Article of the Month

 

 

 

Christian Patience

by Abraham Kuyper

 

I

Patience a Rarity

Patience is a very desirable possession, a precious treasure. It is a gift of God to the broken-hearted.

Patience is not a common possession. We rarely meet with it, but it is frequently confused with imitations called “submissiveness” and “resignation.”

Patience does not sparkle in the sunlight of the day. It glows in the darkness, with an inner light. It glows in the night of suffering — of physical suffering, but especially of spiritual suffering, when the soul wrestles in deepest distress.

Patience is not like a beautiful climbing rose that twines its blossom-laden branches about the cross of life; it is rather like the modest spice-bush, without beauty of form or color, which perfumes the air with pungent sweetness.

Patience is like the nightingale, that has no beauty of plumage but sings sweetly in the dark night.

Or it is a precious stone which has no luster until the skilled worker has cut and ground and polished it.

Patience is one of the holy adornments with which Jesus Himself adorns the soul after He has cleansed it with His righteousness.

Christian patience has little in common with its namesakes found among men and women who live as “good neighbors” but are strangers to the grace of God. For in the heart that is not born anew true patience cannot grow. Such a heart has not the needed soil, and the atmosphere of the unsanctified life tends rather to wither it. A light brighter than the light of the sun, light from God Himself, unfolds its blossoms.

Patience is a fruit of the Spirit.

Its seed is not within us.

Its branches twine about the cross of Christ. Its goal is eternity. Its glory is in the grace of God.

Patience ought to be the possession of every child of God. If it is not his when he is reborn, it ought to grow within him as he grows in Christ.

But it is sadly lacking among us.

That is evident from our restlessness, from our aversion to the cross, though we hide that aversion behind a veil of resignation. It is especially evident when suffering fails to produce spiritual fruit, even suffering that is drained to the bitter dregs with apparent willingness.

We need patience. We need it to comfort us in trouble, to renew in us the joy of being God’s children, to revive our song of praise as we bear the cross which His love assigns us.

Then shall not God’s people lend willing ears to what the Word has to say about patience?
 

II

We Glory in Strength

By nature man is averse to patience. By nature man admires that which is strong and vigorous and powerful.

This is true not only of the man to whom the world is all. We Christians, too, because of the natural man within us, tend to enjoy a display of strength, and we watch with breathless interest when there is an exhibition of great power.

The ancients gloried in the games of the arena, where strength was pitted against strength. And how they worshipped the proud winner! That was not heathenish; it was human — human according to the standards of fallen man.

Today we still burn incense to our heroes and idolize them. We build monuments to those who fought great battles and performed valiant deeds. The human heart is ever ready to praise one who can do and dare, one who excels in physical prowess or in mental genius, one who keeps us spellbound by his daring and courage.

Such hero-worship is found among children at play, among young people at school, and among adults as well.

The idea of “a lamb that is dumb before the shearer” has no appeal to the world.

Stephen kneeling meekly under the rain of stones does not thrill men.

“Turn him thy left cheek also” is folly to them.

Patience is despised.

Energy! Power! Strength! In these man glories.

And rightly!

For in this, as in all things, man is. groping for the real and the true. With its little remaining instinct, man’s sinful natural unregenerated heart always reaches out hungrily for reality and truth. But it does not seek them in God. Therefore when man thinks to climb upward, he is plunging downward. He clutches at an ideal and grasps an imitation, a sham.

So the child of God, too, desires and admires power. For true strength and power belong to Him who is the All-powerful, the Almighty; to His Son, who brought life to the dead; to the Spirit who, emanating from the Father and the Son, renews the face of the earth.

Strength is the glory of a Christian — strength to fight, to wrestle, to endure.

The devout child of God, who walks close to his God, protests against “submissiveness.” Meek submission is contrary to the Word, contrary to the very nature of godliness, a failure to recognize the very essence of the Spirit.

Submissiveness is not a fruit of grace. It is rather an effort to earn favor.

How often a sufferer is told to “submit to the will of God,” to be “resigned,” to be meek and humble under the hand of God!

But that is not what God’s Word means when it exhorts to patience.

True patience is not meek submission to the inevitable, or apathetic drifting without resistance.

True patience, Biblical patience, is energy, buoyancy. It is strength — a strength more than earthly in origin.

It is endurance.

True patience is a mystery. Only the initiated can understand it. Only in faith can we attain to it.

Consider how two men accept inescapable suffering. One fears the pain and eagerly avails himself of the anesthetic which will make him insensible to the cutting knife. He does not want to suffer. He submits, but refuses to feel the pain. The other wants to know what is going on. Though the pain will be severe, he steels himself to bear it; he remains keenly sensitive to the knife, and endures the pain without complaint or moan. His is not mere submission. It is endurance.

Endurance is an exercise of heroic strength.

Have you experienced this higher strength, the strength of Christian patience?
 

III

For Love of God

Have you exhorted the sick and suffering to be patient and calm? Have you comforted them with talk of resignation, of submission to the will of God? Or praised them for bearing their cross without complaint?

Perhaps so. For such seems to be the accepted and common words of those who seek to comfort, uttered most earnestly by the sincere child of God as well as by those who have drifted from Him.

Yet such comfort is not in accordance with the spirit of God’s Word.

In His Word we do not read of “resignation” or “submission,” or of reconciling oneself to one’s lot.

Such ideas come from the Stoics of ancient Greece and from the fatalistic Mohammedan’s creed.

One who suffers without complaint may do so for the sake of the world, or for love of self, or for love of God. And only the last is true patience.

A soldier may be spurred to bravery by thirst for gain or honor. Pride and self-love may give him strength to bear hardship and pain without a murmur. Thus he may triumph over his suffering — triumph without faith in God, perhaps even while mocking at God and religion.

The stoics of ancient Greece and the fatalistic Mohammedans have their counterpart among us, even among us Christians. There are men who control themselves with rigid discipline, as if they were above suffering and sorrow. They pride themselves on being strong characters. They are ashamed to give way to grief or even to show any emotion. In secret they may occasionally writhe in pain or despair; in the presence of others never.

But their strength is not in God. It is in self, in their own enthroned ego

There are others, among the common run of folk, who submit to suffering as inevitable. It is the will of God, they say. And they confuse the scriptural doctrine of predestination with fatalism. It would be useless to protest or murmur. They resign themselves to trouble as a prisoner resigns himself to the narrow confines of his cell. They swallow their resentment. They sigh apathetically.

Thus men deaden themselves to feeling. They deaden themselves to love and beauty as well as to suffering. They kill within themselves the capacity to suffer, and they crush the heart’s craving for the lost happiness of Paradise. When the storms of life beat upon them and the waves of trouble wash over their heads, they shut their eyes and stop their ears — they choose rather to sink to near oblivion than to suffer. By living less, they suffer less.

Men who deny the Christ can thus make a show of noble strength without dependence upon the Source of all strength. In their show of noble courage they ignore Him who sends the suffering. They bear it in the strength of their own pride, hardening their hearts, stifling all feeling.

And then man says, in his pride, that one can overcome sorrow without the Man of Sorrows, and one can triumph over death without the help of Him who conquered death.

Then they tell of the sick, how quiet and resigned they are upon their beds, though godless; how calmly and peacefully they die! They tell it tauntingly, because we still dare to confess that there is no peace apart from God!

And we who confess that great truth are to blame for this taunt of the godless. Because we, with the Word of God in our very homes, have helped to dim the light which Jesus shed upon the mystery of suffering. We have slipped back into the attitude of the ignorant heathen. We, too, enthrone proud self-control. And then we imagine that we are thus honoring God! It may even be that we label a deathbed “Christian” when it has no other virtue than that of stoical resignation to the inevitable. In so doing, we make it possible for the non-Christian to say, “We too can die thus; we can die thus without the Christ!”

Indeed they can die thus, and live thus too — calm, patient, submissive. Like the bones of Ezekiel’s valley of the dead. But that is not life. That is not the life that throbs within you if you are one of those upon whom Christ has breathed life, if you are rejoicing in life from the dead! It is not being sensitive, as was tender Jesus.

The mystery of Christian suffering is not a dulling of sensitivity, nor a shrinking from pain, nor a wearing of complete armor about the flesh and heart so that no arrow can penetrate and no sword can pierce the inner recesses. But for Jesus’ sake the Christian is willing to suffer, willing even to bear the added burden which will be his because he confesses Christ, knowing that just because he is a child of God he must endure the chastisement of a Father.

The Christian does not invite suffering. Neither does he struggle through it tearlessly when it comes. He pleads that it may be shortened; but in the midst of suffering he rises above his distress with a holy joy and a psalm of praise.

How is this possible?

