By the light of burning heretics
Christ’s bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever
with the cross that turns not back.
And these mounts of anguish number
how each generation learned
One new word of that grand Credo
which in prophet hearts hath burned;
Since the first man stood God-conquered
with his face to heaven upturned.
from “The Present Crisis”
by James Russell Lowell
It was an idyllic spring morning. The branches of the fanlike palms swayed gently in the breeze, refreshing those who were scurrying to their businesses. Shopkeeper and shopper alike were soaking in the warming rays of the sun, and lingering an extra moment to drink in the sweet freshness of the spring air. Today the land seemed like Eden, like the Garden of the Lord. It was hard to imagine that anything could disturb the beauty and peace which the day promised to bring.
The king was standing on the upper porch of the palace looking out on the beautiful gardens below. Beyond the palace wall he beheld children engaged in play. Their laughter was intoxicating; he sensed a thrill within his heart as he thought of his own newborn child who now filled the palace with merth and singing. Yes, he had great plans for his son when he grew up.
In another part of the city a lone figure walked up the highway to the palace. Lost in thought, the pastoral scenes of the surrounding countryside escaped his notice. His eyes brimmed with tears as thoughts of the previous day engulfed his mind.
He had been stunned and pained in heart when he first heard the news. When the Lord spoke to him, he was taken by such surprise that he did not know if he could fulfill God’s request. It was such a difficult thing. And who was he to attempt to approach the king on such a matter or to speak to him so frankly? What if he wouldn’t receive the message? What would be his fate if the king became angry and desired to silence him? This assignment could cost him his life. Would he speak up and deliver the word of the Lord, or would he withhold the sword?
Over and over again he weighed the message and its consequences. Fear tried to fasten its grip upon him, but he had pushed it back; as a very young man he had made up his mind to obey the Lord no matter what the cost. Now that the stakes were high and the hour of crisis had come, that commitment would not allow him to do otherwise. If he must perish, then he was resigned to do so.
All night he had wrestled with just exactly how he would deliver this message to the king. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning the plan had come to him from the mind of God, and now it was settled. All that remained to be done was to clothe himself, put his sandals on his feet, and walk the long road that led to Jerusalem.
During the journey he prayed, “Lord, grant me the anointing. May Your words in my mouth be like fire and like a hammer that shatters the rock. I pray that the king will have a receptive spirit and a repentant heart. I pray that You will open his ears to hear the Holy Spirit.”
By the time he reached Jerusalem the word of God had become like a burning fire that he could scarcely contain. In the fear of God, he slowly climbed the steps that lead to the palace until he came face to face with the guard.
“Halt! State your name and your business!” cried the guard.
“I am a prophet of the Lord and I have come with a message for the king.”
Another guard quickly stepped forward. “It is Nathan, the prophet,” he whispered to the doorkeeper. “Step aside and let him enter. By the king’s order the palace has always been opened to the prophets. The king has forbidden anyone to touch the Lord’s anointed.”
“I beg your forgiveness for not recognizing you, Sir,” entreated the guardsman. “Come … I will show you to the king’s chambers.”
The king, lost in thought, was suddenly interrupted by his servant. “Your majesty, Nathan the prophet is here to see you. “
“Nathan! Send him in! It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen him. Bring us some refreshments.”
Upon greeting Nathan, King David realized that something was deeply troubling him. “Nathan is there something wrong?” he asked. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“King David, I’ve come to you with a problem of great injustice.”
“What is it?” entreated the king.
The prophet began to relate a story to David: “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him. So he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
King David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. And he must make restitution for the lamb fourfold because he did this thing and had no compassion.”
Looking intently at the king, Nathan spoke in piercing words: “King David, you are the man!”
Passionately Nathan continued, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!
“‘Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, taken his wife to be your wife, and killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
“‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your companion and he shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and under the sun.’”
Then David cried out from the depths of his soul, “Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan then replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme; the child also that Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, bore to you shall surely die.”
Nathan then went back to his house in safety while a king who was pierced to the very depths of his soul knelt down to fast, to weep, and to pray.
We Need Men and Women Like Nathan
The prophets of Christianity – of both the Old and New Testaments and of Christian history down through the ages – have been those who were willing to deliver the word of the Lord in great boldness and courage despite the possibility of persecution. They have refused to withhold the word of the Lord even if imprisonment, affliction, or martyrdom awaited them. They were men and women who loved the truth more than they loved their own life, their own husband or wife, or even their own children. They were men and women of whom the world was not worthy.
