HAIL & FIRE - a resource for Reformed and Gospel Theology in the works, exhortations, prayers, and apologetics of those who have maintained the Gospel and expounded upon the Scripture as the Eternal Word of God and the sole authority in Christian doctrine.
John Wycliffe - The Morning Star: Documentary-styled drama about the life of John Wycliffe (1324-1384ad), an English Reformer who defended and preached the authority of Scripture alone. In so doing, he challenged Papal authority, pointed a finger at the amassed wealth of the Church and clergy, denied the right of the Church to define doctrine after its own mind, overturned the un-Scriptural doctrines of the Church openly - doctrines such as transubstantiation, and gained the ill-will of his fellow priests and clergy. In an effort to educate the people Wycliffe translated the Bible from the old Latin versions into an English that could commonly be read and understood, and he sent out traveling preachers, who came to be known as 'Lollards,' to make the Word of God known to the common people from whom it had been withheld. The story is highly recommended for a better understanding of the course of events that lead two centuries later to Protestant Reformation.
"Historical Tales for Young Protestants"
HAIL & FIRE REPRINTS 2008
Fact is as attractive as fiction, and is of much higher moral value. The pages of history contain incidents which equal in thrilling interest the most successful efforts of the human imagination. From its ample records, the following short stories, connected with the rise and progress of Scriptural Protestantism, have been selected. If it has been found necessary to advert to the dark deeds of the papacy, it is from the conviction that the principles and spirit in which they originated in former ages are not extinct in the present day. In supplying books for the young, it may be well to make them the means of fortifying their minds against soul-destroying error, and of establishing them in those great doctrines in the defence of which their forefathers suffered and died.
I: The Merchant of Lyons
About seven hundred years ago, there lived at Lyons, in France, a wealthy merchant of the name of Peter Waldo. His house was on a tongue of land which divides the two into beautiful rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. The walls of the city, even at that period, were old and grey. By gloomy gate-ways the traveller entered close, narrow streets. Houses, six or seven stories high, were ornamented with richly carved work in wood; and their overhanging roofs almost touched at the projecting parts, casting deep shadows on the pathway below. The town had been long noted for its commerce; and the quays and wharfs on both rivers presented a busy scene. The place had then, for more than five hundred years, been the chief seat of the silk trade in France. The clicking sound of the loom was heard in almost every house. Numerous trees had been planted without the city walls, on which silk worms were bred,
Peter Waldo had lived in great reputation as a merchant. Success had attended his labours, and he was known among his fellow-citizens as a man of honour, liberality, and kindness of spirit. In the midst of his prosperity an event took place, which led him to feel anxious for the salvation of his soul. He was sitting in the company of some friends. After supper, as they were engaged in pleasant conversation, one of them fell to the ground, and when he was raised it was found that he was dead. From that time Waldo became a diligent inquirer after truth. He looked around, and saw the people carried away by sin, and then seeking to satisfy a guilty conscience with the false doctrines and vain ceremonies of the church of Rome. But in these peace was not to be found. The priests could not satisfy his mind as to the great question, " How shall a man be just with God?" He knew he was a sinner; his conscience told him so. He knew he was not fit to die; and when he asked, "What must I do to be saved?" he was not satisfied with all the answers the Romish priests gave him. The Bible would have told him; but Waldo had not the holy book. Rich as he was, he had not that best of all treasures: the few copies which then existed were in libraries to which the common people had not access. Besides, they were all written in Latin, so that a person had to be learned in that tongue in order to read a Bible, provided he could by any means get sight of one.
Some books of piety soon afterwards fell into the hands of Peter Waldo, written by the "early fathers," as they are called - pious men, who lived after the apostles, and before the Christian religion was corrupted by the priests of Rome. In these books he found many passages from the New Testament, and much that brought light and comfort to his soul. These parts only made him more anxious to secure the whole of the Bible.
After much labour, Peter Waldo was so happy as to own a copy of God's word. It must have been a large sum of money that he gave for it; yet what a treasure it proved to him! He did not think the money misspent or the time misapplied that he gave to the study of it. These were nothing, in comparison with the blessed truths which it made known to him. It taught him the "new and living way" of approaching God, through Jesus Christ, the only Saviour and Mediator; it told him that a contrite and believing heart is what God requires; it was heart service that was the "reasonable service." Before, he was perplexed and troubled; now, he was peaceful and glad. Peter Waldo felt like a new man; the burden was gone from his soul; light was there, and comfort, for he had found mercy through faith in Christ Jesus.
