PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Rough Winds of Persecution Transformed into Winds of Propagation!” By: Ron Woodrum
Thomas Carlyle used to say that the easy, chatty optimism of Ralph Waldo Emerson maddened him. In his opinion “no really dark shadow had ever fallen across Emerson’s sheltered life”. He said that Emerson “seemed like a man who, standing well back from the least touch of spray from the storm, throws chatty observations about the beauty of the weather to a poor man battling for his life in huge waves that are beating upon him and threatening to sweep him away!” Perhaps Carlyle was right about Emerson, we cannot say. But personal experience in the marketplace of human existence tells us all that somewhere between sunrise and sunset, everyone will feel the harsh winds of opposition upon our faces. What is true of individuals is also true of the Church, at any given time in history. The Church had seen some opposition during the days of its infancy. If the world hated their Lord, they too would feel that animosity at some time or another, in some way or another. Jesus had promised them that. But during the early days, recorded in Luke’s narrative in the Book of Acts, those winds did not blow harshly at first. We read of the Church, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the Graeco-Roman world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, turning it upside down, taking the Church from Jerusalem to Rome in only two decades! But as the Children of Israel found out-things can change in a New York minute. When a Pharaoh that knew not Joseph came to power, their position went from privileged to persecuted immediately. So with the Church. Beginning with Emperor Claudius and running through Diocletian, the Church faced the ever-increasing winds of persecution blowing their way all throughout the Roman Empire. This persecution would become so intense that it threatened the very existence of the Church. Many then, and now, question why the Sovereign God would allow such a thing to happen to His faithful people.
Frank W. Boreham, in his book Cliffs of Opal, explains the necessity of such suffering in order to impact the Roman world of that day with an even greater impact! He writes, “If Jesus, the Son of God, had died His bitter death on Calvary’s tree, and left it at that, would that have saved the world? Of course not! The world at large would have never heard of it. The tragic incident would have passed into oblivion within a year or two. Just another political execution off in a distant Roman Province. In order for that redeeming sacrifice might be made effective, and the world be saved by means of it, it was necessary for the Apostles to suffer and die proclaiming it, for the martyrs to lay down their lives defending it, for missionaries like Xavier, and Livingstone, and Patterson, and Williams, and Chalmers to seal it with their blood. That would be their testimony to its virtue. Every death on a foreign shore, every tear shed for the Gospel’s sake, every jibe or sneer patiently endured out of love for Christ, is an augmentation of the awful tragedy of Golgotha. It is the wonder of wonders that He who died upon that bitter tree to redeem mankind associates each of us with Himself in that Divine and sacrificial work!” A.T. Pierson, in his book The Bible and The Spiritual Life, explains how that God used such sacrifice and suffering on the part of His saints to impact them, and the world that witnessed their suffering, to reflect the glory and grace of their Crucified Savior to the World. He wrote, “God allows it in order to perfect His saints. He puts His precious metal into His crucible. But He watches it. His love is His thermometer, and He marks the exact degree of heat, not one instant’s unnecessary pang will He permit; as soon as the dross is released and He sees Himself reflected in them, the trial immediately ceases!” His martyrs all testified to His sustaining grace being sufficient for the moment. What an impact their witness had.
Soon the road of persecution led to the newly built Colosseum. It became the center of attention for the public display of The Sacrifice of Christ being magnified through the testimonies and deaths of His martyrs. Vance Havner, in his book Hearts Aflame, pays a fitting tribute to these courageous Christians. He writes, “If we had sat in the grandstands amidst the grandeur that was Rome we might have been deceived. For it was not the howling mob in the Colosseum that determined the course of history. Underground in the catacombs another force was at work. A handful of men and women who worshipped another King called Jesus, who had died and risen, and was coming back someday-here was the beginning of the Empire within the Empire, the Christians beneath the Caesars! They crept along the subterranean passageways and tunnels, among the tombs and caverns, hunted and persecuted as the scum of the earth. If we would have prowled the gloomy depths we might have come upon little companies singing, listening to the Gospel message, observing the Lord’s Supper. The verdict might have been this little group doesn’t stand a chance! But the Christian Underground upset the Caesars above ground. The Catacombs overcame the Colosseum…and put it out of business! That fellowship who loved Jesus more than they loved their own lives, who were in the world, but not of it, whose blood was the seed of the Church…were on fire with the passion that Roman swords could not kill, nor waters of the Mediterranean Sea could drown, nor the fierce flames of fire could destroy nor silence. Their blood was spilled so freely and often in that arena that when a traveler asked if he might take a relic with him, was told take a handful of sand from the Colosseum. It is all martyrs!”
Need we say more? That kind of devotion withstands the howling winds of persecution and shifts the direction back toward its source, transforming them into winds of propagation! Let those winds blow…world wide!