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John Wyclif and the Revival of English Preaching


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The three centuries before the Reformation were, writes J. C. Ryle, “probably the darkest period in the history of English Christianity.” During this time, England was “thoroughly, entirely, and completely Roman Catholic.” “It is no exaggeration to say that . . . Christianity in England seems to have been buried under a mass of ignorance, superstition, priestcraft, and immorality.” Into this age of spiritual darkness, 150 years before Martin Luther, was born John Wyclif, “the morning star of the Reformation.”

In his collection of short biographies, Light from Old Times, Ryle lists “four reasons why Wyclif’s name should always be honoured in England”—and, I would add, in the church worldwide.

  1. Wyclif was one of the first Englishmen who maintained the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture as the only rule of faith and practice.
  2. Wyclif was one of the first Englishmen who attacked and denounced the errors of the Church of Rome.
  3. Wyclif was one of the first, if not the very first, Englishmen who revived the apostolic ordinance of preaching.
  4. Wyclif was the first Englishman who translated the Bible into the English language.

On the importance of preaching, Ryle writes,

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Wyclif was one of the first, if not the very first, Englishmen who revived the apostolic ordinance of preaching. The ‘poor priests,’ as they were called, whom he sent about the country to teach, were one of the greatest benefits which he conferred on his generation. They sowed the seed of thoughts among the people which were never entirely forgotten, and, I believe, paved the way for the Reformation.

If Wyclif had never done anything but this for England, I believe that this alone would entitle him to our deep thankfulness. I maintain firmly that the first, foremost, and principal work of the minister is to be a preacher of God’s Word.

I say this emphatically, because of the time in which we live, and the peculiar dangers of the Christian warfare in our own land. I believe that the pretended ‘sacerdotalism’ of ministers is one of the oldest and most mischievous errors which has ever plagued Christendom. Partly from an ignorant hankering after the priesthood of the Mosaic Dispensation, which passed away when Christ died; partly from the love of power and dignity, which is natural to ministers, as much as to other men; partly from the preference of unconverted worshippers for a supposed priest and mediator whom they can see, rather than one in heaven whom they cannot see; partly from the general ignorance of mankind before the Bible was printed and circulated; partly from one cause and partly from another, there has been an incessant tendency throughout the last eighteen centuries to exalt ministers to an unscriptural position, and to regard them as priests and mediators between God and man, rather than as preachers of God’s Word.

I charge my readers to remember this. Stand fast on old principles. Do not forsake the old paths. Let nothing tempt you to believe that multiplication of forms and ceremonies, constant reading of liturgical services, or frequent communions, will ever do so much good to souls as the powerful, fiery, fervent preaching of God’s Word. Daily services without sermons may gratify and edify a few handfuls of believers, but they will never reach, draw, attract, or arrest the great mass of mankind. If men want to do good to the multitude, if they want to reach their hearts and consciences, they must walk in the steps of Wyclif, Latimer, Luther, Chrysostom, and St. Paul. They must attack them through their ears; they must blow the trumpet of the everlasting Gospel loud and long; they must preach the Word.

—J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 5–6.



Posted 2017·05·02 by David Kjos
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