..A Magazine for all Christians · Nº 19 · January - February 2003
The faith, the testimony and the price paid by those who preceded us in the race of the faith are our incentive; to look to Christ is what sustains us, and the joy placed in-front of us is to enjoy Christ's Kingdom on the earth.
Let us also…
Those that preceded us
The list of heroes of faith, described in chapter eleven of the epistle to the Hebrews generated a great cloud of witnesses or testimonies. The things that those men did are, for us, that cloud of witnesses; their acts should also be duplicated in us, and even more so, since these heroes belong to the Old Covenant. We must add the heroes of the New Covenant and their acts, and those whose steps have developed the church’s history through the centuries until arriving at our present generation.
Luke, when writing the book of Acts leaves the narration of the heroic wonders of the faith in chapter 28; therefore 29 (which would be church history—editor) and the subsequent chapters have been written from then onward, until today. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews, in his time, made a retrospective synthesis of the heroes of faith that had preceded his generation, highlighting the wonderful acts and sufferings of those that were exposed because of their faith. Those, with small gleams of revelation, were faithful and achieved great feats but it is expected that each generation should go further than the previous one. For that reason it is of supreme importance that the next generation knows the history of those that preceded them, in order to go beyond their mark. For they have the legacy, that is, the accumulated inheritance of testimonies that speak in favor of the pioneers. The next in generation takes that wealth, and it helps them to run the race. They can take advantage of the experience of their predecessors; yet with greater revelation comes greater responsibility, because to those to whom more is given, more is demanded.
It corresponds to us to consider the history of the providential generations that sustained the faith in the past. Knowing about the price that they paid will be a powerful incentive for us when we are called to give up something that is in opposition to the race of the faith. Such a price can be very high, but, as with everything, it is inferior in every way to the glory that awaits the overcomers of the faith, which is to reign with Christ. Nothing of this world nor of the whole universe can have such value so as to move us away from the goal and the prize that waits for us. We must understand that those that ran before us did so in worse circumstances, and that there are no ideal conditions in which to run, because all of those whose testimony is given were pursued, underappreciated, vituperated; sent to prison and suffered hunger, misunderstanding, necessities and countless trials.
To discover the history of the generations that went to the vanguard of the faith, it is necessary to know that their history is not always registered in official Christianity, but rather, occasionally, this historical line took an underground, informal and invisible turn from the eyes of the general public. None of the prophets of Hebrews chapter 11 enjoyed popularity in their time; none of them were applauded by their contemporaries, nor were the Valdenses, the Anabaptists, the Moravians, and many others. Nor do we hope for the congratulations of the religious world that runs to the margin of God’s will; rather we look for God’s approval in all things.
The river of God
God’s testimony has run through the centuries from generation to generation without stopping; sometimes visible to the world but most of the time hidden from it. It is like the river of God that ran through the desert under the sand next to the people of Israel. When they stopped in Beer, they invoked the name of God saying: “Spring up, oh well”, and the waters sprouted from the ground. The river of God came in the rock that followed them; the river of God traveled with them and the rock was Christ – Paul would later say to the Corinthians. That river has not stopped flowing. It is to that river that the Lord Jesus referred when he raised his voice amid the feast of the tabernacle to say: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the spirit,whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”(John 7:37-38)
It is a tremendous grace of God to be in this river. The providential men that God has prepared in each generation have swum in its waters. In this point, nobody is original: what today sustains us through faith was previously in others. Each generation leaves the legacy of those that preceded them. From there each will be called to pass over the baton of testimony to the following generation. A form of measuring the effectiveness of the work which we are set upon is to see if the generation that comes afterward is in step or if we have already lost the baton.
The river of God is increasingly mighty, deeper and unrestrainable; some have wanted to impose their name or floodgates to glorify themselves, as if the river had sprouted from them; but the river is God’s and it springs from the rock that is Christ and will always overflow and surpass men. It won't ever be held to the denominational dikes or systems, nor the dikes that seek to structure the “generals” of God (men of authoritarian character that seek to appropriate the work of God).
In order to swim in the waters that those who preceded us swam in, is to see what they saw, to live or to experience the river beds that God opened to them. This is achieved by reading their writings. What a privilege it is to meet with books that contain so much wealth, as if it were pure grain! How delicious it is to read OF the most outstanding individuals in the most recent generations, such as: C.H. Mackintosh, Andrew Murray, Austin-Sparks, Jessie Penn-Lewis, F.B. Meyer, Watchman Nee, Charles G. Trumbull, to name only a few. On the other hand there are so many books today that have been written with a mere commercial desire! So many authors that only look for their own glory! So much literature with a forced and distorted language! So many that put blinders on the brothers and sisters, instructing them with literature slanted by a particular doctrine! –that which is characteristic of a sect. Would God grant us anointed eyes to spiritually discern the generation that preceded us, to observe the work that they left. They passed away, but their works are our cloud of witnesses, our inheritance and our legacy. We also run, throwing off all weight and sin, with our eyes on Jesus, considering his sufferings.
The joy placed before
What would the joy be, set before the Lord Jesus for which he was willing to suffer the cross and to scorn its shame? Being seated at the right hand of the Father was something that he had had from all eternity, and not only at His right hand side, but in His heart. But as the Son of Man, he was something new, since in order to arrive there he had to be perfected through afflictions and to learn obedience; that is, to do the will of God as a man, something that none of the children of men had ever achieved. In this, was the implicit work of taking many brothers and sisters with him. Both things were embedded in Jesus' heart, since the Father's pleasure was in having many children with Jesus in His glory. In front of Jesus was the exalted church, with him in the celestial places. For this, he had to suffer the cross, but ultimately he would see the fruit of the affliction of his soul and would be satisfied. Jesus saw that the church with him in glory was the most ineffable and glorious joy that one could experience, and for this reason he was willing to suffer the gibe, the shame, the jeer, the disgrace; that which was harder for him than for any man.
If for the Son of God, the joy placed before him was to arrive at the throne, and to sit down at the right hand side of the Father with many children of God, what will the joy placed before the church be? This joy must be so important that the church, the same as their Lord, will be willing to suffer the cross and the shame in order to obtain the full execution of that joy. This joy is to reign with Christ. Salvation is one thing, but to reign with him is something that is offered to those saved. We are not running the race to get salvation but rather it is precisely because we are already saved that we are in the race. The goal is not eternal life, but the Kingdom. Since eternal life is granted by grace and through faith to those saved in the beginning of the race, it cannot be that the goal is eternal life. Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Nobody is apt to be saved; in fact we were all inapt and it is for that reason that to be saved no aptitude is demanded; it is obvious that we needed salvation because we were completely inapt. Now that God “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light,”(Col.1:12) we have, as our goal, to end up participating with our Lord Jesus Christ’s glory when he comes to take the Kingdom of the world. “... And they will reign on the earth” the 24 elders in Revelation 5 sang. That day has still not arrived; meanwhile we humble ourselves knowing that it is still not the day of our coronation; but “When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col.3:4)
It is legitimate to have this joy put before us; it is of great help in keeping us effective in the race. Would nothing nor anybody remove us from this glory of participating with Christ in His Kingdom. The Lord’s promises are a great stimulus: “To him who overcomes... I will give authority over the nations.” (Rev.2:26). “To him that overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne.” (Rev.3:21)
Only the overcomers arrive at the goal. You can appreciate this in the messages that the Lord Jesus gives to the churches of Asia through the apostle John. At the end of each message a promise appears for the overcomers. We believe that these churches are representative of the state of the churches in all times. From each one, there will be overcomers; that implies that only a remnant will have the merit of “overcomers.” It has always been this way in the history of the heroes of the faith: a few conquer for the rest. It was this way with Gideon and the 300 selected from among 32,000. That doesn't mean only 300 won the battle; Israel won it–the victory was accredited to all Israel. With the overcomers of the end time the same thing will happen; their victory will be representative of the victory of the Christian throughout all time, because they will arrive at the last stage of the race with the baton of testimony that will have passed from generation to generation, enriched, increased and invigorated by the revelations and exploits of the faith that God was carrying out in each time. The glory of conquering is not only of those that arrive at the end of a relay race, but of the whole team that participated from the beginning until the end. The victorious arrival of some few individuals will be the victory of the whole church throughout the centuries.
To each generation the necessity is imposed to receive the legacy of the previous generation, in order to arrive farther with the testimony. To fix one’s eyes on Jesus is to see what direction, what feats and what mark the Lord gave to those running the race before us, since he is the author and perfecter of the faith. To fix our eyes on Jesus is to know that He himself is the race, the goal and the prize. He is the author of the race of faith because he gave it a beginning and He is the perfecter because He will finish the race with success until the end.
Since it would seem that we will be the last generation standing on the earth (perhaps we will be standing when he comes), in such a case, we are called to run the last stage. Let us say as those that preceded us: “Let us also, with such a reigning with Christ, pay the price. Let us run as they did, let us arrive as far as possible, let us do great feats in the name of our God, let us lift the flag of victory in King Jesus' name, let us suffer affliction. Just as they did, let us also.”