At crucial times in history God always raises up his prophets. They are the heroes of a generation. Long after they pass away, the truth of their message lives on; their example lingers in the hearts of men and their deeds persist in the land forever.
This is what the world needs today. This is what America and the church in America needs in this hour. We need men, women, and children who are cast in the prophet mold. What we need today are those who will not prophesy merely from their own inspiration, or declare things from their own initiative in hopes that God will confirm their words. We must have men and women who will speak by the same Spirit who directed the pen of Moses, the fingers of David, and the tongue of Paul – men and women whose words are the very oracles of God.
What we need today are those who will clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness and make smooth in the desert a highway for our God – until every valley be lifted up and every mountain be made low, until the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh will see it together.
What we need today are men and women who are placed by the Almighty on the watchtowers of the walls – who will not keep silent, who will refuse to keep quiet – until righteousness goes forth like brightness and salvation as a torch that is burning. What we need today are men and women who will take no rest for themselves, nor give God rest until He establishes His church as a praise in the earth.
God is looking for such people today. His eyes are searching to and fro across the earth to find those who will live a committed life. He is looking for those whom He can trust to deliver His words to this generation. God is not looking for just a few lone prophets, either; He is seeking a prophetic people.
But prophetic people are dangerous to the sloppy ways of the world. And sometimes neither the world nor the church take kindly to them, for they make things uncomfortable, they upset tradition, and they tend to disturb the status quo.
John the Baptist was such a man. Not very contemporary or in fashion with the times, John spent his days in the wilderness until his first public appearance in Israel. Dressed in a garment of camel’s hair, unkempt, and eating wild locust and honey, this man was anything but one to whom the world could relate. He did not keep abreast of the latest movies or television shows to see what the people of Israel were watching. He did not try to keep current with the latest fashions in order to meet the nation on an acceptable basis of style. Neither did he bind the scriptures on his forehead and forearm, or wear long gowns to appease the religious leaders of the day. John did not have a music group accompanying him on his journeys, playing the most contemporary beat in order to attract the attention of crowds.
No … John was a very simple prophet with a message burning in his heart from God. He began his ministry preaching in the wilderness of Judea. His message was simply, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Perhaps a few travelers on the way to Jerusalem encountered John in the wilderness and heard his piercing message. Upon arrival at the city, they may have told others that they had encountered a man who surely must be a prophet. Whatever the case, as John took his stand in the wilderness and began to herald the message God had given him, the Spirit of God drew people from the surrounding villages and countryside.
The Bible records, “Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). The secret of John’s success did not lie in his manner, his fashion, or his contemporary appeal. It did not lie in methods, gimmicks, or strategies to win friends and influence people. It did not lie in formulas for gathering the multitudes.
John’s influence and success lay in a secret revealed by God to the prophet Jeremiah centuries earlier: “Who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened?… I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:18, 21-22).
The same has been the secret of the prophets of God throughout the ages. It was the case of the early church, and because of it they were able to Christianize the whole known world in a few generations. It has been the case of all those who have been used by God to establish and direct any spiritual work of eternal significance.
Much of the failure of the church today lies in our rejection of this truth; there are men and women in the church today who persist in speaking from the stubbornness of their own heart, saying that “the Lord declares,” when He did not send them or command them. The Bible tells us that people who attempt to speak on God’s behalf, without spending time with Him, will lead people astray by their “falsehoods and reckless boasting.”
Delivering a message in the name of the Lord that has not proceeded from His throne room is like offering the people straw instead of grain. The true word of the Lord is “like fire and like a hammer which shatters a rock.” When God’s people persist in speaking from their own inspiration, it not only furnishes the people no benefit, but causes God to be against them.
God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel concerning this: “Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing … They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The Lord declares,’ when the Lord has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word … Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord” (portions of Ezekiel 13).
Where are the Modern-day Prophets?
The prophets’ success has always been found in their faithfulness to stand by the word of the Lord and their fearlessness in the face of danger. They were men and women who had conquered the fear of death.
John the Baptist demonstrated this type of courage. With unrelenting zeal, John continually proclaimed the truth to King Herod … telling him that he was unlawfully married to his brother’s wife. The boldness and persistence with which he exhorted the king finally cost John his head.
