I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and a student of the apostle John.  A Christian from childhood, his death was the first recorded death in post-New Testament history.

He lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the original apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers. Tradition has it that he was personally discipled by the apostle John and that he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (in modern Izmir in Turkey) by some of the original apostles.

In his later years, he tried to settle disputes about the date to celebrate Easter, and he confronted one of the church’s most troublesome heretics, the Gnostic Marcion, calling him “the first born of Satan,” when he ran into him in Rome. Polycarp was also responsible for converting many from Gnosticism. His only existing writing, a pastoral letter to the church at Philippi, shows he had little formal education, and was unpretentious, humble, and direct.

Such traits are especially evident in the account of his martyrdom, which was written within a year of his death. It is not clear exactly why he was suddenly, at age 86, subject to arrest, but when he heard Roman officials were intent on arresting him, he decided to wait for them at home. Panic-stricken friends pleaded with him to flee, so to calm them, he finally agreed to withdraw to a small estate outside of town. But while in prayer there, he received some sort of vision. Whatever he saw or heard, we don’t know. He simply reported to his friends that he now understood, “I must be burned alive.”

Roman soldiers eventually discovered Polycarp’s whereabouts and came to his door. When his friends urged him to run, Polycarp replied, “God’s will be done,” and he let the soldiers in.

He was escorted to the local proconsul, Statius Quadratus, who interrogated him in front of a crowd of curious onlookers. Polycarp seemed unfazed by the interrogation; he carried on a witty dialogue with Quadratus until Quadratus lost his temper and threatened Polycarp: he’d be thrown to wild beasts, he’d be burned at the stake, and so on. Polycarp just told Quadratus that while the proconsul’s fire lasts but a little while, the fires of judgment (“reserved for the ungodly,” he slyly added) cannot be quenched. Polycarp concluded, “But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.”

Soldiers then grabbed him to nail him to a stake, but Polycarp stopped them: “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” He prayed aloud, the fire was lit, and his flesh was consumed. The chronicler of this martyrdom said it was “not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”

The account concluded by saying that Polycarp’s death was remembered by “everyone”—”he is even spoken of by the heathen in every place.”

[Most source material from christianhistory.net]

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[I don’t read Kevin DeYoung’s blog often, but when I do, he’s usually got something there worth reading.  Yesterdays’s post, “How the Doctrine of Providence Can Help You Die Well, Serve Courageously, and Care For Your Wife”, was very well done.]

I shared this quotation once before, but I came across it again while working on a recent sermon.  This is a portion of the letter Guido de Bres, the author of the Belgic Confession, wrote to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Black Hole of Brunain for his Protestant faith.

My dear and well-beloved wife in our Lord Jesus, Your grief and anguish are (more…)

[From Tim Challes blog]

I have (slowly) been reading Bruce Gordon’s new biography of Calvin (titled simply Calvin) and recently came to a chapter describing the situation in France during Calvin’s ministry in Geneva. As a Frenchman, Calvin’s influence spread beyond Geneva and into his native land. There Protestants, some connected to Calvin and others not, were being killed as part of a systematic effort to root out the seditious faith. Many were hunted down, tortured and executed.

This short description of such an occasion comes from the pen of Eustache Knobelsdorf, a Catholic German who was studying in Paris. He witnessed the execution of a Protestant in 1542 and wrote out an account. I reproduce it here because it stands as a testimony of God’s truthfulness when he says that he will care for his own, not necessarily by avoiding the fire, but sometimes through the fire.

*****

I saw two burnt there. Their death inspired in me differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates. … The first was a very young man, not yet with a beard, he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner’s knife, sticking it out as far as he could. The executioner pulled it out even further with pinchers, cut it off, and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man’s face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think that he was going to a feast. … When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanimity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries of elation and the insults of the crowd that were directed towards him. He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out the blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting for some miraculous rescue. When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself willingly to be burned.

Three of our brothers in Christ faced an ultimatum – convert to Islam or die.  Perhaps Bill’s recent trip to Cote d’Ivoire has made this a more real event than it otherwise would have been for me.  About this story, John Piper tweeted, “Whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).” Pray for our African brothers.

From extreme northeast Nigeria…

Boko Haram: How 3 pastors were beheaded eyewitness
From TIMOTHY OLA, Maiduguri
Thursday, August 6, 2009

•Photo: The Sun Publishing

One of the victims of last week’s attack by the Yusufiya sect in Borno State has given a shocking account of how the Islamic extremists killed three pastors who were captured along with other victims on the second day of the insurgence. The victim was among those held hostage in Yusuf’s enclave.

Speaking exclusively to Daily Sun in Maiduguri, the eye witness who preferred anonymity disclosed that the three pastors were beheaded on the instruction of the sect leader, Mohammed Yusuf shortly after bringing them out of his inner chamber.

“The pastors alongside one Ibo man were asked to change their faith to Islam like they did to other people taken as hostages. I think there was an argument by one of the pastors which gave the others some level of confidence to also resist accepting Islam.

“The Yusufiya men who were armed on that Tuesday afternoon were not comfortable with the pastors and they took one of them to the sect leader in his inner chamber. They came out later to the courtyard within the compound and cut their heads one after the other and thereafter, shouted allah akbar in wild celebration accompanied with several gun shots,” the eye witness disclosed.

He said the hostages numbering about 50 within the area of the execution of the pastors and another fair complexioned man which he could not identify, were gripped with fear as non could foretell the outcome of their stay at the enclave of the fundamentalists. He was however lucky to escape as he was freed in the night with others with a warning not to mix with kafrici (infidels).

Corroborating the account of the killing, a Senior pastor with Good News Church, Wulari Maiduguri Rev. Baba Gata Ibrahim told Daily Sun in an interview that a pastor in his church, Pastor George Orjih was beheaded on the instruction of the Boko Haram leader because the clergy man refused to accept Islam.

“An eye witness who was also captured by the Islamic militants gave us details of how the pastor was killed. He told us they were persuading him to accept Islam and he said over his dead body. He was even said to have preached Christ to Mohammed Yusuf and that reportedly angered the sect leader who then as he ordered that the pastor and others be killed immediately,” he disclosed.

The late Pastor George Orjih was said to have arrived Maiduguri last week from Jos where he was doing his Masters programme in Theology. Described as a fearless, hardworking, and intellectually sound, his care for the welfare and well being of his family allegedly contributed to his capture and eventual death.

“He was mindful of his family and their welfare. He was really out of the house but thought to go back again. That was how he was captured by the Boko Haram before he was killed. It was the very week, in fact the following day he returned from school where he was doing his Masters in Theology that he was arrested,” the senior pastor added.

He urged the government to provide adequate security for Christian in the state.

Also delivering a sermon during the funeral rites for late Rev. Sabo Yakubu, slain COCIN Church pastor, the speaker, Rev Bulus Azi urged Christians to emulate the pastors who were killed because of their refusal to betray their faith. Quoting from the bible in Revelation 7: 9-15, the regional chairman of the church told Christians to prepare to die anytime as their calling demand.

[H/T: Robert Sagers, blogging at B2W]