Page images
PDF
EPUB

66

macy of the pope, in affirming that the scripture was the only rule of faith and practice, and ought to be read by all men; that masses were impious; that purgatory was an invention of man; that the invocation and worship of dead saints was idolatry; that the church of Rome was the whore of Babylon; that the marriage of priests was lawful and necessary; that monkery was a rotten carcass, and that so many commemorations of the dead, benedictions of creatures, pilgrimages, forced fastings, and the like, were diabolical inventions. Their moral character was that alone on earth which deserved at all the appellation of Christian.

The Waldensian churches looked for salvation by grace through faith, the gift of God. They received the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper, in their simplicity, rejecting the popish ceremonies. “ About the year 1150," says Wall, one sect among them declared against the baptism of infants, as being incapable of salvation, but the main body of that people rejected their opinion. And the sect that held to it quickly disappeared.” Their discipline was severe. They gave a literal interpretation to the whole of Christ's sermon on the mount, and allowed no wars, nor suits of law, nor increase of wealth, nor oaths, nor self-defence against unjust proceedings. They were poor and ignorant, and needed greatly the light of a future age. But it cannot be doubted, that among them existed truth and holiness. Luther rejoiced and gave thanks to God, that he had enabled the reformed and the Waldenses to see and own each other as brethren."

On these faithful witnesses, fell the vengeance of papal Rome. For three centuries, an incessant persecution raged against them. All the horrors of the Inquisition were employed for their subjection. Armies were raised and sent to terrify them into submission or utterly extirpate them. By the axe, by fire, the sword and other shocking barbarities, were they hurried into eternity. In France alone, above a million were slain for their adherence to the truth. In Germany and Flanders too, they were persecuted with peculiar severity. The monks were urged by the popes to treat them worse than they treated the Saracens. In the castle of Menerbe on the frontiers of Spain, 140 persons of both sexes were burned alive. Persecution often drove the Waldenses to the top of the Alps in the dead of winter, where they perished. One hundred and eighty infants were at one time found dead there in their cradles. Four hundred little children were suffocated in a cavę in the valley of Loyse, where they had been placed for safety. Often did this unhappy people change masters, and every new sovereign seemed anxious to commend himself to the pope, by

CHAP. 10.

WICKLIFF.

227

ones.

extirminating them with fire and the sword. A reader of their sufferings feels himself to be among the ancient martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, and involuntarily exclaims with the poet,

Avenge O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones

Lie scattered upon the Alpine mountains cold." But, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. The Waldenses increased, so that in the 15th century, it is supposed there were not less than 800,000 in Europe. In Germany, they were called Lollards, from one Walter Lollard, who inveighed against the errors of popery, and was burned alive, or from the dirges sung by them at funerals. But the witnesses prophesied in sackloth. They were oppressed and kept in obscurity and silence by the power of the pope. But God knew his secret

He saw the faith and patience of the saints. Their death was precious. Their eternity is glorious.

As in the persecution of Stephen, the saints were scattered abroad in the earth, so in that of the Waldenses and Lollards, they were driven through Europe. Some Aled to England. That country was completely subject to the papal dominion. Its triumph was completed in the reign of John, when the whole kingdom was laid under an interdict. As many as twenty witnesses are mentioned by historians, who had raised their voice against it, but they were obliged to hide themselves. The mendicant orders were extremely numerous, and were so many harpies feeding on the vitals of the kingdom. The national universities had received great endowments, and were crowded with youth. The friars endeavoured to recruit their number from among them; and, such was their success, that parents were afraid to trust their sons there; so that the number of students at Oxford was reduced, in a short period, from thirty thousand to six thousand. This roused the indignation of John Wickliff, who had imbibed the sentiments of the Lollards. That distinguished man, the brightest light of the fourteenth century, was born in 1324, in Yorkshire. He ranked among the first scholars of that dark period, and was advanced to the mastership of Baliol College, and wardenship of Canterbury-ball. But defending the university against the encroachments of mendicants, and writing against the tyranny of the pope, and the superstitions of the age, he became the object of papal persecution, and was ejected from his office by Langham, archbishop of Canterbury. Wickliff appealed to the pope, who deferred any decision upon his case for three years. In the mean time, the reformer diligently studied the scrip

tures, and made himself acquainted with the corruptions of popery, and abominations of monachism; and, by his writings and conversation, made the papal dominion in England tremble. The pope, in 1370, confirmed his ejectment; but he had made many friends, and king Edward III. bestowed upon him the rectory of Lutterworth. His 'activity and diligence were unremitted and unbounded. He clearly and boldly demonstrated the anti-christianity of popery, of the mass, transubstantiation, purgatory, the seven sacraments; and exposed the idleness, debauchery, profligacy, and hypocrisy of the friars. Five bulls were issued against him from Rome, and twice was he summoned to appear before the papal authorities in London. Of the twenty-three opinions, for which he was prosecuted, ten were condemned as heresies, and thirteen as errors. But he was saved from violent death. · He died in peace at Lutterworth, of the palsy, A. D. 1387. He was an admirable man, learned, eloquent, bold, and truly devoted to the service of God. Before his death, he translated the whole Bible into the English tongue ;*—a work of immense labour; but he was determined that men should have the Bible, and read it in their own language. Some partial versions had before been made in the Anglo-Saxon language, but they were obsolete. This, therefore, was a great gift to his countrymen. Together with his writings, as far as it could be circulated, when the art of printing was unknown, and the power of papacy was terrific, it produced great effects. Many were his followers in Eng. land, and on the continent. They were known as Wickliffites and Lollards, and were terribly persecuted by the Inquisitors. His memory was precious." All his conduct," says the University of Oxford, in a public testimonial given to his character, in 1406, through life, was sincere and commendable ;

