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Bunyan Characters First Series: 9. PATIENCE

By Alexander Whyte

      'In your patience possess ye your souls.' (Revised Version: 'In your patience ye shall win your souls.')--Our Lord.

      'I saw moreover in my dream that the Interpreter took the pilgrim by the hand, and had him into a little room, where sate two little children, each one in his chair. The name of the eldest was Passion and of the other Patience. Passion seemed to be much discontent, but Patience was very quiet. Then Christian asked, What is the reason of the discontent of Passion? The interpreter answered, The governor of them would have him stay for his best things till the beginning of the next year; but he will have all now. But Patience is willing to wait.'

      Passion and Patience, like Esau and Jacob, are twin-brothers. And their names, like their natures, spring up from the same root. 'Patience,' says Crabb in his English Synonyms, 'comes from the active participle to suffer; while passion comes from the passive participle of the same verb; and hence the difference between the two names. Patience signifies suffering from an active principle, a determination to suffer; while passion signifies what is suffered from want of power to prevent the suffering. Patience, therefore, is always taken in a good sense, and Passion always in a bad sense.' So far this excellent etymologist. This is, therefore, another case of blessing and cursing proceeding out of the same mouth, and of the same fountain sending forth at the same place both sweet water and bitter.

      Our Lord tells us in this striking text that our very souls by reason of sin are not our own. He tells us that we have lost hold of our souls before we have as yet come to know that we have souls. We only discover that we have souls after we have lost them. And our Lord,--our best, indeed our only, authority in the things of the soul,--here tells us that it is only by patience that we shall ever win back our lost souls. More, far more, is needed to the winning back of a lost soul than its owner's patience, and our Lord knew that to His cost. But that is not His point with us to-night. His sole point with each one of us to-night is our personal part in the conquest and redemption of our sin-enslaved souls. He who has redeemed our souls with His own blood tells us with all plainness of speech, that His blood will be shed in vain, as far as we are concerned, unless we add to His atoning death our own patient life. Every human life, as our Lord looks at it, and would have us look at it, is a vast field of battle in which a soul is lost or won; little as we think of it or will believe it, in His sight every trial, temptation, provocation, insult, injury, and all kinds and all degrees of pain and suffering, are all so many divinely appointed opportunities afforded us for the reconquest and recovery of our souls. Sometimes faith is summoned into the battle-field, sometimes hope, sometimes self-denial, sometimes prayer, sometimes one grace and sometimes another; but as with the sound of a trumpet the Captain of our salvation here summons Patience to the forefront of the fight.

      1. To begin with, how much impatience we are all from time to time guilty of in our family life. Among the very foundations of our family life how much impatience the husband often exhibits toward the wife, and the wife toward her husband. Patience is the very last grace they look forward to having any need of when they are still dreaming about their married life; but, in too many cases, they have not well entered on that life, when they find that they need no grace of God so much as just patience, if the yoke of their new life is not to gall them beyond endurance. However many good qualities of mind and heart and character any husband or wife may have, no human being is perfect, and most of us are very far from being perfect. When therefore, we are closely and indissolubly joined to another life and another will, it is no wonder that sometimes the ill-fitting yoke eats into a lifelong sore. We have all many defects in our manners, in our habits, and in our constitutional ways of thinking and speaking and acting,--defects that tempt those who live nearest us to fall into annoyances with us that sometimes deepen into dislike, and even positive disgust, till it has been seen, in some extreme cases, that home-life has become a very prison-house, in which the impatient prisoner chafes and jibs and strikes out as he does nowhere else. Now, when any unhappy man or woman wakens up to discover how different life is now to be from what it once promised to become, let them know that all their past blindness, and precipitancy, and all the painful results of all that, may yet be made to work together for good. In your patience with one another, says our Lord, you will make a conquest of your adverse lot, and of your souls to the bargain. Say to yourselves, therefore, that perfection, faultlessness, and absolute satisfaction are not to be found in this world. And say also that since you have not brought perfection to your side of the house any more than your partner has to his side, you are not so foolish as to expect perfection in return for such imperfection. You have your own share of what causes fireside silence, aversion, disappointment, and dislike; and, with God's help, say that you will patiently submit to what may not now be mended. And then, the sterner the battle the nobler will the victory be; and the lonelier the fight, the more honour to him who flinches not from it. In your patience possess ye your souls.

