Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Rest in the Day of Evil

It was a pleasantly cool Fall evening in 1976, just after dusk, the faint smell of burning leaves in the air. The young man and Pastor Rollie Leeman had just finished a wonderful meal and were sitting in the living room of the parsonage talking. Pastor Leeman began sharing the Gospel with the fellow, who was not a believer. This young man had been dating a sister new in the Lord who had been attending the small independent Baptist church Pastor Leeman pastored, and Pastor was duly concerned with his salvation.

"Before you decide to become a Christian," Pastor warned, "you need to know about this story from Scripture." He proceeded to read from Acts 6, the testimony of Stephen, and how certain leaders "suborned men" as "false witnesses" against him. and how they "stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon [him], and caught him, and brought him to the council." Pastor concluded with Acts 7:59, "And they stoned Stephen...."

Pastor paused a moment and looked earnestly into the eyes of the young man. "Before you become a believer you must count the cost," he said soberly. He repeated it with emphasis, "It is a serious matter to become a Christian and you must know what you are getting into. Count the cost."

A year later the young man would become a Christian, never forgetting Pastor Leeman's strong admonition. But in all of the years he has been a believer he has never heard a Gospel presentation quite like it, and has often wondered, why not?

Part 6: Preparations for Sufferings

We live in the day of psychobabble, where everything we read and think is tinged with the leaven of this unbiblical worldview. Take the word "martyr," for example. This word, which in the Greek means "a witness,"[2] in English became the honorable term describing "a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion."[3] But this word in our era now carries the extra psychological baggage of meaning "a person who seeks sympathy or attention by feigning or exaggerating pain, deprivation, etc."[4]

Indeed, we have heard pastors refer disparagingly to believers exercising discernment as people who have a "martyr complex," i.e., "seeking out suffering or persecution because it feeds a psychological need."[5] It is no wonder that those who prepare their hearts and minds for suffering, trials and tribulations are looked upon with disfavor and outright suspicion. And those who seek to remind others of their duty to prepare are often said to be negative, fear-mongers and kooks "crying wolf."

It is therefore disconcerting to the modern mind to read the 350- year-old words of John Flavel* in his classic work, Preparations for Suffering.[6] He actually proposes that a believer should be always READY and PREPARED for persecution, citing Paul's words in Acts , "I am ready...."[7] Furthermore, Flavel claims, "Readiness for sufferings will bring the heart of a Christian to an holy rest and tranquillity, in a suffering hour, and prevent that anxiety, perturbation, and distraction of mind, which puts the sinking weight into afflictions." He cites several biblical characters as exemplary in being prepared.

  • JOB - Flavel observes, "It is admirable to consider with what peace and patience Job entertained his troubles, which, considering the kinds, degrees, and manner in which they befell him, one would think they should at least have started and amazed him, and put his soul... into great disorder and confusion; but you find the contrary: never did the patience of a man triumph at that rate over adversity; he worships God, owns his hand, and resigns himself up to His pleasure, Job 1:20-21."[8] Flavel contends that Job was prepared for this day, citing Job 3:25-26: "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came," and remarking, "He laid it to heart before it came, and therefore it neither distracted, nor brake the heart when it came."
  • HABAKKUK - "In like manner," says Flavel, "the prophet Habakkuk stood upon his watch-tower, i.e. he made his observations by the Word upon the probable events of providence, whereby he got a clear foresight of those troublesome days that were at hand; which though it made him tremble in himself, yet it gave him rest in the day of evil, Hab. 3:16-18."[9]

Worse-Case Scenarios

The way to obtain rest in the coming day of evil, contends Flavel, is to "foresee, count upon, and make due preparation for troublous times before-hand." He cites several Scriptures to back up this point: Ecclesiastes 9:12, which states, "For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them," and the case of Noah, who prepared his family for the Flood while others "were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage" (Matthew 24:38).

How can one possibly prepare ahead of time? Flavel says we must be "deliberately closed with Christ upon His own terms" and already "daily at work" with our "own hearts, mortifying" our "corruptions, weaning" ourselves of... worldly affections,... resolving in the strength of God" to take our "lot with Christ." One doesn't easily prepare for sudden persecution unless they have learned to daily die to self, to "mortify the deeds of the body" as described in Romans 8:13 and Col. 3:5.[10]

Persecution, he says, separates the hypocrites, whom he refers to as "Christ's summer friends," from true believers. Many "rush inconsiderately into the profession of Christ, never debating the terms which He proposes to all that will follow Him, Mark 8:34."[11] Knowing these terms means that we have to objectively consider worst-case scenarios, an activity certain to cause others to look askance at us in our modern age. Flavel contends that "if we really intend to go through with the business of religion, we must sit down, and compute the cost and charges of Christianity, think upon the worst, as well as the best, reckon upon reproaches, prisons, and death for his sake, as well as the easier and more pleasant parts of active obedience." This, he says, will "clear ourselves from the danger of hypocrisy." Those who do not prepare are wanting "depth of earth," as in the parable of the sower, and are "quickly withered away, when the sun of persecution" begins to "shine upon them."[12] In other words, hypocrites are Christ's fair-weather friends.

It seems like a contradiction to prepare for persecution and expect that God will, by His grace, give us rest and peace in our spirits. Yet Flavel urges,

O Christians! look out for days of visitation; prepare for a storm, and provide you an ark, an hiding-place in Christ, and the promises, as ever you expect rest, and peace in your own spirits, when the earth shall be full of tumults, uproars, and desolations.

The Truth:

"And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." (Romans 5:3-5)

1. From Acts 6:8-15 and Acts 7.
2. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3144&t=KJV
3. See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/martyr
4. Ibid.
5. From definition at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyr_complex Note the theological discussion here.
6. 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.
7. Acts 21:13 is the text upon which Flavel's Preparations for Sufferings is based. It reads: "Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." See Part 1 for further discussion on this text.
8. Job 1:20-21 reads: "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Verse 22 further testifies, "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly."
9. Habakkuk 3:16-18 gives believers great hope: "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops. Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
10. "Mortify" is our English word that comes from a Latin word meaning "death." Synonyms include "humble, abase, subjugate the body, self-discipline, subdue, restrain." See: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mortify. Similarly, the Greek words translated "mortify" mean to "put to death" or "to kill." See http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/translationResults.cfm?Criteria=mortify&t=KJV&sf=5. Romans 8:13 warns: "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Colossians 3:5-6 urges: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:" If these listed sins are not mortified in your flesh today, dear friend, please return to the Lord in repentance. Do not seek to justify these sins, but rather mortify them.
11. Mark 8:34 states Christ's terms, "And when He had called the people unto Him with His disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
12. Flavel here refers to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:5-6: "Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away."

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