Born in 1330, John Wycliffe, was a major factor in bringing about The Great Reformation. Wycliffe is regarded as the leading scholar of the 14th century and is attributed with laying the groundwork for the later events that would lead to the 16th century Great Reformation. Wycliffe has bee labeled as the “Morning Star of the Reformation.”
Wycliffe was a devoted student of the Bible. Although a Catholic himself, he saw that many of the doctrines (teachings) of Catholicism were not biblically supported. Based on his study of Scripture, he wrote and preached against the church’s teachings on purgatory, the sale of indulgences, and the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Because of this, Wycliff was banished from his university and deserted by his friends. However, in his exile, some of his students joined him and together they worked on translating the Bible into the language of the common people so people could read for themselves the truths found in God’s Word. Wycliffe knew that getting the words of Scripture into the language and hearts of the people would change lives and make them less vulnerable to unbiblical teachings and practices.
The Roman Church condemned Wycliff. After he died of a stroke in 1384, orders were given to exhume his body, burn his writings and his bones, and scatter his ashes in a nearby river. Evidently, the church thought they could erase the memory of John Wycliffe . . . but that was not to be. Through his work, the truth of God’s Word was planted like seeds. As the seeds of truth grew, the groundwork was laid for the coming Great Reformation.
Born in 1369, John Hus was ordained as a priest in 1401 and spent much of his career teaching at the Charles University in Prague, Bohemia. He was also the preacher at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. Thousands sat under his teaching and preaching and were blessed by his faithfulness to God’s Word.
As Roman Catholicism continued to dominate the religious landscape of the world with its teachings of justified living by works and papal/church authority, Hus determined the writings of John Wycliffe to be of great significance. Wycliffe taught personal piety and purity based on the Bible as the authority for the church. He denounced the extravagant lifestyles of the clergy and taught that no pope or bishop could establish doctrine contrary to the Bible.
Born in 1494, William Tyndale was known to be called “God’s Outlaw.” Sir Thomas More, one of Tyndale’s most bitter opponents, said of Tyndale, “. . . a man of right good living, studious, and well learned in Scripture, and in diverse places in England was very well liked, and did great good and preaching . . . [he was] taken for a man of sober and honest living, and looked, and preached holily.”
Regardless of his glowing endorsement of Tyndale, Sir Thomas More, along with the King of England and many others, hunted Tyndale and sought to have him destroyed. Why? Because William Tyndale had a consuming passion to translate the Holy Scriptures into English. Tyndale wanted an English Bible so even a common plowman could read it.
Tyndale’s passion to have the Scriptures available to every common man defied the Roman Church. Having a Bible in English was illegal based on a 1408 law, the “Constitutions of Oxford,” which forbade anyone translating or reading any part of the Bible in the language of the people without permission of the ecclesiastical authorities. Whoever read the Scriptures in English could forfeit their lands, goods, and life. They were considered heretics to God, enemies to the Crown, and traitors to the kingdom. Tyndale knew all of this, yet never let it deter him from his work. His words to a Catholic critic were, “If God spare me life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than you do.”
Going underground, Tyndale labored to have the Bible translated in English. He was relentlessly hunted by all manner of enemies, but in 1525 his New Testament was printed and smuggled back into England. It was the first English translation of the Bible from the original Greek. Continuing his work, Tyndale was betrayed by a false friend near Brussels, arrested by imperial forces, and thrown into prison. He was accused of maintaining that faith alone justifies and was found guilty. In 1536 he was strangled and burned at the stake. Tyndale had realized his dream of translating the Bible into English, but just as Wycliffe and Hus who had proceeded him, he was martyred for his faithfulness to Jesus.
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