. . . I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3 ESV)
As we were singing the stanzas of Faith of Our Fathers over the weekend it amazed me to realize the aim of this hymn. With each verse I was taken back by the direct appeal to stand against evil and persecution. Upon singing the second verse,
Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
if they like them, could die for thee!
It dawned on me, this hymn fits nicely into the genre of songs of martyrs. Whether, we consider the first century Christian’s or those listed in the Hall of Faith, in Hebrews 11, or remember these who are dying in recent centuries with ongoing persecution against the church, will we stand with these saints?
At the Sunday afternoon Karen Baptist Fellowship that meets at Delta First Baptist Church I was honored to be recognized with the other fathers in their traditional Father’s Day worship service. As I took part in the worship, I could not help myself from thinking back to the song. Here I was sitting among men, women, and children that were only here due to persecution in their own country. These men are also the children of martyrs that have paid the great sacrifice with their own lives.
According to church tradition, June 29 is considered the date of the martyrdom of the Apostle Paul. This year Christians around the world will take time to honor the legacy of those that have sacrificed their lives to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. Day of the Christian Martyr is 06.29.19.[i]
There have be many martyrs of the Christian faith since the New Testament times. In the last two centuries persecution of Christians is on the rise. Some historians have estimated more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in the pervious nineteen centuries combined. Unfortunately, this pace continues in our times today.
The “faith of our fathers” originally spoken of in this hymn, however, is the faith of martyred leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. The writer, Fredrick William Faber, born June 28, 1814, in Yorkshire, England, was raised by a strict Calvinist father who was an English clergyman. Educated at Oxford University, Faber became a minister in the Anglican church in 1843.[ii]
Soon after, Faber left the Anglican pastorate and joined the Roman Catholic Church becoming known as Father Wilfrid. After joining the church, he recognized a lack of hymns for congregational singing. Before his early death at 49 years of age he wrote over 150 such hymns. Faber was concerned that the church remembers those who gave their lives for their faith during the reign of Henry the VIII in the early years of the establishment of the Anglican Church in Great Britain.
What are you doing to contend for the faith? We can join Christians around the world by honoring those saints that have given their all for the advancement of the gospel. We can alert others in our scope of influence to not only remember but to be ready to stand for the faith in this present generation.
Christian pastor and martyr, Werner Groenewald, spoke at a conference in October 2014, on “Counting the Cost for Christ.” He ended his message with this statement, “We only die once, it might as well be for Jesus.”[iii]
Prayer: Lord, make our lives count for Christ and the kingdom of God. Thank you for those who have paved our way home through their sacrifice. Amen.
James Conley, Pastor
First Baptist Church
[ii] 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1982 by Kregel Publications, a division of Kregel, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI.