The Running of the White Horse* (2)

* The text of the address given at the graduation exercises of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary on June 14, 1999 in Holland, MI. The first installment appeared in the August, 1999 issue of the Standard Bearer.

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

— Revelation 6:1, 2

Necessary for the church and her ministers is the confidence that the powerful presence of Jesus Christ in the world—the preaching of the gospel—is victorious.

The Victory of the White Horse

How the victory of the church's preaching of the gospel is taught in every possible way in the passage!

The white horse runs as the execution of the counsel of the enthroned God, indeed as the execution of the decree that has primacy in the counsel.

The white horse runs at the will and direction of the Lamb who has authority to loose this and all seals as the one who was slain and who now receives all power.

There is the white color of the horse, symbolic of heavenly triumph. 

There is the great battle-bow.

Such is the victory that the rider is given the crown of victory before ever the white horse begins to run in New Testament history. Victory is a foregone conclusion.

Then, to the highest honor of Jesus Christ, it is said that the white horse runs, not only with the purpose of conquering, not even with the final outcome of conquering, but also and indeed conquering at every stage of its course and as regards the entirety of its course. The white horse is never defeated. It is not defeated when the early church after the apostles is brought to the stake and the arena. It is not defeated when the church institute dreadfully departs in the apostasy of the Middle Ages. It is not defeated when by the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and other atrocities the false church virtually roots the true church out of France. It is not defeated when men and women reject and blaspheme the gospel on the mission field. It is not defeated when your son or daughter, or mine, in the sphere of the covenant tramples the blood of the covenant underfoot. It is not defeated when at the end the two witnesses lie dead in the street of the great city because the beast out of the abyss has "overcome them" (Rev. 11:7).

The white horse is the presence of Jesus Christ in history, and Jesus Christ is invincible.

The presence of Jesus at His first coming was symbolized by the lowly ass. His presence now by His Word and Spirit is the all- and ever-conquering charger.

This is true, and can only be true, because the mission of the white horse is spiritual: the establishment and extension of Messiah's spiritual kingdom in the regenerated, believing hearts and holy lives of all those in all nations whom the triune God has chosen to be citizens and for whom the Lamb was slain.

Make Christ's mission in our present age earthly, view His kingship and kingdom as carnal—a matter of numbers, of earthly success, of physical dominion, of political power, and of social influence—then, perhaps, you can say that the white horse runs with the purpose of conquering, or even with the final result of conquering, but you cannot say, "conquering." If the mission of Christ in history is earthly, the white horse is often defeated. Recall the very circumstances in which Christ revealed to John the victory of the gospel. Antichristian Rome ruled. The synagogue of Satan was powerful. The church hid in the catacombs, a martyr-church. Old John was driven from his pulpit and congregation and was exiled on Patmos.

And the white horse was running, conquering and to conquer!

For the gospel triumphs as the spiritual power which, according to the will of God as carried out by the Lamb, unites to Jesus Christ, justifies, sanctifies, and preserves the Lamb's people, every one, so that they all witness to Christ in their place in the world. In the salvation of the elect in every nation, all the nations are made disciples of Christ (see Matt. 28:19).

Fundamental to the triumph of the gospel is that its goal is not the salvation of all. If the purpose of Christ with the gospel is universal salvation, the white horse is defeated. Many perish, never hearing the gospel. Many others perish, rejecting the gospel in unbelief. But the gracious purpose of Christ with the gospel is particular: the salvation of those whose names are written from eternity in the book of life of the Lamb (see Rev. 13:8). It is also Christ's purpose with the gospel to judge the reprobate world of the ungodly, which is always the kingdom of the beast. The running of the white horse is the first seal, and the seals are judgments. The battle-bow destroys the reprobate wicked: "Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies" (Ps. 45:5).

The victory of Christ in the gospel demands, and includes, that Jesus Christ is preached as victorious. The content of the preaching is the conquering Jesus Christ. He is to be preached as triumphant in His death and resurrection (Rev. 5). He is to be preached as triumphant in His return at the end (Rev. 19). 

But He is also to be preached as triumphant in the preaching of the gospel. This is the issue for the church in our day. Denial of this by affirming that the Jesus of the gospel loves and is gracious to all hearers, sincerely desirous of saving them all, is, as such, denial that the white horse runs "conquering." And this is the wedge to introduce the denial of the victory of Jesus Christ in its entirety. To put it theologically, Arminianism is incipient modernism. The doctrine of a "well-meant offer" is a public declaration that the white horse is often defeated, indeed, that whatever victories it enjoys are due to the will of the sinner. So also is the doctrine of a gracious, justifying, but conditional promise of the gospel to every physical child of believers alike.

The white horse does not conquer apart from the message, the content, the doctrine, the truth, of the gospel. This message is sovereign, particular, efficacious grace, by means of the Word and Sacraments, according to the eternal decree of election, and a hardening operation of the Spirit upon others, determined by the counsel of reprobation. Only as a gospel with this message does the gospel always conquer. Inasmuch as the gospel is both a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death can the apostle exclaim, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ" (II Cor. 2:14-16).

The message is the sovereign Christ of the Reformed faith as this faith is set down in the Reformed confessions. 

Because the synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches labors for the one, true gospel, its meeting is validated and significant. Because the young man graduating from the Protestant Reformed Seminary loves this gospel and is ready to vow faithfully to preach it and energetically to defend it, his graduation is a joyful occasion.

Encouragement of Church and Minister

For the church in the world and especially for a young man taking up the ministry, the grand vision of the running of the white horse is encouragement.

Church and minister need this encouragement.

We need this encouragement, first, because the white horse runs in battle. The white horse is the war-horse, the most powerful, fearsome instrument of war in the world at that time. This explains the bow in the hands of the rider. That the white horse runs in battle is implied in the words "conquering, and to conquer." The battle is against the dragon and his beast, with the whore as ally. The battle is for the kingdom and glory of Jesus Christ in the world. By virtue of her calling to preach the Word, the true church is plunged into this war. By virtue of his office, the young minister must fight in this war. In this war, encouragement is necessary for the army of Christ—not any encouragement whatever, but specifically the encouragement of the vision of the running of the white horse "conquering, and to conquer."

We need this encouragement, second, because, although the white horse conquers, we often can neither see nor feel the victory, but rather suffer seeming failure and defeat.

Let the young minister work in the congregation or on the mission field with his eye of faith on the huge, invincible white horse. It is reality. The failure and defeat of the gospel are only seeming.

In the running of the white horse is motivation to labor. Every sermon, every catechism class, every sick call, every admonition, every faithful bringing of the Word to the needy in the late hours of the night, yes, and all the faithful preparation, is the running of the white horse.

The lazy, faithless, or heretical minister will not cripple the horse, nor frustrate its running, but on his part he is guilty of the attempt, and the hooves of the white horse will grind him into powder.

Keeping his eye on the white horse will strengthen the young minister to endure in the ministry. When there is unfair criticism, when your work seems to get nowhere, when your congregation seems so small, when the forces of darkness increase, when your own weaknesses, "thorn," and sins bid fair to undo your ministry—then believe that the white horse conquers, in your ministry.

And at the end of your ministry, should Christ not yet have returned in the body, this will be your satisfaction and reward: "By the grace of the Lamb who saved me, my life and work were privileged to be one stride, short though it was, in the glorious running of the white horse."