a submissive will
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (1:4)
A third means to perseverance in trials is a submissive will. The only way out of a trial is through it. The Lord promises no bypasses, only that He always will see His people through the trials without their suffering spiritual harm. But God cannot do His perfect and complete work in and through us without our willing submissiveness. When we learn to rejoice in our trials and come to understand that our gracious heavenly Father uses them not to harm us but to strengthen and perfect us, we are motivated to embrace them as beneficial.
Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, declared wisely, “As for me, I would seek God, and I would place my cause before God; who does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number. He gives rain on the earth and sends water on the fields, so that He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (Job 5:8–11).
David testified in prayer, “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me” (Ps. 131:1–2). David had grown and matured through the troubles and afflictions he already had endured, from a nursing infant, as it were, to a newly weaned child. But he continued to stay intimate with the Lord, just as the weaned child continues to cling to his mother.
Perfect is from teleios, which does not connote moral or spiritual perfection, or sinlessness, but rather refers to that which is fully developed. Later in this letter James clearly acknowledges that “we all stumble in many ways” (3:2; cf. 1 John 1:10). The word is therefore better rendered “mature,” referring to spiritual maturity fulfilled in Christlikeness, which is the goal of endurance and perseverance. “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect,” Paul says, “have this attitude” (Phil. 3:15), referring to our commitment “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). Paul beautifully expresses the concept of spiritual maturity in his letter to believers in Galatia, whom he describes as “my children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19, emphasis added).
Complete translates a form of holoklēros, which carries the idea of being whole, entire. The prefix holo is the term from which we get holograph, a 360-degree, three-dimensional depiction of an object. To allow no possibility for misunderstanding, James adds lacking in nothing, reinforcing the comprehensiveness of his point. That is the end result of trials: maturity, completeness, not lacking in anything of spiritual importance and value. “After you have suffered for a little while,” Peter assures us, “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10).
Moab was a pagan nation southeast of Israel, of whom Jeremiah wrote: “Moab has been at ease since his youth; he has also been undisturbed on his lees, neither has he been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavor, and his aroma has not changed” (Jer. 48:11). Good wine had to be repeatedly “emptied from vessel to vessel” in order for it to become sweet and drinkable. In that process, the lees, or dregs, would remain in the bottom of each vessel, until, after several pourings and settlings, the wine was pure and clear. Jeremiah’s point was that Moab’s undisturbed, untested life had left its people unpurified. That was also Esau’s problem. He cared nothing for the things of God, being content with satisfying only his physical appetites. He was immoral and godless, selling “his own birthright for a single meal” (Heb. 12:16).
But David writes assuringly:
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. (Ps. 37:7–11)
Apart from the unique ordeal that Jesus endured on the cross, perhaps the severest trial faced by any human being was that of Abraham when called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Lord commanded, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). Abraham had several reasons for being completely astounded by God’s demand. Not only was Isaac his greatly beloved son but was the only son by Sarah and therefore the son of God’s promise, through whom “all the families of the earth [were to] be blessed” (Gen. 12:3; cf. 17:1–8, 19–21; 18:10–14).
From the human perspective, the death of Isaac would clearly prevent the promise from being fulfilled and would therefore nullify the covenant. Not only that, but human sacrifice was utterly pagan, the antithesis of everything Abraham knew of the holy and just God he served. And, as if to add unutterable cruelty, Abraham was to kill Isaac by his own hand, though God’s law forbade it. Every aspect of God’s demand was inconceivable. If ever the Lord commanded one of His saints to do something that justified an argument, or at the very least a careful explanation, this was that command. But Abraham made no argument and asked for no explanation. As already noted, no instance of willing submission to the Lord except that of Jesus to His Father could exceed Abraham’s on that occasion.
Without hesitation, resentment, or question, Abraham made the necessary preparations, began the journey at first light the next day, and continued carrying out the Lord’s orders until the moment the Lord intervened, saying, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen. 22:12). Although he had earlier told Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8), Abraham was about to plunge the knife into Isaac’s heart when no animal was in sight. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham “considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Heb. 11:19).
But whatever Abraham’s human understanding may have been, we have God’s own testimony that “by faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son” (v. 17, emphasis added). Abraham did not count on there being a way out; he counted only on God’s righteousness, faithfulness, and power to raise the dead, which he believed God would do to keep His covenant (see Heb. 11:17–19). And because of the unreserved and unconditional faith to which Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son testified, God counted him righteous (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6). No wonder, then, that he became “the father of all who believe” (Rom. 4:11; cf. v. 16; Gal. 3:7), and that “those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer” (Gal. 3:9).
Although we will never be tested in the way or to the extreme that Abraham was tested, we nevertheless can be certain of having tests. Our Lord assures us that “in the world [we will] have tribulation” (John 16:33), and even more explicitly that “ ‘a slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (15:20). Reflecting that truth, the Puritan theologian John Trapp wrote, “One son God hath without sin, but none without sorrow” (cited in I. D. E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977], 11).
4 In 1:4 James describes this aspect of Christian character as the ultimate purpose for enduring under difficulties: “And let endurance have [its] perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (NASB). It is certainly a temptation to jettison endurance, to attempt to escape the path of difficulty. James, however, exhorts the reader to remain in the posture of endurance until the “perfect result” is attained. Perfection here, rather than speaking simply of a sinless state, refers to a maturity of character, “a full-blown character of stable righteousness,” which “is the virtue of the righteous man” (Davids, 70). Through endurance under trials, therefore, we “pick up” those aspects of Christian character that can be had through no other means, and we gain a stability spiritually that can withstand the storms of life.
Therefore, James 1:2–4 challenges believers undergoing trials to consider their difficulties from the vantage point of the spiritual payoff of the experience. Such trials may be embraced with joy, therefore, not by relishing the trial itself but rather by seeing the greater effect as one learns to endure in such circumstances. Neither is the act of enduring in and of itself the ultimate goal. Instead, the path of endurance leads to a place of well-rounded Christian character, a place where we do not lack the necessary equipment for facing the variety of difficulties we are bound to experience in this life.
1:4 If the messianic Jewish community meets its tests with a genuine faith, it will be stable and faithful to its vocation. Endurance itself will lead the messianic believer to “maturity”: “and let58 endurance have its full effect so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” There is an emphasis here on personal or communal responsibility: James urges the community to permit “endurance” to do what it is designed by God to do by consciously being aware of what the test of faith entails and letting that entailment come into fruition. James does not explain how this occurs, but only that it is to occur. He assumes responsibility on the part of humans, as he will make clear in 1:13–15 as well.
Endurance has the splendid capacity (“full effect”) to produce maturation, or moral perfection. A more literal translation, which would reveal the special catchword style James is using, would be “let endurance do its maturing/perfect work so that you may be mature/perfect.” The Greek term teleios (“mature” or “perfect”) has played mind games with Christians for two millennia, and the following need to be kept in mind:62 First, James does not adhere to a sense of universal Christian sinlessness since 3:2 says, in the context of verbal sins, “all of us make many mistakes.” Second, the sins dealt with in James are sufficient to indicate that he sees evidence of them in the community (e.g., 1:19–21, 22–25, 26; 2:1–13, 14–17; 3:1–12, 14–16; 4:1–6, 11–17; 5:1–6, 15). But, third, James believes the messianic Jewish community should strive for a maturity level where verbal sins do not occur (3:2: “Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect [teleios]”) and where violence is not manifested (1:19–21). Perfection for James is not just eschatological or an inner orientation toward God but concretely behavioral. Fourth, teleios can be used of both God (Jas 1:17; Matt 5:48) and humans (Jas 1:4; 3:2; Matt 19:21; Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 11:3). Fifth, Paul refers to a group of people to whom teleios applies (1 Cor 2:6), and this spiritual group have God’s Spirit (vv. 6–16; cf. also Phil 3:15; Col 4:12). The same is seen in Hebrews 5:14. In addition, there is a sense in which teleios describes the eschaton (1 Cor 13:10; cf. Eph 4:13; Col 1:28). All of this derives in some measure from the Hebrew word tamim or “completeness” (see Gen 6:9; 17:1; Deut 18:13) of devotion to God or relationship with God.
For James, as we try to put this together, we may safely conclude that he believes the messianic Jewish community is to strive for a level of morality (character and behavior) where particular forms of sin are not manifested and that this morality derives from a perfect God, who gives perfect gifts, not least of which is new birth (1:18), and from a royal, perfect Torah, so that the messianic community can be noted for its Torah observance. Such an understanding of perfection is Jewish67 and at the same time consistent with Jesus (Matt 5:48; 19:21), with the Pauline notion of “living in the Spirit” (Gal 5:13–26; cf. also Phil 3:15; Col 1:28; 4:12; 1 Cor 14:20), with the Johannine notion of “walking in the light” (1 John 1:5–7; 2:9–11; 3:9), and with the notion of “perfection” in Hebrews (5:14). What James says, therefore, is neither unusual for the messianic community nor something to be explained away as left over from his Torah observance past, but neither should we radicalize it to the point of seeing sinlessness spoken of here.
When “endurance” works itself out properly in the messianic Jewish community, it will be “mature” (or “perfect”), and such maturity is defined as “complete, lacking in nothing.” To be “complete” (holoklēros) means to be intact, undefiled, undamaged—like a stone that has not been chiseled (Deut 27:6), “complete justice” (Wis 15:3), or a healthy body (Acts 3:16). Thus, a teleios is someone who is also completely sound. Such a person therefore lacks nothing—and this in a comprehensive rather than exhaustive sense.
James will now proceed, with “lacking” as a catchword, to make sure that one virtue not lacking is “wisdom” (1:5; the catchword will return in 2:15).
1:4 / Perseverance, however, is not a passive, teeth-gritting virtue, but a development in which the character is firmed up and shaped around the central commitment to Christ. It does not happen overnight, for it is a process. The process needs to finish its work, or “have its complete effect,” for it is the shaping of the whole person that is at issue. One must be careful not to short-circuit it: to pull the metal out of the fire too soon, to abort the developing child, to resist the schooling—to use three metaphors often used to describe the process. James does not see a single end to the process, such as the development of love as a super-virtue (Rom. 13:8; 2 Pet. 1:6) or the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:6; Rom. 6:22)—although he would have certainly approved of such—for the goal is far more global. The person is formed, not just partly or simply morally, but totally, as a whole being, and is thus to be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
In speaking of the person as perfect James is not thinking of sinless perfection but is probably referring to a concept like that found in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The concept is that of a commitment to the command of God in all its depth and radicality, a commitment that calls anything less than total obedience sin and repents and seeks forgiveness, a commitment that, rather than reducing the word to the cultural “pagan” standard of the world, seeks to be shaped and formed by it. In other words, James is referring to mature Christian character: It is mature in that it is well developed; it is complete in that every virtue and insight is in place; it is not lacking anything, but mirrors Christ. This is what adversity should produce in the Christian if he or she will allow it. But it is not a passive process; the believer has to permit this to happen. There is an imperative involved (a better translation might be “allow perseverance to finish its work”). It is possible to short-circuit the process and thus not to develop properly and to live through the suffering in vain.
4. But let patience have her perfect work. As boldness and courage often appear in us and soon fail, he therefore requires perseverance. “Real patience,” he says, “is that which endures to the end.” For work here means the effort, not only to overcome in one contest, but to persevere through life. This perfection may also be referred to the sincerity of the soul, that men ought willingly and not feignedly to submit to God; but as the word work is added, I prefer to explain it of constancy. For there are many, as we have said, who shew at first an heroic greatness, and shortly after grow weary and faint. He therefore bids those who would be perfect and entire, to persevere to the end.
But what he means by these two words, he afterwards explains, of those who fail not, or become not wearied: for they, who being overcome as to patience, are broken down, must, by degrees, be necessarily weakened, and at length wholly fail.
4. Both Paul and Peter imply an almost ‘automatic’ process by which trials lead to hope and security. James, typically, interrupts the ‘process’ with a command. Believers are to let steadfastness have its full effect. The full effect (lit. ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ work—ergon teleion) has been variously understood as the culmination of the endurance itself (lxx), the ‘full and proper fruits’ endurance should produce (Ropes), or the perfection and wholeness of Christian character as described in the last part of the verse. Probably the last of these should be accepted: mature Christians are the end-product of testing. The word hina (‘in order that’) introduces a description of the ‘full effect’ as well as the ultimate purpose of trials. To be perfect and complete is the state that should result from a genuinely Christian response to trials. The perfection or wholeness of the Christian is a basic concern of James. He constantly stresses the need for a wholehearted, unreserved commitment to God and his will and highlights ‘double-mindedness’ as a root sin.
The word perfect (teleios) links the two parts of this verse: the ‘perfect’ work is the ‘perfect Christian’. In what does this perfection consist? Some give the term the idea of ‘maturity’, or ‘completeness’, and suggest that this virtue is attainable in this life. It is doubtful whether the term can be ‘softened’ in this way, however. Elsewhere James uses the adjective of God’s gift (1:17), of the ‘law of liberty’ (1:25) and of the man who is capable of ‘bridling his tongue’ (3:2). In each case ‘perfection’, not just ‘maturity’, appears to be connoted. The goal specified in verse 4b, then, is an eschatological gift—something towards which the Christian is constantly to strive with all his power, but which will not in fact be attained until the culmination of the new age of salvation. Only then will Christians lack nothing in their panoply of virtues.
Ver. 4. Let patience have her perfect work.—
The perfect work of patience:—We can all attain to a certain amount of proficiency at most things we attempt; but there are few who have patience to go on to perfection. Even in reference to things that we like, such as amusements, we are impatient. What is wanted to make even a good cricketer is, that patience should have its perfect work. “The gift of continuance”—that is what so many of us want. As a rule, the time required for the production of an effect measures the value of that effect. The things that can be developed quickly are of less value than those which require longer time. You can weed a garden or build a house in a much shorter time than you can educate a mind or build up a soul. The training of our reasoning faculties requires a longer time than the training of our hands. And moral qualities, being higher than intellectual, make an even greater demand upon the patience of their cultivator. Love, joy, peace, faith, gentleness, goodness, truth-fulness—with what perseverance in the diligent use of God’s grace are these acquired! And this patience which we ought to have with ourselves, ought surely to be extended towards others—“Be patient towards all men.” It need not surprise us that we cannot make others what we would like them to be, since we cannot make ourselves as we wish to be. Parents are often unreasonably impatient about the intellectual and moral development of their children. Those who labour for the elevation of the masses must have that faith and patience which work where results cannot be seen. If we may say so without irreverence, we would say that we must let patience have its perfect work in our thoughts about the government of God. In our impatience we wonder why He should be so tolerant of the thorns upon which we have to tread, instead of taking them away and strewing our path with rose-leaves. God sees that these thorns are better for us than rose-leaves. The way most persons accept misfortune is the greatest misfortune of all; while nothing is a misfortune if patience be allowed to have its perfect work. In the top room of one of the houses of a miserable court, which I know well, there lives an old woman crippled and deformed in every joint by chronic rheumatism. Listen! She speaks of her gratitude. For what? Because with the assistance of a knitting-needle and her thumb, the only joint that will move, she can turn over the leaves of her Bible. (E. J. Hardy, M.A.)
Patience under afflictions:—If we consider the condition of those Jews to whom the apostle directs this Epistle, we shall find that as they were a dispersed, so they were an afflicted and persecuted people. To these dispersed and distressed Christians, the apostle directs this his Epistle, and exhorts them, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (ver. 2)—that is, when ye fall into divers tribulations; for by temptations here he means not the inward assaults of the devil, but the outward assaults of his instruments. A strange command, one would think, to bid them rejoice at such a time and in such circumstances as these! Now, in this are included two things, which should mightily further their joy. 1. That all their sufferings are for the trial of their faith. God by these tries whether your faith be well-grounded and saving, or whether it be only temporary and flitting: He tries whether it be weak or strong; whether it be able to support itself upon a promise, or wants the crutches of sense and visible enjoyments to bear it up; whether it be a faith that is wrought in you only by conviction, or a faith that hath wrought in you a thorough conversion; whether it be a faith wrought in you only by evidence of the truth, or a faith that is accompanied with a sincere love of the truth. And, therefore, rejoice in your afflictions: for these will help you to determine this important question. Certainly that Christian hath great reason to suspect himself who cannot rejoice that he is going to heaven, though God sends a fiery chariot to fetch him. 2. This trial of their faith worketh patience. The more a Christian bears, the more he is enabled to bear; his nerves and his sinews knit and grow strong under his burdens. And therefore also “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” If thy sorrows add any degree of fortitude to thy patience, thou hast far more reason to rejoice than to repine; for nothing in this present life is to be accounted good or evil, but only as it respects the advantage or disadvantage which our graces receive by it. “Let patience have her perfect work,” and then you shall have cause to rejoice. Let her go on to finish what is begun; and then shall ye “be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” It is not enough that ye can bear some afflictions, and that only for some time; but if you will be perfect, as you must do the whole will of God, and that with constancy unto the end, so you must suffer the whole will of God, and put no earlier period to your patience than to your obedience. Patience ought not to prescribe, either to the kind, measure, or degree of our sufferings. From the words we may observe these two prepositions—1. That a Christian’s patience ought to accomplish all the work that is proper for it while he lies under afflictions: “Let patience have her perfect work.” 2. That the perfection of patience is the perfection of a Christian: “That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” And herein I shall prosecute this method.
