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"Surrounded by Witnesses!"
Dan Augsburger


Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I. Giants of Christian History

They come to us walking across the pages of history, sometimes in single file, sometimes in double file, these giants of Christian achievement, who though they often came from less than ideal circumstances, their trust and obedience to God tellingly speak to God’s power and bring a luster and beauty to the word “Christian” that still hallows their steps, encourages our hearts, and points us in the direction of the purpose filled and happy life!


A. Francis Ridley Havergal – Devoted

I think of Francis Ridley Havergal. By a very early age she could read and compose rhyme. Though she lived in a home steeped in Christianity as a result of her Dad being a pastor, she didn’t know God and wished that someone who visited would speak to her of God. She struggled to know God for many years, before finally committing her soul to Jesus at the age of 14. As a result a joy took over her that she had never known before. The Bible became her delight, and by the age of 22 she had memorized the entire New Testament, the Psalms and Isaiah. Eventually she began writing hymns, every line being asked for in prayer.

A Great Change

The great change in her life came when she read a little book called, “All For Jesus.” There she learned that a full surrender was required to experience full blessedness, and she started accepting all of God’s commands and promises with unquestioning faith.

And she began working to introduce others to Jesus.

On one occasion she visited in a home where there were ten people who didn’t know Jesus. Before the week was out, she had personally brought all but two of them to a saving relationship with. The last night she made a special visit to the two holdouts, and before midnight struck they too were rejoicing in Jesus. Francis was so filled with joy, that she remained awake the rest of the night, renewing her own consecration with the words that came tumbling out of her heart:

 
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

And she took the words literally. One time feeling convicted about God having a greater need for what she called her gold and silver ornaments, she packed them all up and sent them off to a mission house.

She was disciplined

Early rising and early studying were her rule and she was careful to avoid late hours. At seven in the morning during summer, and at eight in winter she was at her table studying her Bible. And she was careful to search her Bible to find all the hidden treasures.

God blessed her

God blessed her with so many advantages: the ability to memorize, she was a concert pianist, she knew many many languages, and had the ability to write the most beautiful poetry. Yet none of that compared to what she had in Jesus. Becoming sick and approaching death in her 40s, many grieved in her family circle. Her encouragment to them still comes to us in our day, “God’s will is delicious; He makes no mistakes!”

Her Secret

Her days had not been easy, she had taken a long time in coming to God. But eventually she had known a relationship with Jesus that brightened every moment. What was her secret? She was devoted! Full surrender—as she put it, “ever, only, all for Thee—brings full blessedness. The testimony of her life still encourages us in our day.

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B. George and Mary Müller—faith in the promises of God and careful obedience

His Early Life

George Müller had been into much mischief  as a young man and had spent time in jail for it—in fact he plunged deeply into all forms of sin, so much so that he confessed to gross immorality in the days before he was confirmed in the church and stealing a portion of the money he was to give to the clergyman for his confirmation.

But God finally got a hold of him, and he surrendered his life to the master. He married Mary Groves and together they pastored a church in Bristol England.

Seeking Faith

They wanted to learn how to live by faith, so they went to their church board and asked to be paid only on the basis of offerings that people left in the box in the back of the church. It wasn’t a happily accepted choice, but the church leaders accepted the plan, and the couple began exercising faith in whole new ways. Eventually God put it on his heart to start caring for Orphans. Müller’s goal wasn’t first and foremost to care for orphans, but to help his members learn about faith. At the time that he decided to start this work he had all of two shillings in his pocket.
By the time he had died, God had brought to him more than 7 million dollars in current money, and he cared for over 2000 orphans in 11 building, supported hundreds of missionaries in other places, printed and distributed thousands of pieces of literature, and did it all through prayer—hundreds of prayers, for the ongoing needs of the orphanages, the children, and the many good causes he supported throughout the world.

You would have thought his rough beginning would have forever compromised his ability to serve God? Far from that, he served and made a difference for God that few have matched since.

What was his secret?

He said the day came when George Müller died. Died to the his tastes, preferences and opinions, died to the praise or criticism of his friends, died to the praise or criticism of the world, and had only one concern, to show himself approved unto God.

Living in that “approved” stance, God opened the windows of heaven and poured down blessing after blesses.

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C. CT and Scilla Studd – Sacrifice

Early Days

CT was blessed to grow up in a home where money was never an issue. His father had made a fortune in India and had come home to England to ride horses, chase foxes, and do all the other leisure things that come with a life of great wealth. His three sons also enjoyed the advantages of this lifestyle and spent their time riding after the hounds and playing cricket, and doing the other popular things of their age bracket. By the time CT was 16 he had become one of the best cricket players in all of England. But it was at this time that his father became a Christian as a result of attending some meetings of D.L. Moody, and his father began seeking the salvation of his children.

His Conversion and eventual surrender

One day, a visiting friend who was on a mission for God, caught CT, who was 18 at the time, as he was leaving his home and asked him, “Are you a Christian?” He didn’t have an answer and was led to accept Jesus as His Saviour. That same day his two brothers were also brought to the Lord.

CT backslid for a time, his failing to tell others about Jesus and the world crowding back into his life dampening his religious enthusiasm, but one day, he read the following about surrender in Hannah Whital Smith’s book, “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life”:

“When you have surrendered all to God, you have given him all the responsibility, as well as everything else.  It is God who is responsible to look after you and all you have to do is to trust.  Put your hand in His and the Lord will lead you.”

As a result he proceeded to surrender his life following the couplets of Francis Havergal’s Hymn, “Take My Life and Let it Be.” Little did CT realize how he would literally fulfill his prayer.

Mission Service

Eventually he and six other students of Cambridge University began urging all of their friends to give their lives to missions. He personally signed up to join Hudson Taylor in China.

After arriving and working some time, he suddenly became heir to his portion of his father’s fortune. In praying and meditating over the matter he was struck over the fact that he could do for Jesus what the rich young ruler had not done; he could give his all to Jesus. He talked about his desire with Hudson Taylor, who urged him to make it a matter of prayer. CT finally decided to give 25,000 of the 29,000 pounds he had received.

Marriage

It was some time later that he made the acquaintance of a Salvation Army lass, Priscilla, who he called Scilla, and they decided to get married. Shortly before their marriage he told her what he had done. Her response, “Oh; Jesus said to give all! We must give all so we can start with a clean slate!” And so they did. Together they went on to be greatly used of God in China, India, and then Africa, the latter even though his health was broken, and Scilla had to remain with the children in England.

His Secret

He seemed to have sacrificed much, and he did; in fact he said “in looking over my life” there isn’t any area of my life that I have not sacrificed for God.” What was his secret? He surrendered his life entirely into God’s hands and looked to God to supply all his needs regardless of the sacrifice that was called for!

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D. Helen Roseviere – Thankfulness

Early Years

I also think of Helen Roseviere. She felt God’s call on her life and went to the Congo upon completing her medical training. She built a hospital and got the necessary supplies, and over the next year treated the many ailments of the people who lived in that area.

Trouble

In 1960 independence was declared, things began to fall apart, a faction in the army mutinied, and relationships between all the parties that lived there crumbled. Then in 1964 a rebellion took place that lasted for five months, during which time, 27 missionaries, 200 catholic priests and nuns, and more than 250,000 natives were killed. They rebels came to get her one afternoon—two rough soldiers breaking into home, handling her roughly, breaking her property, smashing her glasses—and hauled her off where she and  other defenseless women were held and abused by the men around them.

“Thank me for trusting you”

At that time God spoke to her, asking, “"Can you thank Me for trusting you with this, even if I never tell you why?” This was a new thought, that instead of her trusting God, God was trusting her! "Yes, God. If somehow, somewhere this fits for purposes I don't understand. Yes, thank You, God, for trusting me with this." God did not take away the wickedness, the cruelty, or the pain. It was still there. But He turned her fear into peace in the midst of all that carnage and cruelty.

Her trial

A few days later the rebels returned and took her away to a place where they had made preparations for a carefully scripted, cruel and blasphemous way to bring her life to an end. 800 men had been gathered from the local villages for her trial, who, unbeknown to her, were commanded to say at the appropriate moment, “She’s a liar, she’s a liar. Then they would be asked, “What shall we do with her?” with the desired response, “Crucify her; crucify her!” And so the trial began. Beaten in the head with the butt of a gun for not answering, blind from the resulting swelling her in face, she heard the trial proceed as planned. But when the time came to say, “crucify her crucify her,” instead of giving the desired response, the 800 men began crying and saying, “She is ours; she is ours.” They had not seen her as a hated foreigner, but as their loved doctor. They took her into their arms, pushed the rebel soldiers aside, and in a moment the divisions between white and black people melted.

Though she left for a time, she returned in 1965 to continue the work that she had started.

Her Secret

She had been given great medical training, and could have been successful in any hospital in the western world, but she chose to serve the Lord Jesus. What was her secret? "If Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him," and she was able to say "Thank you" no matter what was going on, regardless of whether she understood what was gong on either!

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E. Pierre and Marie Durand – Faithful

Their Huguenot family and upbringing

I also think of Pierre and Marie Durand who lived in the South of France in the 1700s. They were members of the Huguenot faith, a group of people who were participating in the reformation that had been started by Martin Luther. Loyal subjects to the king of France in all things except in matters of conscience, they were hounded by the authorities for their failure to obey the mandates of the church that was officially supported by the King. Their father was imprisoned in 1729 and remained in prison for the next 14 years.

Pierre (1702 -1732)

Pierre, born in 1700, slipped out of the country to Switzerland where he studied and became ordained as a Huguenot pastor. At the age of 20, consecrating his life to restoring the Hugeunot faith, he sneaked back into France and began clandestinely serving the Huguenot members in the region. Soon a price was placed on his head and the authorities searched everywhere to find and stop his efforts. He continued undetected for the next 12 years.

Marie (1711 - 1776)*

Not finding Pierre, the authorities arrested his sister Marie in 1732, then aged 18, and locked her up in the prison—The Tower of Constance, at Aigue Mort, where she was daily offered her freedom if she would only recant and deny her Huguenot faith. Every day she refused!

On April 22, 1732  her brother Pierre was found, tried, and shot.

But Marie didn’t vacillate in her convictions. The authorities continued asking her if she would give up her Huguenot convictions; and every day she answered “No.” She found a way to scratch in the cell that she shared with other women the word “Resist”! Marie continued saying “No” every day from when she was imprisoned at the age of 18, till she was freed 38 years later in 1767 at the age of 56.

Her Secret

She could have turned her back on her Huguenot religion at any time, but she didn’t! What was her secret? She was faithful and God used her faithfulness to encourage many others to maintain their walk with God regardless of potential consequences.


*There is disagreement on the year she was born. Some older books list her year of birth as 1715, which would have made the year of her imprisonment while she was still a younger teen.
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F. Summary

So they come to us across the pages of history…

Francis Ridley Havergal    Who found God’s will to be delicious, and composed hymns that helped so many others to find and consecrate their lives to Jesus.

George and Mary Müller    Who looked to God for all of their needs, and therefore were able to care for thousands of orphans, sponsored hundreds of missionaries, and printed thousands of pieces of literature.

CT & Scilla Studd    Who sacrificed their fortune and their lives, serving God in China, India and Africa, and finding hundreds of people being touched here and there as a result.

Helen Roseveare    Who turned her back on a comfortable medical career in the west to serve God in Belgion, Congo; was cruelly drawn into a rebellion during which she greatly suffered, and yet saw God work in marvelous ways.

Pierre and Marie Durand    Who pursued God as understood through their Huguenot faith, in spite of the King’s commands otherwise, and personally gave their lives—Pierre in death, Marie in imprisonment for 38 years—encouraging countless others to live for God.

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II. How Shall We Respond

With this great cloud of witnesses encouraging us forward, what are we going to do?

Paul gives the answer in Hebrews 21:1,2

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”


A. Lay aside every weight.

You are in the time of your life when you will begin to make decisions and develop associations that will endure for the rest of your life. I think of Adonirum Judson who “Planned his life to please the Lord.” Look at your life, think about the future, and begin to make those adjustments that will give God the freedom to do whatever He has in mind.

What are some of the weights?

Habits and practices that are outside of God’s will and not good for us.

Relationships that are drawing us to the world and things of the world.

Hobbies and pursuits that are taking up time and resources, such that we don’t have time for God.

Unresolved differences…relational baggage with our parents or friends that are negating his blessings.

Financial obligations that are of our own making, but which tie us down and prevent our following God’s opening providences.

Vows that we have subconsciously made regarding how we feel about a particular way that we will serve, or feelings towards people or life-impacting events in the past that continue to haunt us in the present.

I think of Hudson Taylor who chose to live simply, frugally, and prayerfully, so that he would be ready for any hardships that might come his way in the mission service that God had put in his heart.

I think of Annie Smith, one of our pioneers who had the possibility of a glamorous career, writing for one of the popular magazines of her day. Yet, sensing God’s call in her life, she sacrificed the coveted, world-esteemed role, and worked for the Review and Herald all of her life.

And, please be careful in your relationships. I have friends who became over involved, or made poor choices, and they are having difficulty serving God as they had dreamed of initially.

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B. And the Sin which so easily ensnares.

It’s not that God can’t forgive or overcome the sin in our lives if we allow Him to, but it compromises our desire to walk with Him, and it either limits or greatly retards what He is able to do in us.

I am especially concerned about the deadliest sin: insisting on having our way—having what we want, when we want it, how we want it, and all the resulting little sins that come as a result.

I am thankful that when praying that God’s people would be filled with all the fullness of God, Paul concluded by saying, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we can ask or think, according to His marvelous power.” It’s all about Him.


C. Let us run the race with endurance

We are in a race, and you don’t win a race without discipline. Now please understand that you and I can’t become disciplined in our own strength—only God can make us disciplined people, but we have to agree as He leads us, and allow Him to make the changes that are needed.

I Cor 9: 24 asks the question: “Do you not know that those who run a race all run, but one receives the price? Run in such a way to that you may obtain it.”


D. The race that is set before us.

Here Paul is reminding us that this journey is all about surrender and accepting the way God works in our lives.

Francis Havergal seems to have been frail and sickly most of her life, yet she always spoke of God’s will being delicious.

George and Mary Müller prayed much, expected much, attempted much in spite of the challenges, and were therefore used much.

CT and Scilla were willing to give up everything and trust that God would provide, and they served God on multiple continents in spite of hardship, sickness or separation.

Helen Roseveare suffered great hardship including being raped by her captors, but saw God’s hand in what was going on, and personally saw the color arguments in her region melt away.
 
Pierre and Marie remained faithful to God, regardless if it mean death for him, and life-long imprisonment for her, their examples being greatly used by God!

What could God do through you if you trust and follow His leadings regardless of what is going on, as one person put it, “with a grateful heart.”

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E. Finally look to Jesus.

“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As strong as our desires to serve God may be, as willing as we are to renounce every weight that entangles, as successful as we may be in overcoming the sin problems in our life, as enduring as we are in running the race and accepting the leadings of God in that race, it will only work if we ultimately look to Jesus as the heart and center of everything we are, of everything we say, of everything we do.

We cannot, but He can! And it isn’t so much a matter of obedience as it is one of trust. Is He trustworthy? Is He able? If we really believe that, the obeying will be easy.

He is calling us to follow Him, living like he did, making a difference like He did, and having joy as He did.

How did He do it?


1. He endured the cross.

He was willing to die to self and obey his father in every particular.

Jesus says to us this morning, “Come unto me all ye that are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for burden is easy to put on—that’s the French translation, and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:24

If we will take up the yoke of the Father, just as Jesus took up the will of His father, we will also find that the yoke is easy to put on, and the resulting burden light.


2. He despised the shame.

Jesus didn’t mind what others said about him, or how peculiar his actions might have seemed to others. He didn’t live to meet the expectations of others and therefore was not surprised, disappointed, discouraged, or in any way affected by what others said or did.

If Jesus makes us glad, nothing will make us sad.


3. He had the kind of relationship with God that could result in His sitting down at the right hand of God.

Jesus lived every moment in His Father’s presence, and now He lives in the presence of His Father in heaven. We have been invited to have the same kind of “abide in His presence” life here on earth.

Jesus said, Revelation 3:20 “I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with me.”

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Your Response?

Jesus is waiting for your response? What will it be?

CT Studd surrendered his life going through Francis Havergal’s song “Take My Life and Let it Be.”

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

Will you join me in making the same surrender? I pray to God you will!

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