Patience and Her Perfect Work (Part 1)
Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford, Lord s Day Morning, Jan. 9, 1850
A singular race of men lived in the middle ages called Alchemists - a name still retained in the words "chemist" and "chemistry" - who spent their money, broke their spirits, and wasted their lives in a most unwearied search after three things; - First, a medicine that would cure all diseases, which they termed a "panacea;" secondly, a tincture, or, to use their language, an "elixir vitac," that would prolong life to an indefinite period; and thirdly, a powder, styled the "philosopher s stone," which would transmute lead and other base metals into gold. I need not tell you that all their labourious researches, which they pursued for several centuries, were utterly fruitless, and that as far as any satisfactory result was obtained, they might as well have tried to spin ropes out of sand, weave stockings out of gossamer threads, or twist clouds into ladders to reach the moon. Had they even succeeded, the results would have been full of vexation and disappointment. If they could have found a medicine to cure all diseases, would that have staved off old age and its attendant infirmities? If they could have prolonged life to an indefinite period, would not the grave sooner or later have closed over its victim? And if they could have changed tons of lead into gold, either the expense of the process would have swallowed up all the profits, or the abundance obtained by a cheap manufacture would of itself have destroyed its value when made.
But what they could not find in chemistry, is to be found in the gospel. Nature, however tortured in the furnace, or wooed in the alembic, could work no such miracle as they sought to wrest from her bosom; but grace freely and without constraint has worked and still daily works them. There is a medicine which in the hands of Jehovah-rophi, the great Physician Ex 15:26, cures all diseases and dispels all complaints. As David speaks - "Who healeth all thy diseases," Ps 103:3 And what is this "panacea?" The precious blood of Christ, which "cleanseth from all sin." Is not sin a disease? And if this precious blood cleanse from all sin, must it not be a universal medicine, and all the more valuable as curing soul disease, which must be infinitely more deadly and destructive than any bodily malady? Disease struck down the alchemist amidst his extracts and essences, and with all the more deadly stroke from his sacrificing his own health in the vain attempt to cure other s sickness. But our blessed Physician has not only revealed and brought to light an infallible medicine, but himself applies it with his own hands and makes it effectual to a perfect cure. And is there not in the same blessed Jesus the true "elixir vitac," or miraculous tincture of life? What did he say to the woman of Samaria? "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." Joh 4:14. The alchemist only sought to add a few more years to human life; but Jesus gives life for evermore. And is not his grace the true "philosopher s stone," transmuting by miraculous agency leaden afflictions into golden consolations, earthly miseries into heavenly mercies, legal curses into gospel blessings, and vile sinners into precious saints? Thus the delusive dreams of the alchemists have become solid realities, and as far exceeding what they toiled and toiled in vain to find, as eternity excels time, and heaven surpasses earth.
One of these miracles of grace we find in our text - "My brethren," says James, "count it all joy when ye fall into temptations." What a miracle must that be when a man can take into his hands a load of temptations and trials, and, by an act of faith, transmute them into joy! If you could take up a piece of lead, and by putting a powder upon it and holding for a few minutes in a furnace, change it into a solid lump of gold, would that be a greater miracle than turning light afflictions into an eternal weight of glory? How this is done we shall, I hope, with God s blessing, see from the words of our text, in opening up which I shall direct your minds to four leading features which seem to me stamped upon them:
I. - First, the "divers temptations" into which the people of God "fall."
II. - Secondly, the effect of falling into divers temptations: that it tries faith, and that "the trying of faith worketh patience."
III. - Thirdly, the apostolic counsel, "Let patience have her perfect work," that the saint of God "may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
IV. - Fourthly, the transmuting effect of grace enabling the tried and tempted family of God to "count it all joy" when they fall into divers temptations.
I. - I must, however, with God s blessings, before I plunge into my subject, attempt to explain as plainly and as concisely as I can the precise meaning of several words in our text, that we may have a clearer view of the mind and meaning of the Holy Ghost in the passage before us.
The word translated "temptations," embraces in the original a wider field of experience than the English term conveys. We must, therefore, enlarge the idea so as to embrace "trials" also; for the original word means not merely "temptations," but includes also what we understand by the term "trials." We must also further enlarge the meaning of the word "divers;" for the term in the original means not only diversified, various, of different kinds, but also many in number. So that we may thus enlarge our text, in perfect consistency with the mind of the Holy Ghost - "Count it all joy when ye fall into many and various trials and temptations." Thus we see that the words in this enlarged sense comprehend all the trials and all the temptations, however numerous, however diversified, that the saints of God may fall into. Were it otherwise, were the text at all restricted, it would not apply to all the living family of God. Unless, for instance, it comprehended every trial, it might not comprehend your trial; Unless it included every kind of temptation, it might not include your peculiar temptation; and thus you as well as many who are deeply tried and peculiarly tempted, might be shut out of all the benefit and blessing contained in it.
I must also drop a word of explanation on the expression "fall into," for there is something very significant in the idea conveyed by it. The idea is of a sudden fall into an unexpected danger, as, for instance, of a traveller falling into an ambush of highwaymen; for the Lord uses exactly the same word when he speaks in the parable of the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and "fell among thieves." Lu 10:30. He was journeying onward, as he thought, safely; but all of a sudden, he fell into an ambush of thieves, who surrounded him, stripped him, wounded him, and left him half dead. Or the expression may refer to the idea of a ship steering its onward course with apparent safety, and suddenly striking on a reef of rocks, or caught in a whirlpool, for we have the same exact word used of the ship which conveyed Paul to Italy; "And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground." Ac 27:41. Thus the word "fall into" divers temptations has a peculiar significancy, as expressing to the very life the way in which the saints of God often most suddenly and unexpectedly fall into the numerous and various temptation and trials which lie as if in the ambush as so many highwaymen, or lurk unseen as rocks and quicksands in the voyage of life. For you will bear in mind that the saint of God is both a traveller and a voyager. He has a way to tread, a road to travel in - the strait and narrow way, that leads to eternal life; and he has a voyage to make, for: "The Christian navigates a sea, Where various forms of death appear;" and it is "those that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in deep waters, who see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep." Ps 107:23-24. The road in itself is rough and rugged, and the sea stormy and boisterous; but it is the perils of the way - "The rocks and quicksands deep. That through the passage lie"- in other words, the trials and temptations spread through the course, which make the journey and the voyage so difficult and so dangerous.
But let us look at some of these dangers and perils, these "divers temptations" of our text;
I. And first let us take a glance at the "divers trials" into which the family of God fall. Well may they be called "divers," or many and various, as we have explained the word, for they spring from such numerous and different sources; but I shall only name four.
1, From above;
2, from beneath;
3, from without; and
4, from within.
1, Some are from above. "The Lord," we are expressly told, "trieth the righteous." "Search me, O God, and know my heart," says the Psalmist; "try me, and know my thoughts." The trial with which God himself tries his people are not only numerous and various, but for the most part of a very painful and perplexing nature, yet all precisely adapted to the nature of the case and exactly suited to the state of the person tried, as being planned by unerring wisdom, and weighed, measured, and timed by infinite love. Thus, as the God of providence, as the Maker of our bodies as well as the Creator of our souls, as the God of our families who gives and takes at will the fruit of the womb, some of his children he tries with poverty, others with sickness, others with taking away the desire of their eyes at a stroke, or cutting off the tender olive plants which have sprung up round about their table and twined round every fibre of their heart. How sudden too, how unexpected the trials! Heavy losses in business, deprivation of a situation, a sweeping away of the little all - the savings of a life - by some fraud or failure, trick or treachery, riches making themselves wings and flying away, and poverty and want coming in as an armed man to plunder the wreck; how suddenly do such strokes come! Sickness, too, and disease, how swift their attack! We are at present in a very sickly season. Illness surrounds us on every side. New complaints, such as the fearful disease diphtheria, or revived maladies as small pox, are spreading far and wide, and making all tremble for themselves or their families; Both these diseases were then very prevalent. and as the saints of God are not exempt from their share in these afflictions, many who fear his great name are either themselves stretched on beds of languishing and pain, or are watching by the side of afflicted relatives and dying children. How suddenly, too, trials of various kind come! In one day Job, "the greatest of all the men of east," lost all the substance which God had given; and the father in the morning of ten living children sat in the evening in his lonely house childless and desolate. How labour pangs fell suddenly on Rachel, and the impatient mother who had cried out "Give me children or else I die," expired under the load of her coveted burden!
