I did an image search on duckduckgo.com to see what image comes up the most frequently when you search for cowardice. No particular image seemed to come up more than any other, but one came up near the top of the list that was helpful.
The Tank Man
It is a Chinese man standing in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.
Some of you may recall. It was 1989. it is estimated that a million persons were protesting government repression. A column of tanks was advancing into Tainanmen Square to suppress pro-democracy protests. A man ran out and stood in front of the oncoming T59 tanks. The whole column stopped. As the tank driver tried to go around him, the "Tank Man" kept moving into it’s path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people and disappeared into the crowd. The Chinese government has severely censored this event. But it exemplifies the opposite of cowardice: courage. Sometimes we best clarify what one thing is by another thing. Cowardice is the opposite of courage. Courage is the opposite of cowardice.
What does it take to make a nation of cowards? I won’t be pointing my finger at you; I won’t be claiming to be the only righteous person standing. I want to explore fear and cowardice in the context of Revelation 13.
A Nation of Cowards?
We have understood the lamblike/dragonlike beast of Revelation 13 to represent the United States of America under the influence of an apostate Protestantism, and in this I believe we are correct. But there are two possibilities for how this nation could become that. Either (1) we were never what we thought ourselves to be, or (2) we pass through a change and become what we were not.
I propose to you that while it is true that we rarely live up to our highest aspirations, and so, in a sense, never were quite what we claimed to be, the larger part of the answer is that America changes. Possibility 2 is more descriptive of what happens than possibility 1.
None of us want to be a coward or accused of being a coward. None of us want to be selfish or accused of being selfish. We want to be a right example to others: self-sacrificing, unselfish, and to be heroic. But if the United States starts out supporting our God-given rights, and in the end denies God-given rights, something, somewhere has gone catastrophically wrong. How could the baseline principles of a nation be changed? How would that happen?
There is something in all of us, something fallen and self-serving. Real cowardice will always be self-service. All of us are well trained in self-service. Then it is an easy thing for us to slip into cowardice. Cowardice apparently delays testing, but it is manifests exactly during a test.
The history of God’s people is a history of their testings. We have been warned against following the crowd. Most of the time following the crowd leads us into this subhuman behavior. God gives the warning:
You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice.(Exodus 23:1-2)
Then there is Numbers 14 and the 12 scouts. Upon returning they give their report and virtually the whole people turn into a murderous mob.
And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness!’ . . . And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.(Numbers 14:2, 10)
Israel has crossed the desert. God delivered them from hundreds of years bondage in Egypt, and now, on the very borders of the promised land, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
In 1 Samuel we have the infamous chapter 14. Jonathan and his armor-bearer demonstrate enormous courage by climbing up the pillar to kill a garrison of 20 Philistines. This loosens everything up and Saul sends in the army. He makes a rash oath that no one is to eat until they had completed the battle, but Jonathan, not having heard the oath, comes upon a bee’s nest and eats some honey. The people become faint and eat plundered animals with the blood, and Saul intervenes with a big kosher meal. When he wants to proceed with battle God does not answer him. Saul perceives that something is wrong and discovers Jonathan has eaten the honey. He is ready to kill Jonathan for transgressing his will, but the people intervene:
But the people said to Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, or he has worked with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan that he did not die.(1 Samuel 14:45)
The king was only allowed to go as far in his madness as the people permitted. They resisted his murderous rage and saved Jonathan from an unjust death. The people will follow the crowd or they will follow right.
Revelation 13 tells us that this nation as an end-time power speaks like a dragon (verse 11), causes its people to engage in actions which constitute the equivalent of worship (vs 12), deceives and tells the people to make an image (vs 14), and finally causes some of the people to receive the mark (vs 16).
That is a description of an enormous exercise of influence. How do a people abandon their principles? How is it that they change from a nation of heroes to a nation of cowards?
Satan’s Constant Resort
There are four paragraphs in the book The Great Controversy which help describe how this happens. These paragraphs appear in consecutive order in The Great Controversy, pages 591-592. Let’s review each one in turn and then think together about what is written.
God never forces the will or the conscience; but Satan’s constant resort—to gain control of those whom he cannot otherwise seduce—is compulsion by cruelty. Through fear or force he endeavors to rule the conscience and to secure homage to himself. To accomplish this, he works through both religious and secular authorities, moving them to the enforcement of human laws in defiance of the law of God (GC 591-592).
The point here is the satanic gaining of control over every individual, for this is the means by which the devils can destroy us. If they can obtain enough leverage to persuade us to violate conscience, they will prevail. God never--that is an absolute isn’t it?--God never forces the will or the conscience. He will not force us to do something, nor will He force us to violate our conscience. If we have a correctly functioning conscience, God will work with it; He will not go against it or overpower it.
But Satan will use compulsion, force, and one of the particular ways he uses force is through cruelty, through leading the individual to feel fear he employs force after a sort. He does not want to reason with your conscience but to rule your conscience. And if we submit, we are giving him homage, we are choosing to worship him.
Satan works through both religious and secular authorities. He moves them to enforce human enactments.
Some have very conveniently said that this rule or that rule, this requirement or that requirement, was not strictly speaking a violation of the law of God, so we should obey it. It is true that there is a significant difference between the Sabbath and God’s law and most other human enactments. But then please pause and think with me about Daniel.
Daniel sought to have the prescribed diet changed in Daniel chapter one. His managers were afraid to do that because they understood that to do so was to put their very life at risk (Daniel 1:10). And where are clean and unclean meats in the Ten Commandments? They are not there. So wasn’t it selfish for Daniel and his friends to put the lives of others at risk just to avoid eating pork? And yet they did proceed, in spite of the apparently actual risk to the manager, to change their diet. Wasn’t that high-handed and selfish? But then again, perhaps what they were doing was within the scope of the Ten Commandments. You remember, right? The first commandment: You shall have no other Gods before Me. Possibly they understood this to mean, we are not to disregard God’s directions for what we are to eat and not eat, because in doing so, we would be placing the requirements of the Babylonian government above the requirements of God.
Then there is Daniel’s behavior in Daniel chapter six. Where does God require us to do as Daniel did, and open our windows and pray toward Jerusalem three times a day? Someone might argue this was just a personal preference of Daniel. Why couldn’t he pray a bit more quietly? Why couldn’t he pray in his closet, in private, and avoid an unnecessary confrontation with the Babylonian government? Was he not engaging in selfish behavior? He could keep praying to the God of heaven, but just not so much in public. The Ten Commandments did not require him to open his windows and give his enemies grist to destroy him did it?
But what did he do? Daniel 6:10:
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.
So he unnecessarily earned himself a one way ticket to the lion’s den for a dinner date. Was it unnecessary? Was it selfish? Or maybe this was a matter of faithfulness to God after all, even though it was only a temporary decree. Remember, this would only last a month. To avoid controversy, can’t we stop being quite so public just for a month? But Daniel openly violated even this temporary human law.
Those who honor the Bible Sabbath will be denounced as enemies of law and order, as breaking down the moral restraints of society, causing anarchy and corruption, and calling down the judgments of God upon the earth. Their conscientious scruples will be pronounced obstinacy, stubbornness, and contempt of authority. They will be accused of disaffection toward the government. Ministers who deny the obligation of the divine law will present from the pulpit the duty of yielding obedience to the civil authorities as ordained of God. In legislative halls and courts of justice, commandment keepers will be misrepresented and condemned. A false coloring will be given to their words; the worst construction will be put upon their motives.
We will be denounced as enemies not only of law, which I think we expect, but as enemies of order. We will be identified as the cause of moral decline. We will be claimed to be causing anarchy because we are a source of disorder; we are not doing what we are told. We are not obeying human decrees and rules and protocols and policies and mandates. It will be said that God is angry at the nation because Adventists are breaking the rules somehow.
Believers in Jesus will be people of conscientious scruples. We will, yes, be out of harmony with various decrees. We will be seeking to be true to our conscience but we will be charged with being stubborn. We will supposedly be in contempt for authority, disaffected toward the government.
