Its Perfect Work
by Thomas Goodwin
"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."James 1:1-5
Christian patience is my subject, and the perfect work of that patience. As an introduction to the subject, I must first open some things of the words in verses 1 and 2.
1. The Apostle James is writing to the "twelve tribes scattered," that had been and were bereft of their inheritance in their native country, and quitting that, had betaken themselves to banishment. Multitudes of them were in this condition as appears in Acts 8:1, "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea ind Samaria, except the apostles." These were deprived of Canaan, some of them being as far away as Phenice, Cyprus, Antioch, etc. (Acts 11:19). Peter comforted them with the assurance that they were "begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled," as a far better substitute for the earthly Canaan from which they had been driven.
2. I observe that though these had been, in this manner, made sufficiently desolate already, and driven from house and home to seek their livelihoods, with their families, in foreign countries--yet they still had great and pressing troubles and miseries following them. One wave after another of divers and sundry temptations of every sort was tripping them up; they were continually falling. "God tries us every moment," as in Job 7:18we are chastened every morning and "killed"that is, in danger of death"all day long," as in Rom. 8. God had not yet done with these.
3. He utters the strangest paradox upon this occasion that ever was or can be uttered. He begins with it in v.2, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." Bluntly and abruptly, you see, without any mollifying preface or sweetening introduction, unless that of "my brethren," to make way for it, God says, "Count it all joy." That seems to carry a moral contradiction in the face of it, for as it is joined unto the latter part, "when you fall into divers temptations," it seems to be impossible for anyone to obey both the former and the latter precept. Let us consider every word of each.
(a) How uncouth it seems to call upon men in this posture and circumstance to rejoice whilst in them. But, says He, count it joy (a matter of joy when you fall, etc.). Not just to moderate, to keep in, and to smother your contrary passions, which is the highest lesson that philosophy and the Stoics, the best of the philosophers, had taught; but the gospel calls upon us not only to rejoice in the face of temptations, but to actually rejoice because of temptations.
(b) All joy, that is, the highest attainable joy, for so this "all joy" has such a meaning here.
(c) And this joy when? Not when they should see by experience the glorious issue and event of these overwhelming temptations! but to account it all joy beforehand as if they were already possessed of what God promises shall be the "expected end" (Jer. 29:11).
(d) And it is not when they are first assaulted with troubles, but when temptations had actually broken in upon them, and they lie fallen under them.
(e) Nor yet when they are led into them by steps, or had met with them as in their way; but when they fall into them. This is a sudden downfall He speaks of.
(f) Not when you fall into one or two, but into many temptations; as elsewhere the word which is here translated divers is "manifold" in I Peter 1:6.manifold reproach, into revilement, etc. Divers also as to their bodies, souls; their relations, their families and friends, wives, children; inward and outward, etc.
(g) When you fall into them as into a pit and snare, and so they are falling round about you: you have nothing to stand or lean upon, but everything collapsing at once, you fall, you sink, you are overwhelmed in the ruins.
Now in this case to "count it all joy," to shout as men in the harvest, or as those that have just gotten great spoils, at the very time that their miseries are so great as more cannot be expressed, that is the hardest duty ever required from the distressed hearts of men. And yet God would not require it if it were not attainable! It is attainable by no other principles but those of Christianity. It argues that our Christian religion, which is the only true wisdom, as in v.5, has so spiritful and sovereign a virtue in it that it is actually able to raise spirits up unto so high and glorious a pitch and perfection in this life that it can cry out for joy in the midst of earthly pressures of the most aggravated soil.
But they might sayYou have propounded this hard and strange duty to us; what ground is there that may rationally and effectually persuade and bring our hearts to it? What will procure us this joy? How may we be worked up to it? For God never gave any commandment but there was a full and sufficient ground and reason to enforce it.
TWO GROUNDS FOR SUCH HIGH JOY
He gives them two grounds: (1) "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (vv. 3-4), and (2) "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life." This second ground is the reward that follows in the life to come, in the hope and expectation of which you may count it all joy that you are now tried; for the end and issue of them is to be "a crown of glory," which "light affliction...worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
To handle only the first, what ground is there in this life to cause us to rejoice in temptations. You read the answer in the 3rd and 4th verses, "Knowing," i.e., deeply considering and weighing this principle of our Christian profession, "that the trying of your faith worketh patience." The Apostle, you see, is tacitly supposing a maxim, and building upon it. It is this he is saying: That to have our graces, especially to have our faith and patience tried, drawn forth and exercised in us, to the glory of God, is the greatest blessedness of a Christian in this life.
That this is the bottom ground is evident. For why else should he propose, hold forth this of all other with a "for," to show that he is giving the reason for what he has just said? It is because their faith, and other graces, such as patience, would be tried by the temptations mentioned, that they are to "count it all joy." My brethren, if we had eyes to see and to consider it, we might know that the greatest mercy that can befall anyone in the world is that they might have the grace that accompanies salvation: so it is a thing of the greatest moment to have that grace tried, and exercised, drawn forth to the utmost. I say it is a spiritual privilege of the greatest degree that can come to us after we already have saving grace, that it should thus be brought forth by trials. Therefore, when trials come, we are to think within ourselves, "Now will my graces be tried, now is that coming upon me which will do it, and this ought to be matter for the greatest joy to me." For it is from this ground and reason the Apostle bids them count it all joy.
And the reason is this: for grace to approve itself in a way of the greatest well-pleasing to Him, and for a man's sincerity to have God's approval and testimony, as to Abraham He said, "Now I know thou fearest Me,"it ought to be the matter of greatest comfort to us. Besides it is our greatest glory, as it is said in 2 Cor. 10:17, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." He speaks there in reference to what follows in v. 18, "For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth." This is what the Apostle used to comfort himself, and what he gloried inthat the Lord approved him.
Job also comforted himself with this: "When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). The Apostle says, "The trial of your faith is much more precious than gold," and he speaks of it as being the very instrument, or means, by which your graces are tried. That is, it is the melting pot or fire, wherein your faith is to be tried. Then much more the graces that are tried. The Apostle means these very afflictions and temptations by which we are tried. They are the refiner's pot and fire. You would rejoice if you had so much gold given you, wouldn't you? Then rejoice that you have so much affliction to try the gold of your graces. That your graces are so highly valued by God is the reason why He tries them, else He would not be at the pains and cost of it. Of course when they have been tried, and have been proven to be true gold indeed, they have His approval, and He sets His Royal Tower stamp and mark upon themsecretly in this life, but they will openly appear to all the world at the latter day. So you see it in I Peter 1:6,7"Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." You see, it will be found unto praise then, but is unto praise before God even now, as much as it will be then.
He mentions FAITH"for the trial of your faith"in the first and chief place, as that grace which is most tried; and as that which, being tried, sets all the rest to work. I need not much insist upon it. It is faith that shall be counted for honor and glory at that day, having been tried. It is faith which bears and by which we bear the stress of all temptations. It is faith by which we overcome: "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth," etc. (I John 5:4-5).
A second and more particular principle or maxim, which concerns this life, and should cause us to rejoice, is that faith, being tried, works PATIENCE. And if patience have its perfect work, it will make us perfect Christians!"But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
PATIENCE AND ITS PERFECT WORK
He enlarges no further upon faith, only giving it the honor that it is due as the mother grace, being especially the mother of patience when trial comes. But no sooner had he mentioned patience, than he runs out on that, and falls upon the greatest tribute and praises of it: Let PATIENCE have its perfect work, and it will make you perfect. Now there is no occasion, or room, or work for patience unless there be also temptations. And patience, its work is but so far as the affliction proves to be. So then, his second argument runs upon this principle, that the full work of patience in our souls is the highest perfection of a Christian, more than all other graces. For this reason, "count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations," for thereby you will have that grace drawn forth to the fullest length, wound up to the highest peg, which is not done unless you have the temptations for this work. Then in all your trials, let it have its swing, its perfect work, and it will make your person perfectthat is, as perfect as in this life you can be made.
Question: In what respect does it make us perfect? Answer: Not only in the sense that this grace must be exercised in order that we are to be complete, and so perfect Christiansfor that would be true of all the other graces. As if a man had exercised all other graces, but just begins to exercise any one new grace, it may be said there is a perfection in this respect. As when he says to the Corinthians, "As you have abounded in every other grace, so abound in this also," (2 Cor. 8:7). But there is another sense, and that is his scope here, which is not to extol a perfection in common with other graces, but a singular perfection to be attributed only to patience. Let patience but have its perfect work and that alone will make you eminently perfect. And his scope is comfort them against the greatest trials and occurrences in their livestheir temptations. And therefore a singular and very special praise is given here unto patience, which is the shield against them.
My brethren, to give the full sense of this, I will make a supposition: Suppose a Christian to have had the privilege to have lived in the exercise of all the graces in a way of acting, or of an active life, as to have lived in sweet communion with God, and to have walked in the light of God's countenance all the day (Psalm 89:15). Suppose further that he has had the opportunity to do good, and accordingly to have done much good in an active way (such as being abundant in all sorts of good works, holy duties, praying, reading, etc.) but yet all this while with a freedom from suffering, so that he has not had the suffering part yet, and there has not yet been any need for the use of patience.
Then suppose another Christian who has been obstructed and hindered and kept from such an active life of doing good with that freedom before spoken of because the dispensation of God has disposed him to a suffering life all his days, and has confined him to it, so that his patience has been exercised under all sorts of temptations. Suppose further that patience with all those gracious dispositions of heart proper to it have had its free and full passage through this second Christian's heart, and has had its operations all sorts of ways, according as his afflictions have been: this alone would so draw out and exercise all graces, and head them, that you would say, this man is a perfect Christian. Yea, shall I not say more perfect than the other? At least the text says that this makes him a perfect man.
Or again, if you will suppose one that has been very active in the foregone part of his life, and has done God great service, with an enlarged heart; and that at last, after he had done the will of God, further to crown it all, God will exercise this man's patience with great sufferings, and draws it forth according to these his tiials,that man is perfect in every way, and he lacked until then that which is his greatest perfection, and he wasn't before every way accomplished.
THE EMINENT PERFECTION OF A CHRISTIANPATIENCE
Take the instance of our LORD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. What was Christ's perfection? He had been perfect in all active obedience, complete in all graces, yet the glory of his perfection is put upon His sufferings and his patience"For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering." (Heb. 2: 10). This patient enduring was that which enhanced and exalted His obedience so: "He humbled Himself, and was obedient to death," etc. (Phil. 2:8). This patient enduring was obedience learned, too. "Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by what He suffered" (Heb. 5:8). The active part of obedience was natural to Him, He being, as the natural Son, the Holy One of God; having the law of God in His heart, it was His delight, and His meat and drink to do God's will (Ps. 40:8, Heb. 10). That is to say it was natural to Him. But for Him to suffer who was the Son, and so to be patient in suffering, Him who was so great a Person, this was to be learned as that which was improper for such a Person, the Son Himself. And yet, as I might say, this perfected the natural accomplishments of Him: this was a lesson out of the road, utterly uncouth and extravagant. He must go to school, therefore, to learn this. For so it follows the text implies, that He was to learn this, as that which would perfect Him above all. And, so indeed, it follows in v. 9 (Heb. 5), "Being made perfect," that is to say, by what He suffered,as in the verse before, and in chap. 2, He had also said,and as that which did perfect Him. This perfected Him more than all His other obedience, and rendered Him more acceptable to His Father.
Now it was the Son's PATIENCE and ENDURING wherein His obedience principally lay. That is what it is so often spoken of Him, as in Heb. 12, "He endured the cross," (v. 2); and "He endured such contradiction of sinners," (v. 3); the same word that here is used for patienceonly there it is the verb, and here in James 1:4 it is the noun. Enduring is put to express patience many times up and down the New Testament, and in this epistle most (1:12; 5:8, 10-11). Now Christ did so endure. "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, He opened not His mouth." Hogs cry, but sheep make no noise when led to the slaughter, or when their throats are cut. And this was Christ's proper and super-perfection, who is therefore proposed as an example of suffering and of patience to us in James 5:11, where the glorious end and issue of this patience is before us: "You have heard of the patience of Job, and you have seen the end of the Lord," namely of the Lord Christ, which many of these Jews he wrote to had seen with their eyes, or it was transacted in their times, and in that way was in their view; they saw Him suffer, and now they see Him crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2). That was the end of our Lord, and His sufferings, which made Him perfect.
Taken from Let Patience Have Its Perfect Work
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