Christian Patience (Cyprian)

Cyprian was a major figure in the 3rd century A.D. Christian church. He was a preacher and teacher in Carthage who fled from persecution at least once in his life and also had to hide from some who wanted to kill him. He finally turned himself in and was martyred in 258 AD. Thankfully, quite a few of his writings remain.

I recently ran across Cyprian’s treatise called “On the Advantage of Patience.” I believe this topic is one that Christians should focus on while navigating through our cultural context and situation today. Cyprian noted that patience begins with God. Since our heavenly Father is patient, Cyprian argued, we should seek to be patient as well, “because it behooves servants to be obedient.” Furthermore, if God commands patience, it must be good, and we must seek it. Practicing patience is walking in the way of Jesus. Here’s how highly Cyprian speaks of patience (I’ve updated the language):

“Patience is that which commends us to God, and preserves us. Patience is that which mitigates anger, which bridles the tongue, governs the mind, keeps peace, rules discipline, breaks the assaults of lust, keeps under the force of pride, quenches the fire of hatred, restraines the power of the rich, relieves the need of the poor, maintains in maidens unspotted virginity, in widows chastity, in married people unseparable charity; which makes humble in prosperity, constant in adversity, meek in taking injury; it teaches you to forgive quickly those that offend you, and never ceases to crave pardon when you offend others; it vanquishes temptations, suffers persecutions, and finishes with martyrdom.

Patience is that which grounds surely the foundations of our faith: this is that which augments the increase of our hope: this is that which guides us, so that we may keep the way to Christ, while we do go by the suffering thereof: patience is that which makes us continue as the sons of God, while we imitate the patience of our Father.

 This quote is found in Cyprian’s “On the Advantage of Patience” in Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 5.

(FYI, Henry Bullinger noted this quote by Cyprian in his third volume of sermons (The Decades), sermon three.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Practicing Patience (Goodwin)

As Christians, we always need to pray for patience and practice patience. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit and we’re commanded to “put on” patience (Gal 5:22, Col. 3:12). Love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). Our heavenly Father is patient and our Lord Jesus is patient (Rom 9:22, 1 Tim. 1:16). It’s not a suggestion! Patience is a command for the Christian: be patient! (James 5:7-8).

This is a great reminder for the crazy situation we’re in right now – medically, politically, culturally, etc. A lot of people are falling apart and coming unhinged; it’s a good time to pray for patience and practice patience to persevere through whatever God puts in our path! I appreciate how Thomas Goodwin wrote about patience. He said that patience is 1) an act of waiting upon God, 2) waiting with quietness, 3) it carries on without fainting or discouragement, 4) it submits to God and his will, and 5) it keeps us humble and lying at God’s feet. Gooodwin says more about this, but to keep it short I’ll list two of these below:

Patience includes and comprehends an act of waiting upon God, and his good pleasure. Waiting is an act of faith continued or lengthened out; and where faith would of itself be short-winded, patience ekes it out. The daughter helps the mother, with an expectation of a happy issue. You find waiting involved in patience as an eminent act thereof, James 5:7, ‘Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.’ Look, how and in what manner the farmer waits, so he sets out and exhorts a Christian patient man should do.

Patience is a waiting with quietness. It is not an enduring simply by force, which we call patience perforce, but with quietness. …Isa. 26:3, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you; because he trusts in you.’ And, chap. 30:15, ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’ And when faith hath wrought patience, it quiets the heart much more. Patience speaks quietness in the very sound of it; and the reason is because it hath a strength accompanies it, Col. 1:11, ‘Strengthened with all might, unto all patience and long-suffering.’ And thence so far forth as faith and patience do strengthen the heart, so far we are able to bear, and that with quietness. ‘Let not your hearts be troubled,’ saith Christ, John 14. Why? ‘You believe in God, believe also in me.’ Faith on them will cause trouble to fly away, which is a great part of Christ’s meaning when he says, ‘In patience possess your souls,’—that is, dwell quietly in your own spirits, as a man doth in his house, which our law terms his castle.

 Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1861), 449.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Don’t Give Up On A Sinner! (Spencer)

I was recently reading part of A Pastor’s Sketches again and I found a paragraph I had marked up quite a bit.  Turns out I had blogged on this already (May 2017), so I thought I’d post it again.  Here it is:

Sometime around the middle of the 19th century a woman spoke to Rev. Ichabod Spencer about the things of the Christian faith.  After the discussion, the woman was interested in becoming a Christian.  Spencer met with her many times over the next two years.  Over and over Spencer told her about sin, repentance, faith in Christ, and what it means to be a disciple.  Over and over he showed her the verses about these truths.

For reasons only God knows, she was very slow to believe.  She just couldn’t quite commit.  Spencer had talked to her so many times he became weary of talking to her; he even was tempted to tell her, “I’ve said everything that needs to be said.  Don’t see me anymore.”  It got to the point where he was annoyed when he saw her coming to talk, which made him feel guilty about it.  He never did turn her away simply because he knew the agony she was in.  Spencer noted that he had never spent so much time talking to an unbeliever about the faith.  To make a long two-year story short, by God’s grace the woman finally did come to faith, as did her husband, her sister, and some of her friends.  After telling this story, Spencer wrote this:

“Ministers ought never to despair of the salvation of any sinner.  To despair of any one is just the way to make him despair of himself.  Many have been ruined in this way, probably.  We ought to expect sinners to repent – and treat them accordingly.  Who shall limit the Holy One of Israel?  It took me long to learn the lesson, but I have learned never to give up a sinner.  We must urge the duty of an immediate faith and repentance, as the Bible does so continually; but we must be careful to enjoin this duty in such a manner that, if it is not immediately done, the individual shall not be led or left to cease seeking God.  Many a sinner turns back, when just at the door of heaven.”

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, II.III.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Why Does God Make Us Wait?

Quite often waiting is very difficult.  In our instant culture, most of the time we don’t even like waiting one week for a package to come in the mail; we get impatient if our internet is a tiny bit slower than usual or if our data connection isn’t lightning fast.  Waiting can be frustrating!

When it comes to the Christian faith there is a lot of waiting involved.  God’s people are already justified, but not yet fully sanctified.  We have been saved, but we don’t yet have full and complete deliverance.  We have the promise of eternal life but don’t yet experience it.  God promised that he will glorify all of his people, but that’s something for which we still wait.  Christ will come again to make all things new, but we don’t know when.  Therefore we wait and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is hard and we get impatient.  We even ask: “Why does God make us wait so long?”

William Gurnall answered this question with another question:

Why does God make any promise at all to his creatures?  This may well be asked, considering that God is free from owing any kindness to his creatures; till, by the mere good pleasure of his will he put himself into covenant bonds, and made himself, by his promise, a debtor to his elect.  This shows that the former question is flippant and over-bold, as if some great rich man should make a poor beggar that is a stranger to him his heir, and when he tells him this, the poor man asks, ‘But why should I wait so long for it?’

Truly, any time is too soon for him to receive a mercy from God that thinks God’s time in sending it is too late.

Gurnall goes on to say that impatience in waiting for God’s promises to come true arises from our selfishness since we prefer our own contentment and satisfaction before God’s glory.  Impatience also arises from ingratitude and forgetfulness (Ps. 106.13).

To combat spiritual impatience, we need to pray for more hope and patience.  Here’s Gurnall again:

“Patience is the back on which the Christian’s burdens are carried, and hope is the pillow between the back and the burden, to make it sit easy.”

God wasn’t obligated to make any good promises to sinners like us.  But in his sovereign and free mercy, he did promise salvation and all the blessings that go with it. Therefore, it’s fitting and right to be patient and to say that his timing is best.  And we put on “the hope of salvation as a helmet,” knowing he will keep his promise (1 Thes. 5:8)!  “And this is what he promised us – eternal life” (1 John 2:25 NIV).

The above-edited quote by William Gurnall is found in volume 2 of The Christian in Complete Armor, p. 151-2.

Shane Lems

Sanctification: A Slow Work of God’s Grace

Faith and Life  The Westminster Larger Catechism, among other things, says that sanctification is “a work of God’s grace” wherein his people “more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life” (Q/A 75).  Here’s how B. B. Warfield concludes a sermon on this topic from 2 Thessalonians 5:22-23.  This is an outstanding and much-needed reminder to be patient with God’s process of making us more like Christ.

“Certainly the gradualness of this process ought not to disturb us. It may be inexplicable to us that the Almighty God acts by way of process. But that is revealed to us as His chosen mode of operation in every sphere of His work, and should not surprise us here. He could, no doubt, make the soul perfect in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye; just as He could give us each a perfect body at the very instant of our believing. He does not.

The removal of the stains and effects of sin—in an evil heart and in a sick and dying body—is accomplished in a slow process. We all grow sick and die—though Jesus has taken on His broad shoulders (among the other penalties of sin) all our sicknesses and death itself. And we still struggle with the remainders of indwelling sin; though Jesus has bought for us the sanctifying operations of the Spirit. To us it is a weary process. But it is God’s way. And He does all things well. And the weariness of the struggle is illuminated by hope.

After a while!—we may say; after a while! Or as Paul puts it: Faithful is He that calls us—who also will do it. He will do it! And so, after a while, our spirit, and soul and body shall be made blamelessly perfect, all to be so presented before our Lord, at that Day. Let us praise the Lord for the glorious prospect!”

B. B. Warfield, Faith and Life (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1990), 372.

rev shane lems