But I ask you, when the government usurps authority, that is, when the government takes to itself authorities which have not been granted it, is it obstinance to resist? Or are we within our rights when we elect not to submit to the government when the government acts outside of law? In fact are we not then upholding law? Are we not then sustaining order? Or if we submit to bullying and usurpation, are we not exactly at that time failing morally, acting selfishly, encouraging the illegitimate exercise of authority, doing moral harm to the bully by joining him in the imagination that he is justified in acting outside of law? Friend, are we not doing him moral harm when we submit to his illegitimate use of force?
Because some minister claims we are acting in contradiction to Christianity, does that mean we are acting in contradiction to Christianity? Does the Bible require us to cower and submit because someone is wearing a uniform or claiming they have authority? Let us suppose that Congress actually passes a law that is unconstitutional and we disregard it even though it has not been reviewed by the Supreme Court. Or even this, a law has been passed and the Supreme Court says it is constitutional, but it violates God’s requirements. Then are nine men in black robes, (presently something like six Catholics and three Jews) our determinant of right and wrong?
No friend. We can respect authorities but we must obey the authority of God, and that means we must consult carefully the Bible and our conscience. I can tell you that even the Supreme Court, presently a room mostly full of Catholics and Jews, and I am glad to respect Catholics and Jews, but they cannot be lord over my conscience; Jesus is Lord. Our duty is to God; everything else is a distant, a very distant, second.
As the Protestant churches reject the clear, Scriptural arguments in defense of God’s law, they will long to silence those whose faith they cannot overthrow by the Bible. Though they blind their own eyes to the fact, they are now adopting a course which will lead to the persecution of those who conscientiously refuse to do what the rest of the Christian world are doing, and acknowledge the claims of the papal sabbath.
“Clear, Scriptural arguments” defending obedience to God’s law, and here, I think particularly the seventh day, the sabbath commandment is in view, will be presented. Who will they be presented by? By lawyers from our religious liberty departments? Maybe. But we could be disappointed. We hope so. But pastors and lawyers are people just like we are. All of us are susceptible to force and compulsion. The devils have a thousand arguments ready to persuade us that we are wrong, that we are acting for our own self-interest, that we are standing in the way of the greater good.
I believe it is most likely that some of the best argumentation, the best use of “clear, scriptural arguments” in support of God’s truth, will be presented by simple men and women of faith; men and women I might add, who have been arrested or detained on charges of disobeying laws or rules which come under color of law.
Here are a few lines you might find interesting from the Wikipedia.org entry on color of law.
In United States law, the term color of law denotes the ‘mere semblance of legal right,’ the ‘pretense or appearance of’ right; hence, an action done under color of law adjusts (colors) the law to the circumstance, yet said apparently legal action contravenes the law. Under color of authority is a legal phrase used in the US indicating that a person is claiming or implying the acts he or she is committing are related to and legitimized by his or her role as an agent of governmental power.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_(law))
I would remind you again also of what Ellen White wrote about the fugitive slave laws—laws which were understood at the highest levels of government to be legitimate, authoritative law:
I was shown that we have men placed over us for rulers, and laws to govern the people. Were it not for these laws, the world would be in a worse condition than it is now. Some of these laws are good, and some bad. The bad have been increasing, and we are yet to be brought into straight places. But God will sustain his people in being firm, and living up to the principles of his word. Where the laws of men conflict with God's word and law, we are to obey the word and law of God, whatever the consequences may be. The laws of our land requiring us to deliver a slave to his master, we are not to obey, and we must abide the consequences of the violation of this law. This slave is not the property of any man. God is his rightful Master, and man has no right to take God's workmanship into his hands, and claim his as his own.(Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4B, p. 43)
And finally, paragraph 4:
The dignitaries of church and state will unite to bribe, persuade, or compel all classes to honor the Sunday. The lack of divine authority will be supplied by oppressive enactments. Political corruption is destroying love of justice and regard for truth; and even in free America, rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance. Liberty of conscience, which has cost so great a sacrifice, will no longer be respected. In the soon-coming conflict we shall see exemplified the prophet’s words: ‘The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ Revelation 12:17.
