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The Doctrine of the Leaders of the English Reformation

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Category Articles
Date October 29, 2018

‘The Reformation from Popery in the sixteenth century was the greatest event, or series of events, that has occurred since the close of the canon of Scripture; and the men who are really entitled to he called the ‘Leaders of the Reformation’ have a claim to more respect and gratitude than any other body of uninspired men that have ever influenced or adorned the church. . . In point of intrinsic merit as authors, as successful labourers in expounding and establishing Christian truth the Reformers are immeasurably superior to the theologians of preceding generations-the Fathers and the schoolmen are mere children compared with the, Reformers. . . The Reformers were God’s instruments in bringing out to a large extent the permanent truth revealed in His Word, and in restoring the church to a large measure of apostolic purity.’ — (Dr. William Cunningham).

‘England requires now more than ever to study the Fathers of the Reformation in their writings, and to he animated by their spirit.’ — (Dr. Merle D’Aubigné).

God’s Predestination and Absolute Will.

Bradwardin (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1349, one of the earliest Reformers) defines predestination as ‘God’s eternal fore-ordination, or predetermination of His will, respecting what shall come to pass.’ ‘Whatever things come to pass, they are brought to pass by the providence of God.’

Wycliffe (1324-1384, ‘the greatest English Reformer’ — D’Aubigné) — ‘All things that happen do come absolutely of necessity.’

Latimer (Bishop of Rochester, martyred 1555) — ‘He fills the earth that is to say He rules and governs the same: ordering all things according to His will and pleasure.’ ‘No man’s power is able to stand against God, or disappoint Him of His purposes.’

Thomas Becon (Cranmer’s private chaplain and one of his six preachers at Canterbury) — ‘Predestination is the secret unchangeable appointment of God; before all beginnings, by His counsel and wisdom, to life everlasting concerning His elect and chosen people.’

Martin Bucer (appointed by Cranmer as the King’s Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, 1549, and called by Bishop Hooper Cranmer’s ‘inseparable companion.’) — ‘Predestination is an appointment of everything to its proper use; by which appointment, God does, before He made them, even from eternity, destine all things whatever to some certain and particular use.’

John Bradford (martyred 1555 — ‘I thank God heartily that ever I was acquainted with him.’ — wrote Bishop Ridley) — ‘We should certainly know that it is God which is the ruler and arbiter of all things, and that having determined all things that He will do, now of His power doth in His time put the same into execution, according as He hath decreed with Himself.’

Salvation Depends on God’s Will alone.

Cranmer (first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, martyred 1556) — ‘Certain it is, that our election cometh only and wholly of the benefit and grace of God.’

William Tyndale (martyred 1536 — ‘the Apostle of England,’ Foxe) — ‘Why doth God open one man’s eyes and not another’s? Paul (Romans 9) forbiddeth to ask why; for it is too deep for man’s capacity. God we see is honoured thereby. . . But the Popish can suffer God to have no secret, hid to himself. . . they go and set up free will with the heathen philosophers, and say that a man’s freewill is the cause why God chooseth one and not another, contrary unto all the Scriptures. Faith cometh not of our free-will; but is the gift of God.’

Foxe — ‘Concerning election, if the question be asked, ‘Why was Abraham chosen and not Nahor? Why was Jacob chosen and not Esau? Why was Moses elected, and Pharaoh hardened?’ It cannot be answered otherwise than thus: because it was so the good will of God.’

Lancelot Ridley (appointed by Cranmer one of the six preachers at Canterbury. 1541) — ‘”According to the pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:4). No other cause is to he asked why God has elected and chosen us to be his children by adoption.’

The Catechism of 1553 — ‘The first, principal, and most proper cause of our Justification and salvation is the goodness and love of God, whereby He chose us for His, before He made the world.’

George Carleton (Bishop of Chichester, 1626) — ‘If the question be proposed, why God receiveth one to mercy, and not another? why this man, and, not that? to this question the Orthodox that have taught in the Church after St. Augustine’s answer, that of this taking one to mercy, and leaving another, no reason can be given but only the will of God. The Pelagians and Arminians say, that God’s will herein is directed by somewhat fore-seen in men predestined. Now that predestination dependeth only upon God’s will without respect to anything foreseen in men, is, as I said the received doctrine of Augustine, and of the Church following. And this has hitherto been the received doctrine of the Church of England.’

All Those Elected Shall he Converted, and Can Never be Finally Lost.

Cranmer — ‘The elect shall not wilfully and obstinately withstand God’s calling.’ ‘The elect, in whom finally no fault shall be, but they shall perpetually continue and endure.’ ‘The elect shall follow Christ’s precepts, or when they fall, they Shall repent and rise again, and obtain remission. . .’

Foxe — ‘Whom God hath chosen, the same He hath justified.’ ‘Election is the cause of vocation. Vocation (which is the working of God’s Spirit by the word) is the cause of faith.’

Coverdale (Bishop of Exeter) — ‘In the faith of the Gospel were saved all they that from the beginning were preserved and ordained to salvation.’

Bale (Bishop of Ossory, Ireland) — ‘They only possess the kingdom of God, which are written in the Lamb’s book of life, that were predestinate thereunto in Christ before the world’s constitution.’

Sandys (Archbishop of York) — ‘Neither filthy Sodom, nor superstitious Egypt, nor idolatrous Babylon, nor corrupt Cessarea, was able to infect Lot, or Joseph, or Daniel, or Cornelius; whom the Lord had chosen according to His good pleasure. ‘The foundation of God remaineth sure, and has this seal; The Lord knoweth who are his’. ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”‘

Nicholas Ridley (Bishop of London, martyred 1555) — ‘In all ages God has had His own manner, after His secret and unsearchable wisdom, to use His elect, sometimes to suffer them to drink of Christ’s cup. . . yet the Lord is all one towards them in both, and loveth them no less. . . No man can take us out of the Father’s hands-Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect!’

Martin Bucer — ‘God’s election cannot he made void by any creature whatever. Seeing, then, that the purpose of God, according to election, may stand, not of works, but of him that calleth (Rom. 9:11); He not only elected His own people before they were born, and had done good or evil (Rom. 9:11), but even before the very foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4). Hence our Lord said concerning his apostles, I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me; for they are thine: that is, they were chosen by thee unto life.’ (Jn. 17). ‘My Sheep hear my voice,’ (Jn. 10:27). ‘In these words our Lord expressly teaches, that all good things are dependent on God’s election; and that they, to whom it is once given to be sheep, can never perish afterwards.’

Bradford (probably the most greatly used preacher in England during the reign of Edward VI) — ‘Faith and belief in Christ is the work and gift of God; given to none other than to those which be the children of God: that is, to those whom God the Father, before the beginning of the world, hath predestinate in Christ unto eternal life.’

Fallen Man Deserves Nothing from God, and has been so Ruined by Sin that He can Exercise Neither Will, Choice, nor Desire Towards Salvation.

Latimer — ‘If we shall be judged after our own deservings, we shall be damned everlastingly.’ ‘I am of myself, and by myself, coming from my natural father and mother, the child of wrath. . . a lump of sin, and working nothing of myself, but all towards Hell, except I have better help of another than I have of myself.’ ‘The Devil’s will and our own fight against God’s will.’

Becon — ‘Man has no power to seek for salvation, but rather continues still in his old wickedness, and seeks to be far from the face of God, coveting rather to be damned than he would once, approach unto the sight of God; sin has so slain his courage, Satan in him has so great dominion. . . he hates God, and wishes that there were no God, that he might escape unpunished.’

Cranmer — ‘Our faith and trust that we be in God’s favour and His own children hangs not of our applying of our will to His motions.’

Barnes (martyred in 1540 — ‘The great restorer of good learning to Cambridge.’ — Strype) — ‘A man hath no free-will.’ This same assertion was charged against Luther in a Papal Bull published in England in May, 1521, and against the Evangelicals by the Lower House of Convocation in 1536. For maintaining this truth several Reformers-such as Lambert, Legat, and Harrison, were martyred during the reign of Henry VIII.

Christ Died to Fulfil The Father’s Eternal Purpose.

Cranmer — ‘Our Saviour Christ, according to the will of His eternal Father, when the time thereof was fully accomplished, taking our nature upon Him, came into the world, from the high throne of His Father; to give light to them that were in darkness and the shadow of death, and to preach, and give pardon and full remission of sins to all His elected.’

Ridley — ‘The death and passion of Christ was and is the one only sufficient and available sacrifice satisfactory for all the elect of God.’

Bale — ‘He died for all them which were create to be saved.’

Norden — His blood was shed ‘for many, for the remission of sins: not for all.’

Bradford — ‘The world, John the Baptist speaks of, whose sins Christ takes away, and the world which Paul says has been reconciled, is to be discerned from that world for which Christ prayed not (Jn. 17:9), for look, for whom He prayed not, for them He died not.’

Tyndale — ‘”God which will have all men to be saved,’ that is, some of all nations and all degrees, and not the Jews only.’ (Tim. 2:4). Likewise he expounds 1 John 2:2 — ‘Christ died not only for our sins, who are Jews, but for the whole world, that is, all who should believe unto the world’s end, of whatsoever nation or degree (kind) they be.’

All Men Are Not Elect, But God Has Rejected (Reprobated) Some.

Wycliffe — ‘The prayer of the reprobate prevaileth for no man.’

John Frith (martyred 1533) — ‘Whomsoever He chooseth, them He saveth of His mercy: and whom He repelleth, them of His secret and unsearchable judgment, He condemneth.’

Ridley — ‘Whosoever be not glad to hear the word of God, but despise it, and care not to keep God’s commandments but are all set to seek the pleasures and the glory of this world: whosoever is so affected, it is a token that they be not the children of salvation, but of perdition and eternal damnation: of these works that follow (the hearing of God’s Word), we may have a conjecture, who be ordained of God to be saved, and who to be damned.’

Bucer — ‘Scripture does not hesitate to affirm, that there are persons, whom God delivers to a reprobate sense, and whom He forms for destruction: why, therefore, should it be deemed derogatory from God, to assert, that He not only does this, but resolved beforehand to do it?’ ‘The doctrine of reprobation is useful to the elect; inasmuch as it influences them to a greater fear and abhorrence of sin, and to a firmer reliance on the goodness of God.’

Peter Martyr (‘He was thought,’ writes Melchior Adam. ‘the properest divine, on earth, to preside in the divinity chair at Oxford. He was accordingly, with the King’s concurrence, invited to England by Cranmer.’ 1547. Between the Archbishop and Martyr, says Strype, there existed ‘a great and cordial intimacy and friendship: for of him he made particular use in the steps he took in our reformation’) — ‘Reprobation may be defined, that most wise determination of God, whereby He did, before eternity, immutably decree not to have mercy on those whom He loved lot, but passed by: and this without any injustice on His part.’

Dr. Whitaker (Queen’s Professor of Divinity at Cambridge during the reign of Elizabeth) — ‘Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer, of honorable memory, did profess this doctrine of absolute and irrespective Reprobation, in both our famous Universities; and our Church did always hold it as the undoubted truth, ever since the restitution of the Gospel to her.’

For Scripture relevant to this solemn doctrine see Exodus 9; Deut. 2:10; 1 Sam. 2:25; Prov. 16:4; Luke 4:26-27; John 12:39-40; 1 Pet. 2:8; 2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 4; Rev. 13:8, etc.)

The Above Truths are of Great Importance, and Practical Use, and are therefore to be Openly Maintained.

John Knox (Chaplain to Edward VI, his preaching was a mighty instrument in the English Reformation) — ‘Some do think that because the reason of man cannot attain to the understanding how God shall be just, making in His counsel this diversity of mankind, that therefore it were better to keep silence in all such mysteries. . . But yet, I say, that the doctrine of God’s eternal predestination is so necessary to the Church of God, that without the same, faith can neither be truly taught, nor surely established.’

Bucer — ‘Those persons are not to be heard, who would have the doctrine of election laid (as it were) asleep, and seldom or never make its appearance in the congregations of the faithful.’

Cranmer, Martyr, Haddon, and Taylor — ‘An earnest and correct contemplation of our predestination and election (respecting which it was appointed by the will of God before the foundations of the world were laid). . . soothes the minds of pious men inspired with the Spirit of Christ.’

Bradford — ‘But what go I about to recount the commodities (blessings) coming out of the doctrine of God’s election, in that they be innumerable? This is a sum, that, where a Christian man’ s life has respect to God, to man, and to himself, to ‘live godly, justly, and soberly,’ all is grounded in predestination in, Christ. For who lives ‘godly,’ but he that believes? and who believes but such as are ‘ordained to eternal life’? (Acts 13:48). Who lives ‘justly,’ ‘but such as love their neighbours? and whence springs this love, but of God’s election ‘before the beginning of the world, that we might be blameless by love ?’ (Eph. 1). Who lives ‘soberly,’ but such as be holy? and who are they but only those that be endued with the Spirit of sanctification? which is the seal of our election, which by election do believe.’

Antonie Gylbie — ‘This doctrine is so necessary that upon all occasions it ought with reverence to he uttered to the glory of God, which so wonderfully appeareth in His rich mercy towards, us, whom He choseth from the filth of sin.’


This article first appeared in the October 1956 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine and has been reproduced here in celebration of Reformation Day.

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