An Application of Bunyan – A Glorious End

December 18, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Faithful’s trial had ended. Testimony was completed, and the jury had deliberated. The verdict was, of course, a forgone conclusion. Guilty. The sentence would be death by means most cruel.

What his persecutors could neither know, nor understand, however, is that in sentencing Faithful to death, they were sentencing him to glorious joy. Bunyan describes that which the human eye could not perceive.

“Now I saw, that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him) was taken up into it, and straitway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.”

And so, for Faithful, his momentary, light affliction produced for him an eternal weight of glory.

Martyrdom has always been seen to be glorious by the people of God. And yet, our understanding of martyrdom is unique when compared to that of Islamic suicide bombers or Buddhist monks who have committed self-immolation. In both cases, these deaths are spoken of by the adherents of these religions as cases of martyrdom. But this is something entirely different than Christian martyrdom.

For the Christian, any form of suicide, especially that which kills others in addition on oneself, is light years away from martyrdom. It is what has traditionally been referred to as “self-murder”. It is a violation of the sixth commandment. For the Christian, martyrdom comes at the hands of the enemies of our Lord, and never by our own hand.

Neither is martyrdom something to be either desired or pursued. Should it come, it will come according to the sovereign decree of God, not because we instigate it. From the earliest day of the New Covenant church, the leaders of God’s people have correctly warned against the impulse of glorifying martyrdom in this way.

Nevertheless, martyrdom has been the constant experience of Christ’s church. From Stephen, the first martyr, whose death is described in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, to those saints who are, in our own day, faithfully laying down their lives for their Lord at the hands of totalitarian governments and Islamic radicals, the history of the church is a history of martyrdom.

So, though we do not glorify martyrdom in such a way as to run after it, we do honor those brothers and sisters who have been faithful to the end. They are those of whom “the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38). And should the Lord’s plan for us be to suffer, rather than to pass peacefully in our beds, may the Lord grant us the grace to endure, that we might be found worthy, as well.

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