On the heels of trying to source a Spurgeon quotation....
One of my favorite stories from church history may never have happened — but should have! It is the tale of Athanasius during the Arian controversy.
Sitting pretty as we are, we don't feel the drama of that time, where there were powerful and influential professed Christians who were deceived by Arianism. The leading, unyielding, and stalwart defender of the truth of Christ's full Godhood was Athanasius (328-373), the Bishop of Alexandria. Throughout his ministry, Athanasius suffered great pressure, and even seventeen years spent in exile. One exile was specifically in retaliation for Athanasius' refusal to obey Emperor Constantine's order to reinstate the unrepentant heretic Arius.
The tide was not always with Athanasius.
The story is that, at one point, someone tried to persuade Athanasius to moderate his stand. "Don't you know that the whole world is against you, Athanasius?" the man pled.
"Then Athanasius is against the world," the bishop replied. I picture Athanasius either saying it with a shrug, or else nailing the other with a "Duh!" glare — but that is definitely apocryphal. (Alternate version: the Latin phrase Athanasius contra mundum was engraved on the bishop's tombstone.)
That story of unblinking, unwavering, adamant allegiance to God's truth has long moved and challenged me. Years ago — I think it was when I was seriously considering giving the then-future Josiah the middle name "Athanasius" — I tried very hard to find any historical, contemporary validation of the story in question. (I'm a stickler for sourcing stories and quotations before using them.)
Try though I did, searching and making inquiry, I was only able to push any kind of documentation back as far as the Middle Ages. So, while it surely fits what we know about the character of Athanasius (and of clerical appeasers), and while it's one of those stories that should have happened even if it didn't... it may be a fiction.
We do know that Athanasius stood, and was ready to stand against the world if need be. We just don't know whether the story ever occurred as reported.
Yet there is a much older story that has impeccable — you might say inerrant — attestation. That is the story of Noah.
Here is the divine comment on the whole episode:
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:7)Think of it. Even more so than Athanasius, Noah was literally the only man in the world who believed what he believed. His stance isolated him totally from all his contemporaries. Only Noah and his immediate family trusted God's word. All of the smartest, most powerful, most influential people in the world thought he was barking mad.
It was, in the most literal sense, Noë contra mundum.
And how did that work out for Noah? For his peers? Rather well, and rather disastrously, respectively. By his stance of faith in God's Word, Noah "condemned the world."
And we, today? Sometimes we feel (and are made to feel) that we're odd, that we stick out, that we're not trendy. Well: we are, we do, and we aren't. What's odd is that it is professing Christians who make those accusations — as if they're bad things, rather than par for the course (Matthew 10:11, 25; Luke 6:22; John 7:7; 15:18-20; 17:14; 1 Timothy 3:12; 1 John 3:1, 11-12). What ought to worry us, is if we find ourselves to be in the majority (Luke 6:26; James 4:4). Because it won't go well with the majority (Matthew 7:13-14).
Just remember: however small our number, more stand with us than stood with Athanasius — and far more than stood with Noah.
All that matters is whether the Lord stands with us (2 Timothy 4:17), and we with Him (Hebrews 13:11-14).