For those of us who live by the Word of God the word perseverance has a familiar sound, and it conveys immediately a rather precise meaning. Apart from this Scriptural context, however, this word says very little. It can be used in an evil as well as in a good sense. Perseverance as such is merely a human attitude, an attitude which reveals that a given person has decided to remain standing in the place which he occupies, or to continue in the way which he has begun. It says only that his course will remain the same, regardless of obstacle and opposition. But this can be a decision for something vicious as well as virtuous!
Perseverance is not only found among those who fight the good fight. Satan is the classic example of perseverance in evil unto the bitterest end. And this demonic, satanic perseverance is the sin of all who follow him to the end. But of this kind of perseverance we are not speaking now.
Nor are we speaking of another kind of “perseverance,” which is actually just a cover-up for a wicked obstinacy, for sheer bull-headedness, or stubbornness. This kind of attitude is also clothed with the word perseverance in order that it may be made to look virtuous. In reality this is something altogether opposite to the perseverance we are talking about. It is the self-justification of one who knows that he has been defeated, who sees that all his arguments have been exposed as fallacious; of one who tries to cover up the downfall of his unwarranted and indefensible position with a pitiable inflexibility.
Obstinacy, stubbornness is quite the opposite of Christian perseverance. Obstinacy is the attitude of the weak; perseverance of the strong.
Obstinacy wills to obscure the reality of defeat; perseverance conudently goes on in the oonviction of an assured victory.
Obstinacy has one thing in mind: self-justification; perseverance puts forth every effort to realize the triumph of the Cause for which it labors.
The bull-headed are impossible to approach with any kind word of wisdom and understanding; they who persevere do the very works of the wise.
True it is that the perseverance of the saints is frequently confused with obstinacy on the part of them who have no appreciation for God’s Cause! This experience of being misunderstood is the lot of all who fight the good fight, and it must be borne gladly and with patience. We, too, have heard the reproach of them who ascribed obstinacy or self-seeking to our motives. This reproach can only be answered by renewed and obvious dedication to the Cause of Christ, His Church and His Truth, His Gospel and His Kingdom. Anything else will give the lie to our claim to a rightful existence as a free association of like-minded believers, intending the good of Zion.
By this I have meant to indicate the kind of perseverance which we must practice. It is of the same substance as the expression, “the perseverance of the saints.” It is an attitude revealed in the life of the faithful believer, which is indeed the very attitude or proper stance of faith itself. Perseverance as we speak of it now is both an activity of faith and a fruit of faith.
To persevere is a Biblical requirement which appears in Scripture in a variety of ways, which means, of course, that the context in which such admonitions appear determines the special character of a particular usage. We raise this point because we are up to the question, Wherein must we persevere? Now, it is significant that Scripture speaks to us of the perseverance or patient endurance of Christ (Rev. 3:10). The word used here in the Greek means, says Thayer, “the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” This perseverance our Lord, too, had to learn and in it He had to exhibit perfection. This He demonstrated throughout that struggle which it was His to endure throughout His whole life, especially at its close. And this perseverance was very simple: Christ saw His calling, and He pursued or fulfilled it. No one or nothing, no power from below, no influence out of hell itself could make Him lose sight of His calling. He carried the struggle all the way to the end, even when the way to that end led through all the agonies of hell and the greatest agony of being forsaken of God. He remained steadfast even when the awesome and heartless power of a world empire was unleashed against Him and when He was excommunicated out of the fellowship of God’s people. Yes. even when He was cruelly hung before all the world as one accursed of God. He persevered when He was forsaken by all and in utter loneliness and solitude found and made His own way through the deep darkness of death.
By means of this perseverance of Jesus Christ the Kingdom of God has come upon the earth. Now He has received the right by His Shepherd’s call to gather a people and to rule over this people as King. This people must expose themselves to the world us God’s people by means of obedience to His Son and their King, Jesus Christ, and by means of words and deeds which show that they are loyal subjects of the eternal and unshakeable Kingdom.
Of this people it is required by their King that they persevere!
Of them, too, it must be noticed that seeing their calling, their task, they allow nothing to dissuade them from doing it.
But their perseverance must be seen in the light of Christ’s perseverance. For these two sustain a very close and strong relationship lo each other.
To this Christ points when He says to the Philadelphian church (Rev. 3) that they are to be praised because they have preserved His Word of patient endurance.
Our perseverance must consist herein that we preserve the Word of Christ’s perseverance.
This illustrates the typical difference between the perseverance of Christ and ours! We must not fight His peculiar redemptive battle over again. We are not to imitate Christ so as to duplicate His suffering. He has fought our fight and therefore the strugglings and the agonies and the pains that characterized His life on earth can nor may come into the lives of His own, That perseverance, i.e., perseverance in His struggle and His calling He does not ask of us because our calling and task is different. We must persevere “in the Word of His perseverance.” In the Scriptures we see Him as the One who perseveres unto the end, as the One whose perseverance has ended in total victory. That Word, that Gospel message—that Christ is Victor by virtue of His perfect perseverance—we must preserve. And therein lies our perseverance. We shall persevere in the confession that Christ for us has persevered unto the end.
The Word of My patience, said Christ…and thereby our life’s calling and Our life’s struggle was indicated. For we confess Christ before men, the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ of the Cross, i.e., the Christ who reconciles us to lhe Father. And we confess the Christ of the resurrection and the glorification, the Christ of regal splendor and glory, the Christ we recognize as the Lord of life.
This confession always puts us at the center of the most intense struggle.
And this struggle we share with the saints of all ages.
When we read the epistles and the Apocalypse, it is striking to notice how often the matter of perseverance is mentioned, And when the ultimate struggle is depicted in terms of that awful persecution and oppression which proceeds from the Beast with anti-christian violence we read, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
It is, I believe, good and important for us now, in the fall of 1965, to be reminded of these things. For we must see our struggle in that larger context. We must dare to presume that we, too, stand in the midst of that great throng which throughout the ages has been moved by the Call of Jesus Christ to persevere in the confession of His perfect, redeeming perseverance!
And then we must not expect the conflict to cease.
The Word of Christ’s perseverance always meets up with the same hostility.
For it is the Word of Christ’s Cross and Christ’s victory and as such the Word of Christ’s Kingdom and Kingship, This Word is always a Call to obedience—a Call to recognize in total obedience the singular rule of Him who is King of kings, and whose claim upon our lives is complete and absolute.
In this animosity, hostility of sinful man to this word lies the root of our struggle.
That is why this struggle is not limited to a particular time or to certain generations of men. It is an age-old conflict in which the Church of Christ and the believer is always included and involved—included and involved just because the believer professes this dominion of Jesus Christ in an apostate, rebellious world.
Whatever may happen to us in this struggle -it could not be something “strange,” We may not expect anything else but either acceptance or rejection of our basic Reformational principle, i.e., the determined preservation of the Word of our Lord’s perseverance. The contradiction of this Word, the antithesis of our day is no different than in the days of the early New Testament church, to whom the apostles wrote their letters of admonition and comfort. Nor is it different from the Middle Ages, the days of the Great Reformation. We do not occupy an isolated position. We are part of an on-going struggle, in which the Church has always been involved—and in which she has always triumphed by virtue of her faith.
We do not mean in the least to deny that this struggle takes on varying forms at different times, nor that it takes on various degrees of intensity at different times. Each age gives to the Biblically antithetical struggle its own form, its own stamp. But no matter how it appears, whether subtle and sophisticated or brutal and bloody, it can only be answered by the Word of God! It can only call for a persevering testimony to our Lord’s perseverance!
Especially today we need to have our eyes sharpened by the Word of the Lord and the working of the Spirit to see the necessity and existence of this struggle clearly. The very term, antithesis, we must revive and preserve, and its truth it is our duty to maintain. Let us not be deceived -a generation of presumably Reformed people seems to have arisen which docs not really know this word at all—it appears unable to spell it, to understand it, and to use it.
How can we restore a proper, vigorous Biblical “antithesis mind”?
A very first requirement is that we be able to judge and to discern clearly and truly. not going astray, having been lured by the outward appearance of things. This requires reliable spiritual instrumentation and equipment, a standard, the only true standard, the Word of God. No show of novelty or genius, no appearance of truth may ever relieve us of the hard work of using the Sword of the Spirit. The first task of the believer in his office is to test the spirits whether they be of God (1 John 4:1).
If this was ever needed, it is desperately needed today!
New ideas and ideologies, new philosophies and systems are flowing from the minds and pens of the children of this world, and they fascinate many of those who bear God’s Name. These are not essentially new, of course, but their garb is fresh and up-to-date, their presentation attractive and striking. These ideas bear the alluring stamp of modernity, and our Age is very proud of its prowess and progress, and of little mind to be gracious to those who resist. Against these we must turn our hands, and doing so will find that we merit, among other things, that very nasty adjective, conservative. Of course we are not “conservatists”—worshipping old forms and ancient patterns because of their age and their familiarity. But we are conservatives in the sense that we are out to preserve the Word of God, i.e., not to allow any idea or any system, no matter how new, no matter how old, from making it impossible for us to hear the simple and pure Word of our Lord’s perseverance!
It has always required great courage to dare to declare that one wills to be free from all influences which militate against the Word of God! It is easier to let the commonly esteemed and recognized “greats” of our day determine just how we shall think, just what we shall accept and what we shall reject. But the believer has only one task in life; to preserve the Word of the Lord for what it is; the unique, authoritative, infallibly reliable Word of God! All that helps us to do that is acceptable; all that hinders must be put aside.
It is my opinion that all of this means that we may appear and work in the world in only one capacity, one office, that of believer, and in only one garb, that of Christian. I say this because I am afraid that the elimination of the antithesis as a working principle among us has its origin in other than theoretical or “doctrinal” sources. I think that there are very pressing practical reasons for wishing to rid ourselves of that Reformation vision which calls for obedience everywhere to the unbound Word. These practical reasons are pressing because we always crave religious and theological justification for our worldly, carnal conduct—the world is so pleasant, so attractive, especially to “our people,” who in so many instances rather recently delivered from more stringent economic and social limitations—and if we have given ourselves over to worldliness, we want prophets and high-priests who will make us comfortable and acceptable.
We of the Fellowship need to re-dedicate ourselves to the simple, basic truth that our life is hid with Christ in God, and that our every act ought to be Christian in its conception and execution. This must be attempted out of the conviction that the man who has the Word has all, and he who has “the world” without the Word has nothing. For the Word of God is His revelation in Jesus Christ. To have the Word is to be possessed by God, to seize hold of Him as those who have been seized by Him, and for His sake to be heir of all things. This is what our Lord meant when He said, “Hang on with all your might, and you shall earn your life” (Luke 21:19)
This was said to men of whom the Lord knew that they would in many instances lose their lives in the great work of preserving His Word. In spite of this, our Lord declares that it is not death but life which comes to them who dare to take on the task of Christian perseverance in the confession of Jesus Christ. Again: there seem to be two possibilities. We can save our lives by keeping quiet, by turning our attention to matters of professional and personal self-preservation, by getting out of this costly, difficult business of trying to fashion a Reformed witness by means of the printed page and the lecture platform. Or we can go on to take our chances with the Truth as we see it, and to believe that we have a message and a task in our time in the place where we have been set.
The real question here is; From whom do you expect your life? If you expect it from the world, you will lose it, for God alone is Lord of life.
If you expect it from God through Jesus Christ you will gain it, for He is Creator and His Son is the Resurrected Savior.
With this I would approach the situation as I see it before me today. Here are just a few simple observations and questions—more suggestive than exhaustive, more practical than theoretical.
As I have attempted to indicate earlier, the awareness of a divinely-intended antithetical struggle in history between Christ and Antichrist is neither keen nor deep in our time. This must affect every aspect of the service of God’s people as we know it and love it. The real welfare and the actual existence of many of our Christian institutions and Christian organizations is threatened by this indifference, and all who truly love these “Kingdom causes” might do well to be concerned.
In my experience I have been given to wonder as to whether the very idea of “the Kingdom of God” has not undergone very basic revision in the minds of more than a few among us. I think that we have worked in the past with the truly Biblical notion that the life which we are living and the world in which we are so engaged is now by virtue of the resurrection actually the domain of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But I have heard voices and sentiments which seem to proclaim that the Kingdom is “spiritual,” and that schools, places of business, homes and families, political parties and labor unions cannot by virtue of their historical, practical character be identified with the Kingdom of God. This justifies, of course, that devastating dichotomy of the spiritual and the natural, rendering them as two separate and essentially unrelated realities.
The consequences here are serious. The demand of the Word for the Christian to lay claim to all spheres of life as the rightful domain of Jesus Christ is virtually nullified. This reduces Christian schools to merely private institutions preferred by certain Christians for private reasons, to draw one example. Is there any warrant in history for believing that such institutions as our Reformed, Christian schools can exist upon the basis of such thinking?
In the more immediate area of Christian doctrine let me say: the high view of a living Word and an infallible Bible may not quite be dead, but its validity does not seem to make much difference. Isn’t this to be seen in the fact that a different emphasis appears to be prevalent in current preaching? Isn’t the emphasis today on the Christian life pretty much the same as the modernist pulpit once also expressed itself? Haven’t methods and patterns and styles of preaching been adopted uncritically by many in imitation of a leadership which never did hold to an exalted view of Scripture?
To what extent are people of the Reformed community aware of and committed to the Reformed Faith? How do they relate to the historical battles this Truth has so valiantly fought, and what is their appreciation of the issues so drawn? Is there appreciation for and devotion to the particular doctrines of the Reformed churches? Isn’t it quite true that we dare not assert that these doctrines are essential to the Christian Faith, so that when we define that which is truly Christian we relegate total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints to an inferior, non-essential position?
And what about the Church? Is the cohesion and unity of the Christian Reformed Church as pronounced as it onCe seems to have been? Is it not crumbling into a more typically American pattern of individualistic, even anarchistic congregationalism?
Is the voice of the Church with respect to the very concrete problems of society and morality clear and loud? Having lost our zest for “taking a stand” against movie attendance, social dancing, card-playing, etc., have we not really given up almost completely with respect to the prophetic task of applying God’s Word to the problems and calamities today’s apostate Church and wicked world create? Isn’t there a greater preoccupation with “community problems” as defined, say, by the typical American service club, rather than the development of the distinctive, spiritually experiential and antithetical life of the people of God?
Is the church’s bold on its youth strong? Is what the church stands for clear and certain in the minds of our youth? Aren’t church boundaries jumped with impunity? What about respect for the offices of elder and deacon? Isn’t the real purpose of the Church taken as narrowly and fundamentalistically evangelical at best, or as moralistically and socially helpful at worst? Does the pulpit, especially to the mind of those who have benefitted most extensively from our Christian education program, appear to have a genuine authority?
Facing a barrage of such questions might make us uneasy!
But, we may not be dismayed!
Vole must persevere, also as an organization of people committed to the Reformed Faith and interested in the distribution of materials suitable for its defense and propagation. Let us go on to publish TORCH AND TRUMPET as best we can. Let us continue to invite all who are concerned with the welfare of this cause to join in this effort. Let us believe that the Word of our Lord’s perseverance is indeed all that we really need!
We shall persevere…counting on the support and interest of our many members and friends…
counting on the advice and counsel especially of those more experienced and seasoned stalwarts in fellowship with us…
counting on our trustees and our editorial committee and our managing editor to give guidance and to show the needed devotion and wisdom…
counting above all on God, for our help is in the Name of Jahweh, maker of heaven and earth.