Waldo had been long known in the city for his kindness to all; he had freely given of his wealth to relieve the wants of the people, but now, while he did not forget to give to those that needed of the things that perish, he was more concerned that they should seek the bread of life for their souls. The Bible had taught him how he might be saved, and he desired to tell others the good news. He looked around, and beheld everybody groaning under the heavy loads which the priests had put upon them.
There was one thing which Peter Waldo now desired more than anything else; that the Scriptures might be translated into the language of the people. The translation then in use was the Vulgate, so called because it was to be for "common" use in the churches. It was in the Latin tongue; and though the languages of Europe had a mixture of Latin words in them, they were still so unlike it that the common, or vulgar people, (formerly the word vulgar was of the same sense as common,) could not read it, even if they had been permitted to do so.
What should we do without the Bible in our own language? The Bible in Latin would be a useless book to most of us; and yet it was just the plan of the Romish priests to keep it in another tongue that others might be ignorant of its sacred truths. "The people must have it in their own tongue," said Peter Waldo, and the work was soon begun. It is not quite certain whether he translated it himself, or caused it to be done by others. Perhaps he did a part of it, and engaged able persons to do the rest.
It was a very great labour; but having read the Bible himself, he spared neither money nor pains that it might be placed in the hands of his countrymen. At length, some of the books were completed, and this was the first translation of the Bible into a modern language. It was done by, or at the expense of a rich merchant. Did ever a man of wealth do a better work? What a blessed gift it was to the people of that land!
When the Bible was finished, it could not be largely circulated; for this was before the art of printing was known. Written copies had to be made with the pen, demanding long and patient labour; and when finished, a complete copy was worth a large sum of money. The pious merchant, however, had numerous copies of the New Testament written, that they might be freely given to the people: and many had the privilege of reading it in their own language. All honour to the brave and good man who thus gave the word of God to the men of France.
But this great service was not enough for Peter Waldo. He was not only the founder of a Bible Society, he began to form also a Missionary Society. Great numbers in the city had been brought, through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to love the Saviour, and these he sent out, two by two, into all the region around. They carried their books with them into other lands. Multitudes were led to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, through the humble efforts of these "poor men of Lyons," as they were called.
These colporteurs, or book-hawkers, not only made their way into the homes of the lowly, but found access to the castles of the nobles. Their manner, as related by a Romish historian, was to carry a box of trinkets, or other goods, and travel the country as pedlers. When they entered the houses of the gentry, to sell some of their wares, they cautiously made known that they had other goods that were far more valuable than these - precious jewels, which they would show if they might be permitted to do so. They would then bring from their pack or from under their cloak, a Bible or Testment, and as they spoke of its worth, they urged that this holy book might find a place in the homes and hearts of those who heard them. In this way many of the nobles and gentry were brought to possess the word of God. A poet has described one of these hawkers displaying jewels and silks to view, and thus addressing the lady of the castle:
It was not to be supposed that the pope and the priests looked quietly on the labours of Peter Waldo and his book-hawkers. The pope anathematized him, or pronounced him accursed, and ordered the archbishop of Lyons to proceed against him with the greatest rigour. The archbishop was very willing to obey. "If you teach any more," said he to the merchant, "I will have you condemned as a heretic and burnt." "How can I be silent in a matter which concerns the salvation of men?" he boldly answered. Officers were sent to secure him, but they feared the people, to whom Peter Waldo had become endeared. During three years he was concealed by his friends. At length the merchant could stay at Lyons no longer in safety. He fled from the city, going from place to place, everywhere explaining and teaching Bible truth; and God blessed his labours.
Waldo and his missionaries were treated very badly by their enemies; they were called "sorcerers," "cut-purses," and " tur-lupins," or people living with wolves. They had often nowhere to lay their heads, and were forced to find refuge in the forest. "Poor men of Lyons" became a term of reproach. It could be said of them, as of good men in Bible times, "They wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth, being destitute, afflicted, tormented;" and it may be truly added, "Of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb 11:37-38). While burning at the stake, they praised God for the privilege of labouring and suffering for Him who had died on the cross for them. Thirty-five pious men and women were burned in one fire, and eighteen suffered martyrdom at another time.