John Huss, a courageous 15th century Christian reformer, had been teaching the people the truth of salvation by faith in Christ alone. He was thrown into prison and asked by the council of kings and bishops to renounce what he had been preaching. Knowing that he would be burned at the stake if he did not comply, he replied fearlessly, “The bishops want me to retract; but if I were to do so, I should be a liar before God.” As the officials led him away and tied him to the stake, he cried out to the people, “Do not believe that I have taught you anything but the truth.” Asked once again to renounce his error, he affirmed, “I have taught no error. The truths I have taught I will seal with my blood.” 1
Martin Luther, the 16th century champion of the gospel, was summoned to a council in Worms, Germany, in order that he might defend his unorthodox teaching. Luther’s friends warned him: “The emperor will deliver you over to be burned as he did John Huss. Don’t go.”
But Luther responded, “Though there be as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the roofs, I will go.” As he made his way to the Council Hall, he had to take a path through gardens and byways because the street was so filled with people; they all wanted to see the man who by his writing and preaching had set the world in an uproar. After much struggling and pushing, the marshal brought Doctor Luther into the Council Hall.
“I have two questions to ask you,” said the Archbishop of Treves, opening the examination and pointing to some books on the table. “Did you write these books?”
“I do not deny having written those books,” Luther answered, after the titles were read.
“Will you take back what you have written?”
“As to taking back anything in accordance with the Word of God, I must act deliberately. I will give you my answer tomorrow.”
The council broke up for the day and the crowd in the streets admired the courage of a man who dared to stand for the truth in such an assembly. The next day, upon the reconvening of the council, the archbishop shouted, “Will you, or will you not, retract?”
Doctor Luther looked around. He was in the council’s hands. His life was at stake. What shall he say? Shall he take it all back? He had given his all in proclamation of truth. God had walked by his side; could he now distrust the Being who had protected him hitherto?
Boldly he proclaimed, “I cannot and I will not retract anything. God help me! Amen.” As he departed from Worms, he was hunted as a common criminal. 2
Such has been the sentiment and courage of all those who have dared to stand up for truth, right, and liberty. President Abraham Lincoln, being warned by an advisor of a possible assassination attempt, responded, “You are not the first to warn me against the dangers of assassination. My ambassadors in Italy, France, and England have many times warned me against the plots of murderers whom they have detected in those different countries. But I see no other safeguard against these murderers, but to be always ready to die, as Christ advises it.” A short time later an assassin’s bullet found its way to his heart.3
Civil rights leader and 20th century prophet Martin Luther King, Jr., once declared, “Until you conquer the fear of death, you don’t know what freedom is!” In the 1960s King lead a group of 8,000 civil rights protestors in an historic march to Montgomery, Alabama, in order to secure citizenship rights for America’s black citizens through peaceful demonstration. His address given in Montgomery echoes the cry of the prophets of all ages. He proclaimed:
“We are on the move now and no wave of racism can stop us. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not divert us. The release of their known murderers will not discourage us. We are on the move now, like an idea whose time has come. Not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.
“I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Someone is asking today, ‘How long will prejudice blind the eyes of men?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again!”
“How long? Not long! Because no lie can live forever! How long? Not long! Because you shall reap what you sow! How long? Not long! ‘Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.’
“How long? Not long! Because the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long! For mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on!
“He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgement seat. O, be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubilant my feet! Our God is marching on! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on!”
Such sentiments live and burn in the hearts of God’s prophets .
Deeply broken because of the lack of true prophets, Ezekiel lamented, “Your prophets find no vision from the Lord. Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles” (Lamentations 2: 9, 14).
The greatest need of this hour is for true prophets of God to arise and take their stand in the congregation of the Lord and in our nation. The eyes of the Lord are searching across the earth seeking for those who will make up the hedge and stand in the gap. He is looking for those who will take time to stand in his council, and who will announce His words to His people.
He is looking for those who will be courageous, who will love truth and hate falsehood. He is looking for those who will not fear what men may do to them, but rather fear God.
According to Ezekiel, because God’s people have not gone up into the breaches, or up the wall around the Church to stand in the battle on the day of the Lord, the prophets see false visions and speak lying divinations (Ezekiel 13:5-6).
The prophet Isaiah declared, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”(Isaiah 6:8).
Then to side with Truth is noble
when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
and ‘tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses,
while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit,
till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue
of the faith they had denied.
Count me o’er the earth’s chosen heroes,
- they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for
hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future
saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice,
mastered by their faith divine,
By one man’s plain truth to manhood
and to God’s supreme design.
The Present Crisis
- by James Russell Lowell
1 Charles Coffin, The Story of Liberty, originally published in 1879, (Reprinted by Maranatha Publications, P.O. Box 1799, Gainesville, FL , © 1987), p. 65-67.)
2 Ibid. pp. 230-239.
3 William J. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln the Christian, (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1976), pp. 136-143.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved