Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012

Last night I dreamed of England in the sixteenth century, presumably around the time of Mary I (known as “Bloody Mary” not without reason). In this dream, a circle of women were discovered to profess the Protestant faith. They stood and steadfastly waited for their captors to break down the doors, and it was inspiring the see the lion-like spirit with which they awaited their execution. They were not absent of fear . . . it was visible in their eyes, and there was much trembling . . . but to betray their faith was not an option. When I woke, I was reminded of the story of Anne Askew.

Anne was an amazing woman. Born in England about 1521, as a young woman she had suffered the contemporary discomfort of marrying a man of her father’s choosing, a man she did not love. This man also happened to be firmly opposed to Protestantism. Anne would not compromise her faith. This was an era of martyrs and lions, people who lived on the edge and would do anything simply to uphold their beliefs, no matter how dangerous. Anne Askew was no exception.

Around this time Anne became a “gospeler,” the English name for a person who had memorized an unbelievable amount of Scripture and could pull out whichever verses were most suitable for the moment. Anne took to London next, handing out literature. The only problem was that Protestant materials were forbidden at the time. Yet that knowledge did not stop her. She continued to hand out books until she was imprisoned. Despite escaping, she did not stop winning souls to the Protestant faith and was soon apprehended again. Her fervor was well-noted by friends and enemies alike.

Anne stood up to torture like the lioness of a woman she was. She undoubtedly drew her strength from the Lion of Judah. Around this time there were many legal and religious cogs turning in English government, and Anne was caught in the crossfire and forced to name names. As per her valiant and dogged nature, she refused. Also --- and for this reason in particular, I admire her immensely --- instead of simply answering questions, which would have been brave enough in the face of torture, she provided clever and soul-searching responses that proved she really knew what she was talking about.

When questioned about Communion and forced to answer if it entailed an actual transformation into Christ’s body and blood, she answered, “Christ’s meaning in this passage . . . is similar to the meaning of those other places of Scripture, ‘I am the door’, ‘I am the vine’, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’, ‘That rock was Christ’, and other such references to Himself. You are not in these texts to take Christ for the material thing which He is signified by, for then you will make Him a very door, a vine, a lamb, a stone, quite contrary to the Holy Ghost’s meaning. All these indeed do signify Christ, even as the bread signifies His body in that place.”

In June 1546, after yet another imprisonment, Anne Askew was hurried to the White Tower, part of the Tower of London complex. She was taken to a torture device known as the rack in the attempts that she would give up the names of her fellow Protestants. Refusing, she was forced to endure the horrific punishment that followed. Every time she fell unconscious, she was roused and then tortured into unconsciousness once more. Hour after hour she struggled against the horrendous pain. Finally the torture ceased.

At the ripe old age of twenty-six, Anne was sentenced to be burned at the stake. A bishop read from Scripture in the hopes of throwing a life-giving rope to those on “death row.” Anne hung on his every word, but she still had the strength and audacity to correct him whenever she perceived his words as being contrary to the truth set forth in the Bible. Thus she went to her martyrdom with her spirit untarnished. The date was July 16, 1546. Never once had Anne Askew abandoned her faith or implicated her Protestant companions. At the stake she remained silent for an amazing length of time, even though the pain must have been beyond imagining.

Even in death she was a survivor. She had survived attempts to tear her from the Protestant faith that was the bedrock of her life. She had survived the evil intent of men chosen to torture her in the infamous White Tower. She had survived those who said she could not possibly know truth, and even her enemies duly noted her steadfast conviction. Even in defeat, she bore the triumph.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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