For by it the people of old received their commendation. Hebrews 11:2
Hebrews praises faith and attributes to faith wonderful acts, efforts, and fruits. To commend faith, the apostle describes the experience of the Old Testament saints. There were famous for other graces – Abel for righteousness; Enoch and Noah for walking with God; Moses for meekness; Abraham for obedience; others for their valour and resolution; but note, the crown is set upon the head of faith. In Hebrews 11 many effects are spoken of that do more directly belong to other graces such as self-denial and Christian courage, rather than faith. Yet, the apostle said that by faith they did this and that. It should be our principal care to get faith and maintain it. Of all graces it is the most excellent, and of all graces it is most assaulted. The malice and spite of Satan is against your faith. Christ said to Peter, ‘Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail’ (Luke 22:31-32). Usually there are no defects in the life until there is first a decay in faith. One of the rewards of an active faith is a good report, and God provides for his own honour in the honour of his servants. When Christ adopts a people to himself, it is that they ‘shall make a name for the Lord’ (Isa. 55:13). Christ forms vessels of mercy out of thorns and briars that they may be to him a name. It was a credit for David to have so many famous worthies under him, and in the day of judgment, the Lord will be ‘glorified in his saints’ (2 Thess. 1:10). Christ’s glory comes not only because of his personal glory and the brightness of his presence, but also in the social glory that results from the dignities and privileges of his people. In that day Christ will be admired in his saints, but also now he is honoured in his saints. Believers need to be careful in their lives for the credit of Christ is at stake.
Are our civil and religious freedoms under threat? According to some social commentators we are living in very uncertain times in which the freedoms we have long enjoyed are coming under increasing pressure. The liberty we take so much for granted may not be as secure as we think.
When this book was first published there was little or no sign of such danger on the horizon. In 1960 the church may have taken her religious freedom for granted and perhaps had forgotten the price paid by those who had “fought for freedom of truth and conscience, freedom for life and worship, freedom both as citizens and Christians.” Today in the West the prospect facing the church may well be one of suffering for the sake of the gospel and of sharing the common experience of our fellow Christians in many other parts of the world.
This prospect makes the story of the four men told in this book all the more fascinating and relevant. In the seventeenth-century two Scottish Covenanters, Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford, and two English Puritans, John Bunyan and Richard Baxter, were at the forefront in the struggle for liberty of conscience and freedom of worship. The story of their suffering and triumph, vividly told by a skilled biographer, enables the reader to visualize clearly both the problems which faced the church during that turbulent period of her history and the principles upon which our spiritual forefathers courageously took their stand. Of course, it would not be hard to point out their limitations and imperfections, their mistakes and failures; but they were fired by an inner nobility of motive and ideal which lifts them above petty criticism and gives them a lasting title to be known as men who were like Bunyan’s pilgrim, Valiant-for-Truth.