Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Martyrs Mirror


Pastor Harvey* was immediately hired by another congregation of the same denomination. The young people followed and so did we. This church was the same distance from our home, but out in the country on gravel roads. Before long there was a baptism service for several of the youth and for Chris and me.

Now we were officially Mennonites.  It wasn’t long before I began to wonder how Mennonite these people really were. There were copies of the Martyrs Mirror and The Complete Writings of Menno Simons in the church library. It wasn’t clear to me why, as no one seemed familiar with them, or even mildly interested in becoming familiar. No one seemed concerned whether this church still held to the faith described in those books.

Business at the grain elevator had increased substantially over the past couple years, more and mre farmers were switching their grain deliveries to my elevator. My decision to just stick it out had been vindicated. But now I was spending more and more time in the grain dust while unloading trucks and loading grain cars. And my respiratory allergies were becoming more and more of a problem.

Finally, I decided I couldn’t keep on and began casting about for another way to make a living. There was an opportunity to become a life insurance agent, so I resigned my job with United Grain Growers and signed on with Mutual Life of Canada.

This involved a move from the company owned house to an apartment in Carman. Then I went through the training sessions, wrote the exam and passed it.

About this time we took a trip back to Moose Jaw for a few days. Michelle was an active and happy little girl, walking and beginning to say a few words. Grandma was happy to have her spend a littlke time with them.

One evening Chris and I went bowling  with my cousins Dennis and Ted and their wives. My cousins freely shared their convictions that term life insurance was the only type worth having. Whole life insurance plans, the type that includes a savings portion and pays the largest commission to the one selling them, were just a scam according to them.

Well, that really gave me something to think about. I had done a good job as a salesman at the grain elevator, selling farm input products. But I knew that I would never be able to sell something if I was not fully convinced that it was a good deal for the buyer. Maybe I wasn’t the type of person who could succeed at selling life insurance. What should I do?

I didn’t have long to wonder. A fefw days after we got home there was a meeting at the Mutual Life of Canada office in Winnipeg. The meeting was brief and to the point: the district manager who had hired me was being fired. Along with him went the last two people he had hired. That included me. What now?

Chris got a job as a waitress at the restaurant a block from our apartment, but that wasn’t going to keep us going. We spent an evening talking over our situation and considering if there were any options to find our way out of this bind.

I knew that Dennis was farming around 2,000 acres and it would soon be seeding time. As far as I knew he didn’t have any help lined up. I also knew that the house on one farm that he had bought was now empty. That seemed like a possibility worth pursuing. By that time it was late and we went to bed planning to call him the next morning.

Why isn’t this happening today?

A.D. 1199.— It is stated that at this time the Albigenses, who were one church with the Waldenses, had so increased in the earldom of Toulouse, that, as the papists complained, “almost a thousand cities were polluted with them.”

With this the lord of St. Aldegonde concurs, when he says: “That notwithstanding Peter de Bruis was burnt as a heretic at St. Gilles, near Nimes, the doctrine nevertheless was spread throughout the province of  Gascony, into the earldom of Fois, Querci, Agenois, Bourdeloicx, and almost throughout all Languedoc, and the earldom of Jugrane, now called Venice. In Provence also this doctrine was almost universally accepted, and the cities, Cahors, Narbonne, Carcasonne, Rhodes, Aix la Chapelle, Mesieres, Toulouse, Avignon, Mantauban, S. Antonin, Puflarens, and the country of Bigorre were filled with it, together with many other cities which were favourable to them, as Tarascon, Marseilles, Perces, Agenois, Marmande, and Bordeaux; whereby this doctrine spred still further, from the one side into Spain and England, from the other into Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Moravia, Dalmatia, and even into Italy.

“Indeed, in such a manner did this doctrine spread that however sedulously the popes and all their minions exerted themselves, aided by the princes and secular magistrates, to exterminate them, first by disputations, then by banishment and papal excommunication and anathemas, proclaiming of crusades, indulgences and pardons to all who would commit violence upon them, and finally by all manner of tortures, fires, gallows, and cruel bloodshedding, yea, in such a manner that the whole world was in commotion on account of it; yet they (the papists) could not prevent the ashes from flying abroad, and becoming scattered far and wide, almost even to all the ends of the earth.”

The above seems marvellous, but it is not marvellous with regard to the Lord God, with whom nothing is wonderful or impossible. In the meantime, we see how God permitted this grain of mustard seed of the Waldenses, or Poor Men of Lyons, to grow up a large tree, and this in the midst of their persecutions. Oh, the great power, wisdom, and love of God, who never forsakes His people!

-The Martyrs Mirror, page 290

One God, two kingdoms

In 1660 AD, Thieleman J van Bright, a deacon of the Mennonite church in Holland, published the result of his exhaustive historical research of the beliefs and the persecutions of faithful Christians from the time of Christ up to the date of publication. This book, the Martyrs Mirror, runs to more than 1100 pages and consists mostly of quotations from official records and the writings of the martyrs themselves. This is the best record of our Anabaptist heritage.

In the early years, the persecutors were the pagan Roman authorities. When the Roman Catholic Church became the state church of the Roman Empire it spared no effort to root out and destroy the true believers.

I realize that it is a bold statement to say that the true believers were the Anabaptists and not the members of the Roman Catholic Church. Consider then some of the points of difference. The Roman Catholic Church taught that all people in the Empire must be compelled to be members of the state church. The Anabaptists taught that church membership must be preceded by faith and that the New Testament does not permit force or coercion in matters of faith. The Roman Catholic Church taught that those who did not bow to her authority must be turned over to the civil authority to be tortured until they recanted, and put to death if they did not recant. The Anabaptists taught the way of peace and love and turning the other cheek, refusing to take up weapons to defend themselves.

The Roman Catholic church defended its zeal in persecuting the Anabaptists by labelling them as Manicheans, or dualists. There were Manicheans in many places, people who believed that there were two spiritual forces in the world, of equal power. They identified the Creator God of the Old Testament as the evil god and taught that the good god of the New Testament was someone different. It should be obvious that such people did not base these beliefs on an actual reading to the Holy Scriptures. They were mixing the teachings of Zoroaster with a superficial understanding of Christianity.

The Roman Catholic Church endeavoured to destroy all the records of the persecuted churches so that only the Catholic version of their history would ever be known. Yet enough has survived to show that these persecuted believers were faithful students of the Bible and added nothing to the teachings of the Word of God.

I don’t believe that it is in any way a stretch to say that the real point of contention was that Anabaptists taught that the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world are different and separate. Civil government is necessary and ordained of God. Christians should be subject to every ordinance of the civil authority, except when there is a conflict with their faith. But it is not for Christians to participate in the civil government with its necessary use of force and coercion to maintain order in society.

This struck at the very root of the existence of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution working hand in hand with secular authorities, at times exercising authority of emperors and kings and using the sword of the secular authority to eradicate all dissent from the authority of the church.

This union of Emperor and Pope was routinely denounced by the Anabaptists for being contrary to Scripture. Small wonder the popes seized upon dualism as a handy accusation to use against their opponents.

The Reformed and Lutheran churches, being state churches at the beginning, found themselves compelled to use the same tactics against the Anabaptists. All these churches admitted freely that the Anabaptists led much more pious and holy lives than their own members. Luther once admitted that Lutherans were “well nigh heathen under the name of Christian.” The mere existence of the Anabaptists was a constant reproach to them, and a powerful attraction to the sincere seekers after true Christian faith who were dismayed at the spiritual and moral state of members of the state churches.

There are sincere Christians in our day who believe that Christians must engage in politics in order to set things right in our society. Look around, how much have Christians in public office been able to do to stem the flood of anti-Christian propaganda and lawmaking?

Our society will never be turned around by top down political manoeuvring, no matter how well intentioned. The only hope for our society is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of individuals. What is needed are individuals who are fully surrendered to the will of God, cost what it may, and who have no earthly ambitions whatsoever.

