The 16th Century Reformation did not happen by chance. God had specially ordained this mighty spiritual revival at a most needful time – one of great upheavals and theological declension in Europe. The medieval Church was full of heresies and malpractices. The priesthood was corrupt and perverted. Idolatrous practices (the worship of relics and saints, penance, prayers for the dead, etc.) were placed above the Word of God.
At an opportune time, God raised the Reformers and used them to expose the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) by bringing light to the common people through His Holy Word.
One such leader whom God raised to counter the Roman Church was Hugh Latimer, who “advanced the cause of the Reformation in England through his vigorous preaching and through the inspiration of his martyrdom” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hugh-Latimer).
o Hugh Latimer
• Early life and education
Hugh Latimer was born in the country town of Thurcaston, Leicester, England in 1485. His father was a well-to-do farmer.
Latimer graduated from Cambridge University in 1514. The following year, he was appointed preacher-cum-chaplain of the university. In 1524, he completed his Master of Divinity studies.
• Defender of the RCC
In his younger days as a university student, Latimer was not unlike Saul of Tarsus who persecuted God’s people. Holding steadfastly to the teachings of the RCC, he defended the church by opposing the biblical views propagated by the early Reformers like John Wycliffe, John Huss and Martin Luther. In his free time, he followed the Reformers into their preaching venues, disputed with them, and implored them to abandon their convictions. “So great was his zeal for popery that the University of Cambridge when he studied there elected him as their Cross bearer, an office he held for seven years” (http://www.ianpaisley.org/article.asp?ArtKey=burned).
However, the Lord dealt graciously with Latimer. One of those whose views Latimer opposed was Thomas Bilney, a fellow Cambridge student who had been influenced by Martin Luther’s teachings. Perceiving that Latimer had zeal without knowledge, Bilney tried his best to win his zealous but ignorant friend to Christ by sharing his conversion testimony. Latimer later recounted: “I learned more by his confession than before in many years. From that time forward I began to savour the Word of God and forsook the school doctors and such fooleries” (ibid).
Responding to Bilney’s testimony in tears, “Latimer arose a new man. His zeal did not leave him; it simply switched its allegiance. Latimer became the most popular preacher of his day. His sermons spoke little of doctrine, but rather, his practical sermons spurred his hearers on to godliness through upright living and devout prayer. Furthermore, Latimer maintained that the Bible should be read in every household” (http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/HughLatimer.htm).
• Persecutor turned Reformer
With his new convictions, Latimer joined Bilney in preaching God’s Word. It was around this time that William Tyndale’s first translation of the New Testament had been banned by the authorities. Latimer resisted the ban by declaring that God’s Word should be freely placed in the hands of the common people.
• Imprisonment and death
Latimer’s fearless preaching of the truth soon got him into trouble. Before his interrogators, he refused to submit to certain articles of faith such as the existence of purgatory and the veneration of saints. Consequently, he was excommunicated and imprisoned in January 1532.
Upon his release, Latimer was appointed as the chaplain to King Henry VIII. He found favour with the king and enjoyed royal protection and freedom in England for four years. But when the king demanded his submission to the RCC, Latimer refused to comply and left his post in the royal court. He was later arrested and imprisoned for several months.
When King Edward VI became king, he allowed Latimer to preach openly for six years. But things took a turn when Mary ascended the English throne. Determined to turn England back to Roman Catholicism, the Queen ordered the arrest and imprisonment of four Reformers – Hugh Latimer, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and John Bradford – in September 1553 on charges of treason.
On 16 October 1555, Latimer was burned at the stake together with Nicholas Ridley. A bag of gunpowder was hung around his neck. As the fire was lit, Latimer uttered his famous words of comfort to his fellow martyr: “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Latimer).
We thank God for His Word that had brought about the 16th Century Reformation. It was God Who had raised His faithful servants to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The Reformers stood true and steadfast in the face of impending persecution and death. They fearlessly preached the truth that set the people free from sin’s bondage and the false teachings of the RCC.
Truly, men may bind God’s servants and send them to the stake, “but the word of God is not bound” (II Tim. 2: 9). God’s Holy Word will continue to be a light in this world of darkness to guide sinners to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May each one of us boldly proclaim and defend it for His glory and for the blessing of others.