The mindset of a martyr
The name Roland Taylor is not found in conventional books on church history, nor in religious biographical dictionaries. But his name and story are found in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and it is a stirring account. In 1553 Edward VI died and England’s throne passed to his sister, Mary Tudor … “Bloody Mary.” She was fully given to the Catholic church in Rome and passed edicts that made it illegal for dissenting pastors to carry on their ministries. Nearly 800 of England’s clergy refused to obey the laws and lost their churches. Many of them fled to Geneva and Frankfort, but 300 of them were martyred, usually burned at the stake, for their faith. Among them was Pastor Roland Taylor.
Not long before his execution he wrote the following in his journal. “I say to my wife and to my children, ‘The Lord gave you unto me, and the Lord hath taken me from you, and you from me; blessed be the name of the Lord! . . . I have ever found Him more faithful and favorable than is any father or husband. Trust ye therefore in Him by the means of our dear Savior Christ’s merits . . . Count me not dead, for I shall certainly live, and never die. I go before, and you shall follow after, to our long home.'”
When he was being taken away, he knelt down with his wife and two daughters, Elizabeth (a thirteen year old girl he and his wife had adopted) and Mary, her younger sister. “. . . he took his daughter Mary in his arms; and he, his wife, and Elizabeth kneeled down and said the Lord’s Prayer, at which sight the sheriff wept . . . After they had prayed, he rose up and kissed his wife, and took her by the hand, and said, ‘Farewell, my dear wife; be of good comfort, for I am quiet in my conscience. God shall stir up a father for my children'” (Foxe, Book of Martyrs, 218). Soon afterward Roland Taylor was burned alive while he recited the 51st Psalm.
What is the mindset of a martyr? What is the motivation that causes someone to give up his family and his very life for the sake of Christ? This is an important question because the mindset of a martyr is exactly what Jesus calls us to. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt 10:38,39).
First, a Christian martyr realizes, fully, that there are some things more important than life. “Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You” (Psa 63:3). “I am hard-pressed between the two [earth and heaven]. My desire is to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23). Earthly life is not as precious as the honor of God and the presence of God.
Second, a Christian martyr realizes, fully, that even tortuous death comes to Christians by the hand of a sovereign God. When Jesus spoke with Peter about his future and his martyrdom, He did not downplay the horror that awaited him. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (Jn 21:18,19). The hand of God led Peter to a cross for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself.
Third, a Christian martyr realizes, fully, that there is a wondrous glory that awaits believers on the other side of this veil of tears and pain. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day . . .” (2 Tim 4:6-8).
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).
Though we do not suffer the threat of death, a Christian martyr’s mindset is helpful to us as we live our comfortable lives. It gives us perspective that clears our minds of sentimental, fuzzy thinking. It causes hope to course through our veins. It shakes us from our cultural silliness. It purifies our priorities and fixes our eyes and affections on our eternal home and our eternal Shepherd.
Am I a soldier of the cross? A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flowr’y beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?
Longing to love Christ more deeply,