Today, we continue our study of the life of English reformer, Nicholas Ridley:
o Contributions to the Reformation
In April 1538, when he was the Vicar of Herne, Ridley boldly preached against certain Romish practices. However, he still held on to the doctrine of the Papal Mass or the Doctrine of Transubstantiation i.e. that during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist (bread and wine) became the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ.
One day, in his quiet country parsonage, Ridley finally saw the light when he came across a copy of the famous Treatise of Bertram, a 9th Century monk and well-known theologian. Bertram’s Treatise was a solid refutation of the Romish doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Ridley shared his findings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and both men were convicted that the Papal Doctrine of Transubstantiation was unscriptural and erroneous.
Speaking at Oxford years later, Ridley said, “‘This Bertram was the first that pulled me by the ear, and that brought me from the common error of the Romish Church, and caused me to search more diligently and exactly both the Scriptures and the writings of the old ecclesiastical Fathers in this matter.’ As a result, Ridley left his vicarage convinced not only that Transubstantiation was neither scriptural nor primitive, but armed for discussion by a special study of early Christian literature” (http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_068_3_Davies).
Excited over his recent theological conversion, Cranmer went to fellow reformer, Hugh Latimer and convinced the latter of the Scriptural teaching concerning the issue. By 1547, Ridley, Cranmer and Latimer had been totally won over to the Protestant view of the Lord’s Supper.
Ridley’s rejection of this papal doctrine caused him to make a decisive break from all association with the Roman Catholic Church. One writer commented: “It is always striking to review how Divine Providence marvellously works out circumstances to bring the reformers to a conviction of the truth and to lead them to the great task of church reformation. Luther had his tower experience; Calvin had his unpleasant encounter with Farel; and Ridley had his experience at Herne.”
“Ridley’s chief contribution to the English Reformation was undoubtedly the recovering of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to the English people. His discovery of the Eucharist was timely. In 1547, the same year when the leading English reformers were persuaded of Ridley’s doctrine, Henry VIII died, and Edward VI succeeded him. In September that year, Ridley was chosen by the young King to be the new Bishop of Rochester. This new appointment put him side by side with Cranmer and gave him the opportunity to employ his gifts to advance Protestantism in England” (Adapted from Reformed Digest 1998 Issue 1/1).
o Arrest and Martyrdom
When Mary, a Roman Catholic royal, ascended the throne, she resolved to restore England to the papacy. Her first target was none other than Bishop Ridley, whose earlier sermon at St Paul’s had offended her. Accusing him of treason, Mary ordered the arrest of Ridley and other reformers.
Along with Cranmer and Latimer, Ridley was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he wrote statements affirming his theological convictions. During his nine-month detention, Ridley produced his most popular work: “A brief treatise of the Lord’s Supper” or “A Treatise against the errors of Transubstantiation”.
Refusing to recant, both he and Latimer were declared heretics and ordered to be sent to the flames. A day before the execution, Dr Brooks, the Bishop of Gloucester, in a desperate attempt to save the condemned reformer from a martyr’s death, offered him the Queen’s pardon if he would recant. Ridley replied: “My lord, you know my mind fully herein; and as for the doctrine which I have taught, my conscience assureth me that it was sound and according to God’s Word, which doctrine, the Lord God being my Helper, I will maintain so long as my tongue shall wag, and breath is within my body, and in confirmation thereof seal the same with my blood” (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs).
The night before his martyrdom, Ridley told his brother who offered to watch all night with him: “No, No, that you shall not; for I mind (God willing) to go to bed and sleep as quietly as ever I did in my life” (Theology of the English Reformers – Philip Hughes).
On 16th October 1555, dressed in his Episcopal robe, Ridley calmly walked to the execution site. As the torch was applied to the faggots, Latimer spoke to Ridley these immortal 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” (ibid).
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). Nicholas Ridley, together with the other 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 Roman Church.
Truly, the blood of Christ’s martyrs is the seed of the church. 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. As a church, let us continue to proclaim His Word for the defence of the faith and the glory of God. Amen.