But these and all other temporal trials, though at times very severe to the flesh - though they need much grace to endure them with patience and submission - though often aggravated by our own fretfullness, and used as weapons by unbelief and Satan acutely to distress the mind; yet are they of little real moment when compared with spiritual trials which sink deep into a man s very soul. These, then, are the sharpest trials among those which come from above. And amongst them we may place as the keenest of all the hidings of God s face, as a mark of his displeasure. How David, Heman, Jeremiah, Jonah, and other Bible saints mourned and lamented under these hidings of the Lord s countenance - "Thou didst hide thy face and I was troubled." Ps 30:7. "Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?" Ps 88:14. To a saint of God, who has ever experienced the lifting up of the light of the Lord s countenance, nothing is more painful and trying than the Lord hiding his face; for then all his comfort withers - his very evidence appear gone - the former tokens for good are surrounded with a dark cloud, and the felt displeasure of the Lord seems more than he can bear. But the blessed Lord himself drank of this bitter cup when he cried out - "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And we must suffer with him if we are to be glorified together.
But the Lord also "trieth the righteous" by laying bare, and thus discovering to them the secret iniquities of the heart. It was so with Hezekiah, of whom we read - "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, God left him to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart." 2Ch 32:31. So the Lord, to strip us of our own pride - to crush our vain confidence - to show us that all our strength is weakness, and that grace must freely sanctify as well as fully save, subdue sin as well as pardon it - often leaves us to the discovery of what we are in the Adam-fall. This is "searching Jerusalem with candles" Zep 2:12; for "the spirit of man," that is the new man of grace, "is the candle or lamp of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly," or heart. Pr 20:27. "I the Lord search the heart; I try the reins." Jer 17:10. As, then, "in his light we see light," and "all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light" Ps 36:9 Eph 5:13, sin after sin becomes discovered; and the teaching of the Spirit making the heart soft and the conscience tender, the soul is painfully and acutely tried by seeing and feeling these inward abominations. How markedly we see this in Job! "When he hath tried me," said he, "I shall come forth as gold" Job 23:10; but in the furnace what a discovery was made of the corruptions of his heart, which before were to himself unsuspected and unknown! They had not escaped the searching eye of Omniscience; but they had much escaped the eye of the most perfect and upright man, according to God s own testimony, who then dwelt upon the earth. When, however this eminent saint of God was tried by afflictions and desertions, pain of body and agony of mind, then the deep and foul corruptions of his heart become manifest, and the most rebellious and unbecoming expressions found vent through his lips. You may think harshly of Job; but the greatest saint, the most highly favoured Christian put into the same furnace, would behave no better than he. If the Lord lay "his left hand under the head," the sharpest temporal trials can be patiently, even gladly borne. All afflictions become light if "his right hand embrace" the soul. So 2:6. But if he withdraw his presence, shut out prayer, withhold the light of his countenance, and leave us to the workings of our corrupt heart, what can be the issue but fretfullness and rebellion, murmuring thoughts, unbelief, and self-pity?
