A Godly Man Is a Patient Man (Excerpted from The Godly Man's Picture) by Thomas Watson
'Ye have heard of the patience of Job' (Jas. 5:11). Patience is a star that shines in a dark night. There is twofold patience:
I. Patience in waiting
If a godly man does not obtain his desire immediately, he will wait till the mercy is ripe: 'My soul waiteth for the Lord' (Psa. 130:6). There is a good reason why God should have the timing of our mercies: 'I the Lord will hasten it in his time' (Isa. 60:22). Deliverance may delay beyond our time, but it will not delay beyond God's time.
Why should we not wait patiently for God? We are servants; it becomes servants to be in a waiting posture. We wait for everything else; we wait for the fire till it burns; we wait for the seed till it grows (Jas. 5:7). Why cannot we wait for God? God has waited for us (Isa. 30:18). Did he not wait for our repentance? How often did he come year after year before he found fruit? Did God wait for us, and cannot we wait for him? A godly man is content to await God's leisure; though the vision is delayed, he will wait for it (Hab. 2:3).
2. Patience in bearing trials
This patience is twofold: (a) Either in regard to man when we bear injuries without revenging, or (b) in regard to God when we bear his hand without repining. A good man will not only do God's will but bear his will: 'I will bear the indignation of the Lord' (Mic. 7:9). This patient bearing of God's will is not:
(i) A stoical apathy; patience is not insensitivity under God's hand; we ought to be sensitive.
(ii) Enforced patience, to bear a thing because we cannot help it, which (as Erasmus said) is rather a necessity than patience. But patience is a cheerful submission of our will to God: 'The will of the Lord be done (Acts 21:14). A godly man acquiesces in what God does, as being not only good but best for himself. The great quarrel between God and us is, Whose will stand? Now the regenerate will falls in with the will of God. There are four things opposite to this patient frame of the soul:
(a) Disquiet of spirit, when the soul is discomposed and pulled off the hinges, insomuch that it is unfit for holy duties. When the strings of a lute are snarled up, the lute is not fit to make music. So when a Christian's spirit is perplexed and disturbed, he cannot make melody in his heart to the Lord.
(b) Discontent, which is a sullen, dogged mood. When a man is not angry at his sins, but at his condition, this is different from patience. Discontent is the daughter of pride.
(c) Prejudice, which is a dislike of God and his ways, and a falling off from religion. Sinners have hard thoughts of God, and if he just touches them on a sore spot, they will at once go away from him and throw off his livery.
(d) Self-vindication, when instead of being humbled under God's hand, a man justifies himself, as if he had not deserved what he suffers. A proud sinner stands upon his own defense, and is ready to accuse God of unrighteousness, which is as if we should tax the sun with darkness. This is far from patience. A godly man subscribes to God's wisdom and submits to his will. He says not only, 'Good is the word of the Lord' (Isa. 39:8), but 'Good is the rod of the Lord'.
Use: As we would demonstrate ourselves to be godly, let us be eminent in this grace of patience: 'the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit'(Eccles. 7:8). There are some graces which we shall have no need of in heaven. We shall have no need of faith when we have full vision, nor patience when we have perfect joy, but in a dark sorrowful night there is need of these stars to shine (Heb. 10:36). Let us show our patience in bearing God's will. Patience in bearing God's will is twofold:
1. When God removes any comfort from us.
2. When God imposes any evil on us.
I. We must be patient when God removes any comfort from us. If God takes away any of our relations -' I take away the desire of thine eyes with a stroke'(Ezek. 24:16) - it is still our duty patiently to acquiesce in the will of God. The loss of a dear relation is like pulling away from a limb from the body. 'A man dies every time he loses his own kith and kin.' But grace will make our hearts calm and quiet, and produce holy patience in us under such a severe dispensation. I shall lay down eight considerations which may act like spiritual medicine to kill the worm of impatience under the loss of relations:
(i) The Lord never takes away any comfort from his people without giving them something better. The disciples parted with Christ's corporal presence and he sent them the Holy Ghost. God eclipses one joy and augments another. He simply makes an exchange; he takes away a flower and gives a diamond.
(ii) When godly friends die, they are in a better condition; they are taken away 'from the evil to come (Isa. 57:1). They are out of the storm and have gone to the haven: 'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord' (Rev. 14:13). The godly have a portion promised them upon their marriage to Christ, but the portion is not paid till the day of their death. The saints are promoted at death to communion with God; they have what they so long hoped for, and prayed for. Why, then, should we be impatient at our friends' promotion?
(iii) You who is a saint have a friend in heaven whom you cannot lose. The Jews have a saying at their funerals, 'Let your consolation be in heaven'. Are you mourning somebody close to you? Look up to heaven and draw comfort from there; your best kindred is above. 'When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up' (Psa. 27:10). God will be with you in the hour of death: 'though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me' (Psa. 23:4). Other friends, you cannot keep. God is a friend you cannot lose. He will be your guide in life; your hope in death; your reward after death.
(iv) Perhaps God is correcting you for a fault, and if so, it becomes you to be patient. It may be your friend had more of your love than God and therefore God took away such a relationship so that the stream of your love might run back to him again. A gracious woman had been deprived, first of her children, then of her husband. She said, 'Lord, thou hast a plot against me; thou intendest to have all my love'. God does not like to have any creature set upon the throne of our affections; he will take away that comfort, and then he shall lie nearest our heart. If a husband bestows a jewel on his wife, and she so falls in love with that jewel as to forget her husband, he will take away the jewel so that her love may return to him again. A dear relation is this jewel. If we begin to idolize it, God will take away the jewel so that our love may return to him again.
(v) A godly relation is parted with, but not lost. That is lost which we have no hope ever of seeing again. Religious friends have only gone a little ahead of us. A time will shortly come when there shall be a meeting without parting (1 Thess. 5:10). How glad one is to see a long-absent friend! Oh, what glorious applause there will be, when old relations meet together in heaven and are in each other's embraces! When a great prince lands at the shore, the guns go off in token of joy; when godly friends have all landed at the heavenly shore and congratulate one another on their happiness, what stupendous joy there will be! What music in the choir of angels! How heaven will ring with their praises! And that which is the crown of all, those who were joined in the flesh here shall be joined nearer than ever in the mystic body and shall lie together in Christ's bosom, that bed of perfume (1 Thess. 4:17).
(vi) We have deserved worse at God's hand. Has he taken away a child, a wife, a parent? He might have taken away his Spirit. Has he deprived us of a relation? He might have deprived us of salvation. Does he put wormwood in the cup? We have deserved poison. 'Thou hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve' (Ezra 9:13). We have a sea of sin and only a drop of suffering.
(vii) The patient's soul enjoys itself most sweetly. An impatient man is like a troubled sea that cannot rest (Isa. 57:20). He tortures himself upon the rack of his own griefs and passions, whereas patience calms the heart, as Christ did the sea when it was rough. Now there is a sabbath in the heart, yes, heaven. 'In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19). By faith a man possesses God and by patience he possesses himself.
(viii) How patient many of the saints have been, when the Lord has broken the very staff of their comfort in bereaving them of relations. The Lord took away job's children and he was so far from murmuring that he fen to blessing: 'the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord' (Job 1:21). God foretold the death of Eli's sons: 'in one day they shall die, both of them' (1 Sam. 2:34). But how patiently he took this sad news: 'It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good' (1 Sam. 3:18). See the difference between Eli and Pharaoh! Pharaoh said, 'Who is the Lord?' (Exod. 5:2). Eli said, 'It is the Lord.' When God struck two of Aaron's sons dead, 'Aaron held his peace' (Lev. 10:2,3). Patience opens the ear but shuts the mouth. It opens the ear to hear the rod but shuts the mouth so that it has not a word to say against God. See here the patterns of patience; and shall we not copy them? These are heart-quietening considerations when God sets a death's-head upon our comforts and removes dear relations from us.
2 We must be patient when God inflicts any evil on us. 'Patient in tribulation' (Rom. 12:12).
(i) God sometimes lays heavy affliction on his people: 'thy hand lies sore upon me' (Psa. 38.2). The Hebrew word for 'afflicted' signifies 'to be melted'. God seems to melt his people in a furnace.
(ii) God sometimes lays various afflictions on the saints: 'he multiplieth my wounds' (Job 9:17). As we have various ways of sinning, so the Lord has various ways of afflicting. Some he deprives of their estates; others he chains to a sickbed; others he confines to a prison. God has various arrows in his quiver which he shoots.
(iii) Sometimes God lets the affliction lie for a long time: 'there is no more any prophet; neither is there among us any that knoweth how long' (Psa. 74:9). As it is with diseases - some are chronic and linger and hang about the body several years on end - so it is with afflictions. The Lord is pleased to exercise many of his precious ones with chronic afflictions, which they suffer for a long time. Now in all these cases, it becomes the saints to rest patiently in the will of God. The Greek word for 'patient' is a metaphor and alludes to one who stands invincibly under a burden. This is the right notion of patience when we bear affliction invincibly without fainting or fretting.
The test of a pilot is seen in a storm; so the test of a Christian is seen in affliction. That man has the right art of navigation who, when the boisterous winds blow from heaven, steers the ship of his soul wisely, and does not dash upon the rock of impatience. A Christian should always maintain decorum, not behaving himself in an unseemly manner or disguising himself with intemperate passion when the hand of God lies upon him. Patience adorns suffering. Affliction in Scripture is compared to a net: 'Thou broughtest us into the net' (Psa. 66:11). Some have escaped the devil's net, yet the Lord allows them to be taken in the net of affliction. But they must not be 'as a wild bull in a net' (Isa. 51:20), kicking and flinging against their Maker, but lie patiently till God breaks the net and makes a way for their escape. I shall propound four cogent arguments to encourage patience under those evils which God inflicts on us:
(a) Afflictions are for our profit, for our benefit: 'he for our profit' (Heb. 12:10). We pray that God would take such a course with us as may do our souls good. When God is afflicting us, he is hearing our prayers; he does it 'for our profit'. Not that afflictions in themselves profit us, but as God's Spirit works with them. For as the waters of Bethesda could not give health of themselves unless the angel descended and stirred them (John 5:4), so the waters of affliction are not in themselves healing till God's Spirit co-operates and sanctifies them to us. Afflictions are profitable in many ways:
(i) They make men sober and wise. Physicians have mental patients bound in chains and put on a frugal diet to bring them to the use of reason. Many run stark mad in prosperity; they know neither God nor themselves. The Lord, therefore, binds them with cords of affliction, so that he may bring them to their right minds. 'If they are held in cords of affliction, then he showeth them their transgressions. He openeth also their ear to discipline' (Job 36:8-10).
(ii) Afflictions are a friend to grace:
(1) They beget grace. Beza acknowledged that God laid the foundation of his conversion during a violent sickness in Paris.
(2) They augment grace. The people of God are beholden to their troubles; they would never have had so much grace if they had not met with such severe trials. Now the waters run and the spices flow forth. The saints thrive by affliction as the Lacedemonians grew rich by war. God makes grace flourish most in the fall of the leaf.
(iii) Afflictions quicken our pace on the way to heaven. It is with us as with children sent on an errand. If they meet with apples or flowers, by the way, they linger and are in no great hurry to get home, but if anything frightens them, then they run with all the speed they can to their father's house. So in prosperity, we gather the apples and flowers and do not give much thought to heaven, but if troubles begin to arise and the times grow frightful, then we make more haste to heaven and with David 'run the way of God's commandments (Psa. 119:32).
(b) God intermixes mercy with affliction. He steeps his sword of justice in the oil of mercy. There was no night so dark but Israel had a pillar of fire in it. There is no condition so dismal but we may see a pillar of fire to give us light. If the body is in pain and the conscience is at peace, there is mercy. Affliction is for the prevention of sin; there is mercy. In the ark there was a rod and a pot of manna', the emblem of a Christian's condition: 'mercy interlined with judgment (Psa. 101:1). Here is the rod and manna.
(c) Patience proves that there is much of God in the heart. Patience is one of God's titles: 'the God of patience' (Rom. 15:5). If you have your heart cast in this blessed mold, it is a sign that God has imported much of his own nature to you; you shine with some of his beams.
Impatience proves that there is much unsoundness of heart. If the body is of such a type that every little scratch of a pin makes the flesh fester, you say, 'Surely this man's flesh is very unsound.' So impatience with every petty annoyance and quarreling with providence is the sign of a disturbed Christian. If there is any grace in such a heart, they who can see it must have good eyes. But he who is of a patient spirit is a graduate in religion and participates in much of the divine nature.
(d) The end of affliction is glorious. The Jews were captive in Babylon but what was the end? They departed from Babylon with vessels of silver, gold, and precious things (Ezra 1:6). So, what is the end of affliction? It ends in endless glory (Actsr4:.2.2;.2 Cor. 4:17). How this may rock our inpatient hearts quiet! Who would not willingly travel along a little dirt path and plowed lands, at the end of which is a fair meadow and in that meadow a goldmine?
Question: How shall I get my heart tuned to a patient mood?
Answer: Get faith; all our impatience proceeds from unbelief. Faith is the breeder of patience. When a storm of passion begins to arise, faith says to the heart, as Christ did to the sea, 'Peace, be still', and there is at once a calm.
Question: How does faith work patience? Answer: Faith argues the soul into patience. Faith is like that town clerk in Ephesus who allayed the contention of the multitude and argued them soberly into peace (Acts 19:35,36). So when impatience begins to clamor and make a hubbub in the soul, faith appeases the tumult and argues the soul into holy patience. Faith says, 'Why art thou disquieted, 0 my soul?' (Psa. 42:5). 'Are you afflicted? Is it not your Father who has done it? He is carving and polishing you and making you fit for glory. He smites that he may save. What is your trial? Is it sickness? God shakes the tree of your body so that some fruit may fall, even "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Heb. i2:.ri). Are you driven from your home? God has prepared a city for you (Heb. 12:11). Do you suffer reproach for Christ's sake? "The spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you" (I Pet. 4:14).' Thus faith argues and disputes the soul into patience.
Pray to God for patience. Patience is a flower of God's planting. Pray that it may grow in your heart, and send forth its sweet perfume. Prayer is a holy charm, to charm down the evil spirit. Prayer composes the heart and puts it in tune when impatience has broken the strings and put everything into confusion. Oh, go to God. Prayer delights God's ear; it melts his heart; it opens his hand. God cannot deny a praying soul. Seek him with importunity and either he will remove the affliction or, which is better, he will remove your impatience.
Excerpted from The Godly Man's Picture, published by Banner of Truth Trust.