Friday, November 30, 2007

What Happens When a Christian Dies? - Pt 3

2 Cor. 5.9-10
To this point, concerning happens when a Christian dies, most everyone is pleased with what Paul has written. So why spoil everything by talking about judgment? I can anticipate what people will say: “I was thrilled when you described the reality of the intermediate state and the assurance of bodily resurrection. I was ecstatic upon hearing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. But judgment? Couldn’t you have conveniently skipped over that one?”

Well, no, I couldn’t. Paul didn’t, so neither can we. Here is what he said:

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

Let’s be clear about one thing from the start, something that I believe may go a long way in putting to rest your fears about judgment. In one of the most encouraging and liberating texts in the New Testament, Paul wrote: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In other words, whatever else Paul may have in mind in 2 Corinthians 5, if you are “in Christ Jesus” by faith you need never, ever fear condemnation. That being said and settled, what ought we to expect, following death, at the judgment seat of Christ?

The best way to answer this question is with a series of ten observations that are evoked by Paul’s statement.

First, who is to be judged? Whereas it is possible that all mankind are included here, the broader context in 2 Corinthians 4-5 suggests that believers only are in view. Murray Harris has also pointed out that wherever Paul speaks of the recompense, according to works, of all people (such as in Romans 2:6), “there is found a description of two mutually exclusive categories of people (Rom. 2:7-10), not a delineation of two types of action [such as “whether good or evil” here in v. 10] which may be predicated of all people” (406).

Second, what is the nature or purpose of the judgment? In view of Romans 8:1, as well as John 3:18; 5:24; Romans 5:8-9; and 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (just to mention a few), eternal destiny is not at issue; eternal reward is. This judgment is not designed to determine entrance into the kingdom of God but reward or status or authority within it. More on this below.

Third, when does this judgment occur: At the moment of physical death? During the intermediate state? At the second coming of Christ? Paul doesn’t seem concerned to specify when. The most that we can be sure of is that it happens after death (see Heb. 9:27). Having said that, I’m inclined to think it happens at the second coming of Christ (cf. Matt. 16:27; Rev. 22:12), at the close of human history, most likely in conjunction with that larger assize that will include all unbelievers, known to students of the Bible as the Great White Throne judgment (see Revelation 20:11ff.).

Fourth, we should take note of the inevitability of judgment for everyone (“we must all appear”). This is not a day that can be set aside as irrelevant or unnecessary. It is essential for God to bring to consummation his redemptive purpose and to fully honor the glory of his name among his people.

No one is exempt. Paul himself anticipated standing at this judgment, for it served (at least in part) as the motivation for his grace-energized efforts to “please” the Lord (v. 9).

Fifth, Paul emphasizes its individuality (“each one”). As important as it is to stress the corporate and communal nature of our life as the body of Christ, each person will be judged individually (no doubt, at least in part, concerning how faithful each person was to his or her corporate responsibilities!). Paul said it in similar terms in Romans 14:12 – “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

Sixth, we should observe the mode or manner of this judgment (“we must all appear”). We do not merely “show up” at the judgment seat of Christ but are laid bare before him. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:5, the Lord “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” Murray Harris is right that “not merely an appearance or self-revelation, but, more significantly, a divine scrutiny and disclosure, is the necessary prelude to the receiving of appropriate recompense” (405).

Is it not sobering to think that every random thought, every righteous impulse, every secret prayer, hidden deed, long-forgotten sin or act of compassion will be brought into the open for us to acknowledge and for the Lord to judge? But don’t forget: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)!

Seventh, this judgment has an identity all its own (it is the “judgment seat of Christ”). Most Christians are by now familiar with the term used here: bema. The use of this word in v. 10 “would have been particularly evocative for Paul and the Corinthians since it was before Gallio’s tribunal in Corinth that Paul had stood some four years previously (in A.D. 52) when the proconsul dismissed the charge that Paul had contravened Roman law (Acts 18:12-17). Archaeologists have identified this Corinthian bema which stands on the south side of the agora” (Harris, 406).

