Patience Under Oppression
1 Peter 2:18-25
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the fraudulent.…

Writing, probably from Rome — certainly in one of the closing years of his life — St. Peter saw the great tendency of social and political circumstances around him towards that great outbreak of violence against the worshippers of Christ which is known in history as the first persecution, in which he and St. Paul laid down their lives. He is anxious to prepare the Asiatic Christians for the trials which are before them. Then, as now, there were bad Christians who fell under the just sentence of the criminal law, and St. Peter reminds them that there is no moral glory in suffering that which we have deserved, even though we take our punishment uncomplainingly. "What glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?" But he knows also that aggravated sufferings awaited numbers of inoffensive men and women, whose only crime would be that they were worshippers of the meek and lowly Jesus, and centres of light and goodness in a corrupt and demoralised society. When the storm burst, as it would burst, they might be tempted to think that the government of the world was somehow at fault in this award of bitter punishment to virtuous and benevolent persons, conscious of the integrity of their intentions — conscious of their desire to serve a holy God — to do any good in their power to their fellow creatures. Accordingly, St. Peter puts their anticipated, trials in a light which would not, at first sight, present itself, and which does not lie upon the surface of things. "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." There is a peculiar moral glory in patience under unmerited wrong, if not according to any human, yet certainly according to a Divine, standard. "This is acceptable with God." Now, many men have said, and more, perhaps, have thought, about such teaching as this, that it is a splendid paradox. That a criminal should suffer what he has deserved satisfies the sense of justice. That a good man should suffer what he has not deserved violates the sense of justice; and if he submits uncomplainingly he acquiesces in injustice. Nay, he does more: he forfeits the independence — the glory — of his manhood. The precept to take it patiently is, in a word, objected to as effeminate and anti-social. Now, here it must be remarked, first of all, that for serious Christians this question is really settled by the precepts and example of our Lord Himself. "Even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example," etc. In His public teaching our Lord made much of patient submission to undeserved wrong. He pronounced those men blessed who suffered for righteousness' sake. Not in exemption from suffering, but in truthful endurance, would His true followers find their peace. "In your patience possess ye your souls." Nay, more. Christians, He says, are to welcome such trials. They are to meet the persecutor half way. They are to do good to them that hate them, to pray for their persecutors, etc. And in perfect harmony with this teaching is His own example. Well, it is this sinless being who is also the first of sufferers. Nothing was wanting, humanly speaking, to make patience impossible. The natural sensitiveness of His tender frame, the ingenious appliances of torture, such as a crown of thorns pressed down upon the head and the temples, the coarse brutality of His executioners, the vivid consciousness of the sufferer sustained from moment to moment, might well have exhausted patience. And what His mental sufferings must have been we may infer distantly from the agony in the garden. But St. Peter directs especial attention to the insults to which our Lord was subject, and which may have tried His patience even more than the great sorrows of His soul or the tortures of His body. "When He was reviled He reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not, but submitted Himself to Him that judgeth righteously." No complaint, properly speaking, escaped Him. Certainly, He asked the soldier who struck Him on the face for the reason of the act. He for a moment broke His majestic silence in His compassion to this poor man's insensibility to natural justice, and perhaps also in order to show that if when suffering more He did not complain, it was not because His feeling was dulled, but only what was due to patience. For Christians, then, I say, the question whether patience under undeserved wrong is right — is a duty — is not an open question. It has been settled by the highest authority — our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. From His teaching there is no appeal In His example we Christians see the true ideal of human life. "As He is, so are we in this world." And yet if, for Christians, the question is not an open one, the very authority which settles it enables us to see some reasons for the decision. Indeed, our Lord teaches us by His sufferings more than in any other way. By these He reveals to us the love of God: by these He points to the value of heaven. These sufferings are the measure of the gravity of our sins, of the miseries of hell, of the solemnity of life. But beyond this our Lord gives us lessons about pain. The existence of pain in the world is a fact which has from the earliest ages attracted and perplexed human thought. What is it in itself? It is a certainty both to feeling and to thought, and yet it is beyond analysis; and its inaccessibility to any real examination adds to its mysteriousness with all thoughtful minds, and increases the anxious interest with which it is regarded. It is ubiquitous: it is importunate: it meets us everywhere: it leaves us today only that it may return tomorrow. In this vast district of human experience deism sees, however reluctantly, an unexplained libel upon the character of God — atheism a hideous flaw, which, however bound up with the order of nature, impairs and disintegrates it. The Greeks talked much of a Divine Nemesis, a word which has played a great part in human thought; but Nemesis was not merely Divine justice overtaking human crime: it was also a malignant envy which grudged man his power or his good fortune, and which humbled him accordingly. Heathendom