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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles

Chapter 66 - James 5:7-11 - Patient Suffering Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles by Bonar, Horatius




Patient Suffering.


     "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the Judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."-James 5:7-11.



     It was to the saints among the scattered Jews that the apostle wrote this epistle. They were doubly trodden down,-first as Jews, among the heathen; and, secondly, as Christians, both among the heathen and their own kinsmen. He writes to them as men suffering hardship, persecution, contempt. Yet in writing to them he throws in a word to their unbelieving kinsmen. It is they especially that are singled out in the beginning of this chapter in these awful words: 'Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl, for the miseries that shall come upon you.' Though exempted from the national miseries that the Roman destroyer was bringing on their city and land, yet there was misery in store for them. A dark future, the chief object in which is the advent of that very Jesus whom they despised. They might be gathering to themselves the riches of the Gentiles; but what would riches profit in the day of wrath? Riches and raiment were perishing; gold and silver were rusting; treasure was heaped up for the devouring fire. Oppression, vanity, wantonness, condemnation of the unresisting just,-these were their crimes.

     Then the apostle turns to the little flock, exhorting them and comforting them in this day of evil. Two things he presses on them, patience and firmness.

     (1.) Patience.-Persecution towards themselves, and ungodliness all around, would be apt to ruffle them, the latter perhaps more than the former. They might fret themselves because of evil doers. They might become impatient,-impatient because they were suffering so much; impatient because iniquity was abounding so greatly; impatient because the Lord was so long in coming. Let us cherish patience under wrong; patience in tribulation; patience in provocation; patience in the midst of error and iniquity. In patience let us possess our souls; let patience have her perfect work.

     (2.) Firmness.-We are not to be waverers, men of a divided or double heart, tossed to and fro like a leaf; yielding, compromising, unstable, undecided; but firm, steadfast, and unmoveable; not bending like a reed, but erect as the palm; not driven about like chaff, but rooted like the bills; 'stablished, strengthened, settled.' Be firm, be brave; set your faces like flint to the enemy; be not carried about. Hold fast that which ye have received; be faithful unto death.

     For these two things he gives this great motive, 'The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.' He would have them be influenced by this coming; he would have us also. Be patient and firm; for,

     (1.) The Lord is to come.-This is a certainty; no mere peradventure or conjecture, but a certainty. The Lord shall come. Therefore be patient and steadfast.

     (2.) He is coming suddenly.-Like lightning, like a thief, like a snare; when men are saying peace and safety. Therefore be patient and steadfast.

     (3.) He may come soon.-Very soon. How soon we know not. These are the last days. The world is growing old; the night is falling down; the storm is rising. Be patient and steadfast.

     (4.) He comes for blessing.-His Church is then to receive full blessing; Israel is then to be blessed; nay, and all earth is to be blessed. His coming is to be like the morning,-like rain upon the mown grass; and as the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruits of earth with patience, so are we. His coming is to bring with it both the early and the latter rain, nay, and the harvest too.

     (5.) He comes for vengeance.-It is the day of vengeance. Then comes the iron rod, the 'glittering sword,' the earthquake, the lightning, the furious hail. Vengeance on the ungodly, on these rich who have abused their riches; on all persecutors, all enemies of His Church. O enemy of Christ, what will then become of you? O hater of the Church, scoffer at religion, lover of the world, what will be your doom? 'Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?'

     It was for a suffering time and an afflicted Church that this epistle was written. Thus the apostle speaks: 'Blessed is the man that endureth temptation' (or trial); 'Submit yourselves to God;' 'Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep;' 'Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord.'

     To support and enforce these exhortations, he takes two instances from the Old Testament,-the one of simple suffering, viz, the prophets; the other of suffering issuing in deliverance, viz. Job. He bids us look at both.

     I. The prophets.-They were not only men of like passions or feelings as we are, but subject to like sufferings, nay, greater. They were pre-eminently sufferers, endurers. They were 'examples of suffering affliction (maltreatment) and of patience' (long endurance or patience). Of them he speaks so specially in the next clause: 'We count these enduring ones blessed.'

     (1.) They were prophets.-An honourable name; amongst the noblest of the noble in the sight of God; men full of the Spirit of God; peculiarly honoured of God.

     (2.) They spoke in the name of the Lord.-It was 'the Spirit of the Lord (or of Christ) which was in them.' They spoke not their own words, but His; not by their own authority or power, but His; not concerning themselves, but Him. For this they were raised up.

     (3.) They did the work of God.-For this end they were raised up and filled with the Spirit, that they might not only speak the words, but do the work of God, be His witnesses, lights in a dark world. They worked long, and well, and patiently, for Him who had so honoured them, by giving them His word to speak, and His work to do.

     (4.) They were sore tried men (Hebrews 11:35, 38).-Very sore and various were their hardships, and sorrows, and persecutions. 'They were destitute, afflicted, tormented.' Their character, their office, their work, their relation to God, and connection with His service, did not exempt them from suffering. They were like Paul, of whom it was said, 'I will show them bow great things they must suffer for My name's sake.' They were made to suffer the more, in some respects, at least, just because of what they were,-(1) that they might be disciplined in their own souls; (2) that they might be fitted for their work; (3) that they might speak experimentally, as men who had passed through human trials, and not been lifted out of them; (4) that they might not be exalted above measure, but kept low by the thorn in the flesh.

     (5.) They were blessed men.-'We count them happy which endure;' 'Of them the world was not worthy.' They were sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; dying, yet living; persecuted, but not forsaken. God supplied all their need, and raised them above their sorrows. In their endurance there was blessedness. 'Blessed is the man that endureth trial,'-the man who is not only tried, but who bears up under it, or, perhaps, like the apostle, learns to 'glory in tribulations.'

     Thus men in all ages and lands, who have been honoured to do much for God, have had to suffer for the honour. When setting out at first, perhaps they had no idea of this. It was God's work, and they thought it would all be pleasant. They did not then know what they had to pass through in order to keep them low, and to fit them for their work in the Church, or throughout the world. When we pray to be made useful, or holy, or successful, the issue will be all we have asked for; but the process may be sore and terrible to flesh and blood.

     II.  Job.-Let us mark here-

     (1.) His character.-He was a good man, fearing God, shunning evil, upright in his ways. He was a prosperous, wealthy, good man, though with defects about him which it required the furnace to purge out.

     (2.) His fame.-'Ye have heard' of him. Like 'the elders,' or worthies of the olden time, he had 'obtained a good report.' He was spoken of among men far and wide, not only as the greatest man of the East in his day, but as a suffering man.

     (3.) His trial.-Take it for all in all, we shall see it to be one of the sorest and most terrible that ever fell on man. The first two chapters of the book of Job are a brief record of unheard of and unequalled calamities of every kind, personal and domestic,-house, family, property, goods, health, all swept away.

     (4.) His patience.-The word is more than 'patience;' it is patient endurance of heavy burdens and trials. He was a much-tried, much-enduring, and unmurmuring man. He calmly acquiesced in the dealing of God, disputing neither its wisdom nor its love. 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away;' 'Shall we receive good of the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?' 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.' In some we see the 'patient continuance in well doing;' in Job we have the patient endurance of sorrow.

     (5.) His deliverance.-This was 'the end of the Lord,' or the issue which the Lord had in view from the beginning,-to deliver him out of all his troubles. In the case of many of the prophets of old, and the righteous men of subsequent times,-such as the martyrs,-there was no deliverance in this life: 'They loved not their lives to the death.' It was not light with them at evening time. Their sorrows ended only with their life. Not so with Job. God's purpose with him was different. It was to purge away his dross; to try him and bring him forth as gold; to lead him out of darkness into light; to make his latter days the most prosperous of his life.

     (6.) His testimony to God.-The sum of that testimony was, that 'the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.' This is the apostle's interpretation of Job's life. It was a testimony to the love of God. It showed that God afflicted not willingly; that He not only withdrew His hand as soon as the purpose of the trial was served, but poured out His love in blessing,-as if He would snake up to His servant for his days of sorrow; as if He would recompense a hundred-fold of joy for all his sorrow. God's gracious character comes out very brightly from His treatment of Job. He saw he needed the furnace; He put him into the furnace, all the while watching over him in love till the refining process had done its work; and then there comes forth the overflowing outburst of His pitifulness and tender mercy. All is love; not anger, not indifference to the sorrow of His servant; but love, profound and paternal love,-love that passeth knowledge.