August 9, 2017 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
In the last issue, we considered the life of Latimer. We turn now to the life of Ridley, Latimer’s faithful companion at the stake, and the man to whom Latimer addressed his final sermon, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.” In this issue, we shall see how Master Ridley did indeed stand firm in the fire and “play the man.” But first we will consider Ridley’s background and the steps that brought him to the fire.
Nicholas Ridley was born in 1500 in the extreme north of England, very near the Scottish border. The Ridleys were an ancient house of knights whose bravery was known and admired throughout the border country. They could meet an enemy with calm courage, keep their heads in the heat of battle, and endure pain without flinching. These qualities would be seen in Nicholas Ridley, but he was a knight of a different kind, a knight who wielded the Sword of Truth with unflinching courage. He was resolved to win the victory, though he must die an agonizing death.
Like Latimer, the man who became his close friend and example, Nicholas Ridley went to Cambridge University where he came into contact with other young students like John Rogers, Thomas Bilney, John Bradford, and William Tyndale. These became known as the “Scripture men,” and they met in the White Horse Inn to study and discuss the Bible.
Since the Ridley family was a family of influence and wealth, they sent Nicholas to the continent to study. Thus, unlike the other English Reformers, Nicholas Ridley had experience in the University of Paris. Among the Doctors of the Sorbonne, Ridley was sickened and saddened by the lack of knowledge of Scripture. He wearied of reading the Medieval Scholastics and longed for the pure fountain of God’s truth. The steps of Ridley’s conversion are not known. He was not converted in a moment, like Hugh Latimer or Saul of Tarsus. His conversion was slow, gradual, but just as sure. We know from his writings that he began, in the halls and gardens of Cambridge, to commit large sections of Scripture to memory. What the sword was to the ancient house of Ridley, the Bible was to be to Nicholas.
The English Reformation did not gush forth from the earth like a geyser. Rather it grew slowly and steadily, just as the melting snow on a mountainside descends into the valleys where it forms creeks, then streams, then a mighty river that rolls silently and slowly along with resistless power. So grew the English Reformation.
A brief discussion needs to be made of the relative usefulness of Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, the three great martyrs of Mary’s reign. Cranmer was a wise leader who used his gentle ways to win friends to the cause of Reform. Latimer was an eloquent speaker who used his tongue to proclaim verbally the truth of God. Ridley was a careful writer who used his pen to write clearly the defense of the Reformed Cause. Though Ridley was the junior of the three men, the other two leaned upon his writing.
The great question at stake in the English Reformation was the question of Transubstantiation. For a long time, even Cranmer held to the belief that, somehow, the Real Presence of Christ must be in the elements. It was not an easy thing for a Bishop of the church to challenge and overturn centuries of tradition. It was Ridley whose masterful examination of the subject convinced Cranmer and Latimer that the Mass must be entirely rejected, not only as unbiblical, but also as blasphemous, idolatrous, and dangerous. Ridley read the continental Reformers like Zwingli, and he drew on Zwingli’s writing to form his own position.
Nicholas Ridley was recognized by his friends as the intellectual leader of the English Reformation. He had a mind that retained all it was given, and his memory was remarkable. He studied for several hours each day and was an active reader whose conversation delighted and edified all that came to stay with him in his parsonage. He was a warm and generous host, and nobody ever came away from his home without being edified by the friendship.
Along with Latimer and Cranmer, Ridley knew that he would not long survive Mary’s reign. After the death of Edward VI, Ridley gave strong support to the coronation of Lady Jane Grey. When she and her young husband went to the block, Ridley was a marked man from the very start of Mary’s reign. Notwithstanding his knowledge of her hatred of him, Ridley went to greet Mary and even offered to serve her and hold services for the royal court. This request was turned down.
For his support of Lady Jane Grey, Nicholas Ridley was arrested on the charge of treason, but the charge was changed to a religious one and he was eventually tried and executed for heresy. Long debates failed to move him an inch from his position. Like his ancestors, Ridley would not flinch in the public arena, and many intellectual lances were shattered against his shield. When the formal trial was made, Ridley had the audacity to put his cap on his head whenever the Pope was mentioned. When Ridley was charged with denying the validity of the Mass, he replied calmly and clearly, “Christ made one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, neither can any man reiterate that sacrifice of His.” So the debates continued. John Foxe, who was a personal friend of Ridley’s and served under him as a deacon, said that, in spite of the most earnest arguments of the Papists, “nevertheless Ridley was ever talking things not pleasant to their ears.”
On the day of his execution, Nicholas Ridley dressed in his best attire. While Latimer wore a plain and simple gown, Ridley dressed in a black gown trimmed with fur and velvet. This was not to be proud or showy. Ridley was from an ancient house of knights, and he was going out to his final victory. While Latimer tottered because of age and infirmity, Ridley walked firmly and boldly to the stake. When questioned if he would recant, Ridley said, “So long as the breath is in my body, I will never deny my Lord Christ and His known truth.”
Ridley and Latimer are martyred
Ridley then gave away all his fine garments and stood in a plain undergarment. As the smith chained him to the stake, Ridley said, “Good fellow, knock it hard, for the flesh will have its way.” Nicholas Ridley did not want the intense pain to make him flee the stake. The hour of his final battle had come. As the faggot was lit and laid at the feet of the two men, there was perfect silence in the air as the tension mounted. As the flames began to leap upward, Latimer broke the tense silence with those immortal words, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man.”
As the fire blazed up, the wind blew the fire to the side of “Old Father Latimer.” Latimer looked upward and said peacefully, “Father of heaven, receive my soul.” He soon died with little apparent pain. It would not be so with Ridley. He would indeed have need to “play the man.” The wind blew the fire hard to Latimer’s side, and the fire on Ridley’s side was badly made. The green wood on top would not catch fire, but the wood at the bottom burned fiercely. While Ridley’s face and body were unharmed, his legs were almost burned away. All this time, his shirt was not even singed. He involuntarily leaped up and down in the fire as the burning flesh and muscles reacted to the pain, but he would not utter a scream or cry of reproach. John Foxe says, “Even in this torment, he did not forget to call on God, saying ‘Lord, have mercy on me.’” A relative of Ridley’s tried to relieve his agony and piled more wood on the fire. This only worsened the problem, and Ridley suffered on, but he “played the man.”
Finally, one of the guards realized the problem and reached forward with the hook at the end of his halberd, pulling away the topmost wood. The fire blazed upward through the wood. Ridley cried out in Latin the words he had learned long ago, “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.” But then, as though he remembered that he was an Englishman, and that the Bible was now in the hands of the common man, he repeated the prayer in his native tongue, “Lord, receive my spirit.”
The candle that was lit by Latimer and Ridley that day is still burning brightly. If you hold an English Bible in your hands, if you sing hymns from an English hymnal, if you worship God in Spirit and Truth, then you owe these men a debt of gratitude. Truly, they did light a candle that has never gone out. That shining candle is now entrusted to us. Don’t let it be extinguished. Don’t compromise the Word of God. Don’t give up the truth for which these men died. Even if you too must burn for it, remember Master Ridley and “play the man.”
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
Masters of the English Reformation by Marcus Loane
The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne
July 22, 2017 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
Ridley and Latimer are martyred
Two men stood back to back at the stake. As a large crowd watched, a heavy chain was passed around their waists to hold them fast. A fagot was kindled. At the sight of the flame, the older of the two men gave utterance to the noblest and shortest sermon he ever gave in his long life of preaching. “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.”
These lines have become among the most famous lines in English church history. The chain that bound Latimer and Ridley together on that morning of October 16, 1555, has continued to bind them together in the common mind. Today, it is almost impossible to think of Latimer without also thinking of Ridley. But in these next two issues of the Mighty Men Herald, we will try to consider these men as individuals and appreciate more fully the steps by which they arrived to be chained together at the martyr’s stake.
The elder of the two men was Hugh Latimer. He was seventy years old when he was burned alive as a martyr of the Gospel. Latimer’s life was already well spent, and “Old Father Latimer,” as he was known, had already lit a candle in England that would never go out.
Hugh Latimer was born in 1485 in Leicestershire. He was the son of a yeoman farmer and was trained to work the land as a boy. Therefore, he always loved gardens and orchards, and even as Bishop of Worchester, he had a love for plants. He was also trained at an early age to use the longbow, and he became an expert archer. When Latimer was 14 years old, his father sent him to Cambridge University. He excelled in the classics and in the scholastic doctors of the Medieval Church. As true of many schoolmen, Latimer continued his scholastic life after graduation, teaching at Clare Hall at Cambridge. In 1514, at the age of thirty, Hugh Latimer received his degree of Master of Arts. He gained many high academic honors and was also ordained a priest in the church of Rome.
In 1522, the new teachings of Luther began to make their way across the English Channel. Thomas Bilney, a student at Cambridge, smuggled a Greek New Testament into his study room and began to read the Word of God at its source. In opposition to Bilney and the other Reformers, Latimer became the spokesman for the Medieval Church in the debates that arose over the “New Learning.” Latimer openly attacked Luther and Melanchthon and argued against learning the original languages and translating the Word of God into the common tongue.
One day, Thomas Bilney went to Latimer’s study and asked the esteemed teacher if he would be willing to hear his confession. Latimer assumed that the young student would confess his heresies and return as a penitent to the bosom of Rome. But Bilney’s “confession” turned out to be his confession of faith in Christ alone and how he had received pardon through the blood of Jesus. The heart of Latimer was pierced by the arrow of divine Truth. D’Aubigne compares the conversion of Latimer to the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The zealous persecutor now became the zealous preacher of the Gospel. All the learning, the zeal, and the eloquence that Latimer had used for the Pope he now used for Jesus Christ.
Latimer became a bold and zealous defender of truth. He astonished all of Cambridge when he spoke out openly against the Roman doctrine of purgatory. This sermon was followed up by an attack on the immaculacy of the Virgin Mary. Soon, he began to attack the veneration of relics and the images of the saints. During the Christmas season of 1529 he openly attacked the ceremonial trappings of Christmas, and called on all Christians to reject the man-made traditions and festivals of Rome. Latimer probably would have become a martyr much earlier had not the political turmoil over the marriage and divorce of King Henry VIII distracted the realm from doctrinal matters and brought about the downfall of Papal dominion in England. By 1531, Latimer was recognized as one of the boldest and most eloquent preachers in the Reformed party. He became a close friend of Thomas Cranmer, who often warned Latimer to temper his zeal with caution.
Anne Boleyn, the young queen of England, was a firm Protestant and loved the simple preaching of the Bible. She had great respect for the bold preaching of Hugh Latimer and asked Henry VIII to make Latimer her chaplain at court. Latimer accepted this position and preached often before the king and queen. On one occasion, when Henry VIII had seized an abbey and used it to stable his horses, Latimer had the audacity to preach a sermon that kings should not multiply horses. He looked right at King Henry VIII and declared, “A prince ought not to prefer his horses above poor men.” D’Aubigne recounts that there was dead silence in the room, and nobody dared even to look at the king. After the sermon, Latimer’s friends warned him that he might be headed for the Tower. A few days later, the king questioned Latimer about his sermon. Latimer bowed respectfully and said, “Would you have me preach nothing concerning a king in the king’s sermon?” Henry VIII liked this boldness, and though he did not agree with Latimer’s doctrine, he admired Latimer’s courage and he never made a move to arrest him.
When Anne Boleyn fell out of favor, Latimer left London, but he was elevated by Henry VIII to become Bishop of Worchester, where he served for years as a pastor to his flock. During these years, the religious moods of England swayed with the changing wives of the King, but “Old Father Latimer” maintained a consistent loyalty to the simple Gospel he loved and preached.
The pulpit in St. Edward’s Church where Latimer preached. Source.
In 1539, a storm of controversy erupted concerning the hated “Six Articles.” These articles made it clear that Henry VIII, while he was separated from the Pope, was not about to embrace Reformed doctrine. The articles affirmed the Real Presence in the Eucharist, enforced the celibacy of priests and monks, granted the privilege of Papist clergy to hold private masses, and retained much of the doctrine of the Roman church. When the “Six Articles Act” passed the House of Lords, Bishop Latimer renounced his bishopric and resigned his charge. Weaker men like Thomas Cranmer, though they opposed the Six Articles, did not openly oppose them and thus retained their positions. Latimer would not compromise, and he was soon arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He remained there in the Tower eight long years.
In 1547, Henry VIII died and Edward VI was crowned King of England. This coronation was a great victory for the Reformed Party. Hugh Latimer was sixty-two years old at this time, and Edward VI promptly released “Old Father Latimer” from the Tower. For the next five years, Latimer preached, taught, and wrote. These were years of triumph for the Reformers of England, but “Old Father Latimer” was very prophetic in his warnings that another violent religious storm was on the horizon. The old man would sometimes say, “Smithfield has often groaned for me.” Smithfield was the place of public execution.
Latimer Before the Council
When Edward VI died in 1553, “Bloody Mary” Tudor came to the throne of England. Immediately, she sought to undo all that the good Edward had done. Stephen Gardiner, the queen’s favorite bishop, a devout Romanist and Papist, brought charges against Latimer, and the old man was summoned to Oxford to answer for his “heresies.” For many long months, he and other Reformed churchmen like Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer were summoned to disputation after disputation. Cranmer, always timid, recanted for a time and tried to blend in with the current system. But “Old Father Latimer” would not compromise. Latimer was so sick that he could sometimes hardly stand on his feet during these disputations. His memory was gone, and his sharp skills as an eloquent orator had faded with the years. But Latimer carried his New Testament with him, and did his best to answer all questions in the simple words of Scripture.
On the morning of October 16, 1555, the entire town of Oxford was in the streets. The younger Bishop Ridley appeared first and looked earnestly for Latimer. Finally the old man appeared and Ridley cried out, “Oh, be ye there?” “Yea,” answered Latimer, “as fast as I can follow.” The two men embraced each other fondly and knelt together by the stake. Onlookers tried to hear their words, but their words of sweet fellowship were lost to this world as they prepared for a better. After they were chained to the stake, the burning fagot was lit and applied to the pile. “Old Father Latimer” turned to Ridley to encourage his young friend, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.”
In a few short minutes, “Old Father Latimer” was in the presence of his Lord and Master. We shall see in the next issue how Master Ridley did indeed play the man in the harsher ordeal that awaited him.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
Masters of the English Reformation by Marcus Loane
The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne
February 25, 2017 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
The sound of psalms wafted through the open windows of a country cottage near Bedford, England in 1675. A small group of men, women, and children had assembled together to sing, to fellowship, and to hear the Bible preached. It was no cathedral they were in, and everyone in the room knew that this Nonconformist meeting was illegal. The sound of larks and sparrows took the place of the peals of the organ. Here, there was no high altar, no surplice, no prayer book, no candles, and no stained glass. A simple table served as a pulpit, upon which rested the well-worn Bible of John Bunyan.
Most of these people were farmers, and their faces were tanned just like that of their preacher. This was just the kind of congregation Bunyan loved. It was said of our Lord Jesus, “The common people heard him gladly.” The same could be said of John Bunyan. He was a tinker by trade, a mender of pots and pans, and he spent the week travelling through the countryside with his portable brazier. It was in the countryside, talking to farmers and their wives, that John Bunyan had come to know the common man. He spoke in a direct way that they understood and loved.
But of all the faces in the cottage, a few were dearest. Nearest the pulpit was seated his wife, Elizabeth, and their children. Because of John Bunyan’s many years in prison, Elizabeth had been forced by circumstances to raise the children almost alone. By 1675 Bunyan had already spent 12 years of his life in the Bedford jail. At Elizabeth’s side were arranged the children God had given them. Mary, the oldest daughter, had been blind from birth. Bunyan’s few references to her are always tender, and he called her “my poor blind child.” Sometimes, during her father’s extended imprisonments, Mary had been forced to beg for the sustenance of the family. Her father’s heart ached for this, but as he told his family, “I must venture all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you.” On this day, the eyes of “poor blind Mary” were raised to meet her father’s. Her eyes could see nothing physically, but her spiritual vision was very clear.
Little did John Bunyan know that this day would bring him yet another painful separation. As the singing ended, the snort of a horse was heard outside. A party of armed men stomped up the stairs and into the room. The assembled saints kept their seats, and all eyes were fixed, not upon the sheriff and his men, but upon their beloved pastor. John Bunyan looked the sheriff calmly in the eye and announced his text from Luke 23:40, “Dost not thou fear God?” Instead of breaking up the service, the sheriff quietly took a chair. His men did likewise. Bunyan could sense the abiding power of God in the room, and he knew that he must obey God rather than men if he would truly “venture all for God,” Slowly, Bunyan read again his text from the words of the penitent thief on the cross, “Dost not thou fear God?” He read on, “seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” When Bunyan looked up from his Bible, he saw the sheriff visibly shaken by the text. The sheriff was holding the warrant for Bunyan’s arrest, but the hand that held the warrant began to tremble. Bunyan knew the power of the Word of God, and he proceeded, “Behold how this man trembles at the Word of God.”
John Bunyan proceeded to preach. He described the wretchedness of man’s sin, the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Bunyan knew what it was to be a lost and dying sinner. He had once been a man as wicked as the sheriff, a blasphemous, lustful, and proud young man. The text brought to mind Bunyan’s own conversion. He remembered the crushing weight of his own sin. He called to mind the iniquity of his own heart. He remembered the passages of Scripture that seemed to forever condemn him under the righteous judgment of an offended God. He had been terrified by the Scriptures in Hebrews that warned of falling “into the hands of the living God.” He feared that he, like Esau, could find no place of repentance. But he eventually found rest in the same book of Hebrews that pointed the sinner to the perfect righteousness of Christ. He remembered the day that he read the text in Hebrews 12:22, “But ye are come to mount Zion . . . to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant.” Having realized that sinful men are “made perfect” by the “mediator of the New Covenant,” Bunyan had come to rest in the perfections of Christ and the burden of sin rolled from his shoulders at the foot of the cross.
In his autobiography, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” John Bunyan relates the agonizing process by which God brought him from sin to salvation, from doubt to faith, from darkness to light, and from defeat to victory. Now, in his sermon, he sought to proclaim the Good News of salvation to farmers and sheriffs alike. If the grace of God could save “the chief of sinners” — Bunyan himself, the same grace could save the sheriff.
Through the entire sermon the sheriff sat riveted to his seat. At the end the sheriff could not bring himself to bind the man of God. Instead, with great respect, he served the arrest warrant to John Bunyan and told the Nonconformist preacher that he should follow him to the Bedford Jail. Then, the sheriff left the cottage. Bunyan was a free man at that moment. He could have disappeared into the hills. He could have disguised himself. There may have been times when this would have been appropriate. But John Bunyan believed that he should demonstrate before his family and congregation that he was willing to suffer for the sake of the Lord Jesus and that he was not afraid of imprisonment or even of death.
The hardest thing was to be separated again from his wife and children. Elizabeth bravely accepted the bitter separation, yielding her husband once again into the hands of an all-wise God. Blind Mary’s sightless eyes were brimming with tears as she embraced her father, but Bunyan had taught his wife and children that the Christian life demands sacrifice for the cause of truth. He wrote this in his autobiography:
I had also this consideration, that if I should now venture all for God, I engaged God to take care of my concernments; but if I forsook him and his ways, for fear of any trouble that should come to me and mine, then I should not only falsify my profession, but should also count that my concernments were not so sure, if left at God’s feet, while I stood to and for his name, as they would be, if they were under my own care.
Venturing all for God, John Bunyan trusted his family into the care of God and walked freely into the Bedford Jail. In some ways, these months of his final imprisonment were the most important months of his life. It was during these six months of imprisonment that he wrote his most famous and lasting work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan was a tinker by profession and was considered by the clergy of England to be ignorant and illiterate. But from his prison cell, Bunyan wrote a book that has been the world’s best selling book ever written originally in the English language. It’s popularity cannot be explained apart from the fact that men and women see in John Bunyan an honest portrayal of the realities of life.
John Bunyan in Prison
In many ways John Bunyan’s famous allegory is an extension of his own autobiography. He reminds every pilgrim that the Christian life is never easy. Even after Pilgrim’s sins rolled away at the foot of the cross, there were struggles and hardships in life. Doubting Castle looms big, and Giant Despair is very real. Doubts, fears, struggles, darkness, and sorrow are just as much a part of the Christian’s life as victory. Apollyon must be met and conquered. But through all of life’s journey we are guided and sustained by the hand of a gracious God, and we can look back to say, “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).
John Bunyan reached the end of his own pilgrimage in 1688. His faith was put to the final test as he came to the brink of the River of Death. “Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant” had sustained him in life, and was there again to sustain him in death. Bunyan had recorded in The Pilgrim’s Progress how that when Christian and his companion emerged from the river, they were met by two shining ones with this triumphant message, “Ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the Living God” (Heb 12:22). The life of John Bunyan encourages us that the glories of the Celestial City await every sincere Pilgrim who will truly venture all for God.
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Venture All for God: Piety in the Writings of John Bunyan
Christian History in First Person video lectures by Dr. Edward Panosian
February 17, 2017 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
This year, 2017, marks an important year in the history of God’s providential dealings with man. This is the 500th anniversary of the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. Of course, the Reformation cannot be reduced to a single event or to a single man. The Lord used many men over many years to prepare the way. John Wycliffe, John Hus, Girolamo Savonarola and many others were used in their day as witnesses to the truth. But it is not without reason that Martin Luther and the year 1517 are remembered as the dawn of the Reformation.
Centuries of scholasticism, rationalism, and man-made innovation had clouded the waters of truth. Religion had been gradually synthesized with paganism, and the Roman church was nothing like the church of the first century. The Roman pontiff, Leo X, was an ambitious and conniving man who had attained the papacy by a parade of sins. It was said of him that he would have been a wonderful pope “if, in addition to his other virtues, he would have only been religious.”
Rome was becoming more and more glorious outwardly, but more and more corrupt inwardly. Like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, the church appeared beautiful on the outside, but within it was “full of dead men’s bones, and all uncleanness.” Masses, indulgences, relics, pilgrimages, prayers to the saints, and all such man-made devices could not satisfy a holy God. When “the fullness of time was come,” God raised up a champion to confront the corruption of his day. J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, in his massive 7,000-page history of the Reformation, introduces Martin Luther with these stirring words:
All was ready. God who prepares his work through ages, accomplishes it by the weakest instruments, when his time is come. To effect great results by the smallest means—such is the law of God. God selected the reformers of the Church from the same class whence he had taken the apostles. He chose them from among the lower rank, which, although not the meanest, does not reach the level of the middle classes. Everything was thus intended to manifest to the world that the work was not of man but of God.
Martin Luther was born to a poor miner in the village of Eisleben. Providence directed his parents to send him to Magdeburg to obtain an education. His parents, aware of their own poverty, wanted their son to become a successful man. Young Martin became discontented with the study of law, and in a severe thunder storm, he vowed to St. Anne that he would become a monk if she would save him from the terror of God’s wrath.
Luther’s Parents, Hans and Margarethe
Luther labored many years under the chains of guilt and spiritual darkness. He tried every way he knew to obtain pardon and peace. Masses, vigils, penance, flagellation, and vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were devoutly followed—but in vain. D’Aubigne says:
To be able to deliver his age from the miserable superstitions under which it groaned, it was necessary for him first to feel their weight. To drain the cup, he must drink it to the very dregs.
In mercy, God eventually sent the young monk a kind and compassionate friend in the monastery, John Staupitz. Staupitz was used of God to point Martin away from his own guilt to the righteousness and mercy of the Redeemer.
Luther’s heart was not relieved in a single moment. But over the course of several weeks, he began to find comfort and peace in the very Scriptures which had once condemned him. It was in these months that Romans 1:17 became precious to Luther, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
Luther himself described his conversion thus:
Although I was a holy and blameless monk, my conscience was nevertheless full of trouble and anguish. I could not endure these words—the righteousness of God. I had no love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood these words, when I learnt how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith, then I felt born again like a new man. I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God. Henceforward also, I saw the beloved and Holy Scriptures with other eyes. As previously I had detested with all my heart these words—the righteousness of God—I began from that hour to value them and to love them, as the sweetest and most consoling words in the Bible. In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of paradise.
The simplicity of justification by faith soon became the very theme of Luther’s preaching and writing. Luther was made a professor at the University of Wittenberg and was also consecrated as the priest of the Castle Church.
In 1517, great controversy erupted in Saxony. An ignorant and itinerant monk named Tetzel entered the area, peddling a Roman indulgence. This pompous monk travelled about in a splendid carriage and carried a large red cross with him. He urged people to buy a piece of paper that promised them pardon for all sins—past, present, and future. The proceeds would be used to build St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome. Of course, Tetzel also got his share. One bold knight, seeing an opportunity for a joke, asked Tetzel if the indulgence covered future sins. Teztel assured him that it did indeed. Several days later, Tetzel was ambushed on the roadside by this same knight—who emptied Tetzel’s chest of money. When Tetzel angrily brought suit in a local court of law, the knight produced his indulgence and reminded the irate monk that he had promised forgiveness for all future sins. The case was thrown out of court, and Tetzel did not recover the money.
The Door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg
Luther attacked Tetzel in a more direct way. On the eve of All Saint’s Day, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous Ninety Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. This event is recognized by many as the official date of the dawn of the Reformation. Here are a few of Luther’s most probing statements:
27. They preach mere human follies who maintain that as soon as the money rattles in the strong box, the soul flies out of purgatory.
43. If the pope knew of the extortions of the preachers of indulgences, he would rather the mother-church of St. Peter were burnt and reduced to ashes, than see it built up with the skin, the flesh, and the bones of his flock.
52. To hope to be saved by indulgences is a lying and empty hope although even the pope himself should pledge his own soul for them.
82. Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?
Martin Luther has sometimes been criticized for not going far enough. But this is a haughty and proud charge for all of us who benefit from Luther’s courageous stand. Rather than criticizing Luther for not going far enough, we should thank God for Luther’s courage to go as far as he did. Here are some of Luther’s famous and lasting achievements:
1. Luther was the first to successfully stand against papal power. Men before him had been burned to death for daring to resist the pope. Luther burned the papal bull, asserting that the pope was merely a man, subject to the authority of the Word of God, which is supreme in home, church, and state. As he said at Worms, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God . . . Here I stand.”
2. Luther translated the Bible into German. His skillful translation wove together the various dialects, creating what would later become the German literary language.
3. Luther restored congregational singing and worship. “Ein’ Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott” – “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is only one of many hymns that he wrote and set to music to edify the people of God.
4. Luther set a pattern for what a pastor’s home ought to be. His marriage to Katherine von Bora in 1525 was a source of joy to Luther. His happy home became a haven of peace, fellowship, and contentment. Other reformers would follow Luther’s example.
By the time that Luther died in 1546, the truth he had championed was triumphant not only in Germany, but also in England, France, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Scotland. Others would come along and build on Luther’s work, but God had used him to prepare the way. He had shown the world the simple power of these words, “The just shall live by faith.”
The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne
January 17, 2017 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
St. Andrew’s Castle
A French warship drifted slowly along the coast of Scotland, ominously symbolizing the bondage of the Scottish people. It was a cold icy day, and fog hung closely around the ship so that the shoreline was barely visible through the mist. A prisoner was on board, a thin man who was already past the prime of life. His body was worn down from many months as a galley slave. His health was broken. His back was sore, and he had recently been very sick. It had been many months since he had seen his native land. But as the fog began to lift, a few of his fellow-prisoners lifted their companion up so that he could peer toward the shore. They asked him what he saw. The sunken eyes of the sick man looked up through the fog, squinting to make out the skyline of the coastal town of St. Andrews, with its frowning castle and massive cathedral spires, the stronghold of Roman Papal power in Scotland. Suddenly, his eyes gleamed with life. He sat erect at his oar, trembling with hope and triumph. “Yes,” said the prisoner, “I know it well. For I see the steeple of that place where God first in public opened my mouth for His glory, and I am fully persuaded, how weak that ever I now appear, that I shall not depart this life till that my tongue shall glorify His goodly name in that same place.”
It seemed merely the vain and delirious hope of a dying man. At this time, Scotland was in the complete grip of a foreign power. A French woman named Mary of Guise was Queen Regent of Scotland, and she sat on the throne in behalf of the princess, Mary Stuart, who was being reared across the channel in the opulent court of France, drinking deeply of French customs, French religion, and French morals as well. The French fleet had been called in to enforce French power, and it seemed that Scotland would never be free from darkness, tyranny, and oppression in church and state. The powerful bishops held complete sway in the land, and simony, adultery, nepotism, and various other sins were notorious among the clergy. St. Andrews was the stronghold of their power.
The few bold Reformers who had dared preach the truth, men like Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart, had been burned to death at the stake. On that cold and foggy day, it seemed that light and truth were gone forever from Scotland. But the light of truth burned brightly in the heart of one man. If all despaired, he would not despair. Let Queen, Regent, Pope, and council rage as they will, Jesus Christ still sat on the Throne. Although he was weak, John Knox prayed with firm resolve, “Lord, give me Scotland, ere I die.”
The God of heaven can work a mighty change in a brief period of time. Sometimes, our Lord changes a culture, a nation, a civilization slowly over the course of many centuries. But the God who brought Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand and stretched out arm can still work a mighty revolution in a few short years. So it was in Scotland. In only ten years, Scotland would be changed forever. Far away in London, a young king named Edward VI took the throne of England. He had a burning zeal for God’s truth. By his intervention, the galley slaves were released from French vessels.
In 1549, John Knox became a free man. God was answering Knox’s prayer. All across Scotland, the hearts of noblemen, farmers, merchants, seamen, fishermen, and soldiers were being opened. English Bibles from the south found their way into homes. In 1551, Knox was invited to London to become the chaplain for Edward VI. After Edward died, Mary Tudor took the throne and Knox was forced to flee to the continent. Again, it seemed his hopes were vain and empty. In 1553, John Knox became pastor of an English-speaking church in Geneva. Away from loved ones, hopes, plans, and ambitions, Knox prayed on: “Lord, give me Scotland, ere I die.” In 1555, Knox secretly returned to Scotland. He sought to urge the nobles of Scotland to do their duty, and throw off the yoke of idolatry. He preached and taught wherever he had a hearing, right under the noses of his enemies. While in Scotland, John Knox married Marjory Bowes and took his young wife to the safety of Geneva.
In 1558, from Geneva, Knox wrote a series of three blazing letters. The first he titled “First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.” In this treatise, he proclaimed that the rule of female monarchs was a judgment upon Scotland for her idolatry. At the same time, Knox also wrote his “Appellation to the Scottish Nobility,” in which he pleaded with the noblemen to abhor idolatry, renounce the authority of the Pope, bow to the supremacy of the Law of God, and purge the land of oppression in church and in state. The third letter was a “Letter to the Commonalty of Scotland,” urging upon fishermen, shepherds, and farmers their duty before God.
These three treatises had a remarkable effect upon the realm of Scotland. Psalm 110:3 declares, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.” The Lord always makes his people willing to act when the day of His power comes. Soon after these letters were sent, several noblemen, soon to be called “the Lords of the Congregation,” wrote to Knox, asking him to return to Scotland and lead them in the work of Reform.
In 1559, John Knox returned in triumph to his native land. Only ten years before, he had been a galley slave on a French ship, peering through the fog at the Cathedral of St. Andrews. Now, he was back. It was a dramatic showdown of power. St. Andrews was the stronghold of Papal power in Scotland. The Queen Regent hated Knox for his “Blast of the Trumpet” and for his defiance of her tyranny and idolatry. Knox had been publicly burned in effigy, and he knew the enemy sought his life. Knowing of Knox’s intention to come to St. Andrews, the Bishop sent a message to the Lords of the Congregation, threatening to have 100 spearmen outside the church to prevent Knox from entering that pulpit.
Knox Preaching Before the Lords of the Congregation
Knox was not a man to quail before such threats. He said, “My life is in the hands of Him whose glory I seek, and therefore I fear not their threats.” The Lords of the Congregation backed Knox with their own men-at-arms, and Knox entered the pulpit of St. Andrews and boldly preached against the Queen and the Bishop, asserting that Jesus Christ is supreme in church and state. To the astonishment of all, the civil magistrates of St. Andrews agreed to rid the town of all monuments of idolatry. Altars of mass were overthrown, images were toppled, carvings were chiseled out of niches, artwork was removed from walls, candles were snuffed out, and the pulpit became the simple and central focus of public worship. Immediately, the Queen Regent launched her troops against the Reformers. The Lords of the Congregation would not back down, but banded together to defend with the sword of civil power the Gospel that Knox preached.
Knox Before Queen Mary
In 1560, the Queen Regent died, and the young Mary Queen of Scots came to rule the realm in her own right. John Knox became pastor of the Church of St. Giles in Edinborough where he preached the truth right down the street from the palace of the new Queen. Mary Queen of Scots was young, beautiful, and persuasive, but Knox could not be moved by tears, smiles, threats, or false promises. During one interview, Mary Queen of Scots said that her conscience was assured that the Roman religion was correct. Knox replied respectfully but boldly, “Conscience, Madam, requireth knowledge; and I fear that right knowledge ye have none.” He also told her, “If princes exceed their bounds, Madam, no doubt they may be resisted, even by power.”
On another occasion, when Mary wept bitterly over Knox’s rebuke of her immorality, he answered “I never delighted in the weeping of any of God’s creatures, but seeing I have spoken the truth as my vocation craves of me, I must sustain your Majesty’s tears rather than betray my Commonwealth through my silence.” Eventually, the young queen’s bad morals and secret plots became so outrageous that Mary was deposed and convicted of treason, adultery, and idolatry.
By the time of Knox’s death in 1572, Scotland was thoroughly Reformed. The pulpits were aflame with truth. The Lords of the Congregation were triumphant. Idolatry was outlawed throughout the land. The Scottish nobility had boldly united in covenant to uphold the Law of God throughout the realm. When Knox was dying, he asked his wife to read from John 17, the passage instrumental in his conversion many years earlier, saying, “there I cast my first anchor.” One of the Scottish earls said of Knox, “There lies one who in his life never feared the face of man.”
In our current crisis, we need the confident hope of Knox. America cannot be made great by a political party or a conservative candidate. A nation will only prosper when it will unite in covenant to acknowledge Christ as King and His Word as Law.
Knox’s Native Scotland
The Reformation in Scotland by John Knox
John Knox: A Biography by Peter Brown
Knox and the Reformation Times in Scotland by Jean L. Watson
The Scots Worthies by John Howie
November 7, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Colonization by John Huffman
Cliffs Along Oregon’s Columbia River
A solitary medical doctor urged his horse forward into the cold and foggy November night. Behind him lay the safety, warmth, and comfort of a fort. Ahead lay danger, mystery, and a long ride back to his isolated Presbyterian mission station called “Waiilatpu” – the place of rye grass. In the wee hours of the morning, Marcus Whitman rode into the mission compound at Waiilatpu. Ten years earlier, this had been a wilderness, inhabited only by wild beasts and wild men. Now there were cultivated fields, orchards, flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and a gristmill. This clearing had come to represent a clash between two cultures. On one side of the clearing were the lodges of the Cayuse, where even now could be heard the muffled death wail of a bereaved Indian family. On the other side of the clearing were five covered wagons, a vivid picture of Westward expansion.
In the middle of these two cultures stood Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Ten years ago, they had left their homes in rural New York to come into this wilderness with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some Cayuse had welcomed their influence, had abandoned their pagan ways, and had come to embrace Christianity. They had ceased their witchcraft, their murder, and the horrid practice of burying alive their unwanted children. These Cayuse had learned to cultivate the ground, to raise cattle, and to love their children. But some Cayuse had not appreciated the Whitmans’ sacrifice. Fear, resentment, and suspicion ran deep. In the last few weeks, muttered threats and secret pow-wows had broken out into open resentment. Indians were dying of a measles epidemic despite the best efforts of Marcus. It was a Cayuse custom to kill a “tewat” – medicine man, if his patient died. Marcus knew that the Indians also resented the growing influx of white men from the east. But Marcus could not change history. He could only do what he could to help the Indians adapt to a changing world.
