Your invitation to be present at this convention and to deliver the inspirational address I value highly. It is a cause of happiness and joy to me. First of all, the very fact that another convention of our Young People’s Societies was convoked reveals that the societies themselves are still alive and active, and that our young people, I take it, are interested in the things of the kingdom of God. For, not to be entertained chiefly, but to be edified has been and still is the main purpose of these conventions. And in this I rejoice. Then, too, there is a personal, a more or less sentimental reason why your invitation was to me a cause of happiness. I consider it a signal distinction, when one’s own life’s sun stands well Post Meridian, to be invited to speak, and that, too, to deliver an inspirational address to a convention of those whose life’s day has hardly reached mid-morning. And, lastly, I am particularly happy that you selected me once more to deliver this address, because by this time you ought to know ‘what you can expect of me in the line of inspirational addresses. According to a certain standard for this kind of speeches, I would consider myself the least fit, and, therefore, the least eligible, to meet the requirements for this sort of addresses.
The word “inspirational”, you know, contains the well-known term “spirit.” And it is a striking fact that in almost all languages, as far as I know, such as the Hebrew ruach, the Greek pneuma, the Latin spiritus, this word signifies air, breath, wind, as well as the spirit of God or man. Perhaps, it is due to this that many inspirational speakers, speaking for conventions or revival meetings, appear to consider it their special task to deliver “airy addresses,” preferably hot; windy speeches, that are calculated to appeal to, and to sway the emotions, but that leave behind them nothing but emptiness, or, what is worse, ‘when the emotional appeal of these addresses is very violent, only doctrinal havoc and destruction. You are aware that this is not my conception of a truly inspirational address. To me an inspirational speech recognizes that other meaning of the word “spirit”, according to which it refers to the Spirit of God, and to the spirit of man as it is renewed by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Your reborn spirit I seek to reach. But this reborn spirit can be “inspired”, not by mere emotionalism or empty sentimentalism, but only by the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And that Word of God is able to “inspire” you, not by a direct appeal to your emotions, but only through your thinking mind. Truly inspirational, then, in the Christian sense of the word, is an address that stands in the service of the Spirit of Christ, to inspire some of the contents of the Word of God into the regenerated spirits of the audience. It is thus that I conceive of my task tonight.
My subject was assigned to me. The theme of this convention is “Steadfastness.” But this time, I was asked to speak, not simply on the theme in general, tout to bring it in connection with our Young People’s Societies. I must, therefore, first of all, explain to you the meaning of the Christian virtue of steadfastness; secondly, demonstrate how this gift of grace may be cultivated and strengthened; and, lastly, show how our Young People’s Societies may be instrumental in cultivating this virtue.
From the outset, I wish to emphasize that this convention by its present theme is expressing its interest in spiritual steadfastness. One can speak of steadfastness in a general, a natural sense of the word. Then it is a matter of stability of character that reveals itself in the constancy wherewith one pursues his life’s aim, the steady direction of his life’s course, without permitting himself to be discouraged by difficulties that are met, or to deviate from his course by obstacles in the way. But with this natural steadfastness in the pursuit of natural aims and ideals we are not now concerned. On the contrary, we are interested in spiritual steadfastness, in steadfastness which is a gift of grace, and which becomes manifest in a constant seeking of the kingdom of God, alway and everywhere, in spite of opposition. Steadfastness, as we now conceive of it, is spiritual stability.
