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Whither God Brings Us

Author
Category Book Reviews
Date June 13, 2018

Over fifty years ago, retired missionary Jock Purves wrote a series of articles in a magazine on the martyrdom of the Scottish Covenanters. They were gathered together into an influential book entitles Fair Sunshine (Banner of Truth). The pathos with which Mr Purves described these Christians’ arrests, trials, wisdom in their self-defence before their inquisition and their sufferings in dying is intensely moving.  Many have testified to the blessing of renewed faith and strengthening consecration in reading of the courage of the Covenanters during those desperate persecuting times.

I have often thought of what a fruitful well of encouragement has been tapped bu Christian writers since John Foxe first wrote his six volume martyrology, published in March 1563. What is there better in giving to the 21st century Christian both backbone and a broken and contrite heart? Such a necessary combination divine grace alone can create. But other similar books have been written and read with profit. One thinks of J. C. Ryle’s studies of the English Reformers burned to death under Queen Mary, Light From Old Times (Banner of Truth); or D’Aubigne’s classic, The Reformation in England (Banner of Truth); or Marcus Loane’s exemplary The Masters of the English Reformation (Banner of Truth) which book centres on the three leading lights of the period 1547-1556, that is Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley.

But at least 300 evangelical protestants were burnt alive during the reign of Mary. Young people, women (some of whom were pregnant), fishermen, farmers, people scattered throughout England and Wales and the Channel Islands were killed with such cruelty for what they believed and what they were unashamed to acknowledge. Who were they?

Who were the following men and women with their old English names? Robert Barnes, William Jerome, Thomas Garrard? Who was Anne Askew? Who was Thomas Dusgate and John Cardmaker? John Lambert? George Marsh? Laurence Saunders? Robert Glover? John Hullier? John Bland? Richard Yeoman? They were Christians, mostly from Cambridge, who were killed for their understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the Bible.

Most English Christians know of the five American young men martyred in Ecuador on January 8, 1956; Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian. People of my generation were stirred deeply and motivated by their supreme sacrifice. Should we not value many of the 300 people from England and Wales who knew more horrible deaths, whose last hours were faithfully recorded, what they said at the stake as they spoke to crowds gathered to witness their being burnt alive, their heart-breaking bravery and trust in Jesus Christ with their scornful glance at the horrible equipment of their suffering, at the chains and the piles of kindling wood piled around it?

Now you can learn of these brave Christians whose names you have just read, and of Martin Bucer too, an inspirational teacher and lecturer who came to Cambridge University in 1549 and for a mere two years impacted students before his premature final illness. Of course the luminaries are to be honoured, Thomas Bilney, Robert Ferrar, John Bradford, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cramner, but Christ’s ‘little ones’ must not be ignored. The author of a new book on these men and women has triumphantly rescued them from undeserved oblivion. Previous scholars refer to the twenty-five martyrs of Cambridge University. There is also a brief detour to consider a non-student, Anne Askew, but how moved we were to read of her life and death. George Wishart’s martyrdom belongs to Scottish history, though a student at Corpus Christi, Cambridge and wisely is not included in this book.

So what is this book to which I am tantalisingly referring you? The book is entitled Whither God Brings Us: Cambridge and the Reformation Martyrs, written by David Llewellyn Jenkins and published by Charenton Reformed Publishing, 2018, a 350 page hardback. He tells his readers that spending these years in writing this book was not an impartial study.

My priority here is to record, as far as I am able, how the actions of the martyrs of the English Reformation were dictated by what God says through His Word: how they cast aside pride and self-sufficiency and were able to ‘continue in one spirit and in one mind, fighting together through the faith of the gospel’ (Philippians 1:27). (pp. 5&6)

In other words, he writes as an unashamed admirer and advocate of all they stood for and died for. There is this gentle flame that burns brightly throughout these pages. We need to know what these men and women died for. As Calvin wrote, ‘Nothing is more to be dreaded than that the Lord should extinguish the light of sound doctrine, and suffer us to go astray in darkness.’ There is no more fierce light to banish the darkness of the professing church today that that which comes from the bonfires on which these Christians were consumed.

This book is well researched. The footnotes are helpfully put at the bottom of each page not in end notes. John Foxe’s accounts are wisely trusted. The 1559 Geneva Bible is generally quoted. The libraries at Cambridge University, Corpus Christi College, King’s College, and the British Library have been well used. National Archives. the National Library of Wales, Norfolk Record Office, Dr. Williams’ Library and York Minster Library have also been ransacked for assistance. Many friends have encouraged the author. The book is dedicated to David’s parents, David and Megan.

So to the narrative itself. How moving it is! Who can read these pages without a tear being shed? For example, it was on 30 July 1540 that three young men, Robert Barnes, William Jerome, and Thomas Garrard were taken from the Tower of London, lain on hurdles, and dragged through the streets of London to Smithfield. There each man addressed the crowd, but it was Robert Barnes who gripped the multitude preaching with an awakening ministry to many of his hearers.

I believe that through the dying of Christ He overcame sin, death, and hell; and that there is none other satisfaction unto the Father, but His death and passion only; and that no work of man did deserve anything of God, but only Christ’s passion, as touching our justification: for I know the best work that ever I did is impure and imperfect.

