One Hundred And Seventy Books Remain

October 4, 2016 | Reformation

Kirkby, Thomas, 1775-c.1848; John Wycliffe (c.1330-1384)

John Wycliffe

There are only one hundred and seventy of these books that exist today.  That is all.  Most publishers and authors would be disappointed at such meager results.  These 170 books would never have made the “best-seller list.” But, without question, these books have had more impact on the history of civilization than all the books that have been at the top of the best seller list in the last hundred years put together. When you consider at what time in history these books were put into circulation and what were the circumstances at the time, the number one hundred and seventy is significant indeed.

These one hundred seventy books were never printed.  They never rolled off any press.  In fact, they were put into circulation two centuries before Johan Gutenburg ever invented moveable type.  This means that each one of these one hundred and seventy books were painstakingly copied out by hand by a small group of dedicated men.  They lived in the 13th century, and worked in a small chapel off to the side of a church in the Midlands of England.  The church still stands today, a rough structure of gray stone that towers above the surrounding fields as a silent testimony to the activity of these men who lived and worked eight hundred years ago.

While these men worked and lived, they were considered outlaws.  The work they were engaged in was considered highly illegal.  These books were perhaps the most valuable books in the world.  Men would give an entire month’s pay just to possess one single page of this treasure.  The books were literally worth their weight in gold, that is, to the common peasants and widows of the English countryside.  It was not so to the ruling religious power.  These books were looked upon as a subversion of Church Authority.  Wherever they were found they were seized and burned.  The men who copied them out and carried them were ridiculed, mocked, and whenever they were found by the authorities, they were seized and put into custody.  Many were burned to death at the stake, with their hated books chained about their necks to burn along with their flesh.  Yet the truths of that book have outlasted all the fury of their enemies.  Eight hundred years after they were penned, there are still one hundred seventy existing copies.

Who were these men? For what purpose did they painstakingly write out these books?  Why were they so hated?  Why did the bishops order the bones of their leader to be disinterred and burned to ashes and then scattered on the River Swift?  Why were these books so hated?  These men were called “Lollards.”  There is much debate over what this name means.  Some say it was a derogatory term that meant “idler,” “hoodlum,” or “vagabond.”  Some say that it meant “babbler.”  Others say it was not derogatory at all, but was a name proudly carried by these men, a name that meant “Psalm-singers.”

WycliffeYeamesLollards_01

Wycliffe Sends the Lollards to Spread the Gospel

The books they so carefully copied out by hand were the first complete copies of the New Testament in the English language.  Their leader was a remarkable man named John Wycliffe, called “The Morning Star of the Reformation.”  Two centuries before Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, he took the book of God and translated it into the language of the common people.  He did not know Greek or Hebrew, so he translated from the Latin Vulgate, giving the English speaking people their very first copy of the Word of God.

Wycliffe_John_Gospel

A Pocket Wycliffe Translation of the Book of John

It is indeed a remarkable thing that one hundred and seventy of these hand-written English New Testaments still survive today, eight centuries after they were produced.  Consider that everyone caught with one was burned at the stake and every copy found was also burned.  So rare were these Bibles that for one page a peasant was willing to give a month’s wage.  A whole New Testament was worth fourteen years of labor.  Yet these faithful men copied them out by hand, a ten-month task, and gave them away at the cost of their very lives.

Truly, as Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).  The writer of the hymn, “The Bible Stands,” Haldor Lillenas (1885-1959), gives his testimony to the abiding truth of the Word of God, and the truth for which John Wycliffe spent his life’s work.

The Bible stands like a rock undaunted,
‘Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal,
And they glow with a light sublime.

The Bible stands like a mountain tow’ring,
Far above the works of men;
Its truth by none ever was refuted,
And destroy it they never can.

The Bible stands, and it will forever,
When the world has passed away;
By inspiration it has been given,
All its precepts I will obey.

The Bible stands every test we give it,
For its Author is divine;
By grace alone I expect to live it,
And to prove it, and make it mine.

The Bible stands tho the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble,
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands.

Written by John Huffman

John Huffman has given his life to the Gospel ministry and the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The son of a pastor, John preaches weekly, serving alongside his father. John also teaches Biblical languages with New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy.

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