And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience;
1. It is no uncommon thing amongst us, for a man, sprung from the lowest grade of society, to rise, by the mere force of industry and intelligence, to a level with the high born and the noble; but he would show himself unworthy of his success and elevation, were he ashamed of his mean parentage. On the other hand, it has a very graceful look when he shows no wish to hide, but rather a desire to display, the meanness of his parentage; when, e.g., amidst the gorgeous decorations of his mansion he places conspicuously the picture of some cottage, or some weather-beaten rustic, and says to his admiring guests in a tone of honest satisfaction — "In that cottage was I born," or, "That was my father."
2. And we are assuming the fact that what is brilliant is only the more brilliant when traced to its lowly origin, when we think that our text is of more than common interest. For what so glorious as Christian hope? And our text traces it back through its immediate ancestry, and stops — where? At what is lofty, radiant, attractive? Nay, at tribulation. Nor is he ashamed of that ancestry; for he "glories in tribulation." We shall find it profitable and interesting to trace the struggles of hope; for they are like the struggles of a family raising itself by successive steps, till it has exchanged a mean for a dignified position. Let us examine —
I. HOW THE ONE IS DEPENDENT ON THE OTHER. Remember that St. Paul speaks only of those who bear tribulation as Christians, who receive it as appointed them by God. With them —
1. "Tribulation worketh patience!" There is nothing else which can work it. Whilst things are all going smoothly it is difficult for him to ascertain whether we have patience or not. We can only know ourselves as to any particular quality, as God shall put that quality to proof. Courage must be tested by danger, virtue by temptation, constancy by solicitation. And further, the trial is adapted to develop and strengthen it. Courage grows by exposure to danger, virtue is confirmed by every victory over temptation, and constancy acquires steadfastness as it resists a solicitation. And all this is particularly true in regard of patience. It is beautiful to observe how persons who, by nature, were fretful, have been disciplined into patience through affliction. It is not necessary that an individual should be patient as a man, in order to be patient as a Christian; on the contrary, grace works its choicest specimens out of the most unpromising material. But patience is wrought out, not by tribulation in itself, but by tribulation bringing the Christian to reflection and to prayer. Therefore does the Christian "glory in tribulation," even if he had to stop here. He knows that patience is required as one of the chief fruits of the Spirit, a main evidence of meetness for the heavenly inheritance; shall he be ashamed of the adversity whence he hath acquired so choice a grace?
2. Patience worketh experience. The putting something to the proof; in this case the ascertaining the precise worth, verity and power of the consolations and promises of God. "Tribulation worketh patience," in that suffering brings the Christian into an attitude of submission; but when he has been schooled into resignation, he is not left without heavenly visitations. God "allures him into the wilderness," but only that He may "speak comfortably to him, giving him the valley of Achor for a door of hope." Promises, whose beauty can be but faintly apprehended so long as there is no pressing need of their accomplishment, come home to the heart in an hour of trouble patiently endured, as if they were made on purpose for such emergencies. Here then, is already a noble elevation. From tribulation we have passed through patience and experience; the man has become his own evidence to the truth of Scripture, to the Divinity of Christianity, to the sufficiency of the gospel. No longer obliged to solicit external testimony, he has "tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious." "Experience" is a vast advance upon "patience"; and we may look to find in the next generation all the honour and brightness of Christian nobility. Such, indeed, is the case, for "experience worketh hope." How naturally does the one spring from the other! He in whom patience has wrought experience is one who, having put promises to the proof, has found them made good, and thereby proved to be of God. Surely now he who has tried the chart, and found it correct so far as he has had the power of trying it, has the best ground for relying on that chart with regard to ports which he has never yet entered. Accordingly you will find the righteous dwelling on their experience, and deriving from it their confidence. "Thou hast been my help" — there is the experience; "in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice" — there is the hope. It is the same with St. Paul. "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." Then what immediately follows? "The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom." The one assertion is that of experience — the next is that of hope. Experience is a book in which there should be daily entries, and to which there should be daily reference. If we do not register our mercies, or if we never recount them, they are not likely to throw light upon coming events. He must be grateful for the past, who would be hopeful for the future. Answers to prayer, what encouragements to prayer! Promises fulfilled, what arguments for expecting their fulfilment! Mercies bestowed, what grounds for confidence that mercies will not be withheld! And thus it is that hope, the splendid, the beautiful grace — hope, with the stately step and the soaring wing — hope, whose special province it is to people the future with a brightness which compensates for all that may be gloomy in the present — hope, which makes the smile of health play around the couch of sickness — lights up the prison with the flash of liberty, pours abundance into the lap of poverty, and crowds the very grave with the burning processions of immortality — hope traces itself back to tribulation, like the coronet of the noble, whose ancestry may be found among the poor and the despised.
II. THE APOSTLE'S ENCOMIUM ON HOPE.
1. Is not hope commonly spoken of as most delusive? Does not poetry love to liken it to some bright meteor, which beguiles the traveller, leading him into danger, and then leaving him in darkness? Gather the character of hope from men of the world, and she is but an enchantress, whose spells are so soothing, and whispers so soft, that having cheated us a hundred times, we are nevertheless willing to be cheated again.
2. But Christian "hope maketh not ashamed." It paints no vision which shall not be more than realised; it points to no inheritance which shall not be reached. How should it make ashamed, when it altogether rests itself upon Christ, who is "not ashamed to call us brethren?" This is the secret of its difference from every other hope; Christ is the source and the centre of our hope — Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yea, and in Him amen; and if Christ can deceive us, then, but not otherwise, may hope make ashamed. Therefore is it that the apostle elsewhere speaks of hope, in one place as an anchor, in another a helmet. He gives it attributes which fit it for the storms or the battle.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;