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Light from Old Times

(7 posts)

Eternal Life Is More Sweet

Thursday··2017·05·04
John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester (1495–1555), was originally to die alongside John Rogers, but was instead taken to Gloucester to be burned before his parishioners, in front of his own cathedral. The day before his execution, Sir Anthony Kingston, whom the good Bishop had been the means of converting from a sinful life, entreated him, with many tears, to spare himself, and urged him to remember that ‘Life was sweet, and death was bitter.’ To this the noble martyr returned this memorable reply, that ‘Eternal life was more sweet, and eternal death was more bitter.’ On the morning of his martyrdom he was led forth, walking, to the place of execution, where an immense crowd awaited him. It was market-day; and it was reckoned that nearly 700o people were present. The stake was planted directly in front of the western gate of the Cathedral-close, and within 100 yards of the deanery and the east front of the Cathedral. The exact spot is marked now by a beautiful memorial at the east end of the churchyard of St. Mary-de-Lode. The window over the gate, where Popish friars watched the Bishop’s dying agonies, stands unaltered to this day. When Hooper arrived at this spot, he was allowed to pray, though strictly forbidden to speak to the people. And there he knelt down, and prayed a prayer which has been preserved and recorded by Fox, and is of exquisitely touching character. Even then a box was put before him containing a full pardon, if he would only recant. His only answer was, ‘Away with it; if you love my soul, away with it!’ He was then fastened to the stake by an iron round his waist, and fought his last fight with the king of terrors. Of all the martyrs, none perhaps, except Ridley, suffered more than Hooper did. Three times the faggots had to be lighted, because they would not burn properly. Three quarters of an hour the noble sufferer endured the mortal agony, as Fox says, ‘neither moving backward, forward, nor to any side,’ but only praying,‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;’ and beating his breast with one hand till it was burned to a stump. And so the good Bishop of Gloucester passed away. —Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 46—47. Words to live—and die—by: Life may be sweet, and death bitter, but eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death more bitter.
continue reading Eternal Life Is More Sweet

Pre-Reformation Ignorance

Thursday··2017·05·11
Ryle describes the spiritual state of England before the Reformation: Before the Reformation, one leading feature of English religion was dense ignorance. There was among all classes a conspicuous absence of all knowledge of true Christianity. A gross darkness overspread the land, a darkness that might be felt. Not one in a hundred could have told you as much about the Gospel of Christ as we could now learn from any intelligent Sunday School child. We need not wonder at this ignorance. The people had neither schools nor Bibles. Wycliffe’s New Testament, the only translation extant till Henry VIII’s Bible was printed, cost £2 16s. 3d.* of our money. The prayers of the Church were in Latin, and of course the people could not understand them. Preaching there was scarcely any. Quarterly sermons indeed were prescribed to the clergy, but not insisted on. Latimer says that while Mass was never to be left unsaid for a single Sunday, sermons might be omitted for twenty Sundays, and nobody was blamed. After all, when there were sermons, they were utterly unprofitable: and latterly to be a preacher was to be suspected of being a heretic. To cap all, the return that Hooper got from the diocese of Gloucester, when he was first appointed Bishop in 1551, will give a pretty clear idea of the ignorance of Pre-Reformation times. Out of 311 clergy of his diocese, 168 were unable to repeat the Ten Commandments; 31 of the 168 could not state in what part of Scripture they were to be found; 40 could not tell where the Lord’s prayer was written; and 31 of the 40 were ignorant who was the author of the Lord’s prayer! If this is not ignorance, I know not what is. If such were the pastors, what must the people have been! If this was the degree of knowledge among the parsons, what must it have been among the people! —J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 62. * I.e., in 1890. Current value (2017), about $366 US dollars, by my estimation.
continue reading Pre-Reformation Ignorance

The Blood of a Duck and the Girdle of Mary

Friday··2017·05·12
Added to the gross ignorance of the times before the Reformation was a deep-seeded superstition fostered, through deliberate deception, by the religious order of the day. Men and women in those days had uneasy consciences sometimes, and wanted relief. They had sorrow and sickness and death to pass through, just like ourselves. What could they do? Whither could they turn? There was none to tell them of the love of God and the mediation of Christ, of the glad tidings of free, full, and complete salvation, of justification by faith, of grace, and faith, and hope, and repentance. They could only turn to the priests, who knew nothing themselves and could tell nothing to others. . . . In a word, the religion of our ancestors . . . was little better than an organized system of Virgin Mary worship, saint worship, image worship, relic worship, pilgrimages, almsgivings, formalism, ceremonialism, processions, prostrations, bowings, crossings, fastings, confessions, absolutions, masses, penances, and blind obedience to the priests. It was a grand higgledy-piggledy of ignorance and idolatry, and service done to an unknown God by deputy. The only practical result was that the priests took the people’s money, and undertook to ensure their salvation, and the people flattered themselves that the more they gave to the priests, the more sure they were of going to heaven. The catalogue of gross and ridiculous impostures which the priests practised on the people would fill a volume, and I cannot of course do more than supply a few specimens. At the Abbey of Hales, in Gloucestershire, a vial was shown by the priests to those who offered alms, which was said to contain the blood of Christ. On examination, in King Henry VIII’s time, this notable vial was found to contain neither more nor less than the blood of a duck, which was renewed every week. At Bexley, in Kent, a crucifix was exhibited, which received peculiar honour and large offerings, because of a continual miracle which was said to attend its exhibition. When people offered copper, the face of the figure looked grave; when they offered silver, it relaxed its severity; when they offered gold, it openly smiled. In Henry VIII’s time this famous crucifix was examined, and wires were found within it by which the priests could move the face of the image, and make it assume any expression that they pleased. . . . At Bruton Priory, in Somersetshire, was kept a girdle of the Virgin Mary, made of red silk. This solemn relic was sent as a special favour to women in childbirth, to insure them a safe delivery. The like was done with a white girdle of Mary Magdalene, kept at Farley Abbey, in Wiltshire. In neither case, we may be sure, was the relic sent without a pecuniary consideration. Records like these are so silly and melancholy that one hardly knows whether to laugh or to cry. But it is positively necessary to bring them forward, in order that men may know what was the religion of our forefathers before the Reformation. Wonderful as these things may sound in our ears, we must never forget that Englishmen in those times knew no better. A famishing man, in sieges and blockades, has been known to eat mice and rats rather than die of hunger. A soul famishing for lack of God’s Word must not be judged too harshly if it struggles to find comfort in the most grovelling superstition. —J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 63–65.

Death Is No Death

Monday··2017·05·15
The following lines are attributed to John Hooper. Tradition says they were written in coal on the wall of the cell in which he was held before his execution. Content thyself with patience With Christ to bear the cup of pain: Who can and will thee recompense A thousand-fold, with joys again. Let nothing cause thy heart to fail: Launch out thy boat, hoist up the sail, Put from the shore; And be thou sure thou shalt attain Unto the port, that shall remain For evermore. Fear not death, pass not for bands, Only in God put thy whole trust; For He will require thy blood at their hands, And thou dost know that once die thou must, Only for that, thy life if thou give, Death is no death, but ever for to live. Do not despair: Of no worldly tyrant be thou in dread; Thy compass, which is God’s Word, shall thee lead, And the wind is fair. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 83.
continue reading Death Is No Death

Not Even In, With, and Under

Wednesday··2017·05·17
As previously posted, the primary offense of the English Reformers was their denial of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. They were responding, of course, to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Following that post, I explained why the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation must also be rejected. It was interesting, then, to encounter Archbishop John Hooper rejecting the Lutheran language (without so identifying it) also. The following is from Hooper’s A Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith. I believe that all this Sacrament consisteth in the use thereof: so that without the right use the bread and wine in nothing differ from other common bread and wine, that is commonly used: and, therefore, I do not believe that the body of Christ can be contained, hid, or inclosed in the bread, under the bread, or with the bread; neither the blood in the wine, under the wine, or with the wine. But I believe and confess the very body of Christ to be in heaven, on the right hand of the Father (as before we have said), and that always and as often as we use this bread and wine according to the ordinance and institution of Christ, we do verily and indeed receive His body and blood. . . . I believe that this receiving is not done carnally or bodily, but spiritually, through a true and lively faith; that is to say, the body and blood of Christ are not given to the mouth and belly, for the nourishing of the body, but unto our faith, for the nourishing of the spirit and inward man unto eternal life. And for that cause we have no need that Christ should come from heaven to us, but that we should ascend unto Him, lifting up our hearts through a lively faith on high, unto the right hand of the Father, where Christ sitteth, from whence we wait for our redemption. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 95–96.
continue reading Not Even In, With, and Under

Only an Instrument

Monday··2017·05·22
Among the last writings of English Reformer John Bradford (1510–1555), as he awaited his death in the Tower of London. When I consider the cause of my condemnation, I cannot but lament that I do no more rejoice than I do, for it is God's verity and truth. The condemnation is not a condemnation of Bradford simply, but rather a condemnation of Christ and His truth. Bradford is nothing else but an instrument, in whom Christ and His doctrine are condemned; and, therefore, my dearly beloved, rejoice, rejoice, and give thanks, with me, and for me, that ever God did vouchsafe so great a benefit to our country, as to choose the most unworthy (I mean myself) to be one in whom it would please Him to suffer any kind of affliction, much more this violent kind of death, which I perceive is prepared for me with you for His sake. All glory and praise be given unto God our Father for this His exceeding great mercy towards me, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 179.
continue reading Only an Instrument
The words of Puritan Richard Baxter (1615–1691) to friends who visited him on his deathbed: You come hither to learn to die. I am not the only person that must go this way. Have a care of this vain, deceitful world, and the lust of the flesh. Be sure you choose God for your portion, heaven for your home, God’s glory for your end, God’s Word for your rule, and then you need never fear but we shall meet again with comfort. —in J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 292.
continue reading Learn to Die

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