Table of Contents
BEFORE the Reformation there were at times but very few copies of the Bible in existence,
but God had not suffered His word to be wholly destroyed. Its truths were not to be
forever hidden. He could as easily unchain the words of life as He could open prison doors
and unbolt iron gates to set His servants free. In the different countries of Europe men
were moved by the Spirit of God to search for the truth as for hid treasures.
Providentially guided to the Holy Scriptures, they studied the sacred pages with intense
interest. They were willing to accept the light at any cost to themselves. Though they did
not see all things clearly, they were enabled to perceive many long-buried truths. As
Heaven-sent messengers they went forth, rending asunder the chains of error and
superstition, and calling upon those who had been so long enslaved, to arise and assert
Except among the Waldenses, the word of God had for ages been locked up in languages known
only to the learned; but the time had come for the Scriptures to be translated and given
to the people of different lands in their native tongue. The world had passed its
midnight. The hours of darkness were wearing away, and in many lands appeared tokens of
the coming dawn.
In the fourteenth century arose in England the "morning star of the
Reformation." John Wycliffe was the herald of reform, not for England alone, but for
all Christendom. The great protest against Rome which it was permitted him to utter was
never to be silenced. That protest opened the struggle which was to result in the
emancipation of individuals, of churches, and of nations.
Wycliffe received a liberal education, and with him the fear of the Lord was the beginning
of wisdom. He was noted at college for his fervent piety as well as for his remarkable
talents and sound scholarship. In his thirst for knowledge he sought to become acquainted
with every branch of learning. He was educated in the scholastic philosophy, in the canons
of the church, and in the civil law, especially that of his own country. In his after
labors the value of this early training was apparent. A thorough acquaintance with the
speculative philosophy of his time enabled him to expose its errors; and by his study of
national and ecclesiastical law he was prepared to engage in the great struggle for civil
and religious liberty. While he could wield the weapons drawn from the word of God, he had
acquired the intellectual discipline of the schools, and he understood the tactics of the
schoolmen. The power of his genius and the extent and thoroughness of his knowledge
commanded the respect of both friends and foes. His adherents saw with satisfaction that
their champion stood foremost among the leading minds of the nation; and his enemies were
prevented from casting contempt upon the cause of reform by exposing the ignorance or
weakness of its supporter.
While Wycliffe was still at college, he entered upon the study of the Scriptures. In those
early times, when the Bible existed only in the ancient languages, scholars were enabled
to find their way to the fountain of truth, which was closed to the uneducated classes.
Thus already the way had been prepared for Wycliffe's future work as a Reformer. Men
of learning had studied the word of God and had found the great truth of His free grace
there revealed. In their teachings they had spread a knowledge of this truth, and had led
others to turn to the living oracles.
When Wycliffe's attention was directed to the Scriptures, he entered upon their
investigation with the same thoroughness which had enabled him to master the learning of
the schools. Heretofore he had felt a great want, which neither his scholastic studies nor
the teaching of the church could satisfy. In the word of God he found that which he had
before sought in vain. Here he saw the plan of salvation revealed and Christ set forth as
the only advocate for man. He gave himself to the service of Christ and determined to
proclaim the truths he had discovered.
Like after Reformers, Wycliffe did not, at the opening of his work, foresee whither it
would lead him. He did not set himself deliberately in opposition to Rome. But devotion to
truth could not but bring him in conflict with falsehood. The more clearly he discerned
the errors of the papacy, the more earnestly he presented the teaching of the Bible. He
saw that Rome had forsaken the word of God for human tradition; he fearlessly accused the
priesthood of having banished the Scriptures, and demanded that the Bible be restored to
the people and that its authority be again established in the church. He was an able and
earnest teacher and an eloquent preacher, and his daily life was a demonstration of the
truths he preached. His knowledge of the Scriptures, the force of his reasoning, the
purity of his life, and his unbending courage and integrity won for him general esteem and
confidence. Many of the people had become dissatisfied with their former faith as they saw
the iniquity that prevailed in the Roman Church, and they hailed with unconcealed joy the
truths brought to view by Wycliffe; but the papal leaders were filled with rage when they
perceived that this Reformer was gaining an influence greater than their own.
