Welcome to Mondays @ Soul Survival. Each week I feature a book that I consider a valuable resource. This week’s selection is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by by John Foxe, editied by Harold J. Chadwick.
John Foxe was a 16th century English historian best known for writing Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. His book gives a detailed account of Christian martyrs throughout Western history.
His book is about courageous men, women and children who have been tortured and killed because of their confessions of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But, even more, it’s a book about God’s amazing grace that enabled them to endure persecutions and often horrible deaths.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs has been edited and updated many times since John Foxe wrote the first volume in English in 1563 under the title, Acts and Monuments of These Latter and Perillous Dayes, but it became known almost immediately as the Book of Martyrs.
At the time it was written many of the events the author describes were still taking place and it was written more like a reporter would write today. Foxe probably witnessed many of the events or knew people who did. Other stories were sent to him by those who had suffered or knew people who had.
Editor, Harold Chadwick writes:
Without question the book began in Foxe’s mind when he was at Magdalen College at Oxford University, where he held a fellowship for seven years. He had first been sent by his parents to Brasenose College at the University when he was sixteen. During that time Reformation doctrines were strong throughout Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and Foxe was highly influenced by them. He began intensive study of the Scriptures and began to question the doctrines and practices of the Roman church. Before long he was an affirmed Protestant and nothing ever turned him from that path. This so changed his conduct that before long suspicions began to arise about his allegiance to the Church of Rome. Then it was reported that Foxe was taking solitary walks in the evening and could be heard sobbing and pouring out prayers to God. When questioned about this practice, he openly stated his new religious opinions, and was almost immediately expelled from the college as a confirmed heretic.
Sometime later he married Agnes Randell, a fellow believer, and stayed for a time with her parents.
By this means and others, Foxe kept himself concealed for some time from the papist inquisitors. This continued from the reign of King Henry VIII, through the open and peaceful days of Edward VI, and into the reign of Queen Mary I, who brought back into England all of the Roman Catholic doctrines and the pope’s power. Knowing then what was to happen, Foxe and his family left England and traveled first to Strasbourg, France, then to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Basel, Switzerland. There he found a number of English refugees who had fled England to avoid the cruelty of the persecutors, and there began work on his now famous book.
Foxe’s history of the martyrs starts with the first century martyrs, including Jesus Himself and Stephen who was martyred about 8 years after the crucifixion.
The same hate generated against Stephen apparently brought great persecution to all who professed faith in Christ as the Messiah. Luke writes, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1). During that time, about two thousand Christians were martyred, including Nicanor, who was one of the seven deacons appointed by the Church (Acts 6:5).
James the son of Zebedee and Salome was the elder brother of the Apostle John. He was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred (Acts 12:2). He was executed about A.D.44 by order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea. His martyrdom may have been a fulfillment of what Jesus foretold about him and his brother John (Mark 10:39). The eminent writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, wrote that when James was being led to his execution, his extraordinary courage impressed one of his captors to such a degree that he fell on his knees before the apostle, asked his forgiveness, and confessed that he was a Christian too. He said that James should not die alone, whereupon they were both beheaded. About the same time, Timon and Parmenas, two of the seven deacons, were executed—one in Philippi and the other in Macedonia. Exactly ten years later, in A.D.54, the Apostle Philip is said to have been scourged, thrown into prison, and then crucified at Hierapolis in Phrygia.
Their deaths were followed by the deaths of Matthew, James the brother of Jesus, Matthias, Andrew, Mark, Peter, Paul, Jude, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Luke.
Of the Apostle John the author wrote:
The Apostle John, brother of James, is credited with founding the seven churches of Revelation: Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Thyatira, and Ephesus. It was from Ephesus, it is said, that he was arrested and sent to Rome where he was cast into a large vessel filled with boiling oil that did not harm him. As a result, he was released and banished by the Emperor Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. After being released from Patmos he returned to Ephesus where he died about A.D.98. He was the only apostle to escape a violent death.
The book also chronicles many general persecutions beginning under the Emperor Nero. Christians were burned alive, fed to wild animals, beheaded, crucified, scourged, scorched, and subjected to every kind of torture imaginable. Many were women and children.
The book continues the history of Christian martyrdom through the Inquisition and the Reformation, telling the stories of John Wycliffe, John Huss, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Archbishop Cranmer, and many others.
Undated versions cover many modern day martyrs and persecutions in places such as China, India, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Africa, the Soviet Union, and around the Middle East.
The editor writes:
Rewriting and updating Foxe’s book has not been an easy task, mentally, emotionally, or physically, and it has been highly personal—I worked as much with my heart as with my head. To translate the language and the times properly, I tried to sit in Foxe’s chair and imagine him as he was when he wrote. I tried to live in the times, places, and culture where the events took place, and I tried to suffer the persecution, torture, and burning of the martyrs. I was their scribe in freedom and in prison, in life and in death. A scribe who could only watch and listen and record the events as they unfolded, but who could not intervene.
I wish I could have told John Huss that Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund was not going to uphold his guarantee of safe conduct. I wish I could have warned William Tyndale that the man he had so quickly befriended was a Judas sent to betray him. And I still wonder what King Henry of Navarre did to escape being killed during the St. Bartholomew Day massacre when almost every Huguenot in Paris was slaughtered.
When they burned John Lambert and held him up out of the fire with their halberds so that he would burn more slowly I sat at my computer and wept. And when John Hauker raised his flaming hands over his head and clapped them together three times I rejoiced at the amazing grace of God. Just as I did when that same grace returned a repentant Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to the truth of Christ, and when it gave Mary Dyer the strength to return to Boston to give her life fighting an unjust Puritan law against the Quakers.
Most of all, I marveled at the steadfast faithfulness of so many men, women, and children who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for their Lord, and whose sufferings and deaths gave witness and strength to the true Church of Christ. Their stories continue to haunt me, as I ask this question: Could we, with our soft and self-serving modern Christianity, follow their examples of such courage and love for Christ that we would suffer being tortured, mutilated, and burned alive rather than recant our faith in Him?
There are thousands of Christians around the world today that answer with a resounding “Yes!”
But what is your answer to that question?
The Book of Martyrs is not easy to read, but I believe every Christian should read it at least once. The examples of faith recorded in its pages can’t help but change you. Once you begin, you may find it to be “the hardest book you can’t put down.”
There are many versions of Foxe’s book available. At least one is free on Amazon, but I chose this one edited by Chadwick because it appears to stay true to the original while editing and explaining many of the outdated words used by the author.
Quotations taken from:
Foxe, John. Foxes Book of Martyrs. Kindle Edition.
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Previously featured books:
Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day by Glynnis Whitwer. Read about it here.
Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Read about it here.
Gift-Wrapped by God: Secret Answers to the Question “Why Wait?” by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus. Read about it here.
The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children by Lou Priolo. Read about it here.
Sweethearts for a Lifetime: Making the Most of Your Marriage by Wayne and Carol Mack. Read about it here.
If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed?: Finding Meaning and Hope in the Dark Valley One Man’s Journey by Robert B. Somerville. Read about it here.
Intimate Issues: Twenty-One Questions Christian Women Ask About Sex by Linda Dillow & Lorraine Pintus. Read about it here.
For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn. Read about it here.
Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel With Hidden Idols by Brad Bigney. Read about it here.
Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem by Robert D. Jones. Read about it here.
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