Charity and Its Fruits - charity suffers long (part two)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture IV, part two

(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Application" portion of Lecture Four. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of this lecture in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

"Charity suffereth long, and is kind." - 1 Cor. 13:4

In last week's reading we studied what kinds of injuries a heart full of Christian love will meekly bear,  what this meek long-suffering does and doesn't look like, and how it is that love for God and our neighbor accomplishes this in our hearts.  This week Edwards explains what effect this teaching should have in our lives:

It should motivate us
What we have learned so far should lead us to "suppress all wrath, revenge, and bitterness of spirit, toward those that have injured, or that may at any time injure us..."

Edwards gives us six truths to meditate upon which should motivate us toward long-suffering:

"First, consider the example that Christ has set for us."

There is no finer example of  "a meek and quiet spirit, and of a most long-suffering behaviour."
He was treated with contempt, threatened, slandered with accusations of demon-possession, blasphemy, drunkenness, and gluttony, among other things - and all this at the hands of those who He came to show God's kindness to, those he worked miracles for and among, those who should have recognized Him and welcomed him, those who claimed to serve the very One who sent Him. He was betrayed by one in His inner circle, and at a moment of greatest need was denied by one of His dearest friends. In the end all this hatred led to His torture and cruel execution. And yet, "Not one word of bitterness escaped him.  There was no interruption of the calmness of his mind under his heavy distress and sufferings, nor was there the least desire for revenge.  But, on the contrary, he prayed for his murderers, that they might be forgiven, even when they were about nailing him to the cross; and not only prayed from them, but pleaded in their behalf with his Father....The sufferings of his life, and the agonies of his death, did not interrupt his long-suffering toward those that injured him."

"Second, If we are not disposed meekly to bear injuries, we are not fitted to live in the world, for in it we must expect to meet with many injuries from men."
As Edwards puts it: "...those that have not a spirit, with meekness, and calmness, and long-suffering, and composedness of soul, to bear injuries in such a worlds, are miserable indeed, and are like to be wretched at every step of their way through life."  Or, as my sister-in-law, Andi so nicely summed it up: "We live in a sinful world among sinful people, therefore we must expect to be sinned against."

"Third, In this way we shall be most above injuries."
"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
A spirit of meekness and long-suffering leaves our enemies powerless over us.  When we do not respond as one harmed we disarm the opposition, leaving them with no reward for their cruelty, no satisfaction for their desire to injure us.  Our good response overcomes their wicked intent.  And, as Edwards says, "...just in proportion as we allow our minds to be disturbed and embarrassed by the injuries offered by an adversary, just in the same proportion do we fall under his power."

"Fourth, The spirit of Christian long-suffering, and of meekness in bearing injuries, is a mark of true greatness of soul. It shews a true and noble nature..."

"Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense." Proverbs 19:11

"Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city." Proverbs 16:32

The way to nobility is a paradox - it comes through the gracious acceptance of ignoble treatment.
"He that possesses his soul after such a manner that, when others harm and injure him, he can, notwithstanding, remain in calmness and hearty good-will toward them, pitying and forgiving them from the heart, manifest therein a godlike and long-suffering spirit shews a true greatness of soul....On the contrary, those that are apt highly to resent injuries, and to be greatly angered and vexed by them, are spoken of in the Scriptures as of a little and foolish spirit."
Did you ever realize that the lack of long-suffering is considered a trait of fools?

"One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
but a fool is reckless and careless.
A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
and a man of evil devices is hated. "
Proverbs 14:16-17

"Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
   and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
  Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the bosom of fools."
Ecc. 7:8,9

Fifth, The spirit of Christian long-suffering and meekness is commended to us by the example of the saints.
By way of example Edwards gives us David as he was hunted by Paul, Stephen in his martyrdom, and the Apostle Paul: "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place..." (1 Cor. 3:11).

"Sixth, This is the way to be rewarded with the exercise of the Divine long-suffering toward us."