      What a beautiful, instructive, and even impressive sight it is to see a nurse patiently cherishing her children! How she has her eye and her heart at all their times upon them, till she never has any need to lay her hand upon them! Passion has no place in her little household, because patience fills all its own place and the place of passion too. What a genius she displays in her talks to her children! How she cheats their little hours of temptation, and tides them over the rough places that her eye sees lying like sunken rocks before her little ship! How skilfully she stills and heals their impulsive little passions by her sudden and absorbing surprise at some miracle in a picture-book, or some astonishing sight under her window! She has a thousand occupations also for her children, and each of them with a touch of enterprise and adventure and benevolence in it. She is so full of patience herself, that the little gusts of passion are soon over in her presence, and the sunshine is soon back brighter than ever in her little paradise. And, over and above her children rising up and calling her blessed, what wounds she escapes in her own heart and memory by keeping her patient hands from ever wounding her children! What peace she keeps in the house, just by having peace always within herself! Paul can find no better figure wherewith to set forth God's marvellous patience with Israel during her fretful childhood in the wilderness, than just that of such a nurse among her provoking children. And we see the deep hold that same touching and instructive sight had taken of the apostle's heart as he returns to it again to the Thessalonians: 'We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.' What a school of divine patience is every man's own family at home if he only were teachable, observant, and obedient!

      2. Clever, quick-witted, and, themselves, much-gifted men, are terribly intolerant of slow and stupid men, as they call them. But the many-talented man makes a great mistake here, and falls into a great sin. In his fulness of all kinds of intellectual gifts, he quite forgets from Whom he has his many gifts, and why it is that his despised neighbour has so few gifts. If you have ten or twenty talents, and I have only two, who is to be praised and who is to be blamed for that allotment? Your cleverness has misled you and has hitherto done you far more evil than good. You bear yourself among ordinary men, among less men than yourself, as if you had added all these cubits to your own stature. You ride over us as if you had already given in your account, and had heard it said, Take the one talent from them and give it to this my ten-talented servant. You seem to have set it down to your side of the great account, that you had such a good start in talent, and that your fine mind had so many tutors and governors all devoting themselves to your advancement. And you conduct yourself to us as if the Righteous Judge had cast us away from His presence, because we were not found among the wise and mighty of this world. The truth is, that the whole world is on a wholly wrong tack in its praise and in its blame. We praise the man of great gifts, and we blame the man of small gifts, completely forgetful that in so doing we give men the praise that belongs to God, and lay on men the blame, which, if there is any blame in the matter, ought to be laid elsewhere. Learn and lay to heart, my richly-gifted brethren, to be patient with all men, but especially to be patient with all stupid, slow-witted, ungifted, God-impoverished men. Do not add your insults and your ill-usage to the low estate of those on whom, in the meantime, God's hand lies so cold and so straitened. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? Call that to mind the next time you are tempted to cry out that you have no patience with your slow-witted servant.

      3. 'Is patient with the bad' is one of the tributes of praise that is paid in the fine paraphrase to that heart that is full of the same love that is in God. A patient love to the unjust and the evil is one of the attributes and manifestations of the divine nature, as that nature is seen both in God and in all genuinely godly men. And, indeed, in no other thing is the divine nature so surely seen in any man as just in his love to and his patience with bad men. He schools and exercises himself every day to be patient and good to other men as God has been to him. He remembers when tempted to resentment how God did not resent his evil, but, while he was yet an enemy to God and to godliness, reconciled him to Himself by the death of His Son. And ever since the godly man saw that, he has tried to reconcile his worst enemies to himself by the death of his impatience and passion toward them, and has more pitied than blamed them, even when their evil was done against himself. Let God judge, and if it must be, condemn that bad man. But I am too bad myself to cast a stone at the worst and most injurious of men. If we so much pity ourselves for our sinful lot, if we have so much compassion on ourselves because of our inherited and unavoidable estate of sin and misery, why do we not share our pity and our compassion with those miserable men who are in an even worse estate than our own? At any rate, I must not judge them lest I be judged. I must take care when I say, Forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive them that trespass against me. Not to seven times must I grudgingly forgive, but ungrudgingly to seventy times seven. For with what judgment I judge, I shall be judged; and with what measure I mete, it shall be measured to me again.

      'Love harbours no suspicious thought,
      Is patient to the bad:
      Grieved when she hears of sins and crimes,
      And in the truth is glad.'

