“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. ”
It is not easy to be and to remain a friend of God!
It is much easier to be a friend of the world!
That’s what the epistle of James is all about!
If you are a friend of God, if you would walk in the midst of the world as His friend, you must expect that you will have to endure many trials. You will be beset by many temptations, and your faith will be tested. And when this happens, as it surely will, don’t let it discourage you and cause you to lose out of sight your relationship to God; but much rather let it be a matter which you consider a joyful experience, because God is working in you by His Spirit and grace that you may continue as His friend in the world, faithfully, unto the end.
That is the idea of the text!
Rejoicing in manifold temptations!
But isn’t it strange that we should be so exhorted? Is it not true that the very thought of temptation should bring sorrow to the heart of one who is a friend of God? What does James have in mind when he exhorts us to count it a matter of pure joy when we fall into divers temptations? What are these manifold temptations of which he speaks? Surely he cannot have in mind that we count it a matter of pure joy when we fall into sin, that we should rejoice when we fall for the enticement to, become friends of the world, that we give in to the lust and passions of a corrupt and evil nature which is always inclined to evil and which easily succumbs to the enticement to sin. Would not James then rather say: Count it a matter of intense sorrow of heart, my brethren, when ye fall for the temptation into sin? Indeed, he would! Surely then he would say: Repent, and turn from your evil way! One who is a friend of God never rejoices when he, being tempted, falls into sin!
Notice, however, James does not say, count it all joy when ye fall into sin; but, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations!
That is quite different!
These temptations are manifold, not so much because they are many in number, but rather that they are of various kinds.
Of them the world is full. And the brethren, the friends of God, are surrounded by them. The world as it develops in godlessness, and as it operates under the power of the prince of darkness, stands in enmity against God. It has also an intense hatred of all who would be the friends of God. And it also has a way of offering to them her friendship, if they will but become the enemies of God. It offers gifts, power, position, honor and glory; it will give you a livelihood for you and your family if you will but deny one of your principles. It will let you buy and sell, if you will only receive on your forehead or on your right hand the token of her friendship. She offers to provide you with culture and art, the benefits of science and invention, the treasures of her wisdom. She will take care of you when you are sick, and provide for you when you are old, — if — you will bow only one knee to her image, and keep quiet about your God. O, that world will go very far with you. It will allow you to worship your God if only you also worship in her temples. She does not want you necessarily to become atheistic; it’s perfectly all right to be religious, provided that you remain friendly to her and respect also her religion.
But that is not all!
These manifold temptations are such, that if you would maintain that you remain a friend of God, and have no friendship whatever with the world, then she will tempt you to leave your position by persecuting you to the death. She has the power to close your churches and schools. She can deny you the right to buy and sell. She can make you and your family to go hungry. She can put a sword to your throat, and put you on fiery crosses to burn you to death.
And don’t say, this is unthinkable in this day and age! Nor conclude that this may have been true in a more uncivilized age, but would not happen today!
It is precisely this that James has in mind when he speaks of divers temptations. And mark well, what James wrote some twenty centuries ago, yea, what God said then, is still true, and will be true until the end of the world. This is not an isolated passage of Scripture, applicable only to a certain age of martyrs; but all Scripture speaks, and prophetically so, —in the world ye shall have tribulation! The situation in James’ day will obtain also today, when you walk in the midst of the world as a friend of God.
Falling into divers temptations implies that you do not seek them. You do not go out into the world with the sickly, mystical, spiritual attitude that would foolishly tempt the world to bring temptations upon you. Rather, because you know your own weaknesses, and your natural inclination to seek the friendship of the world, you fear, and you pray: Father, in heaven, lead me not into temptation! You know that in your own strength you cannot remain standing for a moment. No, you do not go out looking for temptations. But the temptations come upon you and you are surrounded by them. Like the man who was on his way to Jericho, and fell among thieves, so the friends of God find themselves encompassed by manifold temptations. Not only does the world wait to pounce upon the friends of God, but God Himself leads us in His providence and grace in such ways that we are beset by divers temptations.
It is precisely because of this that we ought also to count it a matter of pure joy!
You see, God, our covenant Friend, has a way of making these temptations to work for our salvation!
It is not the intention of the Word of God here to leave us with the impression that it is a matter of joy when we fall into divers temptations. The, mere fact that the child of God falls into divers temptations can not of itself be a source of joy, — only of sorrow and pain.
Only when we know that the temptations are a trial of our faith, and that the trying of our faith works patience when it is perfected in us will make us perfect and entire, only then is the falling into divers temptations a matter of joy.
This joy, to which we are exhorted, is not a mere passing emotion which whelms up in our soul for a moment, and then fades away as the passing of a shadow or the lifting of a fog; it is not like the elation of Peter who, when invited by the Lord to walk on the water, rejoiced, but then lost his joy as soon as he saw the waves splashing against his legs. Rather, it is a joy which is founded upon the certain spiritual knowledge that temptations into which we are fallen are all under God’s control, and so wisely governed by Him that they must serve our salvation.
Counting and knowing go together, and in such a way that the latter is the result of the former.
When you count it all joy, you have looked at those temptations in their proper assessment. They are not merely traps set for you by the world to lead you away from God’s friendship, but they are ordered by God, our covenant Friend, to work for our good. Counting means to appreciate, place the proper assessment upon, to evaluate correctly the significance, to esteem it a matter of joy when we are surrounded by temptations; and so come to know that He makes the trial of faith to work.
In the temptations it is your faith that is being tested. Your faith which has been implanted in you as a gift of grace, is being activated by the temptations, so that its tried character comes to the fore, in order that God may approve of it.
That faith is sound, and is working well when it produces and works out patience.
Patience is that virtue, according to which we are able to bear up under the weight of the trials and testings. It is a virtue of grace which God gives to His people as the God of patience (Romans 15:5), but of which you never read in the Scripture that He exercises it. He is said to possess the attributes of longsuffering and forbearance, but not patience. This grace, however, He freely gives to His people, and tries them in such a way that their tried faith works out to the end this virtue of patience. And so, they possess a faith that endures, does not go down in the time of testing.
No wonder the child of God can rejoice with great joy when he falls into divers temptations! He knows by experience that the tried faith works out the grace of patience. He has a faith that has the ability to endure not only, but he sees that His God is with him in the trial, working in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Consequently also he is desirous that this patience may work itself out to the end, in order that he may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
How differently it all turns out for the children of God than the world planned!
The world with the prince of darkness planned through the temptations to make them its friends, no longer to be friends of God. And when this does not succeed, the world seeks to destroy them. It never seeks for their good, but always for their destruction.
But God, Who is rich in mercy, and who in His eternal love has in His counsel chosen them in Christ Jesus, by Whom also He redeemed them, and by His eternal counsel directs their path unto eternal glory, so that nothing comes to them by chance — He allows them to fall into divers temptations, in order that His work of grace in them may be perfected. This gives them abundant reason to joy even in the midst of manifold temptations.
Understand well, however, that this joy cannot be our experience when we do not heed the last part of the text.
But let patience have her perfect work!
It you would always experience the joy, based on the fact that you know your patience is the proof of an approved faith, your entire life and walk must be characterized by patience. In the measure your patience fails, in that measure you will not experience this joy. On the other hand, your joy will be full when you do not cease to be patient. If during the trial of your faith, you cease to be a friend of God and make friends with the world, you do not remain steadfast, and your joy is gone. So it ought not to be! Always, so we are exhorted, are we to be patient, that is, bear up under the weight of temptation, watch and pray, struggle constantly that we do not go down, — and the joy will also be constant.
And so, what James says further in the text, will also be true, — that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. That means simply that each moment and throughout our entire life we manifest ourselves as friends of God, and enemies of the world. It means that it becomes perfectly evident that we are the children of light, not of the darkness.
Impossible, you say? Where is the child of God, you ask, who always bears up under the seige of temptations, who never falls? Is not the Word of God replete with examples of the strongest saints who faltered in the way, you continue. Is it not true, you ask, that the very best of saints in this life have but a small beginning of new obedience? And you continue to ask: Was there not only One in respect to Whom it could be said that patience had her perfect work? And, Who, besides Him, would dare to say that he is entire, lacking in nothing?
And we must agree! Anyone who knows himself, knows also that he falls far short of what he ought to be. But be very sure that we do not hide behind this fact as an excuse to make friends with the world. He that would be a friend of the world must needs be an enemy of God! Rather, let this knowledge of our failures be the occasion for fleeing to the cross, confessing our sins and short-comings, pleading for more grace, that we may stand and fight the good fight of faith, faithfully unto the end.
So shall the Word of God in our text be realized in us!
Joy in the midst of manifold temptations!