Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A striking passage on the subject of patience is James 5:1-11. After the apostle has warned the rich against fraudulently keeping back the wages of the laborers while they themselves lived in pleasure and wantonness, he writes, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receives the early and latter rains. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” This passage really brings together all the Scriptural teaching on the Christian virtue of patience. When elders and ministers call on the saints in hospitals and rest homes, they see this wonderful fruit of the Spirit almost every time they visit.
In the Old Testament we find patience mentioned only three times. It is a word whose root means to tarry or to wait. Most often the idea of patience is expressed in the Hebrew by the phrase “waiting on the Lord” (Ps. 37:1,Is. 25:9). In the New Testament there are especially two words: one means to be of long spirit, to persevere patiently, to bear the offenses and injuries of others, to be long suffering, to be slow to anger; the other emphasizes steadfastness, the endurance of trials, the patient waiting for the lifting of burdens. Patience is that virtue of the child of God whereby he willingly suffers persecution and hardship, without a thought of retaliation or rebellion, in the knowledge that all things are ordained-for his good, and every wrong he suffers will be avenged by God.
The child of God brings forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15); waits with patience for that which he sees not (Rom. 8:25); has need of patience (Heb. 10:36); runs with patience the race that is set before him (Heb. 12:1); understands that the trial of faith works patience, which is such a crowning virtue that if a man has it he is perfect and entire (James 1:4); marvels at the patience of Job (James 5:11); keeps the word of Christ’s patience (Rev. 3:10); patiently continues in well doing (Rom. 2:7); and patiently waits for Christ (II Thess. 3:5). In all this he walks in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who, “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (I Pet. 2:23).
God Himself is longsuffering. One of the Greek words noted above has the meaning “to suffer long,” and this is often predicated of God. The longsuffering of God is one of His adorable virtues in which the afflicted Christian finds comfort and refuge. (In Romans 15:5 we read of the patience of God. Patience is not set forth here as an attribute of God, but God is shown as the one who gives and works patience.) The longsuffering of God is that virtue of the Godhead according to which He wills the perfection of the elect in the way of their suffering and affliction, and wills all this suffering as the necessary means to their perfection. This explains why God does not immediately come to take vengeance on His and our enemies. Forbearing towards the vessels of His wrath, He suffers long over His precious, afflicted people. God is not slack concerning His promise, but is longsuffering to usward. He wills that none of the elect should perish, but that all of them shall come to repentance and faith (II Pet. 3:9). The longsuffering of God is salvation!
Let us return to that passage in James 5. The husbandman is God. He waits for the full harvest of the elect in the last day. As the farmer must wait for the sunshine and the rain, must put up with tares and thistles, so God suffers long in respect to the precious harvest. He does not bring the day of Jesus Christ prematurely, for then the harvest would not be full. Understanding this, the child of God is also patient unto the coming of the Lord. He is convinced that that coming draweth nigh. He believes the Lord of the harvest is in sovereign control of all things. Enduring, he is happy.
“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.”