God's blessed truth, however, cannot be burned out, or rooted out, or put out, by any way of men's devising. God himself will take care of it. In spite of the anger of their enemies, in all the countries whither Peter Waldo and his missionaries went, the truth made its way, converting and comforting many souls. Thus were planted the seeds, the little seeds of true Bible religion, which, three or four hundred years afterwards, sprang up and aided in promoting the great Protestant Reformation - that Reformation which established Bible religion again on the earth, and gave a great blow to the power of the pope.
But what became of Peter Waldo? After doing much good, and presenting a noble example as a Christian, he went into Bohemia, where he peacefully died, in the year 1179. From that time to this present day his name is held in great respect - not because he was a great merchant or a rich man - but because he gave himself and his all to the service of our Lord; and because he was the first in Europe to give the word of God to the common people in their own language.
Many of the followers of Peter Waldo, after long and great trial, joined the Vaudois, or Waldenses - a hardy and simple-minded people, who had never submitted to the church of Rome. They were one in faith, and they were now willing to live together as mutual helps in the gospel. Thus united, though almost unknown to the world, they were, for ages, like a "little flock," dwelling alone in the lovely and quiet valleys of Piedmont. It is true, that persecutors, as fierce wolves, often broke upon the fold to worry and destroy them; but to the present day "a remnant" has been left, who continue faithful to the truth.
As we read of those who have formed a part of the church in other days, may we feel a concern to partake of the same faith - that faith which savingly unites the soul to Christ, and which will keep it stedfast to his cause in a sinful world. Then in the kingdom of glory we shall meet with all those, from every land, who passed through fiery trials on earth, and who, having "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," shall stand before the throne of God forever (Rev 7:14).
The Waldenses existed centuries before Waldo. The name Waldo is taken either from a Latin word, meaning one who lives in a dense valley, that is, a dalesman; or from a German word, meaning one who lives in a wood.
II: The Good Parson of Lutterworth
In the reign of Edward the Third, a crowd of the citizens of London were seen on their way to old St. Paul's. As they hurried along the narrow streets, and collected around the doors of the cathedral, their loud voices, and violent actions, showed that they were engaged in angry debate. It was evident that some unusual event had drawn them from their homes so early on that winter's morning.
A priest, named John Wycliffe, was about to appear, to answer charges that had been brought against him. As they gathered into clusters the accused arrived, dressed in a plain black robe, with a small round cap on his head. His long grey beard spread over his breast. He looked calm, as though the tumult of the people awoke in him no fear. Passing through tha throng, he entered a small ancient chapel, which formed a part of the cathedral, where a bishop and the judges had already taken their seats. The accused was not alone. Two noblemen, clothed in velvet and gold walked by his side. One of them, the Duke of Lancaster, placed himself on his left hand: the other, Lord Percy, stood on his right. When the popish judges saw the powerful friends who had come to support his cause, they were filled with rage; and charged the two noblemen as being enemies to their religion and the king. Provoked by these words, the duke in return threatened the bishop, and soon the whole assembly was in confusion, John Wycliffe standing all the while before his judges without speaking a word.
When the people who were at the doors heard the noise within, they cried aloud against the good priest; then running through the streets to the palace of the Duke of Lancaster, the most beautiful mansion in the kingdom, they began to pull it down. In their rage they committed murder on a person that was passing near the spot.
These ignorant people had been told by some designing priests that Wycliffe and his friends intended to destroy the religion of the land, and in their ignorance they were driven to these acts of violence. It was like the scene when the apostle Paul was at Ephesus; "and the whole city was filled with confusion," because the idol-makers, who feared they should lose their gains, stirred up the people to oppose the preaching of the gospel.
Nearly twelve months passed away, and Wycliffe once more stood in the same place, and before the same judges. There was again a great crowd of people; but they were not then crying out against him, and demanding that he should be sent to prison. Since the pious priest was last there they had better understood his character, and had learned to value his preaching. He was now known to them as the "gospel doctor."
The people had come to support his cause. They forced their way before the court, and demanded that he "should not be hurt." The priests were alarmed at what they saw and heard; and though they had hoped to have condemned him, they were glad to let him depart freely to his home.
