Vital Godliness: A Treatise on
Experimental and Practical Piety
By William S. Plumer
"But the fruit of the Spirit is . . . patience."
"With all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2)
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." (Colossians
In the Greek Testament are two words which we translate
PATIENCE. One of these is rendered by Robinson—forbearance, long-suffering,
patient endurance. In Scripture it is used to express the forbearance or
patience of God towards sinners in delaying their just punishment. Rom. 2:4;
9:22; 2 Pet. 3 15. It also expresses human forbearance, or the patience of
one man towards another. Matt. 18:26, 29; Eph. 4:2. The verb from which it
is derived is used to express the delay of God to deliver his persecuted
people. Luke 18:7. And another signification is, that of man's quietly and
confidently awaiting blessings from God, as Gal. 5:22. In general this
patience is opposed to all hastiness of spirit towards God or man.
The other word in the Greek Testament rendered patience
is perhaps of still more frequent use, and signifies endurance, perseverance
or constancy. It often occurs in the epistles of the New Testament. In many
cases it clearly conveys the idea of perseverance in duty at all risks and
hazards—with hope towards God.
Buck defines patience to be "that calm and unruffled
temper, with which a godly man bears the evils of life."
Barrow says, "Patience is that virtue which qualifies
us to bear all conditions and all events, by God's disposal incident to us,
with such persuasions of mind, such dispositions and affections of heart,
such external deportments and practices of life, as God requires and good
Evans says, "Christian patience is a disposition that
keeps us calm and composed in our frame, and steady in the practice of our
duty under the sense of our afflictions, or in the delay of our hopes."
Charnock says, "In regard of God, patience is a
submission to his sovereignty." "To endure a trial, simply because we cannot
avoid or resist it, is not Christian patience. But to humbly submit because
it is the will of God to inflict the trial, to be silent because the
sovereignty of God orders it—is true godly patience."
Mason says, "Christian patience is not a careless
indolence, a stupid insensibility, mechanical bravery, constitutional
fortitude, a daring stoutness of spirit, resulting from fatalism, human
reasoning, or pride. Christian patience is gift and grace of the Holy
Spirit, nourished by heavenly truth, and guided by scriptural rules."
Bates says, "Insensibility of God's hand inflicting
trials, is as different from Christian patience; as a deathly lethargy is
different from the quiet, soft sleep of health. Nothing kindles God's anger
more than neglecting his direct agency in sending the trial. It is equally
provoking, as the despising of his love; it is a symptom of a wretched state
of soul. If there proceed no sighs and groans, no signs of grief from the
sense of God's displeasure, it is a sad evidence there is no spiritual life.
Indolence under the effects of God's anger is like the stillness of the Dead
sea, whose calm is a curse."
From what has been said it appears that
patience has various OBJECTS. Towards
God it is resigned, and says, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord."
Towards Christian people, who justly reprove us, it is meek, and
says, "Let the righteous smite me." Towards wicked and unreasonable
people, who love to see others afflicted, it says, "Rejoice not against
me, O my enemy." Towards the trials under which we are called to
suffer, it is not uneasy and rebellious, but rather gives them a kind
reception. Under provocation it is gentle and not resentful. It
blesses and curses not. It bears insults and injuries without malice. It is
"patient toward all men." Under affliction it is quiet and submissive. It
will use no wicked measures to relieve even great distresses. It is "patient
in tribulation"—even the most extreme sufferings. Under delays it is still
and uncomplaining. It loves to leave everything in the hands of the Father.
To this Paul refers when he says, "You have need of
patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the
promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will
not tarry." Heb. 10:36, 37.
The duty of patience is ILLUSTRATED in the Scriptures by
several different similes. The first is that of the FARMER. "Be patient,
therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits
for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it
receives the early and the late rains." James 5:7. The precious seed is
often sown in spring. For moisture it is dependent on dews and rains, over
which the farmer has no control. Nor can he either send or withhold the snow
for its protection against the rigors of winter. Nor can he defend it
against blight and mildew and the caterpillar and the worm. Nor can he reap
his harvest for months after the seed-time. So that "patience" is required.
At last the precious fruits come, and all his toils are rewarded and all his
Another mode of representing patience is by the life and
habits of a city WATCHMAN. Thus the psalmist says, "I wait for the Lord, my
soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than
watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning." Psalm 130:5,
6. The night may be dark and long and stormy, but the longest night has its
morning, the darkest night has the day-spring coming after it, and the most
stormy weather is followed by calm and sunshine. The weather-beaten watchman
knows that he will be allowed to cease his rounds and at last rest in his
bed. He rejoices in hope of sure release. He longs for the time to come. Yet
he frets not because it seems to tarry. He knows he cannot hasten it. If he
could do away with night altogether, it would but spoil his business. If he
could materially abbreviate it, he would but diminish his gains. So he
enters upon his beat and its duties with firmness and constancy.
A third mode of representing this patience is by the
duties and habits of a SERVANT. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto
the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her
mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon
us." Psalm 123:2. The context shows that the state of mind here described
had special reference to the state of the righteous as called to endure the
contempt and scorning of the proud.
A quiet patient spirit is also set forth in God's word by
the behavior of a WEANED CHILD. David says, "Surely I have behaved and
quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a
weaned child." Psalm 131:2. This process, when first commenced, produces
wakefulness, restlessness, fretfulness; but when completed, it produces
quietness and submission. An illustration so familiar to all parents needs
no further explanation.
Job uses another simile to set forth the same thing, that
of a hired man, who watched the lengthening shadows of the evening, and
longed for his reward. He had too much principle to desert his work or to
attempt to defraud his employer. But at the going down of the sun he looked
for pay. This seems to be a favorite mode of expressing the views of life
entertained by Job in the time of his great and sore afflictions. Job 7:1,
When EXAMPLES of patience are demanded, we can be
at no loss. James says, "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in
the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of
patience. Behold, we count them happy who endure. You have heard of the
patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very
pitiful, and of tender mercy."
Time would fail us to tell of Isaiah royally descended,
who for his fidelity is said to have been nailed up in a box and sawn
asunder; of Jeremiah and all his suffering in the slimy pit and elsewhere;
of Daniel in the lions' den; of the faithful Hebrews in the fiery furnace;
and of all those great sufferers for the truth and honor of God in ancient
times. Look also at our forefathers in Scotland, England, Ireland, France,
Holland, and Germany.
But the apostle James selects Job as a special
example. And indeed he was the most patient of all merely human sufferers.
What did he not lose without one sinful word? Seven thousand sheep, three
thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, a great
retinue of servants, seven sons and three daughters, and bodily health—were
all taken, yet in all this his patience seems not once to have failed. His
grief was heavier than the sand of the sea. The arrows of the Almighty were
within him, and their poison was drinking up his spirits. Yes, the terrors
of God set themselves against him. Yet more than fifteen hundred years
afterwards James points to him as the brightest example of patience among
the ancient servants of God.
The most illustrious sufferer and the best pattern of
patience was Jesus Christ. None suffered so greatly—and none suffered
so patiently. He endured mockery, contradiction, scourging, and death at the
hand of man. He also bore the wrath of God. The violence of men and the
wrath of God, treachery and desertion by his disciples, and the hiding of
his Father's face—all came on him at once. Yet he bore it all in a blameless
manner. "When reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened
not, but committed himself to him who judges righteously." "For this cause,"
says he, "came I to this hour." "Not my will, but your will be done." None
can be at a loss for a safe guide, if he will but turn his eyes to Christ.
There all is perseverance, forbearance, quiet, unmurmuring endurance,
unflinching obedience—human nature indeed lifting up both hands in terror
and amazement, but principle and piety triumphing over all temptations.
Blessed be God, our Guide and Pattern has left us a perfect example.
This patience is the fruit of God's Spirit. Paul
prayed that his Colossian converts "might walk worthy of the Lord unto all
pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge
of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto
all patience and long-suffering, with joyfulness." Col. 1:10, 11. Every good
gift comes from heaven. Human nature is impatient, self-willed, restless,
turbulent. Men must be taught of God, or they never will know anything to
purpose. Accustomed as men are, to some kinds or degrees of inconvenience,
conscious as they ought to be that they deserve far worse than ever befalls
them—yet all this is to no purpose until God by his Spirit gives them
affections and principles which are quite above the measure and strength of
That this grace enters into the essentials of
Christian character, is certain from the fact that it is twice so
catalogued. In 1 Tim. 6:11, Paul exhorts Timothy to "follow after
righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." And in Galatians
5:22, 23, he says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." He who dares erase from
either catalogue a single word, takes great liberties with sacred things,
and brings his soul into jeopardy. It is also obvious from the very nature
of holiness, and from the nature of heavenly things. Would not a fiery,
impatient spirit, be every way as unlovely and as unfit for the society
above, as the spirit of revenge, of pride, or of covetousness?
If we have an impatient temper, occasions and temptations
will not be lacking to elicit it. The world is full of evil-doers and
evil-doings, of evil-speakers and evil-speeches, of evil-surmisers and evil-surmisings.
"Do not be agitated by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong. For they
wither quickly like grass and wilt like tender green plants. Refrain from
anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated—it can only bring harm."
Psalm 37:1, 2, 8. Sometimes the power of wicked men is fearful, and wielded
in the most causeless and oppressive manner. The beast which rose out of the
sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and
upon his heads the name of blasphemy—has always had a mouth speaking great
things and blasphemies; and has often had power to make war with the saints,
and to overcome them; and all whose names are not written in the book of
life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, do at times worship
him. And he carries God's people into captivity, and he slays them with the
sword. In such a state of things as this, we see "the patience and the faith
of the saints." Rev. 13:10. As a roaring lion, Satan goes about seeking whom
he may devour.
Doubtless there is a just anger—a righteous indignation
against wrongs and wrong-doers. It is based on a sense of justice. But anger
which results from our evil tempers, which is violent or perpetuated, does
no good. It torments him who exercises it. It grieves his best friends; it
terrifies his dependents. It makes fellowship with him a source of misery.
It is commonly followed by dreadful reproaches of conscience. It drives away
many who would otherwise delight to do one a service. It mends no mistakes,
relieves no pains, repairs no losses. And it is infectious, and in turn
communicated to those around us.
A time of sickness generally tries one's patience.
There is always much sickness in the world. No man can entirely escape it
but by a sudden death, which in a moment calls him into eternity. Some
sicknesses waste the frame without beclouding the mind. Others beget stupor,
which destroys sensibility to pain. But generally sickness renders men less
capable of reasoning soundly and feeling kindly, than before. To him who is
of a patient spirit, sickness may, without a miracle, be a means of great
enjoyment. It enables a good man to test his principles. The severer the
sickness in such cases, the richer the blessings following. Probably the
happiest person in many a large city in Christian lands is some child of
God, whose bodily health makes him a stranger to sound sleep, and a stranger
also to the house of God. There is still living a man who says he has seen
four very happy days. One was the day of his conversion; another was the day
of his marriage; the other two were days spent in a sick-bed far from home.
The church has had few brighter ornaments than the
celebrated Andrew Rivet. As a student, a writer, a preacher, a professor, he
was full of life and energy; yet he said he "had learned more divinity in
ten days' sickness than in fifty years' study." The pious Halyburton, in a
state of great weakness and pain, said, "Verily there is a reality in
religion. The close acquaintance I have had with God within these two days,
has been better than ten thousand times the pains I have all my life been at
about religion. These fourteen or fifteen years I have been studying the
promises; but I have seen more of the book of God this night than in all
that time. If I had my students about me now, I would give them a lesson of
In 1826, one of my class-mates was taken sick. His
illness became extreme. His life was in great peril. At times his pains were
excruciating. He was not at ease one moment. Yet all who visited him were
witnesses of his patience and joy. Their report led others to his sick-bed.
Many a fellow-student dropped his books every day, and said, "I will now
turn aside and see this great sight." This good man died not then, but lived
to proclaim for several years the unsearchable riches of Christ. He bore
with patience many trials, and carried with him through life, a sweet savor
of Christ, and has now fallen asleep in Jesus. This happy sufferer was Jacob
Every pastor sees cases of this kind. Every evangelical
church furnishes them. If God so blesses us in sickness, we need not dread
its sharpest pangs. They prepare us for sweet mercies. Even if we have no
transports, we may yet have quietness. Though we may not exult, we may
endure. God may appoint to us wearisome nights and days of vanity, scaring
us in visions, or holding our eyes waking. Our bed may not comfort us, nor
our couch ease our complaints. For a time God may hide his face from us, or
our consolations may be small. Yet it is a very great attainment to lie
passive in God's hands, and know no will but his.
Some are impatient respecting the future. Their
faith is perhaps weak, their nerves are not strong, their circumstances not
easy, and they have great anxiety. Indeed most men have alternate hopes and
fears concerning coming days. It would greatly tend to check such thoughts
if we would remember that the future, which we so much dread, may never come
to us. There is nothing more certain than death, and nothing more
uncertain than the time when death may overtake us. The human mind
easily grows weary when prying into the future. A wise man can do nothing
better than look up to God, and say, 'My times are with you.' I cannot see
far; I am very blind. But God sees the end from the beginning. He is wise
and mighty. Outcomes are with him; duty is mine. If I can do what God
requires, I need not fear results. Times may change; revolution may swiftly
follow revolution; friends and scenes and seasons may change; I myself may
undergo many changes; but God, his word and plans and counsels, never
change. They are all holy and perfect.
To do one's duty and leave results with God is
scriptural. "Trust in the Lord—and do good." "Offer the sacrifices of
righteousness—and put your trust in the Lord." What better can a man do?
What else can he do—unless he frets and sins? A great means of curing
impatience is a close attention to present duties, some of which are always
instant and urgent. One of these is the maintenance of a devout spirit. He
who has no heart to pray and praise, to read God's word, to meditate on
divine things, and to try his own ways—has not begun to do his duty, and
lays himself open to the assaults of impatience.
Whatever is unfriendly to a spirit of devotion is
dangerous. We all need fire, fire from heaven, to consume our sacrifices.
The love of Christ must be shed abroad within us. If prayer were always "the
key of the day; and the lock of the evening," we would have far fewer
impatient speeches. The man who finds God's words and eats them, who
meditates on divine things in the night-watches, who searches his heart as
with candles, who is in the fear of the Lord all the day long, who praises
the Lord seven times a day—cannot be under the sway of impatience.
Let a man also set himself to the imitation of Christ,
whose example is perfect and lovely; let him follow the Lamb wherever he
leads; let him walk in the footsteps of his great Forerunner; let him be
careful to do this with exactness and alertness, and impatience shall not be
his master. Let him delight in the law of God after the inward man, let him
esteem God's precepts concerning all things to be right, let him love the
Scripture which reproves his sins, let him take it as a rule for all his
thoughts, words, and deeds, and he will have so much to do that he will find
impatience yielding before a hearty performance of duty.
Let him watch his own heart, let him see to it that he is
not merely "converted from the sins of men—to the sins of devils," as from
drunkenness, gluttony, and lewdness—to envy, malice, and spiritual pride.
But let him see to it that he is turned from sin to holiness, from Satan
unto God, and he will by degrees gain a sure victory over impatience.
Let him die unto the world, let him die daily; let it be
his rule, "I will not commit myself to worldly matters." Let him leave the
world before the world leaves him. Let him learn that the world is a cheat
and a liar, not by always seeking to it, but by obeying the lessons of past
experience and the teachings of God's word—and his impatience concerning the
future will give way.
Let him learn to avoid the habit of complaining, let him
labor to take cheerful views of things, so far as this can in truth be done.
Or if the sorrow of the mind be great, let him go chiefly to God with it. A
man may complain to God, but let him never complain of God. Let him never
tire in his Master's service, always making Christ's righteousness his
righteousness, God's will his will, God's Son his bright and morning star.
Let him consent to be nothing, that God may be all and in all. Let him live
by faith, and walk by faith. Let him diligently run the race that is set
before him, and he will find sinful impatience leaving him more and more,
until at last it shall be a vanquished foe, and he shall rise to dwell with
God. Above all things, look to God himself.