Bear witness that I died in the faith of Jesus Christ, by whom I doubted not but to be saved,

and then Robert asked all the crowd — in which many London evangelicals were gathered — to pray for him and he turned around and took off his outer clothes and made himself ready for the fire. The three young men joined hands and kissed one another, quietly and humbly offering themselves into the hands of those who held lighted torches in their hands to set the kindling wood alight. One of the young Christians in the crows, Richard Hilles, wrote the next day to Henry Bullinger in Switzerland telling him that the three men ‘remained in the fire without crying out, but were as quiet and patient as though they felt no pain’ (pp.33-35). It is one of the great scenes from British sixteenth century history, repeated hundreds of times, that lit a flame of eternal light that still burns all the world over today and shall shine until the last day.

Then there is Lincolnshire born Anne Askew, aged 24 and mother of two children, then living in London, ‘young and remarkably beautiful’, handing out tracts and overheard saying that she ‘would sooner read five lines in the Bible than hear five masses in church.’ A spy, dispatched by the Bishop to gather information about her was disarmed by all he saw and heard as ‘the devoutest and godliest woman I ever knew.’ She prayed for hours ‘while I and many others sleep or do worse.’ Yet she was arrested and kept for a short time in solitary confinement in the Tower of London. She answered her interrogators well and was released to continue her testimony in Christ. In a year she was arrested again and grilled for five hours. ‘You will be burned to death for your beliefs,’ she was told. She replied that she had searched the New Testament but never found one place where either Christ or his apostles put any creature to death.

But Anne Askew, at 25, was taken to the torture chamber of the Tower of London and there in the White Tower she was put on the rack and stretched until her limbs were out of joint and her bones almost broken. Her torturers were angry that she would not cry out and so repeated and repeated her racking until she was nearly dead, her shoulders and hips pulled from their sockets, her elbows dislocated, and her knees broken. She was finally lifted off and fainted on the cold floor. When she regained consciousness, it was to find one of her inquisitors speaking to her for two hours, persuading her to relinquish her evangelical convictions. God helped her and she said to him, ‘I would rather die than break my faith.’

She was burned to death at Smithfield on 16 July, 1546. She was too crippled to walk after being on the rack and was carried in a chair to the stake. A Romanist preached and she listened intently, nodding when he quoted Scripture, but saying clearly at times, ‘There he misses and speaks without the Book.’ The flames slowly consumed her and an evangelical in the crowd cried out ‘A vengeance on all of you who thus burn Christ’s member!’ and he was beaten up for his pains. Foxe says, ‘She left behind her a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow’ (pp. 52-59). Seven months later the burnings ceased for a time as Henry VIII died and the young Christian, King Edward VI ascended to the throne.

 

That short reign ending, Mary came to the throne and the burnings with hellish fury. John Rogers was the first in her reign to be burnt on 4 February, 1555. The night before, he slept so soundly that he had to be awakened ‘with much shaking.’ As he was chained to the stake and the wood was set alight, he was presented with a royal pardon. He rejected it and urged the crowd to depend entirely on the teaching of Christ. He died slowly while keeping his hands lifted up to heaven yielding his spirit to his heavenly Father. The French Ambassador, Antoine de Noailles, came and watched the spectacle. He wrote that the crowd were overwhelmingly supportive of John Rogers in his dying;

They were not afraid to make many exclamations to strengthen his courage. Even Rogers’ own children assisted at it, comforting him in such a manner that it seemed as if he had been led to a wedding (p. 86).

So there we have some holy samples of what this book more fully reveals, but with much more of the convictions and the defence of the faith that these brave Christians displayed. The issue is alive and relevant today as this year and every year many new martyrs die horrible deaths for the Gospel. But here are our ancestors on this, our island — some burnt alive a couple of miles from where I sit in comfort, writing these words — whose courageous convictions eventually bought us the freedom to propagate the Bible’s truths and the finished work of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Few things could serve his cause more so than to grasp why these martyrs died, appropriating their Saviour as our own and making their dying faith our living faith. What a sparkling introduction to the Reformation this book is.

Of Further Interest

    Fair Sunshine

    Fair Sunshine

    Character Studies of the Scottish Covenanters

    by Jock Purves


    price £6.75

    Description

    Over fifty years ago, retired missionary Jock Purves wrote a series of articles in a magazine on the martyrdom of the Scottish Covenanters. They were gathered together into an influential book entitles Fair Sunshine (Banner of Truth). The pathos with which Mr Purves described these Christians’ arrests, trials, wisdom in their self-defence before their inquisition and their […]


    price £15.00
    Avg. Rating
    Rated 5.00 out of 5

    Description

    Over fifty years ago, retired missionary Jock Purves wrote a series of articles in a magazine on the martyrdom of the Scottish Covenanters. They were gathered together into an influential book entitles Fair Sunshine (Banner of Truth). The pathos with which Mr Purves described these Christians’ arrests, trials, wisdom in their self-defence before their inquisition and their […]

    Masters of the English Reformation
    price £15.50

    Description

    Over fifty years ago, retired missionary Jock Purves wrote a series of articles in a magazine on the martyrdom of the Scottish Covenanters. They were gathered together into an influential book entitles Fair Sunshine (Banner of Truth). The pathos with which Mr Purves described these Christians’ arrests, trials, wisdom in their self-defence before their inquisition and their […]

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