That Great Cloud of Witnesses
The history of the Waldensian Christian is a powerful testimony of what every human heart will do when it responds to God’s word. They had the scriptures in their own dialect from the beginning of the Christian era, and that word implanted in their heart a principle that no amount of persecution could remove. During the persecutions of the Roman Emperors, the early Christians, not yet named, “The Valdois,” or mountain valley dwellers, fled from the lowlands to the Alps.
There was thus a nucleus of Sabbath-keeping tradition in Europe between Milan and Lyons, which became the centre of The Poor Men of Lyons, a branch of the Sabbatati or Insabatati, later termed Waldensians. The Milan-Lyon nexus was facilitated by Pothinus and Irenæus (c. 125-203). Both were disciples of Polycarp, disciple of John and both were Sabbath-keepers. Irenæus became bishop of Lyons after the martyrdom of Pothinus in 177 under the persecution of Marcus Aurelius. The Church at Lyons and Vienne, reporting on their persecution in 177 and probably as a result of that persecution, argued for clemency. (The Catholic Encyclopedia (C.E.), art. Montanists, vol. X. pp. 522-523)).
From the days of Polycarp, the disciple John who was the closest disciple of Christ, a group holding the original light of the gospel, continued to thrive at Lyons, France and Milan, Italy. From those centers, generation to generation handed down the traditions of Christ and Paul, from family to family. For 1600 years those brave men and women penetrated the wicked darkness of paganized Christendom as missionaries in an enemy country. Ever the victim of bitter hatred by Rome, they suffered brutality as continued attempts were made to eradicate them from the Earth. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the Man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” Rev. 12:13,14. If you want to read more on this fascinating tribe of faithful commandment keepers, go to http://www.ccg.org/english/s/p122.html.
When we look up into the night sky we see millions of stars scattered across the expanse. There is not a place where they are not located. Some form loose groups we call Constellations, many are spread helter-skelter. But then there is that bright band spanning one horizon to the other. The Bible doesn’t call it, the Milky Way; it calls it, the Great Cloud of Witnesses. Nothing better represents the dense race of faithful ones, who were humbled by life, converted in heart, and who surrendered to their Creator and Redeemer. The relief which submission to God’s care occasioned in their souls, led them to bear up under the most difficult trials and persecutions. With the death threat always on their head, they faced their persecutors with only love in their heart for a church that didn’t love them, and with the Spirit’s message of mercy on their lips, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” Jer. 31:3;Is. 43:4.
If our light has gone dim, let’s allow the difficulties and corrections of life to do their perfect work. Let’s keep coming to Jesus and laying on Him our sins and mistakes. Let the dam burst, and allow all the pent up bitterness fall on Christ. He can even take our fiercest anger toward Him. He’s big and strong enough to take it all. And He has invited us to do so. “Whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken.” Matt. 21:44.
Once we have unburdened our heart, and are humbled and at rest, then He can tend to our lamp and get it burning brightly again. Not all the stars shine constant; many twinkle. Our Christian life may not be perfectly consistent, but that doesn’t remove us from Jesus’ care or His book of life. If we are in His hands, being trimmed and worked on, then He counts us in. That’s good news.
When the darkness is the deepest is when the stars shine the brightest. In the coming storm, “the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth,” (Rev. 3:10) we will find that only if we have treasured up heavenly riches will we find a reserve that drives us to gather warmth from the coldness of others and courage in the face of danger.
“For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.” Is. 60:2. Even now we are entering into the dusky shadows of this old world’s night. Awake, sentinels! “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Rev. 3:11.