Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Be Faithful until Death"

Recently I got a used copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and as I read it I keep asking myself the same question, "Would I be willing to die for my faith?" It's a sobering question, but I wish more people would ask it. You wonder why we have such mediocrity in American evangelicalism today - people have never read about the men, women and children who preffered to face the jaws of lions, the terror of the flames, and the horrors of the rack, rather than surrender their allegience to Christ. These people really understood what it meant to lay down their lives for the Lord. For them, it wasn't just some pietistic ritual to serve Christ, it was the heart and soul of their very existence! And for their faith they were slaughtered in the most unimaginable ways to satiate the madness of men - but they inherited an everlasting reward. Are we willing to do the same?

The following are two slightly abridged accounts of men who suffered martyrdom under the Roman emperors.

Under the reign of the emperor Valerian, A. D. 257
Let us draw near to the fire of martyred Lawrence, that our cold hearts may be warmed thereby. The merciless tyrant, understanding him to be not only a minister of the sacraments, but a distributor also of the Church riches, promised to himself a double prey, by the apprehension of one soul. First, with the rake of avarice to scrape to himself the treasure of poor Christians; then with the fiery fork of tyranny, so to toss and turmoil them, that they should wax weary of their profession. With furious face and cruel countenance, the greedy wolf demanded where this Lawrence had bestowed the substance of the Church: who, craving three days' respite, promised to declare where the treasure might be had. In the meantime, he caused a good number of poor Christians to be congregated. So, when the day of his answer was come, the persecutor strictly charged him to stand to his promise. Then valient Lawrence, stretching out his arms over the poor, said: "These are the precious treasure of the Church; these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ reigneth...What greater riches can Christ our Master possess, than the poor people in whom He loveth to be seen?"

O, what tongue is able to express the fury and madness of the tyrant's heart! Now he stamped, he stared, he ramped, he fared as one out of his wits: his eyes like fire glowed, his mouth like a boar foamed, his teeth like a hellhound grinned. Now, not a reasonable man, but a roaring lion, he might be called.

"Kindle the fire (he cried) - of wood make no spare. Hath this villain deluded the emperor? Away with him, away with him: whip him with scourges, jerk him with rods, buffet him with fists, brain him with clubs. Jesteth the traitor with the emperor? Pinch him with fiery tongs, gird him with burning plates, bring out the strongest chains, and the fire-forks, and the grated bed of iron...on pain of our highest displeasure do every man his office, O ye tormentors."

The word was no sooner spoken, but all was done. After many cruel handlings, this meek lamb was laid, I will not say on his fiery bed of iron, but on his soft bed of down. So mightily God wrought with his martyr Lawrence, so miraculously God tempered His element the fire; that it became not a bed of consuming pain, but a pallet of nourishing rest.

Under the reign of the emperor Diocletian, A. D. 303
St. George was born in Cappadocia, of Christian parents; and giving proofs of his courage, was promoted in the army of the emperor Diocletian. During the persecution, St. George threw up his command, went boldly to the senate house, and avowed his being a Christian, taking occasion at the same time to remonstrate against paganism, and point out the absurdity of worshipping idols. This freedom so greatly provoked the senate that St. George was order to be tortured, and by the emperor's orders was dragged through the streets, and beheaded the next day.

The legend of the dragon, which is associated with this martyr, is usually illustrated by representing St. George seating upon a charging horse and transfixing the monster with his spear. This fiery dragon symbolizes the devil, who was vanquished by St. George's steadfast faith in Christ, which remained unshaken in spite of torture and death.

These are not pleasant things to think about, but THIS IS OUR HERITAGE. We need to consider their examples and allow their stalwart faith and courage be the proverbial "slap in the face" to awaken us from spiritual laziness, and energize us toward a renewed zeal for Christ.

Men and women perished because they read the Scriptures and believed them. How is it that we can't seem to find time to even read the Bible? I think the reason lies in the fact that far too many Christians (myself included) fail to heed the warning of Deuteronomy 6:
"Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." [Emphasis added]
Many of us didn't have to shed blood for our freedom, so we tend to take it for granted. We didn't have to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel, so we value it very lightly. Bibles are readily accessible, available in any book store for only a few dollars, so we place a dollar value on the Word of God.

But consider the price! Read about the men and women who endured unthinkable torture because they owned a copy of the Scriptures, because they preached against idolatry. THEY PAID THE ULTIMATE PRICE! So get a copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Know their stories. Tell others. And most importantly, live for Christ, come what may!
"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:16-18
"For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." Philemon 1:29

"Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 2:3

"For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God." 1 Peter 2:20

"But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED...For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong." 1 Peter 3:14, 17

"Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." 1 Peter 4:19

"Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." Revelation 2:10

1 comment:

Heidi said...

Thanks for the post! My mom has been reading us kids this book and though it is a hard read it really does make you think.