“And not only so, but we glory in tribulation also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
And patience experience; and experience, hope:
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
Justification, that is, our justification before God—that is the theme on which the apostle speaks in the context.
Most marvelous and gracious truth!
It means that we, who in ourselves are ungodly and totally depraved sinners and therefore worthy to be cast into everlasting destruction in hell, are nevertheless declared by God to be perfectly innocent, as though we had never transgressed any of God’s commandments and had fulfilled all that He had required of us.
Justified we are before God by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Beautiful Saviour, and complete Mediator!
Who was delivered unto the torments of hell because of our offenses; and who was raised from the dead as evidence that He had fulfilled all righteousness for us. So that our justification was accomplished in His death, and attested to in His glorious resurrection.
This grace we received out of faith, that wonderful gift of God to all His own, whereby we are united to Christ in Whom is all our salvation, and whereby we are given that certain knowledge and hearty confidence that all our sin and guilt is gone forever, and we are assured that in God’s sight we stand as those who never sinned, and had always fulfilled all righteousness.
As a fruit of this justification the apostle mentions two things: first, we have peace with God. The war that existed between the Holy God and us the rebellious sinners is ceased, and the state of blessed harmony now is established. They who were enemies now are mutual friends. Secondly, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And this means not only that we expect to see the glorious God, but more particularly that we shall dwell forever in the glory which He prepares for us. This glory is the object of our hope in which we now rejoice.
But will not that hope of glory become dim and even fade away when tribulation comes? Tribulation, which includes not only the sufferings of this present time but also especially the tribulation that will come to us because we are the justified children of God, will it not bedim the eye of hope of glory?
This question the apostle answers in the words of our text.
Not only do we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, but we glory also in tribulation.
Glorying in tribulation? How can that be? Has the apostle failed to understand the awful implications of tribulation? Is the apostle perhaps making light of the fact that Jesus said: In the world ye shall have tribulation? To glory in tribulation is to rejoice in the fact that in the present world, and especially as the world runs to its end, we are bound to bear intense suffering.
Strange boasting, indeed!
For, as we already suggested, tribulation includes not only all the suffering that is rampant in our world as a result of man’s falling into sin and death, but especially the suffering which is to be imposed upon the children of God because they are united to Jesus by a living faith. As the word for tribulation in the original suggests, tribulation is a pressing together, a squeezing that is caused by pressure from without. For those who can understand the Holland language, the word “benauwd” or “benauwdheid” drastically demonstrates what tribulation implies. It means to be so squeezed or pressed together that you cannot breathe. It means to be so oppressed that you despair of life. Anxiety is so great that the breath of your life is taken from you. Such is the idea of tribulation.
True it is that the children of God experience tribulation in the form of the sufferings of this present time which is common to men. From the cradle to the grave the sicknesses and pains, the diseases and consequent sufferings of the flesh fall on the children of God. They too lie upon beds of affliction, sometimes for many years, until life is pressed out of them and the frail tent in which they dwell collapses, and they are carried to their graves. The children of God are not exempt from these sufferings which are common to men, and sometimes it may appear that the Lord metes out more to them than the children of the world. The writer to the Hebrews notes that He does this in His love: for whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.
But the apostle evidently has in mind more particularly the tribulations that are imposed on the children of God by the wicked world. That world seeks to destroy the church and to deny the people of God their very life in the world. They are persecuted and killed all the day long.
Prophetically the Scriptures everywhere predict that as time runs to its end these tribulations will increase in their intensity. Under such tribulation, it is predicted, the believers will not be able to buy or sell, and their very lives may be required of them. So intense shall be their suffering that if God did not shorten the days the very elect of (God would be lost, for it shall be humanly impossible to endure. In the measure that the believer lets his light shine in the darkness, so shall his tribulation be.
Now in that tribulation, the apostle says, we glory.
Strange rejoicing, indeed?
Utterly inconceivable it is to think of anyone who would, rejoice in. suffering and tribulation as an experience, unless it would be one who belonged to some heathenish tribe which prided itself in being able to endure pain. We have heard, for example, of the American Indian, who sought to gain the leadership of his tribe by enduring more pain than others among his people. But this is utterly abnormal. No man, be he saint or sinner, rejoices in suffering naturally. Nor does the apostle have this in mind. The apostle is not looking at the tribulation as such, but he has in mind the result of tribulation. And tribulation has results because it works. Therefore rejoicing in tribulation is not strange at all.
