Godly Courage

John doesn’t always do so well in school socially, and once again he has drawn the attention of a bully and his cohorts. With wide smiles they leer and snicker, “What an idiot, did you hear what he said?” John doesn’t know how to respond, and only succeeds in arousing his tormenters to a more vigorous attack. You watch a moment. You know where it’s going. You’re not the most popular kid yourself, and can hardly afford risking what status you have. You could easily slip out of sight; John’s back is toward you. Courage—you take a deep breath, look past John into the cutting eyes of his tormentors, and walk their way.

Sarah stands in front of the mirror in the changing room. The outfit fits her body perfectly. This will definitely get some attention from the guys. Everything is just a bit too short, too low, and too tight to pass mother’s inspection, but they had been shopping all day, and this was the “in” cut for everything (everything that was cute anyway). There were a few other girls in school who had managed to push things a bit further, and her argument was ready. Courage—Sarah put the outfit back on the hanger, went over to the previous outfit she had dismissed for its plain features, and told her mother, “I think I like this one the best.”

Dave has dated Diane for a year and everything was going well. Dave still found it hard to believe that the outgoing, attractive Diane had gone out with him on their first date. As the months went by, they discovered many more things that they had grown to love about each other. She was everything to him, and just being with her had brought him far up in the ranks of the “in” crowd. The one thing that festered in Dave’s heart, however, was her attitude toward church and her lack of interest when spiritual matters were discussed. Now she had come right out and said that his church was dull, and wanted him to come to their special praise service. Did it really matter where he went to church? To take a stand now would probably make or break the relationship. Courage—“I belong in the PR church. It’s where my soul is fed. I can only hope and pray that you will feel the same way.”

A husband struggles to make ends meet as his sixth child enters school, and the tuition and church collections have stretched his salary to the limit. The answer seems to come with some job openings advertised in the paper. His wife would be well qualified. The money would easily cover the tuition, and leave plenty for some extras. The hours were even quite flexible and could fit into the schedule. Dad could help get some supper together and help with the homework and catechism at night. Lots of other people are doing it, and it doesn’t seem to be having any negative effects on the family. It was an attractive option, but it was not the solution of God’s word. A mother caring for the home and children and teaching other younger women was not just an obsolete luxury, it was the instruction of God’s word. “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” (Psa. 128:3) With this picture before his eyes and bowing humbly in prayer, he was given the grace to say with courage “No, my wife already has a high calling. She belongs at home taking care of the children God has graciously given to me. And if she has any spare time, she has a calling to teach the younger women the spiritual art of this calling ( Titus 2), and visit the fatherless and widows (James 1:27). God will provide another way.”

These examples of courage certainly won’t gain much recognition, but that’s the kind of courage the church needs. It has been said that the CRC synod of 1924 did not have the courage to discipline Herman Hoeksema, and therefore did not do it. Synod had decided to adopt the three points of common grace, and prescribed discipline for any minister who would not sign consent. Herman Hoeksema had made it clear that he could not give his consent. There really was only one thing to be done! But to discipline is a difficult thing to do. One who must exercise discipline must face an angry reaction, broken relationships, and uproar of supporters. It is easier to ignore the problem, and hope it goes away. But such problems, if they are not met with courage, only grow and become bigger. The exercise of courage is the only sure way to defeat an enemy and survive.

The world defines courage as “standing up for your beliefs and human rights.” Some examples would be Martin Luther King, or people who volunteer for neighborhood watch programs to try to reduce and prevent crimes in their neighborhood. Another example would be taking a stand against Mom, buying the outfit you want, because you’re 18 and it’s really what you want to do. Others praise the homosexual who summons the courage to come out of the closet and declares pride for who he is. But this is not the courage God works in the heart of his faithful soldiers. This is a courage that is rooted in YOUR beliefs, and so called “human rights.”

The courage God uses for the strengthening and perseverance of his church in the world is worked by the faith and grace he alone gives to his people. It is rooted in GOD’S word and his glory. The saint might be afraid and dread making the move, but takes the necessary action because he loves his Lord, knows it is right, and desires to please his Maker. He takes the action not because he wants attention, not because it makes him feel in control, or because it simply is his personal conviction. He does it because he knows deep down that to do anything else only serves his personal desires. This is the courage that humbly does what honors God.

History provides some fine examples of godly courage. While on his way to the meeting of the Diet, an old soldier put his hand on Luther’s shoulder and repeated the memorable words: “My poor monk! my poor monk! thou art on thy way to make such a stand as I and many of my knights have never done in our toughest battle. If thou art sure of the justice of thy cause, then forward in the name of God, and be of good courage—God will not forsake thee.” (The Life of Luther by Koestlin, P. 236) And then at the Diet, Luther stated with courage “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!”

Courage was one of the predominant traits of John Knox, the hero of the Reformation in Scotland. He had work to do which needed strong and determined powers. He never quailed, even before his sovereign and was sometimes thought to be unbearably rude and uncivil. “And who art thou, that presumest to school nobles and the sovereign of the realm?” Said the Scottish Queen to him, after one of his boldest utterances. “A subject born within the same,” was his cool reply. And more than once his bold words made Queen Mary weep. As Knox was retiring once from the Queen’s presence, one of the royal attendants said in his hearing “He is not afraid of anything.” Turning around upon him the Scotch Preacher said, “And why should the pleasing face of a gentleman frighten one? I have looked on the faces of angry men and yet have not been afraid beyond measure.” This prophet has been called a coarse, rough man, who neither feared nor respected greatness; but he was in no sense a hateful man. He had a most terrific struggle with life, “wresting with popes and principalities.” Rowing as a galley-slave, wandering in exile, through bitter contention and life-long opposition he fought the battle of religious freedom in Scotland. “Have you hope?” they asked of him as he lay dying. He pointed with his finger to the skies and then died, as only heroes die, a martyr to the cause he had courage to espouse and serve. When the great man, worn out with excessive-labor and anxiety, was laid to rest, the regent, looking down into the open grave, said with words that will live forever, “There lies he who never feared the face of man.”

Our homes, school boards, and consistories need men of godly courage. A battle continues to rage as it has been raging since Adam fell into sin. After every wave of enemy fire, another one comes into view, and the field upon which we walk is littered with land mines. We have no magic bullets, no secret easy passage, and no alternative but to fight. God has provided a sword and defensive armor. He has given us the spiritual life and demands that we fight his battles. Learning the tactics and building stamina requires constant exercise, observation and study of others, and a strong covenant relationship with God. Let us promote godly courage as much as we can, and encourage one another when we fall.