The apostle says that though you give your body to be burned and have not love, your suffering would be in vain.

Only the glowing warmth of love can fuse intense suffering and exalted joy into a song of praise unto God.

The question then is this: Do you suffer for love of God! Suffer so, that you are drawn nearer to Him? Becoming even more His, and He yours? Are you, as it were, tearing your way through the thorns and thistles of life toward the gate of the Kingdom to meet Him, your God?

Such love does not originate within us.

“Love is of God.” It is shed forth into our hearts only through the Holy Spirit whom He has sent.


IV

A Strength of the Spirit

Patience is not submissiveness; nor is it resignation to fate; nor is it stoical apathy.

What then is the nature of patience? What is the secret of patience in the new life of a Christian?

We would describe it thus: Patience is a strength of spirit, engendered within the heart of God’s children by the Holy Spirit, which enables them to remain standing, unshaken and undaunted, in spite of all the forces that would tear them from the Kingdom of God.

It is strength; it is endurance.

The child of God has a new life, a life not of this world, a life supernaturally implanted within him by a mighty act of God. And he lives that new life, though he himself does not understand it, by the strength of the Holy Spirit who, having instilled it, also sustains and preserves it.

Because this new life within the Christian is of God, it is opposed to Satan, sin, and the world. Therefore Satan cannot and does not let it grow unhindered. In self-defense and in hatred against God he attacks God’s children, striving to crush that new life lest it crush and undermine his power. That is why he attacks the freeborn of the Lord so zealously, now with cunning and slyness, often openly, and always without quarter. Sometimes he uses wily temptation as a weapon. Sometimes he works through the secret deep-seated sins of character. Sometimes he throws our once-forgiven sins into our faces. At times he pours over us a veritable flood of adversity and spiritual agony.

Thus the life of a Christian becomes a struggle, a constant struggle to remain standing against the onslaughts of Satan.

And the strength which enables a child of God to come through the terrible fray unharmed, to stand fast without giving way an inch, is called patience, or endurance.

The Greek word which the apostle uses literally means: to remain in the position in which one is placed. That is, to stay at one’s post, to stand fast.

Again and again the apostles used the contest of the arena to illustrate the Christian’s life in the world. These contests, especially the Olympic games, were regarded as the noblest test of a man’s honor and strength. To be crowned a victor in the Olympic games was the highest distinction a Greek could win. And the whole populace praised and extolled the hero, with highest enthusiasm.

Thus it is no wonder that Paul frequently speaks of the games. “Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold; but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” And again, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but also unto all them that have loved his appearing.”

To the Corinthians he writes, “Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run as not uncertainly; so fight I as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and bring it to bondage. . . .”

In these Olympic games there was a contest for runners, a race-track for horses drawing handsome three-wheelers, and an arena where man wrestled with man. Such an arena Paul has in mind when he says (Romans 5) , “Tribulation worketh steadfastness” — that is, endurance, or patience.

Since the Olympic games were tournaments of honor, no one was permitted to take part without first submitting to a two-fold examination: his reputation in society, and his physical health must be approved. To ascertain the first, a crier was sent through the streets, calling upon anyone who might have a charge against him to speak up, for the honor of Greece. If a man was found to be in debt, or a slave, or guilty of some misdeed, all this was made public to his shame, and he was barred from the arena. But if he was a freeman, and his record was clear, the crier would lead him through the streets with honor and so admit him to the arena.

Paul, in the afore-mentioned chapter, glories in the fact that we, children of God, have not been denied admission to the arena. Our debts have been paid and we have been cleared of all accusations, through faith in Jesus Christ whose blood has made us freemen. “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This same Jesus, who as “Crier” has gone before us, leads us into the arena. For Paul says, “Through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace, . . .” i.e. access to the glorious arena, “wherein we stand.” We have taken our position, in readiness for the fight, and “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” — that is, in the prospect of wearing the crown with which the judge of the contest shall crown us.

A man who has thus taken his position in the arena is disappointed if there is no one to do battle with him. He literally rejoices when an opponent appears with whom he may come to grips.

Therefore the apostle goes on to say, “And not only so,” not only have we taken our stand in the arena, “but we rejoice in our tribulations.” That is, we are glad to face an opponent; we would not be left standing in the center of the arena like fools, vainly waiting for someone to come. For to wrestle was our purpose! Because we know, so Paul concludes, “that tribulation worketh endurance, approvedness; and approvedness, hope; and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.”