Is it asked, "What was the crime that brought Wycliffe into such trouble? The answer is - The pope of Rome had sent three letters, or "bulls," as they were called, to England - one to the bishops, another to the university of Oxford,
READ John Wycliffe's Writtings: "Against the Order of Friars"
READ John Wycliffe's Writtings: "Against the Order of Friars"
There were at this time in England many thousands of persons called monks and friars. The monks were those who lived alone or separate from other people; their houses were called monasteries, or places of retirement: the term friars signifies "brothers." Of these latter were the begging friars, who, it is said, "swarmed throughout England" at this time. They travelled over the land, forcing their way into the houses of rich and poor, living without any cost, and taking all the money they could obtain. Though they assumed poverty, they were not "poor in spirit"; not were they "the meek of the earth." Like the Pharisees of old, they pretended to be better and holier than others, though their lives were full of evil. They "taught for doctrine the commandments of men," and declared that all who belonged to their order were sure of salvation.
When Wycliffe saw the conduct of the frairs, his heart was much grieved. The best way to oppose them he knew would be to write a book against them; and a book was written in which he called them "the pests of society, the enemies of religion, and the promoters of every crime." Angry and annoyed at the exposure, they were ready to help the pope in the hope of getting the writer sentenced by the judges to the dungeon or to death. Wycliffe, however, continued to write and preach against them, and with so much labour and zeal that his health began to suffer. One day, lying on his bed, and, as it was thought, nigh to his end, some of these frairs made their way into his room. They rushed to his couch, began to upbraid him for what he had done, and called on him to express his sorrow before he died. For some time he heard them in silence; then, desiring his servants to raise him up, he cried aloud, "I shall not die but live, and shall again declare the evil deeds of the friars." Alarmed at his courage, they fled in haste from the room.
When Wycliffe got well, he retired to the little market town in Leicestershire, of which he was the priest. In this place he entered on his great work - that of translating the Bible into the English language as it was then spoken [Wycliffe's Bible was translated from Latin into English - H&F]. To give the people the word of God was the best way of fulfilling his threat against the friars. He knew that the Bible was God's great gift to the whole human family; why, then, should not his countrymen possess it? To give it them would be something worth living for; and so he diligently set about his task.
It was a long and difficult work for one man to undertake; but faith and love carried him through it. The word of God was precious to his own soul; and he knew that what had been a blessing to himself could be made a blessing to thousands. So onward he went in his work, with prayer and patience; and as he went along, he found instruction and comfort for himself, whilst he was providing for the spiritual good of others.
Year after year he saw the fruits of his study increase: one page and then another were done; until at length, in the year 1380, the last verse of the New Testament was translated, and the Bible completed in its English dress. We may think we see him looking upon the pile of writing he had made, then falling on his knees to give God thanks, imploring him to bless the truth to the souls of the people.
Copies of the whole or separate books of Wycliffe's translation are still found in public libraries. A perfect and beautiful specimen is to be seen in the British Museum.
All books in those days were very scarce and costly, for the art of printing was not then known. Before the year 1300, the library of the University of Oxford consisted only of a few tracts, chained, or kept in chests, in the choir of St. Mary's church. Copies of all books were made in writing; and as this was a slow and careful work, it took several months for one person to write a complete Bible. How different is it now, when a printing machine will produce fifteen to twenty copies of the Bible every hour, and thousands every year.
And then as to the cost. Richard of Bury, Chancellor of England under Edward the Third, spared no expense in collecting a library; the first, perhaps, that any private man had formed. Yet so scarce were valuable books, that he gave an abbey fifty pounds weight of silver for between thirty and forty volumes. The book of Psalms, with brief notes written in the margin, was valued at a sum equal to £7 10s. of our present money. A copy of the New Testament was sold for £2 16s. 8d., a sum equal to six months' income of a tradesman, for about five pounds were considered enough to keep a farmer or trader in those times, when so few of the comforts we now enjoy were known. But costly as was the purchase, it was cheerfully paid. And great as was the danger of those who dared to read the word of God, there were some who bravely met it.
Written copies of Wycliffe's Bible were eagerly sought after by those who could read. There in a castle some rich nobleman might have been seen with one of these written Bibles before him, "in fair characters on vellum." If it had been the twenty-third Psalm on which his attention was fixed, it would have presented itself with the following peculiar spelling and Saxon letters:
[view image at right for actual Saxon letters]
"pe title of pe xxiii. salm ey pe song of dauid.
