Romans 5:3


The letters of St. Paul abound in strange and striking paradoxes. In another place he speaks of himself "as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Here he speaks of the Christian as "glorying in tribulation." He has been speaking of the effects of justification by faith, and ends by saying, "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (ver. 2). Our joy, however, is not confined to the future. True, there are cares and sorrows in this present life. But it does not therefore follow that we are to postpone all joy until we reach the spirit-land. "No!" says the apostle, boldly; "we glory even in our tribulations." The sorrows are there, 'tis true, but the light of the cross of Jesus transforms them with a glory all its own, even as the sunshine makes a rainbow of the shower. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby." Tribulation is a bitter tree, but look at the fruits which it is capable of yielding. "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope."

I. THE BITTER TREE. It is hardly necessary to speak of the bitterness of tribulation. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness." We all know something of what sorrow means, and how bitter it is.

1. There is the bitterness of bereavement. What agony of spirit when one who has been the light of your eyes, the joy and comfort of your home, is taken from you! What bitterness of sorrow is to be compared with the grief of parents for their children? How heart-rending is grief like David's, when he went up to the chamber over the gate, and as he went his sorrow overcame him, and he cried aloud, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" And so, when the Bible wants to picture grief of the intensest kind, it speaks of mourning as one mourneth for his only son, and being in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn (Zechariah 12:10). Parents who want to avoid the greatest of all grief, mourning over a child of whom they have no hope for eternity, should lose no opportunity of leading their children to the Saviour.

2. There is the bitterness of bodily suffering. Sleepless nights and weary days of tossing on a bed of sickness - how they tend to take the sunshine out of life! And then there are those trifling ailments, bodily infirmities, for which, perhaps, you get little sympathy, but which keep your body constantly feeble and your mind constantly depressed. It needs a Divine power to bear a life of constant pain. No human strength could stand it unaided without giving way to irritation or despondency. Even the Saviour of the world tasted how bitter is the cup of bodily suffering.

3. There is the bitterness of disappointment. Some cherished possession is taken away from you, some valuable property is lost, your earthly means of support take to themselves wings and flee away, some object on which you had set your heart is snatched away out of your reach, or some friend whom you had implicitly trusted suddenly proves treacherous and unfaithful. The feeling of disappointment which such circumstances produce was in Esau's mind when he came in to receive his father's blessing, and found that Jacob his brother had heartlessly supplanted him. "When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry." Life's disappointments - how much we all know about this kind of bitterness! Yes; tribulation is indeed a bitter tree.

II. ITS BLESSED FRUIT. Paul knew what he was talking about when he came to the subject of tribulation. He knew what persecution was. He knew what bodily suffering was. Five times he received thirty-nine stripes. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. Three times he suffered shipwreck. He had been "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness." He knew what danger was. He had been "in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren." He knew what disappointment was. Like his Master, he too was forsaken in his hour of need by those who made profession of being his friends. He tells us that at his first appearance before Caesar no man stood with him. But whatever his trials had been when he wrote this, or whatever trials may yet be in store for him, he looks upon them all with a calm and peaceful, nay, with an exultant mind. "We glory in tribulations also." He knew what blessed fruit could be plucked off that bitter tree.

1. First of all, there was patience. "Tribulation worketh patience." Patience means really the capacity for enduring. If we speak of a patient man, we may mean one who can endure delay, and we say that he can wait patiently; or we may mean one who can endure suffering, and we speak of him as suffering patiently. The connection, then, between suffering and patience it is easy to see. It is by suffering that one learns how to suffer, that is, to be patient. And if we go into practical experience, we are pretty certain to find that the most patient Christian is the one who has suffered most. He was not always thus. Perhaps at first he was like the rough unpolished block of marble which I have seen in the Connemara marble works at Galway. He was disposed to resist the hand that was dealing with him in chastening. But the suffering came. It was repeated over and over again, like the incessant process of rubbing to which that rough-looking block is subjected. But by-and-by he came out of the suffering with the edges rubbed off his temper and the rebelliousness taken out of his spirit, even as the marble comes smooth and shining from the hard process through which it has to pass. Such is the use of suffering, to purify, to brighten the character, and produce patience in the soul. Indeed, the word "tribulation" conveys this same idea. It is derived from the Latin word tribulum, the threshing-instrument whereby the Roman husbandman separated the corn from the husks. That process was described as tribulatio. So it is in the spiritual world. Suffering and sorrow cleanse away the chaff - the pride, the selfishness, the disobedience - which is to be found more or less in all our natures. Let us think more of the result of the suffering than of the suffering itself, more of the patience it will develop than of the chaff which it will take away, and then we too shall learn, with St. Paul, to "glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience.

