Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The 6 Habits of Readiness

"How many would have heaven if they might have it upon their own terms! How few are willing to come up to God's terms! How false and deceitful are our hearts! They will persuade us we have done all, when indeed we have done nothing, nor are prepared to do any thing in truth and sincerity. We are not perfect, something is wanting in us till to will to do whatsoever God requireth of us be present with us, though, when it comes to, we may want strength to perform."
--Matthew Poole[1]

"Self may make you the devil's martyrs, but grace only can make you Christ's martyrs."
--John Flavel[2]

Part 9: Preparations for Sufferings

John Flavel* asserts that there is a "twofold preparation or readiness for suffering; the one is habitual, the other actual." He defines "habitual readiness" as the "inclination of a soul to suffer any thing for Christ," an amazing trait which solely "ariseth from the principles of grace infused into the soul." There are six principles that Flavel identifies from Scripture as necessary to maintaining a state of habitual readiness:

  1. No man can suffer for Christ until he be able to deny himself. Matthew 16:24.[3] Self-denial goes in order of nature before sufferings. Beloved, in a suffering hour the interest of Christ and self meet like two men upon a narrow bridge, one must of necessity go back, or the other cannot pass on: If you cannot now deny self you must deny Christ. The yoke and dominion of self must be cast off, or else Christ's yoke and burden cannot be taken on.
  2. "[A] man can never be fit to suffer hard things for Christ until his spirit be enlarged, raised, and ennobled, so that he be able to despise dangers, and look all difficulties in the face. That low and private spirit must be removed, and a public spirit must possess him. If a man be of a feeble and effeminate spirit, every petty danger will daunt and sink him; delicacy and tenderness is as unsuitable to a Christian as to a soldier; 2 Timothy 2:3.[4]
  3. A man can never suffer as a Christian till his will be subjected to the will of God. He that suffers involuntarily, and out of necessity, not out of choice, shall neither have acceptance nor reward from God. Of necessity, the will must be subjected; a man can never say, Thy will be done, till he can first say, Not my will.
  4. A man can never suffer as a Christian until his heart be composed, fixed, and determined to follow the Lord through all hazards and difficulties. As long as a man is hesitating and unresolved what to do, whether to go forward, or return back again to the prosperous world, when a man is at such a pause, and stand in his way, he is very unfit for sufferings. All such divisions do both weaken the soul, and strengthen the temptation; The devil's work is more than half done to his hand in such a soul.... James 1:8.[5]
  5. The necessity of saving grace in all sufferers for Christ,... he who will run all hazards for Christ, had need of a continual supply of strength and refreshment from time to time. He must not depend on any thing that is failable; for what shall he do when that stock is spent, and he hath no provision left to live upon?... But now grace is an everlasting principle, it hath springs in the bottom that will never fail.... John 4:14.[6] The Spirit of God supplies it from time to time as need requires.
  6. [T]here is an absolute necessity of a real change by grace on all that will suffer for Christ; because although we may engage ourselves in sufferings without it, yet we can never manage our sufferings like Christians without it.

The nitty-gritty of dying to self in the Christian's daily walk in this life foretells the possibility of actually suffering for Christ at some time or another. 2 Timothy 3:12 reminds us that "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." John Flavel identifies God's grace as the only way to develop these habits of readiness to suffer. The technical term for this is "sanctification."

[S]anctification is nothing else but the dethroning of exalted self, and the setting up of Christ's interest above it in the soul.... Thenceforth a man looks at himself as none of his own, but passed into another's right, 1 Cor. 6:19[7]; and that he must neither live, nor act ultimately for himself, but for Christ, Rom. 14:7... Phil. 1:20.[8]

What does this mean? That we are "no more as a proprietor, but a steward" of all that we have. And that "by grace" we are "subordinated to Christ" and able to say, "I care not what becomes of me" as long as Christ "may be glorified." In real life this means that we die daily to things desired by our flesh such as outward beauty, affluence, comforts, pleasures, ambitions, positions, reputations, praise of men, etc. It starts in small things, the grace to be humbled in the sight of worldly allurements. Readiness to suffer believes a different worldview, one that holds taking up the cross and following Jesus to be more precious than health and wealth, political power, prestige, lusts, and leadership influence.

In our modern psychobabble era, people who exhibit a willingness to be beaten down, degraded, and humbled are considered unstable, unbalanced and mentally unfit. But the Bible esteems such people! Even when we know from God's Word that this is the "normal" Christian life, it is easy to be discouraged, disheartened and in despair when we find that dying to self is definitively counter to the modern culture, and realize that our righteous behavior is considered ODD, especially by compromising modern evangelical standards. How many have been rejected by friends and family for courageously standing strong under persecution? It feels like a double-whammy!

