I have been reading, very slowly, the James Clavell book Shogun. It is set in the late 16th century as sailors were exploring the New World and looking for passes to Asia and the 'Japans'. Captain Blackthorne (loosely based on the historical figure William Adams)is an Englishman piloting the Erasmus, a Dutch ship tasked to plunder Spanish and Portuguese posts and find a way to Japan through the Magellan's Pass.
What I found interesting is how much these men relied on other pilot's who had gone before. A pilot's notes, called 'rutters' were valued possessions. The rutters were detailed accounts of the sea, the routes, the weather, etc. With a good rutter a sailor would be able to find his way home. Without it he would be lost. With a good rutter, he could return again to the new found land and establish trade with the locals. Rutters were bought and sold, stolen and protected like one's most prized possession. Without a stolen rutter, Blackthorne would never have made it through Magella's Pass or to the Japans (he barely made it as it was, loosing two of his three ships and arriving with only 11 men alive from an original crew of over 400).
Thinking about this brought to mind Hebrews 11 and 12, especially 12:1-2:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (ESV).
We should take encouragement that others have gone before us and learn from their example, holding fast to the truths they held fast to and following their pattern of life. Jesus is the great pioneer. We follow his rutter. Others have gone after him, following as best they could his example: Peter, Paul, John, Stephen, Ignatius, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, John and Charles Wesley, Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Wilberforce, Hodge, Barth, Bonhoeffer, my grandfather, my dad (still living, thank God). None of these men were perfect, not in their theology and not in their life. But they were working to follow the rutter they had been given - the pattern Jesus' life and faith. May we do the same.