2. The second blessed fruit off this bitter tree is experience. Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience." The word here translated "experience" really means in the original "proof," or "trial," or "testing." In the Revised Version it is translated "probation." This does not, perhaps, quite express the full meaning either; but the point is that the apostle had something more in his mind than what we ordinarily mean by the word "experience." His idea probably was that tribulation and our patience under it give proof or confirmation of two things. They afford. us proof of the character of God - his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, his love in sustaining us, and his power in giving us the victory over trial and suffering. And they afford us proof of our own character also - proof that we are the sons of God, proof that we have been justified by faith. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." And then there is the precious promise, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation [or, 'trial']: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." In such ways does God confirm us by suffering, and by our own patience under it. So he confirms our faith in him, and confirms our own Christian character. This is another blessed fruit off the bitter tree of tribulation.

3. The third blessed fruit off this bitter tree is hope. "And experience, hope." The proof which we have received of God's goodness under past trials leads us to hope for still greater revelations of his goodness yet to come. The proof we have had of his wise and gracious purpose in purifying us by trial and suffering leads us to hope that "he who hath began a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." So the Christian is ever looking forward. When he bears the cross, he is looking forward to the crown. When he is suffering for his Master's sake, he is looking forward to the time when he shall reign with him in glory. This subject of tribulation and its fruit might fittingly he. closed with some lines written by a young lady in Nova Scotia, who was an invalid for many years-

"My life is a wearisome journey;
I am sick of the dust and the heat
The rays of the sun beat upon me;
The briars are wounding my feet;
But the city to which I am going
Will more than my trials repay;
All the toils of the road will seem nothing
When I get to the end of the way.

"There are so many hills to climb upward,
I often am longing for rest;
But he who appoints me my pathway
Knows just what is needful and best.
I know in his Word he has promised
That my strength shall be as my day;
And the toils of the road will seem nothing
When I get to the end of the way.

"He loves me too well to forsake me,
Or give me one trial too much:
All his people have dearly been purchased,
And Satan can never claim such.
By-and-by I shall see him and praise him
In the city of unending day;
And the toils of the road will seem nothing
When I get to the end of the way.

"Though now I am footsore and weary,
I shall rest when I'm safely at home;
I know I'll receive a glad welcome,
For the Saviour himself has said, 'Come:
So when I am weary in body,
And sinking in spirit, I say,
All the toils of the road will seem nothing
When I get to the end of the way.

"Cooling fountains are there for the thirsty;
There are cordials for those who are faint;
There are robes that are whiter and purer
Than any that fancy can paint.
Then I'll try to press hopefully onward,
Thinking often through each weary day,
The toils of the read will seem nothing
When I get to the end of the way." We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope. - C.H.I.







And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also.
I. Tribulation gives rise to PATIENCE, coming from a verb which signifies "to keep good under" (a burden, blows, etc.) , and might be rendered "endurance."

II. Endurance, in its turn, worketh EXPERIENCE — the state of a force or virtue which has stood trials. This force, issuing victorious from the conflict, is undoubtedly the faith of the Christian, the worth of which he has now proved by experience. It is a weapon of which henceforth he knows the value. The word frequently denotes the proved Christian, the man who has shown what he is (cf. Romans 14:18), and the opposite (1 Corinthians 10:27).

