You have heard of the patience of Job.
And perhaps you thought, “Oh, that Job, he was quite a man! Imagine, when all those calamities fell upon him, he did not sin or charge God foolishly. Quite a man! But don’t expect me to be like Job! Such patience is too high for me.” Nowhere do the Scriptures ever leave the impression that the Christian virtues are true of some children of God but not of others. Rather the emphasis is that every child of God, no matter what his station, may and must demonstrate all the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven, all the virtues of faith. The reason being that “everyone who believes, being members of Christ, are in common partakers of Him, and of all His riches and gifts.” (The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21) Christ is not divided; those who are grafted into Him by a true faith have all the riches that are in Him, without exception.
“Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” Thus speaks James to all the brethren.
Two words, never used interchangeably but quite closely related in meaning, are translated “patience” in our Bibles. The one has the idea of enduring under a heavy load, of staying under, of bearing with perseverance. This term is used without exception when the agent of affliction is an event or circumstance: sickness, bereavement, poverty, loneliness, disappointments, trials. When James calls to our mind the patience of Job, he carefully uses this term, for Job needed a power that would allow him to bear up under the heavy loss of possessions and family. The other term has the literal meaning of being of a long mind, of holding on to one’s temper. Patience then is the long holding in of fierceness, wrath, and vengeance. This word is found in Scripture when the agent of suffering is a person or persons. Hence, James uses this second word when he exhorts patience in James 5:7,, speaking to the reapers whose wages have been withheld by the rich, greedy landowners. Richard Trench in his Synonyms of the New Testament sums up the distinction between the two. terms translated patience this way: “The manmakrothumei, who has to do with injurious persons, does not suffer himself easily to be provoked by them, or to blaze up into anger. The man hupomenei, who under a great siege of trials, bears up, and does not lose heart or courage.”
We can visualize a man without patience; perhaps our visualization is so accurate because this man is ourselves. When we must live with daily pain, experience one disappointment after another, or suffer grievous trials as workmen, parents, and saints, how attractive it would seem to throw everything over! Simply refuse to continue with that heavy load. Ask the question, “Why? Why me?” Or when men speak evil of us, take advantage of us, fail to recognize our true value, how natural to speak out, answering reviling with reviling. To take hold of things so we make right the master of might and get what’s coming to us.
Brethren . . . brethren . . . be patient! Look to the husbandman, the farmer, who plows and sows, then waits for the precious fruit of the earth. He doesn’t receive a crop tomorrow or next week. With long patience he waits for the early and latter rain. So it is in the realm of the spiritual. There will be many experiences along the way that cause suffering and sorrow, but the way of patience must be followed to the end, if there is to be fruit. By patience we possess our souls; without it we lose them. Through patience and faith we inherit the promises; without it the rich, warm promises of God are dead, meaningless words.
Although it may seem that we have every reason to throw up our hands in refusal to continue, yet the steady emphasis of the Word is that we stay where we are and work!
“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
“. . . To them who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life . . . .”
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
“I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.”
The question is, Why must we bring forth fruit, continue in well doing, run the race that is set before us? Generally, of course, the answer is that we have been placed on this earth to work as children of light that our Father in heaven may be glorified, and that others by our good works may be gained to Christ. Specifically, these works must be performed in patience because patience is the only atmosphere in which a child of God can ever bring them forth! Patience is the spiritual resistance of the soul!
There are many dangers that surround the physical body, dangers that would cause weakness and death. Through proper diet and sufficient rest the body develops a resistance to the bacteria that fill the air and cover our food. When these enemies of life and health seek to invade the body, they are met as by an army that refuses to let them get a foothold. And how we take care that our natural resistance is kept high! Well, the life of the soul, the inner man of Christ, is also constantly under attack by all the forces of sin. These powers of darkness would paralyze the life of faith and cause the man of Christ to wither’ up and die, in order that the old man of sin might accomplish his deeds. The resistance that the child of God has, hard-won by Christ, is patience! This alone will enable him to continue in those things God has given him to do. But if this spiritual resistance is broken, then we easily cave in to all kinds of things. And if patience is gone, something else fills its place. If nature deplores a vacuum, so too does spiritual life. Then comes selfish concern, then rushes in covetousness, then are we filled with earthly affairs and materialism. Where patience is gone, there is no desire to battle against sin and walk in personal sanctification. There is no daily concern for the covenant welfare of our children; there is no manful desire to keep, at all costs, the preaching of the Holy Gospel pure.
Peter says, “Resist stedfast in the faith!” James says, “Be patient, brethren!” They are the same thing.
It may seem to us that patience is hardly an answer at all. What we really need is a program of forceful action that will right some wrongs. Besides, patience seems to be such a weak, passive characteristic. How can it ever accomplish great things? Of course, we are not speaking of a natural characteristic of a man, according to which he allows himself to be mistreated and be the butt of unkind words. We are speaking of an amazing virtue that is ours in Christ! Patience’s power may be seen, first of all, when we consider that this is one of God’s own virtues. If we come back to the figure of the husbandman (James 5:7) we can note that the husbandman is really God, Who is gathering the harvest of the elect Church in Jesus Christ. And God waits for the early and latter rains. That is, God endures many things; He allows various tempests to come upon His people. He does not come prematurely in order to deliver His people out of them, but He is patient. Otherwise the harvest will not be full. The theological term for this attribute of God is His longsuffering. Our covenant God suffers long, even while His beloved sheep are afflicted in this world. He longs to come with a mighty deliverance that would put His people forever above the raging of evil men, but He waits! He Who knows the end from the beginning waits until the harvest is full! This is the meaning of the oft-misunderstood passage, II Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
The second reason why patience is strong to suffice is that patience understands that there is a better way out of the present affliction than following the way of sin and evil, or than caving in to every sinful whim. What patience understands is that the Lord comes! The certainty of that fact allows the child of God to wait while abstaining from evil. Again, hear the Word:
“But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”
“And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.”
“Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”
The Lord comes, and His reward is with Him. Paul tells us what the Lord shall find. Those who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—they shall be given wrath, tribulation and anguish. But those who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality—they shall be, given eternal life!
Our cries enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. The Judge standeth at the door. He catches our tears in the bottle of remembrance. He sees and knows! They that faint not, they shall reap.