      4. And then, most difficult and most dangerous, but most necessary of all patience, we must learn how to be patient with ourselves. Every day we hear of miserable men rushing upon death because they can no longer endure themselves and the things they have brought on themselves. And there are moral suicides who cast off the faith and the hope and the endurance of a Christian man because they are so evil and have lived such an evil life. We speak of patience with bad men, but there is no man so bad, there is no man among all our enemies who has at all hurt us like that man who is within ourselves. And to bear patiently what we have brought upon ourselves,--to endure the inward shame, the self-reproof, the self-contempt bitterer to drink than blood, the lifelong injuries, impoverishment, and disgrace,--to bear all these patiently and uncomplainingly,--to acquiesce humbly in the discovery that all this was always in our hearts, and still is in our hearts--what humility, what patience, what compassion and pity for ourselves must all that call forth! The wise nurse is patient with her passionate, greedy, untidy, disobedient child. She does not cast it out of doors, she does not run and leave it, she does not kill it because all these things have been and still are in its sad little heart. Her power for good with such a child lies just in her pity, in her compassion, and in her patience with her child. And the child that is in all of us is to be treated in the same patient, hopeful, believing, forgiving, divine way. We should all be with ourselves as God is with us. He knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust. He shows all patience toward us. He does not look for great things from us. He does not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. He shall not fail nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth. And so shall not we.

      5. And, then,--it is a sufficiently startling thing to say, but--we must learn to be patient with God also. All our patience, and all the exercises of it, if we think aright about it, all run up in the long-run into patience with God. But there are some exercises of patience that have to do directly and immediately with God and with God alone. When any man's heart has become fully alive to God and to the things of God; when he begins to see and feel that he lives and moves and has his being in God; then everything that in any way affects him is looked on by him as come to him from God. Absolutely, all things. The very weather that everybody is so atheistic about, the climate, the soil he labours, the rain, the winter's cold and the summer's heat,--true piety sees all these things as God's things, and sees God's immediate will in the disposition and dispensation of them all. He feels the untameableness of his tongue in the indecent talk that goes on everlastingly about the weather. All these things may be without God to other men, as they once were to him also, but you will find that the truly and the intelligently devout man no longer allows himself in such unbecoming speech. For, though he cannot trace God's hand in all the changes of the seasons, in heat and cold, in sunshine and snow, yet he is as sure that God's wisdom and will are there as that Scripture is true and the Scripture-taught heart. 'Great is our Lord, and His understanding is infinite. Who covereth the heavens with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth, and maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth snow like wool; He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes; He casteth forth His ice like morsels. Who can stand before his cold?' Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ.

      And, then, when through rain or frost or fire, when out of any terror by night or arrow that flieth by day, any calamity comes on the man who is thus pointed and practised in his patience, he is able with Job to say, 'This is the Lord. What, shall we receive good at the hand of God and not also receive evil?' By far the best thing I have ever read on this subject, and I have read it a thousand times since I first read it as a student, is Dr. Thomas Goodwin's Patience and its Perfect Work. That noble treatise had its origin in the great fire of London in 1666. The learned President of Magdalen College lost the half of his library, five hundred pounds worth of the best books, in that terrible fire. And his son tells us he had often heard his father say that in the loss of his not-to-be-replaced books, God had struck him in a very sensible place. To lose his Augustine, and his Calvin, and his Musculus, and his Zanchius, and his Amesius, and his Suarez, and his Estius was a sore stroke to such a man. I loved my books too well, said the great preacher, and God rebuked me by this affliction. Let the students here read Goodwin's costly treatise, and they will be the better prepared to meet such calamities as the burning of their manse and their library, as also to counsel and comfort their people when they shall lose their shops or their stockyards by fire.

      'Blind unbelief is sure to err,
      And scan His work in vain;
      God is His own interpreter,
      And He will make it plain.'

      And, then, in a multitude of New Testament scriptures, we are summoned to great exercise of patience with the God of our salvation, because it is His purpose and plan that we shall have to wait long for our salvation. God has not seen it good to carry us to heaven on the day of our conversion. He does not glorify us on the same day that He justifies us. We are appointed to salvation indeed, but it is also appointed us to wait long for it. This is not our rest. We are called to be pilgrims and strangers for a season with God upon the earth. We are told to endure to the end. It is to be through faith and patience that we, with our fathers, shall at last inherit the promises. Holiness is not a Jonah's gourd. It does not come up in a night, and it does not perish in a night. Holiness is the Divine nature, and it takes a lifetime to make us partakers of it. But, then, if the time is long the thing is sure. Let us, then, with a holy and a submissive patience wait for it.

      'I saw moreover in my dream that Passion seemed to be much discontent, but Patience was very quiet. Then Christian asked, What is the reason of the discontent of Passion? The Interpreter answered, The governor of them would have him stay for his best things till the beginning of the next year; but he will have them all now. But Patience is willing to wait.'


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See Also:
   4. HELP
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   20. BY-ENDS
   25. SINCERE


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