The Christian Grace of Patience
"When we consider what God has been to us, how faithfully He has stood by us, how repeatedly He has raised us up, surely, we will find strength amid our present troubles."
by John Flavel on March 29, 2022
Patience is a power to suffer hard and heavy things, according to the will of God. There are three parts to this definition.
Patience is a power. It is a passive fortitude whereby we are “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Col. 1:11).
Patience is a power to suffer hard and heavy things. God has several sorts of burdens to impose upon His people. Some are heavy and some light. Some are to be carried for a few hours and some for many days. Some are internal and some external.
Patience is a power to suffer hard and heavy things, according to the will of God. We are to exercise patience graciously, as God would have us. When this is the case, our patience is like Christ’s (1 Peter 4:19). His patience extended itself to every trouble and affliction that came upon Him (Ps. 40:12). His patience was full of submission, peace, obedience, and contentment in His Father’s will (1 Peter 2:22–23). As was His external behavior, so too was His internal frame of soul. No discontents, murmurings, or despondencies had a place in His heart.
How do we cultivate this Christian grace of patience?
First, we look upward to see the sovereign Lord who sends troubles upon us. They do not emerge from the dust but descend from heaven (Jer. 18:11). They are the Lord’s instruments to bring His wandering people to Himself. In the frame of our afflictions, we can observe divine wisdom in their choice, measure, and season. If we could look up to this sovereign hand in times of trouble, our hearts would be quiet. “It is the lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3:18). When we look no higher than people, our hearts swell with impatience. But if we see people as a rod in our Father’s hand, we will be quiet (Ps. 46:10). It is our failure to look up to God in our troubles that causes us to fret, murmur, and despond.
Second, we look downward to see what is below. We tend to think no one has suffered like us, and that there is no trouble like ours. We must look at others. Do we not see that others are in a far more miserable state than us? Have we lost a relation? Others have lost families. Have we lost an estate? Others have lost everything. Are we persecuted for Christ’s sake? Others have suffered far worse (Heb 11:36–38). What do we think of Job, David, Asaph, and others? The Almighty was a terror to them; the arrows of God pierced them; they roared by reason of the trouble of their hearts. Surely, we may see many on earth who are in a far lower and sadder condition than us. When we see all those who are below us, we will recognize that we have plenty of reasons to be quiet.
Third, we look inward to see if we can find something to quiet us. (1) What do we see of corruption? Does our proud heart need to be humbled? Does our carnal heart need to be mortified? Does our wandering heart need to be restored? “If necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). Do we not see the need of this present trouble? God knows we are ruined without it. Our corruptions require troubles to kill them. (2) What do we see of grace? The Lord has planted the principles of faith, humility, patience, and joy in our souls. Does the Lord intend for them to remain in their drowsy habits, or does He intend for us to exercise them? How can we do this without tribulations? “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3–4). When we look inward, we will be quiet.
Fourth, we look backward to see if there is something in our past that might quiet our impatient hearts. Is this the first difficulty we have ever experienced? We have been in trouble before, and the Lord has helped us. O, what cause do we have to be impatient? Did He help us then, and will He not help us now? “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (Lam. 3:21). Have we kept no records of past experiences? When we consider what God has been to us, how faithfully He has stood by us, how repeatedly He has raised us up, surely, we will find strength amid our present troubles.
Fifth, we look forward to see the end of our troubles. (1) We look to the end of their duration. They are not eternal. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). What are “momentary afflictions” in comparison to the vast eternity that is before us (2 Cor. 4:17)? What are a few days and nights of sorrows once they are gone? Are they not swallowed up as a spoonful of water in the vast ocean? (2) We look to the end of their operation. What do all these afflictions effect? Do they not result in an exceeding weight of glory? Do they not make us partakers of His holiness? Why would we be impatient on their account? God is using them to perfect our happiness.
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