HOW WE COULD MEET MARTYRDOM NOW?
S. Faith. October 6.
"WHEN THOU PASSEST THROUGH THE WATERS, I WILL BE WITH THEE; AND THROUGH THE RIVERS, THEY SHALL NOT OVERFLOW THEE: WHEN THOU WALKEST THEOUGH THE FIRE, THOU SHALT NOT BE BURNED; NEITHER SHALL THE FLAME KINDLE UPON THEE."--ISA. XLIII. 2.
GOD'S ways are not as our ways, neither His thoughts as our thoughts. If we are asking a favour of any man, we sometimes beg it with the more confidence, because we never troubled him before, because he never gave us anything before. But GOD loves to be asked in quite a different way. Because He has done so much, therefore He leads us to hope that He will do much more. What does David say, "Because Thou hast been my help, therefore under the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice." What does our LORD Himself speaking as Man say? "Save Me from the lion's mouth: Thou hast heard Me also from among the horns of the unicorns."
Something of the same goodness we may see in the text I have just read you. It contains three promises. "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,"--there is one: "and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee,"--that is another; and then the most wonderful of all, "when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Now, when Isaiah wrote, "two of these promises had already been made good to the Jews. They had passed through the waters of the Red Sea, and GOD had been with them in the pillar of fire: they had gone through the river Jordan, and it had not overflowed them. The third remained to be fulfilled. And you all know how it was brought to pass; how the flame did not kindle upon the Three Holy Children, who said to Nebuchadnezzar, "Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image that thou hast set up." For we read in the book of Daniel, that "the captains and the king's counsellors being gathered together saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them/' Thus this promise was fulfilled to them literally; that is, according to its plain, first meaning. And it has been so with some others. We read of one holy Bishop, Polycarp by name, that when he was condemned to be burned to death, the flames were driven round him in a circle by a moist whistling wind, and his body shone in the midst like a stone most precious, even like a chrysolite, of the colour of gold. And his persecutors seeing that the fire had no power over him, pierced him with a spear, and thus he ended his course with joy.
But there are other cases, and many of them, in which the fire has had power over the bodies of GOD'S servants, even to destroy them; and it was so with the blessed Saint whose day this is, I mean S. Faith. Her very name shows you that her parents were Christians. They, knowing how precious a thing is faith in the sight of GOD, thought that they could do no better than give that name to their daughter, and she did not disgrace it. She dwelt in the south of France, at the beginning of the most tremendous persecution that ever happened to the Church of GOD. For thirty years the kings of this world stood up, and the rulers took counsel against the LORD and against His Anointed. They sent crowds of Martyrs to glory; they invented tortures too horrible to be thought of; if it had been possible, they would have seduced the very elect. Some, indeed, the devil did overcome; some sacrificed to idols and denied CHRIST; but the greater part, even hundreds of thousands, remembered our LORD'S words, and feared not them that killed the body, and after that had no more that they could do. However, such havoc was made in the Church, that the Roman Emperor, (his name was Diocletian,) thought that he had destroyed it, and he had a medal made to set forth what he had done. On one side was his own head, on the other was a figure trampling on a serpent; and the letters round it were, "Superstition destroyed." He meant, Christianity destroyed.
Well, at the beginning of this persecution lived S. Faith. Her home was at a town called Agen, and there she dwelt with her parents. One day there came news to the place that the governor of the province, whose name was Dacian, was coming to find out all the Christians in Agen, that he might give them their choice of denying CHRIST, or being put to death.
It is very easy for me to tell, and for you to hear, of these things. Here we are sitting in a Christian land, in a Christian building, knowing that we may serve GOD without any man's daring to hinder us. But let us now imagine that the case were different. Suppose that, next week, the High Sheriff of this county were coming to this town, in order that he might put to death all who professed themselves Christians. Suppose that we saw advertisements on the walls that all persons were to present themselves at the Court House, on such a day, on pain of death, to sacrifice to an idol. Suppose that a huge image was set up in that house, and a little fire were kindled before it. Suppose that the High Sheriff, attended by a troop of soldiers, entered the town at the appointed day, and that evening gave a grand banquet at one of the inns. Suppose that we were told that, at nine o'clock on the next morning, we should be sent for to the Court House, and commanded either to throw incense into the fire set before the idol, which would be to worship it, or to take the consequences. And what consequences? All night long we should be disturbed by the putting up a scaffold in the common field: in the early grey of the morning we should see men moving about with masks on, and setting in order strange, fearful-looking pieces of iron, some like pincers, some with great teeth like saws, some with long pointed hooks; we should see a framework like a long table, with pulleys at this end and pulleys at that end, which they would call a rack; and we should be told that all these things were prepared for those who would not obey the Act of Parliament, which commanded all men to sacrifice to the great idol.
Now, do not let us say this is impossible. In all probability, nothing of the kind will ever happen to us. But when Antichrist, whoever and whatever he is, shall come, he will stir up a worse persecution against the Church than it has ever yet known. Then, in this very College, what I am now asking you to suppose, may very probably really take place. We shall not see those days: but we are living in the same rooms, and we worship GOD in the same chapel, where they who shall really see them will live and will worship. They will then have to choose whom they will obey, GOD, or the devil. Suppose, then, as I say, that these things were come upon us, and that means were taken, as they probably would be, to prevent any of us from escaping, and that to-morrow were the great day. I wonder how many among you would already have made up your minds to deny CHRIST. I wonder how many more, as soon as they were taken to the Court House, and saw the High Sheriff sitting by the idol, and the officers ready to carry off those who refused to sacrifice, and heard that most of the townspeople had willingly burnt incense,--I say, I wonder how many would find their hearts fail them then. And if they stood firm even then, I wonder how they would act when they were taken into the field, and passing one or two dead bodies, were shown some who were undergoing the torture because they would not worship the idol, and saw the blood pouring down from their sides, and the drops of sweat standing on their forehead, and knew that their own turn was coming next. And I do not say this of you only. I wonder whether I myself, who now find it so easy to talk to you of all this, should then be exhorting you to play the man for CHRIST'S sake; should be reminding you of the crown promised to him that overcometh; should tell you that if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him; or should say, Well, that after all, you might sacrifice now, and make your peace with GOD afterwards; that it was impossible to endure such tortures: that GOD would forgive you for yielding to them; and all the rest of such devices as the devil would not fail to find us in plenty. But I hope that, even if I did, some there would be among you who would answer, as S. Paul once said, "Though you, or an angel from heaven preach any other doctrine than that we have received, let him be accursed."
These things came, then, really to pass, at Agen on this very day. Faith, remembering our LORD'S commandment not to run into temptation, would not of her own accord come forward and give herself up to the governor. Therefore, like Mary, she sat still in the house. But a Priest named Caprais, who dwelt in the same city, had not the same courage. He, no doubt, had often exhorted Faith to deny herself, to take up her cross, to follow CHRIST: he had no doubt again and again given to her His Precious Body and Blood: he was a man, and she a mere girl: he was a Priest, and she only a common Christian. And yet he began to tremble, while she stood firm. But yet the grace of GOD was in him. If he was afraid to suffer, he was more afraid to sin. He escaped from the city by night, and went into a wood on the brow of a hill hard by.
Morning came: the 6th of October. There sat Dacian the Governor in all the glory of the world. Christian after Christian came before him, confessed CHRIST, and was beheaded. At last some one that stood by told the Governor of Faith. "She is a girl," they said: "she has been delicately brought up; she will yield if she be threatened with torture." And Dacian thought so too. For he knew not that GOD hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.
So Faith was sent for, came, and had her choice, to sacrifice to the idol, or to be broiled alive. What she said we know not; it is sufficient for us to know what^ she did.
All this while Caprais was watching from the wood, to see what would happen. Towards noon he saw multitudes of people flocking together to a small common outside the town. He saw some bringing heaps of wood, he saw others carrying straw, and others oil; he saw the billets set in order on the ground, the oil poured in, and the straw chopped up. Then he heard a sound as of blacksmiths, and saw them hanging a great iron frame over the heap. He saw the fire and the wood; and soon also he saw the lamb for the burnt offering. They brought Faith to the place, and there, for many hours, hanging on that iron frame, she passed through the fire.
And it did kindle upon her. We nowhere read of her, as of some other Martyrs, that she did not feel its agony. How then was the promise fulfilled, "When thou passest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned?" That, by GOD'S grace, we must consider another time, as another Martyr shall give us the opportunity. Now we will only see what was the end of this fierce and long battle with Satan.
Some of the heathen that stood by, seeing how, hour after hour, Faith endured her torments, perceiving the wonderful courage that was given her, and the love, stronger than death, that she bore to her LORD, cried out that the GOD Whom Faith worshipped was the True GOD; that as for the gods of the heathen, they were but idols; and that they themselves were Christians. Dacian, enraged beyond measure, gave orders that they should be beheaded. They had no time to be baptized; but the Church teaches, as I shall have occasion to tell you more at length, that, in the case of such as these, their baptism of blood at their Martyrdom was sufficient.
Caprais saw all this; not only S. Faith's triumph when he was afraid to draw nigh, but he beheld the very heathen entering into the kingdom of heaven before him. The grace of GOD and his own fears long struggled for the mastery; but at last the grace of GOD prevailed. He came down, and professed himself to be a Christian, and was beheaded. And with him Faith also was beheaded; and thus both entered into the joy of their LORD.
Both entered it: but not alike gloriously. She that had the hardest battle in this life, doubtless has now the more exceeding reward. "One star differeth from another star," S. Paul teaches us, "in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead." Here the first was last. The first in age, the first in honour, as being a Priest, the first in this world's strength, as being a man, was the last in confessing CHRIST, the last in the glory of suffering for Him,---the last, because he followed the example, and S. Faith set it.
Yet they are both blessed for evermore; and GOD grant that we may come only within a hundred degrees of either of them in glory!
And now to the King of Martyrs, JESUS CHRIST, be ascribed, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, all honour and glory for ever. Amen.