The smell of burning flesh hung in the air. The villagers turned their heads and gasped. Stray dogs fled. The man’s wife wept bitterly. His children watched in disbelief. The stench was a vivid reminder of who sat on the throne. Mary Tudor ruled with ironclad authority. Her subjects were obligated to obey. Any dissenters would pay the ultimate price. The world would remember her as “Bloody Mary.”
The day was February 4, 1555. The man roped to the pyre was known well in the British village. A man of humble origins. A man with bold ambitions and simple obedience to match. A man who dared to challenge the throne with two simple acts – preaching the Word of God and printing the Matthews-Tyndale Bible. His name was John Rogers. Pastor, father, martyr. He was the first Christ-follower to pay the ultimate price of death during Mary’s bloody reign of terror. He was the first of hundreds who would die at the hands of this blood-thirsty tyrant.
John Rogers stands in a long line of godly men; men who preached the truth, lived uncompromising lives, and finished strong. Like Rogers, some were martyred. Others died of old age or were tormented with disease. Those who stand in the long line of godly men still have something to say. Their courage emboldens us. Their lives inspire us. Their theology instructs us.
Hebrews 11 recounts the stories of some of the godly men and women of Scripture that were people of faith – people who still have something to say. The Word of God says, “Now faith means that we have full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see. It was this faith that won their reputation for the saints of old” (Heb. 11:1-2, Phillips). God’s Word says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV).
The historical figures in Hebrews 11 received their commendation from God – that is to say they were recognized by the God of the universe. The Bible says they were commended by God for their faith; for displaying remarkable courage under fire, resilience, and soft-hearted obedience. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, David, and Rahab were commended through their faith.
Hebrews 12:1 says that these heroes of the faith are a great cloud of witnesses who surround us – giving us great impetus to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Here is what’s intriguing. All of these heroes (with the exception of Enoch) is dead. In Enoch’s case the Bible tells us that he “was taken up so that he should not see death.” But even Enoch “was commended as having pleased God” (Heb. 11:5). The other heroes are dead – each of them is in heaven with Jesus!
One of these heroes is Abel. Genesis 4 tells the story of this faithful man:
- A sheep herder (v. 2).
- Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground (v. 3).
- Abel brought an offering of his own the firstborn of his flock (v. 4).
Scripture tells us this: “… And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering …(Gen. 4.4).
What was it about Abel’s offering that attracted the heart of God? What was it that caused God to gaze upon Abel’s offering with joy and receive it as an acceptable offering? The answer emerges in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous. God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
“And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” There is a parade of godly men in Redemptive history who have died, yet they still speak. Yet … there is a tone in the church, an attitude in the church that discounts church history. There is a tone and an attitude in the local church that turns a blind eye at the past and a muffled ear to the historical. Indeed, our feet appear to be reluctant to travel on the old dusty paths. I have even heard people say that they’re “sick of hearing about the Puritans and the Reformers.” “I’m sick of hearing about Luther, and Edwards, and Spurgeon,” they say.
Here’s the problem. Discounting and discarding the past is not only a mistake. It is dangerous to our spiritual lives. J.I. Packer refers to the countless number of Christians who hold:
- the newer is truer
- only what is recent is decent
- every shift of ground is step forward
- and the latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject
This is what C.S. Lewis affectionately labeled as “chronological snobbery,” that is – “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited” (C.S. Lewis, Suprised by Joy, 207-208).
Here’s what I’ve learned. Dead men are still talking! If you ever wonder what influence a dead man might have over masses of people, consider two wicked men who continue to rule with an iron fist from the grave.
Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)
Darwin is credited with writing Origin of Species (1859) and formulating the theory of evolution, the diabolical notion that matter emerged by chance and relegates God to the intellectual scrap bin of history. Darwin noted, “I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men.” Unfortunately, millions of people continue to blindly follow the lead of Charles Darwin. He informs their worldview and leads them away from God and his revealed truth.
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)
Another man who rules from the grave is Karl Marx, the man credited with saying, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” Marx influenced men like Stalin – a mass murderer of his own countrymen. His famous, Communist Manifesto has and continues to influence countless lives and twists political ideologies into a godless morass of hopelessness.
But my goal is to focus on the men who can and should have a profound affect on our Christian lives. The dead guys I’m referring to are the ones who believe in the authority of Scripture and embrace the doctrinal foundations that fuel our Christian lives. One of those dead men is none other than Charles H. Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) who died over 120 years ago. He remarked, “I shall live and speak long after I am dead.”
John Rogers is dead, yet he still speaks. So what can the dead guys teach us? And what is the rationale for learning from these dead guys? The next several posts will address this very important question.