by Wilhelmus à Brakel
My beloved brothers, from whom the luster of glory emanates, permit me to encourage you to be valiant and steadfast. If you are not in need of such encouragement, being sustained by the Spirit of liberty Himself, having striven valiantly until now, it is nevertheless my duty and inclination to share with you what the Lord has granted me. Permit me therefore to show my love to you, so that I may hear in the Day of Judgment, ― "I was in prison, and ye came unto Me." (Matt 25:36)
First, consider the examples of so many thousands of martyrs who, striving uprightly, have received the crown of glory and who are now triumphant in heaven. It is God‘s way throughout all ages to call some to be blood witnesses in order that the Lord Jesus may be glorified, the world be brought under conviction, and the church be strengthened. If I may understand something about the Revelation of John, it appears to me that the fourth vial is now being poured out and that the fifth vial is about to be poured out upon the throne of the beast (that is, Rome) which not long after that is destined to be destroyed, whereby the empire of the antichrist will be obscured. Some time subsequent to this, the beast himself will be eradicated and a glorious state for the church will follow upon this. It thus appears to me that you are among the last who have the privilege of being martyrs for Jesus. I repeat, ―among the last,‖ for I believe that the church, also in other lands, must expect persecutions—however, they will be short. Therefore do not succumb in the end, but take as an example of suffering and steadfastness all who in former times have been martyrs for Jesus‘ sake—who were persecuted, tortured, and killed by Jews, the heathen, and the antichrist for the name of Jesus. In all this, however, they remained conquerors, kept the faith, and confessed Jesus until the very end. It would be an impossible task to enumerate all their glorious testimonies, severe and lengthy suffering, valor, and faithfulness. This is not subject matter for a single letter. I shall only present the register recorded in Heb 11:35–39. ―Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith,‖ etc. Behold, such was the steadfastness of the martyrs—yes, many having too great a desire for martyrdom have imprudently offered themselves, did not hesitate to encourage the martyrs engulfed in flames, and at times would cry out, ―I am also a Christian.‖ Women would even hasten to the places where believers were gathered, having heard that the enemies were on the march to murder them all. These women would be fearful that they would come too late; they also took their children along so that they also would be privileged to become martyrs in their youth. Would you then succumb who are called to martyrdom? Will their steadfastness not stir you up to endure everything—as they did—steadfastly and resolutely for the name of Jesus? The greater the suffering, the greater will be the glory. Do as the companions of Daniel did, who would not worship the image upon the command of Nebuchadnezzar, and said to him, ―O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we shall not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up‖ (Dan 3:16–18).
Secondly, compare your suffering for a moment with eternal glory. What do you have to lose? You will say: ―Honor, possession, father, mother, children, conveniences—yes, even life.‖ And what have you to suffer? You will say, ―Hunger, cold, nakedness, stinking prisons full of abominable vermin, heavy chains, bloody labor, merciless beatings, scarcely being able to lie down to get a little sleep—and then in the end to be abused, burned, hung on the gallows, and to be eaten of dogs.‖ Know, however, that all these are but light tribulations which will readily pass. Paul refers to them as such in 2 Cor 4:17. Will recantation yield you all those desirable things again, and will recantation enable you to flee all these miseries? You yourself know that such is not the case. If by recanting you would get that wish, and you then would have an unbearably turbulent conscience which would not give you rest day nor night; and the wrath of God filled your soul with terror and anxiety and your body with painful stones, with unbearable gout, with evil sores, with painful discomfort, exhausting you to the very bone so that you would then seek death without being able to find it; or your wretched soul, having been restored to all freedom, perhaps in all luxury, would depart with the sense of hellish agony some days after you had recanted, would you then have gained anything? Be assured that as soon as you would have recanted, you will regret it, and you will wish and seek to be in that state again. By their fallen cheeks, their dejected countenance, and the pallor of death, it is to be perceived how the internal condition is of those who have denied Jesus and retained their possessions. They elevate your state a thousand times above theirs. You are now in this state and you cannot recover what has been lost. The wrath of God would pursue you if you again regained everything. The presence of your wife and children would only aggravate the distress of your soul. The avoidance of the water would be the equivalent of jumping into the fire, and all would at last end in damnation. Be assured—for experience teaches this daily—that the enemies do not believe your recantation. You would still be hated by them, for they seek after your life. Is it then not better to remain steadfast in your confession of Jesus, since you cannot gain anything by recantation? And if you could gain the whole world with it and would do injury to your soul, what would you give as a ransom for your soul? ―For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it‖ (Matt 16:25).
Place eternal glory over against all your suffering and the pleasures of the world, and you will come to the same conclusion as Paul did: ―For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us‖ (Rom 8:18). Oh, how blessed, how sweet, and how glorious it will be, regardless of what the manner of your death may be, to be ushered into heaven by the holy angels after death! Oh, how all the inhabitants of heaven will arise when they witness the triumphant entrance of a valiant champion of the faith who has overcome! How friendly will be the manner in which the Lord Jesus will welcome such a soul! What joyous hallelujahs will resound because of your victory! It exceeds our understanding. Our tongue is too weak. No eye has seen it, no ear has heard it, and it has never arisen in the heart of men what God has prepared for those who love Him—and particularly for His faithful blood– witnesses. The inheritance of the saints in glory, the immediate communion with God, the life of beholding Him, to be satisfied with the Lord‘s all–sufficiency, to be irradiated by the light of His countenance, to be embraced by His love, to be surrounded by His omnipotence, to be filled with His goodness, even to shine forth in pure holiness, to be aflame with love, to be incomprehensibly joyful in God, to be among the angels, to be in the company of the souls of the most perfectly righteous men, and while being in His immediate presence, together with them behold and experience the perfections of the Lord, and thus magnify and praise these perfections—that is felicity and that is glory. To be united with one‘s own and yet glorified body; to be conformed to the glorious body of Christ; to stand at the right hand of King Jesus in view of the entire world—particularly of those who have tortured and killed them; there, according to soul and body, to be glorified and crowned as conqueror; to be ushered into heaven by the Lord Jesus and there to eternally experience undiminished fulness of joy without end and without fear—all this is the great benefit which the Lord has laid away for all those who fear Him and put their trust in Him before the sons of men. Attentively consider the following passage: ―After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number...stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;...What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?...These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes‖ (Rev 7:9, 13–17). Now compare all your suffering and all that is glorious and delightful upon earth with this eternal and felicitous glory, and you will not be able to make a mental comparison, since the difference is too great. Would this then not cause you to rejoice in your suffering? Will this not make you courageous in the warfare in which, by the power of God, the victory is sure and the crown a certainty?
Thirdly, view the Lord Jesus from every perspective. He is so eminently glorious that it is our greatest glory to confess Him as our Lord and King. We are therefore not to be ashamed of Him. God the Father makes confession about Him by declaring from heaven, ―This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.‖ The angels bore witness to Him at His death and resurrection—yes, all angels worship Him. How boldly and joyously have all martyrs professed Him and sealed their profession with their death! Would you then be ashamed of Him? Is He not worthy of a measure of suffering? He is worthy a thousand times to be professed by you while suffering in some measure. How much good has He done for you! Out of love for you He left His glory, took upon Himself your human nature, doing so in the form of a servant, became poor so that He had nothing upon which He could lay His head, and took upon Himself your sins and put Himself in your stead as Surety. How heavy a task it was for Him to deliver you from eternal damnation, to reconcile you with God, and to lead you to glory! God‘s wrath upon sin caused Him to crawl over the earth as a worm and to wallow in His own blood—blood coming forth as sweat due to the hellish agony within His soul. He was betrayed, shackled as an evildoer, and led away captive. The ecclesiastical authorities judged Him worthy of death as a blasphemer of God, He was beaten with fists, and they spat in His blessed countenance. He was smitten in the face, and He was mocked in a most contemptuous and grievous manner. He was delivered to the Gentiles, dragged from the one court to the other, led along the streets of Jerusalem with a robe of mockery, placed on a duo with a murderer, and had His death demanded as if He were the most wicked among the people. He was scourged in a most wretched manner and crowned with a crown of thorns, which was pounded into His head with sticks. He was led outside the city while bearing His cross, and died on the cross in the greatest distress of soul while suffering the most extreme measure of scorn and pain. All this He suffered out of love for you in order to deliver you from sin and damnation. He made a good profession, namely, that He was the King and the Savior—a confession which cost Him His life. Would you now be ashamed of Him and deny Him? Would you not suffer somewhat for this loving and loveable Jesus, and not show by your suffering how dear and precious He is to you? The Father, in consequence of His suffering, bestowed this honor upon Him: ―And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father‖ (Phil 2:11). Would you then withdraw yourself from the opportunity to render Him glory? Would you, in response to all His love and goodness to glorify you, defame Him, be ashamed of Him, and deny Him? Far, far be it from anyone that this would arise in one‘s heart. Therefore let the love of Christ constrain you, and let nothing be so precious to you that you would not be willing to set it aside for Him, thus to glorify Him by way of a bold profession. Rejoice in the fact that you still have a body and a life to demonstrate thereby that you love and honor Him. Be joyful that your suffering continues somewhat longer, so that your profession should continue that much longer, and you should glorify Him for a lengthy period of time upon earth.
Fourthly, acknowledge the grace which God has manifested toward you. Others He permits to remain choked in sin, permitting them to walk on the way to destruction. However, He has bestowed the riches of His grace upon you. How wondrous are the ways by which He has drawn you to Himself! Every deed and every step is an evidence of His love. Reflect upon the entire way along which the Lord has led you since your youth. His eye remained upon you when you departed from Him. He was longsuffering when you persevered in your stubbornness. All the day He stretched forth His hands to you when you were gainsaying. He allured you, drew you with love, convinced you of your wretched state, revealed His Son to you, gave you faith whereby you received Jesus as your Surety, made you a new creature, gave you a new heart, and caused you to walk in His holy ways. How frequently has He comforted you and spoken to your heart! He enabled you to remain faithful when He called you to suffer, has sustained you hitherto, and kept you in the faith by His power. He grants you His Spirit which makes you bold and courageous, and makes you willing in the day of His power in the beauties of holiness. He gives you power when you are faint and increases your strength when you have no might. At times He causes you to behold the crown and causes you to taste how good it is to be near to God. He causes you to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of the world and addresses you as follows: ―My son, be valiant, be of good courage, and fear not, for I am with you. Be not perplexed for I am your God. I take hold of your right hand, strengthen you, and sustain you with the right hand of My righteousness. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee‖ (Isa 43:2). Will not all this divine benevolence kindle your love, so that you will say, ―I shall cleave to the Lord; He is my portion and therefore I shall hope in Him. I surrender my body and soul to Him; let Him do with them as pleases Him. May He but give me faithfulness as I presently suffer for His Name‘s sake, and may He make me steadfast to valiantly endure all that is yet to come. For nothing will befall me except it be through His hand. I look beyond my enemies, for God commands them as follows: ―Curse David, and inflict such and such upon him.‖ That—and no more—will they be able to do to me.‖ Therefore, as champions of God, be vigilant and strong, and the Lord will strengthen your heart.
Fifthly, the faithful profession of Christ and His truth is of an unspeakably great advantage for the church in general as well as for specific individuals. The church will not be eradicated by torturing and putting martyrs to death, but she is built up by it. When persecutions for the Word‘s sake come about, the church is purified, the chaff blows away, the gold is separated from the dross, the luster of the church becomes brighter, and she inspires more awe in the eyes of the world. The church is much more glorious when she is small and pure than when she is a large, mixed multitude. If in the one locality the church is eradicated due to having been thoroughly corrupted, the number of the truly godly being extremely small, and there being practically nothing left, she will raise her head in a different locality all the more gloriously. If there were as yet many godly left, their dispersement would grant them the opportunity to let their light shine in other localities. Every individual believer becomes, so to speak, a minister and establishes a little church in those localities where he resides—as occurred during the persecution of the church recorded in Acts 8:4. It is true that prospects are gloomy and will even become more gloomy. Furthermore, I believe that other churches will also be refined by persecutions. I am assured, however, from the Word of the Lord, that the antichrist will no longer have dominion in such a general sense as in the past. The Lord will preserve for Himself a portion that will persevere and not lose courage. Rather, they will remain standing as champions and battle against the antichrist with the word of their testimony until the Lord—one day, suddenly and unexpectedly—will pour out His judgments upon him and will glorify the church.
