can live without labour, civilisation makes no advance; they have all they need, and in vain do you ask them to put forth efforts to rise higher in knowledge or in skill. But not less is the training of the soul in what is spiritual the fruit of opposition and hindrance. The hardest thing in the world is to do good, to chase away the prejudices and the errors and the bad habits which have taken root in the world. If a man could accomplish all this as by the magic wand, would he himself be as good a man as if he had been obliged to reach his end by the long laborious process of thinking and revising his thoughts, restraining his spirit, looking in upon himself, and upward to the Source of all purity and wisdom? Christ prepared His followers for all this. By His parables, by His life, by His death, He taught His disciples that opposition, defeat, and apparent destruction were, or might be, parts of the history of His Church, and that the harvest might only be reaped after long ages of waiting. This growth — so slow, so uncertain in outward appearance, so often advancing when it seems to have ceased, this growth of the kingdom of God in the individual — calls for a spirit of patience on the part of those who belong to the kingdom of God.
II. PATIENCE IN THE WORK OF GOD IS NECESSARY BECAUSE IT IS NO PART OF THE CONDITION OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE TO SEE RESULTS. Results of some sort we ask to see, and results of some sort we do see; but the full sum of our labours it may require more than one generation to see. The man of clear judgment and pure feeling will doubtless, before his career is ended, enjoy the sight of many persons who have caught his spirit and character. But even that reward comes by patience. I do not speak of the individual only, I speak of the Church and of the world.
III. THE SPIRIT OF PATIENCE IN CHRISTIAN WORK AND DUTY IS THE ONLY SPIRIT WHICH REALLY APPREHENDS THE RIGHT CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. The spirit of patience is not measured by the reward or the result. The whole essence Of Christianity is a contest with what is evil and wrong. It is presumptuous, and in the highest degree unbelieving, in us to say, "I shall not take part in this tremendous conflict until I know what is to come out of it, and what good is to be done." The essential impulse of the Christian spirit is to set itself of the side of what is right and pure and true, irrespective of the issue. I know there are amongst us cases where, again and again, there has arisen, as if prompted by stern necessity, the suggestion that some work on behalf of an individual, or a class of individuals, may as well be thrown up. It comes to nothing. Is there any use doing more? What do you mean? The struggle is not a contest for one individual or for many; it represents the whole question of the supremacy of good or evil, the whole question of our faith in God, the whole question of our hope in the destiny of man. But the question may well arise in every heart, "What right have I to ask that all my plans and purposes shall succeed, or that any one of them shall?" Where do we see universal success free from mischance? In what region of nature do we find gain without loss, progress without decay? Everywhere we see a capacity for life and growth cut short and perish. We never, see in other cases what we so rigorously demand in our own. And what are we, it may well be said, what are we that an exception should be made on our behalf, and that we should never encounter disappointment and failure?
(A. Watson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.