Lesson of the Martyr

We have reached the era of the Protestant Reformation in my history class, a period I love to study with the students, because it reminds me again how much I owe to the brave followers of Christ who risked, and often forfeited, their lives in the defense of the gospel. My burden is to pass on to the students in my class not only an appreciation for these faithful believers, but also a heartfelt gratefulness to God for preserving His Word, and using their lives, to shine forth the truth in our generation.

It sounds so glorious, noble and beautiful. And in some ways it is. But really studying the martyrs’ lives reminds me again, how little anything in this life is about us and our comfort.  Martin Luther’s passion for the truth, his dream that the common man read and understand the Scripture for himself, put his life in constant and grave danger. He faced the wrath of governments and the Holy Roman Church. One might think this would be enough trauma and tragedy for one life. But Luther suffered other losses. For example, his  daughter died as a young child. This is the kind of loss I am tempted to question. Luther was clearly God’s servant, boldly proclaiming the truth of the Scriptures, questioning the accepted religious beliefs of the day in much the same way Jesus had called out the Pharisaical religion of his day. Could God not have protected Luther’s daughter and restored her health? Of course He could have? And why didn’t He? Perhaps Luther knows the answer. Perhaps he never will. I certainly don’t have a satisfying answer to that dilemma. But I do know as Luther knew that Christ was worth following no matter what the consequences, that His glory is worth pursuing in spite of loss, and that His goodness will one day shine forth like the morning sun.

Studying the martyr’s lives is sobering. But it is also enlightening. God uses their lives to foster a heart of gratitude and humility in me, an attitude of submission to Him, and assurance of His goodness.

Did they have any idea the effects of their faithfulness to future generations? Perhaps some of them did. Hugh Latimer’s last words to his fellow martyr Master Ridley  as they were burned at the stake in England by Bloody Mary ring with prophetic wisdom: “Be of good comfort Master Ridley and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”  By God’s grace, and to His glory! That is where their hopes were set, not in the success of a cause, but in the glory of their Savior.

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