A new feature of Christian Persecution Report, starting today is to look at historical and present day Christian martyrs who have stood strong in their faith against great opposition.
Weekly Saint will outline these remarkable Christian examples so that we may learn how to persevere in our own faith today.
This week’s Saint(s): Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley & Hugh Latimer
In addition to the new design of this blog, you may have noticed that I am currently featuring a picture of the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford, England. I have also made a photo of this memorial Christian Persecution Report‘s Facebook profile picture.
A couple of years ago, our daughter was studying abroad in Bath, England for a semester and my son and I took a trip to visit her and do some sightseeing in Paris, Bath, Oxford and London for a couple of weeks.
I loved it all, but Oxford was my favorite. If I am ever blessed with another trip to Europe, I would spend more time there.
While in Oxford we did some touristy things. Among other things, we climbed the Carfax Tower, walked around the shops that were decorated for Christmas, went to Blackwell’s Book Store, toured the Bodleian Library, and took the city tour bus around the city.
On several occasions I was completely and utterly humbled. We had a wonderful lunch at The Bear Inn, a quaint little pub that dates back to 1242. We sat at a communal table and had a nice chat with a local couple who wanted to know all about our Thanksgiving customs in the States. The whole time we were there, I tried to imagine some of the world’s greatest minds sitting in this pub having wonderfully intellectual conversations and debates over a pint or two.
I was amazed at All Souls College. It would take a while to explain the college’s history and how few attendees (fellows) there have been in the course of history, so I recommend visiting this college in person, or at least their website. If you have an interest in theology and The Reformation, this is a must see.
And later in the day, we visited the “must see” on my list: The Martyrs Memorial. This memorial statue commemorates the lives and martyrdom of 3 Protestant bishops by Queen Mary I, better known as “Bloody Mary.”
The inscription on the memorial reads:
To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.
Weekly Saints: Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer
You can find a ton of sources that will tell you about Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. They are all listed in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and there are online resources galore.
But here’s the things that I want to impress upon you about these three martyrs.
- All three were burned at the stake by order of Queen Mary I because of their stance against the Catholic Church and for defending the truths of God’s Word, specifically that Christ was the head of the church, not the pope and that the church was to be for the glory of God, not the glory of man (Ephesians 3: 14-21).
- Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, martyred on October 16, 1555, went to their death not fearing “man” but defending God (Matthew 10:28) with fervor and eloquence, and with the hope that their sacrifice would be an example for all to follow. One of the reasons Queen Mary I found Ridley and Latimer treasonous, was that they believed that all Christians needed to read and memorize God’s Word so that they would know how to live their lives as faithful servants of God.
“Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.” – Hugh Latimer’s last words
- Thomas Cranmer, who was forced to watch Ridley and Latimer burn at the stake, was martyred 5 months later on March 21, 1556. But his martyrdom was not as easy for him as it was for Ridley and Latimer. Throughout his life, Cranmer believed that his first allegiance was to the monarchy and God second. Despite his belief that the Reformation was the correct path the church should take, when Queen Mary I ordered him to recant his beliefs, Cranmer buckled in order to save his life. After seeing Ridley and Latimer burned at the stake, Cranmer was afraid of the same fate. Despite doing what the Queen wanted him to do, she did not believe that his denunciations against the Reformation thoughts about the church were sincere and ultimately ordered Cranmer to be burned at the stake as well.
These are the last words that Thomas Cranmer said:
“And now I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than anything I ever did or said in my whole life, and that is publishing of a writing contrary to the truth, which now here I renounce and refuse, as things written by my hand contrary to the truth I believed with my whole heart, written because I feared death. Since my hand offended, it will be punished: When I come to the fire, it first will be burned. As for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine. And as for the sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book . . .” – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
At the time of his execution, the thing that troubled Cranmer the most was that he feared man and death more than he feared God.
Cranmer was a lot like Peter, always wanting to do the right thing, but when given the opportunity to stand firm in his faith, he denied his faith multiple times.
But, ultimately, Cranmer knew his denials were wrong, and went to his death praising God. He made good on his promise to place his writing hand into the fire first, almost to a testament of Matthew 5:30. In the end, Cranmer repented to God and to the people of his sin and became a martyr of the Reformation.
Application for Today
We have so many modern day examples of Christians who are persecuted by governmental leaders who say to them “Deny Christ, and you’ll live.” Thousands upon thousands of Christians are like Ridley and Latimer: denying Christ and their faith is not an option. And so they are imprisoned, tortured and killed.
But, there are some who are like Cranmer, who sadly fear man and death more, and who initially cave into the pressures in order to survive. In the end, I suspect that some are like Cranmer who ultimately meet the same fate as those who don’t deny Christ and their fate, and realize that they have greatly disappointed God.
Ridley and Latimer were great preachers who fully believed that the scriptures were not just meant to be read by a few priests; God’s Word should be translated from Latin into English so that all Christians could memorize scripture in order to know how to live their lives as God wanted.
Ridley and Latimer placed higher value in a healthy fear of God than their fear of man. And because they burned scriptures on their hearts, they were prepared to face their fate in a way that glorified God first.
Like Ridley and Latimer, our first allegiance as Christians is not to our respective countries, presidents, kings, rulers, flags. It is to God and his Word. When we read, study, learn and memorize scripture, we will be prepared to face opposition and to stand firm in our faith in a way that will bring glory to God.