Perhaps old age has begun to come upon you, and
you find there comes with it a certain spirit of impatience. It is sometimes
said that the old are liable to peevishness. Great changes have taken place
in the world since their habits were formed. Such conduct is often exhibited
before them as makes them feel that others wish their place or their
property. They see but little reverence for grey hairs. They have many
infirmities. They are often kept from the house of God. Disappointment
sometimes sorely tries their temper. They often see mean advantages taken of
their age or weakness. Sometimes they have no means of occupying their time.
They cannot see to read, or they did not form the habit of reading when
young, and so cannot now enjoy it. Early in life Hall wrote, "There is
nothing more odious than fruitless old age. And as no tree bears fruit in
autumn, unless it blossoms in the spring, so that my old age may be
profitable, and laden with fruit, I will endeavor that my youth may be
studious, and flowered with the blossoms of learning and observation."
It is a great thing for old people to love reading. If
the Bible alone is their companion and joy, they will surely find "solitude
sweetened." It is a great matter for any, and especially for the aged, to
learn to control their tongue and temper; to be economical without
stinginess, liberal without prodigality, cheerful without levity, humble
without baseness, strict without bigotry, devout without fanaticism, and
obliging without laxity of principle.The angry passions by all men,
especially by the aged, should be kept under strict control. Earnestly cry
to God for guidance, support, and comfort in old age. No wit, no learning,
no renown in early life, can of themselves preserve one from contempt in old
Dean Swift was a great student, scholar, and wit; in
old age he became stupid, helpless, senseless. He was fed like a child, and
was actually exhibited by his servants for reward, as a show to visitors. No
man ever made a deeper impression on England than the Duke of Marlborough.
At court his sway was above that of all but the queen. In France his name
was a solemn caution to men to live peaceably. All Europe resounded with the
fame of his deeds. Yet his last days were full of misery, as he lost his
God alone and God only can protect the aged from all
harm. Look to him. "Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land
and live securely. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your
heart's desires. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,
making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the
noonday. Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him." (Psalms
37:3-7). He will ensure that the hoary head of the righteous, shall be a
crowned with glory. If you are old, remember that as long as you live, one
of your most solemn duties is to set an example of cheerfulness and
patience; that as memory fails, it needs to be often refreshed by the
perusal of God's word; that as your time on earth is short, you should be
careful that none of it run to waste; that your sufferings on earth will not
last long; and that God's promises to pious old age are very full and
Listen to his words: "Your life will be brighter
than noonday; its darkness will be like the morning." Job 11:17.
"They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and
flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright: he is my rock, and there is
no unrighteousness in him." Psalm 92:14. Again he says, "Even when you're
old, I'll take care of you. Even when your hair turns gray, I'll support
you. I made you and will continue to care for you. I'll support you and save
you." Isa. 46:4. Surely with such promises we may safely trust an unseen God
even in the midst of the trials and weaknesses of age. How memorable that
saying of an eminent servant of God, "I have had six children, and I bless
God that they are either with Christ or in Christ, and my mind is at rest
concerning them. My desire was that they should have served Christ on earth;
but if God will rather choose to have them serve him in heaven, I have
nothing to object to it."
Are you a teacher of the young? Are you
endeavoring to form the minds of others to virtue and knowledge? Be patient.
Rule your own spirit; teach the same lesson over and over again; do not
upbraid others for their dullness. Persevere. Be pleasant. Are you laboring
for the conversion of others, and do they seem very dull and obstinate? Be
patient with them. As long as God spares them, there is hope. Who can tell
but the Lord will be gracious in the last extremity? Hope and plead with
them. Hope and pray to God. Never cease your endeavors until life is
Are you slandered? Do not be revengeful. Jesus
Christ was more reviled and misrepresented than you have ever been. Make him
your pattern. It is better to be slandered than to be a slanderer. It will
do you more harm to lose your temper and fall into sin, than to have all
manner of evil spoken against you falsely.
Are you poor? Jesus Christ was more so. Be patient
under trials. Christ passed through many worse trials. If men despise you
for your poverty, it may drive you to the mercy-seat; and will not that be
good for you?
Have you bodily pain? Learn to distinguish between
those effects which show sinful impatience and those which are purely
physical. A man may indulge very sinful impatience towards God, and yet not
utter a sigh or a groan. Another may be in a state of mind highly pleasing
to God, and yet every breath may be a groan or a sigh. It is not sinful for
men to give natural expression to their sense of pain.
The MOTIVES which may properly be urged upon us to
exercise patience are many and strong.
1. The impatient man is unhappy, and nothing can
hinder his being so, but a change of temper. He doubles all his sorrows.
Those around him are apt to imitate him, and their impatience reacts on him.
In both prosperity and adversity, he is destitute of solid peace of mind.
2. The impatient man brings on himself every sort of
evil, and especially great guilt in the sight of God. "He who has no
rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without
walls." Proverbs 25:28. That is, he lies open to the invasion of all evils;
he is protected against none of them. In a thousand respects, "the patient
in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." Ecc. 7:8.
3. However sharp our pains and great our sufferings may
be, they will not last always. The apostle says, "Be patient; establish
your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draws near."
4. Patience is one link in the golden chain which holds
us safe on earth in the midst of enemies and perils. Nor is there a
brighter link in that chain. Paul says, "We also rejoice in our afflictions,
because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces
proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not
disappoint, because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the
Holy Spirit who was given to us." Rom. 5:3-5. James also says, "Consider it
a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing
that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its
complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing."
(James 1:2-4). It was a noble exclamation in Fenelon when his library was on
fire, "God be praised that it is not the dwelling of some poor man."
5. God has mercifully condescended to instruct us on this
whole subject by divine example. To his enemies how amazingly patient is
God. How he bears with sinners, and forbears to punish them. Indeed, ungodly
men in all ages have hardened themselves in sin because God was so good.
They have long and blasphemously cried, "Where is the promise of his coming?
for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were." How
long did the patience of God wait in the days of Noah. How many thousands of
offences, even open and daring sins, do multitudes commit, and yet God
spares them, giving them time for repentance. Even the worst criminals are
commonly permitted to live long enough to repent, if they have a heart to do
so. Shall God show patience under such fearful provocations, and shall we be
impatient under any wrongs committed against us? Oh let us "be imitators of
God, as dear children."
6. Especially has our Lord Jesus Christ left us an
illustrious example of forbearance, meekness, and patience. "He was
brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is
silent, so he opened not his mouth." His forbearance towards his enemies
when on earth, was amazing. Legions of angels would have fought his battles
with men, if he had bid them do so. But his hands and his heart were both
full of blessings, not curses. He bore all, he endured all, he murmured not,
he fretted not, he said no harsh things, he felt no unkindness, he was all
gentleness and love. In all this he left us an example, that we should
follow his steps. "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him."
7. "Now finally, all of you should be like-minded
and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, not
paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving
a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a
blessing. For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep
his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, and he must turn
away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it, because the
eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their
request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. And who will
harm you if you are passionate for what is good? But even if you should
suffer for righteousness, you are blessed." (1 Peter 3:8-14). "If when you
do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with
God." 1 Pet. 2:20. "For it is better, if the will of God be so, that you
suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing." 1 Pet. 3:17.
Every wise man has found affliction good for him.
Lord Campbell, Chief-justice of England, says, "Little do we know what is
for our permanent good. Had Bunyan been discharged from prison, and allowed
to enjoy his liberty, he no doubt would have returned, filling up his
intervals of leisure with field preaching; his name would not have survived
his own generation, and he would have done little for the pious improvement
of mankind. But the prison doors were shut upon him for twelve years. Being
cut off from the external world, he communed with his own soul, and inspired
by Him who touched Isaiah's hallowed lips with fire, he composed the noblest
allegory, the merit of which was first discovered by the lowly, but which is
now lauded by the most refined critics; and which has done more to awaken
piety and to enforce the precepts of Christian morality, than all the
sermons that have been published by all the prelates of the Anglican
In God's plan, to descend is first; to ascend comes
afterwards. We must sink that we may rise. Good old Berridge says,
"Afflictions, desertions, and temptations are as needful as consolations.
Jonah's whale will teach as good a lesson as as Pisgah's top. A man may
sometimes learn as much from being a night or a day in the deep, as from
being forty days in the mount. I see Jonah come out of a whale cured of
rebellion. I see Moses go up into the mount with meekness, and come down in
a huff and break the tablets of stone. Further, I see three special
disciples attending their Master into the mount, and falling asleep there.
It is well for you to be clothed in sackcloth while you tarry in the
wilderness. Look upward, and press forward. Heaven's eternal hills are
before you, and Jesus stands with arms wide open to receive you. One hour's
sight and enjoyment of the Bridegroom in his palace above, will make you
forget all your troubles on the way."
Three remarks are offered in
1. We see the unspeakable value of Christian truth.
It is a stay and a joy when all comforts and resources of earth fail. Even
wicked men have often confessed its power. Before his own mind was
influenced by pious hopes or principles, Richard Cecil made the following
observations: "I see two unquestionable facts. 1. My mother is greatly
afflicted in circumstances, body, and mind, and yet she cheerfully bears up
under all by the support she derives from constantly retiring to her closet
and to her Bible. 2. My mother has a secret spring of comfort of which I
know nothing; while I, who give an unbounded sway to my appetites, and seek
pleasure by every means, seldom or never find it. If, however, there is any
such secret in religion, why may I not attain to it as well as my mother? I
will immediately seek it from God." Indeed, so cold, so barren is
infidelity, so destitute of consolatory power, that many have borne a
testimony like that of Cecil, and these not merely the weak, but also the
The prince among German historians was Niebuhr. He was
not merely a great sceptic, he was an infidel. He was a rationalist, and
received nothing as true in revelation except what he chose. This man had a
son, whose happiness lay near his heart. Did he wish him to be educated an
infidel? Had he found his own system full of consolation? No. He says that
he intends his boy "shall believe in the letter of the Old and New
Testaments, and I shall nurture in him from his infancy a firm faith in all
that I have lost or feel uncertain about."
2. Of course it is very important to study God's word.
Would that we had once more a race of great Bible readers. There have
been such, and they have been fat and flourishing. Jerome seems to have had
the whole Scripture stored in his memory. Erasmus says of him, "Who has ever
learned by heart the whole Scriptures, or imbibed or meditated on them—as he
did?" After his conversion, Tertullian was occupied day and night in reading
God's word. He committed much of it to memory. That great divine Witsius was
able without a concordance to recite almost any passage of Scripture in the
original words, and tell the book, chapter, and verse. A few years ago, I
had an acquaintance on the bench of the Supreme court of his own state, who
quoted Scripture with readiness and accuracy, which showed that the word of
God dwelt in him richly. In fact, eminent Christians the world over are
characterized by constant and profound meditation on God's word.
Oh that men would be persuaded to make God's testimonies
their constant delight! Locke says, "If any man will obtain a true knowledge
of the Christian religion, let him study the holy Scriptures, especially in
the New Testament. Therein are contained the words of eternal life. It has
God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of
error, for its matter."
3. Let us follow Christ. Let us be content to live
and suffer with him. Robertson says, "We hear in these days a great deal
respecting rights—the rights of private judgment, the rights of labor, the
rights of property, and the rights of man. Rights are grand things, divine
things in this world; but the way in which we expound those rights, alas,
seems to me to be the very incarnation of selfishness. I can see nothing
noble in a man who is forever going about calling for his own rights. Alas,
alas for the man who feels nothing more grand in this wondrous, divine
world—than his own rights. Two thousand years ago, there was One here on
this earth who lived the grandest life that ever has been lived yet—a life
that every thinking man, with deeper or shallower meaning, has agreed to
call divine. I read little respecting his rights, or of his claims of
rights; but I have read a great deal respecting his duties. Every act he
did, he called a duty. I read a very little in that life respecting his
rights; but I hear a vast deal respecting his wrongs—infinite wrongs—wrongs
borne with a majestic, godlike silence. His reward? His reward was the
reward that God gives to all his true and noble ones—to be cast out in his
day and generation, and a life bringing crucifixion at last—those were his