Andrew Fuller Friday: Patience and Its Work

1. What is patience? we ask. The word so rendered, I believe, signifies rightly, to bear up under, as a man that carries a burden, or a cross if you please, and yet makes progress; goes on notwithstanding the load that lies upon him. In other words, patience is that grace, in the exercise of which we quietly endure present ills in hope of future deliverance. Perhaps we shall form a still clearer and more forcible idea of it by contrasting it with a few things that bear some resemblance to it. There is a species of quiescence that arises from mere fatality, or a consideration that things cannot be altered. This was the patience of the ancient heathens, and must be the patience of modern heathens. Men who have nothing better to hope for can draw their sources of submission from no higher principle. Cicero, and several of the great names of antiquity, when they lost their children, are represented as composing and quieting themselves from nothing but merely the consideration that it could not be altered: we must submit to fate. But this, my brethren, is the patience of despair, while the disposition here recommended is the patience of hope; and how great the difference between the patience which heathenism can produce, and the patience which is the effect of the gospel!

Again, there is a sort of quiescence of mind arising from insensibility, and this in every age and in every country. There are persons who are not greatly affected with their trials, and who are thought to be very patient under them; but the truth is, it is the mere effect of insensibility or stupidity. This is not gospel patience. Gospel patience does not extinguish the feelings, but governs them: it supposes the sensibilities of the soul to be most alive; it comports with the tenderest sensibilities, the most refind feelings. All that gospel patience aims at is, to govern, to direct, to keep those feelings in submission to God. Thus it is beautifully expressed by our Saviour himself, “In patience possess ye your souls.” The soul sometimes becomes like an ungoverned steed; but patience holds the reins and preserves it in awe, and so subjects all the feelings and sensibilities of the mind to a right direction. This is the patience of the gospel.

2. But I pass on to inquire, What is the work of patience? It is supposed that patience works; for though it be a passive grace, or its principal exercise consists in suffering rather than in acting, yet it is connected with activity. Hence the scriptures speak of “patient continuance in well-doing.” It is not to lie under a load of sorrow, and make no movement; it is to follow Christ though we have a cross to carry; it is that kind of sensation which is connected with a perseverance in well-doing. What is the work of patience? Patience is not only represented as operative, but we are informed what it is that it works: “Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” If we would look, then, for the work of patience, we must go into the variety of difficulties and trials with which Providence afflicts the children of men, the children of God. There we shall find patience working; there we shall see the work of patience in the path of affliction, persecution, and the like.

That tribulation which affords occasion for patience may be distinguished into three general kinds: the visitations of God; and there the work of patience consists in bowing in submission;—the injurious treatment of men; and there patience consists in rendering, not evil for evil, but good for evil;—and lastly, the suspension of expected blessings; and there patience consists in quietly waiting for God’s mercy. Here, then, you will find the work of patience. Are you visited by the afflicting hand of God? Does God afflict you in your person? Does he diminish you in your circumstances? Does he bereave you of your children and dear friends? Does he inflict wound upon wound, and stroke upon stroke? Here is the work of patience. Imitate the example of that godly man who said, in the deepest of his afflictions, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Are you exposed to unkind treatment from your fellow-sinners? It is possible: though you are not exposed to legal persecutions for the sake of the gospel; though you cannot be haled to prison, and have your lot in a dark and noisome dungeon; though you cannot be dragged to the stake; yet there are many ways in which you may be called to suffer for Christ’s sake. Ungodly relations, ungodly neighbours, ungodly connexions, may cause you to feel the weight of their resentment and malignity in a variety of ways; and here, it is your business and mine, as Christians, to let “patience have its perfect work,” to beware that we render not evil for evil, to beware that our spirits are not overset by these things, and that we yield not to the temptation of rendering vengeance, which is the prerogative of God. Or it may be, that you have conceived the hope of some desired good, and have been in expectation of it; and it may be, that God suspends this expected good, holds it back from you; and “hope deferred,” as the wise man says, “maketh the heart sick.” Here the work of patience is to preserve you from despondency; to keep your head, as it were, above water; to guard you from hard thoughts of God: and such was its work in the afflicted church in her captivity, when she said, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause,” until he “bring forth judgment unto victory.” I will wait patiently for God’s mercy.

Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Work of Patience,” Sermon XXXI. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 375–376). Sprinkle Publications.

By |February 23rd, 2024|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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