“Apart from the Bible, what book has had the greatest impact on you as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”
Have you ever been asked this question? Perhaps it is a question that you have never been asked. Perhaps as you read this post, you have stop reading in order to answer this question? Spend a couple of moments to think about it, then when you have answered this question read on…
For me the answer to this question is booked written many, many years ago by a man named John Foxe, and his book is entitled Foxes Book of Martryrs. It is a book I endeavour to read at least once a year and it is book that never fails to move me.
In case you have not read this book, it is book that chronicles the deaths of Christians who were executed for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a testimony to their extraordinary faith and God-empowered courage in spite of unspeakable human cruelty and hatred. And the two martyrs that stand out to me are two men who were burned at the stake together, two Anglican Bishops; Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley.
Foxe describes Ridley this way:
To his sermons the people resorted, swarming about him like bees, covering the sweet flowers and wholesome juice of fruitful doctrine, which he did not only preach, but showed the same by his life, as a glittering lantern to the eyes and senses of the blind, in such pure order that his very enemies could not reprove him in any one jot. (Fox John, Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts, p.296)
Latimer was a 16th century Saul, a persecutor of Christ become his zealous advocate. Foxes writes:
Once converted he became eager for the conversion of others, and commenced to be a public preacher, and private instructor in the university. His sermons were so pointed against the absurdity of praying in the Latin tongue, and withholding the oracles of salvation from the people who were to be saved by belief in them, that he drew upon himself the pulpit animadversions (strong criticism) of several of the resident friars and heads of houses, whom he subsequently silenced by his severe criticisms and eloquent arguments.
Both men were Godly men; both men were Gospel men, both me were together tied to a stake on the 16th of October, 1555. Both men served to encourage each other until the very end with Foxe reporting Latimer saying to Ridley,
“Be of good cheer, Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust will never be put out.”
In his book Foxe records the following details:
When Dr. Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried with a wonderful loud voice, “Lord, Lord, receive my spirit.” Master Latimer, crying as vehemently on the side, “O Father of heaven, receive my soul!” receive the flame as it were embracing of it. After that he had stroked his face with his hands, and as it were, bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died with very little pain or none. Well! Dead they, and the reward of this world they have already. What reward remaineth for them in heaven, the day of the Lord’s glory, when he cometh with His Saints, shall declare.
The account of their martyrdom is very moving, and for me as an Anglican Priest I am very thankful to God for I know that if I lived in 1556 instead of 2015 I too would be a candidate for burning as the very doctrines that led them to the stake are the very same doctrines that I hold to.
The site of where Ridley and Latimer were put to death is known and can be visited, it is marked by a cross on a very old cobblestone square, which is the image at the top of this post. But what I find very moving and powerful is the image when seen from the other side!
People are sitting in a café, and I wonder, “Do they know what the cross is about?” “Do they know what took place here 460 years?” And I wonder, “Do they care to know? I wonder if Christians visit this café totally unaware of the sacrifices that these two courageous men made, men who died for the same beliefs that Christians hold to today, beliefs that will not lead us to our deaths.
There is a saying that I am certain most English speakers are familiar with:
“A Picture speaks a thousand words.”
I think the above is such a picture. It speaks to me of the fact that God’s people benefit greatly from remembering the past, not only the mistakes that the Church made, but also from the courage and convictions of Bishops like Ridley and Latimer. But sadly this picture speaks to me of how easy it is to deem church history to be boring, not cool and a total irrelevance, to the point where one is only thinking about the quality of the coffee and the blood of the martyrs becomes a forgotten sacrifice.