Wycliffe was a keen detector of error, and he struck fearlessly against many of the abuses
sanctioned by the authority of Rome. While acting as chaplain for the king, he took a bold
stand against the payment of tribute claimed by the pope from the English monarch and
showed that the papal assumption of authority over secular rulers was contrary to both
reason and revelation. The demands of the pope had excited great indignation, and
Wycliffe's teachings exerted an influence upon the leading minds of the nation. The king
and the nobles united in denying the pontiff's claim to temporal authority and in refusing
the payment of the tribute. Thus an effectual blow was struck against the papal supremacy
Another evil against which the Reformer waged long and resolute battle was the institution
of the orders of mendicant friars. These friars swarmed in England, casting a blight upon
the greatness and prosperity of the nation. Industry, education, morals, all felt the
withering influence. The monk's life of idleness and beggary was not only a heavy drain
upon the resources of the people, but it brought useful labor into contempt. The youth
were demoralized and corrupted. By the influence of the friars many were induced to enter
a cloister and devote themselves to a monastic life, and this not only without the consent
of their parents, but even without their knowledge and contrary to their commands. One of
the early Fathers of the Roman Church, urging the claims of monasticism above the
obligations of filial love and duty, had declared: "Though thy father should lie
before thy door weeping and lamenting, and thy mother should show the body that bore thee
and the breasts that nursed thee, see that thou trample them underfoot, and go onward
straightway to Christ." By this "monstrous inhumanity," as Luther afterward
styled it, "savoring more of the wolf and the tyrant than of the Christian and the
man," were the hearts of children steeled against their parents.--Barnas Sears, The
Life of Luther, pages 70, 69. Thus did the papal leaders, like the Pharisees of old, make the commandment of God of none effect by their
tradition. Thus homes were made desolate and parents were deprived of the society of their
sons and daughters.
Even the students in the universities were deceived by the false representations of the
monks and induced to join their orders. Many afterward repented this step, seeing that
they had blighted their own lives and had brought sorrow upon their parents; but once fast
in the snare it was impossible for them to obtain their freedom. Many parents, fearing the
influence of the monks, refused to send their sons to the universities. There was a marked
falling off in the number of students in attendance at the great centers of learning. The
schools languished, and ignorance prevailed.
The pope had bestowed on these monks the power to hear confessions and to grant pardon.
This became a source of great evil. Bent on enhancing their gains, the friars were so
ready to grant absolution that criminals of all descriptions resorted to them, and, as a
result, the worst vices rapidly increased. The sick and the poor were left to suffer,
while the gifts that should have relieved their wants went to the monks, who with threats
demanded the alms of the people, denouncing the impiety of those who should withhold gifts
from their orders. Notwithstanding their profession of poverty, the wealth of the friars
was constantly increasing, and their magnificent edifices and luxurious tables made more
apparent the growing poverty of the nation. And while spending their time in luxury and
pleasure, they sent out in their stead ignorant men, who could only recount marvelous
tales, legends, and jests to amuse the people and make them still more completely the
dupes of the monks. Yet the friars continued to maintain their hold on the superstitious
multitudes and led them to believe that all religious duty was comprised in acknowledging
the supremacy of the pope, adoring the saints, and making gifts to the monks, and that
this was sufficient to secure them a place in heaven.
Men of learning and piety had labored in vain to bring about a reform in these monastic
orders; but Wycliffe, with clearer insight, struck at the root of the evil, declaring that
the system itself was false and that it should be abolished. Discussion and inquiry were
awakening. As the monks traversed the country, vending the pope's pardons, many were led
to doubt the possibility of purchasing forgiveness with money, and they questioned whether
they should not seek pardon from God rather than from the pontiff of Rome. Not a few were
alarmed at the rapacity of the friars, whose greed seemed never to be satisfied. "The
monks and priests of Rome," said they, "are eating us away like a cancer. God
must deliver us, or the people will perish."--D'Aubigne, b. 17, ch. 7. To cover their
avarice, these begging monks claimed that they were following the Saviour's example,
declaring that Jesus and His disciples had been supported by the charities of the people.
