On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther protested the sale of indulgences by the papal commissioner for indulgences, Johann Tetzel. Tetzel was raising money for Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz, to pay off debts he had incurred in purchasing his bishopric from the pope. Under this plan, Tetzel would sell the grace of God needed for reduction of punishment due for sin. The pope had chosen the right man for the job, as Tetzel’s salesman skills were bringing considerable wealth for the pope and Archbishop Albert.
Tetzel is known for his sales jingle:
As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs
Luther, as a Doctor of the Church and Professor of Bible at Wittenberg University, was acting in his capacity of theologian by challenging the false teaching of the church of Rome. Luther’s friends translated his words into German so that the common man could understand that the Pope, the wealthiest man in the world, was using the money of poor German peasants to build his Basilica of St. Peter, rather than his own substantial wealth. Instead of repentance, the pope of Rome hardened his greedy heart against God (1 Tim 6:10). Eventually, Luther was branded as a heretic and outlaw of the Roman Empire, but through God’s Sovereign Providence was able to miraculously escape being murdered by the pope. Eventually, Luther was able to translate God’s Word into German in 1534; only seven years before the invention of the printing press. The rest is history.
Luther, of course, is a great hero in Protestantism. He wrote against the Babylonian captivity of Christ’s church by the antichrist of Rome; he fought for and defended God’s Word against those that wished to obscure or destroy it, in favour of the traditions (so called) of man, and he restored the the common people the Gospel of Free Grace, as offered in the scriptures.
Many do not know, however, that Luther was not the first to stand up for the Church of Christ against Rome; to promote the Word of God; to preach the Gospel of Grace; etc. There were many – most notably of whom was that great Prince among men, the Morningstar of the Reformation, the venerable John Wycliffe.
Wycliffe (c. 1324 – 31 December 1384) was an Oxford trained theologian, doctor of theology, and lecturer in divinity at Queens College at Oxford University. Wycliffe, as a high ranking official and celebrated academic of Rome, had acquired close first hand experience in observing the treachery, debauchery, and deceit of the Roman pontiff. Wycliffe soon began using his position to expose the vileness, vice, and superstition of the Roman bureaucracy and lost his exalted post. Undaunted, and supported by patrons, Wycliffe continued his assaults and was near to being tried and condemned as a heretic, when the pope died and a civil war broke out between his successors. There were two popes (Urban VI and Clement VII) during this period, one in France and one in Italy, and each was too busy condemning, anathematizing, and excommunicating the other to try Wycliffe. This foolish struggle, by God’s Providence, gave Wycliffe freedom to write against the corrupt antichrist, and made the people all the more ready to hear.
Wycliffe, like Luther after him, set himself to the task of translating the Bible into English. Not a Greek scholar, Wycliffe translated the New Testament Bible from the Latin Vulgate. This translation, though not from the original languages, stands as the fountain head of all further English translation work. Wycliffe’s Bible were of course burned, as well those that read them, but there was a crack in the dam. People who could not read Latin had the opportunity to read God’s Word in the English language for the first time.
Soon, Wycliffe’s followers (Lollards) soon began to preach a pure and restored Gospel, a pure converted church, and began to courageously speak out against the pagan superstitious rituals of the pope; including that great blasphemy – transubstantiation. Wycliffe was influential on countless reformers in England, and Jan Hus and Martin Luther in Germany.
God granted Wycliffe to live a long peaceful life and to die and be buried in old age. The minions of Satan, 41 years after his death, foolheartedly dug up his remains, burned them, and cast them into a river. As foolish as the Pharisees who sealed Jesus’ tomb, they hoped to thwart his resurrection – but rise he will! And no doubt Wycliffe will rise to a most glorious and blessed resurrection.
According to Wikipedia –
The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe (on 4 May 1415) a stiff-necked heretic and under the ban of the Church. It was decreed that his books be burned and his remains be exhumed. The exhumation was carried out in 1428 when, at the command of Pope Martin V, his remains were dug up, burned, and the ashes cast into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth. This is the most final of all posthumous attacks on John Wycliffe, but previous attempts had been made before the Council of Constance. …The “Constitutions of Oxford” of 1408 aimed to reclaim authority in all ecclesiastical matters, specifically naming John Wycliffe in a ban on certain writings, and noting that translation of Scripture into English is a crime punishable by charges of heresy.
May his name always be remembered!
And may God be praised for raising such courageous heros, who would bring to his church – Reformation.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
To learn more about John Wycliffe, hero of the English pre-Reformation, take advantage of some of the following resources:
- Wycliffe by Michael Phillips, Grace Baptist Church, CA
- Wycliffe by Dr. Nick Needham, Crich, Derbyshire, U.K.; part 1
- Wycliffe by Dr. Nick Needham, Crich, Derbyshire, U.K.; part 2