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Why were our Reformers Burned? - Bishop JC Ryle

Bishop JC Ryle of Liverpool: Why were our Reformers Burned? "Play the man, Master Ridley"

WHY WERE OUR REFORMERS BURNED? From the Book - Five English Reformers

by J.C. Ryle - 1890 There are certain facts in history which the world tries hard to forget and ignore. These facts get in the way of some of the world's favourite theories, and are highly inconvenient. The consequence is that the world shuts its eyes against them. They are either cut dead as vulgar intruders, or passed by as tiresome bores. Little by little they sink out of sight of the students of history, like ships in a distant horizon, or are left behind like a luggage train in a siding. Of such facts the subject of this paper is a vivid example:-" The Burning of our English Reformers; and the Reason why they were Burned."

It is fashionable in some quarters to deny that there is any such thing as certainty about religious truth, or any opinions for which it is worth while to be burned. Yet, 300 years ago, there were men who were certain they had found out truth, and were content to die for their opinions.-It is fashionable in other quarters to leave out all the unpleasant things in history, and to paint everything a rose-coloured hue. A very popular history of our English hardly mentions the martyrdoms of Queen Mary's days! Yet Mary was not called "Bloody Mary" without reason, and scores of Protestants were burned in her reign. Last, but not least, it is thought very bad taste in many quarters to say anything which throws discredit on the Church of Rome. Yet it is as certain that the Romish Church burned our English Reformers as it is that William the Conqueror won the battle of Hastings(...)

It is a broad fact that during the last four years of Queen Mary's reign no less than 288 persons were burnt at the stake for their adhesion to the Protestant faith.

In 1555 there were burnt : 71

In 1556 there were burnt : 89

In 1557 there were burnt : 88

In 1558 there were burnt : 40

_____________________ 288 1

1/ These numbers are given by Soames, in his History of the Reformation (vol. iv. p.587), and are taken from Strype. Some historians give higher numbers.

Indeed, the faggots never ceased to blaze whilst Mary was alive, and five martyrs were burnt in Canterbury only a week before her death. Out of these 288 sufferers, be it remembered, one was an archbishop, four were bishops, twenty~ne were clergymen, fifty-five were women, and four were children(...)

(I) The first leading English Reformer who broke the ice and crossed the river, as a martyr in Mary's reign, was John Rogers, a London Minister, Vicar of St. Sepulchre's, and Prebendary and Reader of Divinity at St. Paul's. He was burned in Smithfield on Monday, the 4th of February, 1555. Rogers was born at Deritend, in the parish of Aston, near Birmingham. He was a man who, in one respect, had done more for the cause of Protestantism than any of his fellow-sufferers. In saying this I refer to the fact that he had assisted Tyndale and Coverdale in bringing out a most important version of the English Bible, a version commonly known as Matthew's Bible. Indeed, he was condemned as "Rogers, aliasMatthew." This circumstance, in all human probability, made him a marked man, and was one cause why he was the first who was brought to the stake.

Rogers' examination before Gardiner gives us the idea of his being a bold, thorough Protestant, who had fully made up his mind on all points of the Romish controversy, and was able to give a reason for his opinions. At any rate, he seems to have silenced and abashed his examiners even more than most of the martyrs did. But argument, of course, went for nothing. "Woe to the conquered!" If he had the word, his enemies had the sword.1

On the morning of his martyrdom he was roused hastily in his cell in Newgate, and hardly allowed time to dress himself. He was then led forth to Smithfield on foot, within sight of the Church of St. Sepulchre, where he had preached, and through the streets of the parish where he had done the work of a pastor. By the wayside stood his wife and ten children (one a baby) whom Bishop Bonner, in his diabolical cruelty, had flatly refused him leave to see in prison.

Rogers' prophetic words in prison, addressed to Day, printer of Foxe's "Acts and Monuments," are well worth quoting: "Thou shalt live to see the alteration of this religion, and the Gospel freely preached again. Therefore, have me commended to my brethren, as well in exile as here, and bid them be circumspect in displacing the Papist" and putting good ministers into Churches, or else their end will be worse than ours.' '-Foxe, iii. p.300 (1684 edition).

He just saw them, but was hardly allowed to stop, and then walked on calmly to the stake, repeating the 51st Psalm. An immense crowd lined the street, and filled every avail-able spot in Smithfield. Up to that day men could not tell how English Reformers Would behave in the face of death, and could hardly believe that Prebendaries and Dignitaries Would actually give their bodies to be burned for their religion. But when they saw John Rogers, the first martyr, walking steadily and unflinchingly into a fiery grave, the enthusiasm of the crowd knew no bounds. They rent the air with thunders of applause. Even Noailles, the French Ambassador, wrote home a description of the scene, and said that Rogers went to death "as if he was walking to his wedding." By God's great mercy he died with comparative ease. And so the first Marian martyr passed away.

(2) The second leading Reformer who died for Christ's truth in Mary's reign was John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester. He was burned at Gloucester on Saturday, the 9th of February, 1555(...)

(6, 7) The sixth and seventh leading Reformers who suffered in Mary's reign were two whose names are familiar to every Englishman,-Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, and Hugh Latimer, once Bishop of Worcester.

They were both burned at Oxford, back to back, at one stake, on the 16th of October 1555(...) Latimer's last words were like the blast of a trumpet, which rings even to this day,-" Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day, by God's grace, light such a candle in England as I trust shall never be put out."(...)

The middle classes are becoming disgusted with the Church of England, and asking what is the use of it. The intellectual classes are finding out that all religions are either equally good or equally bad. The House of Commons will do nothing unless pressed by public opinion. We have no Pums or Hampdens there now.-And all this time Ritualism grows and spreads. The ship is among breakers,-breakers ahead and breakers astern,-breakers on the right hand and breakers on the left. Something needs to be done, if we are to escape shipwreck.

The very life of the Church of England is at stake, and nothing less. Take away the Gospel from a Church and that Church is not worth preserving. A well without water, a scabbard without a sword, a steam engine without a fire, a ship without compass and rudder, a watch without a mainspring, a stuffed carcase with-out life,~11 these are useless things. But there is nothing so use-less as a Church without the Gospel. And this is the very question that stares us in the face.-Is the Church of England to retain the Gospel or not? Without it in vain shall we turn to our arch-bishops and bishops, in vain shall we glory in our cathedrals and parish churches. Ichabod will soon be written on our walls. The ark of God will not be with us. Surely something ought to be done(...)

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