It is a well-founded rejoicing!
We know, says the apostle, that tribulation works. And he goes on to show how and unto what it works.
First of all, tribulation we know worketh patience. Patience is a spiritual fruit of grace. It is not a natural quality, common to men. Though the natural man under trying circumstances may set his face as steel, stoically feign that he is insensitive to pain, this is nothing more than silent rebellion, indifferent submission, which ends up in the proud boast that he, in distinction from others, is able to endure. Patience, on the other hand, is a grace, peculiar to the children of God, according to which they are enabled to bear up under the burden of suffering because they are wholly subjected to the will of God in their lives. Not only is this grace in evidence when the child of God is called to endure the sufferings of this present time, but also this grace shines forth when he is required to suffer tribulation for Christ’s sake. Then the patient know that all things work for good, and with this confidence they persevere to the end. Tribulation works out to the end.
Secondly, we know that patience too works—it works experience, or, better translated, triedness, approvedness. The latter refers to the state of having been tried and found to be true, genuine.
And thirdly, the apostle says, we know that triedness or approvedness works hope. Hope is expectancy of and longing for the fulfillment of the promise of the glory of God. There is no doubt in hope as the Bible speaks of it. When man speaks of hope there is in that speech always an element of doubt. When we say, for example, that we hope to do this or that, we imply that we are not sure we will do it. Something may happen that may make the doing impossible. But the Word of God speaking of, hope has in mind something that is absolutely sure and certain.
So it becomes abundantly clear that tribulation cannot rob us of our hope, but it accomplishes the very opposite—it strengthens and quickens our hope. So, too, it becomes evident that our rejoicing in tribulation has a solid basis. It rests not on feeling, or fickle emotion, but on the certain knowledge of faith.
We know, says the apostle, that tribulation works. And it works because God works in the tribulation in us. He it is that causes tribulation to work out in our lives the grace of patience. He causes the grace of patience to work out in our experience approvedness, so that we know we stand before God as the objects of His approval. He makes the approvedness to establish within our breasts the grace of hope. Fact of the matter is, the more we suffer the tribulation the more our hope of glory flourishes.
Our knowledge therefore is not merely theoretical, something we learn about through instruction, but it is the knowledge of experience. Through the experience we understand God works in us the hope of glory.
And that hope, the apostle says, maketh not ashamed.
And that means our rejoicing in the hope of glory is not something which in the end brings us to disappointment. Not so is it that we rejoice in vain when we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Positively it means we shall have that for which we hope.
How terrible that would be were we at last to be ashamed!
Imagine, boasting in the hope of glory, and then even boasting in tribulation because we know that tribulation works to bring us to that glory—and then when we expect to enter into the perfection of that glory, there would be none! What a disillusionment that would be! Not only would God’s promise of eternal glory fail, but all our suffering in tribulation would be vain, good for nothing.
But so it will never be!
We shall never be ashamed!
And why are we so certain of this? Not only because the hope is real. Not only because we are assured that tribulation works to bring us to that glory. But to this the apostle adds: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which He has given us.
Not our love for Him, but His love for us!
O, indeed, we love Him, but only because He first loved us. And His love became manifested when He gave His Only Begotten Son unto the death of the cross for us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and thereby brought about our justification before God. In His glorious resurrection He attested to our complete innocence. In His love He has chosen us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, has justified us, called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, sanctifies us, and will glorify us. And that love He now sheds abroad in our hearts when the Spirit of Christ takes up His abode within us.
The apostle, so it appears, already anticipates what he is going to say about this love when he would come to the eighth chapter, of this epistle. From it we can never be separated. Neither life nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Love, that spiritual bond of perfection, shall remain intact in us, and never let us go, not even in the darkest hour of tribulation.
Therefore we shall never come to shame, to utter disappointment, when we hope for glory. And therefore we also glory in tribulation because we experience how it works to bring us to that glory.
Never shall we be ashamed!
Forever we shall bathe in the perfections God has prepared for all His children in Christ Jesus our Lord, and which now in principle He works in our heart through the Holy Spirit He has given us.
So also God shall be glorified when He shall behold in us all His perfections!