By Pastor Glenn Pease
William Lloyd Garrison was born in 1805 and when he became a man he had the audacity to think he could remove a mountain and altar the flow the river of history. Slavery was that mountain, and what a mountain it was. Slavery had existed from the dawn of civilization, and it was one of the most firmly rooted institutions in human history. The great empires of Egypt, Greece, and Rome were built on slave labor. The then English speaking world accepted it as normal and essential. The blessing of the church was upon it. In 1713 the Peace of Trecht was signed which gave England a monopoly on the West African slave trade. The treaty was celebrated in St. Paul's Cathedral where they sang a special hymn written for the occasion by the Christian composer Handel.
Slavery was likewise entrenched in America. In 1835 the governor of South Carolina declared, "Slavery is the cornerstone of our Republican ediface. Destroy slavery and you put a stop to all progress." A professor at Yale University said, "If Jesus Christ were now on earth, he would, under certain conditions, be a slave holder." Most all men of prominence had slaves, including the president and the members of the Supreme Court. The law honored it, the church blessed it, and practically everyone defended it. It was a mountain of gigantic proportions, and who could dare be so presumptuous as to think they could dent it let alone remove it?
Only a man who took Jesus very literally when He said that faith is a grain of mustard seed could remove mountains would even attempt. Garrison was that man. It was as if David took on, not just Goliath, but a whole army of Philistine giants. Garrison was laughed to scorn as if he was a fool of the first class. He became the most hated man of his time. He was ostracized and burned in effigy. He was denounced from every corner of society. Nevertheless he believed God would help him win, and the Bible was the hammer he used to pound away at the mountain of slavery.
Norman Vincent Peale, who writes of this great battle in his book You Can Win says of Garrison, "He brought down his battle hammer and a faint tingle was heard. The people laughed and booed and sneered. But Garrison brought it down again and again. Blow after blow fell until his little hammer became a great sledge, the reverberations of which could be heard throughout the land. As he beat with his faith upon the mountain, a crack began to show. It widened until the people shouted with a mighty voice, "Look, the mountain is breaking!"
Almost beyond belief is the historical fact that 58 years after the birth of Garrison slavery was outlawed forever in the United States. Jesus said that those who followed Him would do greater things even than He did, and history is filled with examples of the fulfillment of that prophecy. Faith can remove mountains, but only by persevering, persistent, never ending steady pounding. That is why Peter wants Christians to add to their self-control, patience, or as it is better translated steadfastness or endurance. It refers to that quality of character that keeps on keeping on regardless of the cost, obstacles, and opposition. Garrison could have been bold, wise, and under control, and still have been a total flop had he given up. All the other virtues are of no avail if one lacks endurance and persistence. It is the holding on when letting go is so tempting that wins the battle. It is he who endures to the end that shall be saved, and that is what Peter has in mind here.
He wants us to make our calling and election sure, and he wants us to be fruitful Christians. The whole New Testament stresses that these goals are only reached through perseverance. Now you might get confused by all the different words used to describe this basic and powerful virtue, but the Arndt and Gingrich Greek Lexicon says that all five of these English words are in the Greek word hupomone-patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, and perseverance.
These words indicate that the weapon we are now considering is valuable in both defensive and offensive warfare. The words like endurance and fortitude give us a picture of making a stand and holding your ground against every attack of the enemy. The word perseverance conveys the picture of marching into enemy territory and forcing the foe to retreat before your persistent and progressive power. Both are essential for victory, and both were clearly evident in Garrison as he stood fast and marched forward. Let's look further at-
I. THE STANDING FAST ASPECT.
Paul said to put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Without this weapon of endurance we will not stand but fall wounded from his fiery darts of affliction. Self-control is the holding back of our desires so that they do not lead us off the narrow path, but endurance is the power to avoid being pushed off the path by external forces. Self-control will keep you from hurting others, but it will not keep others from hurting you, and so you need the weapon of endurance.
Jesus makes it clear that you cannot survive without it. In Luke 21 He tells of great persecution to come, and of how one's own family and friends will oppose them, and all men will hate them for His name's sake. Then in verse 19 He says, "By your hupomone (the same word Peter used)-by your endurance you will gain your lives." A steadfast unwavering loyalty to Christ is the only safe ground for Christians under attack. If they flea from this refuge, they will fall into the snare of the enemy. This is one of the most obvious facts of the New Testament strategy for Christian warfare. Looked at properly, persecution provides the necessary training to learn the discipline of endurance. If you never have any obstacles or opposition, and never have to suffer for your faith, there is nothing to endure. There is no ground to hold fast, and there is stress on the muscles of the soul, and the result is spiritual weakness.
Only as we see this, the trials are like boot camp getting us into shape for marching on to victory over the enemy, can we make any sense out of passages like James 1:2-3. "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." Steadfastness is again the Greek word hupomone. We have to add this to our equipment to be a stable and fruitful Christian, and since it can only be produced by facing trials, therefore, we must rejoice in trials, for they are helping to prepare us to be better soldiers of the cross.
Rejoice in boot camp training. Sure it is miserable and rough, but it is the means by which you prepare to conquer, and it will save your life. Spiritual warfare is like physical warfare. All the glorying in tribulation in the New Testament makes sense when we see this. We need to grasp the reality of spiritual warfare, and the need for training and discipline in order to gain the victory. The undisciplined army will break up into chaos when the enemy attacks with a well organized force. The church loses its grip on society and is forced to retreat before the highly organized secular forces because Christians are undisciplined, and they do not know how to hold their ground. Many old battles have to be won all over again because Christians failed to stand fast.
Paul rejoiced because the Thessalonian church was filled with Christians who had hupomone-steadfast endurance. In II Thess. he writes, "Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions, and in the afflictions which you are enduring." Here is a general commending his troops for a job well done on the battlefield. They were holding their ground in the face of vicious enemy attacks.
Hold on and stand fast! That is the command of Christ, and of all his generals, to the Christian soldiers on the battlefield of life. This is a virtue so obviously essential that it is universally recognized. Endurance under pressure has always been a part of greatness in any society. Ovid said, "Endure and persist; this pain will turn to your good by and by." Virgil said, "Endure and keep yourselves for days of happiness." Seneca said, "What can't be cured were best endured." In more modern times James Russell Lowell said, "Endurance is the crowning quality, and patience all the passion of great hearts." Abraham Lincoln sent this message to General Grant at the siege of Petersburgh, "Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible." Holding on is the key to victory. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote,
Stick to your aim; the mongrel's hold will slip,
But only crowbars loose the bulldog's grip.
Small as he looks, the jaw that never yields
Drags down the bellowing monarch of the fields.
The Christian soldier must have the tenacity of a bulldog, and the determination to hold on and endure to the end. Evil has made great use of this quality of character, and Christians must fight by using the weapon of endurance more effectively than the forces of evil. On Aug. 31, 1944 Hitler said to his generals, "All the coalitions in history have disintegrated sooner or later. The only thing is to wait for the right moment, no matter how hard it is." He held out right to the end until the battle raged in the streets of Berlin. He was a man of endurance. He could hold out, but the allies did that also when he had the upper hand, and they added to their standing fast aspect of endurance the second aspect that we now want to consider.
II. THE STRIVING FORTH ASPECT.
This is the idea conveyed in the word perseverance. It is not enough to stand fast and hold the fort. You have got to move out and extend the territory you control. You have to be on the offensive as well as the defensive. This is the mission of the church. We are not to be bomb shelters only, but to be the infantry on the front lines going into all the world, which is enemy territory, and claiming it for Christ. The fact that the New Testament stresses this so much makes it clear that one of the greatest problems Christians have is the problem of discouragement. Christians are tempted to give up and to say the battle is futile because the enemy is too strong. Pessimism eats out the heart of Christian faith and the body begins to die. Every person who cares about the will of God faces this battle, and they need persevering patience to come out victorious.
Billy Graham faced it in a unique way in 1949. He felt so unqualified to be a preacher of the Gospel. He knew he needed to go on to school to get better educated, but the door was open for a crusade in Los Angeles. He didn't know what to do. He knew his limitations as any honest man does. He had no gift for singing. Grady Wilson, who began the first grade with Billy Graham, and who was converted at the same meeting under Mordacai Ham, and who had been associated with him ever since, claims that Graham is the world's worst singer. He offered Billy one hundred dollars if he could sing just one stanza of any hymn all the way through.