So there will be, of course, no divine authority for the law to worship on Sunday. It will be “an oppressive enactment.” it will be a corrupt act, unjust and not in harmony with truth. Now here we see the answer to the question with which we began this exploration today. Remember that question: was America never what we thought it was, or, is it more correct to understand that what is coming is that America will change what it is, it will transform, it will depart from lamblikeness and turn toward dragonlikeness? See now the answer:
“Rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance.” There is a popular demand. Legislators who want to be elected and reelected will look over the whole matter, and conclude that the way to achieve their personal desires is to yield to the popular demand.
But because many want something, maybe even a majority, does not mean it is right for them to have what they want. Even a supermajority, a two-thirds vote in parliamentary procedure, cannot override natural law, what is right. Even a 100% vote, a unanimous vote, cannot override God’s law, God’s ways, God’s requirements. The very foundation of America is the double-principle of civil and religious liberty. Our laws as a nation not only sustain the right of the majority but the right of the minority. All 535 legislators could vote that the president can take your spouse from you and make her his second wife, and it would not be right and God would not recognize it as right.
Even our Constitution does not make rights for us, but recognizes preexisting rights. All men are created equal and endowed by God given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why the fugitive slave law was unjust. It was unconstitutional but even more than that it was against the natural rights every man receives from heaven for being human. Like Ellen White said,
The black man's name is written in the book of life beside the white man's. All are one in Christ. Birth, station, nationality, or color cannot elevate or degrade men. The character makes the man.(Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 342)
Friends, we must never forget that we are children of the King. His laws we are to follow and everything else after that comes in a distant second. We should seek peace, we should look for gentleness and be careful not to needlessly create friction. But God is God and no one else is God. We are always His first. Always.
The Point of Highest Reality
We need to conclude, but lastly, I want to bring one more idea. CS Lewis wrote this:
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. . . Pilate was merciful until it became risky. . . . The point is to keep him feeling that he has something, other than the Enemy and the courage the Enemy supplies, to fall back on, so that what was intended to be a total commitment to duty becomes honeycombed all through with little unconscious reservations.(CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, pp. 161, 162, 163)
The demon Screwtape is advising his protege Wormwood about how to lead people to spiritual ruin. The Enemy here is God and the patient is the person the devils are trying to cause to be lost. Screwtape advises Wormwood to keep the person feeling he can fall back on this measure and that measure. The falling back on these alternate plans serves as a way to act for oneself without trusting in the provisions of God for our help. It means trusting in our own action and cleverness rather than trusting in God’s help and power.
But we need to understand Lewis’ first line. Courage is not simply one of the virtues. But virtue is the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means the point of highest reality.
We are living in a time of test. God has shepherded heaven and earth through thousands of years to bring us to this very time. There comes a point at which the gospel itself is tested. What happens when people accept Jesus fully? What is the result? This is where God has been taking us all: to the point of highest reality. We want to be heroic, faithful in much, but first are we faithful in least? Are we living up to all the light that we know? Are we doing what we know we ought? Are we keeping sabbath? Are we spending tie with god daily? Are we returning His tithe? Are we eating right? Are we seeking to share our faith with others? Or are we sliding?
If everything is ultimately a test of our courage, then everything boils down to courage or cowardice. And if we fail we are increasing, not in heroism but in cowardice. Let’s be careful what we train ourselves to be.
As we’ve noticed this morning, There are many things large and many things seeming to us small where we are actually being tested. Do not think all the tests come at the end. The truth is the opposite. All the tests come on the way to the end. If we are true to Jesus today we will be true to Jesus tomorrow. We must not follow a crowd to do evil, even though all the weight of argument and public opinion shouts that we are selfish opposers of the common good and we are causing disorder.
God’s law, for example, the seventh-day Sabbath, we are to keep, no matter the arguments and name calling and force and fear and coercion brought to bear upon us. Keep your conscience clear for Jesus. It seems likely to me that we are the generation which will be faced with this close, close test, and it may be that we need to draw closer to Jesus to be ready for that test of our love. Our nation will betray its own principles and will betray us. But we must never betray Jesus.
Fremont MI SDA church 2021-08-14
Muskegon MI SDA church 2021-08-14