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Volume 15, Issue 4: Presbyterion

If Only...

Douglas Wilson

From time to time we need to remind ourselves that Jesus had a rotten testimony. Although no one could convict Him of any sin (John 8:46), this did not prevent His enemies from talking as though they could. He was, in turns, a glutton (Luke 7:33), a drunk (Matt. 11:19), a blasphemer (Mk. 14:64), and a companion of the disreputable (Mk. 2:15).

Because we think we are serving gentle Jesus, meek and mild, we tend to miss a peculiar aspect of reformations which can be seen over and over again throughout church history. Glorious reformations are only seen as such by us when we look at them through the gauzey lens of three-and-a-half centuries. The heirs of the reformation usually like the reformers primarily because they are all dead and not messing around with anything anymore. Thus it is that later generations build tombs and memorials for the prophets, prophets they would not tolerate for a moment at ninety-eight point six.
How does this come about? There is a pattern to it. When God raises up men who effectively challenge the idols of their day, the first thing they meet is stiff opposition. That opposition is frequently characterized by overt hostility and persecution from those with open allegiance to the idols. But these men of God are faithful in the face of this opposition, and soon many others are rallying to their banner. Now the people who rally to them are usually divided into two broad groups—those who understand what is occuring and those who do not. Those who "get it" and those who do not. But whether or not they understand what is happening in this movement, they nevertheless commit themselves as disciples to it. The first group is attracted to what is happening as it actually is. The second group is attracted to aspects of it, or to the fact that something exciting is happening, but their understanding of the big picture is partial or non-existent.
But their leaders continue to do what God has called them to do, which is to pull down idols. The stage is now set. When the time is right, the overt opposition begins a campaign of slander. Although the leaders are the brunt of the slander, the slander is not aimed at them. The target is the group of people standing behind them who immediately get concerned about the poor testimony. They know and love their leaders, and know the charges are false. But their instinctive and natural response is to try to get their leaders to modify their behavior so the enemy will stop misunderstanding them. With these people, concern over reputation is far too important. It is a heart idol.
These people believe that it is always bad to be called names that do not fit in with middle-class respectability. Now it is important to make a distinction here, one that the apostle Peter makes. He says this: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1 Pet. 4:14_16). In plain language, if you suffer as a thief because you have stolen something, then you should be ashamed. But if you are accused of theft because of your faithfulness to Christ, then God is to be glorified. When this happens to us, Peter says, it is because the spirit of glory is resting upon us.
This is the reason why Jesus says that when all men speak well of us, we ought to get worried (Luke 6:26). He says that public lies about us are a garland to be worn on the head. "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: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matt. 5:11_12).
Because it is an honor to be dishonored, a grace to be disgraced, we ought to thank God for the privilege whenever it is given to us by God. Liars and cowards may bring such trials to us, but it was our God who sent them. But the fact that it is a God-given honor does not mean we should accept the slanders and act as though they are true. The Bible is filled with godly men who defended themselves against the inevitable slanders.
But this next point is the key, and is the one which separates those in the church who "get it" from those who do not "get it." Those who "get it" answer the slanders by various psalms of imprecation, defenses, polemical counterattack, arguments, appeals, and so forth (Ps. 56:5_7; 2 Cor. 11:1_33; Matt. 23; Acts 20: 26_35; 25:11). But those who do not get it want to answer the slanders by promising not to provoke the enemy anymore. It is the difference between extinguishing the darts of the evil one with a shield of faith and unfaithfully trying to arrange for a cease fire.
What a wonderful, beautiful sports car! If only it did not have that heavy metal thing under the hood that weighs it down so much. What a magificent army! How they march in step, and how inspiring their uniforms are! If only they would stop shooting their guns and scaring the children. What a blessing to have the practical teaching on family that we find in Credenda! If only they would stop discrediting themselves by making fun when Baal won't come out of his bathroom.

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