Promise and Persecution by Kenneth Harrod, paperback 142 pages, published by Release International 2018, £8.
As a basic theology of persecution this is an excellent starter. Harrod traces the root of persecution back to the mother promise of Genesis 3:15 and outlines much of the Biblical history of persecution from Abel to the apostles. His aim is for the reader to respond in a Christlike way, “A solid, biblical understanding should lead to a godly, biblical response on our part.” He rightly states that this promise not only explains the reason for persecution, namely the God-ordained malice of Satan, his demons and the reprobate wicked, but also declares the promise that Christ and his beloved church have the ultimate victory, hence the title. He has much truth to share on the spiritual reason for this inevitable aspect of Christian experience and also much good overarching biblical theology. We already appreciate this part of our Protestant Reformed heritage and treasure this vital knowledge e.g. the covenant, Old Testament typology, redemption through judgment, the individual and corporate dimension of persecution, yet he admits wrongly, to being ignorant as to when the ultimate working out of the curse pronounced to Abraham will unfold and that “we cannot fully understand why God allows his people to suffer”. This is the most glaring omission in the book because Scripture DOES tell us much about God’s purposes in these things! Reading of the Bible reveals that God uses persecution to purify his people, wean them from the world, unite them, encourage prayer and the sharing of needs, increase our hope and dependence upon him and witness to the world and our persecutors. In other words we fill up the cup of suffering while the wicked fill up the cup of iniquity and when both are full, Christ ushers in eternal bless for us all.
Why is there persecution of Christian believers in the world?
The answer is the Antithesis (Gen.3:15, 1 Peter 5:9, Is. 63:9, Acts 9:4, John 15:20) There is a cosmic-wide war going on, centred on planet earth with God’s arch enemy Satan (and the seed of the serpent are all the reprobate wicked) versus Christ (the seed of the woman and all his elect sons and daughters i.e believers in every age), Satan’s henchmen the fallen angels and the reprobate wicked versus the elect angels and the righteous in Christ, the false church versus the true church, and on the human level the basic reason is because our lives and words testify against the wicked. Jesus stated that because he was hated his followers would be hated too (Matt.10:22).In the first Scriptural case of persecution Abel (Gen 4:3-15,Heb.11;4, I John 3:12, Amos 5:12) is murdered by his brother Cain because of jealousy and his corrupt religious practice (offering a bloodless sacrifice). Persecution can be traced throughout Scripture. Ultimately persecution will bring horrible judgement on the persecutors but it is part of the cup of iniquity that has to be full when Christ returns. (Gen.4:10-16, I John 3:12, Rev.6:10, Ps. 10:2, 94:5,23, 119:86, 161, Jer.17:18) conversely the persecution is part of the cup of suffering Christ’s church must fill up too. The very end times will bring unprecedented persecution on the church through Antichrist who will demand obedience (taking his mark) and worship from all on earth. The followers of Christ will not comply just as the three Hebrews declined when faced with being told to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image. Antichrist will then persecute Gods people to death through which they shall be delivered just like the myriads burnt at the stake, hanged and mutilated by evil men in previous generations of history. Jesus warned his disciples that just as he would be hated and persecuted, so would they. David, a type of Christ, in a previous age complains about all who persecuted him including Saul and Absalom in many of the Psalms. We will see God’s reasons for decreeing persecution later.
Preparing for persecution.
The impetus to write on this topic was given me after it was NOT chosen as the topic of the next BRF conference in 2020 (maybe 2022!), because I believe it is a vitally important topic as yet not addressed at the conferences and to an extent undeveloped in our churches’ literature and teaching. It is a topic about which many are ignorant or perhaps choose to ignore out of fear or foreboding. Persecution will always test the authenticity of a Christian believer because it is necessary and divinely decreed and when experienced exposes the believer to the cost of following Christ and not denying him. It is the inevitable consequence of being a believer, especially a sincere consecrated one (II Timothy 3:12). It is not a topic comprehensively addressed in the “Three Forms” but we all remember that the author of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Bres died for his Saviour. The series of articles will seek to answer these questions:
- Why is there persecution?
- What form does it take?
- Biblical examples?
- Where is it happening?
- What should be our response?
- What is God’s purpose in it and the final outcome?
- When in history has it been most evident and what will happen as the end approaches?
- How should we support others in it?