Following up on my caution in the last post about a possible coming time of persecution for orthodox Christianity in America, I would like to share with you some words from the great Puritan preacher John Owen on how we should go about “bear[ing] the reproach [Christ] endured” (Hebrews 13.13).
These statements come from an excellent book I received concerning Owen’s views on the ordinance of communion entitled John Owen on the Lord’s Supper (which contains Owen’s posthumous work Twenty-five Discourses Suitable to the Lord’s Supper). In his twelfth discourse Owen discusses that the ordinance of communion demonstrates to us how we are to be conformed unto Christ’s death, and one of the facets of this that Owen illuminates is by our being conformed unto the means of Christ’s death which was by suffering. Thus Owen says,
There are four things required, that we may be conformable unto the death of Christ in suffering . . .
- The first in, that we suffer for Christ, 1 Peter 4.15-16 . . . . To suffer as a Christian is to suffer for Christ, – for the name of Christ, for the truths of Christ, for the ways of Christ, for the worship of Christ.
- It is required that we suffer in the strength of Christ; – that we do not suffer in the strength of our own will, our own reason, our own resolutions; but that we suffer, I say, in the strength of Christ. . . .
- It is required that we suffer in imitation of Christ, making him our example. We are not to take up the cross but with design to follow Christ. ‘Take up the cross,’ is but half the command; ‘Take up the cross, and follow me,’ is the whole command [Matthew 16.24] . . .
- We are to suffer to the glory of Christ.
[John Owen on the Lord's Supper, pp.183-4]
These are not meant to necessarily be words of comfort, but more so words of encouragement. In Owen’s time he himself was an outlaw Christian, a nonconformist in the days when conformity to the Church of England was required. He saw a loss of his own political power for not supporting the state sanctioned church and the dwindling and imprisonment of many of his fellow nonconformist due to the harshness of British law against them.
Therefore, in the spirit of Owen and others who came before us, we must stand strong in nonconformity to the unwritten laws of our day: to tolerance at the cost of integrity; to inclusiveness at the cost of God’s glory; to personal acceptance, fame, and maybe even freedom at the cost of “contend[ing] for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
This is going to get uglier before (if ever) it gets better, so taking in the words of someone who lived in persecution himself, and who communed with God as devoutly as any man of his generation, can only serve to benefit us, who likely have a very underdeveloped doctrine of suffering to begin with. We must see the truths in the practice to which we are called, of conformity unto Christ’s sufferings, and learn how to give God supreme and sole glory in all the persecution that we may come to endure.