* A specimen of Wickliff's New Testament, in the English of his time, may be pleasing to some. Matt. xi. 25, 26. In thilke tyme Jhesus answeride and seid, I knowledge to thee, Fadir Lord of Hevene and of earthe ; for thou hast hid these thingis fro wise men and redy and hast schewid them to litil children: So, Fadir, for so it was plesynge to fore thee. Rom. ix. 17. And the Scripture seith to Farao, For to this thing have I styrred thee, that I schewe in thee my vertu and that my name be teeled in al erthe. Therefore, of whom God wole, he hath mercy, and whom he wole he endurith. Thanne saith thou to me, what is sought ghit for who withstondeth his will? Oo man, what art thou that answerist to God! Wher a maad thing seith to him that maad it, What hast thou maad me so? Wher a pottere or cley hath not power to make of the same gobet, oo vessel into onour, another into dispyt?

The pronunciation of the age, probably conformed to this spelling.

CHAP. 10.

LORD COBHAM.

229

but the council of Constance in 1415, condemned his memory and opinions by a solemn decree; and about thirteen years after, his bones were dug up and publicly burnt.

As the Lollards increased, the clergy felt alarmed, for they saw plainly that the prostration of the monasteries and confiscation of church lands was endangered. Transubstantiation was denied by the new heretics, and their denial was made the test of heresy. Whoever was found guilty was condemned to the stake. One William Sautre, a parish priest in London, and John Badby, a tailor, were tried, condemned, and burnt alive. But a more distinguished victim was Lord Cobham, a man of high birth, in favor of Henry V. He had searched the scriptures, and become satisfied that transubstantiation, penance, pilgrimages and image worship were wrong, and he had the boldness to declare his sentiments. The monks eyed him with malice, and accused him to the king, Henry V. The king dreaded the sacrifice of so noble a subject, and endeavoured to reclaim him. But Cobham had the spirit of a martyr. He had long been impressed with the errors of Popery, and the truth of the doctrines of Wickliff. He knew, from experience, their worth. 6. Before God and men,” said he to his accusers and judges, “I solemnly here profess, that till I knew Wickliff, whose judgment ye so highly disdain, I never abstained from sin; but after I became acquainted with that virtuous man and his despised doctrines, it hath been otherwise with me; so much grace could I never find in all your pompous instructions." The writings of the Reformer, he had carefully collected and scattered among the people, and he was now willing to die in their defence. When brought before the king, he said, “ You, most worthy Prince, I am always prompt and willing to obey ; unto you, (next my eternal God, owe i my whole obedience. But as touching the pope and his spirituality, I owe them neither suit nor service; for so much as I know him by the scriptures to be the great Antichrist, the son of perdition, the open adversary of God, and the abomination standing in the holy place.” The king turned angrily from him and delivered him over to the executioner. But the noble victim escaped from prison, and, being accused by his enemies of high treason, was outlawed, taken, and hanged as a traitor, and burnt hanging, as an heretic. Thus died Lord Cobham-a noble witness to the truth as it is in Jesus.

The Lollards increased ; more than 100,000 were found in England. The government stood in great fear of them. The prisons in and about London were all filled. Thirty-nine persons were at one time suspended by chains from gallows and

burnt alive for heresy and treason. In Scotland, James Retby was burned alive in 1407. Whole families were obliged to quit their abodes for safety. Indeed for more than a century these persecutions raged with violence both in England and Scotland. No mercy was to be expected by men who read the scriptures and spoke against the superstitions of Popery. Such as escaped the fire were branded on the cheek and compelled to wear a faggot on their sleeve to show that they were brands plucked out of the fire. But the burning of the witnesses was found to be no way to extinguish them.

On the continent, the writings of Wickliff produced similar effects as in England. They were carried by a student of Oxford into Bohemia, and there read by John Huss. This eminent man was born in 1373.For his learning and talents he was appointed Rector of the University of Prague. He was also a preacher of great celebrity in the chapel of Bethlehem. He never obtained sufficient light to renounce all the superstitious notions of the age, not even the monstrous doctrine of transubstantiation. His bitterest enemies therefore, could never accuse him of heresy. But from reading the scriptures and the writings of Wickliff, he acquired a spirit of holiness and an abhorrence of sin; and, having great decision and boldness of character, he declaimed vehemently against the monstrous vices and corruptions of all orders of clergy and monks, and drew upon him their wrath and indignation. For his holy boldness, he was summoned to appear before the council of Constance-an immense body composed of all the dignitaries of church and state in Europe, convened to endeavour to satisfy the popular clamor which had already become loud, for a reformation in the church. Huss appeared there, A. D. 1414, having obtained a passport from the Emperor, assuring his safety in going and returning. He received only a mock trial. Many things were laid to his charge, but nothing criminal was proved against him. He persisted however in retusing to acknowledge himself in an error, unless previously convicted of it, from the Holy Scripture, even though he was declared to be so by the Catholic Church; and this was enough to ensure his condemnation. The Emperor shamefully delivered him into the hands of his enemies, and sentence of death was pronounced

upon him. His books were condemned; he was degraded from his priestly office and burned alive. His bloodthirsty enemies had power to destroy his body, but could not subdue his noble spirit. At the place of execution he cried aloud; “ Lord Jesus, I humbly suffer this cruel death for thy sake, and I pray thee to forgive all my enemies.” When his

« PreviousContinue »