The Apostle Paul says that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), so why would Christians persevere in living a godly life? What is the motivation for holding on to the faith till the end?
St. James says: “Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12).
The text is a Beatitude. It begins with blessed. We should all like to be blessed. What a more than golden word that “blessed” is! It begins the Psalms of David: there is sweetest poetry in it. It begins the sermon of the Son of David; it is the end of all holy teaching. “Happiness” is the earthly word; “blessedness” is the heavenly one. Happiness is transient; blessedness is eternal! Happiness may lie in our own conception of things; blessedness is God’s verdict, God’s truthful statement of a man’s condition!
There are such persons as blessed men, or the eminently practical James would not have written concerning them. It is true the curse has fallen on the world, and man is born to endure toil and suffering in tilling a thorn-bearing earth, and earning his bread with the sweat of his face; but for all that, there are blessed men – men so blessed that the wilderness and the solitary place are glad for them, and by their presence the desert is made to rejoice and blossom as the rose!
Great mistakes are made as to the persons who are happy and blessed. Some suppose that the wealthy must be blessed; but if their lives were written, it could be proven, without a doubt, that some of those who have had the largest possessions have had the very least of blessedness, especially when those possessions have brought with them the curses of the oppressed and the wailings of the down-trodden. Look not in gold mines for blessedness, for it gleams not among the nuggets. It cannot be gotten for all the treasures of the miser, or the wealth of nations. But, surely, it is to be found in positions of eminence and power! These are greatly coveted, and men will sell their souls to win them; but I suppose from what we read from history that if we were to select the most unhappy set of men beneath the vault of Heaven, we would only have to select statesmen, emperors, and kings! Not the high but the holy are blessed; not those who sit with the great, but those who serve with the good are marked out by the Lord as blessed.
We count those blessed who know and are stored with wisdom. But is it so? Does he that increases knowledge increase joy? Does he not, rather add to his sorrow? If knowledge were bliss, the devil would be in Heaven! But some think that surely blessedness may be had by a combination of dignity and wisdom and riches. And yet it does not seem to be so. I should think that no mortal that ever lived had finer opportunities than Solomon. He cast everything into the crucible, and he brought out of it, not gold, but ashes! “Vanity of vanities, says the preacher; all is vanity” (Eccl 1:2). This is the conclusion of Solomon’s life as well as of Solomon’s discourse. No, you cannot find blessedness on a throne nor in making many books, nor in seeking out many inventions, nor in enjoying all luxuries. These things all cry, “It is not in me!” If you want blessedness, hear him speak who knows. That is, hear the Holy Spirit speak by the mouth of His servant James: “Blessed is the man that endures temptation.”
It does seem very startling, at first sight, that the blessed man should be described in this way. Notice, it does not say, “Blessed is the man that is tempted,” nor, “Blessed is the man that is beset by temptation.” No. “Blessed is the man that endures temptation.” That is to say, the man who bears up under it, survives it, is not led aside by it, but endures it as gold endures the fire. You need to have a religion which is tested every day in the week, and which stands you in good stead because it can endure the test. You are blessed if you have a religion which God gives, which God tries, which God sustains, which God accepts. As an uncultivated garden is no garden, so untried godliness is no godliness. A faith that will not bear strain and test is no faith. A love that cannot endure temptation is no love to God at all. The men who bear affliction in a gracious manner, these are the blessed people, for they have a patience that has been tested, a faith that has passed the ordeal, a love that has been more than a conqueror in trial. These according to our text are the blessed people. The Holy Spirit pronounces them such.
And they are blessed among other things for this reason: because they have endured temptation through their love to God. To cease from evil ways because the Lord Jesus Christ has loved us and given Himself for us, and we have been led to put our sole trust in the merit of His precious blood — this is a genuine work of grace.
Then there arises out of the endurance of temptation a sense of God’s acceptance. The text says, “Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried”. Not so much when he is tried, but when he has been tried — when he has been put into the fitting pot, and has come out warranted to be real unalloyed gold; when he is proved, and therefore approved, then he shall receive the crown of life. Blessed is that man who consciously enjoys his Maker’s approval, who can stand up before the infinitely Holy One and say, “Although I have sinned, my Lord Jesus has washed me in His blood and the Holy Spirit has helped me to resist the temptations which once overcame me. And I know that the gracious Father approves me.” This is, indeed, blessedness!
There comes over the back of this a number of things to help to make such a man blessed, for he has great thankfulness in his soul. “O God,” he says, “I thank You that I have been kept while passing through those temptations.” He is as glad as one who has been taken out of a burning house!
Besides, another feeling comes over him—that of deep humility. “Oh,” he says, “what a wonder of Grace I am! However is it that I have escaped such peril? With such a base nature as mine, how have I been kept from destruction? I shall perish and fall tomorrow unless the Lord, Himself, is still my Helper.” Putting his trust in God, that sense of his own nothingness, accompanied with a sense of his perfect security in God, makes him feel exceedingly happy!
And, once more, he enjoys a fearlessness of heart. The forked tongue of slander has no power with him: he has an antidote against the venom of malice. The noise and strife of this world can little distress him, for innocence walls him up against the onslaught of the enemy. He stands like a rock in the midst of the raging billows, for God has given him steadfastness of soul; and is not that blessedness?
He shall receive a crown. That crown which is promised us is not for talk, nor thought, nor vow, but it records something done. It was something appreciated-appreciated by Him that gave the crown. It will be no small heaven for God Himself to appreciate our poor lives! It is ours to humble ourselves for our imperfections, but it is God’s, despite the imperfections, to see what we desire to be and what in heart we really are. It is our blessedness both now and forever to be accepted in Christ Jesus.
A crown meant reward. Now, in the gospel system there is room for a reward, though it is not of debt, but of grace. The child of God, like Moses, has “respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb 11:26). He does not run to win a crown by his own merit, but he runs knowing that there will be a crown given to him according to the love and goodness of the God of Grace.
What is a crown of life? To live means to be in health, to be in force, in joy, in fit condition, to have one’s whole self in order, and to enjoy all that surrounds us with all that is within us. God will give to all His people by and by such a crown of life. There shall be no sickness, no weakness, no dullness, no emptiness, no sense of depletion, nor of want; we shall be forever filled with all the fullness of God. There shall be no pain, no misery, but a plenitude of enjoyment at His right hand where there are pleasures forevermore. Earthly crowns will soon fade. But we shall have a living crown; that is to say, it shall never be taken from us, nor us from it. When time, itself, shall cease to be and visible things shall die and death, itself, shall be swallowed up, yet we shall not cease to be blessed, for we shall receive a living crown—a crown of everlasting life which cannot know an end!
There is an amazing comeliness about the heavenly life even here below; yet we do not know what it is going to be. We know what spiritual life is, but we cannot guess what the flower of that life will be. Whatever it is to be, God will give that glory to those who by His grace endure temptation because they love Him. We do not know what we shall be in the hereafter, but we have heard a soft whisper say, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Let us offer ourselves to the Lord with the song “O Jesus I Have Promised”: