Signs of the Times
Rev. Cornelius Hanko
From the Standard Bearer Vol. 75; No. 18; July 1, 1999.
Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant
Enduring to the End
"But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."Matthew 24:13
There may be a question in our minds whether this encouragement and warning should actually be included under the signs of the times. Taken entirely by itself, it would seem out of place, yet the fact remains that this assurance that the faithful will be saved is a sign that God guarantees to us the safety and salvation of His church even unto the end. The very fact of God's preservation of His elect people under severe trial is a definite sign of end times.
Our Lord had spoken of the animosity, slander, and cruel hatred of the false church against the remnant that remains steadfast in the faith. He had also warned of apostasy, of wars among the nations of the earth, and the horrifying lawlessness that takes over completely in a world that is at enmity against the living God. And He had spoken of the signs of judgment in nature, such as famines, pestilence, and earthquakes.
We live in trying times that can only become more difficult and distressing as the end approaches. It is heartrending to see churches and individuals depart from the truth of the Word of God, especially those individuals who were once with us. It is often difficult for us on our jobs, in the factory or in the office, to bear up under the sting of the daily scorn and reproach of the world and to be ready to give account of the hope that is within us. Even our family life is at times besieged with threats through the various means that Satan uses to make his onslaughts on God's people. Especially our young people face trials far greater than we ever experienced in the past, even being challenged to stand firm under the ridicule of their peers.
Along with the sufferings that we bear as followers of Christ we experience the judgments of God that come upon the world. We need but mention that in this past year, 1998, forty-one States suffered from drought, floods, fires, winds, hurricanes, or a combination of these. A hurricane took 11,000 lives and did untold damage in the Atlantic basin. Other calamities have come as visitations upon other parts of the world. These judgments affect the believer as well as the unbeliever. This is God's purifying process whereby He separates the church from the world. Scripture calls it God's threshing. He is separating the wheat from the chaff and thereby preparing His church for glory.
We ask: why? Why must the church, why must we as God's people, suffer in an evil world? The answer of Scripture is that God is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any of us should perish. God restrains His strong desire to take His own unto Himself until each one of us is fully prepared for glory. We are being prepared to be precious jewels in God's eternal temple. Therefore we are cut, chiseled, ground, trimmed, and polished until we are ready to be fit into our own niche in God's glorious dwelling place. Only when the last stone is ready to be put in its place will God's house be complete.
In all this we are called to endure to the end. Endurance is the ability to suffer pain, hardship, distress, or prolonged stress without succumbing. It means that we hold that which we have, that is, that we remain faithful to the truth of God's Word, the faith once delivered to the fathers. It means that we take up Christ's cross and follow Him over Golgotha to glory. It means that we daily stand clothed in the full armor of God: the girdle of truth firmly clasped about our loins, our heart protected by the breastplate of Christ's righteousness, our feet shod with the durable boots of the preparation of the gospel of peace, and we ready and willing to defend the truth entrusted to us, wearing the helmet of salvation as the protecting assurance of God's grace. In our left hand we firmly clasp the shield of faith, fully prepared to quench all the fiery darts that are ceaselessly aimed against us by the onslaught of the wicked. And with a strong, determined grip we hold in our right hand the sword of the Spirit, determined to fight off the powers of darkness as they seek to destroy us.
Thus fully equipped we are called to stand in an evil day to fight the battle of faith even unto the end! Our Lord reminds us that this applies to each of us individually. He said that many shall be offended, the love of many shall wax cold, but he that shall endure to the end shall be saved. This may very well involve forsaking father and mother, sister and brother, and all who are most dear to us, to stand in an evil day, alone.
This implies, first of all, that we maintain the antithesis between light and darkness, between the church and the world, between the believer and the unbeliever. Especially today, when many are seeking to compromise by closing the gap between themselves and the world, seeking out "the good that sinners do," and allowing the world to come into the church, it is our calling to maintain our unique distinction as a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. "For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial, or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel, and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God!" (II Cor. 6:14-16).
Endurance is a matter of conviction. We must know what we believe and be able to defend it. It is not sufficient to say, "My church maintains this," or "I was always taught this." But we must be convinced that this is the truth of God's Word. We must not merely say, "The Bible says so," but we must be able to prove our conviction from the Scriptures. Without that, we can never stand. We may not compromise, for if we compromise we are lost. We are called to obey God, not men. We may have to stand alone. We may have to lose all our possessions, give up wife and children for our conviction. In fact, we must be willing to go to prison or to die for our conviction. With Luther we say: "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, so help me God."
We are reminded of the three friends of Daniel in Babylon. They, along with Daniel, were among the Jewish princes who were the first to be brought into captivity by king Nebuchadnezzar. How easy it would have been for them, like the other princes who came from Judah, to take the attitude that for their own safety and for the sake of their families they would follow the customs and practices of the Babylonians. Yet, along with Daniel, these three men remembered their early training in the laws of Moses. They might not defile themselves by eating anything that was offered to idols or that was unclean.
In due time they and other Jewish princes were given positions of authority in the kingdom. The day came when all the prominent leaders and rulers of the kingdom were called to bow down to the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. All the servants of the king bowed with their faces to the ground in worship, including those other Jewish princes. But the three friends of Daniel stood erect, arms folded, most conspicuous in their defiance of the orders of the king. They would bow before no other than the true God, Jehovah.
The king offered them a second opportunity to show their reverence for him and his image. But they were firm and determined in their conviction. They told the king that he could do what he would, but they would not bow before his image. We know the rage of the king and his attempt to punish them by casting them into the fiery furnace, but also how God protected them with the presence of the Angel of Jehovah, even as a witness of God's power over the king. The Jewish princes who bowed down before the image of Nebuchadnezzar showed a preference, but Daniel's three friends showed conviction. Endurance is possible only when we have conviction. Only by a firm faith in God can we endure unto the end. We are always the victors!
Endurance is the love and devotion of the servant of Jesus Christ to His Lord. Jesus teaches us: "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37, 38).
Scripture is replete with examples of those who were found worthy. Read Hebrews 11, the verses 32 to 38, which give account of men and women of valor who experienced cruel mocking, scourging, bonds and imprisonment, "were slain with the sword, wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented." Compared to them, we have as yet experienced very little of the suffering for the cause of Christ. We can still worship our God freely both in our homes and in our places of worship. Hebrews 12 reminds us: "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin."
From all this we learn that faith is the victory that overcomes the world. By faith we are assured that our sins are forgiven and that we are righteous solely in Christ Jesus. Therefore by faith we can walk in newness of life and in covenant fellowship with our God. We have intimate communion with our heavenly Father through the gift of constant prayer. And we are equipped by the Spirit of Jesus Christ to fight the battle of faith even unto the end. We are always the victors.
Our perseverance is the result of God's preservation. We are kept by the power of God through faith unto the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. The wonder of grace is that God preserves His church, makes His servants strong in the power of His might, and gives them the victory. The very fact that it is God who preserves His church throughout the ages, in spite of all the onslaughts of the powers of darkness, and even through their instrumentality, is evidence that He is faithful to His promise. As the tribulation increases and the church is threatened beyond human endurance, God reveals His power in preserving His cause and preparing His people for the glory that is drawing near.
Those who endure unto the end shall be saved. The end is the purpose, the goal, that God sets for all the work of His hand. When the wicked die they have filled their cup of iniquity. When the righteous die, they are prepared for glory. When the final goal is attained, God's counsel with all His creation will be fully realized. Time will be no more, and we as God's church are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us unto death and loves us still, even forever.
For we hear the reassuring voice of Jesus through all the turmoil of this present time: "Behold, I come quickly." And along with that, the voice of our God: "Behold, I make all things new." Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly! Amen!