One of the distinctive marks of the Bible-Presbyterian Church is the commemoration of Reformation Sunday. The greatest event in the history of the church since Pentecost, the Reformation in the 16th Century was another outpouring of the Holy Spirit as God guided the leaders of the Reformation in Western Europe to a right understanding of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible – in short, a return to the historic Christian faith as taught by the Word of God. Hence, the Protestant watchword, “The just shall live by faith” (Rom 1: 17).
It is appropriate, on this special occasion, to remember and honour those who have faithfully defended the faith to the extent of paying with their lives. Today, we consider the life of Nicholas Ridley who not only led the English Reformation, but was esteemed to be the most learned and scholarly of all the English martyrs.
o Family Background and Education
The second son of a prominent English family, Ridley was born in Northumberland, near the Scottish border, around the year 1500.
Ridley spent his early years at Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne. He continued his studies at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge where he distinguished himself as a student of “uncommon diligence and ability” and “rapidly rose to a prominent position in the University” (www.biblestudytools.com/classics/ryle-light-old-times/nicholas-ridley-bishop-and-martyr.html). It was here that Ridley came into close contact with other godly students like John Rogers, Thomas Bilney, John Bradford and William Tyndale. “These became known as the ‘Scripture men’ and they met in the White Horse Inn to study and discuss the Bible” (http://discerninghistory.com/2017/08/nicholas-ridley-play-the-man/). It is noteworthy that all these faithful young men, like Ridley, subsequently died as martyrs for their faith.
After his graduation from Cambridge, Ridley continued his studies at Sorbonne in Paris, the most prestigious university in Europe. After a short stint among the professors of Sorbonne, Ridley returned to Cambridge to resume his theological studies. In 1534, Ridley was appointed Senior Proctor of the university. Six years later, he was awarded the honorary title, “Master of Pembroke.”
In this new position, Ridley played a major role in “transforming the university into a Reformist seminary that would soon contribute greatly to the intellectual life of English Protestantism” (www.britannica.com/biography/Nicholas-Ridley). At around this time, “Ridley, who was now chaplain to the university began to distinguish himself as an orator and a disputant, and to show leanings to the reformed faith” (www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/ridley.html).
o Godly Piety
Ridley was known for his godly conduct and spiritual discipline. In his book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, John Foxe gives an account of Ridley’s piety and deep devotional life: “In person he was erect and well proportioned; in temper forgiving; in self-mortification severe. His first duty in the morning was private prayer: he remained in his study until ten o’clock, and then attended the daily prayer … in his house. Dinner being done, he sat about an hour, conversing pleasantly, or playing at chess. His study next engaged his attention, unless business or visits occurred; about five o’clock prayers followed; and after he would recreate himself at chess for about an hour, then retire to his study until eleven o’clock, and pray on his knees as in the morning. In brief, he was a pattern of godliness and virtue, and such he endeavoured to make men wherever he came.”
o Clerical Advancement
Besides his brilliant academic achievements in Pembroke, Ridley also had an outstanding clerical career. In 1537, after his graduation with a Doctor of Divinity, he was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to serve as one of his domestic chaplains. The following year, Cranmer made him Vicar of Herne in Kent. In 1547, Ridley accepted the position of the Bishop of Rochester. After three years, he was appointed Bishop of London by King Edward VI.
Despite his leanings towards Protestantism, Ridley clung on to his Romish beliefs. But when there was a debate over the Pope’s primacy, Ridley who excelled in Biblical hermeneutics put forth his arguments against the issue. As a result, the university made the following resolution: “That the Bishop of Rome had no more authority and jurisdiction derived to him from God, in this kingdom of England, than any other foreign bishop” (Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge). (… to be concluded)