III. When, finally, the believer has thus experienced the Divine force with which faith fills him in the midst of suffering, he feels his HOPE rise. Nothing which can happen to him in the future any longer affrights him. The prospect of glory opens up to him nearer and more brilliant. How many Christians have declared that they never knew the gladness of faith or lively hope till they gained it by tribulation! With this word the apostle has returned to the end of ver. 2; and as there are deceitful hopes, he adds that this, "the hope of glory," runs no risk of being falsified by the event.

(Prof. Godet.)

The text may be treated —

I. ANALOGICALLY.

1. Sore was the tribulation which came upon the disciples as they thought upon Christ's death and burial. But after a little patience and experience, their hope revived; for their Lord arose. After that hope had been begotten in them, the Holy Spirit's Divine influence was shed abroad upon them. They were not ashamed of their hope, but fearlessly proclaimed Jesus, their hope of glory.

2. History repeats itself. The history of our Lord is the foreshadowing of the experience of all His people. First comes our tribulation, our cross-bearing. Out of our patience and experience there arises in due season a blessed hope: we are quickened by our Lord's resurrection life, and come forth from our sorrow. Then we enjoy our Pentecost: "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost." Consequent upon that visitation our hope becomes clear and assured, and we are led to make a full outspoken testimony.

II. EXPERIMENTALLY. Here is a little map of the inner life. This passage can only be fully understood by those who have had it written in capital letters on their own hearts.

1. "Tribulation worketh patience." Naturally it worketh impatience, and impatience misses the fruit of experience, and sours into hopelessness. When the heart is renewed by the Holy Spirit, but not till then, tribulation worketh patience. Angels cannot exhibit patience, since they are not capable of suffering. Job did not learn it in prosperity, but when he sat among the ashes and his heart was heavy. Patience is a pearl which is only found in the deep seas of affliction; and only grace can find it, bring it to the surface, and adorn the neck of faith therewith.

2. This patience worketh in us experience: i.e., the more we endure, the more we test the faithfulness of God, the more we prove His love, and the more we perceive His wisdom. He that hath never endured may believe in the sustaining power of grace, but he has never had experience of it. You must put to sea to know the skill of the Divine Pilot, and be buffeted with tempest before you can know His power over winds and waves. What better wealth can a man have than to be rich in experience?

3. Experience works hops, How wonderfully does Divine alchemy fetch fine gold out of baser metal. The Lord in His grace spreads a couch for His own on the threshing floor of tribulation, and there we take our rest. He sets to music the roar of the water floods of trouble. Out of the foam of the sea of sorrow He causeth to arise the bright spirit of hope that maketh not ashamed.

III. DOCTRINALLY. The text is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. "The love of God (the Father) is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength...Christ died for the ungodly." Behold the blessed Three in One! It needs the Trinity to make a Christian, to cheer a Christian, to complete a Christian, to create in a Christian the hope of glory. We have Divine love bestowed by the Father, made manifest in the death of the Son, and shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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.

(A. Stewart.)

Let us —

I. EXPOUND THE TEXT.

1. "We glory in tribulations," i.e. (see Hebrews 10:33), refers specifically to persecutions. We know how Paul himself was exposed to these. It was no easy thing to be a Christian in those early times. Our English word means to thresh corn with flails. Methinks that if the same flails were used now upon the threshing floors of Christian profession, we should very speedily know how much chaff, and how little wheat, is now heaped up there. But we need not limit the term to tribulations of that class. Afflictions may overtake us in many other forms. We may lose our health, our wealth, our friends, our domestic comfort and peace. Yet in these tribulations, as Christians, we "glory," for we believe them to be sent or permitted of God to promote our good (Hebrews 12:5-15).

2. "Tribulation worketh patience." It does so, of course, only when received in submissiveness and faith. On the ungodly it generally produces the contrary effect.(1) The simplest idea of patience is that of passive continuance, as when we read of patiently waiting for the object of hope.(2) A higher degree of self-control, or a power to govern our tempers in provocation (Ecclesiastes 7:8, 9).(3) Another notion is that of fortitude, or strong resistance against a pressure of adversity (James 1:3).(4) But its crowning excellence is that it can do more than resist; it can overbear opposition and go on its way rejoicing. It is the same thing as perseverance (Hebrews 12:1). blow as tribulation works patience, we may well glory in it, for it is a good thing to be patient. By patience we are kept from ignoble sloth, children are converted into noble heroes, we are roused to new life and energy, and grow up from puny infancy to the full stature of the perfect man in Christ. The forest trees grow stronger the more they are beat upon by the tempest; your stalwart rowers pull harder just as they feel the current bearing more steadily against them; and the exposed warrior gets most inured to the battle and the breeze.

3. "And patience, experience." The radical idea is that of testing or trying metal, to ascertain its purity. Patience gives us proof of —(1) Our own sincerity and genuineness. You may imagine yourself converted, and be the subject of joyful feeling; but is all this real? The answer is got by the experiment of tribulation (Mark 4:16, 17).(2) The limited power of our adversaries. The young Christian, like the young voyager, is soon frightened by the tempest, but the experienced saint, like the veteran sailor, has discovered that the waves are not so mighty as they seem, and that the winds only hurry the vessel faster on its course.(3) Jehovah's faithfulness (Psalm 18:16-18, 29; Habakkuk 3:17-19; 2 Corinthians 12:5-9).

4. "And experience, hope." Hope was mentioned before as the result of faith; here it is the fruit of experience. Each is the same in its nature and object; but it is reached by two distinct processes. First, our hope is based simply and nakedly on the declaration and promise of God (ver. 1; Psalm 119:49, 50). But the hope of the text, while it rests upon the same word, also rests upon out experience of what the Lord has done for our souls. This has the double effect of satisfying us that we are the subjects of grace, and therefore those to whom the promise belongs; and also of convincing us, from what we have actually received, that God "is faithful who hath promised, who also will do it."

5. This assured hope suffers us not to be ashamed, even in the midst of suffering and reproach.

II. APPLY THE TEXT. It supplies —

1. A test of faithfulness. How do you deal with troubles? Do you meet them with fretfulness and impatience, or in a spirit of stoical pride or stolid indifference? If not, do you, as God's children, bear them patiently and triumph in them? From experience, does hope spring? and does that hope make you bold in confessing Christ? Is the love of God shed abroad in your breast?

2. A lesson of wisdom. If our hearts are set on worldly things, then plainly we can have no delight in tribulations. Let us, then, study the nature and the worth of moral excellence and religious attainments. It were surely better for us to get the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, than to compass every object of earthly ambition.

3. A lesson of patience and trust. You know, as a child of God, that affliction is given you from above, that it is all ordered in wisdom, and superintended by infinite love. Therefore, be patient and hope unto the end. God will remove the crucible as soon as the liquid metal reflects His glorious image from its unsullied surface. Affliction is to God's children what the shepherd's dog is to the flock, which barks at the outsiders and drives the wanderers home again. Or it is the lapidary's grindstone, whereby the most costly gems are rounded and polished.

4. Some solemn thoughts for the unconverted.(1) Do you persecute the righteous? What you do against them will redound to their greater reward. It must, however, injure you.(2) What effect has trouble upon you? You cannot avoid it, any more than can the godly.(3) Whether in sickness or health, you have not the love of God in your heart. One wonders how you can live without it. And certainly you will find it hard to die without it.

(T. G. Horton.)

It is joy, when between the millstones crushed like an olive, to yield nothing but the oil of thankfulness; when bruised beneath the flail of tribulation, still to lose nothing but the chaff, and to yield to God the precious grain of entire submissiveness. Why, this is a little heaven upon earth. To glory in tribulations also, this is a high degree of up-climbing towards the likeness of our Lord. Perhaps the usual communions which we have with our Beloved, though exceeding precious, will never equal those which we enjoy when we have to break through thorns and briars to be at Him; when we follow Him into the wilderness then we feel the love of our espousals to be doubly sweet. It is a joyous thing when in the midst of mournful circumstances, we yet feel that we cannot mourn, because the Bridegroom is with us. Blessed is the man who in the most terrible storm is driven in not from his God, but even rides upon the crest of the lofty billows nearer towards heaven. Such happiness is the Christian's lot. I do not say that every Christian possesses it, but I am sure that every Christian ought to do so. There is a highway to heaven, and all in it are safe; but in the middle of that road there is a special way, an inner path, and all who walk therein are happy as well as safe.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