This claim resulted in injury to their cause, for it led many to the Bible to learn the
truth for themselves--a result which of all others was least desired by Rome. The minds of
men were directed to the Source of truth, which it was her object to conceal.
Wycliffe began to write and publish tracts against the friars, not, however, seeking so
much to enter into dispute with them as to call the minds of the people to the teachings
of the Bible and its Author. He declared that the power of pardon or of excommunication is
possessed by the pope in no greater degree than by common priests, and that no man can be
truly excommunicated unless he has first brought upon himself the condemnation of God. In
no more effectual way could he have undertaken the overthrow of that mammoth fabric of
spiritual and temporal dominion which the pope had erected and in which the souls and
bodies of millions were held captive.
Again Wycliffe was called to defend the rights of the English crown against the
encroachments of Rome; and being appointed a royal ambassador, he spent two years in the
Netherlands, in conference with the commissioners of the pope. Here he was brought into
ecclesiastics from France, Italy, and Spain, and he had an opportunity to look behind the
scenes and gain a knowledge of many things which would have remained hidden from him in
England. He learned much that was to give point to his after labors. In these
representatives from the papal court he read the true character and aims of the hierarchy.
He returned to England to repeat his former teachings more openly and with greater zeal,
declaring that covetousness, pride, and deception were the gods of Rome.
In one of his tracts he said, speaking of the pope and his collectors: "They draw out
of our land poor men's livelihood, and many thousand marks, by the year, of the king's
money, for sacraments and spiritual things, that is cursed heresy of simony, and maketh
all Christendom assent and maintain this heresy. And certes though our realm had a huge
hill of gold, and never other man took thereof but only this proud worldly priest's
collector, by process of time this hill must be spended; for he taketh ever money out of
our land, and sendeth nought again but God's curse for his simony." --John Lewis,
History of the Life and Sufferings of J. Wiclif, page 37.
Soon after his return to England, Wycliffe received from the king the appointment to the
rectory of Lutterworth. This was an assurance that the monarch at least had not been
displeased by his plain speaking. Wycliffe's influence was felt in shaping the action of
the court, as well as in molding the belief of the nation.
The papal thunders were soon hurled against him. Three bulls were dispatched to
England,--to the university, to the king, and to the prelates,--all commanding immediate
and decisive measures to silence the teacher of heresy. (Augustus Neander, General History
of the Christian Religion and Church, period 6, sec. 2, pt. 1, par. 8.) Before the arrival
of the bulls, however, the bishops, in their zeal, had summoned Wycliffe before them for
trial. But two of the most powerful princes in the kingdom accompanied him to the
tribunal; and the people, surrounding the building and rushing in, so intimidated the
judges that the proceedings were for the time suspended, and he was allowed to go his way in peace. A
little later, Edward III, whom in his old age the prelates were seeking to influence
against the Reformer, died, and Wycliffe's former protector became regent of the kingdom.
But the arrival of the papal bulls laid upon all England a peremptory command for the
arrest and imprisonment of the heretic. These measures pointed directly to the stake. It
appeared certain that Wycliffe must soon fall a prey to the vengeance of Rome. But He who
declared to one of old, "Fear not: . . . I am thy shield" (Genesis 15:1), again
stretched out His hand to protect His servant. Death came, not to the Reformer, but to the
pontiff who had decreed his destruction. Gregory XI died, and the ecclesiastics who had
assembled for Wycliffe's trial, dispersed.
God's providence still further overruled events to give opportunity for the growth of the
Reformation. The death of Gregory was followed by the election of two rival popes. Two
conflicting powers, each professedly infallible, now claimed obedience. Each called upon
the faithful to assist him in making war upon the other, enforcing his demands by terrible
anathemas against his adversaries, and promises of rewards in heaven to his supporters.
