It is against the law to assemble. There can be no religious services including funerals or weddings. Communion held in a private home is banned. Preachers were forbidden to preach or teach. This law was passed by the country’s leaders. Rejecting such laws one preacher continued to minister to the people in preaching, teaching, edifying and comforting the downtrodden. He performed marriages, baptized those who desired and kept the faith alive in the hearts of those brave souls who loved the Lord more than man.
On June 3, 1863 a knock came to the door and a patrol of government troops came looking for the preacher. Riding away with the soldiers the preacher was taken a short distance away “to a briar thicket and there, without the least bit of mercy, shot him twice through the chest at point blank range, killing him instantly.” So ended the life of Augustus H. F. Payne. He rests today in the Green Lawn Cemetery in Plattsburg, Missouri. (The story of Augustus H. F. Payne is recounted by Earl Kimbrough in the March 2015 edition of Biblical Insights).
At first brush this story would seem unlikely to happen in the United States of America. Yet this story and countless others stain the historical pages of our country. It is easy to grow up in the last fifty years praying about all those “outside forces” that are supposed to come in and persecute us. History has shown this can happen from our own government. A number of people left Missouri in the face of this persecution but many people stayed like brother Payne.
Luke records the persecution of God’s people by Saul of Tarsus. “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4). There are no words to describe what it must be like to live in times where there is such violence against righteous people.
There is a strong reality this kind of thing will happen again in our country. The land of the free has changed in many ways and sadly not for the best. Religion is under attack from those who oppose regulation of right and wrong. Laws are being passed challenging rights of parents to discipline their children. Churches are under scrutiny for teaching against homosexuality. The agenda of the godless is beginning to take strides in removing safeguards long held in communities.
Under the persecution of Saul many fled and went throughout the world. Some stayed behind and many of those were killed. “Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3). In the 1860’s many fled from Missouri but many stayed. Some were murdered like Augustus H. F. Payne. Where will we find ourselves?
It is hard enough to get brethren to devote much of their time to the cause of Christ in our day and I suspect when the greater persecutions arise; it will be hard to find many Christians willing to take a stand for truth. Compromise is where the hearts of God’s people are willing to concede their faith to the laws of the land. There was no right and wrong about staying or going. Many needed to take the gospel to other places and just as many valiantly remained to share the good news in a hostile land. We do not live under the harsh rule of days past but there are days coming when it will be the norm.
Our freedom to worship was paid for by the blood of those who gave their life to establish this wonderful land we live in. There are also many of God’s people who defended the cause of Christ so that His message of hope would echo through the centuries of time as examples of faith and courage. The Hebrew writer landscapes the Arlington of scripture in Hebrews 11 by naming those valiant souls who gave their lives so that we can live by their example today.
“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:32-40).
Winston Churchill said, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because … it is the quality which guarantees all others” (Great Contemporaries, 1937). Our courage today will be our answer tomorrow. Without courage today there will be no answer tomorrow, only fear. Brother Payne is an unknown to most people but his voice still cries out. “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (Revelation 6:9-11). Thank you brother Payne.