saw that there was a connection between pain and conscience. It had very indistinct ideas of the nature of this connection. What it was exactly revelation must say. Accordingly in the Old Testament there is one predominating aspect of the moral use of misfortune and pain. It is the punishment of sin. The righteousness of God is the great feature of the Jewish revelation of God. God is power; God is intelligent; but above all else God is righteousness. And it is in accordance with His righteousness — not, observe you, as the caprice of an arbitrary will, but in deference to the unalterable necessities of our self-existing moral nature — that He inflicts pain and misfortune as punishment for sin. This faith that pain justly follows misdoing, because God who governs all is righteousness and could not have it otherwise, runs through the Old Testament. It dictates the law: it is illustrated again and again in the history: it is the keynote to more than half the Psalms: it supplies the prophets with their greatest inspirations. But although it is true that sin is followed by punishment, because God is righteousness, it does not follow that all human suffering in this life is a punishment for sin. Against this idea the Old Testament itself contains some very emphatic protests. Thus the Book of Job has for its main object to show theft Job's misfortunes are no real measure of his sins. And when Psalmists could say, "It is good for me that I have been in trouble," or "The Lord hath chastened and corrected me, but He hath not given me over unto death," or "All Thy waves and storms are gone over me," it is clear that already a new light was breaking upon the world. But it was by our Lord that the cloud was fully lifted from this great district of human experience, so that we are now able to map it out, and to discover its bearings, and turn it to practical account. Our Lord does not reverse what the old dispensation had taught as to the penal object of a great deal of human pain, but He also rules that much pain is strictly a discipline — a Father's discipline of His children. Pain may thus be a token of favoured sonship; and, if so, then to pass through life without pain may be anything but an enviable lot. "If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons, for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" Pain thus need not be an enemy: it may be a friend in disguise: at least it may become so. Why should it not be welcomed? This is the voice of Christian teaching. Why, like the natural elements, fire and water, should it not be taken in hand and conquered and made the most of? Why should we not get out of it all the disciplinary and purifying virtue that we can, and so turn the scourge into a blessing? And if the question be asked by some anxious soul, "How am I to know? Is this unjust humiliation, or this insult, or this loss of means, or this illness, or this heartache, a punishment for past sin or a tender discipline?" the answer is, "Conscience must itself reply." Here, then, is the answer to the criticism on St, Peter's precept, to which I was referring just now. There may be cases in which the interests of truth and righteousness — the interests of others — may make resistance to oppression a duty. They are rare, indeed. As a rule, trouble and pain are to be taken patiently as coming from God, inflict them who may. The early Christians were men who felt they had nothing to do either with the legal government of the Roman Empire or with the moral government of the universe. All that they knew was that they had to suffer for being what they were, and for believing what they did believe. The only question with them was how to suffer. And as for society, society has been again and again purified, regenerated, saved, by the passive endurance, as distinct from the active struggles, of its very best members. And let me make two remarks in conclusion. In this glad acceptance of undeserved pain we see one of the central forces of the Christian religion by which, as a matter of fact, it made its way among men eighteen centuries ago and ever since. Literature, social prestige, political influence, were all against the Church; but in the long run the old empire was no match for a religion which could teach its sincere votaries, generation after generation, to regard pure suffering as a privilege, as a mark of God's favour, as a pledge of glory. Depend upon it patient, cheerful acceptance of suffering is a great force which achieves more than many active energies that command the attention of mankind. And if this way of taking the troubles which are laid upon us supplies Christianity with its force, so it secures to human life its best consolations. We live in an age of progress. The circumstances under which we pass life are being brought more and more under the control of man; but is there less suffering in the wend than there was a hundred years ago? Looking to the present state of the world, is there likely to be? I fear not. Even science, which does so much for us, shifts the scene of suffering, rather than diminishes its area. What is taken away by one hand is returned by the other. If disease is assuaged, life is prolonged under conditions which, in an unscientific age, would have been fatal to it, and which necessarily involve suffering. And human nature does not change. The same principles and passions and dispositions which, needlessly or intentionally, inflict suffering on others are at work now, although their operation is limited by improvements in human society. Some of us may be young and lighthearted, and may not yet know what real trouble and pain mean. We shall know in time. The lesson comes to most men early enough in life, whether inflicted by others or, as more frequently, direct from above. The important point is to be prepared for it when it does come, to see in it the hand of our Father in heaven, to thank Him for treating us thus as children, for punishing, for purifying us here, that He may in His mercy spare us hereafter.

(Crown Liddon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

WEB: Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the wicked.

Patience in Tribulation
Top of Page
Top of Page