"Not only so." The apostle has been speaking of the priceless advantages that flow from justification, peace, access into grace, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. Surely there is sufficient here "to pay" a man for becoming a Christian. But, "not only so." This "not only so" is the Christian's peculiar privilege. Make the most copious enumeration you will, and there will be a "not only so." "O the depth of the riches!" Note —

I. THE STRANGE FACT OF OUR TEXT.

1. Though a modest man, Paul was greatly given to "glorying." And in his grounds we can generally justify him. We are not surprised that he should boast of himself. And there is leave for any man to do so who has good reason, provided it be done in the spirit of the apostle. We are not surprised that he should boast of the churches. Above all we are not surprised at his boast in the Cross, that grand symbol of the world's redemption. But that he should "glory in tribulations also" must seem somewhat strange to the generality of men who regard them as distressing. You could understand him if he were speaking of the halls of mirth, of the pomp of palaces. He might reasonably glory in such things.

2. But the explanation is to be found in no defective mental or moral organisation. These are not the words of a madman speaking at random; nor of some hare-brained youth who goes through life saying "I don't care"; nor of a stoic whose false philosophy teaches him to despise alike the good and the ills of life. No, never was a nature more sensitive than Paul's. He does not mean that he gloried in the midst of his tribulations, notwithstanding his tribulations, treating them as matters of no account and even of contempt. They were the very ground of his glorying. Nor was his glorying mistaken. Our tribulations are but the instruments of the Lord of the harvest for purifying our souls. The uses of our griefs are Divine, and this must not only reconcile us to them, but enable us to glory in them. You see the strength of the apostle's argument, He has got God, Therefore he has got all and can glory in all. Can connect a thing with God, whatever guise it wear, is at once to make it an angel.

II. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS STRANGE FACT. He justifies his assertion by setting forth the gradations by which tribulation works the highest good.

1. Tribulation worketh patience, or "endurance." The more a Christian suffers in a Christian spirit, the greater capacity does he discover for endurance. So that his very afflictions become their own anodyne.

2. "Patience worketh experience." The word signifies —(1) Proof; patient endurance of suffering proves a man's spiritual mettle. The furnace must declare whether a man's religion is gilt or gold. A parrot might be taught to say "Thy will be done." How will the man behave when every earthly comfort is withdrawn?(2) Approbation. God sends tribulation first that it may test, and then, that He may say to us, "Well done!"

3. "Experience, or approval, worketh hope." These tribulations drive us to the anticipation of another world. While sunny skies are over our head we think only of the present, but an overcast heaven sends our thoughts into the future. And hope maketh not ashamed. We sometimes see men with rueful countenances coming away from the door of a quondam friend. "Ah! I did hope that man was my friend," is the exclamation. "But he has put my hope to shame." Men never come away like that from God's door. There is nothing like experience to fortify faith.

4. "Because God's love is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost." God's love, as the active principle in the heart, is the angel presence that banishes all impatience, all fear. The God I love sends my tribulations. Therefore will I glory even in tribulations. Only love can interpret the mysteries of God. I will close with a picture (Revelation 7:9-14). Thus tribulation is the gateway of heaven.

(J. Halsey.)

The apostle sets before us a ladder like to that which Jacob saw, the foot whereof resteth upon the earth, but the top ascendeth to heaven. Tribulation is the foot, but we mount as we see that it worketh patience; and we climb again, for patience worketh experience; and we ascend yet once again, for experience sustaineth hope; and hope that maketh not ashamed climbs up to the very heart of God, and the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. I might compare these verses to those songs of degrees which were sung by the people as they went up to the temple: as they halted at each stage of the pilgrimage, they sang a fresh psalm, and so David said, "They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." The pilgrim setteth out from the dull and desolate vale of tribulation, he journeys on to patience and lifts up his psalm under the shadow of the rock; he removes his tent and journeys on to experience beneath its wells and palm trees he refreshes himself; soon he marches on again from experience to hope, and never stayeth till the love of God is shed abroad in his heart, and he has reached the New Jerusalem, where he worships the ever blessed God and drinks full draughts of His eternal love.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

