Ignatius of Antioch
— the man who faced lions
Polycarp of Smyrna
— the man whose faith lasted
Irenaeus of Lyons
— the man who wrote books
Banner of Truth;
Each 40 pages,
‘There are lots of “idols” these days. But do you have any heroes? What’s the difference?’
So reads the cover of these three books for children by Sinclair B. Ferguson. They are the first of a series on ‘Heroes of the Faith’, in which the author seeks to introduce children to Christian heroes who made an impact in the church and on the world.
He explains that in today’s world children are encouraged to have ‘idols’, ‘who are to be “adored” not because of their character, but because of their image. By contrast a “hero” is someone who has shown moral fibre … who has been tested and has stood firm’.
He wants to draw children to those who remind us of Hebrews 13:7: ‘Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith’. This is his aim, and I believe he successfully accomplishes it, with the help of colourful, vivid illustrations by Alison Brown.
The three who Ferguson writes about are Ignatius of Antioch (?-117), Polycarp of Smyrna (70-156) and Irenaeus of Lyons (130/40-200). He does not digress into insignificant detail, but brings out noteworthy factors in their lives and explains their significance. In doing this, he not only gives children captivating history lessons, but important theological lessons as well.
Concerning Ignatius, we read of his readiness to stand for Christ in the face of death. We read of his willingness to give all for Christ, his total confidence in the triune God and his love for the church, even when facing death, as he reminded them to love one another and beware of false teaching.
With Polycarp, we are also taken on his journey to face death for the faith. But unlike Ignatius, Polycarp is now an old man. The world speaks little of the older generation as heroes, but here we see the faith of an elderly man who inspired others to stand up for Jesus.
Finally, we meet Irenaeus, whose heroism is seen not in death, but by his life in how he faithfully shepherds God’s people, teaching them the Word of God. We learn that he loved to tell the gospel to his people, as he contrasted the first and last Adam. Ferguson presents solid theology in a way that even a child can understand — and that is exactly right, for these are books for children.
The author places each hero in proper historical context. And, in case you think this all seems rather high brow for your child, he has an ability to make history interesting and theology simple.
He deals wisely and sensitively, bearing in mind the ages of children, when writing of Ignatius’ and Polycarp’s deaths. Alison Brown’s illustrations are attractive and seem to be just right, not overwhelming the text, yet being ‘windows’ into the history and theology that Sinclair Ferguson presents. Such books for children are sorely needed.