by Mike Ratliff
The Church is undergoing one of the greatest onslaughts that has ever come upon her. This should not bring those who are in Christ into despair though. In fact, we must never forget that Christ will continue to build His Church until it is complete. No, we must not despair, but we must be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. We must tell the truth to all, but be wise enough to know that anything good that we do that brings glory to God is done by faith, not by our wills or desires or abilities or determination.
There have been other crucial times in the history of the Church. Our enemy has attacked it from its inception and seemed to have won many victories with long periods of apostasy with heresies being called doctrine. However, lest we forget, God has always been at work preserving those who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Those times have always been marked by persecution against those who have refused to compromise with man-made religion, false prophets, false religious leaders and doctrines of demons.
The Protestant Reformation was a high water mark in the history of the Church in that the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone was recovered. At the same time, the printing press enabled large numbers of inexpensive Bibles to be printed in the native languages of Europe. The Word of God became available to all who could read. In England, however, there arose a new Queen, Mary Tudor or Mary I, who was Roman Catholic. She came to power in 1553 and reigned until 1558. She became known as Bloody Mary because of the hundreds who were martyred by her decree for being Protestants. Just as God used the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem to move the Gospel to other areas as the disciples scattered, many Protestants fled England to Geneva in order to avoid the fires. It was the Biblical scholars in this group who developed the Geneva Bible first published in 1560. God’s ways are not our ways.
In this post we will look at two of those who paid the price of their uncompromising faith. The following is taken from Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World by John Foxe. It details the martyrdom of Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.
On September 30, 1555, Ridley and Latimer appeared together in Oxford before a panel of bishops to answer the charges of heresy that had been brought against them. Ridley was examined first.
The Bishop of Lincoln began by urging Ridley to recant and submit himself to the Pope. “If you will renounce your errors, recant your heretical seditious opinions, consent to yield yourself to the undoubted faith and truth of the gospel…authority is given to us to receive you, to reconcile you, and upon due penance to join you into Christ’s Church.” The bishop stressed three points”
- That the Pope was descended from Peter, who was the foundation of the Church.
- That the early Church fathers confessed the Pope’s supremacy in their writings.
- That Ridley once believed this himself.
Ridley replied to the three points. First, he said, it was not Peter who was the Church’s foundation, but Peter’s confession that Christ was the Son of God. This belief is the foundation of the Church, not a mere man.
Secondly, the Bishop of Rome was supreme in the early Church because the city of Rome was supreme in the world of the day, not because he had any more religious power than other bishops. As long as the diocese of Rome was true to the gospel, its bishop deserved respect from everyone in the Church, but as soon as they began setting themselves above kings and emperors for their own honor, the bishops of Rome became anti-Christian.
To the last point, Ridley admitted he did once believe as they did, just as Paul was once a prosecutor of Christ.
The Bishop of Lincoln cut Ridley short, reminding him of the panel’s power to either accept him back into the Church or excommunicate him. Anything they did would receive the support of the queen, who was a faithful member of the Church. The following article were then put forward against him (and Latimer):
- He maintained that the true body of Christ was not present in the bread and wine.
- He taught that the bread and wine remained bread and wine after consecration.
- He believed that the mass is not a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead.
- That Dr. Watson and others declared these beliefs heretical.
- That all of the above is true and well-known.
Ridley was asked to reply to the charges with simple yes or no answers and was promised that he could amend his answers the next day, when he’d had more time to think about them. Before he answered, Ridley protested that whatever he said, he would be saying it unwillingly and his answering would not indicate that he accepted either the panel’s or the Pope’s authority over him.
To the first charge, he said that Christ’s body and blood were present spiritually in the bread and wine, but not physically. To the second, he replied that the bread and wine remain bread and wine after consecration. To the third, he said that Christ made one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Communion was an acceptable sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, but saying it removed man’s sin’s implied that Christ’s work was not enough. To the fourth, Ridley replied that his beliefs had been declared heretical by Dr. Watson, but unjustly. To the fifth, that he believed exactly what he said, although he didn’t know what everyone thought of his beliefs.
Ridley was dismissed until the following day and Latimer was brought in. As with Ridley, the bishop urged Latimer to give up his beliefs and rejoin the Catholic Church, which was again universally accepted. He was then asked to reply to the same charges as Ridley.
“I do not deny,” he said in answer to the first charge, “that in the sacrament, by spirit and grace, is the very body and blood of Christ. Every man receiving the bread or wine spiritually receives the body and blood of Christ. But I deny that the body and blood of Christ is in the sacrament the way you say it is.”
To the second, he replied, “There is a change in the bread and wine, and yet the bread is still bread and wine is still wine.”
