Tuesday, March 02, 2010


237 A.D. In the new Keysers Chronijk there is related a cruel and iniquitous deed perpetrated by Emperor Maximin on the Christians. The author says: The Christians were assembled in their churches or meeting places, praising their Saviour, when the Emperor sent forth his soldiers, and had all the churches or meeting places locked up, and then wood placed around them and set on fire, in order to burn all the Christians within. But before the wood was ignited, he caused it to be proclaimed, that whoever would come out and sacrifice to the god Jupiter, should be secure of his life, and moreover, be rewarded by the Emperor. They replied that they knew nothing of Jupiter; that Christ was their Lord and God, by the honor of His name, and calling upon the same they would live and die. It is to be regarded as a special miracle, that among so many thousand Christians there was not found one who desired to go out, in order to save his life by denying Christ; for all remained together with one accord, singing, and praising Christ, as long as the smoke and vapor permitted them to use their tongues. -- Martyrs Mirror*

Fortitude: n. Strength of mind that allows one to endure pain or adversity with courage.[1]

Fortitude: "An holy boldness in the performance of difficult duties, flowing from faith in the call of God, and His promise to us in the discharge of them." - John Flavel [2]

Part 13: Preparations for Sufferings

When was the last time you heard the word "fortitude" in connection with your Christian walk? Perhaps never! It isn't a term found in the Bible. John Flavel** in his historic description of readiness for persecution, "Preparation for Sufferings," succinctly defines fortitude as "holy courage." He maintains that this is a "conspicuous grace" in all of the biblical heroes who have passed on before us, and it necessitates an "awakened courage." Fortitude seems to describe a courage for the long haul, a steadfastness of faith, and a continuing resiliency.

Why is fortitude so necessary? Flavel lists four reasons:

  • SATAN: "Because the success and prevalence of Satan's temptations in the hour of persecution depends upon the fainting and overthrow of this grace." Flavel says that whenever Satan raises persecutions in the world, he works "upon the passion of a carnal fear" and makes "the soul as a tumultuous sea. This he aims at, Nehemiah 6:13.[3] This is a multiplying passion that presents dangers more and greater than they are, and so drives the soul into the very net and snare laid by the devil.... If he can but subdue this grace, he will quickly bring you to capitulate for life and liberty, upon the basest and most dishonourable terms." In other words, Satan will attempt to cause us to fear and to compromise our faith.
  • STAGE: "There is a great solemnity at the suffering and trial of a saint: heaven, earth and hell, are spectators, observing the issue, and how the saints will acquit themselves in that hour." Here Flavel quotes from 1 Corinthians 4:9, which states: "For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." He portrays our suffering as a stage set between good and evil. On one side is God, the angels and saints waiting to see the "glorious triumph" of our faith. On the other side are the "devils and wicked men" who hope to take advantage of our cowardice. This is a very sobering thought indeed -- that should we "faint and give ground" to the adversaries of Christ, it would give "triumphs" to hell and make "Christ's enemies vaunt over Him." When all is said and done, wouldn't it be more blessed to hear the Lord say of us, as he did of Job: "...and still he holdeth fast his integrity..." (Job 2:3)?
  • PEACE: "Your own peace is wrapped up" in exhibiting fortitude. Make it your desire to "be freed from those vultures and harpies[4] that feed upon the hearts of men at such times," says Flavel. He reminds us this verse: "He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD" (Psalm 112:7).
  • STANDARD-BEARER: This is especially true for those who are leaders and/or the first to be persecuted. Flavel says, "If you faint, it is like the fainting of a standard-bearer[5] in an army: you bring thereby an evil report upon the cross of Christ, as the first spies did upon the land of Canaan." A sobering thought indeed.

Fortitude is a special act of God's mercy, and Flavel distinguishes it from a "natural or sinful boldness" that can arise from an "evil disposition" or our flesh. He goes on to say it is a duty that is "exercised for truth, not error, Jer. 9:3,[6] for the interest of Christ, not of the flesh." This gift miraculously appears during a "season... when duties are surrounded and beset with difficulties and dangers, Dan 3:16; 6:10.[7] This type of fortitude is evidence of a faith that respects the command and call of God to duty." Josh 1:5-7.[8]

Flavel cites ten rules that promote godly fortitude in the life of a believer:

  • GET A WEANED HEART: This point is hammered home again and again by Flavel. "Get a weaned heart from all earthly enjoyments," because unless you do this these things will "strangely effeminate, soften, and cowardize your spirit when your trial comes, 2 Tim 2:4."[9]
  • POSSESS A SOUND MIND: "Suffer not guilt to lie upon your consciences," says Flavel, because it wounds the mind, and creates "black fogs and mists" which "becloud" us. "The spirit of a sound mind is opposed to the spirit of fear, 2 Tim. 1:7.[10] Repentance of sin is the remedy for a guilty conscience, and then we can stand on Romans 5:1: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
  • BE SURE OF YOUR CALLING: "Be well satisfied that you are in the way and posture God expects to find you in." In other words, being clear about your call to suffer will give you courage, 1 Peter 4:19: "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator."
  • SEE OPPOSITION CLEARLY: "Get right notions and apprehensions of your enemies. We are apt to magnify" our opposition, giving them more power than they actually possess. Flavel urges us to see them as God describes them, citing Isaiah 40:15,17[11] and John 19:11, where Christ tells Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above." Flavel reminds us that our enemies carry genuine guilt and real fear, and they bear carnal weapons only, which cannot touch our souls: "They cannot thunder with an arm like God, nor blot your name out of the book of life, nor take your part out of the New Jerusalem; therefore fear not man." No wonder we are admonished to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
  • BE STRONG IN THE LORD: "Labour to engage the presence of God with you in all places and conditions. Whilst you enjoy this, your spirits will be invincible and undaunted, Joshua 1:9,[12] Psalm 118:6: 'The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? Isaiah 43:1,2."[13]
  • VALUE CHRIST: "Get an high estimation of Jesus Christ, and all His concernments. They that value him highest, will adventure for him farthest." Flavel recommends that the "interests of Christ" swallow up our own interests.
  • BEWARE OF PRUDENCE: What an unusual thing to say! But Flavel would have us be concerned that there are those who caution us with "carnal policy, mistaken for Christian prudence," which can "prove destructive to all true zeal and courage for Christ." Some, by cautioning us to exercise "prudence," would stop us from obeying the Lord. He warns, "It is true, there is such a thing as Christian prudence; but this doth not teach men to shun all costly and difficult duties, and prostitute conscience to save the skin. 'A man of understanding walketh uprightly,' Prov. 15:21."
  • SEE THE SWEETNESS: Flavel explains this point in beautiful language:

Look upon the inside of troubles for Christ, as well as upon the outside of them. If you view them by an eye of sense, there appeareth nothing but matter of discouragement. To look on the outside of a prison, banishment or death, is affrighting and horrible: but then if you look into the inside of these things by faith, and see what God hath made them to His people, and how joyful and comfortable they have been in these conditions; what honey they have found in the carcass of a lion, what sons in the stocks and dungeons, what glorying in tribulation, and hundred-fold reward even in their sufferings: O then! that which looked like a serpent at a distance, will appear but as a rod in hand. How men have found themselves quite mistaken in their apprehensions of sufferings; and been more loath to come out of a prison, than they were to go in! If you did but see your supports and the comforts that souls ordinarily meet with in their troubles for Christ, you would not look on them as such formidable things.

  • LOOK TO THE REWARD: If you "view the reward of sufferings by an eye of faith" it will "strongly abate the horror and dread of them, Heb 10:34."[14] Also see Romans 8:18 and 2 Cor. 4:16.17.[15]
  • KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE CLOUD: "Propound to yourselves the best patterns and examples. Keep your eye upon the "cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1.[16] He also cites James 5:10: "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience." Flavel chastises us with the reminder that the enemies of the Lord were beaten by "poor women and children," examples "that are gone before you."

The Truth:

"Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD." (Psalm 31:24)

1. Fortitude is defined at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fortitude.
2. 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. While Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, he was challenged to compromise repeatedly by Sanballat and his evil companions. They wanted him to meet with them, and when he wouldn't agree, they changed their tactics, sending him a concocted death threat to lure him into the temple. Nehemiah responded to this trap with exemplary discernment and fortitude: "And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter]for an evil report, that they might reproach me" (Neh. 6:11-13). Note how Nehemiah prays in verse 14: "My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear."
4. See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/harpies. In classical mythology harpies are "a ravenous, filthy monster having a woman's head and a bird's body." This term came to mean anything voracious, greedy or predatory. So, Flavel here is likening our own fears to vultures and harpies that are feeding upon our hearts, making us in great need of godly courage and fortitude.
5. See definitions of standard-bearer here: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/standard-bearer.
6. Jeremiah 9:3 states his description of spiritual "adulterers," whom he describes as "an assembly of treacherous men" (in vs. 2): "And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD."
7. Daniel 3:16 is the familiar story, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter." Daniel 6:10 is a beautiful illustration of this holy boldness, especially because Daniel knew the potential consequences: "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime."
8. Before going into the Promised Land and its battles Joshua was told by God: "There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest." Note the conditions on these promises, and read verses 8 and 9 also: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."
9. 2 Timothy 2:4 states the principal: "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier."
10. Note how fear, the opposite of fortitude, is also the opposite of a sound mind in 2 Timothy 1:7: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
11. Isaiah 40:15 and 17 state: "Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing.... All nations before Him areas nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity."
12. See footnote 8.
13. Isaiah 43:1,2 is a wonderful promise of God's presence: "But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
14. Hebrews 10:14 states: "For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance."
15. Romans 8:18 states: "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." 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17 states: "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." In verse 18, not cited by Flavel, we are reminded of what our focus should be: "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."
16. Hebrews 12: 1 begins with "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," which hearkens back to the list of saints in Hebrews chapter 11 who evidence profound faith under trials.

*This quotation comes from The Bloody Theater of Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only Upon Confession of Faith, and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus, Their Saviour, From the Time of Christ to the Year A.D. 1660: Compiled from various authentic chronicles, memorials, and testimonies by Thieleman J. van Braght (1660). Quotation is from the 5th English Edition, 1951, p. 131. This 1157 page historical tome is briefly known as Martyrs Mirror.

**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.