Eighth, the judge himself is clearly identified (it is the “judgment seat of Christ”). This is consistent with what we read in John 5:22 where Jesus said that “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.”

Ninth, of critical importance is the standard of judgment (“what he has done in the body, whether good or evil”). Reference to the “body” indicates that the judgment concerns what we do in this life, not what may or may not be done during the time of the intermediate state itself.

According to the ESV, we receive “what is due”. In other words, and somewhat more literally, we will be judged “in accordance with” or perhaps even “in proportion to” deeds done. The deeds are themselves characterized as either “good” (those which “please” Christ, as in v. 9) or “bad” (those which do not please him).

Tenth, the result of the judgment is not explicitly stated but is certainly implied. All will “receive” whatever their deeds deserve. There is a reward or recompense involved. Paul is slightly more specific in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. There he writes: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” The “reward” is not defined and the likelihood is that the “loss” suffered is the “reward” that he or she would otherwise have received had they obeyed.

Can anything more definitive be said about the nature of this recompense? Jesus mentions a “great” “reward” in heaven, but doesn’t elaborate (Matt. 5:11-12). In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25; cf. Luke 19:12-27) he alludes to “authority” or dominion of some sort (but over whom or what?). Paul says that “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Eph. 6:8).

According to 1 Corinthians 4:5, following the judgment “each one will receive his commendation from God”. Both Romans 8:17-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17 refer to a “glory” that is reserved for the saints in heaven. And of course we should consider the many promises in the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, although it is difficult to know if they are bestowed now, during the intermediate state, or only subsequent to the second coming, and if they are granted in differing degrees depending on service and obedience or are equally distributed among God’s children (see Rev. 2:7, 10, 17, 23; 3:5, 12, 21; cf. also Matt. 18:4; 19:29; Luke 14:11; James 1:12).

Perhaps the differing nature and degree of reward will be manifest in the depths of knowledge and enjoyment of God that each person experiences. People often balk at this notion, but they shouldn’t. Here is how I explained it in my book, One Thing.

“Hardly anything will bring you more joy [in heaven] than to see other saints with greater rewards than you, experiencing greater glory than you, given greater authority than you! There will be no jealousy or pride to fuel your unhealthy competitiveness. There will be no greed to energize your race to get more than everyone else. You will then delight only in delighting in the delight of others. Their achievement will be your greatest joy. Their success will be your highest happiness. You will truly rejoice with those who rejoice. Envy comes from lack. But in heaven there is no lack. Whatever you need, you get. Whatever desires may arise, they are satisfied.

The fact that some are more holy and more happy than others will not diminish the joy of the latter. There will be perfect humility and perfect resignation to God’s will in heaven, hence no resentment or bitterness. Also, those higher in holiness will, precisely because they are holy, be more humble. The essence of holiness is humility! The very vice that might incline them to look condescendingly on those lower than themselves is nowhere present. It is precisely because they are more holy that they are so very humble and thus incapable of arrogance and elitism.

They will not strut or boast or use their higher degrees of glory to humiliate or harm those lower. Those who know more of God will, because of that knowledge, think more lowly and humbly of themselves. They will be more aware of the grace that accounts for their holiness than those who know and experience less of God, hence, they will be more ready to serve and to yield and to go low and to defer.

Some people in heaven will be happier than others. But this is no reason for sadness or anger. In fact, it will serve only to make you happier to see that others are more happy than you! Your happiness will increase when you see that the happiness of others has exceeded your own. Why? Because love dominates in heaven and love is rejoicing in the increase of the happiness of others. To love someone is to desire their greatest joy. As their joy increases, so too does yours in them. If their joy did not increase, neither would yours. We struggle with this because now on earth our thoughts and desires and motives are corrupted by sinful self-seeking, competitiveness, envy, jealousy, and resentment” (180-81).

Two closing comments are in order. First, our deeds do not determine our salvation, but demonstrate it. They are not the root of our standing with God but the fruit of it, a standing already attained by faith alone in Christ alone. The visible evidence of an invisible faith are the “good” deeds that will be made known at the judgment seat of Christ.

Second, don’t be afraid that, with the exposure and evaluation of your deeds, regret and remorse will spoil the bliss of heaven. If there be tears of grief for opportunities squandered, or tears of shame for sins committed, he will wipe them away (Rev. 20:4a). The ineffable joy of forgiving grace will swallow up all sorrow, and the beauty of Christ will blind you to anything other than the splendor of who he is and what he has, by grace, accomplished on your behalf.

- Sam Storms

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

God's Passion for Himself

What is the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart? What is God’s greatest pleasure? In what does God take supreme delight? I suggest that the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart is his own glory. God is at the center of his own affections. The supreme love of God’s life is God. God is pre-eminently committed to the fame of his name. God is himself the end for which God created the world.

Better, still, God’s immediate goal in all he does is his own glory. God relentlessly and unceasingly creates, rules, orders, directs, speaks, judges, saves, destroys and delivers in order to make known who he is and to secure from the whole of the universe the praise, honor and glory of which he and he alone is ultimately and infinitely worthy.

The question I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and his own glory? I want to argue that it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here’s how.

I assume you will agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God’s seeking his own glory and God’s seeking your good converge.

Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.

For God to work for your enjoyment of him (that’s his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that’s his love for himself) are not properly distinct.

So, God comes to you in his Word and says: “Here I am in all my glory: incomparable, infinite, immeasurable, unsurpassed. See me! Be satisfied with me! Enjoy me! Celebrate who I am! Experience the height and depth and width and breadth of savoring and relishing me!”

Does that sound like God pursuing his own glory? Yes.

But it also sounds like God loving you and me perfectly and passionately. The only way it is not real love is if there is something for us better than God: something more beautiful than God that he can show us, something more pleasing and satisfying than God with which he can fill our hearts, something more glorious and majestic than God with which we can occupy ourselves for eternity. But there is no such thing! Anywhere! Ever!

- Sam Storms

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Happens When a Christian Dies? Pt. 1

2 Cor. 5.1-5
I’m dying. I don’t say that because I’ve just returned from the doctor with a fatal diagnosis, whether of cancer or heart disease, but I’m dying. So, too, are you. With each passing moment, no matter how vigorously we exercise and how nutritiously we eat, we are deteriorating physically. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “our outer nature is wasting away.” Nevertheless, and for this we praise God, “our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (v. 16).

But death is approaching, for some faster than others. Recently I attended the funeral service of a dear friend who lived only fifty years. She left behind a loving and faithful husband and a teenaged son. Much was said at the service about where she is now and what she is experiencing, all with a view to encouraging those present who must now face life in her absence.

So where is my friend? What is it, precisely, that she now sees and feels and experiences, or is she, as some would argue, “asleep”, unconscious, lifeless in the grave until the second coming of Christ? The most explicit answer to this question, in all of Scripture, is found here in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. We will devote several meditations to a serious consideration of this most important issue: What happens when a Christian dies?

I’ve witnessed a lot of death in my family in recent years: my father-in-law, a cousin, one uncle, and three aunts have passed away. All were Christians. Like you, I want rock-solid, revelatory assurance, not merely speculation, about where they are. Twice in this paragraph Paul speaks with unshakeable confidence, declaring that “we know” (vv. 1, 6) what has happened to them and where they are.

It’s important that we read 2 Corinthians 5:1 in the light of what has preceded in 4:7-18. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (5:1). The “tent” or “earthly home” (5:1), i.e., the physical body, is one example of the many “transient” things “that are seen” (4:18), just as “the building from God” (5:1) is one example of the “eternal” things “that are unseen” (4:18). Similarly, the “destruction” (5:1) of the earthly body is simply the ultimate outcome of what Paul described as his repeated encounters with death or his carrying about in himself the dying of Jesus (4:8-12).

What is this “building from God” that is ours following physical death? Among the many possible answers, four are most frequently suggested.

Some argue it is a reference to heaven itself, or an abode in heaven (cf. John 14:2), perhaps even the New Jerusalem. Others say it refers to the body of Christ, i.e., the church. On the other hand, it may be a reference to an intermediate body, i.e., a bodily form of some sort suitable to the intermediate state but different from and only preparatory to the final, glorified, resurrected body (cf. Matt. 17:3; Rev. 6:9-11). The fourth option is to see here a reference to the glorified, resurrection body, that final and consummate embodiment in which we will live for eternity.

There are two fundamental reasons for embracing the fourth option and understanding Paul as referring to the final resurrection body (cf. Phil. 3:21). First, the “building” or “house” in v. 1b stands in a parallel relationship with “home” in v. 1a. Since the latter refers to our “earthly, unglorified” body, it seems reasonable to conclude that the former refers to our “heavenly, glorified” body. Secondly, the description in v. 1b (“not made with hands,” “eternal,” and “in the heavens”) is more suitable to the glorified body (see especially 1 Cor. 15:35-49). Paul’s point would be that our heavenly embodiment is indestructible, not susceptible to decay or corruption or dissolution.

The major objection to this view is Paul's use of the present tense, “we have a building from God” (not “we shall have”). This seems to imply that immediately upon death the believer receives his/her glorified body.

But this would conflict with 1 Corinthians 15:22ff.; 15:51-56; and 1 Thessalonians 4-5, all of which indicate that glorification occurs at the second advent of Christ. Furthermore, frequently in Scripture a future reality or possession is so certain and assured in the perspective of the author that it is appropriately spoken of in the present tense, i.e., as if it were already ours in experience. Thus Paul's present tense “we have” most likely points to the fact of having as well as the permanency of having, but not the immediacy of having. It is the language of hope.

It has been argued that perhaps Paul uses the present tense because the passing of time between physical death and the final resurrection is not sensed or consciously experienced by the saints in heaven; and thus the reception of one's resurrection body appears to follow immediately upon death.

But against this is the clear teaching of Scripture that the intermediate state is consciously experienced by those who have died (as we will soon see in 2 Cor. 5:6-8; cf. also Phil. 1:21-24; Rev. 6:9-11). It is clear that the deceased believer has “departed” to be “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23) and is therefore “with” Christ when he comes (1 Thess. 4:17). It would seem, then, that some kind of conscious existence obtains between a person's death and the general resurrection (this is why we refer to this time as the intermediate state).

Even though Paul appears to envision the possibility (probability?) of his own physical death, he still has hope that he will remain alive until Christ returns. Thus he writes:

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened -- not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (vv. 2-5).

In these verses Paul speaks of his desire to be alive when Christ returns, for then he would not have to die physically and experience the separation of body and spirit, a condition he refers to as being “naked” (v. 3) or “unclothed” (v. 4). Paul's perspective on life and death may therefore be put in this way:

It is good to remain alive on this earth to serve Christ (see Phil. 1:21-26).

On the other hand, it is better to die physically and enter into the presence of Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21b, 23).

However, it is by far and away best to be alive when Christ returns, for then we avoid death altogether and are immediately joined with the Lord in our resurrected and glorified bodies.

Here in v. 2 (which is repeated and expanded somewhat in v. 4) Paul mixes his metaphors by speaking of putting on or being "clothed” with a “building”. But it is more than simply putting on a garment: it is putting on of a garment over another. The heavenly body, like an outer vesture or overcoat, is being put on over the earthly body with which the apostle is, as it were, presently clad. In this way the heavenly, glorified body not only covers but also absorbs and transforms the earthly one (see Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:53).

If he remains alive until Christ returns he will be found by the Lord clothed with a body (the present, earthly one), and not in a disembodied state (v. 3). To be without a body is to be “naked”. Clearly, Paul envisaged a state of disembodiment between physical death and the general resurrection (cf. "unclothed" in v. 4).

But what assurances do we have from God that he will in fact supply us with a glorified and eternal body that is no longer subject to the deterioration and disease we now experience? The simple answer is: the Holy Spirit! Paul’s statement in v. 5 is a reminder “that 'the earnest of the Spirit' is not a mere static deposit, but the active vivifying operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer, assuring him that the same principle of power which effected the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is also present and at work within him, preparing his mortal body for the consummation of his redemption in the glorification of his body" (Hughes).

For the Christian, death is not to be feared. For we know that whatever illness or debilitation we experience now, whatever degree of suffering or hardship we must face, there is promised to us by the Spirit a glorified, Christ-like, transformed and utterly eternal abode, a body in which there is no disease, no pain, no deprivation, and no decay.

“The best case scenario,” Paul seems to say, “is to be alive when Christ returns. That way I could transition instantaneously from this ‘garment’ (my current physical body) into that glorified ‘vesture’ (that is and will forever be my resurrected body). I don’t want to get ‘undressed’ but to put the garment of eternity over the garment of time in such a way that the former redeems and transforms the latter. But in all things I yield to the timing and purpose of God, and rejoice in the assurance, the rock-solid guarantee from the Holy Spirit, that physical death is not the end but the beginning.”

“Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).

- Sam Storms

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fruitfulness and Harvest

Dear brethren,

I leave in 3 hours for Romania for 12 days; my heart has been stirred again this week as I have been reading and meditating in Scripture, to be more fruitful and see more of a harvest in kingdom labors. As I read Romans 1 again this week, I was much stirred by Paul's words found in ch. 1:13, where he says in 13b: "that I might have some fruit among you."

Paul's goal expressed here- his desire and longing- was fruitfulness and seeing a spiritual harvest. The ESV translates this phrase: "that I may reap some harvest among you, as well as among the rest of the Gentiles."

Should we desire, pray for and even expect God to give increase, to produce fruit, and grant a harvest? If Jesus's words are to be taken at full face value and truthfulness, then yes, we should ever be doing this. Our Lord said in John 14: 7: "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and that your fruit should remain." NOT just praying that His will be done and remaining passive about results, BUT also desiring, asking for, and expecting from our Heavenly Father a harvest.

The harvest might be any number of things: conversions, outpourings of the Spirit, the Word coming with power in preaching and teaching, the lives of believers being transformed, opened gospel doors, and direct advancement of the kingdom in situations. The harvest is up to God Himself- what He purposes to send and purposes to do.

But we have a warrant given in Scripture to have no less of a goal than for a harvest that would glorify our Father in heaven. Anything less does not glorify Him to the extent He is to be glorified.

So over these next 12-13 days, if and when we come to your mind, please lift up prayers to our Heavenly Father that He would give harvest in Romania and Ukraine. The One we are praying to and serving has called Himself "The Lord of the harvest."

- Mack T.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Subsequent History and Outcome of the Seven Churches of

Revelation 2-3

It’s important to remember that we have very little concrete historical evidence for any of the churches in these areas or indication as to whether or not they heeded the Lord’s warnings and repented. This is largely due to the status of the church as persecuted until 312 a.d.

Christians flourished and grew all throughout Asia Minor, but obviously never attained any political or economic status until Constantine came to power. So it would be unwise to say anything about their spiritual status prior to that date given the fact that they were all very much in the minority and laboring simply to survive. It was an extremely hostile environment. We mustn’t forget that in 249-251 a.d. the emperor Decius issued a decree calling for the extermination of all Christians, something that was renewed under Diocletian in the early 300s.

But we do know a little about them (the best information is found in the Anchor Bible Dictionary), and I thought you might find it interesting.

