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´╗┐Title: Patience
Author: Alexander, James W.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  PATIENCE.


  BY

  JAMES W. ALEXANDER, D. D.


  "Let patience have her perfect work."--James i. 4.


  PHILADELPHIA:
  PRESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION,
  No. 265 CHESTNUT STREET.



  Entered according to the Act of Congress in the year 1852, by

  ALEXANDER W. MITCHELL, M. D.

  In the office of the Clerk of the District Court for the
  Eastern District of Pennsylvania.



ADVERTISEMENT.


The following meditations on Patience, though once delivered in
substance to a Christian assembly, were written as a pastoral gift to an
esteemed friend, who had been more than two years confined to her
dwelling by a dangerous, lingering, and sometimes exceedingly painful
malady. May the good Lord carry his truth with a blessing to other
chambers of trial!



PATIENCE.


Some words which are often in our mouths are, nevertheless, but little
understood; and some virtues which we are continually praising, are
hardly ever put in practice. This is as true of patience as of any thing
else. Every man needs it, every man knows he would be the better for it,
yet every man falls short of it. This, I suppose, was one reason why the
apostle James teaches so emphatically concerning it,

     "Let patience have her perfect work." James i. 4.

It would seem that the "twelve tribes scattered abroad," to whom this
apostle wrote, were in trials and needed comfort. For the very first
words of his letter are as if he stood over them and said, _Be of good
cheer!_ "My brethren," says he, "count it all joy, when ye fall into
divers temptations," _i. e._, _trials_. These troubles tried their faith
(v. 3,) and "untried faith is uncertain faith." The result of these
trials of faith is _patience_. The very word is derived from
"suffering,"[1] and if there were no pain there could be no patience. If
then patience is good, trials are good. And the great caution to be
observed under such dispensations is, that we lose not the fulness of
the benefit; that we content not ourselves with half the mercy; that we
stop not short of the entire grace; for we may suffer and yet not
profit; therefore, says the inspired teacher, "Let patience have her
_perfect work_."

     [1] In Latin _patientia_, from _patior_.

I. _Patience_ is a certain temper of mind under suffering. As we all are
appointed to suffer, and some of us to suffer greatly and suffer long,
we should do well to learn more of this heavenly art, concerning which
so much good is spoken in Scripture.

In its simplest form, patience is a calm and unshaken state of mind,
strongly bearing up against a present burden of distress. This may exist
without religion. A Stoic or a western savage may endure pain without a
murmur. Malefactors have stoutly faced the torments of their penal
death. In respect to this, the natural temperament of human beings
differs. Some can naturally bear more than others. They have more rigid
fibre, or less shrinking nerves, more robust health, or smaller
sensibility. The degree of pain is to be measured, not by the force of
the blow, but the power of resistance. That which would crush a reed
shall leave no mark upon an oak. When pain comes, however, it is well if
we have even natural means of enduring it. But practice, discipline, and
exercise add vastly even to this natural fortitude. Fresh soldiers and
new recruits quail and fly, but the veteran has looked death in the
face. He who has endured once, can endure again. Still more efficacious
is the operation of inward principle, adding moral motives to the barely
natural power. Education has this for part of its work, to teach the
young to bear some burdens, not to fall back at every alarm, nor cry out
at every pang. Stern determination will help one to sustain what might
at first have seemed intolerable. This is remarkably the case in great
and sudden pangs of anguish, for which a resolved mind has prepared
itself.

Though pains of mind are worse than pains of body, they also may be
endured by some with hardihood and tranquillity, and this we call
fortitude, and in some circumstances patience. By great skill and
self-control in managing the thoughts and detaching the attention from
distressing objects, some are able, to a degree which at first might
seem impracticable, to keep up quietude, self-possession, and even a
show of cheerfulness, under complicated bereavements, mortifications,
and griefs. All this may enter into the Christian's patience; but all
this falls infinitely short of its "perfect work."

_Christian patience_ adds to this a sweet, childlike resignation to
God's holy will, in the affliction, whatever it may be. All merely
natural or philosophical patience is cold, gloomy, sullen, and
unprofitable. Though it may refrain from tears, it cannot smile; for it
hath no faith, no love, no Saviour, no covenant, no God! Christian
patience "endures, as seeing Him who is invisible;" that is faith. Heb.
xi. 1. It looks up to the rod in the hand of a chastening Father. Heb.
xii. 6. It considers One that endured such contradiction against
himself, and arms itself with the same mind. 1 Pet. iv. 1. It beholds
every pang disposed according to a covenant transaction. 1 Cor. iii. 22,
23. And it bows to all, however distressing, as ordered by the infinite
wisdom, justice, and goodness. Lam. iii. 37-40. Therefore it is, that
the stoutest and hardest of worldly sufferers falls so far below the
feeblest of Christ's lambs, when laid under heavy trials. Though pangs
of anguish must now and then extort a sigh, tear, or groan, the child
of God still turns to him, when smitten, and kisses the paternal hand.
It is again _faith_, believing that God doth it, and that all he doth is
wisest and is best. It is _submission_, yielding the neck to the yoke
(Lam. iii. 27), bowing down under the Omnipotent hand, (1 Pet. v. 6),
and prostrating itself beneath the infinite and eternal will, (Gen.
xviii. 25.) It is _resignation_, giving the whole matter into the best
hands, that He may undertake, (Isa. xxxviii. 14), and undoubtingly
referring every future event unto the God of the lilies and the birds.
Matt. vi. 26. It is _humility_, owning itself little, and dependent, and
mean, and unworthy, and therefore willing to suffer. And it is
_penitence_, bewailing sin, pleading for mercy, wondering that it
suffers so little, and remembering how light are these pains compared
with the agonies of the lost, or the vicarious sorrows of the Lord our
righteousness. All this, and much more, is present in every case of
truly sanctified Christian affliction; and this sheds a light through
the curtains of evangelical sorrow, which is altogether unknown to the
most resolute of stoical heroes.

There is a third consideration, not to be omitted in our study of
Christian patience. The word, as said above, implies _suffering_ and
_endurance_, but it includes another idea. It has reference to _time_.
It is not barely willingness to _suffer_, but willingness to suffer
_more_. Nature would not wait a moment; it would be delivered _now_.
Grace leaves all to God, and says, "My times are in his hand!" Though
the succour tarry, patience can wait. Hab. ii. 3. What grace is this,
thus added to faith and love? Is it not HOPE, the sister grace, that
abideth? 1 Cor. xiii. 13. Leaning on her anchor, hope looks out from her
post of observation, casting the eye over a waste of billows, and
sweeping that dim horizon where as yet no sail twinkles along the
distant line that unites the sea and sky, but sure that though weeping
may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning. Psa. xxx. 5. He that
hath been with her in six troubles, in the seventh will not forsake her.
Job v. 19. Here is a blessed pillow for the languid aching head, a cool
refreshment for the throbbing temple. Here is a secret cordial which has
enabled many a child of sorrow to bear the heavy load; when tribulation
worketh _patience_. Rom. v. 3. This hope is more than empty conjecture
or vague expectation. It is firm; it is fixed. Its hold is above. It
seizes on words of promise and of covenant. It is sustaining itself by
the arm of the mighty Saviour. Its spiritual cable grapples that which
is within the veil (Heb. vi. 19), and hence it maketh not ashamed. Rom.
v. 5.

If it were God's way to send on his children only such trials as are
pungent, quick, and brief, however severe, the test of patience would be
incomplete; but sometimes his rod lies long, and the soul is made to cry
out, "Thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore!"
Psa. xxxviii. 2. "How long wilt thou forget me, Lord?" Psa. xiii. 1. The
very working of the remedy depends on this withholding of immediate
cure. Yet the believing child learns to think and feel that God's time
is best, and is assured that "He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve
the children of men." Lam. iii. 33. And hope opens the window, and even
though no dry land as yet appears, welcomes the olive branch borne by
the dove of promise. Gen. viii. 10, 11. Deep may call unto deep. Psa.
xlii. 7. "Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day-time,
and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God
of my life." (verse 8.) "My soul, wait thou only upon God!" Psa. lxii.
5. Thus she cheers the night-watches, and in the multitude of her
thoughts within her, God's comforts delight her soul. Psa. xciv. 19. The
experience of the psalmist is made for such times of languishing. Many a
solitary one has renewed the strain of David's pensive chord, and sung
with plaintive note, "I am shut up, and I cannot come forth. Mine eye
mourneth by reason of affliction. Lord, I have called daily upon thee,
I have stretched out my hands unto thee." Psa. lxxxviii. 8, 9. The night
wears heavily away; the stars in their courses shine dimly; no streak of
eastern dawning betokens day. Yet the hopeful sufferer can say, "I wait
for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope; my soul
waiteth for the Lord, more than they that watch for the morning; I say,
more than they that watch for the morning." Psa. cxxx. 5, 6. And
patience, not worn out with waiting, turns on its pillow, and breathes
itself to God, saying, "My soul is even as a weaned child." Psa. cxxxi.
2.

It would not be difficult to fill up the whole tract with an account of
those different circumstances of a human creature in which he must
exercise this Christian virtue. But those to whom such details would be
applicable are the very persons who need no prompter; they know what
their distresses are. It is much more important to observe, that there
is no kind or degree of suffering which our Heavenly Father ordains,
under which we may not exercise patience, and, therefore, as every human
being is born to suffer, there is not a single reader to whom this
lesson is not important, however much he may think the contrary, in the
pride and self-sufficiency of youth, or health, or fortune, or good
spirits. And though certain persons in our fastidious generation grow
intensely weary, when time is bestowed in sustaining and comforting the
broken-hearted--let such know, that _their_ time is coming, and that
even if now they have their "good things," and think their "mountain
stands strong," they shall yet live to behold the day in which they must
have a stock and habit, yea a _grace_ of patience, or sink into extreme
despondency, if not despair.

In one view the suffering life of many Christians, and those the best,
is hard to understand, for it seems at war not only with God's fatherly
goodness, but with his gracious covenant. (Read Jer. xii. 12, and Psa.
lxxiii.) But we must never lose our hold of two cardinal pillars, the
very Jachin and Boaz of our temple: (1) that happiness in this world is
not the chief good; the affirming of which is the radical error of all
the common public economy, and much of the philanthropy of the day; and
(2) that the education, or discipline, or training, or perfecting of a
soul is so great and divine a work, that it is worth a lifetime of
distress; so that no redeemed saint will look back on the longest
sufferings of the present life as more than the scarcely perceptible
moment before an eternity of holy delight. Angels look down and see poor
sin-wounded creatures fighting against their chief medicine. As has been
said, God does not afflict nor grieve the children of men "willingly,"
arbitrarily, out of any love to see them suffer, or any indifference to
their sorrows; but with a wise and definite end, which will be revealed
hereafter. The entire process of Christian endurance, pain-bearing, or
patience, from beginning to end, in all its connection of parts, is more
deeply interesting to one who could read it, than any drama ever enacted
on the stage. So it will one day appear, when not only the particular
sufferer, but all the company of God's elect in heaven, shall look back
and see many a mystery of providence resolved. They will rise to higher
admiration of the divine plan, when they shall be instructed why Joseph
had his youth oppressed by cruelty, exile and imprisonment; why David
was a persecuted fugitive, and a bereaved father; why the apostles were
as sheep appointed to the slaughter; why the early Christians were mowed
down by the sword; and why to this day they that will live godly suffer
persecution. They will recall ten thousand cases, (for eternity has
neither limits nor weariness,) in which some of the best of men have
lain under pangs, or in languishing from sore diseases; or journeyed
through a valley of gloom and depression; or been marks for arrows from
the bow of wicked fellow-creatures, and more malignant demons; and why
others, with hearts sickened by hope deferred, waited years and almost
lifetimes without seeing the accomplishment of their strongest desires.
When these several circles are complete, and every covering removed, and
God's light thrown on dark places of the spiritual temple, it will
appear, that this very divine product, to wit, _holy patience_, has been
as dear to the great Architect of the Church, as is the costliest
sculpture to the most devoted enthusiast in art. And therefore we are
exhorted not merely to have patience, but to let patience have her
_perfect work_.

II. The _perfect work_ of patience is plainly nothing less than the full
and thorough carrying out of patience, with unfaltering strength of
soul, in every kind and measure of trial, unto the very end. Death
closes all trials of the believer; but until death he is to have his
armour on. There may be some reality of true Christian patience, and yet
it may be very weak. We must learn to bear up bravely, and with the
putting forth of a complete manful energy. Small encounters are useful
to the raw recruit; they exercise him in the virtues which in process of
time make him a soldier. He that bearded the lion and bear, afterwards
accepted the challenge of Goliath, though still a ruddy youth. Could we
look on daily troubles, as exercises set us by the Master, to fit us for
the higher efforts of patience, we should be saved much repining and
many groans. The great duty is always the duty of the day, of the hour,
of this moment. If our equanimity is destroyed by the trifles of a life
generally prosperous--what can we expect of ourselves, in the
water-floods of tribulation which may yet roll in? Jer. xii. 5. Let us
learn to bear with a hard hand on the helm, before the tempest arises.
Under the sense of God's supreme governance and paternal love, and in
expectation of reward and rest hereafter, let us bow ourselves to the
sovereign disposal; bearing all that God sends, and Christ our Mediator
concurs in, with a yielding, filial, believing soul.

Patience may be said to have its perfect work, when it withstands a
great, sudden and extraordinary affliction without being shaken.
Uncommon faith is necessary for such an exercise as this. Indeed who has
not cause to join in the prayer, _Lead us not into temptation!_ Strong
Christians are the persons to whom this forefront of the battle is
reserved; to them "it is _given_ in the behalf of Christ, not only to
believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." Phil. i. 29. It is
_Job_, the "perfect man," who is carried through the unexampled
conflict. And the early believers to whom James addressed the words of
the text, were exposed to evils such as happily we know nothing of. Yet
they needed the exhortation.

Patience has its perfect work, when it does not give way but holds out,
however long may be the trial. Even weakness may sustain a momentary
attack, and pungent anguish may be borne, if it be soon over. But to
have day after day of pain, and night after night of fearful watching;
to lie down heavy, yet hoping for no alleviation in the morning; to be
wounded again and again, and find increasing years bring new losses and
deeper sorrows;--this has been the lot of some who were God's children,
and concerning whom it might well be said, that though the outer man
perished, the inner man was renewed day by day. No man can number the
cases of hopeless disease, tending incurably to certain and painful
death, which occur in every age, and that among true believers. Christ's
confessors have, in more periods of the church than one, spent large
parts of their best years in prison. Millions have borne all the
complicated ills of poverty all their days. And those who have survived
to old age, have found it often one long disease. All these have had
"need of patience," and would not have experienced its perfect work, if
they had fainted in the day of adversity. I can never forget a Christian
woman, eminent for spiritual joys, who was confined to her bed, with a
wasting and at times excruciating disease, for about twenty years. Let
not frivolous or superficial professors flatter themselves that those
fair-weather graces which they boast of now, will stand them in stead
when long storms begin to howl. Unusual supports from the very hand of
the Spirit are necessary, against such conjunctures; and which of us can
be certain that such shall not befall himself?

Patience has a _perfect work_, when it grows to be an _abiding habit of
the soul_. This cannot be, except by repeated acts of faith, submission
and hope, reiterated till they are like a second nature. Such endurance
rests on settled principle, and is an eminent work of the Holy Spirit.
There are few more noble characters we can give of any, than when we say
of a believer, _He is habitually patient_. The character is rare, but we
are invited to attain it.

Whether the words of the apostle be considered as a command or an
entreaty, they equally imply that there was some effort to be put
forth. Let patience have her perfect work. "Place yourselves in the
posture of being thoroughly and imperturbably constant even to the close
of your mortal struggle." This enjoins the forbearance of whatever is
contrary to the meek and patient spirit, and the acquisition,
preservation and increase of every good gift which is favourable to it;
for instance, humility, sense of sin, godly sorrow and shame, thirst for
holiness, faith, hope, courage, love and joy. Indeed patience has its
perfect work, only where all sister graces are carried forward with
symmetrical increase; and whenever one of these is nourished into new
strength, it contributes so much to the solid habit of Christian
patience.

III. Let us consider some of the _motives_ to let patience have her
perfect work.

1. _This is a virtue which is needed every day._ Some excellencies of
the soul are called out only by great emergencies, but the world in
which we live is so beset with vexations that there is not a day, there
is scarcely an hour, in which we are not called to be patient. The
little events of domestic life, connected with ordinary labour and
service, give the cumbered and troubled Martha as keen anguish as is
felt by the general of an army or the ruler of a state, from defeats and
revolutions. The inward grace required must not be measured by the
apparent magnitude of the burden, but the strength of the sustainer.
Spirits above perhaps look down on princes contending about the crown of
an empire, with as much contempt as we bestow on infants fighting for a
straw. But trials are not all equal. Sometimes, as we have seen,
vehement surges of affliction break in; and we know not on what day this
may occur; hence we must be ready every day. All the days of our life we
are going over one and the same course of Christian duty, viz.,
submitting our own selfish will to the will of God.

2. _Increase of patience is increase of happiness._ Though present
happiness is not the great object of life, it is one of the effects of
religion, to which we cannot be indifferent. And what is very
remarkable, there is not a single religious act, which does not increase
our happiness. Properly understood, the whole moral law, whether at
Sinai or the mount of the Beatitudes, utters this one commandment, BE
HAPPY! What is thus true of holiness in general is eminently true of
this mode of it in particular. Pain almost ceases to be pain, to a mind
that fully yields itself to God. That this is true in a much higher
sense than ordinary Christians suppose, is apparent in the case of the
martyrs; (Heb. xi. 32-49,) and we have known instances in common life
where the most horrible maladies, almost unmanning mere spectators, have
been borne with equanimity and even cheerfulness, by disciples of
Christ. Patience disarms affliction. If the patience were perfect, the
suffering would be annihilated, as to its effect on happiness. The
reason why true Christians sometimes endure great distresses before
entire relief comes, is not that patience is an insufficient antidote,
but that they have not patience enough. And here observe a striking
difference between the stoical hardness of a worldly mind, and the
sacred endowment which we are endeavouring to recommend. A stout hearted
unbeliever will now and then appear absolutely unshrinking under
trials, such as bodily pains, calumny, loss of children, hatred and
enmity of fellow-creatures; but his shield is _insensibility_. He has
made the surface callous. And in so doing he has stopped up the avenues
as well of pleasure as of pain. He has diminished his sorrows without
increasing his joys. Now observe how opposite the case of Christ's
disciple. He suffers too, and triumphs in suffering, but not by
insensibility. He feels the wound. The thrill of a poignant infliction
runs through his quick and sentient nerve to the centre of feeling, as
nimbly as in the most inconsolable and maddened unbeliever. He is not
stupefied; he is not seared; his temperament of genuine humanity is all
alive to grief; but it is also alive to joy. And that joy God pours in,
so that he glories in tribulation also. _Religion_, which has made his
susceptibilities more tender, opens new access for refined pleasures.
For loss, he finds indemnity; and for pain and woe, a spiritual faith
and hope, love and joy, which overcome and absorb them. Patience in such
an advanced experience is no longer unfeeling acquiescence, but a
swallowing up of man's will in the will of God. What abundant reason
have we, in this valley of tears and tombs, to strive that patience may
have her perfect work!

3. _Obedience to the requisition of the text conduces to true greatness
of character._ Religion, properly understood, is nothing else than a
restitution begun, of humanity to its perfect condition.

To be without religion is to be curtailed of the dimensions of man's
character. Every state of mind and heart which religion commands is
just so far a return to spiritual health. No human soul can be truly
great while ignorant of God, alienated from God, opposed to God,
slavishly in dread of God, and out of communion with God. Each grace of
the Holy Spirit tends to lift man up towards the ideal of humanity. The
trials of life bring all men into a certain conflict with adverse
circumstances, producing pain. In this conflict many are conquered. But
the Christian combatant finds every trial an occasion for bringing out
latent reserves of a strength derived from Christ his Head. When he
suffers therefore sharply and long, he is only like a soldier going from
one battle to another, and waxing hardier and more courageous after each
success. Hear how Paul, long tried in this athletic effort, expresses
this Christian magnanimity, (1 Cor. ix. 25,) "I therefore run, not as
uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air." And "Fight
the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life." There is reason to
believe, that no great Christian character can be developed without some
severe discipline, that is, without patience, in its large and
scriptural sense.

4. _Confirmed patience tends to usefulness in the Church._ The very
reverse is often thought by the sufferer himself, especially if his
trial throws him into solitude, poverty, contempt of brethren, weakness
of body, pains of old age, or separation from friends. In the chamber of
melancholy seclusion how many a soul has mourned that all opportunity of
doing any thing for Christ was cut off. But this is a short-sighted and
defective conclusion. When God's infinitely wise and holy will is done,
then the great end of our creation, and our redemption, and our
sanctification is accomplished, so far as we are concerned; whether it
be by doing or by suffering. If it were possible for a perfectly sinless
angel to be perpetually bathed in sorrow by the will of God, the pure
spirit would accept the coming trial with a yielding bliss. And when the
perfectly sinless Jesus, who was "very man," sank in griefs which
surpass comprehension, he was accomplishing the purposes of the Godhead,
and said, "Not my will, but thine be done." Now by sending trials and
educing the grace of patience in repeated acts, God fits the soul for
labours incalculably beyond every thing it could have effected without
this education. And these very pains, and the conduct of a believer
under them, becoming visible to bystanders and fellow-servants, as well
as to the ungodly themselves, go up as a costly odour, to magnify the
grace of the gospel. So that no sermons ever preached so loudly as the
transient view of a suffering saint has sometimes done, when in the
fiery heart of the hot furnace, he has been seen unhurt, with one like
unto the Son of God. (Dan. iii. 25.) In both ways, therefore, by
preparing for action, and by exhibiting the glory of grace, patience
tends to benefit the Church.

5. Finally. _Patience when duly sustained leads to a great reward._ Not
in the sense of the Papists, who strike a commercial balance between
pains and recompense, and set off so much trouble in this life against
so much merited blessing in the life to come. But in perfect consistency
with our belief that after all is done we are unprofitable servants,
that all heavenly good is merited by our Saviour, and not by us, and
that a man may suffer pain here which shall be swallowed up in greater
pains hereafter, we maintain and teach, that in the case of true
believer, the gracious deportment of the soul under earthly affliction
carries it forward to higher happiness than it would otherwise have
reached. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh
for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." By the work of
God's Spirit, the soul that suffers receives greater capacity for
eventual joy. Whoso bears God's burdens in a godly manner is made
holier, and more fit and able to take in the surpassing blessedness of
rest. And then our heavenly Father, who seeth not as man seeth, does not
measure our obedience on a physical scale, by the amount and number of
sensible acts, as if he reckoned up so many deeds outwardly done, so
many palpable effects produced, so many words spoken; but by the quality
of the inward affection and will, which may be heavenward and holy, and
infinitely pleasing to God, in a poor creature locked in a dungeon, or
motionless on a bed of illness. Where the soul _pleases God_, there the
great work of life is accomplished; in an apostolic discourse or
miracle, in a gift of charity, in a resistance of temptation, or in
agony on a cross.

Patience, heavenly patience, under what God inflicts, is more pleasing
to him than thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil; which
is of itself the all-comprehensive motive to pious submission and
endurance. But what is pleasing to God, as the fruit of his Holy Spirit,
God will graciously reward. "I know thy works," saith he to Ephesus,
"and thy labour and thy patience." "I know thy works," saith he to
Thyatira, "and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience."
"Because," saith he to Philadelphia, "thou hast kept the word of my
patience, I also will keep thee." "Behold," saith he to Smyrna, "the
devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye
shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will
give thee a crown of life!" May I not add with renewed emphasis the
exhortation of our apostle, though it struck strangely on the ear at
first, "My brethren, count it all joy, when ye fall into divers
temptations; knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh
patience." O my brother--my sister--more patience will make us more like
Christ. What are our sufferings to his! Meditate, step by step, on the
degrees of his humiliation, accompanying Him whom your souls love, from
point to point of his unexampled sorrows; and thus will you find sin
grow more intolerable, and suffering more light.


THE END.





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