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To bear a succession of exercises, one after another, is still more. To have God's waves and billows to pass over us, and yet keep our heads above water, neither thinking him unkind, I or unjust, or unfaithful, nor losing the use of reason and grace, is a noble firmness of mind. How illustrious was the composure of Job, when so many messengers of ill tidings came thick one upon another! While he humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, yet he "fell down and worshipped, saying, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of „the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly," Job i. 20— 22.
To bear the long continuance of exercises. Many, who have behaved well upon the first attack, yet have been tired out by the length and tediousness of afflictions; they have lost the possession of themselves at last, after they had suppressed passion, and discontent, and hard thoughts, for a considerable tune, and have fallen into some indirect course for relief, to which they could not find in their hearts to listen at first. Though tribulation is sometimes so sanctified, that it worketh patience, Hom. v. 3. yet this is far from being its constant effect. But how glorious the example, when a man perseveres in patience through a long course of pain, or poverty, or reproach! There was this circumstance to magnify the patience of Job; though at the same time he is an instance how strong a temptation the length of exercises is, since even patient Job, who began so gloriously, was occasionally transported into some sallies of impatience in the course of his trial.
To bear the hand of God, when he touches us in a most tender point; not only in small trials, but in great and heavy afflictions; if life, suppose, be threatened. The malice of Satan would not be satisfied, when he saw Job's steadiness under his many calamities, without urging God to put him to this last trial; well knowing, that "skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life," Job ii. 4. How hard to have the trial of our faith found unto praise in such a case! or still to exercise patience when God deprives us not only of things more remote from our hearts, but when he calls for our Isaacs, when he takes away our idols! Here men are apt ta say, I could have borne any thing but this.
To bear God's rod, when we cannot account for his reasons and ends in it. When "clouds and darkness are round about him," yet to believe that "judgment is the habitation of his throne;" this is a hard but a glorious display of patience. Job co uld say this, Job xxiii. 8—11. "Behold, I go forward hut he is not there; and backward but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him. But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps; his way have 1 kept and not declined."
To bear sharp afflictions, when natural spirits are decayed. The spirit of a man, when lively and well supported by the animal spirits, will go a great way to sustain his infirmity; but when the spirit is wounded, not only by guilt, but by .•weakness of body, sinking distresses, or the infirmities of age, how much harder are the amiable expressions of patience!
To bear affliction patiently, when an unlawful way of de. liverance seems directly to offer itself, and to promise relief. It is hard, in such circumstances, to choose suffering rather than sinning; to be content to bear our burthen still, rather than be eased of it upon such terms: as, in a time of persecution for conscience' sake, if we should have life or liberty offered us, on condition we will violate the dictates of our consciences; this is an eminent trial of Christian patience.
3. A Christian hath need of patience, to persist in waiting to the end to receive the promise. Especially,
If he have lively views of a happy state before him, and comfortable hopes of his own title to it. Here the height of his Christianity increases the trial of his patience. The more relishing the heavenly state is to him, so much the more ardent will be his desires.
If his course be greatly imbittered in the mean while by bodily infirmities, by troubles in the world, by the removal of many of his pious friends and acquaintances to heaven before him; this heightens the exercise of patience to an assured Christian, from the delay of his hopes.
If his service and usefulness are to appearance much over.
When Paul wr.s in a strait between two, which to choose, being with Christ, or staying a little longer below, he was content, upon the prospect of future serviceableness to the church of Christ, to remain longer in the body, Phil. i. 23, 24. But when an aged servant of Christ, who knows whither he is going, but finds that his active work is done, and I thinks himself laid by as a vessel of little more use; when such a one is yet continued waiting in pain and weakness, without being capable of relishing the enjoyments, or performing the business of life, this is a singular exercise of patience. And especially,
If he have long thought himself going, just at harbour, but finds himself driven back again to sea, every such instance is a fresh trial to him.
A Christian, then, has great need of patience. I proceed,
III. To shew the way to which Christianity directs us for supplying this need, or for furnishing us with the patience required. And it suggests to us such directions as these:
1. Whatever is a trial of our patience, we should consider it as the will of God concerning us. This is the justest foundation of patience, and the best preparation for it. It will overawe our souls, to do, and bear, and wait, without fretting or passionate sallies. For what room can there be to repine, when all is adjusted by one whose "counsel shall stand, and who will do all his pleasure," and who is a better judge than ourselves what is fit for us? Shall not this induce us to say with a placid submission, "Lord, not as I will, but as thou wilt? Let him do what seemeth him good." If our work in some parts of it be ungrateful to flesh and blood, self-denying, and singular, yet should we not think, "Who art thou, O man! who repliest against God?" Should we be lawless, or receive law from him? In the whole compass of duty we are doing the will of God, and that is enough. Are we labouring without visible success? Yet we should, at God's command, let down the net again: he may have purposes, to serve by our work, though our direct end in it should never be accomplished; or he may accomplish our desire by future endeavours, though those already past have been ineffectual. Are we called to sufferings? We ought to remember, that
they came not by chance, but "according to the will of God," and therefore we may therein "commit the keeping of our souls to him in well-doing, as to a faithful Creator," 1 Pet. iv. 19- We are "waiting till our change come but let ua think, that it is "all the days of our appointed time," Job xiv. 14. Before we fall asleep, we must be content to "serve our generation according to the will of God," Acts xiii. 36.; to accomplish the measure of service and suffering, which it is his pleasure to assign us, before we are dismissed. And though we should, in a great measure, be past active service, yet if it be his will that we should still remain examples of V waiting, is not that a sufficient reason to wait patiently, till he hath "fulfilled all the good pleasure of his goodness in us, and by us?"
2. We should strengthen our faith in the discoveries of the gospel, and live in the daily exercise of it. The principles of fi»ith contain the fittest motives to dispose the mind to a fixed patience, and an absolute resignation to the divine will in all circumstances; and, under the powerful influence of a lively faith in them, patience will be an easy and a practicable thing. Therefore, those who actually "inherit the promises," are represented as arriving at them "through faith and patience through faith as the principle, and patience as the fruit, Heb. vi. 12.
By this means we shall be satisfied that the exercises of our patience, are not inconsistent with the goodness and favour of .God. In circumstances that bear hard upon us, we may be ready to conclude, that if these are his will concerning us, they are certain marks that we are not in a state of acceptance: whereas faith will teach us, that " whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth ;" that, ," if we endure chastening, God dealeth with us as with sons," Heb. xii. f), 7.
Faith will assure us of divine care to moderate our exercises in proportion to our strength, to support us under them, and deliver us out of them in due time. Christ assured his first disciples of the special presence of God with them, and care of them, when he foretold the difficulties they were to pass through, Luke xxi.; that "he would give them a mouth and wisdom, which their adversaries should not be able to resist," ver. 15.; and that "not a hair of their head should perish," ver. 18.; and thereupon exhorts them "patience to possess their souls," ver. 19. If any should say, that this was an encouragement peculiar to them, the gospel has left one sufficient to support every true heliever, 1 Cor. x. 13. "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Faith will refresh us with the prospect of a blessed issue of all; that "blessed is the man that endureth tempation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him," Jam. v. 12.
3. We should carefully cultivate the principle of love* to God. That is the character of those who are declared blessed in the place just mentioned, and entitled to the crown of life after their trials. If, then, we love God in the darkest hours, we may take the comfort of that promise, and suppress all impatience in view of the approaching reward. And besides this, a strong affection to God will naturally put a good construction upon all Ins pleasure. We shall not think much of any service to which he calls us, when it is not only "the work• of faith," but "the labour of love," 1 Thess. i. 3f Then no sufferings for him will be accounted hard, but we shall rather "rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." No waiting will be thought unreasonable, while we are satisfied he loves us; and our love to him induces us to interpret all delays as consistent with that.
4. Let us often represent to our minds the present advantages of patience. It is its own reward, as impatience is its own punishment. What more advantageous view can be given of patience, than that of our Saviour, that by it we shall "possess our souls?" We shall keep reason and grace in the throne, and be capable of enjoying ourselves in all events; whereas impatience lays aside the man, and either sets up the brute or the devil in.us, leads us to act a foolish or an outrageous part. Patience lightens our burthen; impatience doubles it, piercing the heart through with many sorrows. Patience is the likely way to disarm an enemy, it pleases and honours God, and keeps us in a posture to receive a deliverance from our troubles, or the accomplishment of our hopes, with a double relish.