2. Other trials of God s saints are from beneath. We cannot explain the deep mystery why the Lord should suffer Satan to retain such power after Jesus bruised his head so effectually upon the cross, after he led captivity captive, and spoiled principalities and powers, casting them down from their seat of eminence, and making a show of them openly. That Satan should still be allowed to exercise such sway in this lower world, and even exercise his power against the saints who are dear to Christ as the apple of his eye, - surely, this is a mystery we cannot now fathom. But we know the fact from the authority of Scripture, the testimony of the saints, and our own personal experience, that the Lord does, for his own wise purposes, permit Satan very much to harass and distress the soul s of God s people. There is also this peculiarity in the temptations of Satan, that as he works by them on our carnal mind, we cannot often distinguish them from the sins of our own heart. We see this in Satan s tempting David to number the people, and as strikingly in the passionate exclamations of Job. These good men did not see the tempter, though his hot breath inflamed their mind. As in a forge or foundry, the blazing coals or molten iron are seen, but not the hidden tube through whose sustained blast "the melting fire burneth;" so many a vile thought, infidel suggestion, or horrible idea blaze up in the heart, blown into a flame through the black tube of the Prince of darkness.
3. Other trials, again, arise from without. There are few saints of God who in their passage through life have not had to suffer much from outward foes. Open persecution assails some; secret slander and misrepresentation attack the character and wound the mind of others. Their best friends, as they once thought them, have sometimes proved the most cruel enemies. Where they expected nothing but sympathy and kindness, they have met with little but harshness and neglect. How acutely Job felt this when he complained, "To him that is afflicted pity should be showed from his friend." But instead of pity, his "brethren dealt deceitfully as a brook" dried up by the summer sun, to which "the troops of Tema looked" for supply, but it had "vanished what time it had waxed warm" Job 6:14-20. David had a Saul, a Doeg, and an Ahithophel; and a greater than David a Judas who kissed but to betray. Micah warns us against our fellow men; "The best of them is as a briar; the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge." "Trust ye not in a friend; put ye not confidence in a guide." Mic 7:4-5. And Jeremiah says - "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm." Jer 17:5. In the face of such testimonies need we wonder that false friends are often greater trials than open foes? "Save me from my friends!" has been the bitter cry from many a heart.
4. But after all, our acutest trials are from within. Many who in the providence of God are comparatively exempt from severe outward trials, suffer an internal martyrdom. A heavy storm may be raging in the air; sleet, and snow, and hail, driven by a keen east wind, may darken the sky; and you in your warm room may see some poor traveller pelted by the pitiless storm. But you, though under shelter, may be racked with bodily pain, or be dying of slow disease, or be inwardly crushed by mental grief and sorrow. What is his trial compared with yours? What are fingers chilled with cold compared to hands burning with fever?
What is a sprinkling of snow on the clothes to a load of ice on the heart; or floods of rain without to a flood of passionate grief within? Thus out ward trials are severe to the eye, but inward trials are severe to the heart. Poverty, sickness, bereavements, persecutions, do not crush and break the heart like guilt and remorse, the terrors of the Almighty, and the pangs of hell.
II. But let us now take a glance at the "divers temptations" into which the people of God fall, as distinct from the trials which lie in their path. There are many saints of God whose life is a series of outward trials; and there are others who know less of external trial, but more of internal temptation. The Lord arranges every lot, for though it seem casually "cast into the lap, yet the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." Pr 15:33. He appoints to every one of his children the peculiar path which he has to tread, and the number and weight of the burdens which he has to carry. Whatever trial, therefore, or temptation comes, it is of the Lord - either indirectly by permission, or directly by visitation. Many appear to pass through life without any deep acquaintance with temptations. Job s friends, though good men, seem to have had little or no experience of them; whilst Job, Heman, Asaph, Jeremiah, and Jonah were distracted by them. The same difference exists now.