This occurrence greatly weakened the power of the papacy. The rival factions had all they
could do to attack each other, and Wycliffe for a time had rest. Anathemas and
recriminations were flying from pope to pope, and torrents of blood were poured out to
support their conflicting claims. Crimes and scandals flooded the church. Meanwhile the
Reformer, in the quiet retirement of his parish of Lutterworth, was laboring diligently to
point men from the contending popes to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
The schism, with all the strife and corruption which it caused, prepared the way for the
Reformation by enabling the people to see what the papacy really was. In a tract which he
published, On the Schism of the Popes, Wycliffe called upon the people to consider whether these two priests were not speaking the truth in
condemning each other as the anti-christ. "God," said he, "would no longer
suffer the fiend to reign in only one such priest, but . . . made division among two, so
that men, in Christ's name, may the more easily overcome them both."--R. Vaughan,
Life and Opinions of John de Wycliffe, vol. 2, p. 6.
Wycliffe, like his Master, preached the gospel to the poor. Not content with spreading the
light in their humble homes in his own parish of Lutterworth, he determined that it should
be carried to every part of England. To accomplish this he organized a body of preachers,
simple, devout men, who loved the truth and desired nothing so much as to extend it. These
men went everywhere, teaching in the market places, in the streets of the great cities,
and in the country lanes. They sought out the aged, the sick, and the poor, and opened to
them the glad tidings of the grace of God.
As a professor of theology at Oxford, Wycliffe preached the word of God in the halls of
the university. So faithfully did he present the truth to the students under his
instruction, that he received the title of "the gospel doctor." But the greatest
work of his life was to be the translation of the Scriptures into the English language. In
a work, On the Truth and Meaning of Scripture, he expressed his intention to translate the
Bible, so that every man in England might read, in the language in which he was born, the
wonderful works of God.
But suddenly his labors were stopped. Though not yet sixty years of age, unceasing toil,
study, and the assaults of his enemies had told upon his strength and made him prematurely
old. He was attacked by a dangerous illness. The tidings brought great joy to the friars.
Now they thought he would bitterly repent the evil he had done the church, and they
hurried to his chamber to listen to his confession. Representatives from the four
religious orders, with four civil officers, gathered about the supposed dying man.
"You have death on your lips," they said; "be touched by your faults, and retract in
our presence all that you have said to our injury." The Reformer listened in silence;
then he bade his attendant raise him in his bed, and, gazing steadily upon them as they
stood waiting for his recantation, he said, in the firm, strong voice which had so often
caused them to tremble: "I shall not die, but live; and again declare the evil deeds
of the friars."--D'Aubigne, b. 17, ch. 7. Astonished and abashed, the monks hurried
from the room.
Wycliffe's words were fulfilled. He lived to place in the hands of his countrymen the most
powerful of all weapons against Rome--to give them the Bible, the Heaven-appointed agent
to liberate, enlighten, and evangelize the people. There were many and great obstacles to
surmount in the accomplishment of this work. Wycliffe was weighed down with infirmities;
he knew that only a few years for labor remained for him; he saw the opposition which he
must meet; but, encouraged by the promises of God's word, he went forward nothing daunted.
In the full vigor of his intellectual powers, rich in experience, he had been preserved
and prepared by God's special providence for this, the greatest of his labors. While all
Christendom was filled with tumult, the Reformer in his rectory at Lutterworth, unheeding
the storm that raged without, applied himself to his chosen task.
At last the work was completed--the first English translation of the Bible ever made. The
word of God was opened to England. The Reformer feared not now the prison or the stake. He
had placed in the hands of the English people a light which should never be extinguished.
In giving the Bible to his countrymen, he had done more to break the fetters of ignorance
and vice, more to liberate and elevate his country, than was ever achieved by the most
brilliant victories on fields of battle.
The art of printing being still unknown, it was only by slow and wearisome labor that
copies of the Bible could be multiplied. So great was the interest to obtain the book,
many willingly engaged in the work of transcribing it, but it was with difficulty that the
copyists could supply the demand. Some of the more wealthy purchasers desired the whole
Bible. Others bought only a portion. In many cases, several families united to purchase a
copy. Thus Wycliffe's Bible soon found its way to the homes of the people.
The appeal to men's reason aroused them from their passive submission to papal dogmas.
Wycliffe now taught the distinctive doctrines of Protestantism--salvation through faith in
Christ, and the sole infallibility of the Scriptures. The preachers whom he had sent out
circulated the Bible, together with the Reformer's writings, and with such success that
the new faith was accepted by nearly one half of the people of England.
The appearance of the Scriptures brought dismay to the authorities of the church. They had
now to meet an agency more powerful than Wycliffe--an agency against which their weapons
would avail little. There was at this time no law in England prohibiting the Bible, for it
had never before been published in the language of the people. Such laws were afterward
enacted and rigorously enforced. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the efforts of the priests,
there was for a season opportunity for the circulation of the word of God.
Again the papal leaders plotted to silence the Reformer's voice. Before three tribunals he
was successively summoned for trial, but without avail. First a synod of bishops declared
his writings heretical, and, winning the young king, Richard II, to their side, they
obtained a royal decree consigning to prison all who should hold the condemned doctrines.
Wycliffe appealed from the synod to Parliament; he fearlessly arraigned the hierarchy
before the national council and demanded a reform of the enormous abuses sanctioned by the
church. With convincing power he portrayed the usurpation and corruptions of the papal
see. His enemies were brought to confusion. The friends and supporters of Wycliffe had
been forced to yield, and it had been confidently expected that the Reformer himself, in his old age, alone and friendless,
would bow to the combined authority of the crown and the miter. But instead of this the
papists saw themselves defeated. Parliament, roused by the stirring appeals of Wycliffe,
repealed the persecuting edict, and the Reformer was again at liberty.
A third time he was brought to trial, and now before the highest ecclesiastical tribunal
in the kingdom. Here no favor would be shown to heresy. Here at last Rome would triumph,
and the Reformer's work would be stopped. So thought the papists. If they could but
accomplish their purpose, Wycliffe would be forced to abjure his doctrines, or would leave
the court only for the flames.
But Wycliffe did not retract; he would not dissemble. He fearlessly maintained his
teachings and repelled the accusations of his persecutors. Losing sight of himself, of his
position, of the occasion, he summoned his hearers before the divine tribunal, and weighed
their sophistries and deceptions in the balances of eternal truth. The power of the Holy
Spirit was felt in the council room. A spell from God was upon the hearers. They seemed to
have no power to leave the place. As arrows from the Lord's quiver, the Reformer's words
pierced their hearts. The charge of heresy, which they had brought against him, he with
convincing power threw back upon themselves. Why, he demanded, did they dare to spread
their errors? For the sake of gain, to make merchandise of the grace of God?
"With whom, think you," he finally said, "are ye contending? with an old
man on the brink of the grave? No! with Truth--Truth which is stronger than you, and will
overcome you."--Wylie, b. 2, ch. 13. So saying, he withdrew from the assembly, and
not one of his adversaries attempted to prevent him.
Wycliffe's work was almost done; the banner of truth which he had so long borne was soon
to fall from his hand; but once more he was to bear witness for the gospel. The
truth was to be proclaimed from the very stronghold of the kingdom of error. Wycliffe was
summoned for trial before the papal tribunal at Rome, which had so often shed the blood of
the saints. He was not blind to the danger that threatened him, yet he would have obeyed
the summons had not a shock of palsy made it impossible for him to perform the journey.
But though his voice was not to be heard at Rome, he could speak by letter, and this he
determined to do. From his rectory the Reformer wrote to the pope a letter, which, while
respectful in tone and Christian in spirit, was a keen rebuke to the pomp and pride of the
"Verily I do rejoice," he said, "to open and declare unto every man the
faith which I do hold, and especially unto the bishop of Rome: which, forasmuch as I do
suppose to be sound and true, he will most willingly confirm my said faith, or if it be
erroneous, amend the same.
"First, I suppose that the gospel of Christ is the whole body of God's law. . . . I
do give and hold the bishop of Rome, forasmuch as he is the vicar of Christ here on earth,
to be most bound, of all other men, unto that law of the gospel. For the greatness among
Christ's disciples did not consist in worldly dignity or honors, but in the near and exact
following of Christ in His life and manners.... Christ, for the time of His pilgrimage
here, was a most poor man, abjecting and casting off all worldly rule and honor. . . .
"No faithful man ought to follow either the pope himself or any of the holy men, but
in such points as he hath followed the Lord Jesus Christ; for Peter and the sons of
Zebedee, by desiring worldly honor, contrary to the following of Christ's steps, did
offend, and therefore in those errors they are not to be followed. . . .
"The pope ought to leave unto the secular power all temporal dominion and rule, and
thereunto effectually to move and exhort his whole clergy; for so did Christ, and
especially by His apostles. Wherefore, if I have erred in any of these points, I will most
humbly submit myself unto correction, even by death, if necessity so require; and if I could labor according to my will or
desire in mine own person, I would surely present myself before the bishop of Rome; but
the Lord hath otherwise visited me to the contrary, and hath taught me rather to obey God
In closing he said: "Let us pray unto our God, that He will so stir up our Pope Urban
VI, as he began, that he with his clergy may follow the Lord Jesus Christ in life and
manners; and that they may teach the people effectually, and that they, likewise, may
faithfully follow them in the same."--John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, vol. 3, pp. 49,
Thus Wycliffe presented to the pope and his cardinals the meekness and humility of Christ,
exhibiting not only to themselves but to all Christendom the contrast between them and the
Master whose representatives they professed to be.
Wycliffe fully expected that his life would be the price of his fidelity. The king, the
pope, and the bishops were united to accomplish his ruin, and it seemed certain that a few
months at most would bring him to the stake. But his courage was unshaken. "Why do
you talk of seeking the crown of martyrdom afar?" he said. "Preach the gospel of
Christ to haughty prelates, and martyrdom will not fail you. What! I should live and be
silent? . . . Never! Let the blow fall, I await its coming."--D'Aubigne, b. 17, ch.
But God's providence still shielded His servant. The man who for a whole lifetime had
stood boldly in defense of the truth, in daily peril of his life, was not to fall a victim
of the hatred of its foes. Wycliffe had never sought to shield himself, but the Lord had
been his protector; and now, when his enemies felt sure of their prey, God's hand removed
him beyond their reach. In his church at Lutterworth, as he was about to dispense the
communion, he fell, stricken with palsy, and in a short time yielded up his life.
God had appointed to Wycliffe his work. He had put the word of truth in his mouth, and He set a guard about him that this word might come to the
people. His life was protected, and his labors were prolonged, until a foundation was laid
for the great work of the Reformation.
Wycliffe came from the obscurity of the Dark Ages. There were none who went before him
from whose work he could shape his system of reform. Raised up like John the Baptist to
accomplish a special mission, he was the herald of a new era. Yet in the system of truth
which he presented there was a unity and completeness which Reformers who followed him did
not exceed, and which some did not reach, even a hundred years later. So broad and deep
was laid the foundation, so firm and true was the framework, that it needed not to be
reconstructed by those who came after him.
The great movement that Wycliffe inaugurated, which was to liberate the conscience and the
intellect, and set free the nations so long bound to the triumphal car of Rome, had its
spring in the Bible. Here was the source of that stream of blessing, which, like the water
of life, has flowed down the ages since the fourteenth century. Wycliffe accepted the Holy
Scriptures with implicit faith as the inspired revelation of God's will, a sufficient rule
of faith and practice. He had been educated to regard the Church of Rome as the divine,
infallible authority, and to accept with unquestioning reverence the established teachings
and customs of a thousand years; but he turned away from all these to listen to God's holy
word. This was the authority which he urged the people to acknowledge. Instead of the
church speaking through the pope, he declared the only true authority to be the voice of
God speaking through His word. And he taught not only that the Bible is a perfect
revelation of God's will, but that the Holy Spirit is its only interpreter, and that every
man is, by the study of its teachings, to learn his duty for himself. Thus he turned the
minds of men from the pope and the Church of Rome to the word of God.
Wycliffe was one of the greatest of the Reformers. In breadth of intellect, in clearness
of thought, in firmness to maintain the truth, and in boldness to defend it, he was
equaled by few who came after him. Purity of life, unwearying diligence in study and in
labor, incorruptible integrity, and Christlike love and faithfulness in his ministry,
characterized the first of the Reformers. And this notwithstanding the intellectual
darkness and moral corruption of the age from which he emerged.
The character of Wycliffe is a testimony to the educating, transforming power of the Holy
Scriptures. It was the Bible that made him what he was. The effort to grasp the great
truths of revelation imparts freshness and vigor to all the faculties. It expands the
mind, sharpens the perceptions, and ripens the judgment. The study of the Bible will
ennoble every thought, feeling, and aspiration as no other study can. It gives stability
of purpose, patience, courage, and fortitude; it refines the character and sanctifies the
soul. An earnest, reverent study of the Scriptures, bringing the mind of the student in
direct contact with the infinite mind, would give to the world men of stronger and more
active intellect, as well as of nobler principle, than has ever resulted from the ablest
training that human philosophy affords. "The entrance of Thy words," says the
psalmist, "giveth light; it giveth understanding." Psalm 119:130.
The doctrines which had been taught by Wycliffe continued for a time to spread; his
followers, known as Wycliffites and Lollards, not only traversed England, but scattered to
other lands, carrying the knowledge of the gospel. Now that their leader was removed, the
preachers labored with even greater zeal than before, and multitudes flocked to listen to
their teachings. Some of the nobility, and even the wife of the king, were among the
converts. In many places there was a marked reform in the manners of the people, and the
idolatrous symbols of Romanism were removed from the churches. But soon the pitiless storm
of persecution burst upon those who had dared to accept the Bible as their
guide. The English monarchs, eager to strengthen their power by securing the support of
Rome, did not hesitate to sacrifice the Reformers. For the first time in the history of
England the stake was decreed against the disciples of the gospel. Martyrdom succeeded
martyrdom. The advocates of truth, proscribed and tortured, could only pour their cries
into the ear of the Lord of Sabaoth. Hunted as foes of the church and traitors to the
realm, they continued to preach in secret places, finding shelter as best they could in
the humble homes of the poor, and often hiding away even in dens and caves.
Notwithstanding the rage of persecution, a calm, devout, earnest, patient protest against
the prevailing corruption of religious faith continued for centuries to be uttered. The
Christians of that early time had only a partial knowledge of the truth, but they had
learned to love and obey God's word, and they patiently suffered for its sake. Like the
disciples in apostolic days, many sacrificed their worldly possessions for the cause of
Christ. Those who were permitted to dwell in their homes gladly sheltered their banished
brethren, and when they too were driven forth they cheerfully accepted the lot of the
outcast. Thousands, it is true, terrified by the fury of their persecutors, purchased
their freedom at the sacrifice of their faith, and went out of their prisons, clothed in
penitents' robes, to publish their recantation. But the number was not small--and among
them were men of noble birth as well as the humble and lowly--who bore fearless testimony
to the truth in dungeon cells, in "Lollard towers," and in the midst of torture
and flame, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to know "the fellowship of His
The papists had failed to work their will with Wycliffe during his life, and their hatred
could not be satisfied while his body rested quietly in the grave. By the decree of the
Council of Constance, more than forty years after his death his bones were exhumed and
publicly burned, and the ashes were thrown into a neighboring brook. "This
brook," says an old writer, "hath conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the
narrow seas, they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of
his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over."-- T. Fuller, Church History
of Britain, b. 4, sec. 2, par. 54. Little did his enemies realize the significance of
their malicious act.
It was through the writings of Wycliffe that John Huss, of Bohemia, was led to renounce
many of the errors of Romanism and to enter upon the work of reform. Thus in these two
countries, so widely separated, the seed of truth was sown. From Bohemia the work extended
to other lands. The minds of men were directed to the long-forgotten word of God. A divine
hand was preparing the way for the Great Reformation.
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