The Wardrobe of Easter: Patience
Patience-filled Christian saints keep cultivating their relationship with the Spirit and keep praying continually for his help in showing makrothumia everywhere and always toward all others, no matter how impatient and rude, no matter how grumbling and irritating those others at times may be.
A small and crippled man he was—some called him “shrimp.” But he possessed a charm, wit and eloquence that could hold his audiences spellbound.
His name was William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament in the late 18th century who almost singlehandedly dismantled the entire, horrible system of slave trading upon which vast sectors of the British, American and European economies during that era depended.
The cruel commerce involved thousands upon thousands of west Africans, hundreds upon hundreds of ships, and millions upon millions of British pounds and American dollars. One in four Africans died en route across the Atlantic.
Two keys to Wilberforce’s success
The keys to Wilberforce’s success were two-fold. First, a life surrendered completely to Jesus Christ (on Easter Day in 1786) and second, makrothumia or patient persistence.
When Jesus took control of Wilberforce’s life, the heavy gloom of living without purpose and direction lifted. He described his life’s single aim as a committed Christian with simple words: “My walk [with my Lord Jesus] is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men….God Almightly has set before me the suppression of the slave trade.”
But opposition to the little man with a large purpose was fierce. Business owners and fellow members of parliament hated what Wilberforce stood for, and they banded together to unleash a series of nasty and furious attacks upon him.
John Wesley’s advice to Wilberforce
So threatened was Wilberforce, who in Parliament stood almost alone, that John Wesley, on his deathbed, wrote him: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils.”
But Wilberforce persisted. In May of 1788 he introduced his 12-point bill against the evil conspiracy of planters, businessmen, ship owners and even the British Crown, who together promoted slave trading. He suffered a sound defeat.
Subsequent similar initiatives met identical resistance from opponents: defeat upon wearying defeat, in 1792, 1793, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1804, 1805. But Wilberforce endured. Finally, in 1806, Parliament passed the Abolition Act, a law which forbade throughout the entire British Empire all trafficking in human commerce. Wilberforce wept for joy—and then promptly took up his next work, the freeing of all who had been enslaved.
In the summer of 1833—after an additional 27 years of arduous campaigning by Wilberforce in the face of heavy resistance—at long last Parliament passed the Emancipation Act. His life’s work accomplished, Wilberforce died three days later.
The Christian virtue of makrothumia
Wilberforce is Exhibit A of the Christian virtue of makrothumia (makros=long; thumos= temper). The word denotes courage, endurance, longsuffering, lenience and a patient willingness to endure ill-treatment.
Makrothumia forbears when provoked. It is strongly but gently magnanimous when responding to the weaknesses, foibles and failures of others, and even to their malices. Christians marked by makrothumia are large-hearted and generous toward those who aren’t. They don’t have short fuses. They don’t rush to snap judgments. They are willing to suffer fools and other unpleasant folks, if not gladly, at least graciously and with long-suffering. When wronged, makrothumia holds in careful check the impulse to retaliate and to seek revenge.
God shows makrothumia toward his sinful children. If he had shown short-tempered short-suffering toward humans when first they wronged him, God would have wiped us out ages ago. But he shows makrothumia toward all, since “our Lord’s patience means salvation.” (II Peter 3.15). Thus, the only way to understand the willingness of God to allow history to continue, to keep putting up with the foolishnesses and wrongdoings his erring children continually commit, is to see it as his giving them more time to repent and be saved. (II Peter 3.9)
Displaying a God-like quality
Christians who are patient are thus displaying a God-like quality. Their patience reflects the Holy Spirit of Christ who lives and is at work within them. For patience, St. Paul reminds us, is one of the Holy Spirit’s fruits (Galatians 5.22) and evidence of his Pentecostal presence and power at work within believers.
Patience doesn’t grow in Christian saints by their simply gritting their teeth and trying real hard not to fly off the handle. This rich fruit grows best in the soil and climate of prayer (cf. Colossians 1.10-12). Knowing this, patience-filled Christian saints keep cultivating their relationship with the Spirit and keep praying continually for his help in showing makrothumia everywhere and always toward all others, no matter how impatient and rude, no matter how grumbling and irritating those others at times may be.
As William Penn said: “Patience and diligence, like faith, remove mountains.”
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the story blast,
and our eternal home.
Under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.
A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home!
Words: Isaac watts (1674-1748), 1719, alt., P.D.
This series was written to be read in the following order: