Ignatius: On Dying for Christ

19 12 2011

I remember exactly where I was the first time I read this.  I was stunned.  This is a very spiritually edifying piece from Ignatius.  He had been taken captive by the Romans to be put to death for his faith.  He had learned of a rescue attempt to be staged by the church in Rome.  But as you can see from the letter, he was eager to “die and be with Christ.”  What do I expect people to get from this letter?  A vision of a man who finally realized there is nothing more precious than Christ.  It is because of this realization that a man who followed Christ his whole life can say  ”Now I begin to become a disciple.”

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments   i.e., by the teeth of the wild beasts. I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free,   “Free,” probably from human infirmity. while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.

From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts,  where the word is also used figuratively.both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits,  Probably the soldiers received gifts from the Christians, to treat Ignatius with kindness. show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified”. May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray that they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this] I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple, and have no desire after anything visible or invisible, that I may attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let breakings, tearings, and separations of bones; let cutting off of members; let bruising to pieces of the whole body; and let the very torment of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

Ignatius, Letter to the Romans





Spurgeon Part II: How Do We Battle Spiritual Depression?

19 12 2011

Last week I put out a post on a particularly striking sermon of Charles Spurgeon called “Songs in the Night.” I found the sermon not only spiritually edifying but also tremendously practical. Below is a brief attempt to summarize Spurgeon’s thoughts on battling spiritual depression.

Spurgeon says in times of “night”, which he here uses as a metaphor for spiritual depression, we may “sing” about three things to cheer our hearts. “Either we sing about the yesterday that is over, or else about the night itself, or else about the morrow that is to come.”

In times of spiritual depression we may first sing about the “yesterday that is over.” By this Spurgeon means that we take the time to remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past in order that we may gain comfort in our present difficulties.  He writes:

“Christian, perhaps the best song thou canst sing, to cheer thee in the night, is the song of yester-morn. Remember, it was not always night with thee: night is a new thing to thee. Once thou hadst a glad heart, a buoyant spirit; once thine eye was full of fire; once thy foot was light; once thou couldst sing for very joy and ecstacy of heart. Well, then, remember that God, who made thee sing yesterday, has not left thee in the night. He is not a daylight God, who can not know his children in darkness; but he loves thee now as much as ever: though he has left thee a little, it is to prove thee, to make thee trust him better, and serve him more.”

So what kind of things did Spurgeon have in mind when he encourages us to remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past?  We can remember the electing love of God (Eph 1.4), which is a faithfulness to us which began before the foundations of the world.  We can remember his mighty act of redemption in Jesus Christ.  We can remember his giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  But we can also remember when we were first called to Christ.  We can remember times of particularly intense fellowship with him.  We can remember when he has delivered us from evil, temptation or strife.  If for one reason or another we cannot think of God’s faithfulness to us in the past, Spurgeon encourages us to think of God’s faithfulness to others most often applied to the great protagonists in the scriptures.  Spurgeon’s exhortation to remember when we were first called to Christ is particularly moving.  He writes:

What! man, canst thou not sing a little of that blessed hour when Jesus met thee; when, a blind slave, thou wast sporting with death, and he saw thee, and said: “Come, poor slave, come with me?” Canst thou not sing of that rapturous moment when he snapped thy fetters, dashed thy chains to the earth, and said: “I am the Breaker; I came to break thy chains, and set thee free?” What though thou art ever so gloomy now, canst thou forget that happy morning, when in the house God thy voice was loud, almost as a seraph’s voice, in praise? For thou couldst sing: “I am forgiven! I am forgiven:”

“A monument of grace, A sinner saved by blood.”  Go back, man; sing of that moment, and then thou wilt have a song in the night.

We might also sing of “the night itself”.  This is the shortest section of the sermon and perhaps the most brutal in its honesty.  Whatever “night” you and I are enduring, Spurgeon reassures us that things are not as bad as they could be, nor are they as badas we deserve.  Psalm 103 vs 10 reads “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repaid us for our iniquities.”  The application of this verse is the crux of Spurgeon’s argument in this section.  To make it very simple and very clear, no matter what you are currently suffering through it is not hell.  When describing a particularly trying event people will occasionally say “it was hell.”  But of course it wasn’t.  Hell is a place of unimaginable torment.  Spurgeon’s point here is that you are not in hell, even though you deserve to be.  So take some comfort and derive some joy from the fact that God has indeed had mercy upon you through Jesus Christ.

Finally, Spurgeon says we can sing a song in the night by singing about the day to come.  I was speaking with a man recently who suffers from depression.  He said to me, “at least I know I will one day be happy in heaven.”  This is true!  He will one day be happy in heaven, and he can derive some joy from that now by resting in that hope and allowing some of that future joy to break into his present life.  Perhaps the most ready analogy is that of a pregnancy.  When a family is expecting a child, the day they long for and wait for is the day when their baby is born.  But in the meantime, the imminent birth of that child breaks into their present day lives.  They put together a crib, they paint a nursery, they buy diapers and blankets, they select the perfect teddy bear.  The expectation they have of the future gives them joy and motivates behavior in the present.  So too can our joy and expectation of a future with Jesus in heaven break into our lives now, shaping and affecting us.