(1) As for Ephesus, John the Apostle most likely lived there when not exiled on Patmos. We know that Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus early in the second century a.d., so the church was still present. Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist, was associated with the church at Ephesus well into the middle of the second century. But the city as a whole suffered from the mid second century on. Plagues brought back by Roman troops in the latter half of the second century devastated the place. Worse still were the series of incompetent Roman emperors who wrought havoc in Ephesus well into the third century. Christians were severely persecuted under these emperors. Parthians and Goths also invaded the land and brought difficult times.

Notwithstanding this, the Christian presence in Ephesus continued, especially after the “conversion” of Constantine in 312 when Christianity was made legal. Many of the early debates on Christology and Trinitarianism involved bishops and theologians in Ephesus. My understanding is that the church continued there until overrun by the Muslim invasions of the 7th century. But we don’t know what spiritual condition it was in.

(2) Smyrna remained strong and grew prominent in the years following the letter to her. There is every indication that the church there persevered.

(3) The city of Pergamum did not treat the church well. The persistent influence of the cult of Asclepius made it hard for believers, as paganism was rampant. Julian the Apostate, Roman emperor in the 360’s, persecuted the church intensely. Pergamum as a whole declined after Julian’s death and never recovered. It was devastated by the Islamic invasions of 663 and 716.

(4) Thyatira is recorded as having a thriving civic and social life well into the third century. That doesn’t mean it deteriorated after that, but only that there is only solid archaeological evidence for its early life.

(5) Sardis continued to flourish as a city and the church there grew following Constantine’s “conversion” in 312. We don’t know its spiritual condition but it was present until the Persians attacked in 616, and of course the Islamic invasions of twenty and thirty years later were devastating.

(6) I don’t know much of what happened in Philadelphia, except that it flourished in the mid second century as a center of prophecy. It was probably where Montanism first emerged. Christians in Philadelphia in the second century were apparently quite bold and outspoken.

(7) There is some evidence that Laodicea retained its Christian witness well into the second century a.d. A man by the name of Sagaris, a bishop of Laodicea, suffered martyrdom for his faith sometime between 161 and 167 a.d. In 363 a.d. a church synod was held at Laodicea that established 60 rulings (called the Canons of Laodicea) which were acknowledged by later church councils as a basis for canon law (see The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:231). Toward the end of the 4th century Laodicea also became the seat of government of the newly established province of Phrygia Pacatiana. There was another devastating earthquake in 494 a.d. from which Laodicea seems never to have recovered.

The bottom line is that all Christians, in every province and country, at least until the early fourth century, suffered as a persecuted minority. As I said earlier, they had no political or economic power and were constantly threatened with extermination. I don’t think it can be said with any degree of certainty that the churches there were any worse off or more spiritually lifeless than other churches in other regions. All we know with certainty is that Christianity as a whole in Turkey suffered greatly following the Islamic invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries.

- Sam Storms

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Gospel Suffering & Witness

Hugh Latimer was famous as a preacher. He was Bishop of Worcester (pronounced WOOS-ter) in the time of King Henry, but resigned in protest against the king's refusal to allow the Protestant reforms that Latimer desired. Latimer's sermons speak little of doctrine; he preferred to urge men to upright living and devoutness in prayer. But when Mary came to the throne, he was arrested, tried for heresy, and burned together with his friend Nicholas Ridley. His last words at the stake are well known:

"Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man,for we shall this day light such a candle in Englandas I trust by God's grace shall never be put out."

Does this candle burn in your heart? Are the flames intense enough to carry on the work of those before us that have been martyred for their love of Christ, the truth of God's Word and the refusal to bow before sinful men?

Today around the world there are many dear believers persecuted each day for their faith in Christ. How can we honor the memory of those who would not yield in their faith? How can we continue to glorify our heavenly Father? How do we keep this "candle" lit?

First and most important we must continually pray and trust in God's righteousness, then we must proclaim the truth of the Gospel in every way the Lord opens.

"....others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:35-40).

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds " (Hebrews 12:1-3).

- Wylie Fulton