Is it possible to live a life where you gladly and cheerfully walk to your death? Many of the Christian martyrs throughout history where men and women who did not flinch in the face of death, but rather saw it as their entrance into the presence of Jesus as well as an opportunity to be a living/dying witness to those who were persecuting them.
This is my teaching week at Ellerslie Training (a discipleship school in Colorado). Last night we had a student life activity called Martyr’s Night – where several stories of martyrs are told and a commission is given to live a life where you would be willing to die for the faith, Truth, and Message. In short, it is a calling to live like the early church who was willing to have confidence and not waiver no matter the pressure to recant, it is to joyfully go to your death where even the executioner is drawn to Christ because of your courage and cheerfulness.
One of the stories I told was a man named Thomas Hawkes (or Thomas Hauker) who died in 1555. His story continues to bless, encourage, and convict my soul. May we all live such lives at our death.
Thomas Hawkes (Hauker)
Thomas Hawkes came from a respectable family in England. Serving as a page at the court of King Edward VI, he was known as a handsome young man with gentle manners. When he became of age, he entered the service of the lord of Oxford, where he remained for some time, being liked by all the household.
When King Edward died, religion changed, and protestants began to be in danger. Rather than change his faith, he left his position with the lord of Oxford and went back to his own home. Having married while in Oxford, a son was born to him not long after he returned home.
He did not want the child baptized by a Catholic priest and so he put off the baptism for three weeks. His enemies on hearing this, had him brought before the magistrate charged with being unsound in religion. After a hearing he was sent to London and tried before the bishop of London who after being unable to get Hawkes to recant his faith, placed him as a prisoner in the Gate-house of Westminster.
During Hawkes imprisonment, various plans were tried to make him recant – but all proved useless. Thomas’s constant answer to all who spoke to him on the subject was “I am no changeling.” When responding to the Bishop of London who urged him to give up his faith, he said: “No my lord, that I will not, for if I had a hundred bodies I would suffer them all to be torn in pieces rather than I will abjure and recant.”
Unable to get him to recant, they passed the awful sentence of death upon him. To this he firmly replied, that he would rather suffer death than renounce his faith in the gospel.
While in prison waiting till he be taken to the stake, Hawkes was allowed to see his friends. Several of them asked him if it would be possible for him to give them some token to show that a man could suffer the fire without despairing. Hawkes promised, “by the help of God, to show them that the most terrible torments could be endured in the glorious cause of Christ and his gospel, the comforts of which were able to lift the believing soul above all the injuries men could inflict.”
It was agreed between them that if the pains of burning were bearable, the martyr should lift up his hands toward heaven before he died as a signal to his friends.
On April 10, 1555, Thomas was led to the place of execution, where he mildly and patiently prepared himself for the fire, being fastened to the stake with a strong chain about his middle. He addressed the multitude of onlookers, including his accusers, pointing out the sin and dreadful consequences of shedding innocent blood.
After Hawkes had made a prayer, pouring out his soul unto God, the flames were kindled around him, and soon blazed with such fierceness that his speech could not be heart by the flame’s intensity. As the fire burned a long time, his skin was drawn together, and his fingers were consumed, and having not moved, the people thought him dead. Suddenly and contrary to all expectation, Thomas, mindful of the promise he had made to his friends, raised his hands still burning with flames high above his head, and, as if in an ecstasy of joy, clapped them together three times.
A great shout followed this wonderful circumstance, and then this blessed martyr of Christ, sinking down into the fire, gave up his spirit.
The story above was a compilation from several online sources and the book Jesus Freak.