Ye have need of patience – Heb_10:36
Virtues of Necessity
There are some virtues which are exclusive virtues and are only demanded in peculiar circumstances. They have at the best a partial application. In certain emergencies they are obligatory or in certain social relationships; but that virtue of which we speak now can never be included among these. The child needs patience when he goes to school, for without it he will never learn. The boy needs patience on the football field, for without it he will never play. The mother needs it among her growing children: the father amid the anxieties of business: he who is in work needs it every day, and he who is out of work needs it even more.
Patience Against Impulsiveness
There are certain natures, it is true, more liable than others to impatience, and sometimes the finest natures are so tempted. There is a note of impulse and of eagerness in certain natures which are full of charm; a nimbleness of apprehension, a sudden flashing as of a swallow’s wing; and often it is natures such as these which do so much to beautify society that are most sorely tempted to impatience. It is the fairest of our Highland lakes which are most liable to sudden storm. In a tamer country they would escape the squall; we could depend on them more in duller levels. But the very grandeur of the hills around them tosses them swiftly into wild commotion, and so is it with certain men and women. We think of Moses, meekest of God’s servants, shattering the tables of the law. We think of Peter in impulsive loyalty cutting off the ear of the priest’s servant. And we seem to see the Highland lake again with its silent hills forever reaching heavenward and its hollows which are the caverns of the wind.
Noble and Ignoble Patience
It is well also to remember constantly that there is a noble and an ignoble patience. Of this, as of all the other virtues, the devil always has his counterfeit. If we seek for the perfect pattern of patience, instinctively we turn to our Redeemer; yet of one thing Christ was utterly impatient, and that one thing was evil. Those fierce denunciations of the Pharisees, that groaning beside the grave of Lazarus, are all in the picture of the patient Christ. It is the duty of no one to be patient when evil can be checked or wrong be righted. All our liberties were won for us by heroic impatience of the wrong. There are times when patience is the badge of weakness and ruthlessly betrays the faithless heart; there are times when impatience is divine. Had Robert the Bruce been patient under tyranny, where would our liberty have been today? Had Knox been patient and borne the yoke in meekness, where would have been the Church of Christ in Scotland? And had we been patient in this present hour when the dearest human rights are being imperiled, when nations are being trampled underfoot, when the bond of honor is a scrap of paper, Christ would have said to us, “I never knew you; depart from me, ye cursed of my Father.” So long as evil is avoidable, every follower of Christ must be impatient with it. It may be criminal to be a martyr when it is possible to be a soldier. No man is worthy to be a Christian citizen or to have a place within the Christian commonwealth who cannot be splendidly impatient sometimes with tyranny and cruelty and evil. My Christian friend, that is ignoble patience—shall I tell you what noble patience is? Noble patience is the cheerful bearing of what is inevitable and unavoidable. It is in the chastisements sent to you from God; it is in the sufferings which you have to bear; it is in the trials upon the line of duty, that “ye have need of patience.” Ignoble patience is the child of cowardice. It is afraid “to lose with God.” It is the fruitful mother of injustice, the perpetuator of social abuses. Noble patience welcomes what is sent, believes that behind everything is Goer, issues in a quiet which is victory. Matthew Arnold in one of his choicest poems calls patience “the neighbor of despair.” But the patience of the Lord Jesus Christ is never the neighbor of despair. It is the neighbor of high and quenchless hope, of confidence that the best is yet to be, of trust in the providence which counts the stars and providently caters to the sparrow.
Patience Versus Endurance
Always, too, we should remember that patience is something different from endurance. It is possible to endure and not be patient. Endurance is a very noble virtue; nothing great was ever done without it. There is a world of meaning in our Scottish proverb, He that tholes, o’er comes. But patience in the fullness of its import is ethically finer than endurance: it is endurance with sunshine on its brow. Patience is endurance which is willing. It is endurance with gladness in its mien. It is the endurance which recognizes God and the infinite wisdom of His ordering. It is the endurance which is only possible when one is sure that love is at the helm and that all things work together for his good. A man may endure with curses in his heart. But patience has no curses in its heart. “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Patience is endurance in Christ’s company, and it takes the cross up with a ready mind, for it leans upon the perfect love of God.
