I’m sure that this post will not be exhaustive as to the probable reasons why God has ordained martyrdom for so many of His children, nor will this post exhaust the possible help and benefit we can glean from reading accounts of the martyrs of the faith. However, I merely wish to point out a few helpful things we can learn from them. These thoughts were stimulated by reading the circular letter of the church at Smyrna concerning the martyrdom of Polycarp, surely one of the most moving testimonies of all Christian history.
The first thing that walloped me upside the head was the incongruity between Polycarp’s steadfastness in confessing his Lord and Savior, when compared and contrasted with my own inconstancy and sin. Now, I know that Polycarp could not have been sinless. However, it makes my faith seem cheap, when I am so willing to compromise it for the sake of my own sinful desires, when he was willing to seal his faith with his blood. We need all the inducements against sin we can find. Surely the testimony and confession of Polycarp and the myriad other martyrs in church history can help us: if they were steadfast under the threat of death by the grace of God, surely (again, most certainly by the grace of God!) we can resist under the threat of sin.
Secondly, and I have done this for time out of mind by now, we can think of what we would do, should we ever be forced to make a choice between our faith and our lives. Would we be steadfast? We can pray even now that should ever such a time arise, we would be steadfast.
Thirdly, and most importantly, martyrs bring glory to God. By their lives and by their deaths, they brought glory to God. That is the very meaning of life: we are to bring glory to God. Martyrs show us what is important. They show us what is worth martyrdom. There are many things worth dying for in the Christian walk. The glory of God is the most important thing worth martyrdom. So, read their testimonies, and be moved by them to a more faithful walk with God. Participate in this way with the fellowship of the body of Christ in its suffering. For those who believe, as I do, that the fellowship of the saints is one of the means of grace (iron sharpens iron), then we should not be so narrow or naive as to think that only the church that is currently alive can be of help to us.