Marcus dismounted at the T-shaped mission house. It was late, and Marcus was tired. But he sent his wife, Narcissa, to bed so that she could get some needed rest, her last on earth. Marcus took her place attending the sick children, white and red alike, who needed his aid through the rest of the night.
Perhaps a great flood of memories swept over Marcus that night. He recalled the day when he, as a young medical doctor sitting in a church in rural New York, first heard the missionary Samuel Parker tell of the tribes beyond the distant Rockies. He remembered the day that Narcissa Prentiss had agreed to become his wife. He remembered how, at their wedding, Narcissa had requested that the congregation sing the great missionary hymn, “Can I Leave You?” He remembered that, by the fifth verse, the song was stifled by sobs as his courageous bride sang alone this stanza:
In the deserts let me labor,
On the mountains let me tell,
How he died—the blessed Saviour
To redeem a world from hell!
Let me hasten, let me hasten,
Far in heathen lands to dwell.
They had already given so much. Narcissa, so young and eager, was already broken in health. Marcus too was worn with care and toil. And not far away, Alice Clarissa, their only child, rested in a shallow grave—drowned in the Walla Walla river at the tender age of two. The Whitmans had sacrificed wealth, home, family, friends, society, and their own health to come and labor here. But they still had one thing more they could give. The supreme test of their loyalty would come with the dawn of a new day.
The Whitman’s Mission
On November 29, 1847, a band of hostile Cayuse came to the main mission house, demanding medicine. Marcus had dealt with angry men before, and he hoped for the best. He could not deny their request and reached for his bag. One of the Cayuse warriors stepped behind Doctor Whitman, drew a concealed tomahawk from his belt, and slammed the blade into the base of the doctor’s skull. A shot was fired, and instantly all was confusion. Narcissa must have known what the gunshot meant. But she did not panic. Her first thought was not for herself, but for the little orphan girls of the Sager family who depended upon her. Bolting the door to her room, she gathered the children about her as a general massacre began outside. The fury of the murderers would not be restrained even by the sight of women and children. A gun was thrust into the window, and a bullet tore through Narcissa’s shoulder, wounding her severely.
Several of the immigrants from the east were slain in the yard. A ministerial student named Andrew Rogers, a descendant of Scottish Covenanters, could have escaped, but instead he ran toward the compound to defend the women and children and was mortally wounded in the process. With his life’s blood ebbing away, Andrew Rogers fought on. Getting Narcissa and the orphan girls upstairs into a loft, he kept the murderers at bay for over an hour with the broken end of a gun barrel. At last, the wounded Narcissa was lured out of the house by promises of safety. On the way out, she passed her husband lying in a pool of blood. Amazingly, he was yet alive. Their conversation was brief, but he assured her of his love for her and his confidence in God’s eternal purposes. As Narcissa came trustingly outside, a volley rang out and she was instantly pierced by several balls. She had given her all for the Cayuse. She had nursed the Indian children, taught them to read the Bible, taught them to pray, and to sing the name of Jesus. She had been faithful unto death, and now was to receive the crown of life.
The Death of Marcus Whitman
The massacre did not end with the killing of the Whitmans. All the able-bodied men the Indians were able to find were massacred. Helpless women and children were savagely abused and held ransom for almost a month. Finally, the women and children were saved after a thrilling rescue. After a search that took several years, justice was eventually served upon all of the murderers. Some of the murderers were tracked into the Blue Mountains by a Christian Nez Perce chief, and some of the guilty Cayuse were slain in battle. Five of the murderers, including the two men who personally slew Marcus and Narcissa, were brought to trial and convicted of capital murder by a jury that included converted Indians.
What became of the martyrdom of Doctor and Mrs. Whitman? Was their sacrifice in vain? Did a young doctor and his bride waste their potential when they went “far in heathen lands to dwell”?
The obscure mission station called Waiilatpu was obscure no more. Newspapers in the east were soon ablaze with the stirring account. In those days of slow mail, the newspaper was the way that relatives in New York first learned of the martyrdom. Judge Prentiss, as he read the headlines handed him by his grieving wife, must have remembered the image of his daughter, an eager young bride, singing:
In the deserts let me labor,
On the mountains let me tell,
How he died—the blessed Saviour
To redeem a world from hell!
A great wave of interest in missions swept across the United States in the coming years. Boys and girls, inspired by the courage of the Whitmans, took up the banner of Christ. Henry Spalding, a steadfast friend of the Whitmans who labored at Lapwai, a mission station east of Waiilatpu, returned to the field after the tragedy, reaping a great harvest that had been sown among the Cayuse and Nez Perce. A converted chief named Timothy became an earnest and dedicated Christian. Spalding’s church in Idaho still exists to this day as a testimony to the martyred missionaries.
In the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. stands a statue of Marcus Whitman, clad in buckskins. He holds a Bible in one hand, and saddlebags full of medical supplies in the other. His life and influence have not been in vain for Marcus and Narcissa served a God who has promised, “My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
Drawn from Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon by Clifford Drury
The Statue of Whitman in the Capitol
October 22, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
A thin and frail man sat huddled over an open book as a candle shed its feeble light upon the open page. The book was opened to Isaiah 43:1-2:
Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Looking up from the passage, Thomas Bilney looked long and hard into the yellow flame on the top of his candle. He cautiously reached out his finger toward the flame, but the hot fire defied his approach and he pulled back in alarm and dismay. If he could not touch the candle, how would he have the courage to face the flames of the stake tomorrow morning?
This question plagued the soul of Thomas Bilney, for he had always been a shy man, hardly the man to be considered a “mighty man of valor.” In fact, he had been just the opposite. He had even faced the stake before and had renounced the truth in order to spare his life. He shuddered as he remembered the awful guilt that had crushed his heart since that day of denial. He leaned back and closed his eyes, remembering the steps that had brought him a second time to the fire.
Thomas Bilney had been born in Norwich, the very city in which he now sat awaiting the dawn of his final morning on earth. During those days of boyhood and early manhood, Thomas Bilney had groped in the darkness of human reason. A bright lad, Thomas was sent off to the University of Cambridge. There, he filled his mind with knowledge, but his heart was empty of any real truth. He made splendid advancement in the arts and sciences, but could not satisfy his hunger for truth. Thomas wrote of these days, “I spent all that I had upon these ignorant physicians.” Confessions, vigils, fastings, and penance could bring but temporary relief to his troubled heart.
One spring day in 1519, the scholar heard of a new book edited by a man named Erasmus. It was a Greek text of the New Testament set side by side with a new Latin translation done by Erasmus. Thomas Bilney was drawn to the new book out of his scholastic love for the ancient languages, for Greek was fast becoming the talk of all Europe. Bilney went into the streets and finally found a copy. But just as he reached out for it, he drew back in fear. He was well aware that the authorities at Cambridge forbade any Greek and Hebrew Bibles, calling them “the sources of all heresies.” But Bilney’s curiosity overcame his fear, and he purchased the volume of the Greek New Testament and tucked it under his scholastic gown.
Back in his room, Bilney drew out the volume and began to read. Hour after hour came and went as he poured over the words of Holy Scripture. In the pages of that book he found what he had long sought. He was particularly struck by a passage from Paul’s first epistle to Timothy,
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (I Timothy 1:15)
That night, Thomas Bilney was converted to Christ. Fasts, vigils, pilgrimages, purchases of indulgence all had failed. Christ had done on the cross of Calvary what Thomas Bilney could not do for himself. No longer did Bilney seek the chambers of the prelates. He had heard the voice of Jesus of Nazareth.
Soon, the eager young disciple found kindred spirits at Cambridge. Over a period of several years, a few young men began to meet and discuss the Scriptures at a place in Cambridge called the White Horse Inn. Here were gathered men such as John Lambert, Matthew Parker, John Rogers, Miles Coverdale, John Frith, and William Tyndale. They were men of various interests and backgrounds, but all were united in their love for the Novum Testamentum, and they became known as “the Scripture men.” They were not all at Cambridge at the same time, but Bilney was an important friend to all of them, and his influence and example impacted their lives. Bilney was personally responsible for the conversion of Hugh Latimer, a splendid scholar who joined the little group at White Horse Inn in 1524. All these men knew and loved Bilney as their friend. He was kind, gentle, quiet, unassuming, and patient. The more rugged spirits of bold men like Parker, Rogers, and Tyndale were strongly drawn to the gentle Bilney, and they called him by the affectionate name “Little Bilney.” His short stature and frail body matched this name well.
In 1527 “Little Bilney” was arrested and threatened with death if he would not recant. A stronger man like Luther or Knox would have stood firm, but “Little Bilney” had wilted under the fierce threatenings and had renounced his errors. Immediately after his recantation, Bilney was oppressed with a deep sense of guilt and unworthiness. Like Peter, Bilney had denied his Lord and had gone out and wept bitterly.
For over a year, Bilney languished under these doubts and fears. He doubted whether or not God had accepted him. He feared that he had committed the unpardonable sin. He was overwhelmed with the thought that, as he had been ashamed of Jesus, so the Son of Man would one day denounce him before the Father. By degrees, Bilney recovered and resolved that he would intentionally get arrested again. This occurred in Norwich in 1531.
Now, he faced the fire a second time. What would the morrow bring? Would his courage fail again? Would “Little Bilney” again deny his Lord? His mind was filled with doubt as he considered his own frailty, but filled with encouragement as he thought of the Lord visiting Peter on the shore of Galilee. Like Peter, perhaps the Lord had given him another opportunity to seal with his blood the testimony of Christ.
As Bilney thought on these things, he heard the sound of steps outside his cell. He looked up to find his friend from the White Horse Inn, Matthew Parker, future Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I. Parker, knowing the frailty and timidity of “Little Bilney,” had come to strengthen him. But Parker found that his words were unnecessary.
The man who had failed once would not fail a second time. Pointing to the open Bible before him, Thomas Bilney slowly recited these words to his friend, “when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Then, with a steady hand, Bilney stretched out his finger again into his small candle. Matthew Parker watched in amazement as his timid friend resolutely held his finger perfectly still as the flame burned the flesh from the finger. This was not a presumptuous test of God, but a firm act of reliance upon the truth of Scripture. We do not know whether Bilney felt the searing heat of that flame, but we do know that God gave him in that moment the grace to bear it.
On the morrow, “Little Bilney” did not waver from his purpose. A crowd had gathered in the streets of Norwich as he walked resolutely to the fire. Some thought that the weak and frail man would probably recant again. But as the fagots were piled around him, “Little Bilney” raised himself to his full height and said in a firm voice, “Good people, I am come hither to die.” After reciting Psalm 143, he took off his outer garments and was bound to the stake.
As the torch was applied to the wood, Bilney did not flinch. The flames burned high around his face, but a strong wind blew them away. Bilney stood firm as the pile was ignited a second and then a third time. The third time, the fire burned in full strength. Whatever pain the noble martyr felt was bearable, for Bilney held his head high as the flames rose in full intensity around him. He cried out one brief phrase in Latin, “Jesu, credo.” – “Jesus, I believe.”
With that dying prayer of faith, “Little Bilney” sunk downward into the fire, and the flames consumed all that was mortal. But in that fire was One like unto the Son of Man, the Christ who had promised “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”
A Plaque Marking the Sport where Bilney Burned. Source.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
Masters of the English Reformation by Marcus Loane
The Psalms in History and Biography by John Ker
History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne
October 4, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
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.”
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.
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.
September 15, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Ancient by John Huffman
Today, the visitor to the city of Rome can visit the ancient Coliseum. The mere sight of the gigantic structure is enough to cast a chill upon the stoutest heart. Its massive structure fills the sky, but the skeleton that exists today is only a shadow of what the ancient Coliseum was in its days of glory, or perhaps we should call it the days of shame. Every visitor to the spot should pause and ponder that open area of ground in the center of the arena, for the blood of many martyrs hallows that small bit of ground. The soil of that sacred spot must be very rich indeed, for much blood has drained into that sand over several centuries.
The Coliseum was known all over the world as the center and climax of Roman entertainment. The Roman masses had an insatiable appetite for observing bloodshed. Gladiatorial games were held there in the arena. Gladiators would be trained for years to the height of physical strength. Then, on the climactic day, they would march out into the arena, stripped naked to the waist. They would be armed with their favorite weapons and would march to the box where the Caesar sat. Lifting their swords or battle axes or spears to the skies, they would chant, “Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant!” “Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!”
Then the ferocious combats would begin. When one of the gladiators had wounded his adversary severely and the wounded man was lying helplessly on the ground, the triumphant gladiator would look up at the faces in the crowd, and he would shout, “Hoc habet!” “He has it.”
The crowd would then express their will. If they gave the sign of thumbs up, the wounded gladiator would be dragged bleeding from the arena, to recover if possible. If the sign of thumbs down was given, however, the victorious gladiator would lift his weapon to give the final stroke. The crowd would shout in delight, “Recipe ferrum!” “Receive the steel!” The lifeless form would soon lie on the sand, another victim to Roman butchery. Thus the games continued, century after century. Victorious gladiators became folk heroes, the Roman version of superstars or sports heroes.
But these gladiatorial games were not the worst aspect of the Coliseum, for here, pious Christians were slain by the droves. Wild beasts such as lions, tigers, leopards, and bears were kept in pits till they were crazed with hunger. Then they were released upon Christians—boys and girls, old men and matrons, it mattered not. All were made to feel the pain. Sometimes Christians were soaked in oil then lit on fire as if they were living torches. Men and women were torn with iron hooks, grilled on irons, sawed asunder, and placed in boiling pots of oil. Other things too horrible to even speak of were practiced upon pious young ladies. Yet even small children met these tortures with fixed resolution, and many times, the song of hymns would waft up from the blood-soaked floor of the Coliseum, the joyful song of human voices rising above even the roar of lions as the souls of the slain, one by one, rose from the arena to ascend to their Saviour and King Who, as He had done to receive Stephen, advanced to the portals of heaven to meet His martyrs. Roman ingenuity knew no bounds, and every imaginable form of torture, mayhem, and brutal lust was practiced upon the pious Christians of the first through the fourth centuries.
Martyrs at the Coliseum
One day, however, at the height of the gladiatorial games, during a celebration of the Roman victory over the Goths about A. D. 370, a lone figure interrupted the proceedings. Without warning, a rough and weather-beaten man jumped over the wall and into the arena. Shouts of excitement over the combat gave way to a profound silence, as all eyes turned from the gladiators to look at the lone figure.
He was covered with a mantle. He had come all the way from Asia to Rome. He was a Christian. He had heard about these barbaric entertainments, and, by the grace of God, he intended to stop them. He had shoved his way to the edge of the arena and jumped into the midst where every eye could see him. He advanced to the two gladiators who were engaged in mortal combat. Interposing himself between the combatants, he faced the crowd. Fearlessly, this hero raised his voice. “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I command these wicked games to cease. Do not requite God’s mercy by shedding innocent blood.”
A shout of defiance met the voice of our hero. Pieces of fruit, stones, daggers, and other missiles were hurled down from the stands. One of the gladiators, expecting the applause of the crowd, stepped forward and rammed his battle axe into the skull of the man who had dared interfere with Rome’s favorite entertainment. As the hero sunk lifeless to the ground, the angry cries of the crowd died away into a profound silence in the arena. As the life’s blood of this new martyr joined the blood of the thousands who had bled there before him, the crowd suddenly faced a courage that was greater than the strongest gladiator. The work of this Christian was accomplished. His name was Telemachus. From the hour of his martyrdom, the gladiatorial games ceased. According to John Foxe, in his famous book of martyrs, “From the day Telemachus fell dead in the Coliseum, no other fight of gladiators was ever held there.” Such was the legacy of a man who dared to jump over a wall and declare that an aspect of popular cultural entertainment was ungodly and unlawful.
Telemachus Confronts the Gladiators
How many pagan entertainments and even supposed “Christian” substitutes of our day await such a display of boldness? It is interesting that Telemachus did not suggest a “Christian” gladiatorial contest to be staged in the Coliseum. It is remarkable that he did not advertise a “Christian play” to be performed down the street as an alternative to the impure productions in the Roman theatre. He did not try to innovate some new strategy to appease the circus-loving crowds of Rome. He did not try to invent a “Christian version” of the circus. God had ordained to save the unbeliever by the foolishness of preaching, not by the clever drama of the stage or the entertainment of the circus.
Telemachus believed, in his generation, that the Bible was sufficient for all faith and practice, that God had ordained preaching as His sole mandated method, and that the way to take dominion over some things was to destroy them and not to attempt to make a “Christian” substitute. The dominion of Christ must be in terms of His law, and He will not have in that dominion anything foreign to that law. Thus, the dominion mandate is lawfully extended over only those institutions that are themselves lawful. Telemachus called for the end of the games, not for the re-Christianizing of them. There could not be a “Christian” circus or a “Christian” theatre or a “Christian” gymnasium. This was affirmed by such men as William Farel, John Calvin, and Robert Lewis Dabney who, following the example of Telemachus, wrote in their own generations against the fallacious notions of “Christian theater,” “Christian dancing,” and “Christian novels.” Sadly today, many Christians are trying to Christianize their own interests and pleasures in the name of “dominion” when, at the core, the institutions they seek to take dominion over are not authorized in the Word of God as legitimate means by which to advance Christ’s Kingdom.
For this truth, Telemachus was willing to jump over the wall and shed his very life’s blood. He had the boldness to command, in the name of Jesus Christ, that the gladiatorial games cease, and by the grace of God, they did cease. Today, the Coliseum stands in ruins while the Church of Jesus Christ continues to advance. But we must not rest upon the laurels of “mighty men” of the past such as Telemachus or Farel or Dabney. Today, in our generation, there are things in our culture, things that are considered culturally acceptable by many sincere Christians, that await the steadfast courage of a Telemachus.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
Discussions by R. L. Dabney, vol. 2
September 12, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in American Other by John Huffman
A sickly boy made his way slowly through the streets of Columbia, South Carolina. Few would have predicted any kind of future for him. He was short and thin. His eyes were half-obscured by heavy lids that drooped noticeably. His skin was a sickly yellowish color. Everyone believed that he would die young. Some people jokingly said that he looked to be “twenty years old” when he was born. Young James had what was called “consumption” in the early 1800s, a wasting disease we now call tuberculosis. Sometimes he would cough up blood as he sat up late at night poring over his books.
Few would predict that this sickly boy would one day become a mighty champion of truth. His pen would deal blows against rationalism, Unitarianism, abolitionism, communism, statism, and every other error that dared threaten the truth he loved so dearly. But all of this was not yet. A small twenty-five-cent book he would buy in a small bookshop would change the course of this boy’s destiny.
James had become an orphan at the tender age of eight. A kind planter, out of respect to the boy’s parents, had decided to fund his education. James had come from his small rural village on the Pedee River to be educated at Columbia College. One thing soon became clear. Behind those droopy eyelids were eyes that glowed with an earnest search for truth. All that James read, he remembered. And he had read much.
South Carolina College in Columbia
James was considered to be the most brilliant student at Columbia College, and could quote the ancient Greek poets in the original with ease. He was also skilled in debate, in philosophy, and in English literature. However, in spite of all his learning, the boy was empty. His pious mother had committed him long ago to God, but he had been raised by an intellectual patron, and reason had gradually pushed out faith.
But one evening in Columbia, the hand of God drew young James to a bookstore. A twenty-five cent book caught his eye. It was simply titled “Confession of Faith.” The boy carried it back to his small room. It is needless to say that the book was the “Westminster Confession.” James was riveted by its contents. The hours of the night slipped by. James opened his Bible, eagerly looking up every Scripture that the Confession referenced. After long hours of study, the light of dawn began to dispel the darkness of night. Just as surely, the Light of Divine Revelation had dispelled the darkness of human reason.
James Henley Thornwell was a changed man from that moment forward. Brilliant prospects were offered to the promising student. Positions as a professor in philosophy, opportunities in law, business, and politics were all offered and rejected. Thornwell set his course for the Gospel ministry. Turning from Aristotle and Plato as philosophers, he fixed his eyes upon Christ, the fountain of true wisdom. Abandoning Locke as a teacher of natural law, he took up Moses as the source of revealed law. Thornwell would later write:
The speculations of Aristotle break down just where a higher light was needed to guide him. He tracked truth through the court and sanctuary to the mystic veil which he was not permitted to lift. . . A single line of Moses would have saved a world of perplexity.”
Thornwell laid aside prospects of brilliant advancement to take a humble pastorate in an obscure town in rural South Carolina. There he met and married the daughter of one of his church members, and Nancy Witherspoon truly proved the truth of the verse, “a prudent wife is from the Lord.” The Thornwells raised seven children to love and serve Christ.
Thornwell’s faithful preaching and fidelity to the truth soon led to other assignments. He became pastor of the Presbyterian church in Columbia, where he wielded a powerful influence over both church and state. He eventually became the president of the very college where he had once stumbled blindly after truth. At the helm of Columbia College and later the Seminary, he endeavored to point every young man under his influence to the rock of eternal truth.
As his friends predicted, Thornwell did not live a long life. He never reached the age of fifty. But in thirty years of ministry, he became a valiant and uncompromising champion of truth. He became a champion for many causes that were then and still now are unpopular. We will briefly discuss some of the positions that Thornwell took. He was a gracious but polemic writer and was not afraid to attack some cherished opinions.
Thornwell argued that seminary boards were not authorized in the Word of God. In a sharp but gentlemanly debate, he argued with Dr. Charles Hodge of Princeton that the education of ministers should be directly under church authority. He said, “I believe that the Boards will eventually prove our masters unless they are crushed in their infancy.”
Thornwell openly asserted that dancing was a shameful and licentious practice and that Christians should never be seen on a dancing floor. He said,
Just think of dancing soberly, and at the least, it cannot but appear ridiculous. And yet, like most follies, it is fatally contagious; and men freely engage in it without being aware of its enormity. It is an insult to God.
Thornwell saw the danger of German rationalism. Even while Princeton was accepting some of the tenants of higher criticism, Thornwell warned:
I am sorry to see that rationalism is making such progress in this country. If God spares my life, I intend to deal some harder blows than I have yet done . . . Upon the subject of the inspiration of the Scriptures and the authority of the Bible, we shall have some desperate battles to fight with false brethren before the enemy is subdued.
Thornwell argued that the War Between the States would radically change this country, and that the struggle was a desperate battle for orthodoxy in the church and order in the state.
The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders—they are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground—Christianity and atheism the combatants, and the progress of humanity at stake.
Thornwell died in 1862 and, like the prophet Isaiah, never lived to see the grim realities of his warning. He wrote a pamphlet which he called “Our Danger and Our Duty.” The danger he feared was much more pernicious than the external invasion of enemy troops, and the duty he advocated was much more sweeping than even the bravest and most heroic armed resistance. Thornwell warned that only a return to the law of God would bring success to any people.
Thornwell suggested that the following amendment be presented to the Confederate Congress. It never was. Oh to God that some nation on this earth would take up these words and make them a glorious reality:
We the people of the Confederate States, distinctly acknowledge our responsibility to God and the supremacy of His Son, Jesus Christ, as King of kings and Lord of lords; and hereby ordain that no law shall be passed by the Congress of these Confederate States inconsistent with the will of God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
The Life and Letters of J. H. Thornwell by B. M. Palmer
Preachers With Power by Douglas Kelly
Lectures on the South by Joe Morecraft
Our Danger and Our Duty by J. H. Thornwell
August 3, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
Crail Harbor, Scotland. Source.
In Genesis 17:7, God Almighty promised the patriarch Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has been faithful to this promise throughout the ages of Christian history, for Galatians 3:9 says, “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” In these paragraphs, we will consider how a faithful Scottish patriarch in the early 1600s trusted in this everlasting promise that God had made to him and to his believing seed.
Pastor Andrew Duncan described himself this way in his last will and testament, “a sinful wight, Christ’s unworthy minister in His glorious gospel.” Andrew Duncan was a minister of the Kirk (Church) of Scotland in the little village of Crail, in the shire of Fife. Fife lies between the Firth of Tay and the Firth of Forth on the west coast of Scotland. Born during the days of John Knox, Andrew Duncan faithfully carried on in his own generation the work of the Reformation. He was an uncompromising and bold preacher of the Gospel. Throughout his long ministry, he and his family suffered much for the sake of the Gospel.
In 1606 Pastor Duncan was tried and found guilty of High Treason for participating in the famous Assembly of Aberdeen. At this assembly, a few bold Scottish ministers had assembled in defiance of the will of King James I. By resisting the royal prerogative of the king to rule on ecclesiastical matters, they had brought down the wrath of James. For participating in the protest at Aberdeen, Andrew Duncan was sentenced to be confined in Blackness Castle, a bleak fortress on the shore of the Firth of Forth. After an imprisonment of 14 months, Andrew Duncan was banished to France. After a brief sojourn there, he boldly returned to this native Scotland to carry on the work.
For many years Andrew Duncan traveled from place to place, preaching the gospel of Christ. He was united in marriage to a Godly young Scottish lassie, and together the Duncans raised six children. On several occasions during these hard years Pastor Duncan was arrested and often escaped very narrowly with his life.
In 1619 Duncan joined with other faithful Scottish ministers in opposing the Five Articles of Perth, in which the Scottish church was required to conform to the forms and ceremonies of the English episcopal system. For his opposition, Duncan was summoned to appear before the High Commission Court at St. Andrews. At his trial, he boldly likened the prelates who accepted the English ceremonies to Esau who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, to Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and to Judas, who betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. For this audacious speech, the Archbishop of St. Andrews deposed Duncan and commanded him on pain of death to leave Scotland forever.
Andrew Duncan dearly loved his wife and six children and could not bear the thought of separation. Boldly, he decided to take them with him across the river Tweed to Berwick, in the extreme northern tip of England. There, just across the river from his beloved Scotland, he was still under the rule of James, but outside the reach of the Archbishop of St. Andrews. Shortly after arriving in Berwick, Duncan’s wife was near the point of delivering another child. The labor was difficult, and the lonely father despaired for the life of his wife and her unborn child. The banished minister had no friends in Berwick, and to make himself known in a search for a midwife would be to fall under the eyes of those who sought his life.
St. Andrews Cathedral
Andrew Duncan had no other recourse than to call upon the Prince of Life to send deliverance in their hour of need. Slowly, reverently, the pastor knelt on the ground, took off his Scottish bonnet, and laid it on the bed. His wife, already in the pain of delivery, took hold of her husband’s hand as he bowed his head to pray. The older children stood in solemn order around the bed, joining in their father’s petition.
It was after midnight, and the streets of Berwick were silent. As the father finished his prayer, he encouraged his wife saying, “We serve a gracious Master.” His wife acknowledged God’s goodness, expressing the hope that the God who had never forsaken them before would stand by them now. Suddenly, the snort of a horse was heard in the yard. The family froze in momentary fear at the thought of discovery. But Andrew Duncan advanced to the door to find a woman, clad in the plain but neat garment of a country gentlewoman.
Not knowing what else to do, Duncan cautiously admitted the stranger to his wife’s chamber. The visitor sent the boys, John, William, and David, scurrying to stoke up the fire. The older daughters assisted as the visitor directed. Andrew Duncan sat by the side of his wife and prayed. After a few short minutes, the visiting lady delivered the baby with no complications. When the newborn infant was washed and nestled contentedly in the weary mother’s bosom, the lady produced a basket containing provisions and an abundance of fine linen. She then handed the grateful father five pieces of gold, telling him to be of good comfort, that he and his wife should not want for anything they needed.
The visiting lady then bade the Duncans farewell. The father and children accompanied her to the yard. At the door, Andrew Duncan took her hand and asked her what her name might be, that they might know how to thank their Heavenly Father for her kindness. The lady smiled, gently shook her head, and then turned and mounted her horse. Their eyes streaming with tears of gratitude for their heavenly deliverance, the Duncans watched her ride off into the night. They saw the visitor no more. Andrew Duncan assembled his family again, asking God’s blessings upon the new little life, and thanking Him for his manifold promise, “I will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”
Amazingly, the man who was willing to be a martyr was not destined to die a martyr’s death. He had rebuked both king and archbishop, but had, like Elijah of old, always eluded their grasp. He died in his bed, surrounded by his wife and family.
He left a last will and testimony that is still treasured by the grateful descendants of this Scottish patriarch. In his testimony, he said:
I, Andrew Duncan, a sinful wight, Christ’s unworthy minister in His glorious Gospel . . . set down the declaration of my will: First, as touching myself, I leave my soul to Christ Jesus who gave it, and when it was lost, redeemed it, that He may send his holy angels to transport it to the bosom of Abraham. As for the children whom God hath given me, I leave them to His providence, beseeching Him to lead them by His gracious spirit through this evil world and make them profitable instruments, both in kirk and commonwealth, beseeching them on the other part to set God before their eyes, to walk in His ways, holding their course to that glorious and fair-to-look-on heritage, which Christ hath conquered for them, and all them that love him.
The children and grandchildren of Andrew Duncan did indeed “hold their course.” One of his sons, William Duncan, was privileged to shed his blood as a martyr as a Covenanter. Others of the Duncan children and grandchildren were banished to Virginia during the Covenanter era. From Virginia, the Duncans went over the mountains into Kentucky. To this day, Andrew Duncan has descendants who give thanks for the noble heritage of their patriarch.
There is a quiet graveyard in the hills of rural Kentucky where five generations of direct Duncan descendants lie together, awaiting the dawn of Resurrection Day, when they will rise to enjoy that “glorious and fair-to-look-on heritage” of which their noble patriarch, Andrew Duncan, spoke long ago. God does indeed stand by His ancient promise, “I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee.”
The Scots Worthies by John Howie
The Story of the Scottish Church by Thomas McCrie
A Cloud of Witnesses by John Thomson
The accumulated family records of the Duncans
June 8, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by John Huffman
A Mountain in the Alps
The snowy peaks of the rugged mountains stood out in bold relief against the black sky of the Alpine night. Even though it was summer, the cold wind whipped through the valley of the Dora River, and the tumbling cascade of water could be heard as it sped its way down the mountain gorge.
In this gorge of the Dora were camped eight hundred men. Roughly the size of David’s band of mighty men in the wilderness of Judea, these mighty men faced a daunting task. The men were Waldenses, or Vaudois. For many generations, their ancestors had raised their sheep in these Alpine meadows, cut off from the rest of the world by the rugged and inhospitable terrain of their native valleys. In these valleys their fathers and grandfathers had worshipped God in Spirit and in truth, not after the manner of Rome. They read their Bibles in their native language, sang the psalms of Zion, preached the pure Gospel, tended their farms, and raised their children to love and serve Christ. For rejecting the mass and spurning the shrines of Rome, these people of the mountain valleys had been persecuted, reviled, and scorned by most of the world for many long centuries. But no persecution had as yet been able to make them abjure their faith. The motto of the Waldense people had been this phrase, “Lux lucet in tenebris” – “the light shineth in darkness.”
But in the summer of 1689, the darkness had never been blacker. The valleys of the Waldenses lay in smoking ruins. The worst persecution in recorded Waldense history had been launched upon them by the Duke of Savoy.
Ever since 1655, their native valleys had been in the hands of the enemy. In that terrifying year, bands of brigands had been unleashed by the Savoyards upon the Waldenses. Roman Catholic Irishmen had been imported to kill and loot in the Waldense valleys. On pain of death, they had been ordered to abjure their faith and return to the Roman church. Churches had been razed to the ground or else filled with idolatrous images. Waldense pastors had been tortured to death by horrid mutilations. Nursing infants had been torn from their mothers arms and tossed into deep gorges. Wives and daughters had been savagely assaulted by brutal invaders. Though these events stand recorded, the modest pen refused to recount the awful details of these barbarities.
After several years of the most intense persecution, the Waldenses were forced out of their native valleys. They took refuge in the cantons of Protestant Switzerland. In cities like Lucerne and Geneva, these homeless pilgrims found refuge. They had lost all because they would not deny or forsake the truth.
Thirty long years of exile crawled slowly by. The Duke of Savoy invited loyal Romanists into his domain to repopulate the valleys. Irishmen from the British Isles and Italians from crowded cities to the south flocked in to inherit the well-ordered Waldense farms. Waldense churches had been reoccupied and decorated with candles, images, and altars for the mass.
Psalm 74:3-4 describes their case:
Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt. Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary. Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set up their ensigns for signs.
These eight hundred mighty men, encamped tonight in the gorge of the Dora, had come back to their native valleys to reclaim them for Christ.
A blazing fire illuminated the thoughtful face of the commander. He was a courageous Waldense pastor, a man named Henri Arnaud. It was he whose courage had revived the hopes of his fellow countrymen in Geneva. Arnaud saw no contradiction between his role as pastor of his flock and as military commander of this expedition. Arnaud said, “I preach and I fight: I have a double commission and these two contests occupy my soul. Zion is to be rebuilt, and the sword is needed as well as the trowel.”
Leaving their wives and children in the care of friends in Switzerland, eight hundred mighty men had set out to reconquer their valleys. The march had led them over narrow mountain trails, across dangerous precipices, and through narrow defiles. Avoiding the main roads, they sought to catch their enemies by surprise. So far, they had encountered no major force.
But on this night in the Dora Valley, Arnaud knew that on the morrow they would be forced to do battle for the Lord. Over 3,000 Savoyard troops held the high ground, blocking the Waldense path of advance. Only one bridge spanned the torrential river, and that bridge must be crossed. Though they were outnumbered over 3 to 1, Henri Arnaud sought to give courage to his men from Psalm 74. “O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever? Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? pluck it out of thy bosom.” As the morning sun painted the snowy Alpine peaks with gold, the Waldense warriors put their trust in Jehovah and committed themselves to the battle.
The resulting battle was a dramatic display of the power of God to defend His people. At the climax of the battle, the Savoyard troops had surrounded the Waldenses, and the Waldenses were taking fire from two sides. At this point, someone shouted out, “The bridge is carried.” No one knows who gave this cry of triumph. At this point, the bridge was still firmly in the hands of the enemy. Some speculated that it could have been a heavenly voice who gave the cry to cheer the hearts of the Waldense warriors. At the news, a great shout went forth from 800 manly voices. They rushed for the bridge and carried it instantly. In the confusion, the Savoyards became intermingled with Waldense warriors. Some began to cut down one another. The battle raged for two long hours. At the end of the slaughter, only 15 Waldense soldiers were killed and 12 wounded. Over 600 Savoyards had been slain, and the rest were scattered in confusion.
Captain Henri Arnaud led his men to the top of the next mountain, Mount Sci, from whose heights they could look down into their own valleys. The first town that was recaptured was the village of Prali. Arnaud led his victorious men into the church where they destroyed graven images, overthrew idolatrous altars, and removed the Roman tapestries.
A Waldensian Valley
Captain Arnaud then ascended the pulpit. In one hand was his French Bible. In the other hand was his massive sword. Laying both upon the pulpit, he opened his Bible to Psalm 74 and read the words of Scripture:
Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O LORD, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name. O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever. Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name. Arise, O God, plead thine own cause.” (Psalm 74:18-22)
Arnaud’s men then made the ancient church resound with the voice of psalm as the warriors sang Psalm 74 together.
God had indeed pled his cause and given rest to His children. In a few short weeks, the mighty men of Henri Arnaud had driven the enemy from the Waldense valleys, purified the churches, and restored true worship. Soon, wives and children were able to safely return and inhabit the Valleys of the Piedmont again.
Foreign courts heard of the exploits of Henri Arnaud, and numerous offers of command reached him. For a time, Arnaud was appointed a commander in the army of William III, and Arnaud’s confident leadership led the Protestant forces to an important victory at Blenheim. But after the peace of the Protestant people was assured, Arnaud turned down lucrative and important military posts to return to his own people. He lived the last portion of his life in a quiet village, serving his people as their pastor.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
The Glorious Recovery by the Vaudois of Their Valleys by Henri Arnaud
The Waldenses, Sketches of Evangelical Christians of the Valleys of the Piedmont by Alexander Mitchell
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