It is rough work that polishes. Look at the pebbles on the shore. Far inland where some arm of the sea thrusts itself deep into the bosom of the land, and expanding into a salt loch, lies girdled by the mountains, sheltered from the storms that agitate the deep, the pebbles on the beach are rough, not beautiful; angular, not rounded. It is where long white lines of breakers roar, and the rattling shingle is rolled about the strand, that its pebbles are rounded and polished. As in nature, as in the arts, so in grace; it is the rough treatment that gives souls as well as stones their lustre. The more the diamond is cut the brighter it sparkles; and in what seems hard dealing, their Lord has no end in view but to perfect His people's graces. He afflicts not willingly; He sends tribulation to work patience, so that patience may work experience and experience hope.

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

We should brave trouble as the New England boy braves winter. The school is a mile away over the snowy hill, yet he lingers not by the fire; but with his books slung over his shoulder, and his cap tied closely under his chin, be sets out to face the storm. And when he reaches the topmost ridge, where the powdered snow lies in drifts, and the north wind comes keen and biting, does he shrink and cower down beneath the fences, or run into the nearest house to warm himself? No: he buttons up his coat, and rejoices to defy the blast, and tosses the snow wreaths with his foot; and so erect and fearless, with strong heart and ruddy cheek, he goes on to his place at school.

(H. W. Beecher.)

Our afflictions are like weights, and have a tendency to bow us to the dust, but there is a way of arranging weights by means of wheels and pulleys, so that they will even lift us up. Grace, by its matchless art, has often turned the heaviest of our trials into occasions for heavenly joy. "We glory in tribulations also." We gather honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

1. It is no uncommon thing amongst us, for a man, sprung from the lowest grade of society, to rise, by the mere force of industry and intelligence, to a level with the high born and the noble; but he would show himself unworthy of his success and elevation, were he ashamed of his mean parentage. On the other hand, it has a very graceful look when he shows no wish to hide, but rather a desire to display, the meanness of his parentage; when, e.g., amidst the gorgeous decorations of his mansion he places conspicuously the picture of some cottage, or some weather-beaten rustic, and says to his admiring guests in a tone of honest satisfaction — "In that cottage was I born," or, "That was my father."

2. And we are assuming the fact that what is brilliant is only the more brilliant when traced to its lowly origin, when we think that our text is of more than common interest. For what so glorious as Christian hope? And our text traces it back through its immediate ancestry, and stops — where? At what is lofty, radiant, attractive? Nay, at tribulation. Nor is he ashamed of that ancestry; for he "glories in tribulation." We shall find it profitable and interesting to trace the struggles of hope; for they are like the struggles of a family raising itself by successive steps, till it has exchanged a mean for a dignified position. Let us examine —

I. HOW THE ONE IS DEPENDENT ON THE OTHER. Remember that St. Paul speaks only of those who bear tribulation as Christians, who receive it as appointed them by God. With them —

1. "Tribulation worketh patience!" There is nothing else which can work it. Whilst things are all going smoothly it is difficult for him to ascertain whether we have patience or not. We can only know ourselves as to any particular quality, as God shall put that quality to proof. Courage must be tested by danger, virtue by temptation, constancy by solicitation. And further, the trial is adapted to develop and strengthen it. Courage grows by exposure to danger, virtue is confirmed by every victory over temptation, and constancy acquires steadfastness as it resists a solicitation. And all this is particularly true in regard of patience. It is beautiful to observe how persons who, by nature, were fretful, have been disciplined into patience through affliction. It is not necessary that an individual should be patient as a man, in order to be patient as a Christian; on the contrary, grace works its choicest specimens out of the most unpromising material. But patience is wrought out, not by tribulation in itself, but by tribulation bringing the Christian to reflection and to prayer. Therefore does the Christian "glory in tribulation," even if he had to stop here. He knows that patience is required as one of the chief fruits of the Spirit, a main evidence of meetness for the heavenly inheritance; shall he be ashamed of the adversity whence he hath acquired so choice a grace?

2. Patience worketh experience. The putting something to the proof; in this case the ascertaining the precise worth, verity and power of the consolations and promises of God. "Tribulation worketh patience," in that suffering brings the Christian into an attitude of submission; but when he has been schooled into resignation, he is not left without heavenly visitations. God "allures him into the wilderness," but only that He may "speak comfortably to him, giving him the valley of Achor for a door of hope." Promises, whose beauty can be but faintly apprehended so long as there is no pressing need of their accomplishment, come home to the heart in an hour of trouble patiently endured, as if they were made on purpose for such emergencies. Here then, is already a noble elevation. From tribulation we have passed through patience and experience; the man has become his own evidence to the truth of Scripture, to the Divinity of Christianity, to the sufficiency of the gospel. No longer obliged to solicit external testimony, he has "tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious." "Experience" is a vast advance upon "patience"; and we may look to find in the next generation all the honour and brightness of Christian nobility. Such, indeed, is the case, for "experience worketh hope." How naturally does the one spring from the other! He in whom patience has wrought experience is one who, having put promises to the proof, has found them made good, and thereby proved to be of God. Surely now he who has tried the chart, and found it correct so far as he has had the power of trying it, has the best ground for relying on that chart with regard to ports which he has never yet entered. Accordingly you will find the righteous dwelling on their experience, and deriving from it their confidence. "Thou hast been my help" — there is the experience; "in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice" — there is the hope. It is the same with St. Paul. "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." Then what immediately follows? "The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom." The one assertion is that of experience — the next is that of hope. Experience is a book in which there should be daily entries, and to which there should be daily reference. If we do not register our mercies, or if we never recount them, they are not likely to throw light upon coming events. He must be grateful for the past, who would be hopeful for the future. Answers to prayer, what encouragements to prayer! Promises fulfilled, what arguments for expecting their fulfilment! Mercies bestowed, what grounds for confidence that mercies will not be withheld! And thus it is that hope, the splendid, the beautiful grace — hope, with the stately step and the soaring wing — hope, whose special province it is to people the future with a brightness which compensates for all that may be gloomy in the present — hope, which makes the smile of health play around the couch of sickness — lights up the prison with the flash of liberty, pours abundance into the lap of poverty, and crowds the very grave with the burning processions of immortality — hope traces itself back to tribulation, like the coronet of the noble, whose ancestry may be found among the poor and the despised.

II. THE APOSTLE'S ENCOMIUM ON HOPE.

1. Is not hope commonly spoken of as most delusive? Does not poetry love to liken it to some bright meteor, which beguiles the traveller, leading him into danger, and then leaving him in darkness? Gather the character of hope from men of the world, and she is but an enchantress, whose spells are so soothing, and whispers so soft, that having cheated us a hundred times, we are nevertheless willing to be cheated again.

2. But Christian "hope maketh not ashamed." It paints no vision which shall not be more than realised; it points to no inheritance which shall not be reached. How should it make ashamed, when it altogether rests itself upon Christ, who is "not ashamed to call us brethren?" This is the secret of its difference from every other hope; Christ is the source and the centre of our hope — Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yea, and in Him amen; and if Christ can deceive us, then, but not otherwise, may hope make ashamed. Therefore is it that the apostle elsewhere speaks of hope, in one place as an anchor, in another a helmet. He gives it attributes which fit it for the storms or the battle.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

I. A COMMON EVIL. "Tribulation." Men's tribulations are various.

1. Bodily.

2. Mental.

3. Social.

II. AN UNCOMMON RESULT. In the case of most tribulation worketh irritation, hostility, conflicting passions. But in the case of the Christly man it worketh patience, which does not mean —

1. Insensibility. Some are praised for their patience who should be denounced for their stoicism.

2. Weakness. Some are praised for their patience who lack the capacity of strong feeling. Patience implies exquisite sensibility, and the highest power: the power of reflection and of self-control.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

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