However, there is an act of God's grace that enables us to rise above despair to boldly stand. This is what Flavel means by not being excessively "meek" or "feeble." Persecution, especially when there are public witnesses, requires a "heroic and brave spirit," not a downtrodden and discouraged spirit. Flavel therefore urges believers to

look over all the sacred and human histories, and see if you can find a man that ever honoured Christ by suffering, that was not of a raised and noble spirit, and in some measure able to condemn both the allurements and threats of men. So those three noble Jews, Dan 3:16-17.[9] So Moses, Heb. 11:27.[10] And so our apostle, Acts 20:24.[11] And the same heroic and brave spirit was found in the succeeding ages amongst the witnesses of Christ.

This special grace of God is beyond the "natural stoutness" that brave men in history have exhibited. Our modern Hollywood-ized culture has desensitized us to heroes of all varieties, glamorizing and glorifying them, turning them into action figures and supermen. Yet (with a few notable exceptions) these movie heroes are not believers indwelt by God's Holy Spirit. And therein lies the serious difference. Flavel asserts that it is God's special grace that "raises men much higher" during times of persecution, especially when we are "forsaken of all creatures and visible support," such as Paul's experience described in 2 Tim 4:10-11.[12]

Flavel lists three special acts of God's grace upon the believer's heart as part of the process of habitual readiness, which literally transform the worldview of the believer and equip him to endure persecution:

  • By giving him... a view of far greater things, which shrinks up all temporary things, and makes them appear but trifles and small matters, Rom. 8:18,[13] 2 Cor. 4:18.[14] By grace a man rises with Christ, Col. 3:1.[15] It sets him upon his high places, and thence he looks down upon things below as very poor and inconsiderable.
  • By teaching him to value and measure all things by another thing than he was wont to do. He did once measure, life, liberty, riches, honours by sense and time; and then they seemed great things, and it was hard to deny them, or thus to slight them; but now he values and measures all by faith and eternity; and esteems nothing great and excellent but what hath a reference to the glory of God, and an influence into eternity.
  • Grace raises and ennobles the spirit,... it is the Spirit of Christ infused into a poor worm, which makes a strange alteration on him, transforms him into another manner of person.

This grace also changes a man's will, says Flavel, to conform and transform him to the will of God.

It is grace only that... conquers and subjects the will of man to God's.... No sooner was grace entered into the soul of Paul, but presently he cries out, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" The will is to the soul what the wheels are to the chariot; and grace is to the will what oil is to those wheels.

As a key part of habitual readiness, Flavel encourages the believer to fix his heart on following the Lord:

It is grace, and nothing besides, that brings the heart to a fixed resolution and settlement to follow the Lord, it is grace that establishes the heart, Heb. 13:9,[16] and unites it to fear the name of God, Psalm 86:11.[17] This gathers all the streams into one channel, and then it runs with much strength, and sweeps away all obstacles before it.... If the heart be composed, fixed, and fully resolved for God, nothing shall then stand before him. And herein lies much of a Christian's habitual fitness and ability to suffer.

There is a caveat, however, a warning to the believer about the seriousness of being ready to follow the Lord into suffering and persecution. It has to do with the utter necessity of depending on God's grace and the condition of a man's heart. Flavel writes, "I do not deny but a man that is graceless may suffer many hard things upon the account of his profession," but he warns that there are Scriptures that indicate this could be all in vain, especially 1 Corinthians 13:3[18] and Galatians 3:4.[19] He writes, "And, although you may find many sweet promises made to those that suffer for Christ," it isn't the "external action" that is important. Citing 1 Peter 4:16, "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf," Flavel says that "to suffer as a Christian is to suffer from pure Christian principles, and in a Christian manner, with meekness, patience, self-denial, etc., and this grace only can enable you do to."

The Truth:

"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

1. Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3: Matthew-Revelation (Hendrickson Publishers, ISBN 0-918006-28-3), commenting on the parable of the young ruler, Matthew 19:22.
Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83.
3. Matthew 16:24 is the well-known verse:
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
4. 2 Timothy 2:3 states simply:
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
5. James 1: 8 says:
"A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."
6. John 4:14 says,
"But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
7. 1 Cor. 6:19 states:
"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?"
8. These verses pack a wallop! Romans 14:7 says:
"For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." Philippians 1:20 says: "According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death."
9. Daniel 3:16-17 testifies that even youth can be so emboldened:
"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king."
10. Hebrews 11:27 testifies that Moses eschewed the material rewards of leadership in Egypt:
"By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible."
11. Paul, in Acts 20:24, said for our example that
"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God."
12. In 2 Timothy 4:10-11a Paul describes his own isolation and alienation, even from fellow believers, while imprisoned:
"For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me...."
13. Romans 8:18 reminds us of a heavenly focus:
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
14. 2 Corinthians 4:18, especially when verse 17 is added, gives us the added encouragement:
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
15. Colossians 3:1, including verses 2 and 3, give the believer his proper biblical worldview:
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
16. The context of this phrase Flavel refers to,
"the heart be established with grace," is concerning discernment. The full verse in Hebrews 13:9 reads: "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein."
17. Psalm 86:11 reads:
"Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name."
18. 1 Corinthians in verse 3 warns:
"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."
19. Galatians 3 warns, in verses 3-4, that:
"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain."

*ED. NOTE: Italics in original, bold added. We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms.