Glorying in Tribulation *

* Sermon by Herman Hoeksema, as transcribed by Martin Swart. Hoeksema was the first editor of the Standard Bearer.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.

Romans 5:3, 4

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also." Thus the apostle introduces this mighty and, from a worldly point of view, strange confession. To what he has already said, he now adds something. In the preceding verse, the apostle has said that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. In the original Greek, "rejoice" in verse 2 is the same word translated "glory" in our text. We stand in the grace of peace with God. Standing in this grace of peace with God, we "glory" in hope of the glory of God. The glory of God will be reflected in His people. But not only so. There is more to be said. We glory in tribulations also.

This is strong meat, in the form in which it comes to us. Probably, we can hardly digest it. It would be much easier for us if this word of the apostle were cast into the form of a doctrine, or if it would come to us in the form of an admonition. For example, in James 1:2 we read: "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." 

In the text, the apostle places us on such heights that it would seem that we would have to let it go. For we do not easily do what the apostle does in the text. Perhaps, in the fullest sense we never do it. Oh, it is easy, when all is sunshine and prosperity, and when there is no sorrow, affliction, and trouble, then in the abstract to say, "We glory in tribulations also." But when the enemy comes—when adversity, sorrow, trouble, affliction, and tribulation come—then to say, "We glory in tribulations"—this is different. 

Still it stands to reason that the text must be true in this very form. Although it may be true that in our conscious life we do not experience it, the people of God, in their deepest heart, glory in tribulations. We must look at the text in this light.

If we read this word carefully, we see that the apostle points out to us a way from hope to hope. Notice, the apostle starts by saying, "We glory in hope of the glory of God." He continues, "We glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience." Finally, he lands at hope again, when he says, "experience worketh hope." The apostle starts at hope, and he finishes at hope. That which lies between the two is the way of tribulation. In picturing this way, the apostle points to two stages. In the first place, it is a way that leads to patience. In the second place, it is a way that works experience.

What It Is

Tribulation is suffering. Tribulation is a word which frequently occurs in Scripture and which signifies "to distress, to oppress, to press upon someone from all sides, so that his place in life gradually becomes narrower." Tribulation is so to press upon someone that he cannot find a place in life anymore. This suffering includes all kinds of affliction, none of which may be minimized. For this suffering is as deep as human life. All that is implied in the suffering of this present time is of such a nature that it oppresses us.

This oppression may be caused by many things. It may be a suffering for Christ's sake directly. Most probably, this is the suffering which the apostle has in mind. For in the original we read, "We glory in the tribulations." We suffer for Christ's sake because Christ becomes manifest in our lives. And the world hates Him. This direct suffering for Christ's sake is a suffering which, from a human point of view, can be avoided. You can avoid this suffering by covering up Christ in you. You can avoid it by becoming unfaithful. By covering up Christ in your life, you become too abominable for the devil even to trouble you. But the more Christ becomes manifest in your life, the more you will suffer. This suffering may manifest itself in that you are mocked. Or it may manifest itself in losing a job, or gaining one. But it is a suffering for Christ's sake. With a view to this suffering, the apostle says, "We glory in tribulations." 

There is no reason, however, why we should limit this word to direct suffering for Christ's sake. There is also an indirect suffering for Christ's sake. In a sense, all suffering is for Christ's sake. When judgments, war, oppression, famine, afflictions, and sickness enter into the world, the child of God suffers too. Always his suffering is a suffering for the kingdom of God's sake. The kingdom of God must come through these things. When there is suffering of the body, when there is war, affliction, trouble, and tribulation, the apostle places this confession on our lips: "We glory in tribulations."

Don't you think that it makes us ashamed to read this word of the apostle?

The apostle has in mind all the suffering of this present time. He says, with a view to all the suffering of this present time, that we glory in it.

Do not misunderstand this. The apostle does not say that the relation of this suffering to glorying is merely a matter of circumstances, as though he says here that, even though there is suffering, trouble, and affliction, we nevertheless glory in hope. Even this is beautiful to see. We do not see even this so much. We see this more in stories. We do see sometimes that people, in the midst of suffering, glory in hope. But it takes a long time to learn it. But this is not the meaning. As long as we do not say more than this, we have not reached the height on which the apostle stands.

For the apostle literally says that we glory because of these tribulations. There can be no mistake about this interpretation. We read often in Scripture of glorying. The apostle speaks of glorying in God. He speaks of glorying in Christ. He speaks of glorying in the cross. When we read of glorying in God; of glorying in Christ; of glorying in the cross, the meaning is that we glory because of God, because of Christ, because of the cross. Our glory is in God; it is in Christ; it is in the cross.

So it is in the text. We glory because of tribulations. The reason for our glorying, our rejoicing, is the tribulations. We have something good to say about these tribulations. We do not only rejoice in hope of the glory of God. There is also something else for us to glory in. Our glorying is not only in the future. We glory also in the present. We glory also in tribulations.

Why We Do It

How is this possible? Is the Christian morbid? Has he a morbid mind, that he rejoices in that which grieves others, so that he loves suffering? God forbid! The child of God does not love suffering. He is afraid of it. The Christian feels suffering far more keenly than anyone else. For he has been reborn. The principle of the life which he has received is resurrection life. It is a living life. The world cannot receive it. But the Christian has received resurrection life. Because the life which he has received is resurrection life, the Christian dreads suffering. Resurrection life wants glory. The result is that the Christian feels suffering more keenly. No, the Christian does not want suffering.

Does the Christian then set his face like a flint and assume the attitude of one who does not care? Does he challenge suffering? Does he harden himself to it? God forbid! This is sinful. God does not want His child to harden himself against suffering. God wants him to feel it. The Christian is no Stoic.

Is he then a Christian Scientist? Does he try to convince himself that suffering is just imaginary? God forbid! For the apostle tells us that these tribulations are so real that they work something. They have an effect.

The meaning, then, is not that the Christian loves suffering for suffering's sake. Nor is the Christian indifferent to suffering. Nor does he harden himself to it, or call it imaginary.

The Christian loves suffering for its fruit's sake. Suffering bears fruit. This fruit outweighs the tribulations by far. This fruit is heavenly; the tribulations are earthly. The fruit is eternal; the tribulations are temporal.

This fruit is only for the spiritually-minded. If you would rather have earthly treasures and pleasures than patience, you do not understand the apostle. If you would rather have earthly treasures than patience, you do not glory in tribulation. But for the Christian, who is spiritually-minded, tribulation worketh patience. Tribulation is to him like a bitter medicine, bad to the taste, but very necessary to health. It is an operation that is necessary for spiritual and heavenly health.

The spiritual health worked by tribulation is patience. There is a certain natural patience. We see it among the people of the world. But we must not confuse this natural patience with the patience of the people of God. The man of the world can sometimes be patient in suffering. But we must not confuse this natural patience with spiritual patience. There are certain natures in the world that can stand much suffering.

Spiritual patience is different. Spiritual patience is a grace. It is that grace by the power of which the soul becomes willing with the will of God to walk in the way of suffering, knowing that it all must work for his good. A spiritually patient person is one who is strong enough to say, "No matter what the way may be, Thy will is my will, and with pleasure I walk in it." This is patience.

Patience is worked by tribulations, but not so, that tribulation works grace. Tribulation does not work patience if there is not a principle of this patience in the heart. The text does not speak of the work of tribulation as such. Tribulation also works rebellion. But the apostle is speaking of the experience of the Christian. The Christian learns patience through tribulation. He learns patience. When he first comes into tribulation, he does not feel patient. But as he continues on that way of tribulation, he gradually learns to be patient. "Tribulation worketh patience." When God leads His people into tribulation, while chastening them with one hand, He strengthens them with the other hand. In this way tribulation worketh patience.

And patience worketh experience. A better translation, if there were such a word, would be "triedness." The Dutch has the word "bevinding," which means "triedness, to be tried." The apostle means to say that you have been through the fire. Now you have a "tried" nature. You were a child of God before. But you had never been tried. Now you have been put to the test. You had never been through the fire of tribulation. But God brought you into tribulation. In this tribulation you were patient. In this patience you were tried. You were found to be genuine. It is an unspeakable joy to be tried by the fire of tribulation and to come out victorious. The Christian has a "tried" character.

Experience, or "triedness," worketh hope. The apostle began with hope, and he closes with hope ... hope, tribulation, patience, experience, hope. There are different stages of hope. We go through tribulations, patience, and experience, in order to come to the highest stage of hope.

The Christian's hope includes three elements. It is a looking forward; it is a certainty; it is a longing. It is a looking forward: the Christian looks for his hope in the future. It is certainty: the Christian is certain that he will reach it. It is a longing: the Christian reaches out for it.

The "triedness" of the Christian strengthens the Christian in the assurance that he will certainly reach his hope. In the midst of tribulation, the principle of the Christian's life cries out for the hope of the glory of God. He is strengthened by tribulation. It is not good to have prosperity. You cannot say of prosperity that it worketh patience. The Christian's hope is strengthened by tribulation.

What Is Its Ground

Upon what ground does this glorying Christian stand? Where must one stand in order to say, "I glory in tribulation"? The apostle says that we know it. We are assured that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope. Because we know it, we glory in tribulation.

Here you have a ladder. It reaches up to heaven. At the top, you have the highest stage of hope. Below that highest stage of hope, you have experience; then, patience; then, tribulation; then, peace with God; then, justification by faith in Christ Jesus. Therefore, the ground for the Christian's glorying is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, and we glory both in hope of the glory of God and in tribulation. Our glorying in tribulation is rooted in our justification by faith. Say it, and you will glory. Stand on your own righteousness, and you cannot follow the apostle in this confession. But stand in the grace of the peace with God, and you will have peace with all things—with tribulations also.

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