I spent three weeks last month in England and Scotland with a group of seminary students and professors. Along with an addiction to hot tea and scones and an inability to shake terms such as “lift” and “brolly” from my vocabulary, I came away with a profound sense of the sacrifices men and women have made for the sake of the gospel over the centuries. I’ll give two examples. First, in Oxford there’s a small square cut into the asphalt in Broad Street with stones laid out in the shape of a cross. If you didn’t know it was there, you might miss it. It marks the spot where bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned alive in 1553 for refusing to recant their Protestant doctrines. Ridley was fearful as the two were led to the pyre, but Latimer rallied him: “Be of good cheer, 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.” Their marker today is obscure, but their faithful adherence helped reignite the English Reformation and their legacy lives on in English-speaking evangelical churches. You can read about their lives and martyrdom here: http://www.theologynetwork.org/unquenchable-flame/the-reformation-in-britain/getting-stuck-in/the-martyrdom-of-nicholas-ridley-and-hugh-latimer.htm.
Second, in a back room at Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, there’s an umbrella (“brolly”) in a glass case over a door. It belonged to Charles Simeon, who used it to deflect rotten produce townspeople threw at him. The university students and fellows (professors) derided him for his faithful biblical teaching, and the parishioners at Holy Trinity wanted someone else as their pastor and went so far as to lock visitors out of the church in an effort to prevent Simeon’s preaching. His ministry there lasted more than half a century. Toward the end of his career, he had this to say about the persecution he had endured:
We must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.
You can read more about Simeon, including this quote, through the words of John Piper here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/biographies/brothers-we-must-not-mind-a-little-suffering.
Oh, and all three of these men were single.
One of my fellow travelers was deeply impressed by these and other historical church leaders we encountered and described them as “men of conviction.” They were scholars and missionaries. They worked among the elite and the poor. Despite the differences in their ministries, they all stood firm when it came to the truth of God’s Word. In his earthly life, Jesus was the ultimate man of conviction as he lived in perfect obedience to the Father, and we have numerous examples of men and women of conviction from Scripture and church history: Abraham, Noah, Esther, Joshua, Paul, Athanasius, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards. With these examples in mind, let me suggest that we be women of conviction. You may be in a location where standing for the truth of the gospel could bring you a penalty similar to that of Ridley and Latimer. For those of us in the West, we may face ridicule and resistance like Simeon. Wherever you are, whatever difficulties you encounter, “play the [wo]man” and stand firm on the truth of Jesus.
While in London, I visited the Tower of London where the crown jewels are stored. They’re under heavy security. I had to pay to get in. Visitors are not allowed to take pictures of the dazzling display. It’s the highlight of a visit to the Tower. The contrast between the jewels and the obscure stone cross in Oxford, which you have to dodge bicyclists to glimpse, is astounding. And this forced a question for me: what do I treasure? Am I content to live and die in obscurity, as long as I lift up the name of Jesus? For me, is dying Christ and living gain (Philippians 1.21)? Let’s not lose sight of our single purpose of bringing God glory, despite cultural pressure or the comforts we may have to forsake. One day the jewels will be dust, and those of us who belong to Christ, including Ridley, Latimer, and Simeon, will receive an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4.17). Take a few moments today and reflect on the treasure of the gospel, and thank God for the legacy of the brothers and sisters who have gone before us.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4.7