In 1709 Isaac Watts writes a two-part sermon on Christian courage. To illustrate the first section he writes a still popular hymn.
Where the life or the estate of our neighbour is in danger, we must venture something to secure it, as well as to defend his good name. This advice is given in Prov. xxiv. 11, 12, “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn out to death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider?” That is, if there are any persons drawn out to death, and ready to be slain by sinful oppression, and thou hast a just and reasonable power in thine hand to preserve them, it is not thy duty to stand still or hide thyself, and say, “Behold I knew it not.”
Holy fortitude, or remedies against fear.
l COR. xvi. 13.—Stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
IN the first ages of Christianity the professors of the gospel had great need of divine courage, that they might stand the many shocks of opposition, reproach and violence. The Corinthian heathens, though they were a polite and learned people, yet they were blind and obstinate in their own superstitions and idolatry, and rooted in the profane and vicious customs of their ancestors. It required a large, stock of holy fortitude, to profess and practise a new religion among them, that ran counter to all their former opinions, and their manners. Therefore, St. Paul, who planted the gospel in that city, calls upon his converts to shake off cowardice and fear, to stand firm and unmoved in the profession of their faith, to behave like men of war, like heroes, in the practice of Christianity, and to exert all their strength of soul in this glorious work: “Stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”
It is true we live not in a heathen country, among lewd and barbarous superstitions: the land where our lot is cast, is honoured with the Christian name, and professes the religion of Jesus; yet, let me tell you, infidelity is a growing temptation of this age; the gospel of Christ hath plentiful ridicule thrown upon it, by many of our neighbours that go under the name of Christians; and we may sometimes be called to put on courage for the, defence of the gospel.
But, besides this, there are many things occurring in the divine life, that require us to put on this holy fortitude of soul. The very nature of men is so corrupt and vicious, their hearts are so averse to the holy precepts of Christianity, the multitude of sinners is so exceeding great in every nation, even where the gospel is professed, the customs of this world are so contrary to the rules of the gospel, and the malice and rage of Satan, with his evil angels, is so constant and so violent against the religion and the name of Christ, that it is true, at all times (as well as in the primitive ages), “that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;” 2 Tim. iii. 12. When we become soldiers of Christ, and resolve to be religious in good earnest, we must reckon upon enemies and oppositions, we must be prepared to “endure hardness,” chap. ii. ver. 3.
Our business, therefore, is to seek for a spirit of power and holy fortitude, that we may be void of fear in the profession of our faith, and in the practice of our daily duties. Not the Corinthians only, but we also, must “watch and stand fast in the faith; we must quit ourselves like men, and be strong.” If we are affrighted at the sound of every reproach, or terrified by the fierce opposition of a wicked world, we shall be in danger of turning back from the paths of Christianity, and of losing the heavenly prize. Such doctrines and such practices as the gospel teaches, require the professors of them to be bold and valiant.