Thomas Chalmers


ROMANS, v, 3 - 5.

"And not only so, but we glory in tribulation also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience and patience, experience and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us."

THE apostle had before said, that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God; and he now says, that we glory in tribulation also. This impresses the idea of the great opposition that obtains, between an appetite for spiritual and an appetite for temporal blessings. To rejoice in hope of the one is a habit of the same bosom, that rejoices and glories in the loss or destruction of the other - not however that the ruin of any present good is desirable on its own account, for all such affliction is not joyous but rather grievous; but still upon the whole should it be matter of gladness, if the short affliction that is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; and if afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are exercised thereby.

‘Tribulation worketh patience." You will observe that the word translated patience, is of a more active quality in the original than it is according to our customary acceptation of it. We understand it to be a mere virtue of sufferance, the passive property of enduring without complaint and without restlessness. But it really extends to something more than this. The same word has been translated "patient continuance," in that verse where the apostle speaks of a patient continuance in well-doing. The word perseverance, in fact, is a much nearer and more faithful rendering of the original than the word patience, "Let us run with patience the race set before us," says the apostle, in our present translation. Let us run with perseverance the race set before us, were an irnprovcmncnt upon the sense of this passage. We wait with patience, or sit still with patience, or simply suffer with patience; but surely we run not with paticnce but with perseverance. It is well when tribulation is met with uncomplaining acquiescence, or met with patience - but it is still better when it not only composes to resignation, but stimulates to a right and religious course of activity. " It is good for me to have been afflicted," says the psalmist, "that I might learn thy law." "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word." It is very well when affliction is submitted to without a murmur - but better still when it quickens the believer's pace in the divine life, and causes him to emerge on a purer and loftier career of sanctification than before.

We conceive the main explanation of an afflicting process upon the heart to lie in this, that the heart must have an object on which to fasten its hopes or its regards; that if this object be reft from it, a painful void is created in the bosom, the painfulness of which is not done away till the void be replaced; that the soreness of such a visitation therefore, as say the loss of a child, inflicted upon a worldly man, will at length find its relief and its medicine in worldly objects ; and that in the succession of company, or in the intense proseeution of business, or in the variety of travelling, or in the relapse of his feelings again to the tone of his ordinary pursuits and ordinary habits, time will at length fill up the vacancy and cause him to forget the anguish of his present tribulation. But if, instead of worldly he be spiritual, he will seek for comfort from another quarter of contemplation - he will try to fill up the desolate place in his heart with other objects - he will turn him to God, and labour after a fuller impression of that enduring light and love and beneficence, which, if they only shine upon him in clearer manifestation, would effectually chase away the darkness of his incumbent melancholy. In such circumstances, nnd with such feelings, prayer will be his refuge; commuunion with God will be the frequent endeavour of his soul; he will try to people the vacancy created in his bosom by the loss of earthly things, with the imagery of heaven; he will heave up, as it were, his affections, now disengaged with that which wont to delight and to occupy them, but is now torn away; he will, in the stirrings of his agitated spirit, attempt to lift them to that serene and holy and beautiful sanctuary, where Christ sitteth " at the right hand of God."

And who does not see that he has now more of heart to give to these things, delivered as it is from the engrossment of a fond and favourite affection; amd that, as the fruit of these repeated attempts to follow hard after God, he may at length obtain a nearer approximation; and that, on the singleness of his intent and undivided desires, a light may be made to shine, which will disclose to him with far more clear and affecting impression, those great realities which are above and everlasting; and that with his faith so strengthened, and his separation from the world so widened and confirmed, and all the wishes of his heart so transferred from the earth that has deceived him to the inheritance that fadeth not away - Who does not see, that the afflicting process which the man has undergone, has transformed him into a more ethereal being than before; has loosened him from time, and rivetted him with greater tenacity and determination than ever to the pursuits of eternity; has forced him as it were to seek his resources from above, and thus brought him to abide by the fountain of living waters; has riven him, as it were, from the world, and left him free to attach his loosened regards to the invisibles which stand at a distance away from him - So that now he can fill up his heart with heaven as his future home, and fill up his time with the service and the occupations of that holiness which is the way that leads to it?

You know that in the parable of the sower, the deceitfulness of riches is a thorn which occupies the room, and overbears the influence upon the heart, of the word of God. But you also know that the cares of life are also thorns. It is therefore a very possible thing, that, by the tribulation of sudden poverty, one set of thorns may just be exchanged for another; and that by the ruminations and the anxieties and the absorbing thoughtfulness which the ruin of fortune brings in its rear, the things of heaven may as effectually be elbowed out of the place which belongs to them, as by all the splendours of affluence and all its fascinations. The only sorrow which such a reverse inflicts upon the bosom of the sufferer, may be the sorrow of this world that worketh death. Time will show. The experience of the effect on the man's personal character and history, will demonstrate, whether the root of the matter be in him; and if he really be that believer on whom tribulation worketh patience, and patience such an experience of himself as will be a ground of hopefulness and joy to him.

Prune away a branch from a tree that is already dead; and it will not be this operation that will revive it. Prune away some rank and excessive luxuriance from a tree that is living, and you will divert the hurtful flow of its vegetable moisture, from the part where it is running too abundantly, and restore the proper tone and healthfulness to its whole circulation. And the same of man. His affections run sideway among the idols of sense and time that are around him. And God, whose husbandry we are, often, by a severe but salutary operation, severs them away; and so diverts our inclinations from objects to which they cannot excessively tend, without guilt or worldliness; and leads them in one ascending direction to Himself; and if this be the love of God that we keep His commandments, a more faithful walk of holiness and a steadier perseverance in the way of new obedience are the fruits of His chastening visitation.

And thus may you understand, how accordant with human nature the aflirmation of our Saviour is, when He speaks of Himself being the true vine, and His Father the husbandman - and then says, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it," or as it should have been, "he pruneth it that it may bring forth more fruit." But though the patience of our text, by being turned into perseverance, is made rather to signify the impulse and direction which calamities are fitted to give to the active principles of our nature - yet we are not to exclude a meek and unresisting endurance of suffering, as one of its most precious fruits on the character of him who is exercised thereby. There is a certain mellowness which affliction sheds upon the character - a softening that .it effects of all the rougher and more repulsive asperities of our nature - a delicacy of temperament, into which it often melts and refines the most ungainly spirit - just as when you visit a man, from whose masculine and overbearing manner you wont to recoil, when, in the full flow and loudness and impetuosity of health, he carried all before him; but whom you find to be vastly more amiable, when, after the hand of disease has for a time been upon him, he still retains the meek hue of convalescence. It is not the pride of aspiring talent that we carry to heaven with us. It is not the lustre of a superiority which dazzles and commands and overawes, that we bear with us there. It is not the eminence of any public distinction, or the fame of lofty and successful enterprise.

And should these give undue confidence to the man, or throw an aspect of conscious and complacent energy over him, he wears not yet the complexion of Paradise; and, should God select him as His own, He will send some special affliction that may chasten him out of all which is uncongenial with the place of blessedness, and at length reduce him to its unmingled love and its adoring humility. Affliction has a kind of physical as well as moral power, in sweetening the character, and in impressing a grace and a gentleness upon it. It is purified by the simple process of passing through the fire. "The fining pot for silver and the furnace for gold," says Solomon; "but the Lord trieth the hearts." "For thou, 0 God, hast proved us ; thou hast tried us as silver." "And when He hath tried me," says Job, "I shall come forth as gold."

But the use of affliction is not merely to better the quality of the soul; it is to prove this quality as it exists - 'And patience experience ‘ - It furnishes him with a proof of God's love, in that he has been enabled to stand this trial with principles exalted by it, or at least unimpaired. And it also furnishes him with a proof of his own sincerity. It causes him to know that there is now that in his heart, which can bear him up under the ills of the present life; and stimulate him in the pursuit of life everlasting. It makes him acquainted with the force and the stedfastness of his own character ; and if his conscience can attest, that, amid all the pressure and distress of his earthly sufferngs, still the matters of faith had the practical ascendancy of his soul, and made him feel the present affliction to be light, and amply compensated for all its severity - this is to him a satisfying demonstration that his heart was now occupied and governed by principles which nature never originates, and which never do take possession of a human bosom till they are imparted by grace. This to him is a joyful evidence, not of the truth of the gospel, for that stands upon arguments of its own - but that the gospel had taken effect upon himself, and that he had now come personally under the regimen of that doctrine which is unto salvation.

‘And experience hope.' We beg to call your particular attention to the circumstance, that, at an antecedent point in this train of consequence, hope had already been introduced as one of them. Peace was made to emanate from faith, and joy also, and hope also. They who believed no sooner did so, than they rejoiced in hope of the glory of God. But in their progress through the world, they meet with tribulations ; and it is said of them that they glory in these also - because of the final result of a process that may have been lengthened out for many days, after faith entered their hearts, and peace and hope sprung up as the direct and immediate effects of it. The hope of the fourth verse, is therefore distinct from, and posterior to the hope of the second ; and it also appears to be derived from another source. The first hope is hope in believing; a hope which hangs direct on the testimony of God; such a hope as may be conceived to arise in the mind of Abraham, on the very first communication that God had with him, when He said, "I will make of thee a great nation" - having no other ground, in fact, than a belief in the veracity of the promiser, and fed and fostered by this sole consideration, that God hath said it and shall He not do it?

Now there is not one here present, to whom the gospel does not hold forth a warrant for so hoping. It declares the remission of sins to all who put faith in the declaration. By its sweeping term "who soever," it makes as pointed an offer of eternal life to each, as if each had gotten a special intimation that are at all appropriate to the joyful contents by an angel sent to him from heaven. If he do not believe, he of course cannot have any feelings of message which has been rendered to him. But he do believe, there will be peace and joy and expectation - and these, not suspended on the issue any experience that is yet to come; but suspended, and that immediately, on a simple faith in the tidings of the gospel. They are called tidings of great joy; and sure we are that they would stand distinguished from all other tidings of this character, if they did not awaken the joy at the precise moment of their being credited. We know of no other tidings which can be called joyful, that do not make one rejoice at the moment of their being told and recognized to be true. You do not wait so many days or weeks till you feel glad, at some good news that have come to your door. You are glad on the moment of their arrival, simply by giving them credit ; and the gospel, the strict and etyniological meaning of which is simply good news, will in like manner gladden every heart at the moment of its being relied upon as true: And, it being good news of pardon and eternal life to all and every, he, one of the all, will, if lie believe, take the whole comfort of the declaration to himself, and have peace with God through Jesus Christ, and rejoice in the hope of His glory.

Now the second hope is distinct from this first, and is grounded on distinct considerations - not upon what the believer sees to be in the testimony of God, but upon what he finds to be in himself - It is the fruit, not of faith, but of experience ; and is gathered, not from the word that is without, but from the feeling of what passes within. One would like to know how the first and the second hopes find their adjustment, and their respective places, in the bosom of a disciple; and what is the precise addition which the latter of these brings the former of them - whether the want of the second would darken and extinguish the first, by making him ashamed of it.

This matter can be illustrated as before by the case of Abraham. God, in his first communlcation with him, made him a twofold promise - one of which was to have its fulfilment many ages after, and another of which was to be fulfilled in his own life time. He promised that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed; and He also promised that, upon his leaving his own country, He should meet with him arid show him the land that his posterity were to inherit. Abraham simply in virtue of faith would hope for the accomplishment of both promises. He would both see afar off the day of Christ and rejoice; and he would also leave his own country, in the confident expectation of again meeting with God, and having the land of his descendants pointed out to him. Conceive him then to have been disappointed in this expectation - to have wandered in vain without once meeting the promised manifestation - to have had no other message or visitation from the heavens save the first, which, by warranting the hope of another that it did not realize, would give him ground to suspect was a delusive one. Would not Abraham, in this case, have been ashamed of his rash confidence, and of his hasty enterprise, and of the vain and hazardous evils into which he had thrown himself? Would not the fallacy of the promise that he looked for in life, lead him to withdraw all confidence in the promise that was to have its consummation at a period of exceeding distance away from him? And, on the other hand, did not the actual fulfilment of the near, brighten and confirm all his original expectations of the distant fulfillment? Were not all his subsequent meetings with God, to him the pledges and the earnests of the great accomplishment, that still lay in the depths of a very remote futurity? Did not they serve to convince him, that the hope which he conceived at the first, and which had been so confirmed afterwards, was a hope that maketh not ashamed? And that hope which had nothing at first but the basis of faith to rest upon, did it not obtain a reinforcement of strength and of security when it further rested on the basis of experience?

I make a twofold promise to an acquaintance - the lesser part of which should be fulfilled to-morrow, and the latter on this day twelvemonth. If he believe me to be an honest man, then, simply appended to this belief, will there be a hope of the fulfilment of both; and, for a whole day at least, he may rejoice in this hope. To-morrow comes; and, if to-morrow's promise is not fulfilled, who does not see that the hope which emanated direct from faith is thereby darkened and overthrown, and that the man will be ashamed of his rash and rejoicing expectations? But if, instead of a failure, there is a punctual fulfilment, who does not also see, that the hope he conceived at first obtains a distinct accession from the experience he met with afterwards; and that, without shame or without suspicion, he will now look to the coming round of the year with more confident expectation than ever? It is quite true, that there is a hope in believing; but from this plain example you will perceive it to be just as true, that experience worketh hope.

Now it is just so in the gospel. There is a promise addrest in it, the accomplishment of which is far of; and a promise, the accomplishment of which is near at hand. The fulfilment of the one is the pledge or token of the fulfilment of the other. By faith in God we may rejoice in hope of the coming glory; and it will be the confirmation of our hope, if we find in ourselves a present holiness. He who hath promised to translate us into a new heaven hereafter, has also promised to confer on us a new heart here. Directly appended to our belief in God's testimony, may we hope for both these fulfilments; but should the earlier fulfilment not take place, this ought to convince us, that we are not the subjects of the latter fulfilment. A true faith would ensure to us both; but as the one has not cast up at its proper time, neither will the other cast up at its time - and, having no part nor lot in the present grace, we can have as little in the future inheritance.

Let us therefore not be deceived. You hear people talk of their peace with God, while art and malignity and selfishness are at full work in their unregenerate bosoms - while no one evidence is apparent of any gracious influence at all having been shed abroad in their hearts - while the nearer promise has had no fulfilment upon them, though guaranteed by the same truth with the more remote and ulterior one, and though the same God who ordains life everlasting also ordains all the heirs of it to be conformed to the image of His Son; and no one enters upon the inheritance on the other side of death, without the Spirit being given to him as the earnest of his inheritance on this side of death. By this test then let us examine ourselves; and have done, conclusively done, with that odious and hypocritical slang, into which the terms of orthodoxy and all the phrases of common-place professorship enter so abundantly - at the very time perhaps when the heart rankles with purposes of mischief; or, in the contest between faith and sense, the latter has gained a wretched ascendancy over him. Should this be the melancholy condition of any professor who now hears us, let him rest assured that he has lost the things that. he has wrought, that he has the whole of his original distance from God to recover anew, that he has to lay again the foundation, and has in short to do all over again. The promise of life eternal is still addrest to him, but the promise of meetness for it in a holy and renewed character goes along with it; and this present world is the place where it must be realized; and it is only by making himself sure of repentance here, and of the clean heart here, and of the right spirit here, that he can make himself sure of his calling and election hereafter.

In the language of the apostle then - work out your salvation, and labour with all diligence unto the full assurance of hope unto the end. We shall be happy if we have succeeded in impressing a clear distinction upon your minds between the hope of faith and the hope of experience; and how if the latter is wanting, the former on that account may come to be darkened and extinguished altogether. But remember you are not to wait for the second hope, till you conceive the first. It is the first, in fact, which draws the second in its train. It is the first which originates a purifying influence upon the soul. It is in proportion to the strength and habitual ascendancy of time first over the soul, that such a character is formed as may furnish the second with a solid basis to rest upon. It is the hope of the second verse which germinated the whole of that process, that led at length to the hope of the fourth verse. You cannot be too sure of the truth of God's sayings. You cannot have too much peace and joy in thinking that the rcmission of sins is preached unto all, and that you are one of these all. There is a hope here which ought to arise, on the instant of belief arising in the mind; and, so far is this from superseding the hope of experience, that it will in fact bring the very feelings and raise the very fruits upon the character of the believer, that will cause the hope of experience to come surely and in succession to the hope of faith. Our best advice for brightening the second hope to the uttermost, is that you keep alive the first hope to the uttermost. Your experience will be bright just in proportion as your faith is bright; and it is just if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and if ye be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard, that you will at length be presented holy and unblamable and unreprovable in the sight of God.
Go To Lecture 19
Go back to Romans index

Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet