The Showcase of a Faithless Heart

I never knew joy could be so difficult. But it is. Consider the following account.

“The two venerable Martyrs, Ridley and Latimer, had both been brought before the same CoHugh Latimer, by unknown artist. See source we...mmission on the charge of heresy… [Ridley] maintained his noble bearing to the end. He was adjudged “an obstinate and incurable heretic,” and condemned to the flames. The aged Latimer, then in his eighty-second year, worn out and withered, dressed in tattered garments, half blind and deaf, and almost toothless, was the miserable object on whom these inhuman wretches wreaked their vengeance. He was in like manner consigned to the flames; but their ultimate doom also awaited the fiat of the equally ruthless Pope. This poor creature still had the force and dauntless courage of a true martyr. He and Ridley were tethered together at the same stake, and when the faggot was lighted at Ridley’s feet, Latimer cheered his fellow-sufferer in the ever memorable and emphatic words:—

“Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s Grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Their fate took place early in October 1555.”[1]

History records that though Latimer died almost immediately, “Ridley however, hung on, with most of his lower body having burned before he passed away.”[2]

Telling someone like that to “be of good cheer”? These words, flung out across blackened air roiling with hate, portray that Latimer was one of three things—

A man of great insanity

A man of great cruelty

Or a man of great joy

No one denied the sanity of either man, nor was cruelty their crime. But joy? Really? What kind of joy accompanies a man to the stake? How can joy prop a man up as his legs and feet are devoured by the flame? And since when did joy become a scaffold anyway?

“Joy is… a word with great theological significance, because… joy in the true sense, both individual and corporate, is rooted in an unshakable faith in God and originates in a realization that God has acted and is acting to save those who put their trust in Him (Ps 16:11; Lk 1:46–47; Acts 2:26, 28; 5:41; 1 Pet 1:6; Rev 19:6, 7…).” [3]

Joy is not a denial of faith. It is not the shaking off of the inevitable. Rather, joy is the very offspring of faith. It is the result of trust in His character, in His Word, in the surety of His doing—of His being—everything He has promised. I suppose that’s why joylessness is such an offense to Him — it is the showcase of a faithless heart. Joylessness tells the world what we really believe about our God. It screams the message, “He is not worthy of my trust. He is changeable. I have no basis for this hope I claim.”

(Not that any of us would actually say that, but the message is there all the same.)

For those of us in pursuit of it, joy can be an elusive jewel. After all, matters of faith and joy are not hasty; they are slowly simmered in the fires of everyday trials. And sometimes, for some of us, faith and joy are like diamonds hard won, found only as we sift the ashes of our former selves in the furnace of affliction.

[1] Charles Hastings Collette, The Life, Times, and Writings of Thomas Cranmer, D.D.: The First Reforming Archbishop of Canterbury (London: George Redway, 1887), 240-41.

[2] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 377.

[3] Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).


6 thoughts on “The Showcase of a Faithless Heart

  1. Powerful reminder of what joy is and what it is not. The world does not give it, could never give it. It can’t be grasped, but it takes hold of the faith-filled heart and grows.

    I wonder though, if joy is difficult. Yes, it does look extremely difficult from where I stand (or rather sit). I, for one, am a big wimp. I’m non-confrontational and like peace, I really do. But, I do wonder, looking at Mr. Latimer’s physique and words, believing that he wasn’t mad, if God does not make life difficult and joy easy. In His presence there is fullness of joy and in His hand pleasures forevermore. Maybe we’ve got it all backwards. Maybe we don’t really grow up but down. John 3:30

    Thank you for making me think. I am always looking forward to visiting your thoughts and reflections. Grace and love!

  2. You make a great point; one I had not considered. He does make life difficult and joy easy. SO true! And I love the verse from Psalms; in His presence there IS fullness of joy and in His hand pleasures evermore. I suppose I’ve been taken up with what it cost our Lord to bring us there, into His presence (Col 1:22). I just never realized the price of joy, the price of peace (Isaiah 53), that the hand that holds those eternal pleasures is nail-scarred. Scarred because of ME. For MY sin. That I might rejoice forevermore. This past week has been for me much like standing before a war memorial, understanding for the first time something of the cost involved in all of the liberties I blindly take for granted. It’s a sobering thought. One that makes me ashamed to confess.

    Suddenly the words to that old hymn come to mind, “Behold the Father’s Love for Us”…

  3. This was a thought provoker for me as well but on a different level. I have really struggled lately with Joy. It’s not something I have ever gone through in my walk, but the past few years filled with illness, dissapointment and even confusion left me in a place where I had never been before with God. I daresay God with me, because He never left me but boy did I stray from Him. I think of the line from another old hymn “prone to wander, Lord I feel it prone to leave the Lord I love”. Joy IS easy. It’s trying to navigate this hard life on your own that’s tough, and for me impossible. It shames me that it took me so long to figure out the problem. Thank you for posting this..what wonderful way to think about this today. By honoring men of courage and conviction who’s joy overcame this world.

  4. I liked this in that it implies the distinction between happiness and joy. Latimer and Ridley certainly would have suffered a great deal of agony (especially Ridley). Were they happy? Probably not, yet their joy continued. That would be that extension of God’s grace to bear up in the unbearable circumstances and their joy was held fast by God. Their joy rested in the future, not the present.

    It makes me think of the times when it seems I lose my joy. I wholeheartedly agree that it is that lack of faith that is demonstrated when joy is gone (not happiness, but joy). When joy is gone, that is when I am focused on the present and not the future. A lack of faith that God will pull me through. But, even in a lack of faith, thank God that he gives joy to the believer as sustenance.

  5. Theresa, I so appreciate your comment AND your candor. The more I post about my own struggles with joy, the more I find that others are facing the same. I think we are strengthened as they (WE!) find we are not alone in this pursuit of joy. And I absolutely LOVE the hymn you mentioned! What a blessing to contemplate its words! “COME, Thou fount of every blessing, TUNE my heart to sing Thy grace, Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.TEACH me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above: Praise the mount—oh fix me on it, Mount of God’s unchanging love!” Thank you for that reminder!

    Know that I am praying for you and with you today.

  6. Jeff, I think you’ve just hit on something: The “extension of God’s grace to bear up in the unbearable circumstances and their joy was held fast by God.” You are absolutely right. Joy is a work of the Spirit, not a manufacture of the will. We can never work our way into a joyous state because, “the fruit of the Spirit is… joy…” (Galatians 5). I’m thinking that the key to joy is clinging, abiding (John 15:4-5).

    And “… He gives joy to the believer as sustenance.” So true. So profound. Thank you — thank you for encouraging my heart today!

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