Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that, “If we don’t know our own history, we will simply have to endure all the same mistakes, sacrifices, and absurdities all over again.”
Nineteenth century church historian Philip Schaff wrote, “How shall we labour with any effect to build up the church if we have no thorough knowledge of her history? History is, and must ever continue to be, next to God’s word, the richest foundation of wisdom, and the surest guide to all successful practical activity.”
I began reading a history book last week entitled, “On this Day,” by Robert J. Morgan, with the sub-title, “365 Amazing and inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs and Heroes.”
The entry for today, Oct. 17, relates the story of a remarkable man by the name of Ignatius of Antioch who lived approximately 50 — 108 A.D.
Ignatius was a student of the apostle John; no doubt one his “little children” (1 John 2:1). There is not a lot of information about his ministry, except that he served faithfully as the third pastor of the church at Antioch for 40 years.
It was here that believers were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26), and Ignatius was the first to use the term “Christianity.”
With the rise of persecution against Christianity, he was arrested and chained to 10 malicious soldiers. Ignatius said of them, “From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst 10 leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only grow worse when they are kindly treated.”
Ignatius and his 10 “leopards” travelled to Rome, passing through many places where the apostle Paul had ministered. On the way, Christians came to ask for his prayers. Some of them offered to try to obtain his freedom. However, Ignatius urged them not to use financial or political connections to deter his impending execution. He told them, “You cannot do me a greater favour than allow me to be poured out as an offering to God while the altar is ready.”
He prayed that they would not have to incur burial costs on his behalf and told them, “Let the beasts to become my sepulcher, that they may leave nothing of my body.”
His prayers were answered. On Oct. 17, 108AD, he became entertainment for Emperor Trajan as ravenous lions took his life and consumed his remains.
He died, but his testimony did not. In keeping with Revelation 13:14, his “good deeds followed him.” Fourteen hundred years later, a young Spanish soldier read Ignatius’ story and was so moved by it that he dedicated his life to Christ and changed his name to Ignatius … but that is another page in Christian history.
Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church.