Playing the Man

I have received a letter from a young Christian who is studying in a Divinity school His purpose is to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, but there sounds in his letter a note of discouragement. He does not find his path an easy one, and the indifference to Christ all about him is a great trial to him. There are many like him I have no doubt in home, office, workshop or school. It may cheer such to consider of what stock they come. This is given to us very quaintly by the inimitable Bunyan, when he describes for us the reception the good Gaius — a pattern of a Christian host — gave to Christiana and her company as they journeyed to the Celestial City.

"Is this Christian's wife, and are these Christian's children?" said he. "I knew your husband's father, yea, also his father's father. Many have been good of this stock; their ancestors dwelt first at Antioch. Christian's progenitors (I suppose you have heard your husband talk of them) were very worthy men. They have above any that I know, showed themselves to be men of great virtue and courage for the Lord of the pilgrims, His ways, and them that loved Him. I have heard of many of your husband's relations that have stood all trials for the sake of the truth. Stephen, that was one of the first of the family from whence your husband sprang, was knocked on the head with stones. James, another of his generation, was slain with the edge of the sword. To say nothing of Paul and Peter, men anciently of the family from whence your husband came, there was Ignatius, who was cast to the lions; Romanus, whose flesh was cut by pieces from his bones; and POLYCARP, THAT PLAYED THE MAN IN THE FIRE. There was he that was hanged up in a basket in the sun for the wasps to eat; and he whom they put in a sack, and cast him into the sea to be drowned. Nor can I but be glad to see that thy husband has left behind him four such boys as these. I hope they will bear up their father's name, and tread in their father's steps, and come to their father's end."

"Indeed, sir," said Greatheart, their guide, and that most valiant of the King's band, "they are likely lads; they seem to choose heartily their father's ways."

How marvellously does Bunyan put things! That description of these young pilgrims as "likely lads" could not be improved upon. And in such a way will I describe my young correspondent and all his like. Having in their youth owned Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, what wonderful possibilities lie before them. "I hope they will bear up their father's name," said Gaius of these likely lads. That name was CHRISTIAN. Wonderful name for anyone to bear! It means, "Ye are Christ's." And those who bear it will have to suffer for His Name's sake. "But," says Peter, "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1 Pet. 3:16).

But if this name is to be truly borne by any they must play the man, as Polycarp did, not at the stake, of course, the devil has given up burning Christians; he discovered that it did not pay him, and he endeavours now to weary them by their lukewarm surroundings. It were better that they were either cold or hot, for the Laodicean influence is deadly indeed. It is, in fact, fatal to the pilgrim, unless he hath purpose of heart, cleaves to the Lord, and plays the man.

But it will surely stir the hearts of the young Christians to run over again the names of these noble martyrs of the Lord whom Bunyan calls our progenitors, and to dwell for a while on Polycarp specially, who played the man in the fire.

We learn of him when he was brought to the stake, the Roman officer, who had charge of the execution, a soldier with a humane heart, felt for the old man, and said, "Have pity on thy great age. Swear by Caesar. Reproach this Christ of thine by but one word, and I will set thee free." The noble pilgrim, enfeebled and bent with years and suffering, replied, "Eighty and six years have I served Jesus Christ, and He has never once wronged or deceived me, how, then, can I reproach Him!" Then as the executioners were binding the aged saint and preparing the fire for his martyrdom, some who stood by wrote down this prayer as it issued from his lips. "O Father of Thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ. I bless Thee that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour. I thank Thee that I am permitted to put my lips to the cup of Christ. And I thank Thee for the sure hope of the resurrection and of the incorruptible life of heaven. I praise Thee, O Father, through our eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, through whom, and in the Holy Ghost, be glory to Thee, both now and for ever. Amen."

Ah! Polycarp was one of the cloud of witnesses, who bear witness to us that God will never fail, but will uphold by His strong right hand all those who put their trust in Him. Do not fear, young Christian, commit your life with all its problems to God, and in dependence and obedience choose heartily this way in which your progenitors have run, LOOKING UNTO JESUS THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF FAITH.