In more than one way, Holy Writ speaks of this spiritual virtue, and exhorts believers to be steadfast. In Psalm 78:8 ff. we read of carnal and rebellious Israel that their “spirit was not steadfast with God.” And this is explained as revealing itself in the fact that they turned back in the day of battle, even though they Were armed; that, they kept not the covenant of the God, and refused to walk in His law; that, in the desert, they lusted after carnal things, and trusted not in God, Who daily supplied all their needs. And once more the covenant idea, is brought to the fore in this connection, when in the thirty-seventh verse of the same psalm it is said that they were not “steadfast in his covenant.” Init is said of the first New Testament converts that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,” where the Word of God is indicated as the sphere in which believers must be steadfast. contains the well-known exhortation to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” where steadfastness is further characterized as immovability, and the sphere of steadfastness is indicated as “the work of the Lord.” In believers are exhorted to resist the devil, “steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren in the world,” that is, they must not deviate from the course prescribed by faith, in spite of the attacks of the devil, and of the persecutions by the world. But also in other ways scripture emphasizes this calling to be steadfast. It admonishes us to be faithful even unto death, to hold that which we have, to persevere unto the end, to be rooted in Christ, and not to be like children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
Fundamentally, then, we may say that Christian steadfastness is that virtue of believers according to which they stand firm in the covenant of God. The central idea of this covenant is that of friendship. And our part in the covenant of friendship is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength, that we cleave to Him, trust in Him, forsake the world, and walk in a new and holy life. To do this constantly, without wavering, without being tossed to and fro, without deviating from the way of truth and of the precepts of our God,—this is steadfastness. It refers, therefore, both to our inner life, and to our outward walk and conversation. As to our inner life, it means that our mind is established in the truth of the Word of God. We know the truth as it is revealed to us, and delivered unto us through the Church of Christ in the world, the truth concerning God and man, concerning Christ and salvation, concerning the kingdom of God and things to come, concerning God’s everlasting covenant with us and our calling as being of the party of the living God. We know that truth with the knowledge of a living faith in Christ, and our minds are fixed in it, so that we do not waver, and we are not tossed about with all kinds of false doctrines. We do not halt between two opinions. For us this means that we are unwaveringly established in the Protestant Reformed truth. It means that we are firm in our confidence in the God of our salvation, so that we trust in His promises, and no matter what may come, we believe that He shall give us all things with Christ. It means that we are stable in our will and all our desires, so that we are not cast about between the love of God and the love of the world, but have a constant inner delight in doing the will of God from the heart. And it means that our hope is firm, so that our hearts go out for the things that are above, not the things that are on the earth. And thus being steadfast in our inner spiritual life, we will also be stable in our outward walk and conversation. Consistently we will confess the truth as it is in Christ, and never waver. Steadily we will pursue the path of God’s precepts in the midst of the world without deviating from it to the right or to the left. In brief, as the word itself indicates, we have taken a firm stand, we have taken up our position in the covenant of God, and in that position we remain fixed no matter what powers of opposition may rise against us!
For let us not forget that Christian steadfastness is an antithetical idea. It presupposes that there are forces of opposition that constantly attack us, and aim to remove us from our position in the covenant of God. These forces are within us, for we have but a small beginning of the new obedience, and all that belongs to our old nature is against us. According to that old nature, our mind is opposed to the truth of God, rejects it, and follows after the lie; and our will is motivated by enmity against God, and lusts after the things of the world. And these forces are also without. For we have our battle not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities, against spiritual wickedness in high places, against the devil and his host. And these powers of darkness assume a very concrete form in the evil influences in and of the world with which we needs come into contact every day. This contact is especially close in our modern times, now the world is considered smaller than half a century ago, literal isolation becomes more and more impossible, and the radio brings the lust of the flesh, land the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life into your very home. There is the sinister influence of all kinds of false doctrine, that comes to you in speech and sermon, in song and story, and which encroaches upon you at almost every turn of your radio dial. There is the temptation of the world, whereby it offers you a good position, better pay, honor and glory, or amusement and pleasure, if you will but become unfaithful to the covenant of your God. And there is also the power of the world to make your position in the world impossible, to deprive you of a job, to inflict upon you deprivation, reproach, suffering, and even death, if you insist to maintain your stand and to be faithful to the good confession. All these evil influences are operative in the world now, and the Word of God forewarns us that they will become stronger as the day of Christ approaches, until the time comes that you will be able neither to buy or sell, unless you wall adopt the sign of the beast. And if all signs do not fail, we are on the eve of these things, and we are approaching them the faster as the time of the end draws nearer. And steadfastness is that Christian virtue according to which we remain faithful to the covenant of our God, stand firmly as of the party of the living God, in the midst of all these opposing forces, and thus fight the good fight even unto the end that no one take our crown.
Now, this steadfastness is first of all and principally a spiritual virtue, and as such it is a gift of grace. It goes without saying that one cannot cultivate this virtue, unless it is present in the heart to start with. Just as you cannot cultivate the art of music where there is no musical talent, or the tart of teaching unless there first be teaching ability; so it is impossible to cultivate the virtue of steadfastness unless it first be present as a gift of grace. This, of course, excludes the natural man, whose position:” is outside of, and contrary to the covenant of God. But I mean to apply this truth also to the regenerated child of God, to the believer in Christ Jesus. We can make a distinction between faith and the steadfastness of faith, between the grace of being received into the eternal covenant of God, and our being steadfast in that covenant. And the point I now wish to make is that not only the faith, but also the steadfastness of faith is a gift of grace. If faith, as a gift of grace, were not inherently steadfast, no amount of cultivation or training could make it so. But now it is different. For it is given unto us by grace, not only to believe in Christ, and to be of the party of the living God, but also to remain steadfast in that faith and in the covenant relationship.
(To be continued)