by Tom Wacaster
The real test of Christianity is found in the willingness of the saint to endure persecution, even to the point of death. The persecution of Christians in the early years of the church has been well documented. William Forbush, in Fox’s Book of Martyrs” describes the persecution of Christians under Marcus Aurelius:
The cruelties used in this persecution were such that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc., upon their points, others were scourged until the sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.
Perhaps the most notable account is that of Polycarp, student of John the apostle. History tells us that he was threatened with being burned at the stake and was given numerous opportunities to deny Christ so that he might live. Even in the face of persecution Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me. How then can I blaspheme my King Who hath saved me?” Will Durant, in his multi-volume survey of World History, noted:
There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fiery tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has ever known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won (Will Durant, A History of Roman Civilization and Christianity, page 652).
These faithful Christians in Smyrna were about to undergo the most severe test of their faith. Admonished to remain faithful, “even unto death,” they were promised that they would receive the crown of life! And faithful they were! I’ll close this little article with an item I placed in my notes more than two decades ago:
The Midnight Hour
That time when feeble eyes cannot penetrate the darkness; when the oil of our Christian lamp is low; or maybe life has almost snuffed it out. Midnight – when we find ourselves chained, bound and beaten - when even death itself would be a welcomed visitor. The lasting beauty of Christianity is not witnessed in the lives of people who have been sheltered from the storms or untouched by the world. The real worth of Christianity is not captured in a Sunday morning worship service with every man in his pew singing “Amazing Grace.” The lasting weight of Christianity is not felt when all is well. If we would comprehend the real weight and worth and beauty of Christianity we must view it at the midnight hour when tragedy strikes, and triumph is fled; when darkness hangs about us like a burial shroud and the silence of grief is deafening. When oceans of tears have been shed and all of our hopes lie buried in a lonely grave in a garden of memories. When life has dashed our most cherished dreams to the ground. For some of us it is now 11:59 p.m., and midnight approaches.