When we are attacked, when our opponent takes hold and attempts to throw us, only then does our strength appear. Then every muscle is strained; each fierce attack inspires more determined resistance; we exert ourselves to the utmost, putting forth all our strength to remain standing. And thus endurance is born.

When the first assailant slinks away, having failed to triumph over us, we have confidence to enter a second bout, and with an even stronger opponent. We have tested our strength; by enduring, we have proved our ability to endure. Thus endurance worketh approvedness. The tribulation of struggle called forth strength to endure; the endurance produced the confidence of approvedness; and with that new confidence hope waxes stronger — the hope of never being overcome by an assailant, the hope of eventually winning the crown.

Thus the child of God, struggling against the forces of evil in and around him, discovers within himself a God-given strength which enables him to endure all assault triumphantly.


V

Meekness

It is remarkable that patience, or endurance, is mentioned frequently in the New Testament and not in the Old. Surely, the recipients of God’s grace under the Old Covenant also wrestled; theirs was a like holy faith with ours; they looked for the fulfilment of like promises of glory. Yet in reference to their spiritual life “patience” is never mentioned. Neither psalmist nor prophet exhorted them to patience or endurance. And when the New Testament makes mention of patience in the Old Testament, it is not in reference to an Israelite but to a man in Arabia, named Job. Patience (or endurance is not extolled in a Moses or an Elijah.

The reason for this lies in the difference between Old Testament and New Testament calling.

In Old Testament times, the people of God were a separate people, living apart from other nations, enclosed as it were within the limits of a special country. The church of the New Covenant, on the contrary, overflows the borders of nationality; it spreads to all people; it is in the midst of the world, and may not rest until the Cross of Christ has been planted to the very ends of the earth.

Consequently the faith of God’s Old Testament people was subjected to tests quite different, from those which try His New Testament children.

In Old Testament times, believers suffered oppression and scorn from those who were brothers according to the flesh; the followers of Jesus are subject to the scorn and vexations of the world.

Among brethren there was the kiss of a Judas, the oath of a Caiaphas who confessed the same God, and the mocking laugh of a Herod. But quite different is the enmity of the world — the coldness of a Pilate, who acquits and yet condemns, the mockery of rude Roman soldiers, the scourging and the crucifixion. Not as if there were no Judases in our ranks today, or as if there had been no enmity from the world in olden times. There are false brethren among us, and in olden times there were Pharaohs and Nebuchadnezzars. But the chief opposition to godliness in Israel came from false brethren, while among us the chief opposition is the antagonism of the world.

For these two diverse needs of His people, the Holy Spirit kindles two diverse virtues — over against hatred of false brethren meekness; over against the molestations of the world endurance.

That man is meek who resists the desire to return evil for evil, to retaliate with bitter words when he is wronged. That man has endurance who can stand firm and maintain his faith in God amid troubles and oppression.

Accordingly, in the Old Testament meekness is lauded; but in the New Testament endurance is enjoined.

Moses, the man of God, did not suffer from onslaughts of the world. His soul was constantly burdened with the complaints and murmurings of his own people. Therefore it is said of him, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all men.”

And the Psalmist sings, “The meek shall inherit the earth” — words which Jesus quoted in His sermon on the Mount.

In the Old Testament the meek, though for a time down-trodden, were assured final triumph. “The Lord upholdeth the meek.” “The meek will He guide in justice.” “The meek shall eat and be satisfied.” “He will beautify the meek with salvation.” “The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord.”

Job, on the other hand, is a glorious example of patience, or endurance. His suffering did not come from his own brethren but, under God’s direction, from Satan. In one day he was bereft of his children and all his possessions. Then his body was afflicted with dreadful disease. In his trouble Job’s great difficulty was not that he must conquer a desire for revenge, but that he must remain faithful to his God in spite of crushing adversities and in the face of taunts. Job’s triumph was not that he remained meek over against his wife and his friends, but that he permitted no one and nothing to shake his faith in God.

The Israelites, too, had to wrestle “to keep the faith.” That is evident from their history and also from the Psalms. But in the main their enemies, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, did not demand that they forswear God and worship idols. Except once — and that one attempt called forth a miracle which caused the great Nebuchadnezzar to humble himself before the God of heaven.

However insistent one may be upon the oneness of Old Testament and New Testament faith, nevertheless there is a great difference. Theirs was a time of shadows and promises. They had only the assurances; we have, at least in part, the reality. They awaited the coming of the Messiah; they longed for His salvation and while waiting they sought shelter in the secret place of the Most High. They found refuge in His tabernacles while the promised glory tarried, and they constantly spurred one another on, as we read in the Psalms, to renewed trust in the faithfulness of Him who promised. “Wait for the Lord, O my soul.” “For Thee, O Lord, do I wait all the day.”

For the New Testament believer the wonders of the manger and the cross are realities. True, he awaits the return of the Lord. And he is also called to meekness, particularly in relation to his fellow-believers. But meekness and waiting are not his chief concern. He has a battle to fight, a God-given calling to go out into the world, where he will meet resistance, where enemies will try to destroy him body and soul. Against these he must have strength to stand, he needs the spiritual strength to endure.

Jesus, who suffered much of the priests and scribes, speaks of his own meekness, but never of endurance. “Learn of mc that I am meek and lowly of heart.” “Behold, your King cometh, meek . . . .” And He a King! His apostles praise “. . . the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . .” (II Cor. 10:1) toward the people of Israel and their blind leaders. But they also praise His endurance, His steadfastness or patience, before Pilate and throughout His suffering upon the cross (II Thess. 3:5) .
 

VI

The Man of Sorrows

Endurance is a Christian virtue in a very special sense. Not as we commonly understand “Christian virtue” — merely a virtue commanded and exemplified by Christ. But a Christian virtue because it is inseparably linked with Christ. Endurance originated with the coming of Jesus into the world; wherever it is found in a Christian it is his through Christ; and with the return of Christ there shall no longer be need of it.

In his original state, man did not require endurance. The command was, “Do this and thou shalt live.” Adam and Eve in Paradise were under the “covenant of works,” as our fore-fathers called it. Man was made for the joy of eternal life with God, but he had to earn it. It was not to be his as a gift of grace, “without money and without price.” That glorious gospel was not one of the glories of Paradise. Man was to attain eternal life by his own strength; it was to be a reward of merit.

Note the contrast. For Adam, strength preceded the possession of eternal life; under the Covenant of Works, he was given strength to do, after which he would be rewarded with eternal life. And that reward none would try to take from him. But under the Covenant of Grace eternal life is first given to man, and with that gift the strength to keep it, while at the same time there is an equal power, the power of evil, which strives to wrest the gift from us.

God brought His Christ into the world to redeem sinners. And had there been no sin, Christ would not have been sent.

At first the coming of the Christ into the world was only in spoken word; there was prophecy to utter that word; there was altar service to symbolize the meaning of the word; there was a people in whom this word lived; there was a history which gradually unrolled the word into deed; and there was a separateness which prevented that the word should be lost of forgotten.

In opposition to this spoken word Satan hardly showed himself. He struck his first blow in Paradise, but that was before the Covenant of Grace. He played his part with Job, but that was outside of Israel. He is mentioned in Psalm 109, and again at the time of David’s numbering of the people. Zacharias mentions him in prophecy. But he is not at all prominent in the life of Israel.

It is in the wilderness of Judea that he steps forth boldly at last to face the Word become Flesh, the Son of God. Then the Prince of demons takes up his position against the Prince of the Lord’s hosts.

For then at last the spoken and symbolized word was visible. Then there was Holiness upon earth in such form that it could be resisted and opposed, it could be besmirched and perhaps destroyed.

But against the attacks of Satan, Christ was adamant. All Satan’s frenzy and hatred were vain. He did not win even a momentary victory.

That heavenly strength which overcame every effort to thrust the Holy One out of the world is endurance. Christ was the first to display endurance over against Satan. He was truly the patient one.

And it is He who works that same strength in those who are His.

This patience of Jesus is not displayed in His attitude toward His people, who grieved Him and persecuted Him, but in His spiritual struggles against Satan. First in the wilderness, later during His physical suffering in Pilate’s judgment hall and upon the cross, He was steadfast, He endured.

Satan left nothing untried in his efforts to crush that glorious, holy, divine life, to corrupt it, to destroy it. But the holiness of Jesus was neither marred nor even slightly soiled. The Father caused Him to walk as it were through fire, but it did not singe His robes or His hair; He plunged Him like white wool into sticky mire, but the whiteness came out resplendent. The full glory of Jesus’ endurance is revealed when, on the third morning, He arises from the grave; He endured that last enemy, and overcame it — death!

Thus ended Satan’s battle over the Word as such. There is nothing more he can do now against the Christ.

But there is another warfare, another opportunity for Satan. He can still fight those who confess the Son, the followers of the Christ.

Jesus ascended into heaven. To those whom He left behind He entrusted the great cause of carrying the torch of God. From the Sun of Righteousness sparks were kindled in thousands of hearts. Toward these followers of Christ Satan now directs his hatred, a hatred made even more terrible, if possible, by the humiliating defeat. And the followers of Christ are weaker than their Master. So with renewed fury Satan returns to the attack.

Hence the persecutions of the early Christians. Hence the spiritual agonies, worse than physical pain, which the followers of Christ experience.

Satan has never ceased in his efforts to tear the truth from the grasp of God’s children, and to wrench them from the hand of God. But against his attacks the followers of Jesus have triumphed, throughout the centuries, by endurance.

They have not yielded. They have not swerved from the path. They have not lost hold of that which they once received. Even when they died in the flames, the spark of life spurted from them into other hearts, and thousands were converted that they might carry on.

The martyrs endured. By the patience of the saints Satan’s plans were frustrated.

Whence that struggle to endure? Was it of ourselves?

No, my dear reader!

But what appeared to be, was not. Christ had ascended to heaven. Yet He was not gone. On the contrary, having taken our flesh with him into heaven, he established once and for all His power over the world and over the spirits that hover destructively about it.

Jesus and His own — they are not two but one. Even as the branches are one with the vine.

Most surely they would have retreated, stumbled, succumbed. But He, dwelling within them, cannot be conquered. His strength was greater than their weakness.

When Satan thought he had only his one-time friends to wrestle with, he found himself once again fighting a losing battle with the Lion of Judah!

In Him is our endurance.

Therefore it does not fail.
 

VII

Maranatha

Patience, or endurance, flows forth from Jesus; it ought to accompany confession of Him; it glorifies Him; it is inseparable from His service.

There is a story told of an altar boy who, in the fulfillment of his duties, was called upon to hold a fragrant incense burner before the great king Alexander. While he was thus holding the censer, a live coal burst out and fell upon the boy’s naked arm. But the boy did not flinch. Though he could smell the odor of his own burning flesh, he held the censer steady before the king. How could he permit his pain to interrupt a service in honor of a king’s majesty.

You who are the Lord’s, such is your calling in the service of Jesus, your Lord.

Your life is to be one continuous flow of praise, one constant faithful service. Should Satan in some manner press a live coal into your flesh, hoping to cause you to drop the censer of your love and worship, you must not waver; though the fire scorch you, you must keep your arm steadily out-stretched, to the honor of your Lord.

Whatever may come, though the waves go Over your head, you may not retreat nor waver. “Keep what thou hast!” is the watchword of the Christian. The apostle exclaims triumphantly, “I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness!”

The “keeping,” the not losing hold of, that is the endurance of the child of God.

All oppression, all scorn, all persecution has no other purpose than to induce the Christian to give up his most precious possession, to let go his faith, to lose his hope.

But he does not let go. He holds his treasure in a grasp that will not loosen, and he wears out the enemy with the unshakable strength of endurance.

“O Timothy,” Paul cries out to his faithful helper, “keep that which is committed to thy trust!” Nothing else matters, says the writer to the Hebrews, “if we but hold fast our confidence and die joy of our hope firm to the end.” Elsewhere we read, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not!” And when Satan, seeing he cannot wrest our precious possession from us, attempts to drag us down bodily, then we must, like Moses, endure “as seeing Him who is invisible,” by faith.

For endurance and faith go hand in hand, as Paul writes to the Thessalonians. “We glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and afflictions.” (Compare Rev. 2:19, and 13:10). Endurance consists of just that, a holding on to our faith in spite of suffering or scorn, not permitting trouble to darken the truth of God, always ready when asked, “Do you still hold fast to your righteousness?” to answer unhesitatingly, “Yes!”

Endurance is also linked with love. Paul writes to the persecuted Thessalonians, “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience (endurance) of Christ.” Perhaps you at times discover secret rebellion deep within your heart even while you apparently resign yourself to suffering. That would indicate a doubt of the love of God. Satan plants such seeds of doubt within the heart, and thus chills your love for the Christ. All things work together for good. But only “to them that love God,” to those whose love for God is not sapped by pain and trouble. Indeed, the secret of true endurance is love, love which sustains the weak, which gives strength to the broken reed against the stormy winds of trial.

Then, too, by our endurance we retain that other of the three beautiful jewels — hope. Paul writes to the Romans, “That through patience (endurance) and through the comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.” That’ hope is a window through which we catch glimpses of eternal glory. Satan desires to shut off our view with the heavy curtains of doubt and trouble. But he cannot. With the strength of endurance we who are Christ’s push aside the curtains and once more gaze upon the glories to come.

For even as endurance originates in Jesus, it also finds its fulfilment in the Beloved One. If there were no sure hope of Jesus’ return, there would be no strength to endure.

A Christian faith which finds its end in the manger and the cross, and which has no longing for the return of the Lord, is neither healthy nor apostolic nor true. Jesus’ coming to the manger and to die cross is inseparable from His coming again upon the clouds. The latter is necessary to complete the former. If Jesus were not coming again, die Divine drama would be without a closing scene, without the unfolding of the plot and the solution of the mystery.

A Christian is not the irrational dreamer he is often thought to be, with impossible aspirations and unattainable ideals. He knows very well that he was created not for suffering but for happiness. He is fully aware that suffering is unnatural and that joy should be man’s portion. In the depths of his soul he is convinced that man can willingly suffer the miseries of the moment only if he is certain that, in due time, they will be followed by joy and happiness.

He knows, too, that it is pleasanter to be “clothed in soft raiment and live in kings’ palaces” than to wear camel’s hair and roam die wilderness or hide in dens and holes. But he knows even more surely that there is no comparison between transient earthly pleasures and the immeasurable glory and beauty of die eternal Jerusalem.

Very soberly, therefore, he makes his choice. On one side of the scales are the joys and riches of this world. On the other side are die thorns and die cross, side by side with the glories of eternal life. The Christian sees clearly that one side of the scale wholly outweighs the other. His conclusion is, ‘Yes, I count all things but loss, but refuse, for die excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” And to others he expresses his conviction triumphantly. “My brother, my sister, no matter how intense the suffering of this present time may be, it is not to be compared with the glory that shall be!” That shall be — not this side of heaven without God, but in heaven and with Him who is the Fountain of all good, die glorious and eternal Son of God. Shall be — when He returns!
 

VIII

Cross Bearing

If we think that the earthly pathway of God’s children is for the most part pleasant and easy, with only an occasional cross, we are mistaken. The child of God who is new upon the way, and weathers his first storm, may think: This will soon be over and then the breezes will blow gently again. But as we go on, we learn by many a disappointment, as well as from the Word of the Lord, that such is not our lot. When one wave of the sea breaks, another follows close behind. So troubles continually roll over the heads of God’s children. The cross must be carried daily.

“All who would live a godly life shall suffer persecution.” And “without much tribulation ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of God.” Never can we escape the cross. And the proof of the genuineness of our endurance is just this, that we take up our cross daily, taking such burdens as God lays upon us, and bear the cross upon the way where He leads.

Only the child of God, he who is saved by the blood of the Son of God, is a cross bearer. For only such suffering may be counted cross-bearing which is borne for love of God, in the strength of Christ, and for His Name’s sake. None other deserves that title.

The Christian’s sorrows and burdens are not always obvious. The cross is not always one which the world can see. Indeed not. Bitterest of all the agonies which wring the human heart are often those that only God knows.

What, then, composes the cross?

The cross consists not of those things which oppose you, but of those things which oppose your faith. Whatever threatens, weakens, or undermines your faith, or interferes with its activity, is your cross.

It may be a weakness of the body; it may be a thorn in the flesh. It may also be the scorn you bear because of the church of God. It may be the miscarriage of plans you thought were very good, and the frustration of your highest hopes. Assuredly, it also includes the sins which beset you from without, from fellow-men. And, worst of all, the sins which dwell within your own heart, which pain you and trouble you.

For we must remember that, if the sins of others try our patience, the sins within our own hearts are even harder to bear. Yet we are called to endurance also in regard to them. Do not misunderstand — this does not and never can mean that you must let your sin have its way. Endurance is a holding fast to faith, whatever may come. And our own sins are a part of that “whatever.” Over against one’s sin endurance means that, though I prick and burn my fingers on it, I shall not let it shake my faith.

And that is the heaviest and bitterest burden.

For we are so prone to become impatient with that dreadful weed within the heart. How firmly we have resolved to root it out! We’ve tugged at it, passionately determined to cast it into the depths of hell. But in vain. It’s still there. It pricks us again and its poison gets under our skin once more. We have prayed, so often and so fervently, that God would take it away. But He does not! And we cry, “Why not?” Then we become impatient. In our impatience we tug at the weed again, only to tear our hands on its thorns once more. And our steadfastness wavers.

We ought not to deal with it thus.

God’s blessing does not rest upon such striving against the sins of the flesh.

When we were reborn of the Spirit, God saw fit to leave that thorny weed in our hearts. We cannot understand why. We cannot fathom the wisdom of God. But we must acknowledge it. And therefore we may not lose patience with this which He has deemed best for us. We are to endure it. And thus it will serve to drive us to Him the more often, that we may learn from Him how to avoid the thorns and the poison.

That weed will be there until you are called to glory. Then you shall lay down your earthly tabernacle, and with it at last be rid of all the thorns of sin.

But meanwhile God does not intend that it shall hurt you. On the contrary, it should bring you to a state of quietness before Him. You will learn to be careful lest you hurt yourself on the thorns, and you thus will learn to temper your impatience and curb your unhallowed restlessness. That weed will drive you to God, where you must learn patience, where you will find the calmness of endurance.

So the cross is multiform.

And for the bearing of this multiform cross there is abundant strength, even strength to triumph.

Flesh and blood protest against cross bearing and resent it. Human sinful nature cannot willingly bear such burdens. It is only by the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit that the Christian learns to take up his cross with eagerness, and at last even to glory in it.

But if you should take the attitude: I must be strong to bear this my cross; it will require all the effort I can muster: I shall exert myself and gradually develop the strength to endure — then, do believe it, then you are in a bad way. For then one of two results will ensue. Either the Lord will cause your self-dependent efforts to fail (which is by far preferable), or He will permit you to develop a sickly strength of your own by means of your own miserable efforts; and that will prove to be poison to your soul.

No, it must not be thus. I must not only admit, but also fully realize, that to bear the cross steadfastly day after day, to bear it when it tears my flesh and heart, to bear it as Jesus would have me bear it, is beyond my strength and endurance. Lord, thy servant cannot! Who among those born in sin is able to perform so gigantic a task?

If this is your sincere confession, if your inner heart thus truly feels its helplessness, then through prayer your “I cannot!” becomes “I can!” For he who feels utterly helpless seeks shelter in the Almighty. And never has anyone sought comfort with Jesus but that he was also given strength to endure.

Then you will not understand your own willingness to bear a cross against which your very nature protests. Your own flesh whispers, “Cast it off!” Friends around you say, “You cannot bear it!” Satan taunts, “You’ll have to give it up!” But you hold your head high and you do not cast it off.

Even though you may be nailed to the cross and men cry out, “If you are free in Christ, come down!” you remain steadfast. You endure unto death, unto the grave; not in your own strength but in the strength of your Lord.

This then is your endurance, that through all trials and temptations you keep the faith; you are upheld by faith; when the way is difficult and wearisome, you are found walking in the path of God’s will by faith.

If your wrestling is sincere, if cross-bearing is to you a serious matter, then Satan will place many a stumbling block in your way and bring about many a fall. That is to be expected. But no matter how often we fall, or how long the evil one may hold us dwn, we do again wrestle free and regain our feet. Though weary and well-nigh exhausted, we do not give up until the enemy slinks away in defeat once more.

Endurance does not imply that you never for a moment lose faith. It does imply that every struggle ends with the outcry, “More than conquerors through Jesus Christ who giveth me strength!”

Patience, then, is not submission but the exercise of strength. It is not indifference to, but keen awareness of suffering. It is the strength whereby we never let go but ever hold fast to that which was given us by God’s grace. Patience is that virtue granted God’s children, whereby Christ enables us to endure the cross, while we look for His coming again.


Author

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was an extraordinary figure uniquely capable of wearing several hats throughout his long public career as pastor, theologian, scholar, journalist, educator and statesman. Although he began in the parish ministry, he moved on to become editor of two periodicals; to found the Anti-revolutionary Party, the first Dutch political party and the first Christian Democratic party in the world; and to establish the Free University, a Christian university established on Reformed principles. He was first elected to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament in 1874 and eventually served as Prime Minister from 1901 to 1905. Kuyper’s thought was introduced to North America in 1898, when he delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary.

This article is taken from The Practice of Godliness, Summit Books, pp. 63-94.



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