Foxe's Book of Martyrs
by John Foxe
Some non-Christians dismiss Christianity because they believe the history of the Christian church is saturated with violence. These critics often refer to the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials because they believe that those events indicate that Christianity is bankrupt.
G.K. Chesterton rightly resisted this perspective, observing that when people sin it underscores our need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. He also was quick to point out that many people describe themselves as Christians without having entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Both observations are certainly valid, and students need to bear them in mind. But students also need to notice that there are two ends to every sword. While some professing Christians certainly grasped the hilt of the sword, some Christians were willing to face the blade for their faith. This is the history recorded in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
Was the Inquisition a disgrace to the name of Christ? It depends on your perspective. If you focus on the men professing Christ who tortured and killed, then certainly the answer is yes. But if you focus on the men willing to suffer and die for the truth of the gospel, you see the Inquisition in another light. One side had all the authority of the Catholic Church and the State on their side; the other had no worldly authority at all. One side could elicit confessions using the most depraved tortures; the other side often refused to defend themselves. One side has been judged by history as evil tyrants; the other side rarely seems to excite the interest of historians.
Fortunately, John Foxe understood the significance of their sacrifice. While history is littered with the bodies of men and women who died for no cause, a few people suffered and died only because they refused to compromise about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Such courage should give us pause, reminding us about the strength and endurance Christ can bestow upon His people.
by Jeff Baldwin