- What is this patience which a Christian ought to exercise and accomplish when he is under sufferings? It is a grace of God’s Spirit wrought in the heart of a true Christian, whereby he is sweetly inclined quietly and willingly to submit to whatsoever the Lord shall think fit to lay upon him; calming all the passions which are apt to rise up in him against God’s dispensations, with the acknowledgment of His infinite sovereignty, wisdom, justice, and mercy, in those afflictions which He is pleased to bring upon him. Negatively. 1. Patience is not a stoical apathy, or a senseless stupidity, under the hand of God. It is no narcotic virtue, to stupify us and take away the sense and feeling of afflictions. If it had any such opiate quality in it, it were not commendable; for that is no suffering which is not felt. And those who are stupified under the hand of God, and who take no notice of His judgments, are no more to be accounted patient than a block is when it is hewn and cut. Nay, patience is so far from taking away the sense of sufferings, that it rather quickens it. There is no man that more feels an affliction than a Christian doth; for he refers his chastisements to his deserts. 2. Patience doth not stifle all modest complaints and moderate sorrow. A patient Christian may well be allowed this vent for his grief to work out at. Grace never destroys, but only regulates and corrects nature. It will permit thee to shed tears, so long as they run clear, and the course of them doth not stir up the mud of thy sinful passions and violent affections. And, again, a patient Christian may make use of all the doleful signs of sorrow which God hath allowed and nature exacts, and yet his spirit not be moved beyond its due temper and consistency; like a tree whose boughs are agitated by every gust and storm of wind, when yet the root remains unmoved in the earth. 3. Patience doth not oblige us to continue under afflictions when we may lawfully and warrantably release ourselves from them. It doth not require us to solicit troubles. It is a sign of a vitiated palate if our physic taste not somewhat unpleasing to us; and of an obstinate mind if we be not careful to shun the discipline of the rod. If God bring sore, and perhaps mortal, diseases upon thee, it is not patience, but presumption, to refuse the means which are proper for thy recovery, under pretence that thou art willing to bear whatsoever it pleaseth God to lay upon thee. 4. Much less doth patience oblige us to invite sufferings. It is fortitude enough if we manfully stand their shock when they assault us; but it is temerity to provoke and challenge them. Neither is it patience to bear those invented severities which blind devotionalists inflict upon themselves: they may soon enough lash themselves into pain, but never into patience; this is a virtue which thongs and whipcord can never teach them. And thus I have showed you what patience is not. Positively. In patience there must be—1. A quiet, willing submission to the hand of God. 2. A quieting of our unruly passions. A calming of all those impetuous storms which are apt to arise in a man’s heart when he is under any heavy sufferings. 3. All this must be done upon right grounds. Indeed, there is a natural patience—a patience that may be found in natural men devoid of true grace—which proceeds only upon natural and moral principles: as, that it is folly to strive against fate, and that it is equally folly to torment ourselves about what we can help. And thus we see what this grace of patience is.
- What is the proper work of patience. 1. The first work of patience is the quieting and composing the spirit of the afflicted. He is calm within, though his outward condition be full of storms Acts 20:24). 2. Another work of patience is to put a stop to all immoderate complaints. 3. Another work of patience under sufferings is self-resignation to the sovereign will and disposal of Almighty God. And there be two notable ingredients which go to the composition of it—self-denial and submission. (1) Patience works the soul to a self-denying frame and temper. Fretfulness and impatience do always proceed from self-love. Across lies very heavy upon a selfish man. And he that makes this world his all, must needs look upon himself as utterly ruined if God take from him that wherein he placeth his highest felicity; and therefore no wonder if he break out into passionate exclamations. But a truly patient soul puts a lower estimate upon these things; he values them, indeed, as comforts, but not as his chief good, otherwise he would have no patience in sustaining the loss of them. Yet still be looks not upon himself as undone; still he hath his God and his Christ, and his grace left. God doth but deny him that wherein he hath learned to deny himself. (2) As patience works the soul to a self-denying, so it does likewise to a submissive frame and temper. When it hath brought a man to renounce his own will, it then resolves him into the will of God. The will of His precept He hath made known unto us by His Word, and to that we ought to submit our wills by a cheerful performance of what He hath commanded. The will of His purpose He makes known unto us by His providence; and to that we ought to submit, by a quiet bearing of whatsoever He shall see goo to inflict. Christ is willing not to have His own will, and so every patient Christian brings his will to this submission; that it is his will, that not his, but God’s will should be fulfilled. 4. Another work of patience is a holy endearing of our afflictions to us; when it bring us to account them precious, as choice mercies bestowed upon us. Patience will make the soul thankful for corrections, esteeming it a token of God’s special regard and condescension that He will vouchsafe to afflict us. We are all prone to think that God never minds us, but when He is continually heaping new mercies upon us; and if any calamity befall us, we presently fear that. God hath forgotten us; but patience teacheth a Christian to believe that in every affliction God doth most particularly regard our concerns; that He is as mindful of us when He chastises as when He favours us. And therefore we should account afflictions as dear a pledge of God’s love as prosperity. And as weeds grow fastest in a fat and rank soil, so our corruptions thrive and are ready to overrun our souls when our outward condition is most prosperous; and therefore God’s love and care of us constrain Him sometimes to use severe discipline. 5. Another work of patience is the reconciling of a man to the instruments of his sufferings, to make him willing to forgive them himself, and to pray to God for their pardon, who is far more offended by them than we can be. 6. Another work of patience is to obstruct all dishonourable or unlawful ways of deliverance from those sufferings under which we lie. Patience will not suffer a man to accept of deliverance if he cannot free the honour of God and the purity of his own conscience from stain, as well as his outward man from trouble.
III. When it is that patience hath its perfect work. 1. Patience hath, then, its perfect work when it is proportionable to the sufferings and afflictions under which we lie, and that both in duration and fortitude. And therefore—(1) If thy afflictions and sorrows be of long continuance, thy patience, that it may be perfect, must be prolonged. If thy patience wear off one day before thy trouble doth, it hath not its perfect work. Now, then, O Christian I look upon thyself as a traveller, and make account that whatsoever burden God is pleased to lay upon thee, He may perhaps not take it off till thou comest to thy inn, to take up thy lodging in the grave. (2) Sometimes our sorrows and sufferings are very deep, our burdens very heavy and pressing; and God may give thee a deep draft of the bitter cup, and squeeze into it the very quintessence of wormwood. Now, in this case, that thy patience may be perfect, it must be strong, as well as lasting; it must have sinews in it, to bear weighty burdens (Prov. 24:10). 2. That our patience may be perfect, it must be proportionable also to the need of the sufferer. For then hath patience its perfect work, when a man bears whatsoever is necessary for him. Now, both the cure and thy patience are then perfect when, of a proud and high-minded person, He hath brought thee to an humble and meek spirit; when, of a worldly and self-seeking person, He hath made thee a public-spirited and self-denying Christian; when, of a drowsy and secure, He hath made thee a vigilant, zealous, and active Christian. 3. That thy patience may be per-feet, it must be a joyful patience.
- That which remains is to enforce upon you this exhortation of the apostle. 1. For the motives to patience, they are many and powerful. And such, indeed, they had need be, to persuade our fretful natures to the exercise of so hard a grace. Yet grace can work those wonders which nature cannot. And there be several considerations that will tend mightily to hush all the disturbances of our spirits, under all our sorrows and sufferings. (1) That there is nothing more necessary for a Christian, in the whole conduct of his life, than the work and exercise of patience (Heb. 10:36). And this especial necessity of patience will appear, if we consider that our whole life is but a scene of sorrows and troubles. Consider that patience is necessary to alleviate and lighten the afflictions we suffer. The same burden shall not, by this means, have the same weight in it. There is a certain skill in taking up our load upon us to make it sit easy; whereas others, that take it up untowardly, find it most cumbersome. Let the very same affliction befall two persons—the one a patient, meek, and self-resigning soul; the other a proud, fretful wretch, that repines every disappointment—and with how much more ease shall the one bear it than the other! The burden is the very same; but only the one is sound and whole, and it doth not wring nor pinch him; but the other’s impatience hath galled him, and every burden is more intolerable to him, because it lies upon a raw and sore spirit. It is not so much the wearing as the striving with our yoke that galls us; and as it is with beasts caught in a snare, so is it with impatient men—the more they struggle, the faster they draw the knot, and make their sufferings more uneasy and their escape more impossible. (2) Another motive to patience may be to consider who is the Author and Inflicter of all the sufferings which thou undergoest. Consider that God is the absolute and uncontrollable Sovereign of all the world. Consider that God is not only our Sovereign, but He is our Proprietor. Consider the relation wherein God stands unto thee. Consider, again, that it is an infinitely wise God that afflicts thee; and, therefore, thou mayest well acquiesce in His providences. All thy sorrows are chosen out for thee by that God who doth inflict them. He knows the just proportion of what thou art to undergo. He is the Wise Physician, that knows what ingredients, and what quantities of each, are fittest for thee to take. He knows and considers the events and the consequences of things, which are hid in a profound obscurity from us short-sighted creatures. Possibly He intends the greatest mercy when He brings the sorest trials upon thee. Consider God is a faithful God. To this let me add one consideration more concerning God; and that is, that He is the God of Patience (Rom. 15:5). And that, not only as He is the God that requires patience from us; not only as He is the God that gives patience to us; not only as He is the God that doth own and crown patience in us; but as He is the God that doth Himself exercise infinite patience towards us. He bears more from us than we can possibly bear from Him. (3) Consider what thou hast deserved. And this will be a most unanswerable argument for patience under what thou feelest. (4) A fourth motive to patience may be the consideration of the great benefits and advantages that accrue to us by afflictions (Heb. 12:11). As the ploughing up of a field seems utterly to spoil the beauty of it, when its smoothness and verdure are turned into rough and unsightly furrows, and all its herbs and flowers buried under deformed clods of earth; but yet, afterwards, in the days of harvest, when the fields laugh and sing for joy, when the furrows stand thick with corn and look like a boundless sea and inundation of plenty, they yield an incomparable delight to the eyes of the beholders and welcome sheaves into the bosom of the reapers; so when God ploughs up any of His children, it may seem a strange method of His husbandry thus to deform the flourishing of their present condition; but yet, afterwards, when the seed which He casts into these furrows is sprung up, both the wisdom and goodness of Divine Providence will be made apparent in thus converting a barren prosperity into a more fruitful adversity. Improvements and advantages that we may make of our afflictions. As they are the exercises of our graces, so they keep them lively and active. Exercise, you know, though it weary the body for the present, yet conduceth to its health and soundness. Afflictions are the soul’s exercise, by which God keeps our graces in breath, which else would languish and be choked up, Indeed, experience and custom facilitate all things, and make that very easy which before we accounted difficult. All birds when they are first put into their cage fly wildly up and down, and beat themselves against their little prison, but within two or three days sit quietly upon their perch and sing their usual notes. So it fares with us. When God first brings us into straits, we wildly flutter up and down, and beat and tire ourselves with striving to get free; but at length custom and experience will make our narrow confinement spacious enough for us; and though our feet should be in the stocks, yet shall we, with the apostles, be able even there to sing praises to our God. Another advantage of afflictions is this: that they are physic to the soul, to expel and purge out its corruptions. A patient bearing of afflictions is a clear evidence of our adoption. Indeed, our sufferings only prove us to be the sons of Adam, on whom the curse is entailed through his primitive transgression; but our patience is a strong proof that we are the sons of God. All metals may be melted in the furnace; but it is the property of gold only to endure the fire, and lose nothing of its weight or worth. Consider that a patient suffering of afflictions will make rich additions to the weight and splendour of thy crown of glory. (5) Another motive may be this: that a patient bearing of affliction is a very great honour, both to ourselves and to God. To ourselves (consult 1 Pet. 4:14; 1:7). It brings in a great revenue of glory unto God. (6) Consider that patience under afflictions is the best way to be freed from afflictions. (a) If they be immediately from men, patience is of such a sweet, winning nature, that, unless they have quite divested humanity, they cannot long persevere in a causeless wronging of those who quietly bear and pass by their former injuries. Patience withdraws fuel from wrath: it finds no new occasion to stir up strife by opposition. If our sufferings be immediately from God, a patient bearing of them will the sooner put a period to them; because usually one great end why God doth afflict us is to teach us patience. (7) Consider that all thy sufferings in this life are in themselves tolerable. They are but the infirmities of a man, which the spirit of a man may bear; for they are only partial. All thy afflictions and sufferings have a great mixture of mercy in them. (8) Consider how many thousands in the world are in a far worse condition than yourselves, and would account themselves happy were they in your circumstances. (9) As another motive to patience, consider of how short duration and continuance all the troubles and afflictions of this life are. Though your way be thorny and miry, yet it is but short. Let thy afflictions be as grievous as thy passion can describe them, yet doth God afford thee no lucid intervals? Hast thou no intermission from thy sorrows? This is mercy, and this time of thy refreshment ought not to be reckoned into the suffering, as commonly it is. Indeed, men have got an art of making their sorrows longer than they are. Ask one who labours under a chronic distemper how long he hath been troubled with it; straight he will tell you for so many months or for so many years, when yet, perhaps, the greater part of that time he enjoyed ease and freedom between the returning periods of his disease. If thou hast been long under afflictions, yet perhaps they have been varied. Even this is mercy, that He will not strike long upon one place, nor scourge thee where thou art sore already. (10) The tenth, and last, motive to patience, which ought to be very effectual with all true Christians, shall be taken from the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Consider that His sufferings were infinitely greater than any that we can possibly undergo. Consider that all His unknown sufferings were not for His own, but for our offences. 2. The next thing in order is to show those distempers of spirit which are great hindrances of patience, and give a very great advantage to every cross to ruffle and discompose it. And they are such as these—(1) An effeminate softness and delicacy of spirit, when the mind is lax and fluid and hath not its due consistency. Consider the indecency and unbecomingness of impatience. It sits ill upon a man, and renders him contemptible and ridiculous. Consider the vanity and folly of impatience. To what purpose is it that thou torturest yourself? Couldst thou relieve thyself by it, this might be some reasonable pretence. Consider that impatience is not only unseemly and foolish, but it is unchristian too. There is nothing more directly contrary to the true spirit and genius of Christianity. (2) Another great hindrance of patience is a fond love and admiration of these creature enjoyments. (3) Another great hindrance to patience is pride and self-love. (4) Reflecting too much upon the instruments of our sufferings is oftentimes a mighty hindrance to the composure and patience of our spirits. And there are these considerafions, that make us impatient under sufferings. The meanness and contemptible vileness of the instrument. It heightens impatience when we reflect upon the nearness of those who are the occasions and instruments of our sufferings. It many times heightens impatience to reflect upon the base ingratitude and foul disingenuity of those from whom we suffer. (5) Reflecting upon a former more prosperous condition is oftentimes a great provocation unto impatience under our present sufferings. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)
The fruits of patience:—The word “temptations” here includes bodily temptations to evil, but not alone these; all forms of trial of every kind as well. Now, what is the attitude of men, even the best, when the clouds gather about them, when one desire after another is balked, and when one fear after another is fulfilled? Men settle down into gloom. They are very apt to fall into complaints and dolorous lamentations. But the Apostle James says to them, “Count it all joy” when adversity and various trials of the spirit come on you. Where we come into life with comparatively untrained forces, in ignorance of the old-established laws, with social liabilities and desires that seek to be fulfilled, we require a long period of time in which to develop; and when men’s desires are unfulfilled and are thwarted, that condition of things makes a man more manly. It drives him from his lower up into his higher nature. For see, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this,” &c. Is that, then, the result of patience? Is that homely quality so wonderful as to be praised in that way, that all your trials work faith, and faith works patience, and patience makes the perfect man? Is patience the sign of perfection in a man? It is that supreme quality by which a man reins in his forces, places himself willingly where God, by His providence, allots him, and is superior to his circumstances; where he has that consideration for himself, as a child of God and an heir of immortality, that no condition upon earth can daunt him. A king in disguise, wandering incognito through different lands, brought oftentimes to great straits, obliged to company with peasants, to gnaw their black bread, suffer hunger and thirst, oftentimes pushed hither and thither. But he lives within himself, and says, “How absurd for me, who am a king, who have revenues in abundance, to be put in these conditions. Here I am treated as any peasant; I am shoved here and there, and nobody takes any account of me. In a few weeks or days, at most, I shall recover myself, and sit again in high places.” So a man in this life, knowing himself to be God’s son, the heir of eternal glory, knocked about by various circumstances here and there and everywhere, has a legitimate pride in his birthright. It is just exactly under such circumstances that pride is legitimate. It lifts one up into a consciousness of his superiority to everything when he is pushed this way, that way, or the other by conflicting troubles and by trial. The conception of the apostle is that the difficulties and temptations of every kind in this mortal life really drive us up into the higher elements of our nature, practise us in them, make us more sanctified men, veterans, as distinguished from militia untried in the field, old men of wisdom and experience as compared with young men just coming into the trial of life. Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, because it is going to make men of you, going to make you hardy, going to thrust you up upon higher considerations, that are more becoming to you than the mere gain of ease and comfort and desires fulfilled. We see it to be, then, one of the most important qualities, as it works for manhood, to have this conception of ourselves as superior, by the grace of God, to all the accidents and conditions of this mortal life. Are griefs oppressive? By the grace of God I am able to bear grief, saith the Christian hero. Does one suffer lack? I am able to do without abundance. Am I despised and thrust aside? I am able to be despised and rejected. Now look at this matter more largely. Patience is the indispensable condition of mankind, unless they are at the seminal point. A savage and lazy Oriental, in a climate that takes away all courage and enterprise, does not have much patience. He does not want anything. He sits still, without desire, without enterprise, without out-reaching, without grasp, except in momentary fury. Just in proportion to the eminence of a man’s sphere and the genius of a man’s endowments, the quality of patience is necessary. Necessary, in the first place, because it is not possible for a man to have at once all he wants, or to regulate his wants and nature so that his supplies shall come in their order and in their gradation just as he needs them. Let us consider a few of the conditions in which men are placed where patience is necessary. 1. In the sphere of personal life, patience is a virtue. The ambitions of youth, the far-reaching before we are prepared for manhood, need it. 2. Now, in the household, and in early life generally, there are a thousand things that call for simple patience. The household is a little kingdom. It is a little sphere of light, held together by love, the best emblem and commentary upon Divine government there is. And yet how much there is in the household that frets! In the household there are the seeds of disturbance and confusion. But—patience, patience! You have need of patience in all the various experiences of the household, the collisions that come from differing natures seeking to fit themselves together; developments of all those practical qualities that enable men to live together, not only in patience, but in harmony, making the unity of the family produce every day, as it were, harmonious music. All these things require that men should have faith, and faith is the father of patience—that is to say, that prescience which enables a man to look forward to see that these things must be, and to wait for them, expecting them. 3. So in all the conflicts of business, the misunderstandings of men, the untrustworthiness of men, the rivalries of men, promises not fulfilled, disappointments of every kind. Ye have need of patience in all the conflicts of business. Do not give up. What if to-day is yesterday turned bottom side up, to-morrow it will turn the right way again. What if the cloud does lower to-day? The sun will strike through by and by. What if the rain has come? It has come on you that are able to bear it. A man in all these contingencies of life, in the strife for position and influence, and for wealth, whether it be large or moderate, meeting various troubles and succumbing to them, is scarcely to be called a man. But if he rises in spite of his difficulties, that man is made stronger and larger by his troubles in civil, social, or business life. Ye have need of patience, saith the apostle, that after ye have fulfilled the will of God, ye wait to receive the reward. 4. Even in higher degree do men need patience when they are workers in the moral sphere. Human nature works upward very slowly and irregularly. New truths and new views require a long time. A farmer goes out and gets his phosphate, and puts it on the seed over-night, and says, “We will see in the morning what it has done.” He goes out, and says, “Well, it ain’t done a bit of good.” No, not in a night. Ministers sow sermons on congregations, and think they will come up in a minute. But they will not come up in a good many minutes. By and by, little by little, by those and other influences, men will rise. There is nothing in this world that is so slow as the building of a man. In the process of building him an immense amount of time is consumed. A man gives out his plan of a house to an architect, and goes to Europe. In six months’ time he comes back, and thinks he is going to move right in. When he arrives at the spot, there is nothing but brick and stone, and mortar and scaffolding, and all sorts of litter, dirt, and confusion. He is amazed at it. But in proportion to the elaborateness and largeness of the dwelling is the time that is required to construct it. So it is with moral ideas in the community, educating the whole people, enabling men to look without prejudice upon truth, and bringing them forward step by step. It is very slow work, and ministers, reformers, teachers of schools, parents, and all those whose desires are set for the furtherance of the welfare of men, have need of patience, great patience. Still one thing more. “Let patience have her perfect work.” Raw patience does not amount to much. Ripe patience means a great deal; not that patience which is momentary and fugitive, but that which is settled down and become chronic. How beautiful it is to see a man or woman who has come to the state of ripe patience—the serene face of the matron, on whom all sweetness and goodness wait, who is living just at the golden sunset of her life, and who has been through trials unnamed—for the great sorrows of this life never come to the surface; broken-hearted almost, yet, by her faith in God, enduring till one and another thing is removed, and her life at last is completed, and she stands in the golden light, waiting. How beautiful is the serenity of victorious age that has not been overthrown, that has gone through the rugged way, and across Jordan into the promised land! How noble, too, is the heroic patience of men willing to give their lives for their kind, without selfish ends, with noble and heroic aspirations, waiting, waiting. (H. W. Beecher.)
Patience and perfection:—1. The perfection of our graces is not discovered till we are put upon great trials. As a pilot’s skill is discerned in a storm, so is a Christian’s grace in many troubles. 2. The exercise of grace must not be interrupted till it be full and perfect. Ordinary spirits may be a little raised for a time, but they fall again (Gal. 5:7). It is not enough to begin; our proceedings in religion must be answerable to our beginnings. While you are in the world, go on to a more perfect discovery of patience, and follow them that “through faith,” and a continued “patience have inherited the promises” (Heb. 6:12). 3. Christians must press on to perfection. “That ye may be perfect and entire, nothing wanting.” (1) Christians will be aspiring to absolute perfection. They are led on to growth by this desire: they hate sin so perfectly that they cannot be quiet till it be utterly abolished. First, they go to God for justification, then for sanctification, then for glorification. And as they are bent against sin with a keen hatred, so they are carried on with an importunate desire of grace. They that have true grace will not be contented with a little grace; no measures will serve their turn. (2) Christians must be actually perfect in all points and parts of Christianity. As they will have faith, they will have patience; as patience, love, and zeal. (3) They aim at the perfection of duration, that, as they would be wanting in no part of duty, so in no part of their lives. Subsequent acts of apostasy made our former crown to wither (2 John 8). (T. Manton.)
- The nature of patience. 1. It is a grace of the Holy Spirit, and is not to be confounded with that constitutional hardiness, or apathy of mind, which renders some men insensible to the most affecting events. 2. It is manifested in a cheerful submission to the trials of life. The good man perceives the mercy there is in God’s frowns, and the kindness there is in His strokes. 3. It is manifested in the steadfast pursuit of religion in spite of all its difficulties. 4. It is manifested in forbearance and kindness to our fellow-men. 5. It is shown in the steadfast expectation of the blessings of grace and glory.
- The import of this exhortation. 1. This intimates that our patience should rise to the highest improvements of which it is susceptible. We must labour to attain such measures of this grace as to glorify providence in the whole of its dealings with us. 2. It intimates that we should endeavour to persevere in the exercise of this grace to the end, in spite of the increase of our troubles.
III. The motive to this conduct which the text suggests. Attention to the state of the primitive Christians will lead us to the true import of the apostle’s language. Their faith in the gospel and their attachment to its Author were strong, they had enabled them to overcome prejudices in favour of the Jewish religion which they had long fondly cherished. They had enabled them to relinquish the esteem of their bigoted countrymen, which had formerly been their solace amidst the indignities of the heathen, and to unite themselves with the followers of the Lord Jesus in spiritual worship and in pure benevolence. Now, as to these principles, they might be ready to imagine that they constituted the whole of the Christian character; but, though essential parts of it, more was still requisite. Patience was a grace which it was necessary they should cultivate most assiduously. It is a principal feature in the character of Christ. In this motive the apostle may be considered as intimating the influence of patience in securing and improving the other graces of religion. It keeps the shield of faith firm on the breast, and the fire of love flaming in the heart. It keeps the hands of prayer from falling down, and the song of praise from becoming cold or careless. Where patience hath its perfect work it hath as powerful an influence on happiness as on goodness. No anxiety can harass, and no despair cloud the heart where it rules. Conclusion: I shall give you a few counsels to aid you in the cultivation of this principle. 1. Be frequent in your prayers to the God of patience, that He may confirm you to the end. 2. Study with care the character of Jesus, and especially His patience. 3. Converse frequently with your companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. You should state your sorrows to each other, not to give vent to a querulous temper, but to solicit aid in presenting such considerations as may animate your resolution and confirm your fortitude. 4. Search the Scriptures daily. The Bible is the word of Christ’s patience. There you will see a goodly company who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises, and there the most animating motives are presented to excite you to follow them. 5. Think on the lustre which this will shed on the religion you profess. This has been one of the boasts of philosophy, that it has made men superior to the evils of life; and nothing will degrade Christianity more, in the estimation of such men, than a querulous temper in its followers. 6. Think on the approbation which Christ will express of the perfect work of patience (Rev. 2:19). (H. Belfrage, D.D.)
Patience:—I never feel more strongly the divinity and perfectness of the Christian system, than in reading the works of those classic authors whose morality makes the nearest approach to the Christian standard. The chief fault that I find with Seneca is his omission of patience from his list of virtues; and from this omission, unessential as some might deem it, there flow the most fatal consequences. He gives many admirable precepts for contending with the evils of life, and destroying their power by exterminating them. But if they exceed mortal strength, and cannot be overcome, he represents it as beneath a wise or a brave man to bear them, when it is so easy to leap out of existence. The very field of discipline, which the heathen moralist thus precluded for his disciple, is that on which the precepts and example of Jesus are the most full and clear. Courage is an occasional act or effort of the soul; patience, a continuous habit. Courage is the mission of some; patience, the duty of all. Courage courts observation, and sustains itself by every possible outward stimulus; patience is lonely and quiet, its warfare is within. Courage may give its strength to evil, and may nerve the arm of the thief or the manslayer; patience dwells only in the bosom of piety, and always beholds the face of her Father in heaven. I now ask your attention to a few remarks designed to illustrate the necessity and the means of cultivating the virtue of patience, and the mode in which it so reacts upon the whole character as to make the patient disciple “perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” The necessity of this virtue can hardly be overrated. Our Saviour said, with literal truth, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Who escapes it? No one can feel more fully than I do that God has placed us in a good world, and has put within the reach of us all a large preponderance of happiness over misery. And these visitations of Providence are not momentary, so that they can be met by a sudden and defiant effort; but they are prolonged, spreading out into the future, and the end is not yet, but is beyond our calculation. 1. Among the means of cherishing patience I would first name a deep and enduring sense of the love of God, and of the merciful purpose of all His dispensations. This we all confess in words; but we must feel it. This needed faith in a fatherly Providence parents should teach their children, when they are full of joy; and the young, prosperous, and always happy should grow into it more and more in daily adoration and thanksgiving. There has been, there is, enough in the life of each of us, if we would only ponder upon it, to draw forth the confession, with gratitude too full for utterance, “God has nourished me as a child—in ways and times without number He has revealed Himself as my Father and my Friend.” This spirit will give us patience when the evil days come. We shall know that afflictions are but altered forms of mercy, ordained with kind purpose and for a blessed ministry, that outward trial is sent to heal inward disease. We shall lean in faith upon a Father, whose ways seem dark to us only because we are children and fall short of our Father’s wisdom. Our trust will be confirmed by exercise and deepened by experience, so that every new period of trial will give to patience its more and more perfect work. 2. Again, patience derives nourishment from the hope of heaven, not from the mere belief in immortality, but from the personal appropriation and consciousness of it. We think little of a rough road or a bad inn, if the end of our journey is near and attractive. We cheerfully encounter temporary inconveniences if fully assured that they are to be followed by long and unbroken quietness and prosperity. Did we let our contemplations rest habitually on eternity, all our earthly trials would in like manner seem light and short, and not worthy to be compared with the joy set before us. 3. Patience receives also ample support from the life and example of Jesus. In Him the disciple learns that whom the Lord loves He chastens. Yet we behold Him calm, submissive, trustful. Not a murmur escapes Him, not an unconditional prayer for relief. His patience is tried at every point, both by the mysterious hand of an afflictive Providence, and by the malice and scorn of the wicked. But this life is a school for heaven, and we are accustomed to believe that we learn lessons here to practise there. Is not patience an exception? We can have no occasion for its exercise in heaven; why, then, assign it so prominent a place in the Christian character? This question will be best answered by considering the uses of patience. (1) Under this head I first remark that there is one work which we must all accomplish, would we enter heaven, namely, the formation of spiritual characters, the establishment of the supremacy of the inward over the outward, of the soul over sense, of things unseen and eternal over things seen and temporal. This, however performed, is an arduous process; but perhaps not more so for those whose discipline is that of protracted suffering, than for the prosperous and happy. But for those who are rich, and full, and strong, if they would reach favoured places in the heavenly kingdom, there must be a course of self-restraint, self-denial, and self-renunciation. And herein lies one essential office of patience, in the spiritualising of the character, and how beautifully and effectually it does this many of us can testify, from our having felt nearer heaven in the abode of penury, or by the bed of chronic illness, than in the gayest and brightest scenes that have fallen within our experience. (2) Then, again, in no form does a Christian example seem more attractive, and win more honour to the Christian name and character, than in patience under severe trial and suffering. Piety, indeed, is in the sight of God the same, under whatever form; but by man it cannot be equally appreciated in all conditions of life. In prosperity and joy, there will always be the sneering and sceptical, who will repeat Satan’s question. “Doth Job serve God for naught?” But touch the disciple in his dearest earthly interests, and if he then holds fast his faith, and if he talks of the goodness of God, and manifestly dwells in inward peace there is no room left for cavilling. God means that we should all be examples to one another; that, while we save our own souls, we should shine for the salvation of others; and that thus the world should from generation to generation become more and more filled with lights on the heavenward path. This office as I have said, seems to be performed with superior felicity and power by those whose mission it is to suffer rather than to do. (3) I remark that patience is not a virtue to which even death sets limits. It belongs to heaven and to eternity What! you ask, patience in heaven! Will there be suffering there? By no means But what is patience? It is implicit trust, exercised in the darker scenes and vicissitudes of life. These scenes will brighten into the perfect day, these vicissitudes will be merged in the great change, when the corruptible puts on incorruption; but the faith of which they were the theatre will live for ever, and be for ever needed. There will be mysteries in heaven as well as here: things to be taken on faith before they can be fully known, portions of the vast administration of God, in which, in our ignorance, we must cast ourselves in humble reliance on His wisdom and goodness. I have thus spoken of the necessity, the aids, and the uses of patience. It makes life beautiful. It sheds a calm and heavenly glory upon the bed of death. (A. P. Peabody.)
Patience needed by God’s workers:—In the New Testament “patience,” in almost every case, has a reference to what has to be endured or suffered rather than to what has to be accomplished. Nor is this to be wondered at. The first age of Christianity was an age of labour, but it was more conspicuously an age of endurance. Since that age Christianity has become a conquering religion as well as a suffering religion. The spirit of patience takes a wider range now; and instead of meaning endurance under suffering, it takes in all the difficulties which come in the way of well-doing, and embraces all that might come under the word “perseverance.” Let me notice some points in the nature of the Christian life which demand this spirit of patience or perseverance.
- The kingdom of God shares, with all the works of God, the character of growth; and those who are fellow-workers with Him must accept the laws and conditions of His kingdom, and must, perhaps, wait long. I need hardly dwell on this fact of the growth of the kingdom of God. Take any single element of the character of a good man, or of a Church, or of a nation, and you see how impossible it is that it should all at once attain to perfection. Time, experience, are necessary. And perhaps the greater the virtue is, and the greater the work to be done, the slower will be the growth. It is so in the natural world, where the strongest tree, or the most sagacious and vigorous animal, comes to maturity after many years of slow growth. Civilisation is slow of growth; art, learning, high character in races and in individuals, all are of slow growth; but slower still is the development of religion, of high Christian virtue and character, whether in men or nations. What has strengthened the Christian graces of good men, their wisdom, their faith, their charity, their spirit of watchfulness, their faithfulness? Was it not the daily struggle against evil, the daily need of resorting to God for help, the falling back upon great eternal truths in the heart? If a man had all he wanted at the outset, he might, after a long life, be worse off than when he began. Certainly he would be deficient in many good qualities, and his inner character would be less complete. In countries where the inhabitants can live without labour, civilisation makes no advance; they have all they need, and in vain do you ask them to put forth efforts to rise higher in knowledge or in skill. But not less is the training of the soul in what is spiritual the fruit of opposition and hindrance. The hardest thing in the world is to do good, to chase away the prejudices and the errors and the bad habits which have taken root in the world. If a man could accomplish all this as by the magic wand, would he himself be as good a man as if he had been obliged to reach his end by the long laborious process of thinking and revising his thoughts, restraining his spirit, looking in upon himself, and upward to the Source of all purity and wisdom? Christ prepared His followers for all this. By His parables, by His life, by His death, He taught His disciples that opposition, defeat, and apparent destruction were, or might be, parts of the history of His Church, and that the harvest might only be reaped after long ages of waiting. This growth—so slow, so uncertain in outward appearance, so often advancing when it seems to have ceased, this growth of the kingdom of God in the individual—calls for a spirit of patience on the part of those who belong to the kingdom of God.
- Patience in the work of God is necessary because it is no part of the condition of Christian service to see results. Results of some sort we ask to see, and results of some sort we do see; but the full sum of our labours it may require more than one generation to see. The man of clear judgment and pure feeling will doubtless, before his career is ended, enjoy the sight of many persons who have caught his spirit and character. But even that reward comes by patience. I do not speak of the individual only, I speak of the Church and of the world.
III. The spirit of patience in Christian work and duty is the only spirit which really apprehends the right character of the Christian faith. The spirit of patience is not measured by the reward or the result. The whole essence of Christianity is a contest with what is evil and wrong. It is presumptuous, and in the highest degree unbelieving, in us to say, “I shall not take part in this tremendous conflict until I know what is to come out of it, and what good is to be done.” The essential impulse of the Christian spirit is to set itself on the side of what is right and pure and true, irrespective of the issue. I know there are amongst us cases where, again and again, there has arisen, as if prompted by stern necessity, the suggestion that some work on behalf of an individual, or a class of individuals, may as well be thrown up. It comes to nothing. Is there any use doing more? What do you mean? The struggle is not a contest for one individual or for many; it represents the whole question of the supremacy of good or evil, the whole question of our faith in God, the whole question of our hope in the destiny of man. But the question may well arise in every heart, “What right have I to ask that all my plans and purposes shall succeed, or that any one of them shall?” Where do we see universal success free from mischance? In what region of nature do we find gain without loss, progress without decay? Everywhere we see a capacity for life and growth cut short and perish. We never see in other cases what we so rigorously demand in our own. And what are we, it may well be said, what are we that an exception should be made on our behalf, and that we should never encounter disappointment and failure? (A. Watson, D.D.)
Patience:—Patience is not there to begin with. It is no inborn grace, like love. It comes to us by and by, and tries to find room in our nature, and to stay and bless us, and so make us altogether its own. The first thing we are aware of in any healthy and hearty child is the total absence and destitution of this spirit of patience. No trace of it is to be discovered in the eager, hungry outcries, and the aimless, but headstrong struggles against things as they are. But presently Patience comes, and rests on the mother’s lifted finger as she shakes it at the tiny rebel, and puts a tone he had never heard before within the tender trills of her voice, and he looks up with a dim sort of wonder, as if he would say, What is that? Then, in a few years, she looks at him out of the face of the old kitchen clock. It seems impossible that this steady-going machine should be so impassive, and persist in that resistless march; should not be quick to strike the hour he would drag before its time out of the strong heavens, or should not delay a little as he sits in the circle when the day is done, and dreads the exodus, at the stroke of eight, to his chamber. Poor little man! he has got into the old sorrow. It is not the clock, but the sun and stars he would alter, and the eternal ways. Then, as the child passes into the boy, he has still to find this angel of patience. It is then very common for him to transfer his revolt from the sun to the seasons. If he is in the country, he rebels at the slow, steady growth of things; they never begin to come up to his demand. It is with all boys as it was with John Sterling. His father gave him a garden-bed, to till as he would; and he put in potatoes. They did not appear when be thought they should; so he dug them out, and put in something else; and so he kept on digging in and out, all one summer, because the things sprouted and bloomed at once in his hot little heart, like Jonah’s gourd. It was an instance of the whole boy life. Nature can never come up to his notion of what she ought to do until Patience comes to help him. But your big, healthy boy fights it out, hard and long; nothing is just as he wants it. Christmas comes like a cripple, and school, when the holidays are over, like a deer. It is a shame cherries and apples will not ripen sooner, and figures find their places more tractably, and geographies run as straight as a line. It is easy to see, again, that these habits of the child and boy are only the germs of a larger impatience in the youth and the prime. We soon get our lesson from the angel about the kitchen clock and the courses of the sun, and the limits of our power to make this world turn the other way. We learn to come to time, and set ourselves to its steady dictation in all common things; and patience, so far, has her perfect work. I wonder to see the patience of some children, at last, about what they know they have got to do and be, in their tasks and strivings. But if the boy does learn all he ought to learn about times and seasons, and tasks and treats, and lines and limits, it is very seldom that the lesson holds good as he begins the march to his manhood, or when he gets there. Patience, then, has to teach him deeper things: time still says one thing and his desire another, and he hungers again for what God has forbidden in the very condition of his life. But now it is unspeakably more serious than it was ten years ago, as she comes to him and tries to teach him her great lesson. She has to remember what myriads of young men, strong, and eager, and headstrong as he is, have broken away from her after all. Fortune and position, weight for weight, with what faculty the Maker has given him, is just as sure to come to a man in this country as the crop to the farmer, and the web to the weaver, if he will only let this angel have her perfect work. Travellers in India tell us they have seen a magician make an orange tree spring, and bloom, and bear fruit all in half an hour. That is the way many believe fortune ought to come. They cannot wait for its patient, steady, seasonable growth. Patience comes and whispers, “It will never do; the perfect work is only that done by my spirit; the magician can never bring his thirty-minute oranges to market, because they can never nourish anybody as those do that come in the old Divine fashion, by the patient sun and seasons.” He gives no heed to the wise, sweet counsels; takes his own way; and then if he wins, finds that somehow he has lost in the winning; the possession is not half so good as the expectation: but the rule is, that the man who will not let Patience have her perfect work in building up his position and fortune, ends bare of both, and has nothing but a harvest of barren regrets. No man, again, comes to middle age without finding that this is the truth about all the noble sensations that give such a colour and grace to our life, and are such loyal ministrants to its blessing, if we can say “No” to the enemies of our good angel when they come and counsel us to disregard her ways, to let our passions take the bit in their teeth, and go tearing where they will. Twenty years ago last June, when I had been a few weeks in this country, I tasted, for the first time in my life, an exquisite summer luxury; and it seemed so good that I thought I could never get enough of it. I got some more, and then some more, and then I found, for the first time, I think, what it is to have too much of a good thing. The angel is there with his flaming sword, insisting that I shall only eat of it out of Eden. It has been to me ever since a parable of this deep old verity. I disregarded the angel whispering, “You had better take care; if you eat that for a steady diet, through a whole June day, you do it in spite of me; the hunger for some more, which has been growing all your life, is a pledge that the good of this will abide with you as long as you live if you will always let hunger wait on appetite.” I had no idea of doing that. Impatience got the rein, and I gathered and ate the whole harvest of that good thing between dawn and dark. Every glass of wine, or dram of whiskey, drunk by a healthy and strong young man, is an insult and injury to this good angel, and makes it so far impossible for her to do her perfect work, because he is spending ahead of his income of life, and bringing a fine power of being to beggary, if not to worse than that. He can only get that glow and flame at a heavy discount, both of life itself and of all that makes life worth living. Patience would help him to infinitely finer pleasures from her simple and wholesome stores, and they would stay with him as long as he lived; but he will not listen to her counsels, and will have none of her reproofs; therefore will she weep at his calamities, and mock when his dole cometh. There is a whole world of evils of very much the same sort, some more fatal still than the one I have named. It is the same thing whichever way we turn. Nature says one thing, and desire another. Only the perfect work of Patience can make both one, and then the result of both is grace. This is true, first, of our relation to one another. The very last thing most of us can learn of our relations to each other is to let Patience have her perfect work. Very few fathers and mothers learn the secret this angel is waiting to tell them about their children until perhaps the last is born. It is probable that he will give more trouble than any one of the others. Then love and duty were the motive powers; now it is love and patience. Patience is the only angel that can work with love. To refuse her blessing is to refuse God’s holiest gift, after what He has given us in the child’s own being. I think the day is yet to dawn when fathers and mothers will feel that they would rather scourge themselves as the old anchorites did, than scourge their little ones; and will not doubt that they, and not the child, deserve it, when they feel like doing it. The fruit ripens at last all right, if we have the grace to let the sun shine on it, and to guard it from the destroyer. All the tendencies of our time to give children the right to have a great deal of their own way, are good tendencies, if we will understand that their own way is of course the right way, as certainly as a climbing vine follows the turn of the sun: all we have to do is carefully and patiently to open the right way for them wherever they turn. Patience, again, must have her perfect work in our whole relation to our fellow-men. It is very sad to read of the shameful things that have been done in the name of religion, for the sake of conformity: how the fagot has burned, and the rack has wrung. Want of patience, indeed, apart from the vilest reasons, must be the main cause for the dreadful rank growth of this evil weed of divorce in our social life. If they did love each other once, they will never find such blessing as could come to them, with patience as the aid to their affections. Human souls have an imperial quality in them; a turn for insisting on being master; and when they come so close together as husband and wife, and love recovers his sight, as he will, Patience must take up her part and adjust the thing by a constitution of equal rights, and by an equal giving up of rights, or, in spite of love, there will come infinite trouble. We have very much the same thing to learn in our relation to each other in the whole length and breadth of our life. Ministers with their people, and people with their ministers; employers with their servants, and servants with their employers; men in their dealings with men, and women in their judgments of women. For, finally, there must be a Divine impatience, too. Jesus Christ felt it now and then; but you have to notice that it is never with weakness or incompleteness, or even folly or sin; for all these He had only forbearance and forgiveness, and pity and sympathy. What roused Him, and made His heart throb, and His face glow, and His voice quiver with a Divine indignation, was the hollow pretence and ugly hypocrisy He had to encounter, and the judgments one man made of another out of a sense of superior attainment. That is our right, as much as it was His right, as we grow towards His great estate. Last of all, for this angel of Patience we must cry to heaven. (R. Collyer.)
The lesson of patience:—
- We ought to learn this lesson, in the first place, because of the comfort it gives. Patience means not getting put out when things do not turn out just as we wish. Look at Job. Look at Abraham. And then look at Jacob. An old proverb says, “Patience is the remedy for all troubles.” The best remedy for hard times is patience. Patience stifles anger, and sweetens the temper, and subdues pride. Patience bridles the tongue, so that it shall not speak in anger, and holds back the hand from striking in wrath. Patience makes us humble in prosperity, and cheerful in adversity. Patience comforts the poor, and restrains the rich.
- In the second place, we ought to learn this lesson because of the good it does. When a ship is going to sea, it is necessary for her to be properly ballasted. The ballast steadies the vessel, and enables her to meet the storms and billows in her way with safety. This shows us what good patience can do.
III. But there is a third reason why we should try to learn this lesson, and that is because of the help we have in doing so. We have great help given, in seeking to learn this lesson, from the examples of those who have learned and practised it before us. Suppose we are trying to climb up a steep mountain. We find it very hard work. If we see no footprints of others, we may say, “No one has ever been along this path before. Perhaps it is impossible to reach the top of the mountain. What is the use of trying?” We feel discouraged, and cease striving. But if the path is well worn, and there are footprints, we know that many people have gone up the mountain: then we may feel encouraged to keep on climbing to the very top. And so, when we have examples of those who have learned the lesson of patience, and in whom “patience has had its perfect work,” then we may feel encouraged to try and learn this lesson for ourselves. How patient Jesus was all the days of His life on earth! “When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not.” But this lesson of patience can be learned only by the help of God’s grace. (R. Newton, D.D.)
Patience:—Patience is spoken of by the apostle in the text as having a work to do. Our work as men, as Christians, in this world is to strive to be more like God, more like Christ, in ourselves, in our home lives, our business lives, our duty, our pleasure; and this cannot be done without patience. Now patience has two main qualities which enable her to do her perfect work. Patience is willing to wait; secondly, patience is willing to endure. There is an old proverb, “All things come to him who can wait,” a proverb which commends itself to those who observe how in this world’s affairs hurry and worry hinder success, or spoil it, if gained. How often excitement or irritation mar the best laid plans, rendering a man useless or harmful at critical moments. Patience that is willing to wait is necessary even to energetic persons, eager to make money, and, as it is called, “to get on in the world.” They learn by experience that energy out of season is wasted, if not harmful, and so they bide their time, and are patiently watchful for opportunity. Now, if this is true in worldly matters, we need not be surprised to find that it has its counterpart in spiritual matters. Patience is willing to wait, being well aware that the strong walls of prejudice which divide class and class are founded mostly upon ignorance, and with it break down. It takes time, and therefore demands patience. Impatience would attempt to cure what is amiss by remedies which in themselves and in their consequences are worse than the disease. Patience, on the other hand, cherishes hope, and has faith in the increasing purpose of God for good—God whose mercies fail not. Patience willing to wait is characteristic of God’s providence. It was also characteristic of the life of Christ on earth. He who was content to grow in wisdom and stature was content to spend the long years of His early manhood in subjection to His earthly parents till He reached the age of thirty and the appointed time was fulfilled. But if in Christ’s life is seen patience thus willing to wait, in the record of His ministry and passion we see that very quality of patience which we speak of, namely, patience, willing to endure, working out for our sakes the perfection of human nature. And as a Teacher, what trials must His soul have felt—that soul full of knowledge and wisdom, yet only able to impart but little, and that little veiled in parable, to hearts not receptive and ears dull of hearing! How trying to the patience to find Himself misunderstood and the gospel lesson forgotten even by those nearest to Him and most ready to learn! And then again, all the feeling of indignation aroused by the wilful malignity of the “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites,” insinuating, traducing, and finally conspiring to kill; and all this endured with patience. These are the facts which in the life and death of Christ tell us of His patience, willing to wait and willing to endure. (E. Warre, D.D.) The perfect work of patience: This endurance, which the writer seems to consider the finally desirable thing, may have two meanings: it may signify the being able to bear whatever is laid on us by our Lord, and which we call patience, or it may signify permanence of character. The latter seems the fixed meaning. Before the blast the dead leaves are driven, or the waves on the surface of the ocean are tossed, but the tree has endurance and remains; the ocean has endurance and remains. It is this permanence of character which is desirable above all things. The earlier trials are the first weight imposed upon character. They tend to give compactness. There is a line of density below which no substance can be pressed. Every additional pound of weight causes that which is pressed to approach that compactness which no additional burden can increase. This completed compactness the writer calls the “perfect work” of endurance. The sooner a man reaches this effect of trouble, the sooner is he at the point where no trouble can ever work him any harm. He is “perfect and entire.” (C. F. Deems, D.D.)
The completion of the godly character:—The three characteristics of the man of God form a climax: ye are to be spiritually perfect, having all your graces and virtues in their entirety, and in no one thing are ye to be deficient; the ideal statue is not to present to the view one grace in abundant development, and another of stinted proportions, symmetry not deformity is the model, each part is well balanced with the rest, and all in graceful harmony with the whole; the law of physical is also the law of moral beauty. As the temptations spoken of are various, of divers sorts and kinds, assaulting and testing the various constituents of the whole character, the effect of a successful endurance of them severally would be the perfection of each and all of the members of the inner man, the completion of the godly character, the production of a man after God’s own heart. (F. T. Bassett, M.A.)
1:4 “And let endurance have” This is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. Of the 108 verses in the book of James there are 54 IMPERATIVES. It is a book of exhortation to practical living.
© “its perfect results, so that you may be perfect and complete” The Greek word “perfect” (telos) means “fully equipped,” “mature,” or “ripe.” It is often linked to love (cf. Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 13:9–13; 1 John 4:18). Noah is described by this same word in the Septuagint of Gen. 6:9. It seems to have the connotation of a mature faith which issues in faithful, loving service. It does not imply or suggest “sinlessness” or “without fear.” It is just possible that this could have an eschatological reference. James often looks toward the culmination of the Christian hope (cf. 1:8–9, 12; 5:7, 8).
The second term “complete” (holoklēria) is used of the health and wholeness of the physical body (cf. Acts 3:16) and metaphorically of the well-being of all mankind, both physically and spiritually (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23 and in an eschatological sense, vv. 8–9, 12).
© “lacking in nothing” Notice that a mature Christian is described in three ways: (1) perfect (telos); (2) with integrity or complete (holoklēros cf. 1 Thess. 5:23); and (3) lacking in nothing (NJB “not deficient in any way”). Trials are God’s means of producing maturity (cf. Heb. 5:8–9). Maturity is not theological insight only, but daily faithful endurance! Maturity is who we are, not what we know! Its fruit is seen and developed in crisis.
4. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James repeats the noun perseverance to demonstrate that this concept is important to the message of the epistle. By repeating the term, James alludes to the teaching of Jesus, who on two different occasions taught his disciples, “But he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22; 24:13).
We cannot hasten perseverance. It needs time. For example, a patient receives the encouraging news from his physician that his broken leg is healing satisfactorily. Daily the doctor visits the patient and each time tells him virtually the same thing. The patient realizes that he must obey orders not to put pressure on the injured leg, even though it is supported by a cast. The healing process must run its normal course. Should the patient abruptly end this process, the results would be disastrous. Paul asked the Lord to remove the thorn in his flesh. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me,” writes Paul. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ ” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). Note the term perfect, for James uses the same word. “Let patience [perseverance] have her perfect work” (KJV). That is, do not interfere with God’s plan for your life. Persevere in your trials, so that the work God has begun in you may be brought to completion. As David prayed in one of his psalms,
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands. [Ps. 138:8]
Parallelism is one of the Semitic features in the Epistle of James. Note that verse 4 repeats the thought of the preceding verse and thus explains its meaning. Here is the parallel:
The testing of your faith completely works out the virtue of perseverance.
Let perseverance work out its course completely.
Just as a fruitproducing plant must be allowed to finish its complete growing period, so perseverance must be given its full term.
- “Mature and complete.” James has a penchant for linking words or concepts, preferably by repeating the same term. A literal translation illustrates this: “And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (NASB).
What does “perfect” mean? Certainly it does not mean “without sin.” In 3:2 James writes, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” James intends to convey the concept of wholeness, that is, “not lagging behind in any point.” Addressing the Philippians, Paul also uses the expression perfect. The New International Version translates it “mature”: “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” (Phil. 3:15). With respect to the readers of Paul’s and James’s letters, the term perfect means “mature.”
A synonym of “mature” is the word complete. In the name of Jesus, Peter healed the lame man who daily sat begging at Solomon’s Colonnade. Luke writes that this beggar was given complete healing (Acts 3:16). The crippled man’s feet and ankles became strong so that he functioned as a complete human being without handicap.
- “Not lacking anything.” The phrase not lacking anything is synonymous with the preceding term complete, which expresses the concept that all parts are functioning. Although both terms state the same concept, the first does so positively; the second, negatively. If, then, we have received all the necessary parts that make us mature and complete and if God has given us all things so that we lack nothing, we should be able to endure the trials God is giving us. And because God has fully equipped us, we are able to persevere in faith.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 32–34). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 213). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James (pp. 80–82). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 27–28). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (pp. 280–281). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Moo, D. J. (1985). James: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 16, p. 64). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: James (pp. 22–35). Cincinnati; Chicago; Kansas City: Jennings & Graham.
 Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Jesus’ Half-Brothers Speak: James and Jude (Vol. Volume 11, pp. 10–11). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 34–35). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.