“Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease?” asked Isaac Watts many years ago. Well, nowadays that seems to be exactly what we expect Christian life to be like. Is it any wonder that so many folks find Christian life to be boring and unfulfilling?
Jesus didn’t promise “flow’ry beds of ease,” He promised tribulation. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The cross is not a fashion accessory, it is an instrument of death.
Christian life is warfare. Our enemies are not other people, but the spirits, thoughts, ideas, and temptations that appeal to the baser lusts of our humanness. The Apostle Peter said: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11)
The Apostle Paul wrote: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12); and: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
The Apostle John wrote: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13).
In the days when an outward form of Christianity allied itself with the temporal powers, it was tantamount to a death sentence to be ordained a minister of the Anabaptist faith. Tennis van Haustelraed, a minister of the gospel, was “apprehended and imprisoned in the city of Gimmick in the province of Jueelick, where he had many a severe contest with many subtle and shrewd spirits, and had to suffer many torments for his faith. The controversy was principally about infant baptism and the sacraments, in which he did not agree with the papists. And as he could not be overcome or moved by them, but adhered firmly to the truth, he was finally condemned to be burned. They led him out of the city into the open field and there burned him to ashes, about the year 1550.”
While in prison, he addressed a letter to his fellow believers, part of which is as follows:
“If you are righteous, become still more righteous; for believe me, you will need it all. O all ye members of Christ together, I beseech you, wake up now, that you may not sleep when the Bridegroom comes.
“O dear brethren, have compassion on the poor, and comfort and assist them. I have nearly fought the fight, and my course will soon be finished; God grant that I may keep the faith and the crown of life will be prepared for me.” (Martyrs Mirror, pages 495-496)
Isaac Watts, who lived nearly 300 years ago, seems to have had a more realistic grasp of the true nature of Christian life than many Christian song writers of our day. Here is the full text of the hymn from which a line was cited at the beginning of this post.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To lead me on to God?
Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, tho’ they die:
They view the triumph from afar,
And seize it with their eye.
When that illustrious day shall rise
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of vict’ry through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.