Second Century Martyrdom

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

– Revelation 6:9-11

Excerpted from the book, Martyrs’ Mirror, by   Theileman J. van Braught

COMPILED FROM VARIOUS AUTHENTIC CHRONICLES, MEMORIALS, AND TESTIMONIES

Translated from the original Dutch or Holland Language from the Edition of 1660 BY JOSEPH F. SOHM

[The year was] 164 A. D.

Felicitas was a Christian widow at Rome, and had seven sons, whose names were Januarius, Felix, Philippus, Sylvanus, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis. These lived together with their mother in one house, as an entire Christian church. Of the mother it is stated, that by her Christian communion, (conversation) which she had with the Roman women, she converted many to Christ. The sons, on their part, also acquitted themselves well by winning many men to Christ.

Now, when the heathen priests complained of this to Antonius, the Emperor – who had resumed the persecution which had begun with Trajan, but had subsided – saying, that there were not only men, but also women, who blasphemed the gods, despised their images, trampled under foot the Emperor’s worship of the gods, yea, turned away many from the old religion of the Romans; that this was principally done by a certain widow, named Felicitas, and her seven sons, and that, therefore, in order to prevent this, they must be compelled to give up Christ, and sacrifice to the gods, or, in case they should refuse to do so, be put to death, the Emperor, prompted or instigated hereby, gave to Publius, the provost, or chief magistrate of Rome, full authority over them.

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Our Willing Savior

Excerpted from the book, Holiness, by J. C. Ryle

‘And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, “If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us.” But the other answering rebuked him, saying, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss.” And he said unto Jesus, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise”—Luke 23:39-43

There are few passages in the New Testament which are more familiar to men’s ears than the verses which head this paper. They contain the well-known story of ‘the penitent thief’.

And it is right and good that these verses should be well known. They have comforted many troubled minds; they have brought peace to many uneasy consciences; they have been a healing balm to many wounded hearts; they have been a medicine to many sin-sick souls; they have smoothed down not a few dying pillows. Wherever the gospel of Christ is preached, they will always be honoured, loved and had in remembrance.

…we are meant to learn from these verses Christ’s power and willingness to save sinners.

This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches us that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it: it teaches us that Jesus Christ is ‘mighty to save’ (Isaiah 63:1).

I ask anyone to say whether a case could look more hopeless and desperate than that of this penitent thief once did. He was a wicked man, a malefactor, a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. And as he had lived wicked, so he seemed determined to die wicked, for at first, when he was crucified, he railed on our Lord. And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered; the grave was ready for him.

There was but a step between him and death. If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man.

But see now what happened. He ceased to rail and blaspheme, as he had done at the first; he began to speak in another manner altogether. He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to ‘remember him when He came into His kingdom’. He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change!

And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved; but it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late, the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy; but it proved not too late at all. The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer, spoke kindly to him, assured him he should be with Him that day in paradise, pardoned him completely, cleansed him thoroughly from his sins, received him graciously, justified him freely, raised him from the gates of hell, gave him a title to glory. Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list, from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to him as these: ‘Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.’

I believe the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that He was a strong deliverer. In the hour when His body was racked with pain, He showed that He could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now, have I not a right to say, ‘Christ is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him’? (Hebrews 7:25.) Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say, ‘Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none’? Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him.

Have I not a right to say, ‘By grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works: fear not, only believe’? Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized; he belonged to no visible church; he never received the Lord’s Supper; he never did any work for Christ; he never gave money to Christ’s cause! But he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, ‘The youngest faith will save a man’s soul, if it only be true’? Behold the proof of it. This man’s faith was only one day old; but it led him to Christ, and preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a Physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.

Footnote

‘O Saviour, what a precedent is this of Thy free and powerful grace! Where Thou wilt give, what unworthiness can bar us from Thy mercy? When Thou wilt give, what time can prejudice our vocation? Who can despair of Thy goodness, when he, that in the morning was posting to hell, is in the evening with Thee in Paradise?’ (Bishop Hall.)

Ryle, J. C.. Holiness (pp. 161-163). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.

 

The Powerful Root of Practical Love

Devotional by John Piper

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. (1 John 3:14)

So, love is the evidence that we are born again — that we are Christians, that we are saved.

Sometimes the Bible makes our holiness and our love for people the condition of our final salvation. In other words, if we are not holy and not loving, we will not be saved at the judgment day (e.g., Hebrews 12:14Galatians 5:211 Corinthians 6:10). This doesn’t mean that acts of love are how we get right with God. No, the Bible is clear again and again as Ephesians 2:8–9 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.” No, when the Bible says that we are saved by faith but that we must love people in order to finally be saved, it means that faith in God’s promises must be so real that the love it produces proves the reality of the faith.

So, love for others is a condition of future grace in the sense that it confirms that the primary condition, faith, is genuine. We could call love for others a secondary condition, which confirms the authenticity of the primary and essential condition of faith which alone unites us to Christ, and receives his power.