Patience is needed in peculiar measure for all development of human character. “In your patience possess ye your souls”—your selves. Every man, that is, has a true self hidden amid the ruins of his nature. And as a mother from a burning homestead saves her child, so man must win his life. And the only way to do it is the long way, the long and tedious and patient way—in your patience ye shall win your souls. Just as there are no shortcuts to heaven, so are there no shortcuts to character. If it takes long to grow a mustard seed, it will take longer still to grow a man. And therefore we have need of patience when we are tempted to what is swift and flashy; tempted to forget that of all lengthy ways there are none so lengthy as the ways of God. “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” It was the great temptation of Christ as He looked out upon His opening ministry. And then He chose the long and lowly way by the garden of Gethsemane and Calvary, and so came to His kingdom and His crown.
Once again, do we not need patience in regard to the plans and purposes of God? “The mills of God grind slowly.” Beautiful is the patience of a nurse ministering to some restless invalid; beautiful the patience of a mother among her children who are never still; but in a world like this where night is loath to flee and the crimson morning is so slow in coming, it calls for a patience not less real than that if man is to believe in God. Think of the state of things today. Every hospital is full of wounded men; every city thronged with homeless fugitives; every field in Northern France today has been opened for the burial of the slain. And all this after the faith of centuries and the mystic communion of the Holy Supper and the praise unceasing from a million tongues to “Jesus, lover of my soul.” My Christian hearer, that is hard to bear, and it is harder still to understand. It is as though He who sitteth in the heavens were making merry with the toil of ages. And what I say is that in this present hour, more than in any hour that we have lived—we have need of patience. Patience to believe that with the Lord a thousand years are as one day; to believe that He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of His wrath He shall restrain; to believe that He is King of kings, that in His hand there is the heart of princes, that He seeth the end from the beginning. It is not enough, remember, to endure. About our endurance there is no debate. As Britons with a lineage of heroes we shall carry through the task we have begun. But we are more than Britons, we are Christians; we have made our peace with God through Jesus Christ, and as Christians we have need of patience. Endurance says, “I will carry this thing through.” Patience says, “God reigneth.” Endurance says, “Lord, increase my courage.” Patience says, “Lord, increase my faith.” Endurance says, “Give me the iron will that I may never falter in my calling”: but patience, “Open mine eyes that I may see.” That is why at such a time as this there is supreme need of spiritual patience. It is not that the issue may be victory; endurance might be adequate for that. It is that through all gathering of storm clouds which hang so dark around the throne in heaven, we may walk quietly as men who have a God.
Love Begets Patience
In closing may I ask you to observe how the Gospel always has been the friend of patience? It has been so mainly in two ways, and the former is by making love supreme. What is it, tell me, that makes the mother patient amid the worries of her little family? What was it that made Jacob patient when for seven years he served for Rachel? Duty can touch the heart to stern endurance, to scorn delights and live laborious days; but for the finest patience you need love. And now I turn to the old Gospel story, and what do I find in the very center there? I find a love sealed in the cross of Christ, a love victorious which will not let us go. It is that love, in its infinite benediction falling with power on our fretting hearts, which helps us to the patience that we need.
Immortality Begets Patience
And then, the other secret? The other is the hope of immortality. For a thousand worries Christ has given patience by bringing immortality to light. There is a splendid saying of St. Augustine’s which everyone of us should take to heart. “God is patient,” says St. Augustine, “because He is eternal.” With all eternity to work His works in, how could the Almighty worry or chafe; and Christ has brought immortality to light. We are no longer the creatures of a day. We do not cease our service at the grave. All we have striven to do and striven to be shall be carried over into the great forever. There is something very quieting in that; something which sheds a gleam on every failure; something which helps us wonderfully in those seasons when above everything we have need of patience.