True Christianity is neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

Well, they had to call them something, didn’t they?  Some of them had once been Jews, but that label didn’t really fit anymore.   Others had been pagans, probably worshippers of Apollo and others of the Greek gods.  That label didn’t work for them anymore.  What these disciples had in common was their faith in God and His salvation revealed in Jesus Christ.   Therefore, a new label was created for them, and it fit.

It would be wonderful if things were still that simple.  But the Christian label is used by so many people in so many different ways that it might confuse people more than enlighten them were I to simply call myself a Christian.

The Roman Catholic Church had its beginning a few centuries into the Christian era when the bishop of Rome claimed the oversight of all Christian churches.  Not all churches believed that this was a good thing, or even a Christian thing.  These dissenters from the rule of the bishop of Rome were called by various names, including anabaptists, in various times and places.  The Roman church attempted to wipe them out and invented many scurrilous stories about their beliefs and practices.

More than a millennium later, a protest movement arose in the Roman Catholic Church, leading to the formation of churches known as Protestant: Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed.  These new churches were not in agreement with each other, but they all adopted the old Roman practice of trying to wipe out any other form of worship within the territories that they controlled.

The label of Anabaptist has been applied down through the centuries to those Christians who strove to maintain a living faith apart from the persecuting churches.   I accept this label, even though it does not fully describe the faith of those who have been, and still are, identified as Anabaptists,  The word means “re-baptizers” and was used because the Anabaptists did not accept the baptism of those who were baptized in other churches.  The reason for this was that the other churches were baptizing babies and others who had not come to a genuine faith in God and of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.

I like what Paul Lederach writes in A Third Way: “Baptism is the tool for gathering a redeemed society, a society of pilgrims separated from the evil of the unregenerated world;” and “Baptism is the symbol of discontinuity with the world.  At baptism one breaks with the past and commits oneself to Jesus Christ and to His people.”¹

In his introduction to the Martyrs Mirror, Thieleman van Braght explained the plan of the book in this way:

“We have chosen holy baptism in preference to any other article of the Christian and evangelical religion

“1. Because it is the only sign and proof of incorporation into the visible Christian church, without which no one, whoever he be, or whatever he may profess, or how separated and pious a life he may lead, can be recognized as a true member of the Christian church. This is fully, yet without controversy, shown and confirmed in the following history.

“2. Because it is, beyond contradiction, the only article on account of which others call us Anabaptists. For, since all other so-called Christians have, yet without true foundation, this in common that they baptize infants; while with us the baptism only which is accompanied by faith and a penitent life, according to the word of God, is administered, to adults; it follows, that with us such persons are baptized who have received baptism in their childhood, without faith and repentance; who, when they believe and repent, are again, or at least truly baptized with us; because with us their previous baptism, being without true foundation, and without the word of God, is not considered baptism at all.

“3. Because the imperial decrees (when some so-called Christians began to tyrannize) in the days of Theodosius and Honorius, A. D. 413, were issued and proclaimed everywhere expressly against the Anabaptists and those who were rebaptized; namely against such who maintained the aforementioned article, as the Anabaptists of today do; which was also the case in the last persecution, during the reign of Emperor Charles V., more than eleven centuries afterwards, A. D. 1535; when all who, having been baptized in infancy, had been rebaptized upon their faith and repentance; or who maintained these views, were punished with a severe death, as may be seen in our account of baptism, and of the martyrs, for the years 413 and 1535.”²

It matters little whether I like the Anabaptist label or not; or whether it is the best description of my faith.  What matters is that it has been associated for 1600 years with people who have kept themselves separate from those who profess a compromised Christian faith.

This is not to condemn everything about Catholicism and Protestantism.  There is much that is sound and admirable in both faith traditions.  Yet the baptism of unbelievers and the use of force to propagate those faiths are compromises that should be unacceptable to all true believers.

¹  A Third Way, page 82, Paul M Lederach, © 1980 by Herald Press

²  Martyrs Mirror, page 16, compiled by Thieleman  J van Braght, 1660


A light shining in the darkness

In 1671 there arose a severe persecution of the Mennonites in Switzerland, causing many to flee the country.  Brethren in the Netherlands came to their aid and gave them refuge.  In all, about 700 persons, among them some very aged, fled Switzerland.  They were destitute, their lands and properties having been seized by the Swiss authorities.

Some of the leaders, however, delayed leaving Switzerland for a period of time.  When asked the reason, this was their reply:

“They say that the churches greatly waxed and increased, so that though under the cross, they nevertheless flourished as a rose among thorns, and that further increase could daily be expected, because many persons manifested themselves, who saw the light shine out of darkness, and began to love the same and seek after it; that the ministers considering this in their heart, found themselves loath to leave the country, fearing that thereby this promising harvest may be lost, and thus many fall back from their good purpose; and hence they chose rather to suffer a little than to leave, in order that they might yet rescue some souls from perdition, and bring them to Christ.”*

About twenty years later, many of these Swiss Mennonite refugees and their children left the Netherlands to cross the ocean and settle in Pennsylvania, thus beginning the history of the Mennonites in North America.

*This paragraph comes from material added to the second edition of the Martyrs Mirror.

Circling the wagons is not an option

The Western movies of my boyhood often contained a scene where Indians attacked a wagon train of settlers.  The settlers would draw their wagons onto a circle to form a protective wall, then try to fend off the attackers with rifle fire.  This would go on until the ammunition was gone and their doom appeared to be near.  Then they would hear the faint sound of a bugle over the tumult and soon the U. S. Cavalry would come riding over the hill and the Indians would flee.

I suppose that may have actually happened a time or two in real life.  But circling the wagons is not an option for those of us who call ourselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  When Christianity becomes purely a defensive battle to hold on to what we have, we may have already lost the battle and denied the faith.

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus did not commission us to be fearful defenders of the faith; we should rather be fearless propagators of it.  He didn’t say it would be easy or without danger.  In fact, He said things such as: “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33); “ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13) and “they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:12).

We should not expect to be treated any differently than He was.  To help us face all these forbidding dangers, He has promised us the peace and the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”.  Those who try to proclaim the gospel in an offensive way, such as the pastor in Florida who keeps threatening to burn the Qur’an, or the Westboro Baptist Church, are neither wise not harmless.

The apostle Paul recounted his tribulations for the sake of the gospel in this way: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;   In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).  None of those things appear to have dampened his ardour for spreading the gospel, or to have even slowed him down.

The gospel has spread most quickly during times of persecution.  The Martyrs Mirror is a precious part of our Anabaptist heritage, detailing the faith, the victories and the persecutions of those who kept the faith.  The full title is: “The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenceless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, from the time of Christ to the year AD 1660.”

Defenceless and defensive are not the same thing.  Our spiritual forefathers did not shrink from sharing the gospel wherever there was interest, but refused to defend themselves in any way.  Can I claim to be their spiritual descendant if I refrain from acknowledging my faith in order to avoid exposure to danger?  Am I a true follower of Christ if I shrink even from ridicule?  If we collectively circle the wagons and refuse to go forward when there is a threat of danger, where is the evidence of spiritual life?  And no, sniping at the flaws in our opponents arguments is no proof of our own spirituality.

A flower that could not be burned

[The following account is found in the Martyrs Mirror, pages 420-421.  The English translation is from 1886, I have done some slight editing.]

When the believers greatly increased under persecution and the cross, there was in Bavaria a learned priest of the mass named Leonhard Keyser.  He examined the writings of Zwingli and Luther and also went to Wittenberg, where he conferred with the doctors and commemorated the Supper with them.

Having returned to Bavaria, he examined the fruits and doctrine of the Anabaptists, as well as of Zwingli and Luther, and joined himself under the cross to the separated cross-bearing church of the Anabaptists in the year 1525.  He ministered in this church with great power and zeal, undaunted by the tyranny which arose over the believers in the way of putting to death by drowning or burning.

In the second year of his ministry, Leonhard Keyser was apprehended at Scharding in Bavaria and condemned by the bishop of Passau and other priests to be burned on the Friday before St. Lawrence day, in August of that same year.

Having bound him on a cart, they took him to the fire, the priests going alongside and speaking to him in Latin.  But he, on account of the people, answered them in German; even as they had refused to speak to him in German before the court, which he had frequently requested.

When he came out into the field and was approaching the fire, bound as he was he leaned down at the side of the cart and plucked a flower.  Speaking to the judge who rode on horseback alongside of the cart, he said: “Lord judge, here I pluck a flower; if you can burn this flower and me you have justly condemned me.  But, on the other hand, if you cannot burn me and this flower in my hand, consider what you have done and repent.”

Thereupon the judge and the three executioners threw an extraordinary quantity of wood into the fire, in order to burn him immediately to ashes by the great fire.  But when the wood was entirely burnt up, his lifeless body was taken from the fire with no visible sign of injury.  Then the three executioners and their assistants built another great fire of wood, which, when it was consumed, his body still remained uninjured, only his hair and his nails were somewhat burnt brown.  When the ashes were removed, his skin was found smooth and clear, and the flower in his hand not withered or burnt in the least.

The executioners then cut his body into pieces, which they threw into a new fire.  When the wood was burnt up, the pieces lay unconsumed in the fire.  Finally, they took the pieces and threw them into the river Inn.

The judge was so terrified by this occurrence that he resigned his office and moved to another place.  His chief servant, who was with the judge and saw and heard all this, came to us in Moravia, became our brother and lived and died piously.  That it might not be forgotten, our teachers have recorded this as it came from his own lips, and now cause it to be promulgated and made known.

Eternal security or insecurity?

Evangelicals of the present day are being taught a doctrine of eternal security, but most are not aware of the dubious foundation and history of this doctrine. Here is how it all began.

In 312 AD Constantine was facing a battle with a rival whose army was twice the size of Constantine’s.  The story goes that the night before the battle Constantine had a dream or a vision of the cross and the words “In this sign conquer.”  The next day he went into battle with the sign of the cross on the shields and standards of his army, and routed his rival.  Thus began the transition of the early church from a body of born-again believers to a state religion.

In 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, granting freedom of religion to Christians in his empire.  In 317 he mediated a dispute between the Donatist church and the Roman church and issued an edict confiscating all the religious property of the Donatists and deposing their religious leaders.  In 325 he summoned the leaders of the Roman church to the Council of Nicaea to establish doctrinal standards for the church.

Constantine favoured Christianity as a means of bringing stability to the Roman Empire, therefore he watched over the church to guide it in the direction he desired.  He died in 337 AD and the Roman Catholic church, the only permitted form of Christianity under Constantine, went on to establish its authority over the Empire, requiring all citizens to be baptized into the church in infancy.

This was contrary to the apostolic faith and required a man of genius to establish a doctrinal foundation to justify the establishment of a state religion form of Chrisitanity.  This man was Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD.  Augustine was the first to speak of an invisible church, that true Christians are an invisible body known only to God, and no one can know who among the members of the visible church are genuine Christians.

The doctrine of a just war originates with Augustine, also the doctrine that the church has a right to compel people within its territory to be baptized and to prevent them by force from leaving the church.

It was found necessary to develop a new doctrine of the means by which Jesus obtained forgiveness of sins for fallen man.  The Biblical doctrine that He was the second Adam, the Son of God from heaven and the spotless Lamb of God whose sacrifice atoned for our sins was replaced.  The new teaching was that Jesus was one part the son of Mary and one part the Son of God and that it was the son of Mary who died on the cross, then descended into hell and suffered unbelievable torments equivalent to the eternal punishment of all who would ever be saved.  It was at this time that the phrase “descended into hell” was added to the Apostles’ Creed.  The version of the Apostles’ Creed found in the Martyrs Mirror is the original version, lacking this phrase.  Thus the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is based on the belief that Christ has already borne the punishment due to the elect, so there is no way they can ever face damnation.

Augustine taught that God had predestined before the beginning of time those who should be saved and those who should be lost.  The elect were then called by Irresistible Grace, by which they could not refuse the call to salvation.  And to these God granted perseverance, the grace to remain saved throughout their life.  This doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, originating with Augustine, is the basis of the doctrine of eternal security, or once saved, always saved.

Augustine also taught the perpetual virginity of Mary.  This is why many commentators have a problem declaring that James, Jude and Joses were the natural sons of Joseph and Mary and try to develop alternate explanations of who they might be.

Augustine also taught that the sacraments are a means of grace and that they are a means of grace even if the priest administering them is a known sinner.

John Calvin was a follower of Augustine, he strove to reform the church by emphasizing the doctrines first taught by Augustine.  The followers of Calvin are not only found in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, but also in the Southern Baptists, and other Baptist and evangelical denominations.  Churches vary in how strongly they teach Calvinism, but the most straightforward teaching is five point Calvinism, encapsulated in the TULIP formula:
T – Total depravity, man is so completely depraved that he has no ability to choose to be saved.
U – Unconditional election, salvation is not dependent on the conduct of the one who is saved.
L – Limited Atonement, Christ died only for those predestined to be saved.
I – Irresistible grace, man has no power to refuse the call to salvation.
P – Perseverance of the saints, those who are predestined to salvation can never be lost.

Many sincere Christians today believe that a person who has once given his heart to the Lord can never again be lost.  If one approaches the Bible with a predetermined belief that it teaches the unconditional eternal security of believers, it is possible to select verses to support this view, but such an interpretation is not apparent if one takes an unbiased approach to the Bible as a whole.

Proponents of this view are forced into a corner when trying to explain real life examples of those who have led overcoming Christian lives for years and then made choices that led them away from God.  Such people were never truly saved in the first place, they maintain.  If that would be the case, on what basis can anyone know that they are saved?  It appears to me that people who say such things have chosen a doctrine of eternal insecurity.

The Essence of Pietism

Pietism has appeared in so many forms over the years, from the extreme asceticism of the hermit monks to the ecstatic antinomianism of some segments of the charismatic movement.  The common thread running through all aspects of pietism is the conviction that I have attained to a level of spiritually and communion with God that is not shared by the common run of professing Christians around me.  Such a person tends to feel that his personal piety is the ultimate expression of Christian faith.  He may conform to the outward practices of a church for the sake of avoiding censure or persecution, but he does not feel in any way bound to give account of his faith and life to other Christians.

The label of pietism was first applied to certain members of the Lutheran Church, beginning in the seventeenth century.  These were people with a heartfelt devotion to God, professing to have received forgiveness of sins through a conversion experience that warmed their hearts and led them to a deeper communion with God.  They remained in outward fellowship with the Lutheran Church, attending worship services regularly, receiving communion, and baptizing their babies, but sought fellowship in private gatherings with like-minded people to testify of what God had done for them.

Similar groups existed within the Roman Catholic Church, where they were called Quietists, and in other churches.  They maintained their inward piety along with their outward conformity to the established churches to avoid persecution.  I cannot prove this, but I believe that the motto of being “the quiet in the land” was first used among these groups of pietists.

Throughout Christian history, there has always been a united, visible body of believers who professed much the same faith regarding conversion and a personal relationship with God but who refused to conform to the state enforced form of worship of their day.  The Martyrs’ Mirror, published in 1660, catalogues the persecution of these people from the time of the apostles up to the time of publication.

The reluctance of the pietists to unite with the persecuted church may have saved much physical suffering.  However, the result has been a tendency to interpret the Bible in the light of one’s own experience, rather than subjecting one’s experiences to the light of the Scripture.  This individualistic approach is very evident in the wide variety of pietistic faith in modern times.

This is war

“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.

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