The Pearl of Patience
C. H. Spurgeon
© Copyright 2002 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold. All rights reserved. Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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“You have heard of the patience of Job,” [KJV] “and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” [NIV] [James 5:11]
We often need to be reminded of what we have heard, for we are far too ready to forget. We are also so slow, to consider and meditate on what we have heard, that it is profitable to have our memories refreshed. At this time we are called upon to remember that we have heard of “the patience of Job.” We have, however, I trust, gone beyond mere hearing, for we have also seen in the story of Job that which it was intended to set vividly before our mind’s eye. “You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” The Roman Catholic priest professes to make men hear the voice of the gospel by seeing, but the Scriptural way is to make men see the truth by hearing. Faith, which is the soul’s sight, comes by hearing. The intention of preaching the gospel to the ear is “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” [Ephesians 3:9]. Inward sight is the result of all fruitful hearing.
Now, that which is to be seen in the Scriptures is somewhat deeper, and calls for more thought than that which is merely heard. “You have heard of the patience of Job,”—an interesting history, which a child may understand; but it needs, divine teaching to see to the bottom of that narrative, to discover the pearl which lies in the depths of it. It can only be said of enlightened disciples, “You have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
At the same time, that which is seen is also more precious to the heart, and more abundantly enriches the soul than anything which is only heard. I realize that it is a real benefit to our minds to have heard of the patience of Job, it comforts and strengthens us in our endurance; but it is infinitely better to have seen what the Lord finally brought about, and to have perceived the enduring tenderness and compassion which are displayed even in his painful chastisements. This is indeed a choice vein of silver, as he that has dug in it is far richer then the more superficial person, who has only heard of the patience of Job, and so has only gathered surface-truth. “The patience of Job,” as we hear of it is like the shell of some rare nut from the Spice Islands, full of fragrance; but “what the Lord finally brings about,” when we finally see it, is like the kernel, which is rich beyond expression with a fullness of fragrant essence.
Note well the reason why the text reminds us of what we have heard and seen. When we are called to the exercise of any great virtue, we need to call in all the helps which the Holy Spirit has bestowed on us. We will need to spend all of our wealth of hearing and seeing in our heavenly warfare. Often we will be forced to prepare our minds for spiritual battles by remembering the examples which we have heard, such as that of Job. The patience of Job will equip us for the struggle, and “what the Lord finally brought about” which we have seen will reinforce the whole equipping process. The virtue we are called to exercise is that of patience; and therefore, to help us to do it, we are reminded of the things that we have heard and seen. Patience is a grace as difficult as it is necessary, and as hard to come by as it is precious when it is gained.
The text is preceded by triple exhortation to patience. In the seventh verse we read, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming;” and again, “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near” [James 5:7-8]. Further on, in the tenth verse, we read, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” Again notice that three times we are exhorted to be patient.
Isn’t it true that in our lives today we have a great need of patience? Most of us are deficient in this excellent grace, and because of it we have missed most privileges, and have wasted many opportunities in which we might have honored God, might have been an outstanding example of Christianity, and might have greatly benefited our own souls. Affliction has been the fire which would have removed our imperfections, but impatience has robbed us of its purification. Impatience is unprofitable, dishonorable, and damaging; it has never brought us reward or any good, and never will.
I suppose the reason we are exhorted three times to gain patience is because we will greatly need it in the future.
Between here and heaven we have no guarantee that the road will be easy, or that the sea will be smooth sailing. We have no promise that we will be kept, like flowers in a greenhouse, safe from the breath of frost, or that we will be veiled from the heat of the sun.
The voice of wisdom says, “Be patient, be patient, be patient; be ready for the trials that will come.”
I suppose also, that we are exhorted over and over again to be patient, because it is so great an attainment.
It is not child’s play to be dumb as the sheep before her shearers, and to lie still while the shears are taking away all that warmed and comforted us. The mute Christian under the afflicting rod is not your everyday person. We kick like an oxen which feels the goad for the first time; we are, most of us, for years like a young bull unaccustomed to the yoke. “Be patient, be patient, be patient,” is the lesson that needs to repeated to our hearts many times, even as we have to teach children over and over again the very same words, until they know them by heart. It is the Holy Spirit, ever patient at our frustrations, who calls us to be “patient.” It is Jesus, the unmurmuring sacrifice, who charges us to, “be patient.” It is the tolerant and forgiving Father who commands us to “be patient.” Oh, you who are soon to be in heaven, be patient for just a little while longer and your reward will be revealed!
Let us briefly meditate on these two thoughts. First, we are reminded of the advantage to be patient, and it is not an unheard of virtue: “You have heard of the patience of Job;” and, secondly, we are commanded to be patient, and it is not an unreasonable virtue, for you “have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
I. IT IS NOT AN UNHEARD OF VIRTUE TO BE PATIENT: “You have heard of the patience of Job.”
Observe that the patience of Job was the patience of a man just like us, imperfect and full of weaknesses.
One has rightly said, we have heard of the impatience of Job as well as of his patience. I am glad the divine biographer was so impartial, for if Job had not been somewhat impatient, we might have thought his patience was something unique, and above the reach of ordinary men and women. The traces of imperfection which we see in Job prove all the more powerfully that grace can make great examples out of common persons, and that experiencing feelings of resentment under apparent injustice need not prevent a person from becoming a model of patience. I am thankful that I know that Job did in fact speak somewhat bitterly, and proved himself a common man, for now I know that it was a man like myself who said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” [Job 1:21]. It was a man of flesh and blood, such as mine, who said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” [Job 2:10]. Yes, it was a man of similar passions that we have who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” [Job 13:15]. You have heard of the patience of your Lord and Master, and tried to copy it, and half despaired; but now you have heard of the patience of his servant Job, and knowing as Job did that, your Redeemer lives, you should be encouraged to emulate him in obedient submission to the will of the Lord.
Observe that the patience of Job was the patience of a greatly tried and tested man.
Job could not have exhibited patience if he had not endured trial; and he could not have displayed a patience whose fame rings down through the ages, even to our day, if he had not experienced extraordinary affliction.
Reflect, then, that it was the patience of a man who was tested in his wealth and assets.
All his wealth was taken from him! Two or three servants were left—left only to bring him bad news, each one saying, “I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” His flocks and his herds were gone, the house in which his children had met was destroyed, and the princely man of Uz sat down among the ashes. You, have heard of the patience of Job in the loss of his property and wealth; haven’t you seen that, if all your wealth is lost, God is still your rich Father?
Reflect, that it was the patience of a man who was caused to suffer extreme family trials.
All his children were killed without a warning, dying while they were feasting and drinking. Without the awareness of doing anything wrong, men and women are usually unguarded, and in a sense unready, for the spirit is not convicting them of any sin. His children died suddenly, and there was a serious mystery about it, for a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house, and it instantly collapsed on them; and such an incident must have caused Job to imagine in his mind that it was caused by either the judgment of God or the influence of Satan—such thoughts must have been most painful for Job. The death of his dear children was so unexpected and bizarre, and yet it happened and they were gone. Not one son or daughter was left. All were gone! All were gone! Job sits among the ashes as a childless man. “You have heard of the patience of Job.” Oh, to have patience when experiencing grief and sorrow, patience even when Satan continues to shoot his flaming arrows!
Then, and here I speak mainly to myself, “You, have heard of the patience of Job” under personal affliction.
It has been well said by one who knew mankind brutally well, that “we easily bear the afflictions of other people;” but when it touches our own bone and flesh, these trials can be overwhelming, and we have need of an unusual amount of patience. Most likely none of us have ever known the same degree of bitter pain as Job must have suffered, and yet we have had weary nights and dreary days. Each bone in our body has claimed a prominence in anguish, and each nerve has become a road for armies of pains to march over. We know what it is to feel thankful tears in our eyes merely for having been turned over in our bed of sickness. Job, however, far surpasses us. “You have heard of the patience of Job,” and you know how he did not sin when he was covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.
In addition to all of this, Job bore what is perhaps the worst form of trial, namely, mental distress.
The conduct of his wife must have greatly grieved him when she tempted him to “curse God and die.” However she meant it, or however her words may be translated, she obviously spoke like a foolish woman when her husband needed wise support and comfort. And then those “miserable comforters,” his “three friends” oh, how they added to his misery! Cold blooded mortals sneer at sentimental grievances, but I speak from my heart when I affirm that griefs which do not break bones or cause any financial loss may yet be among the sharpest whips of sorrow. When the pain enters into the soul, we know the very soul of suffering. See how Job’s friends troubled him, with arguments, and worried him with accusations. They rubbed salt in his wounds, they threw dust in his eyes, their tender mercies were cruel, though well-intentioned. Woe to the man who in his darkest hour is hissed at by his friends; yet the hero of patience did not sin. “You have heard of the patience of Job.”
Job’s was in all respects in a most difficult and anguishing situation, he was not inventing or imagining evil; his sufferings were not imaginary losses nor minor calamities. He had not lost one child out of a numerous family, nor a few thousands out of a vast fortune, but he was brought to the deepest levels of grief and sadness, abject poverty, and terrible torment of body and mind; but, despite it all, “You have heard of the patience of Job,” and heard more of his patience than of his sufferings. What a wonderful mercy to have heard of such a man, and to know that one of our own race passed through the blazing furnace, and yet, was not consumed!
The patience of Job was the patience of a man who endured up to the very end.
No breakdown occurred; at every stage he triumphed, and to the utmost point he was victorious. Traces of weakness are manifest, but they are majestically overlaid by evidences of gracious power. What a marvelous man he was with all those aches and pains, still bearing witness to his God, saying, “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” [Job 23:10]. He reasons well even in the heat of his passionate zeal for his character; he reasons bravely too, and he rightly discerns the points of his adversaries like a trained logician. He holds tightly to his integrity, and will not let it go; and best of all, he cries out, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” [Job 19:25-26].
The enemy could not triumph over Job; he threw him on a pile of ashes, and it became his throne, more glorious than the ivory throne of Solomon. The painful sores with which the adversary covered the patriarch were more honor to him than a warrior’s golden body armor. Never was the Prince of Darkness more thoroughly beaten than by the afflicted patriarch; and instead of pitying the sufferer, my pity thickens into contempt for that fallen spirit who must have then and there gnawed on his own heart, and drunk deep swallows of bitterness as he saw himself foiled at all points by one who had been put under his power, and one who was of the feeble race of man. Surely, in this Satan experienced a foretaste of the bruising threatened at Eden’s gate to be given him by the woman’s seed. Yes, Job endured to the end, and therefore he stands as a pillar in the house of the Lord. Can’t we endure to the end too? What hinders grace from glorifying itself in us?
We may once more say that the patience of Job is the virtue of one who thereby has become a great power for good.
“You have heard of the patience of Job;” yes, and all through the ages we have heard of the patience of Job, and heaven has heard of the patience of Job, and hell has heard of it too; and not without results in each of the three worlds. Among men and women, the patience of Job, is a great, human and spiritual force. This morning, when meditating on it, I felt ashamed and humbled, as thousands have done before me. I asked myself, “What do I know of patience when I compare myself with Job?” and I felt that I was so much unlike the great patriarch as I possibly could be. I remember a minister who had been somewhat angered by some of his congregation, and therefore preached from the text of Leviticus 10:3, which says, “Aaron remained silent.” It was remarked that the preacher’s likeness to Aaron reached no further than the fact that Aaron remained silent, and the preacher did not. We must humbly confess that our likeness to Job is much the same: Job was patient, and we are not?
Yet, as I thought of the patience of Job, it caused me to hope. If Job was patient under trial and
suffering, why shouldn’t I be patient too? He was only a man; what was produced in one man may be produced in another. He had God to help him, and so have I; he could fall back on the living Redeemer, so can I; and why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I attain patience as well as Job?
It made me feel happy to believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit I too could endure the will of God. Be like Job, beloved friend! Don’t be struck down! What God has done for one he can do for another. Since men and women in all generations are basically the same, and since the great God is the same, and you can be sure he is, we too can have great patience, in our limited circle; our patience may be heard of among those who prize the fruits of the Spirit.
II. In the second place, IT IS NOT AN UNREASONABLE VIRTUE TO BE PATIENT, for, according to our text, there is great love and tenderness in it, “You have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
We had to have seen, in Job’s story, if we have considered it correctly, that the Lord was in it all.
It is not a narrative in which the devil is the sole actor; the great Lord of all is evidently present. It was God who challenged Satan to consider Job, and then questioned him as to the result. Less seen than the evil one, the Lord was nevertheless present at every act of the drama. God was not absent while his servant suffered; in fact, if there was any place where the thoughts of God were centered more than anywhere else in providence at that time, it was where the holy and righteous man was bearing the brunt of the storm.
The Lord was ruling too. He was not present as a mere spectator, but as the master of the situation.
He had not handed over the reins to Satan; far from it, for every step that the enemy took was only by express permission from the throne. He allowed Satan to strip his servant of all that he possessed, but he set the limit, “but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” When to complete the test the enemy was permitted to plague his body, the Lord added, “but you must spare his life.” The ruling always had a limit. The dog of hell is allowed to snap and snarl, but his chain is not removed, and the collar of omnipotent restraint is on him. Come, dear friends, you that are in trouble, remember that God is in your sorrow, ruling it to its desired end, and ensuring that it will go no further than that which is according to his will; therefore you have neither suffered, nor in the future will suffer, any more than His infinite love permits.
Moreover, the Lord was blessing Job by all his tribulation.
Untold blessings were coming to Job while he seemed to be loosing everything. It was not simply that the latter part of his life was more blessed than the first, but, all along, every part of the testing process was working together for his good. Now we have seen what the Lord finally brought about: He brought about abundant blessings. The Lord was standing by every moment to stop the refining process when it had come to its God ordained limits, so that no more of it should happen than was really beneficial, and at the same time no less than what would secure his gracious purpose. The Lord was wise and tender with Job, and even in his case the painful affliction was not allowed to proceed a single degree beyond the necessary point of intensity.
And when we stop to look at Job’s entire life, we see that the Lord, in mercy, brought him out of it all, with indescribable advantage.
He who tested with one hand supported with the other. Whatever Satan’s purpose might have been in tempting Job, God had a purpose which overruled that of the destroyer, and that purpose was satisfied throughout the entire ordeal, from the first loss which happened among the oxen to the last taunt of his three accusers. It was never a question, in the heights of heaven as to the ultimate issue. Eternal mercy was putting forth its irresistible energy, and Job was strengthened though the trial, and to me became a wiser and a better man.
Such is the case with all afflicted saints. We too can be patient under our trials, for the Lord allows them; he is ruling in all their circumstances, he is blessing us by them, he is waiting to end them, and he is pledged to bring us through them. Therefore, won’t we gladly submit to the Father of our spirits? Isn’t this our deepest wish, “Your will be done”? Will we argue with that which blesses us? Will we complain when the end of the trouble is so near and so blessed? No; we see that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, and therefore we will be patient.
Beloved, let us accept future sorrow with joy, for it is divine love which will add to our remaining years whatever sorrowful seasons may yet come to us. Job’s life, could have ended without the trial; but if Job, with perfect knowledge of all things, could have had his choice, wouldn’t he have chosen to endure the trial for the sake of all the blessings which came of it? We would never have heard of the patience of Job if he had continued in his prosperity, and that first part of his life would have made a very poor example in history as compared with what we now find in the pages of Scripture. Camels, sheep, servants, and children make up a picture of wealth, but we can see this any day; the rare sight is the patience, this is what raises Job to his true glory. God was doing good to his faithful servant, and even rewarding his righteousness, when he counted him worthy to be tested. The Lord was taking the surest and kindest way to bless and honor one who was a blameless and upright man, one who feared God, and shunned evil.
It was compassionate of the Lord to permit the painful trials to come upon Job for his good; there was more mercy in subjecting him to it than there would have been in screening him from it. False compassion would have permitted the good man to die in his nest, but true compassion put a thorn in it, and made him fly up like the eagle. It was great mercy, after all, which took him out of the state in which he lived in comfort and luxury, and threw him, into the mire, by which he was weaned from the world, and made to look more fervently for a better world to come.
No doubt, in Job’s character, the Lord saw certain deficiencies which we cannot see, which he desired to remove, and perhaps he also selected some special qualities which needed to be supplied; and divine love undertook to complete his perfect character. Perhaps his prosperity had so sunburned him until he had grown somewhat hard in tone and sharp in judgment, and therefore the Lord needed to soften and mellow his gracious spirit. The things lacking were not common virtues, for in these he was perfect, but rather certain rich and rare tints of the higher life; and these could not be imparted by any other means than severe suffering. Nothing more could really be done for Job without this special agency, for doubling the number of his camels and sheep would only enlarge his cares, he already had enough children, too, he had a sufficient family, and earthly things in abundance; but to give him, twice the grace, twice the experience, twice the knowledge of God, perhaps twice the tenderness of character he had ever possessed before, was a mode of enrichment which the merciful and compassionate Lord adopted out of the greatness of his wisdom and favor. This was the only way in which Job could be made doubly rich in the rarest of all treasures, and the All-merciful God designed and applied that method.
Examining the matter from another point of view, it may appear that Job was tested in order that he might be better able to handle the exceptional amount of property which the Lord had resolved to give to him. That double portion might have been too much for the patriarch if he had not been lifted into a higher state. If abundance is hard to bear, overabundance is even worse; and, therefore, to those he loves, the Lord gives more grace.
Job by his trials and patience received not only double grace, and double wealth, but double honor from God.
He had stood very high in the nobility of the excellent as a blameless and upright man before his trials, but now he is advanced to the very highest rank of spiritual nobility. Even our children call him “the most patient man who ever lived under severe trials and sufferings.” He rose, from the, knighthood of sincere goodness to the nobility of heroic endurance. At first, he had the honor of behaving admirably amid wealth and ease, but he was in the end elevated: to sit among those who glorify God in the fires. Benevolence, justice, and truth, shone as bright stars in the sky of his heavenly character, but, now the moon of patience shines like silver, and lights up the scene with a superior beauty. Perhaps the Lord may love some of us in the same way, and give us the dignity of endurance, by making us knights, not of the golden fleece, but of the iron cross. Only One full of compassion and mercy could plan, such a lot, for our unworthy selves.
Once more, Job by his trials and the grace of God was lifted up into the highest position of usefulness.
Job was useful before his trial as few men of wealth and influence have been,
but now his life possesses an enduring fruitfulness which blesses multitudes
every day. Even we who are here today “have heard of the patience of Job.” All
the ages have this man for their teacher. Brothers and sisters, we do not know
who will be blessed by our pains, by our bereavements, by our crosses, if we
have patience under them. The is especially so with God’s ministries, if they
are to be truly useful to God then their path to usefulness is up the rocky side
of the mountain. If we are to comfort God’s afflicted people, we must, first, be
afflicted ourselves. Tribulation will make our wheat fit to be bread for saints.
Adversity is the choicest book in our library, printed in black letters, but
majestically illuminated. Job makes a glorious comforter and preacher of
patience, but no one turns either to Bildad, Zophar or Eliphaz, who were
“miserable comforters” because they had never been miserable. You, dear sisters,
whom God will make daughters of comfort to your families, must pass through a
scholarship of suffering too; a sword must pass through your own hearts if you
are to be highly favored and blessed among women. Yet, let us all remember that
affliction will not bless us if it borne impatiently; if we kick at the goad, it
will hurt us, and fail to act as a fitting stimulus. If we rebel against God’s
divine plans for our lives, we may turn his medicines into poisons, and increase
our grief by refusing to endure them. Be patient, be patient, be patient, and
the dark cloud will produce a sparkling shower. “You have heard of the patience
of Job:” imitate it. “You have seen what the Lord finally brought about:”
rejoice in it. “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:” yield yourselves to
him. Divine Spirit, plant in us the sweet gift of patience, for our patient
Savior’s sake! Amen.
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