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Worth Dying For


Why were the English Reformers burned? Many charges were made against them, but in the end, it came down to one: They denied the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. John Rogers, quoted in John Foxes Acts and Monuments (the original unabridged Foxe’s Book of Martyrs), said,

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I was asked whether I believed in the sacrament to be the very body and blood of our Saviour Christ that was born of the Virgin Mary, and hanged on the cross, really and substantially? I answered, ‘I think it to be false. I cannot understand really and substantially to signify otherwise than corporally. But corporally Christ is only in heaven, and so Christ cannot be corporally in your sacrament.’

Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 35.

Ryle writes,

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Now, were the English Reformers right in being so stiff and unbending on this question of the real presence? Was it a point of such vital importance that they were justified in dying before they would receive it? These are questions, I suspect, which are very puzzling to many unreflecting minds. Such minds, I fear, can see in the whole controversy about the real presence nothing but a logomachy, or strife of words. But they are questions, I am bold to say, on which no well-instructed Bible reader can hesitate for a moment in giving his answer. Such an one will say at once that the Romish doctrine of the real presence strikes at the very root of the Gospel, and is the very citadel and keep of Popery. Men may not see this at first, but it is a point that ought to be carefully remembered. It throws a clear and broad light on the line which the Reformers took, and the unflinching firmness with which they died.

Whatever men please to think or say, the Romish doctrine of the real presence, if pursued to its legitimate consequences, obscures every leading doctrine of the Gospel, and damages and interferes with the whole system of Christ’s truth. Grant for a moment that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, and not a sacrament; grant that every time the words of consecration are used the natural body and blood of Christ are present on the Communion Table under the forms of bread and wine; grant that every one who eats that consecrated bread and drinks that consecrated wine does really eat and drink the natural body and blood of Christ; grant for a moment these things, and then see what momentous consequences result from these premises. You spoil the blessed doctrine of Christ’s finished work when He died on the cross. A sacrifice that needs to be repeated is not a perfect and complete thing. You spoil the priestly office of Christ. If there are priests that can offer an acceptable sacrifice of God besides Him, the great High Priest is robbed of His glory. You spoil the Scriptural doctrine of the Christian ministry. You exalt sinful men into the position of mediators between God and man. You give to the sacramental elements of bread and wine an honour and veneration they were never meant to receive, and produce an idolatry to be abhorred of faithful Christians. Last, but not least, you overthrow the true doctrine of Christ’s human nature. If the body born of the Virgin Mary can be in more places than one at the same time, it is not a body like our own, and Jesus was not “the second Adam” in the truth of our nature. I cannot doubt for a moment that our martyred Reformers saw and felt these things even more clearly than we do, and, seeing and feeling them, chose to die rather than admit the doctrine of the real presence. Feeling them, they would not give way by subjection for a moment, and cheerfully laid down their lives. Let this fact be deeply graven in our minds. Wherever the English language is spoken on the face of the globe this fact ought to be clearly understood by every Englishman who reads history. Rather than admit the doctrine of the real presence of Christ’s natural body and blood under the forum of bread and wine, the Reformers of the Church of England were content to be burned.

—J. C. Ryle, Ibid., 38–39.



Posted 2017·05·08 by David Kjos
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