Billy Graham as a young man felt deeply his limitations in education and talent, and as he and Grady Wilson drove to the Los Angeles crusade Graham began to weep in despair. Grady told him he had to go on. The door was open and if he did not go through it the doors may be closed in the future. They pulled off the road and prayed for several hours. Graham poured out his soul to God. He offered himself with all of his inadequacy to be God's instrument. He went on to the crusade, and from there to world wide crusades for Christ. He came close to letting go and giving up, but instead he added perseverance to faith, and went on to the great things for God.
It is no wonder that Chrysostom the great golden mouth preacher called this virtue of steadfast endurance the queen of the virtues. It has saved more saints from defeat and carried them on to success than any other single quality of character. No Christian can move through life an survive without it. Someone said that if you get up one time more than you fall, then you will make it. This is hupomone-perseverance. It is the weapon Peter demands that we add to our equipment for successful Christian living.
Jesus is Himself our great example of persevering endurance. Paul writes to the Thessalonians who were enduring persecution and says in II Thess. 3:5, "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ." Look at all He endured without giving up. Look at how He persevered in the face of enemy attack, and marched steadfastly to the cross for you, and this will encourage you to press on, no matter what, for His glory, and your own joy in victorious living.
Jesus, not only by example, but by teaching, also made it clear that this virtue of standing fast and striving forward is essential for survival and fruitful living. In the Parable of the Sower he tells of those who receive the Gospel with joy, and for awhile they believe, but then fall away under pressure. Others failed to be fruitful because the cares and riches and pleasures of life choke them out. Jesus concludes in Luke 8:15, "And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience." This patience is the same word hupomone. The Christian who lasts, and the Christian who counts, according to Christ and His Apostles, is the Christian who adds to his faith, courage, knowledge, and self-control-enduring an persevering patience. If at first you don't succeed, you are average. If at tenth you don't succeed, but keep on trying, you are the kind of rare Christian God needs to reach the world. Let us be those who obey orders and under all circumstances stand fast and strive forward.
It is frustrating when a postage stamp curls up and will not stick to the envelope. And so it is with Christians who attach themselves to some Christian service, but then quickly tire and begin to peal off. The lack sticktoitness, which is one of the most pleasing virtues to God and man. Christians who lack this virtue tend to give up before they complete things. Life is soon a cluttered workshop of unfinished projects. This leads to discouragement, and so they end up not even starting anything, for they fear all will be left undone. They escape failure by doing nothing. They are in the same category as those who never begin the Christian life for fear they can't hold out. God knows the tendency of the human heart, and that is why both Peter and Paul are constantly trying to encourage Christians to fight the tendency to give up. Paul says in Gal. 6:9, "Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart." We need to develop the attitude that come blood, sweat, and tears, I will press on. L. E. Thayer wrote,
Hang on! Cling on! No matter what they say.
Push on! Sing on! Things will come your way;
Sitting down and whining never helps a bit;
Best way to get there is by keeping up your grit.
The average Christian who persists will do more for God and the cause of Christ than the big shot who is only a bright burning meteor passing through, but soon to be burned out. You know if you had your choice of what to read by, you would take the candle rather than the streak of lightening. It is not the greatness of what we do for Christ, but the persistence with which we pursue it that pleases Him, and pays off in fruit. It takes time to grow solid wood. Rapid growing wood is soft. It takes many a hard winter before you get a mighty oak. It takes time and the overcoming of many trials to be a strong soldier of Christ. Perseverance, therefore, if an absolute essential to the Christian who wants to mature and be truly like Christ.
The Christian who wins the battle is the Christian who fails often, but who keeps on going. He has tried to be a Bible student, he has tried to be a prayer warrior, he has tried to witness, and in each case he has been a failure. Nevertheless, if he keeps on keeping on, and tries again and again, he is on the march toward the goal. The disciples fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus said to them to throw the net once more on the other side. It was in the same old place where they had failed, but Jesus said try again. They obeyed and learned the importance of persistence, for in that final attempt they were exceedingly successful. Your biggest victories can come in the very place where you have suffered your gloomiest failures if you are willing to persist and try again.