Christian patience in adversity (“longsuffering”) is a supernatural fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Unbelievers may grimly resign themselves to circumstances they cannot change; believers, however, persevere in faith, believing that the greatest evils will be turned to their profit, and will work for their good, in the hands of a loving, faithful God. By God’s grace and in answer to prayer, we can be “strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering” (Col. 1:11). By the Spirit, Christ’s disciples are willing cross bearers (Luke 9:23).
Those who believe in providence rest in God’s purposes for their afflictions. They understand and approve of God’s intention to train up His children to mature holiness by their sorrows and trials (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–11). They say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. . . . It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:67, 71). Though they often cannot see how, they trust that God is glorifying Himself through their struggles, not least by showing that He is worthy of their faith and godly fear even when He does not give them happiness here and now (Job 1:1, 8–11, 20–21). They live in union and communion with Christ and rejoice to suffer with Him, knowing that one day they shall reign with Him in glory (Rom. 8:17). They resolve to “run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1–2).
The Christian’s hope in God’s purposes depends on faith that He really does control all things. Johannes VanderKemp said, “If no universal Ruler directed whatsoever comes to pass, how should good men be able to quiet and comfort themselves in all their tribulations? Would not their condition be worse than that of the wicked?”
One of the greatest trials a believer may endure is that of spiritual darkness. Westminster Confession of Faith 18.4 notes, “True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted,” sometimes “by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light” (see Isa. 50:10). Anthony Burgess explained that God may temporarily withdraw a believer’s joy and assurance of His love so that His beloved child may taste the bitterness of sin and learn to hate it more, grow in humility, treasure joy and peace and not take them for granted, glorify Him by obedience, and increase in compassion to comfort others.
Whether or not the saint walking in darkness can discern its spiritual benefit, he can rest in knowing that his sovereign God always works for His glory and the good of His elect. William Gurnall said, “The Christian must trust in a withdrawing God.”
Dear believer, imagine for a moment that everything in life always went “your way.” You were never afflicted. You never faced adversity. What would you be like? I know what I would be like: I’d be a spoiled, immature, self-centered, proud sinner who only believed in myself. Though my flesh does not always want to admit it, I know deep within that I’ve needed every affliction that my heavenly Father has ever sent my way to deliver me from myself and to conform me increasingly to His Son. Without adversity, I never would be a sin-hater, a Christ-lover, and a holiness-pursuer. I would not be the Christian that I am. I suspect you are no different from me.
In all our afflictions, but especially after we have come out of afflictions (Heb. 12:11), we shall find that the bitterness of our sorrows is far outweighed by the sweetness of God’s good purpose. Our loving Father will not waste one tear of His dear children (Ps. 56:8). Samuel Rutherford said, “When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.”
Thankfulness in Prosperity
A fourth benefit of providence, which can be as difficult to exercise as patience in adversity, is thankfulness in prosperity. Although adversity is real, frequent, and sometimes overwhelming, we are also immersed in God’s good creation, which is to be “received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). God “giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (6:17). We never lack good gifts, and therefore, never lack reasons to praise the God of providence (Eph. 5:20). Wilhelmus à Brakel said, “The proper use of God’s providence will render you an exceptional measure of gratitude and will teach you to end in the Lord as the only Giver of all the good which you may receive for soul and body.”
Gratitude is essential to godliness. Without thanksgiving, we cannot obey God’s will: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18). Calvin said,
I call “piety” that reverence joined with love for God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service.
Both adversity and prosperity have their dangers. “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Prov. 30:8–9). Both adversity and prosperity have accompanying duties: “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13).