Hugh Latimer and the Heart of Reformation

by Ian Conrey May 9, 2017

For the past 500 hundred years, protestants have remembered and celebrated the Reformation primarily as the rediscovery of biblical truths, which had been shrouded by man-made rituals and myths. We must remember, however, that for many of the reformers, this rediscovery was not about mere head-knowledge or intellectual debates. It was a soul-transforming Gospel, which propelled them to love God, and thus, their neighbors, with their whole lives.

When Hugh Latimer, a 16th century English bishop and teaching fellow at Cambridge, was first introduced to the true Gospel, a wise friend and reformer, Thomas Bilney, “taught him a better way to please God than by creeping to the Cross on Good Friday or lighting candles by the shrines of saints; he took him to visit the sick and to relieve those who were in prison, to teach the poor and to comfort those that were in trouble.”[1]

After discovering the truths of God’s love as revealed through the Gospel, Latimer lost his desire to live for his own safety and began to boldly live out a self-sacrificial life by following and imitating Christ. His studies of the Scriptures brought him to serve others and preach God’s Word to those who desperately needed to hear the truth. Soon, those who were more interested in man-centered doctrines threatened Latimer with death, but he refused to relent. Because of this, on October 16th, 1555, Latimer was sentenced to burn at the stake, following in the same footsteps as Bilney, who was burned four years earlier.

After kneeling for prayer, Latimer was tied back-to-back with another friend and reformer, Nicholas Ridley. Once the wood was laid at their feet and a bag of gunpowder tied around their necks, Latimer said in a confident and loud voice, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out!”[2] As the logs were lit, Latimer bathed himself in the flames and cried out, “Father of Heaven, receive my soul!”[3] Rather than burning out the reformation, as his opponents had hoped, this candle would spread the Gospel like wildfire. England, and consequently much of the world, would never be the same.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we should be reminded that the Gospel is not something we merely know about or believe, nor is it something we merely study or talk about. It is a truth so profound and transformative that we are to surrender our lives to it. We are to live it out to our neighbors through our actions and speech, and we are to gladly lay down our lives for its proclamation to the glory of God. For we know that although the world and its passions will one day pass away, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises found within will never be extinguished.

[1] Loane, Sir Marcus. Masters of the English Reformation. Banner of Truth Trust, Carsile, PA, 2005, p. 118. 

[2] Catley, Stephen. The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe (8 Vols.). 1841, p. 550.

[3] Loane, p. 165. See citation: Ridley. Works. p. 99.

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