November 1, 2020 Standard Bearer preview article
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Pierre Viret (1511-1571) and will be published in the November 1, 2020 issue of the Standard Bearer.
A letter of comfort to believers*
To all those who suffer persecution for the name of Jesus, greetings.
Grace, peace, and mercy from God our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord, who desires to comfort and strengthen you by His Holy Spirit in the midst of the trials and afflictions of this miserable world, in order that you might not faint, but instead persevere with great steadfastness of heart in the grace in which you were called, casting the anchor of your hope upon Jesus, who reigns in heaven at the right hand of the Father Almighty, who does not allow a single hair of our head to fall to the earth apart from His will (Matt 10:29–31). He alone does all He pleases, and wills nothing which shall not serve to His own honor and glory and to the salvation, edification, and consolation of His elect, for whom He makes all things work for good (Rom. 8:28).
My dear brethren, seeing that we are members of Jesus, we must not be surprised or astonished if we are partakers of His cross and suffering. For if we desire to reign with Him we must likewise suffer with Him (2 Tim. 2:12). Seeing that He is our Head and we His members, the Head cannot travel by one road and the members by another, but the entire body and all its members must follow the head which guides and governs it.
If then our Head was crowned with thorns, we cannot be a member of His body if we do not feel their pricks and if their pain does not pierce our heart. If our King and sovereign Master was naked and bloodied, covered with reproaches, disgrace, and blasphemies, and nailed to and hanged upon the cross, we must not expect to slumber ever at our ease in this world, and to be exalted with honors and dignities, dressed in purple, velvet, and silk (as the wicked rich man), having all our carnal pleasures and sensual delights met in this world below (Luke 16:19).
If the Lord Jesus in His great torments, after having shed His blood, being near to commending His spirit to His Father, was not even given water to drink, but instead His thirst was quenched with nothing but vinegar, gall, and myrrh, are we surprised if we do not daily enjoy rich and sweet wines and sumptuous meats to satisfy the carnal desires of our flesh?
There are precious few things we could endure that would come close to what the Lord Jesus suffered for us, who, recognizing the weakness of our flesh, does not place upon our shoulders a weight too great or pressing for us to bear. For as the apostle said, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” (1 Cor. 10:13), but will give a good end to the trial, which shall yield a goodly fruit. The heavenly Father who holds us in His safekeeping and protection knows and understands what we lack better than we ourselves, and when He visits us with adversities and gives the rein to tyrants to afflict us, He only allows or permits this for our great good in order that our faith—which is more precious than gold (1 Pet. 1:7)—might be tested and well proved in the fire and furnace of tribulation, in order that the dross and all false metal might be separated.
We know also that, just as the fire consumes the rust if it is not put to use, so likewise the Church and believers immediately become corrupted and prone to slumber in this world if they are not roused and exercised by sufficient troubles. For the flesh is always flesh, and possesses no cure within itself, and thinks no further than of itself and its carnal pleasures, forsaking heaven to remain on earth, and preferring the worldly pleasures which suddenly perish over heavenly and eternal goods. Therefore the Lord wills through many ways to test and prove us, to reveal to us our true selves and all the evils and miseries of this world, that we might not rest our heart and hopes upon it, nor make it our paradise, and that our flesh might not be intoxicated with it, but to the contrary that we would recognize that all is corruptible and fleeting, that nothing is permanent, but that all passes away as the wind and vanishes as a vapor, that man’s life (which is much worthier of being called war and continual death than life) passes as a shadow. We must seek another life; we must set our hearts on high, and with Abraham lift our eyes from the earth to fix them upon heaven, and there seek a permanent and eternal city in which there is no change, poverty, misery, tears, weeping, grief, worry, or sorrow, but eternal happiness and bliss, where the Lord dries and wipes away all tears from the eyes of His children and servants, where there is no night, and the sun never sets (Isa. 25:8; Rev. 7:16–17; 21:23).
This, my well-beloved brethren, is a lesson which must be learned in the school of persecution and in tyrants’ prisons and dungeons, from which the children of God learn and profit more than the students of the philosophers and sophists in their schools….
My brethren, let us thus regard the afflictions and persecutions that we endure in this valley of misery, for they are great blessings of God to instruct us how to mortify our flesh, to crucify and put off the old man in order that the new might be endued with greater vigor, and to humble our sensual and carnal flesh—so prideful and rebellious against the will of God—that we might be made obedient and subject to the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:1–5, 14–15).
Indeed, if persecution were not a singular blessing of God, we would be constrained to look upon God our Father as bitter, harsh, and severe toward His children because He allowed His servants the prophets, apostles, and martyrs—indeed, even His own Son Jesus Christ the King and Ruler of all—to be thus treated by wicked and unbelieving men.
Although the flesh complains because it knows not to await life in death and blessing in cursing, nevertheless faith teaches and persuades us, and by experience we recognize and see that though we are forsaken by all the world and humbled to the very gates of hell, we feel the powerful hand of God reclaiming us, which makes our blood cry out as that of Abel, and terrify the murderers (Gen. 4:10; Matt. 23:34–35), declaring that those who suffer and die for Him do not die at all, but instead conquer death and become victors, and with Samson kill more by their death than by their life (Judges 16:30). Their death is stronger and more powerful than the life of the wicked and reprobates, who live trembling upon the earth as Cain, fearfully awaiting the judgment of God as the worm of their conscience continually gnaws away at them, driving them to despair, so much so that quite often they are (like Judas) their own executioners and murderers. They seek death, and it flees from them.
*Taken from Letters of Comfort to the Persecuted Church. Pierre Viret. R.A. Sheats, transl. (Monticello, FL: Psalm 78 Ministries, 2015). Used by permission. For more on this man and his labors on behalf of the French Reformation, see Rev. Jacob Maatman’s article, page 56.