Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.
From the same link, the book's purpose was fourfold:
- Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
- Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
- Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
- Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
The Eighth Persecution, Under Valerian, A.D. 257
Began under Valerian, in the month of April, 257, and continued for three years and six months. The martyrs that fell in this persecution were innumerable, and their tortures and deaths as various and painful. The most eminent martyrs were the following, though neither rank, sex, nor age were regarded.
Rufina and Secunda were two beautiful and accomplished ladies, daughters of Asterius, a gentleman of
|The Martyrdom of Secunda and Rufina|
Collaborative painting by Il Morazzone,
Giulio Procaccini, Giovanni Battista Crespi (1620-1625)
Stephen, bishop of Rome, was beheaded in the same year, and about that time Saturninus, the pious orthodox bishop of Toulouse, refusing to sacrifice to idols, was treated with all the barbarous indignities imaginable, and fastened by the feet to the tail of a bull. Upon a signal given, the enraged animal was driven down the steps of the temple, by which the worthy martyr's brains were dashed out.
Sextus succeeded Stephen as bishop of Rome. He is supposed to have been a Greek by birth or by extraction, and had for some time served in the capacity of a deacon under Stephen. His great fidelity, singular wisdom, and uncommon courage distinguished him upon many occasions; and the happy conclusion of a controversy with some heretics is generally ascribed to his piety and prudence. In the year 258, Marcianus, who had the management of the Roman government, procured an order from the emperor Valerian, to put to death all the Christian clergy in Rome, and hence the bishop with six of his deacons, suffered martyrdom in 258.
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 valiant 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, in whom Jesus Christ hath His mansion-place.
What more precious jewels can Christ have, than those in whom He hath promised to dwell? For so it is written, 'I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.' And again, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' 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 formed, his teeth like a hellhound grinned. Now, not a reasonable man, but a roaring lion, he might be called.
|Wikimedia Commons, |
Martyrdom of Lawrence
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.
Consider what the ladies went through. They were young, engaged to be married to handsome, rich suitors. However, when the chips were down, their suitors showed eternally that their brides' worth was less than their fortunes, and the suitors snitched to the government and gave them over. The ladies were killed. I wonder how the sisters felt in prison. They did not renounce, so we know that they were comforted by the Spirit. (Hebrews 13:5). It can't have been easy though, in the dank, dark, rat and maggot infested, slimy prison, awaiting their fate. Were the sisters together? Did they sing? Pray? I'm sure they did. Through it all, they remained faithful to the one true Groom and their eternal reward in heaven will last forever. Moths and rust have already destroyed the two rich suitors and their fortunes. (Luke 17:33; Matthew 6:19).
The bishops of Rome had it hard, too. One after another were killed. When Sextus succeeded Stephen, he knew he was going to be killed at some point, I'm sure. What a job description. "Needed: Leader of church, the people you will lead are skittish and likely will be hunted and persecuted. You will be hunted and likely killed too. Probably tortured. Accepting inquiries from 2-5 PM, in person."
And they lined up, serving Christ with full passion and love. Killed with Sextus were deacons Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, Stephanus, Felicissimus and Agapitus. (Matthew 10:16).
And dear Lawrence, tortured mercilessly and roasted on a gridiron because he wouldn't give over the church money! His declaration of the Church's treasure being His sheep, priceless!
I think about today's men who call themselves leaders and whine about difficulties of service in ministry. (Jude 1:16). Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church claims to have "faced danger" a few times. He wrote a long list of perceived persecutions and troubles he said he's endured, in an essay titled "The hardest part of ministry" with the tag, 'suffering.' It's a lengthy essay about his personal suffering, listing many woes he has faced. Here are a few.
|Mark Driscoll, Wiki photo|
Once, a man tried to enter his house. Another time a man with a "large knife" walked up the aisle and tried to stab him. Once, a sex offender tried to talk to his family. One time, someone sent Mark a letter telling him to stop preaching. Other times, people would post directions to Mark's house on social media and encourage his critics to come to his home. He even has had to endure gossip! Once, someone even pooped on his porch!!
Yep, in his own humblebragging words, Mr Driscoll has surely been through it. Mr Driscoll wrote, "In general, going out in public has gotten tough. People feel free to interrupt family dinners out to sit at the table..." That's just terrible! It's not like his time is not his own but Jesus's and his service is to Jesus or anything.
Like the two young ladies who lost their family, their fiancé, and their lives in A.D. 257 had been through it, sealing their martyrdom with their blood, some of today's pastors are surely enduring a terrible persecution. Dealing with poop on your porch must surely equate with betrayal, imprisonment, and beheading as a terrible price for your service.
I love reading about the martyrs and writing about them so I can honor them as my forbears in faith. I love to ponder the faithfulness of our Savior who gives a faith so strong these precious martyrs endured torture and death with songs and prayers. I love to praise the Holy Spirit for empowering them with the things to say, like Lawrence bringing the sheep as the treasure, knowing it would mean his fleshly doom. Jesus is worth living for. Jesus is worth dying for.
I also write about these martyrs so as to give us all a sense of perspective. Mr Driscoll has definitely lost his. When he preaches on suffering, do you truly think he understands biblical suffering for the name of Jesus? I don't.
|Driscoll at dinner with family, source: FB|
Being grilled on a gridiron is real suffering. Interruptions at dinner and gossip about you is not.
I think of two evangelists who rode a boat up a river deep into a jungle and trekked three more hours to reach a village of lost people in Laos. They shared about Christ and 178 people were converted and 8 were baptized. Yet the local witch doctor accused several Christians of causing the accidental deaths of three local men, and the Christians were rounded up, tried, told to renounce their faith, threatened with exile, and forced to pay restitution.
This incident was not in some long ago time. It was a news story posted on Voice of the Martyrs on November 18, 2013.
And rich pastors in the US complain that their woes are "cruel and unusual."
Perspective. Keep in your heart what real suffering for the faith and the name of Jesus is so that we can praise His holy name for being so faithful to those who truly suffer. And let us rejoice in our own circumstances that He hasn't ordained us to the same events as yet. Rejoice either way, that we suffer for Him or we live for him. And remember the martyrs.