Fortitude in the Face of Evil
In modern Western Christianity, we have suffered very little for our faith. I do not mean to make light of the crippling trials we face in the Christian life, but to make clear the reality that we are able to practice our faith in freedom. In the history of Christianity, this is an odd phenomenon. From its conception, Christianity has been on the receiving end of hostility and persecution from both the world and the established church. Yet, this evil has been met with a fortitude that is otherworldly time and time again.
Take Stephen of the early church as an example, the first martyr recorded in Acts. Upon hearing him preach Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the council of religious leaders stoned him. As the rocks were thrown, Stephen prayed. He did not pray that they would stop, he didn't pray to make it out alive, he prayed for their forgiveness. That's fortitude in the face of suffering – an odd embrace of suffering. Luke continues, telling us that there arose that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. John Foxe, a 16th Century historian, estimates that 2000 Christians were martyred that day.
In Act's and Monuments, Foxe has compiled one of the greatest works on Christian martyrs and martyrdom the church possesses. Within its pages, we find Christian after Christian who has stood in the face of persecution and prevailed in faith. He recounts the ten waves of persecution of the early church under pagan rulers, the persecution of Christians carried out by the Papacy, and the persecution against the Reformed church in his own time. Many of the stories go like this:
"Germanicus, a young man, but a true Christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage that several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired such fortitude."
Or hear the story of Victor:
"Victor was a Christian of a good family at Marseilles, in France; he spent a great part of the night in visiting the afflicted, and confirming the weak; which pious work he could not, consistently with his own safety, perform in the daytime; and his fortune he spent in relieving the distresses of poor Christians. He was at length, however, seized by the emperor Maximian's decree, who ordered him to be bound, and dragged through the streets. During the execution of this order, he was treated with all manner of cruelties and indignities by the enraged populace. Remaining still inflexible, his courage was deemed obstinacy. Being by order stretched upon the rack, he turned his eyes toward heaven, and prayed to God to endue him with patience, after which he underwent the tortures with most admirable fortitude. After the executioners were tired with inflicting torments on him, he was conveyed to a dungeon. In his confinement, he converted his jailers, named Alexander, Felician, and Longinus. This affair coming to the ears of the emperor, he ordered them immediately to be put to death, and the jailers were accordingly beheaded. Victor was then again put to the rack, unmercifully beaten with batoons, and again sent to prison. Being a third time examined concerning his religion, he persevered in his principles; a small altar was then brought, and he was commanded to offer incense upon it immediately. Fired with indignation at the request, he boldly stepped forward, and with his foot overthrew both altar and idol. This so enraged the emperor Maximian, who was present, that he ordered the foot with which he had kicked the altar to be immediately cut off; and Victor was thrown into a mill, and crushed to pieces with the stones, A.D. 303."
As Foxe so clearly relays to us, faith in God is a fortitude amidst a myriad of evils. Story after story of how Christians have stood in the face of persecution cannot but inspire us to pursue faith through perilous times.
I fear there is a common attitude among many Christians in the West that we are not to make public our faith lest we receive ridicule. This attitude is bolstered by many examples of politicians, professors, public figures, and neighbours who scoff at religion, make little of Christ, and deny the existence of God. But what is ridicule in light of eternity? In light of the persecution Christians have faced in the past? It is nothing. The Christian has a hope that transcends earthly goods and powers, for his hope is in God. It is a hope that causes a fortitude in the face of various trials, temptations, and tests of faith.
The question that is often asked upon hearing these stories of persecution is, "Why does God allow this to happen?" In part, no one but God can answer. We do not always find the answer in this lifetime as to why God allowed for us to face a certain trial or trouble. It seems as though it was for nothing; no particular purpose or desired outcome makes itself known to us. And then there are the times where it is abundantly clear as to why God allowed for us to walk a certain valley. No one but us knows why. This is why it is foolish for us to attempt explaining to another why a certain trial has befallen them.
But there is a general answer given in Scripture, namely that God is producing in us what we cannot on our own. As Paul tells the Roman Christians, God is committed to conforming us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). We go through trials, persecutions, temptations, valleys, and the like in order to display the glory of God in us and conform us to the likeness of Jesus Christ. I think Charles Spurgeon describes this well with a word-picture,
A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now, in one part of the stream there is a sandbank; should some one ask, "Why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel and deviate so much from a straight line?" His answer would be, "Because I should not get my vessel into harbour at all if I did not keep to the deep channel." So, it may be, you would run aground and suffer shipwreck, if your divine Captain did not steer you into the depths of affliction where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession.
It is not for nothing that Christians face various pains and evils in this life. God has a purpose, and we have hope. Therefore we embrace our suffering with hope. The same faith that propelled the Christians of the past to stand strong in the face of unimaginable evils is the same faith you and I possess today; we do well to hear these testimonies again and again so that we might pursue that same faith and have the same fortitude in the midst of our own suffering.
 Evening, November 11th (Spurgeon's Devotional)