Brothers, you are the pillars of the church. You are the voice whereby the glory of the Lord Jesus is declared and your testimony resounds throughout the world. See to it, therefore, that you remain steadfast, for every eye is upon you. Thus, the enemies will not be able to rejoice, and the godly will neither be put to shame nor be grieved for your sake. Your steadfastness causes many to come to themselves, and they begin to seek after the truth of the gospel. Who knows how many children you will beget in your bonds! Those who stumble along are strengthened, and those who for fear have succumbed and recanted when the first storm arose, will, by reason of your steadfastness, become bold to reverse their recantation and by renewal to strive and suffer for the truth. Due to your steadfastness the enemy will have much more work than he had first anticipated. Maybe God, who brings forth new martyrs by the thousands, will cause your church to arise from its ashes to the remorse of her enemies. For indeed I anticipate something great from the restoration and steadfastness of such an innumerable multitude. When fire is restricted, it will burst forth all the more vehemently. If the enemy would have left alone those who by renewal united with them and would have been satisfied with their recantation, then the church in that locality would, humanly speaking, be finished. However, now there is yet hope. Behold therefore what a great matter the Lord has entrusted to you! Those who have become bold by your steadfastness would again succumb due to your cowardice and recantation. Therefore, quit yourselves as men and you will prevail with your testimony.
Sixthly, and as far as you personally are concerned, has not your martyrdom yielded you much benefit? Prior to this you lived in, or rather fell into, many sins which now do not have the least effect upon you. Perhaps some of you have been converted who were unconverted while enjoying freedom. Some of you who for fear have denied the truth now courageously endure everything. Has not your knowledge of divine truths increased and become more spiritual? Has not your heart become holier? Have not your prayers become more vehement? Do you not have more frequent and intimate communion with God? Do you not see more of God‘s friendly countenance? Do you not enjoy more comfort? Are you not able to rejoice more in the hope of glory, and has not all that is of the earth decreased in value in your eyes? And even if there come days of darkness, weakness of faith, and strife, are not your wrestlings that much stronger and does not the Lord time and again strengthen your soul? Would you be willing to exchange your condition for the crown of a king and all the luxuries of the ungodly? Observe therefore and gratefully acknowledge the grace which God bestows upon you. Oh, how precious you are in the eyes of all the godly throughout the world! How many texts are there not in the Bible which declare you blessed! Permit me to bring them to your remembrance. ―If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you‖ (1 Pet 4:14); ―Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven‖ (Matt 5:11–12). Consider Paul‘s triumphant declaration shortly before his death as a martyr: ―I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing‖ (2 Tim 4:7–8). Lift up your heads; by faith make the words of Paul your own, and emulate him by saying, ―Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God‘s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord‖ (Rom 8:33–39).
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be courageous in the battle. Do not withdraw yourself from the battle, and do not surrender one inch, for the more you capitulate, the more your enemies will exact of you. They are never satisfied. It is safer to stand firm in a matter, in which you in certain circumstances would perhaps concede, and which stand could be called impudent, than it is to concede too much. You will be more secure and avoid many snares. Your conscience will enjoy ten times more peace concerning the first than over the latter. The more courageous you are, the more the enemy will lose courage, the more you will gain in strength, and the more glorious will be your victory. Let them do with your body as they please, or rather, what God wills that they will do to you, and, with David, strengthen yourself in the LORD your God.
Possess your soul in patience—of which you are truly in need. Arm yourself against any desire for revenge even entering your heart. Yes, even if you could avenge yourself, do not do so, but be as a sheep that is dumb before her shearers. Pray for those that persecute you, and reward them good for evil. Let the Lord Jesus continually be an example for you in order that you may follow His footsteps. The weapons in our battle are not carnal, but nevertheless are strong Godward. Arm yourself therefore with the entire armour which the apostle proposes in Eph 6. The meek person is to be preferred over the strong person. Patience not only reduces the suffering, but it yields luster to the one who is patient, and it convicts and even conquers the enemies. Consider therefore that time is short, and that your suffering is transitory. It proceeds from the hand of the Lord and is to the glory of Jesus. Let patience therefore do her perfect work; that is, suffer all things with quiet patience for the duration of this suffering, for the victory and the crown will ensue.
―Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord‖ (1 Cor 15:58). Be faithful unto death and the Lord will give you all the blessings which He promises to those who overcome. ―To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. I will give thee a crown of life. He...shall not be hurt of the second death. To him...will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it; to him will I give power over the nations: Confession, and conduct and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father. The same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. Him...will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God: and I will write upon him My new name. To him...will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne‖ (Rev 2and 3). Behold, such are the invaluable promises which God makes relative to faithfulness and the endurance of a small measure of suffering. Therefore, be faithful unto death. I conclude with the benediction of the apostle: ―But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you, Amen‖ (1 Pet 5:10–11).
Beloved brothers who are adorned with glorious, divine luster, I remain with my whole heart, Your loving fellow brother in Christ
Excerpt from The Christians Reasonable Service