"With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless" Ps. 18:25

"For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you."  Mt. 7:2

"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. "  Mt. 6:14,15

Edwards puts it bluntly, the "trespasses" in Matthew 6 are "the same as injuries done to us; so that if we do not bear with men's injuries against us, neither will our heavenly Father bear with our injuries against him; and if we do not exercise long-suffering toward men, we cannot expect that God will exercise long-suffering toward us.  But let us consider how greatly we stand in need of God's long-suffering with regard to our injuries toward him."  Every time we sin against another person, and every time we sin quietly, in our thoughts, we sin first and foremost against God.  We are in desperate need of God's patience at all times.  How dreadful it would be to lose it. How dreadful it would be if He adopted the same un-forgiving attitude toward us which we have toward others!  And so it comes back to the Golden Rule, but with a twist - do unto others as you would have God do unto you.

Indeed, what a different world this would be if, as Edwards muses, "such a spirit  as this prevailed.  It would prevent contention and strife and diffuse gentleness and kindness, and harmony and love.  It would do away with bitterness and confusion, and every evil work.  Our affairs would all be carried on, both in public and private, without fierceness, or edge, or bitterness of spirit....without any of the malignant backbiting and contemptuous speech, that so often are heard among men, and which at the same time do great injury in society...."


Certainly as you've read this far your heart has at some point cried out: "But what about....? Certainly it can't mean that!"  And perhaps you've already begun to formulate excuses for your particular situation.  Rest assured, Edwards has considered your objections.

Objection 1:  But my injuries are intolerable!  Edwards has six responses to this argument: 

1) Have you been been more offended by others than God has by your behavior?
"Has your enemy been more base, more unreasonable, more ungrateful, than you have to the High and Holy One?"
2) Do you hope God will keep forgiving you?

3) Do you approve of and admire God's long-suffering? Or...
"...would you have liked God better, if he had not borne with you, but had long since cut you off in his wrath?"
4) If you really do consider God's long-suffering so excellent a thing, then why do you not imitate it?

5) How would you like it if God were to stop being patient with you - if He began to deal with you as you deal with those who offend you.
"Would you be willing, for all the future, that God should no longer bear with the injuries you may offer him, and the offenses you commit against him?  Are you willing to go and ask God to deal with yourself for the future, think of dealing with your fellow-men?"
6) How did Christ respond to those who offended Him?

Objection 2: But they aren't repentant.  They're still at it!  To this Edwards responds with something so obvious we might otherwise miss it:
"But what opportunity could there be for long-suffering, if injury were not persisted in long? If injuries are continued, it may be for the very purpose, in providence, of trying whether you will exercise long-suffering and meekness, and...forbearance... "
In this sense, every offense is a gift, a unique opportunity to reflect the long-suffering character of our God, both to Him and the world at large.  If you're anything like me, you prayer regularly that He would be glorified in your life.  Each offense is an opportunity to see that prayer answered.

Objection 3: If I'm long-suffering it'll give them permission to keep on with their bad behavior.
"But you do not know this, for you have not insight into the future, nor into the hearts of men.  And, beside, God will undertake for you, if you obey his commands; and he is more able to put a stop to the wrath of man than you are (Rom. 12:19)...if you do but obey him, he will take part with you against all that rise up against you.  And in the observation and experience of men, it is generally found that a meek and long-suffering spirit puts an end to injuries, while a revengeful spirit does but provoke them."
"A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger."
Proverbs 15:1 
"Cherish, then, the spirit of longsuffering, meekness, and forbearance, and you shall possess your soul in patience and happiness, and none shall be permitted to harm you more than God in wisdom and kindness may permit."


That's Life said…
Greetings from Gifhorn Germany, Laurie!
I'm looking forward to proceed from reading the headings to meditating on this post over the next week while away from home. "Meekness is not weakness" Thanks for life-changing teaching.

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