Will We Love Christ Savingly At the End of 1999?
I know "savingly" is awkward. But how would you ask the question posed by 1 Corinthians 16:22? "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed"? If we do not love Christ, we will not be saved. So we must love "savingly." Or how would you ask the same question, posed by Matthew 24:12-13? "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved"? Love can grow cold and die. That is not a love that "endures to the end" and is "saved." So again, we must love "savingly." But how do you know you will love savingly to the end of this year, let alone to the end of your life?
I found help with this in a 350-year-old book by Thomas Shepard, the founder of Harvard University and a pastor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who had been exiled from England as a Puritan. The book is entitled The Parable of the Ten Virgins - 635 pages of rich Biblical meditations on the difference between two kinds of Christians - the real and the false: the virgins with oil who go into the Bridegroom, and the virgins without oil who are shut out of the marriage feast of eternity.
One section is entitled "True Saving Grace in the Hearts of Believers Can Never Fail." The great thing about this book and this section is that they are so permeated with Scripture. Reading a book like this is liking reading the Bible through the eyes of a great saint who has learned to wield the Word of God and win a thousand battles.
Here is a glimpse into how he answers our question. He addresses one fear after another that might take away our confidence in the perseverance of our love for Christ. Do you fear Satan, he asks, then consider Matthew 16:18 ("I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.). "He shall not prevail against thee, but thou shalt give the last blow and wound" (p. 357).
Do you fear the world, the deceits of it? He counsels, consider Matthew 24:24 ("For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.") It is not possible, take heart. Do you fear the evil or the good things of the world? Then consider John 17:15 ("I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil.") Jesus has prayed for you that the Father will guard you from the evil in the world. How much more from the dangerous good!
Do you fear that your sin will separate you from God? Consider Romans 6:2 ("How shall we who died to sin still live in it?") "It is a strong, but a wounded, but a dying enemy" (p. 358). Do you fear the Lord, that you have walked unworthily of him? Consider Matthew 12:20 ("A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.") "O, therefore, be comforted against this in these times, which are declining evil days, and bless the Lord" (p. 358).
I write this on the eve of the new year. What Shepard teaches me is that knowing the Word of God is essential to fighting the fight of faith to stay in love with Jesus. I beg of you all: Don't assume that love for Christ is self-perpetuating. It isn't. It must be nurtured by the Word daily. Its enemies are countless in this world. But the Word is greater. Let us read it often, study it deeply, memorize it wisely and wield it decisively against every foe of love.
Your partner in the battle for love,