Faith perceives the glory of God in the promises of future grace and embraces all that the promises reveal of what God is for us in Jesus. That spiritual sight of God’s glory, and our delight in it, is the self-authenticating evidence that God has called us to be a beneficiary of his grace. This evidence frees us to bank on God’s promise as our own. And this banking on the promise empowers us to love. Which in turn confirms that our faith is real.

The world is desperate for a faith that combines two things: awestruck sight of unshakable divine Truth, and utterly practical, round-the-clock power to make a liberating difference in life. That’s what I want too. Which is why I am a Christian.

There is a God of Grace who magnifies his own infinite beauty and self-sufficiency by fulfilling promises to helpless people who trust him. And there is a power that comes from prizing this God that leaves no nook or cranny of life untouched. It empowers us to love in the most practical ways.

 

Devotional is excerpted from Future Grace, pages 257-259
By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org
Used with permission.

Listening to Faith

Faith told Moses that worldly pleasures were ‘pleasures of sin’. They were mingled with sin, they led on to sin, they were ruinous to the soul, and displeasing to God. It would be small comfort to have pleasure while God was against him. Better suffer and obey God, than be at ease and sin.

Faith told Moses that these pleasures after all were only for a ‘season’. They could not last; they were all short-lived; they would weary him soon; he must leave them all in a few years.

Faith told him that there was a reward in heaven for the believer far richer than the treasures in Egypt, durable riches, where rust could not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. The crown there would be incorruptible; the weight of glory would be exceeding and eternal, and faith bade him look away to an unseen heaven if his eyes were dazzled with Egyptian gold.

Faith told Moses that affliction and suffering were not real evils. They were the school of God, in which He trains the children of grace for glory; the medicines which are needful to purify our corrupt wills; the furnace which must burn away our dross; the knife which must cut the ties that bind us to the world.

Ryle, J. C.. Holiness (p. 123). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.

Our Evening

C. H. Spurgeon

This Evening’s Meditation

“These all died in faith.” Hebrews 11:13

Behold the epitaph of all those blessed saints who fell asleep before the coming of our Lord! It matters nothing how they died, whether of old age, or by violent means; this one point, in which they all agree, is the most worthy of record, “they all died in faith.” In faith they lived—it was their comfort, their guide, their motive and their support; and in the same spiritual grace they died, ending their life-song in the sweet strain in which they had so long continued. They did not die resting in the flesh or upon their own attainments; they made no advance from their first way of acceptance with God—but held to the way of faith to the end. Faith is as precious to die by—as to live by.

Dying in faith has distinct reference to the past. They believed the promises which had gone before, and were assured that their sins were blotted out through the mercy of God.

Dying in faith has to do with the present. These saints were confident of their acceptance with God, they enjoyed the beams of His love, and rested in His faithfulness.

Dying in faith looks into the future. They fell asleep, affirming that the Messiah would surely come, and that when He would in the last days appear upon the earth, they would rise from their graves to behold Him.

To them the pains of death were but the birth-pangs of a better state. Take courage, my soul, as you read this epitaph. Your course, through grace, is one of faith—and sight seldom cheers you; this has also been the pathway of the brightest and the best. Faith was the orbit in which these stars of the first magnitude moved all the time of their shining here; and happy are you that it is yours. Look anew tonight to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith, and thank Him for giving you like precious faith with souls now in glory.

Our Most Necessary Faith

C. H. Spurgeon

This Morning’s Meditation

“Strong in faith.” — Romans 4:20

Christian, take good care of your faith—for faith is the only way whereby you can obtain blessings. If we want blessings from God, nothing can fetch them down but faith. Prayer cannot draw down answers from God’s throne except it be the earnest prayer of the man who believes. Faith is the angelic messenger between the soul—and the Lord Jesus in glory. Let that angel be withdrawn, and we can neither send up prayer, nor receive the answers. Faith is the telegraph wire which links earth and heaven — on which God’s messages of love fly so fast, that before we call—He answers, and while we are yet speaking—He hears us. But if that telegraph wire of faith is snapped—how can we receive the promise?

Am I in trouble? — I can obtain help for trouble by faith. Am I beaten about by the enemy? — my soul on her dear Refuge leans by faith. But take faith away — in vain I call to God. There is no road between my soul and heaven—but faith. In the deepest wintertime, faith is the road on which the horses of prayer may travel — ay, and all the better for the biting frost; but blockade the road, and how can we communicate with the Great King? Faith links me with divinity. Faith clothes me with the power of God. Faith engages the omnipotence of Jehovah on my side. Faith insures every attribute of God in my defense. It helps me to defy the hosts of hell. It makes me march triumphant over the necks of my enemies. But without faith—how can I receive anything of the Lord? Let not him who wavers — who is like a wave of the sea — expect that he will receive anything from God! O, then, Christian, watch well your faith; for with it you can win all things, however poor you are—but without it you can obtain nothing. “If you can believe—all things are possible to him who believes.”

Even Our Little Faith

C. H. Spurgeon

This Evening’s Meditation

“She was healed immediately.” Luke 8:47

One of the most touching and teaching of the Savior’s miracles, is before us tonight. The woman was very ignorant. She imagined that virtue came out of Christ by a law of necessity, without His knowledge or direct will. Moreover, she was a stranger to the generosity of Jesus’ character, or she would not have gone behind to steal the cure which He was so ready to bestow. Misery should always place itself right in the face of mercy. Had she known the love of Jesus’ heart—she would have said, “I have but to put myself where He can see me—His omniscience will teach Him my case, and His love at once will work my cure.”

We admire her faith—but we marvel at her ignorance. After she had obtained the cure, she rejoiced with trembling. She was glad that the divine virtue had wrought a marvel in her; but she feared lest Christ should retract the blessing, and put a negative upon the grant of His grace. Little did she comprehend the fullness of His love!

We have not so clear a view of Him as we could wish; we know not the heights and depths of His love; but we surely know that He is too good to withdraw from a trembling soul—the gift which it has been able to obtain. But here is the marvel of it—as little as was her knowledge; her faith, because it was real faith, saved her, and saved her at once. There was no tedious delay—faith’s miracle was instantaneous. If we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, salvation is our present and eternal possession.

If in the list of the Lord’s children—we are written as the feeblest of the family—yet, being heirs through faith, no power, human or devilish, can expel us from salvation. If we dare not lean our heads upon His bosom with John—yet if we can venture in the press behind Him, and touch the hem of his garment—we are made whole. Courage, timid one! your faith has saved you—go in peace! “Being justified by faith—we have peace with God.”

The Trial of our Faith

J. C. Philpot

Today’s Daily Portion

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:7

Trials and temptations are the means which God employs to manifest to the soul the reality and strength of the faith which he bestows upon it; for there is in every trial and temptation opposition made to the faith that is in the heart; and every trial and temptation, so to speak, threaten the life of faith. And they threaten it in this way–Under the trial God for the most part hides himself. He puts forth, indeed, a secret power whereby the soul is held up, or otherwise it would sink into utter despair, and be overcome and swallowed up by the power of unbelief. Hence comes the conflict between the trial that fights against the faith and the faith which fights against or rather under the trial.

Now, when in this trial, in this sharp conflict, in this hot furnace, faith does not give way, is not burned up, is not destroyed, but keeps its firm hold upon the promise and the faithfulness of him who has given it, this trial of faith becomes very precious. It is precious to the soul when God again smiles upon it, and becomes thus manifest as genuine. It is precious in the sight of God’s people, who see it and derive strength and comfort from what they witness in the experience of a saint thus tried and blessed; and it is precious also in the sight of God himself, who crowns it with his own manifest approbation, and puts upon it the attesting seal of his own approving smile. But above all things, it will be found precious at the appearing of Jesus Christ, and that not only in his various appearings in grace, but in his final appearance in glory, for of that the Apostle mainly speaks when he says that “it may be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

Our Prayer Answering God

C. H. Spurgeon

Today’s Evening Meditation

“Seven times Elijah told him to go and look—and seven times he went.” 1 Kings 18:43

Success is certain when the Lord has promised it. Although you may have pleaded month after month without evidence of answer, it is not possible that the Lord should be deaf when His people are earnest in a matter which concerns His glory. The prophet on the top of Carmel continued to wrestle with God, and never for a moment gave way to a fear that he should not be received in Jehovah’s courts. Six times the servant returned—but on each occasion no word was spoken but “Go again.” We must not dream of unbelief—but hold to our faith even to seventy times seven. Faith sends expectant hope to look from Carmel’s brow, and if nothing is beheld, she sends again and again.

So far from being crushed by repeated disappointment, faith is animated to plead more fervently with her God. She is humbled—but not abashed—her groans are deeper, and her sighings more vehement—but she never relaxes her hold or stays her hand. It would be more agreeable to flesh and blood to have a speedy answer—but believing souls have learned to be submissive, and to find it good to wait for as well as upon the Lord.

Delayed answers often set the heart searching itself, and so lead to contrition and spiritual reformation—deadly blows are thus struck at our corruption, and the chambers of imagery are cleansed. The great danger is lest men should faint—and miss the blessing. Reader, do not fall into that sin—but continue in prayer and watching.

At last the little cloud was seen—the sure forerunner of torrents of rain, and even so with you, the token for good shall surely be given, and you shall rise as a prevailing prince to enjoy the mercy you have sought. Elijah was a man of like passions with us—his power with God did not lie in his own merits. If his believing prayer availed so much, why not yours? Plead the precious blood with unceasing importunity, and it shall be with you according to your desire!