Thursday, October 16, 2008

Latimer and Ridley Light a Candle

On October 16, 1555 English ministers Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake in Oxford by Queen Mary I. Along with Thomas Cranmer, who was burned 5 months later, they became known as the "Oxford martyrs." While these were not "ignorant and unlearned" men (they were educated and influential) they had the same spirit as the apostles, who rejoiced to suffer shame for the name of Jesus Christ.

Both men held positions of honor in the Church of England. Latimer was imprisoned for a time by Henry VIII but was restored after Henry's young son Edward VI came to the throne and the Church instituted more reforms. When Edward's sister Mary succeeded him, Latimer stood trial for his beliefs and went back to prison to await execution.

Ridley seems to have suffered worse in the flames than did his friend. "Latimer encouraged his fellow-sufferer with the famous words: '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'" (S.M. Houghton, Sketches from Church History, p. 114). Despite Mary's insatiable thirst for Protestant blood, the Gospel fire continued to burn and give light to England. To this day a memorial marks the spot outside Oxford where these choice servants suffered.

The changing fortunes and fiery end of God's witnesses illustrate the text that says, "Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Hebrews 13:14). Those words in Hebrews occur in a context of encouraging believers that are suffering persecution for their faith in Christ. Latimer's words to Ridley about lighting a fire in England proved true and remind us of those that were scattered abroad preaching the Word as a result of the persecution that arose from the stoning of Stephen (Acts 11:19-21). Though His servants are treated so shamefully, Christ's Gospel triumphs gloriously. The patient endurance of God's people is nothing short of fuel poured on the Gospel fire.