Viewing, then, "temptations" as distinct from "trials" we may divide them into two leading branches - temptations which distress, and temptations which allure. The former are the more painful, but the later are the more perilous.
1. You might have walked for some time in the ways of the Lord without any deep experience of the infidelity, blasphemy, rebelliousness, enmity, and horrid wickedness of your fallen nature. This being the case, you were secretly lifted up with pride and self-righteousness. You had not yet had that deep discovery of yourself which was needful to humble you in the dust. You did, it is true, look in some measure to the Lord Jesus Christ, for salvation, but not knowing your utter ruin and the desperate wickedness of your heart, you looked with but half a glance; though you took hold of him, it was but with one hand; and though you walked in him, it was but with a limping foot. The reason was that temptation had not yet shorn your locks, bound you with fetters of brass, and put you to grind in the prison house. But you suddenly fell into one of these "divers temptations." I will merely name two as specimens of their nature. Infidelity assailed your mind all in a moment as with a cloud of the thickest, densest darkness. A vail was at once cast over the Scriptures, for you could not even believe them to be true. Objection after objection started up, and you shuddered with horror lest you should live and die a confirmed infidel. O what a trial was this! I have been here, and know what work it makes. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" We reject the thought with horror, fly back to past experiences, muster up all our evidences, think of the faith and hope of departed saints, cry to God for help to believe; but still the poisoned arrow is rankling in the heart. Or you may have been tempted to open blasphemy - even to that dreadful crime of blaspheming God. Job and Jeremiah were thus tempted, and many a child of God has been pursued night and day with the same horrible temptation. But what an evidence it is of the deep corruption of the human mind and the power of Satan that persons, say tender females, who hedged in by the restraints of society, education, and morality, have never dropped an unbecoming expression from their lips, or scarcely heard one uttered by others, may yet be assailed, when called by grace, by the most horrid temptations to blasphemy, from the very thought of which their natural feelings revolt, and of which they would have deemed themselves utterly incapable. I have known such cases, and therefore name them, that if any here present are passing through this "fiery trail," they may not be utterly cast down as though some strange thing has happened to them. 1Pe 4:12. Many object to such things being even spoken of; but their very mention as experienced by those who fear God has sometimes put the temptation to flight, or abated its power.
But what a proof of the corruption of man - what an evidence of the power of Satan! I have stood by the sea shore and seen it spread out as calm as a mirror; and I have sailed on its bosom when not a breeze ruffled its face. But I have seen it in a storm when its billows rolled in full of foam and fury; and I have sailed over it when wave after wave dashed over the deck. But it was the same sea both in calm and storm. So the mind of man may be as calm as a slumbering sea, or raging as the stormy wave; but it is the same heart still. The breath of temptation, like the ocean wind, makes all the difference between calm, and storm.
But let me ask, do you not fear, reverence, and adore that great and glorious name which Satan has been tempting you to blaspheme? Is not this, then, a proof that from him these suggestions come? Of all Satan s temptations this seems to be the most infernal; of all his threats, this the most deadly. If Satan could but prevail upon you to speak the word, he would triumph over you as a lost soul. Therefore he does all he can to drive you into the very pitfalls of hell. But he shall not succeed, for the "the weapons formed against thee shall not prosper." His is the sin and his shall be the punishment.
2. But there are temptations not so distressing and yet more perilous. These I have just been hinting at are seen; but there are those which are unseen. The enemy can hardly disguise his plotting hand in the former; he spreads the snare, but does not show himself in the latter. In the one he is a lion from the swelling of Jordan, in the other a trailing serpent hidden in the grass. There are temptations so thoroughly adapted to our fallen nature - snares so suited to our lusts, and Satan has such a way of seducing his victim by little and little into the trap until it falls down upon him, that none can escape but by the power of God. I am well convinced that none can deliver the soul from these snares of the fowler, except that the mighty hand which brings up out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay! Time, however, will not permit me to enter into all the diversified trials and temptations with which the Lord exercises his saints.
