I finished reading a Christian classic that I would recommend to others. Foxe's Book of Martyrs has been one of the two most cherished books, apart from the Bible, among English-speaking people for 400 years. The other is Pilgrim's Progress. In some ways, it is not easy reading since it was written a generation before Shakespeare wrote his plays. But it is worth reading. And it is not as morbid as some would think.
When I read the accounts of real men and women who fearlessly and even joyfully gave their lives for their Savior with the full assurance that they would wake on the other side of death in the presence of Jesus, it helped me realize that this world holds nothing for me. My hope is in the risen Lamb. Death should not be something we embrace, but it should not be something we shrink from with horror. There are some things that are worse than death. According to these heroes, one thing that they would never do is to renounce their King. They were true to Him, even to death.
The book starts out giving the legends of the deaths of the first and second century martyrs. Then it chronicles the persecution by the Catholic Church of the Reformers starting with John Wickliff, who was known as the Morning Star of the Reformation. From there the book goes to what was happening during John Foxe's lifetime - fellow Englishmen and women who were sentenced to death for refusing to submit to the idolatry of the Catholic Church during the reign of the queen known as Bloody Mary.
When reading about these extraordinary people who faced the stake so fearlessly, continuing to pray and exhort the crowd gathered as the fire would start burning their flesh, I wondered how they were able to take it. There is one excerpt that shows the amazing presence of Jesus, when He said He would be with us to the end of the age:
"Thomas Hauker, being bound to the stake, the fire was set upon him. In the which when he continued long, and when his speech was taken away by the violence of the flame, his skin also drawn together, and his fingers consumed by the fire, so that now all men had thought certainly he had gone, suddenly and contrary to all expectation, the blessed servant of God reached up his hands burning on a light fire, which was marvellous to behold, over his head to the living God, and with great rejoicing, as it seemed, struck or clapped them three times together. Which thing he promised certain of his friends to do; and so, secretly between them, it was agreed, that if the rage of the pain were tolerable and might be suffered, then he should lift his hands above his head toward heaven, before he gave up the ghost."
Although God doesn't promise a life free from persecution and martyrdom, He does promise His presence and protection, even through death. Many of our brothers and sisters are now suffering persecution, especially in North Korea and Muslim countries. We should hold up these dear Christians before the throne of grace. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, we in America are not exempt from the possibility of real persecution. We can take heart that there are those who have gone before. They have paved the way. They have shown us there is nothing to fear in death. It is momentary, and then....the smile of Jesus as He welcomes us to our new home.