On whether the mass is a sacrifice for sins, Latimer replied, “No. Christ made one perfect sacrifice. No one can offer Him up again. Neither can the priest offer Him for the sins of man, which He took away by offering Himself once for all upon the cross.”
When Latimer was asked about his beliefs being called heresy, he replied, “Yes, I think they were condemned. But He that will judge us all knows they were condemned unjustly.” Latimer was also dismissed until eight o`clock the next morning.
Ridley arrived on October 1 with his answers to the charges written out, asking permission to read them to the crowd that filled St. Mary’s Church. But he was forced to turn his papers over to the bishops first, and they declared them heretical, refusing to read them aloud. In return, Ridley refused to answer their questions, saying all his answers were contained in his written replies. He was condemned as a heretic and turned over to the secular authorities for punishment.
Latimer was brought in. He agreed to answer the panel’s charges again, but his answers were the same as the day before and he refused to recant. He was also condemned and turned over to the authorities.
The morning of October 15, the Bishop of Gloucester (Dr. Brooks) and the vice-chancellor of Oxford (Dr. Marshall), along with others from the university, arrived at Mayor Irish’s house, where Ridley was being held a prisoner. Ridley was given the opportunity to rejoin the Church. When he refused, they forced him to go through the ceremony expelling him from the priesthood. The ceremony over, Ridley read a petition to the queen asking that she help Ridley’s sister and brother-in-law and others who had depended on him for their support. Dr. Brooks promised to forward the petition to the queen, but doubted she would honor it.
That night Ridley’s beard and legs were washed. At supper, he invited everyone in the mayor’s house to his burning, as well as his sister and brother. When the mayor’s wife began to cry, he comforted her by saying, “Quiet yourself. Though my breakfast will be somewhat sharp and painful, I’m sure my supper will be pleasant and sweet.”
Ridley and Latimer were to be burned on the north side of Oxford, in a ditch by Baliol College, well guarded by the queen’s orders. When everything was ready, they were brought out by the mayor and bailiffs. Ridley wore a furred black gown, velvet nightcap, and slippers. Latimer wore a worn frock, a buttoned cap, and a new long shroud hanging down to his feet.
Looking back, Ridley saw Latimer following him. “Oh. Are you here?” he called.
“Yes. As fast as I can follow,” Latimer answered.
Ridley reached the stake first. Holding up his hands, he first looked toward heaven. When Latimer arrived, Ridley ran to him cheerfully, held him, and kissed him, saying, “Be of good cheer, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame or else strengthen us to bear it.” After they said their prayers, the two men talked quietly together for a little while, but no one knows what they said.
The officers prevented Ridley and Latimer from answering the sermon that was given by Dr. Smith. They would be allowed to speak only if it were to recant.
“Well, then,” said Ridley, “I commit our cause to Almighty God, who shall impartially judge all.”
Latimer added, “Well, there is nothing hid but it shall be made manifest.”
Ridley cheerfully gave away his clothing and other items he possessed, then asked Lord Williams to do what he could to help those who depended on him for their living. The chain was fastened around the two men. “Good fellow, tie it tight, for the flesh will have its way,” Ridley commented. Then his brother brought him a bag of gunpowder to hang around his neck.” I will take it to be sent by God, therefore I will receive it as sent of Him. And do you have some for my brother?” Told he did, Ridley, sent his brother to Latimer before it was too late. Then they brought a torch and laid it at Ridley’s feet.
“Be of good comfort, brother Ridley, and play the man,” Latimer called. “We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
When Ridley saw the flames leap up, he cried with a loud voice, “Lord into They hands I commend my spirit. Lord, receive my spirit!”
Latimer cried as vehemently on the other said, “O Father of heaven, receive my soul!” He received the flame as if embracing it. After he stroked his face with his hands and bathed them a little in the fire, Latimer died with little visible pain.
But Ridley suffered longer because the fire did not flare up on his side of the stake, and he called out to them, asking them to let the fire come to him. His brother-in-law, misunderstanding the problem, covered Ridley with even more wood, which made the fire burn stronger on the bottom but kept it from flaring up as it should have. It burned all Ridley’s lower parts before ever touching his upper body, which made him leap up and down under the wood piled around him as he cried, “I cannot burn!” Even after his legs were consumed, his shirt was still untouched by the flames. He suffered in terrible pain until one of the onlookers pulled off the wood that was smothering the flames. When Ridley saw the fire flame up, he leaned toward it until the gunpowder exploded. He moved no more after that, falling down at Latimer’s feet.
The sight of Ridley and Latimer’s struggle moved hundreds in the crowd to tears, seeing years of study and knowledge, all the godly virtues, so much dignity and honor – all consumed in one moment. Well, they are gone, and the rewards of this world they already have. What a reward remains for them in heaven on the day of the Lord’s glory, when He comes with His saints!
Soli Deo Gloria!