II. - I therefore pass on to show what is the effect of falling into these divers temptations; for that is the source of the joy which we are bidden to count them. There is no profit or pleasure in temptations and trials viewed by themselves, for "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous." Heb 12:11. It is the effect they produce by which we are to calculate our gains. And this effect is two-fold as here pointed out by the pen of the Holy Ghost. One is that it tries faith; the other that it works patience.1. Whenever God communicates faith, he tries it. Why? That it may be proved to be genuine. Look at this in the case of Abraham. Abraham is a pattern to believers; he is therefore called "the father of all them that believe" Ro 4:11 - his faith being so eminent, and of a character so spiritual and gracious. But see how it was tried. For twenty-five years did the Lord try the faith he had planted in Abraham s bosom. Year after year, month after month, week after week, day after day, was the Lord trying Abraham s faith. Sarah s petulance, eager craving for a child, jealousy of Hagar and then oppressing her till she fled out of the house, and their increasing years and delayed prospects, must all have deeply tried the patriarch s faith. But against hope he believed in hope, was "strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able to perform." Ro 4:18-21. Look, too, at David s case. How he was hunted like a partridge on the mountains, and was in continual apprehension of losing his life by the hand of Saul, so that he said, "There is but a step between me and death." View those two eminent saints of God; where their faith was tried to the uttermost! In fact, the stronger your faith is, the greater trials it will have to endure. The reality, the genuineness, as well as the strength of your faith are only to be evidenced by the amount of trial which it will stand. When for instance, you have been walking for some months in a smooth and easy path, and have scarcely experienced any trials for without or within, you have hardly known the strength, or indeed even the reality, of your own faith. You have been induced to take things very much for granted. You have not looked to the Lord as you should look to him; nor trusted to his strength as you should trust to it. You have been secretly leaning upon your own wisdom, resting upon a consistent profession, and mistaking ease in Zion for assurance of faith. But a trial comes. Where is your faith now? It sinks out of sight; you seem to have none; at least, none that you can make use of, or that does you any good. "O," you say, "I thought I could trust the Lord; but how can I trust him now that he does not appear? He hides his face; the heavens are as brass; he shuts out my cry. Why is this trial come upon me? O that I could believe! What shall I do if he do not appear? I am a lost man without him. O that he would manifest himself in mercy to my soul!" The Lord is now trying your faith - whether you can trust to him in the dark as well as in the light - whether you can look to Jesus at the right hand of the Father with a single eye - whether you can rest the whole weight of your soul upon his blood and righteousness; or whether you want something in yourself to win the favour of God and recommend you to his notice. Thus the Lord tries your faith by putting a strain upon it. It is like the mode in which the strength of cannon is tested; the guns are doubly or trebly charged, and if they do not then burst, they are considered equal to anything that may be afterwards required of them. Or as cables are tried in the Queen s service; they are subjected to a strain very much greater than any they will be called upon to endure in actual use, and if they stand that heavy strain they are deemed fit for sea. In fact, not a sword or musket is entrusted to the soldier which has not been submitted to the most severe trial; or what would be the consequence? They might fail in the day of battle. Thus when the Lord calls a man to be a soldier and puts faith into his hand, he gives him a faith which he himself has tried, according to his own word; - "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich." He will not put into the hand of his soldier a sword that will break to pieces when he meets the enemy, or a weapon that shivers in the hand at the first onset, but one with which he shall be able to fight, and wherewith he shall come off more than conqueror; and that is, tried faith, his own gift and work. I extend the word to all your temptations as well as your trials. You will one day see, if not now, how every one has worked to this end; to try your faith, of what sort it is - whether your heart is right with God -whether you are sincere before the heart-searching Jehovah- whether you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with a faith of a divine operation, or whether your faith and hope are merely of nature s manufacture, put into your hand by self and Satan, to ruin you under a guise of religion.