I have to admit, I had not heard of these three men prior to that morning. These three men, sometimes referred to as “Prelates of the Church” were bishops in the Anglican Church of England. All three men were involved in the Protestant Reformation. Latimer began to preach publicly on the need for the translation of the Bible into English. This was a dangerous move because the first translation of the New Testament by William Tyndale, had recently been banned. When the Church of England moved from Anglicanism back toward the Roman Catholic Church under Queen Mary in 1553, these three men came under intense persecution.
Eventually these three men were burned at the stake right near the spot of this memorial. Ridley and Latimer first in October of 1555 and then Cranmer in March of 1556. It is interesting to note that Cranmer was executed a little over five months later because the Queen ordered these men to “recant” or take back their statements and renounce their beliefs. Ridley and Latimer refused…Cranmer on the other hand, recanted, but could not live with himself afterwards…and then recanted his recant. While preparations were being made to burn Cranmer at the stake, he asked if his right hand could be untied so that he could put that hand first into the fire. That was the hand that he had used to sign his original recant that spared him the fate of his friends five months earlier at the very same spot in Oxford.
Ok, so why the church history lesson Bob? Well, it occurs to me that we take an awful lot for granted today in the times in which we live. How many of us believers have multiple copies of the Bible around our homes? How many of you now have the Bible on an App, either for your Iphone, your Ipad, or your laptop? We have incredible access to the Word of God that these men and many others like them gave their lives for us to have. They gave their very lives for us to be able have the Bible in our own language. These men believed that God’s word was meant for you and I to have in order that we might come directly to God. They believed that, because they understood that the Bible contained the powerful, living, Word of God! Do we really understand what we have on those pages? If we do, we will make it part of our everyday lives, both in the practice of reading and in the practice of telling others what it says.
I think about the mindset of men like this…and I ask myself if I can measure up to them. We are called to take Christ to a world around us that is entirely hostile to the Christ of the Bible…I say the “Christ of the Bible” because many today are offering a “christ” that is foreign to the Christ of the Bible. But make no mistake about it; the world around us is hostile towards Him. Even so, we are reminded that in this world, God is always at work…He is about the work of drawing His people to Himself all the time. Our job is to be faithful to point others to Him, not knowing upon who’s hearts He is working. In a time of increasing hostility towards Christ, we must not shrink back from proclaiming the truth.
Hugh Latimer is quoted as having said to Nicholas Ridley as the fires were being lit: “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Take the time to read about men like this…let God use these fallen but great men from history to put “steel” in our spine to engage the world around us with the truths of the scriptures.