"pe lord gouernep me. j no ping schal fail to me: in pe place of pasture ye he hap set me. He nurschide me on pe watir of refreischyng: he conuertide my soule. He ledde me forp on pe papis of ritzfulnesse: for his name. For whit pouz y schal go in pe myddis of schadewe of deep: y schal not drede yuels. for pou art wip me. pi zerde and pi staff: po han coufortid me. pou hast maad redi aboord in my sizt: azens hem pat troblen me. pou hast maad fat myn heed wip oyle: and my cuppe pat fillep me is full cleer. And pi merci schal sue me: in alle pe doies of my lyf. And pt y dwelle in pe hows of pe lord: in to pe lengpe of daies."
But though a nobleman might be found who could read the Bible, yet from the want of learning, as well as books being scarce and costly, there were only a small number of the people who could possess the word of God. Even some of the nobles and gentry could not write their names; and not many of the common people were able to read. Perhaps not more than one in a small town or village was learned enough to read and write. We may, then, suppose what was the state of the land when the people had no gospel preached to them, and few possessed the Scriptures, or could peruse any book likely to be the means of doing good to their souls. England, indeed, had been for ages without the light that cometh from heaven. Errors and foolish rites, like dark clouds, were spread over the land.
It was at such a time that Wycliffe arose as a light in the darkness; and, like the star that appeared over the fields of Bethlehem, he guided many souls to the Saviour. The numerous books he wrote were spread abroad in the same manner as his written Bible. He also prepared many sermons, about three hundred of which have been preserved to the present day. From these we learn what were the truths he taught the people.
The priests said that human merits and sufferings, penance and pilgrimages, would certainly entitle them to heaven; but Wycliffe taught that sinful man could not save himself, and that mercy was only to be found through faith in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. The priests asserted that images should be honoured, and that there were many mediators; but the bold reformer said that the worship of images was idolatry, and that saints and angels were not to be prayed to, for "there is but one Mediator between God and men." He maintained that the church of Rome is no more the head of the churches than any other church; and that the apostle Peter had no more power given him than to any other apostle; and for all his doctrines he referred to the word of God, maintaining that it was the only safe guide to a Christian man. In many other ways he opposed the doings and teachings of the priests of the Romish church.
Wycliffe did not quite receive all the great Bible truths in all their fulness:
The "good parson" was much beloved in his own parish; and many came from the villages around to his church that they might hear the gospel from his lips.* He was often seen, with a portion of his written Bible under his arm, and staff in hand, visiting from house to house. The mansions of the gentry, the dwellings of the farmers, and the cottages of the field-labourers, were favoured alike with his pastoral visits. He was the friend of all: he was ready to teach and comfort and pray for all at all times. Thus he lived, seeking the good of souls, his enemies opposing him even to the end of his days; though God did not permit them to cast him into prison, nor to bring him to a cruel death, as they desired.
Continual labour at length broke drown his health. One day, when in church, he was seized with a fatal attack of disease, and sunk to the ground. He was carried into his house, where he lay in a speechless state for two days, and then died. But though he was removed, he left behind him many disciples, who carried on the good work which he had so well begun.
Though Wycliffe never left his own land, to preach the truth across the seas, it was carried into almost every country of Europe by his writings. His tracts and sermons were read by many awakened minds, and were the means of preparing them for a full knowledge of the gospel.
* The carved oak pulpit in which he preached, the table on which he wrote, the chair in which he died, and the velvet robe, nearly destroyed by time, which he wore, are still preserved in the vestry of Lutterworth church.
As his enemies could not prevail against him while he lived, they showed their hatred of his name and doctrine after his death. When his remains had lain in the grave for forty-one years, they were dug and burned, and the ashes cast into the little river Swift, which flows near the town where he laboured. Thence, as an old writer says, they passed into the great river Severn, then in their onward course into the narrow seas, and at last into the wide ocean;
In this simple tale we see through what struggle and dangers some have passed for the gospel's sake. The practical lesson we are taught is, to be at all times decided for the truth. By being decided, we do not mean to be noisy, or forward, or stubborn. One of the fruits of the Spirit is gentleness, which consists with the greatest firmness and decision in that which is right. We must in meekness instruct those that oppose the word of God. (2 Tim. ii. 25.) Whilst we are "valiant for the truth upon the earth," we are to speak that truth in love. (Jer. ix. 3; Eph. iv. 15.) Be decided, then, for God's word in opposition to all error.
Let us be thankful for those whom God has raised up as examples of holy decision. They laboured, and we enjoy the benefit of their labours. They planted a little sapling, which took root, and has become a great tree, under whose boughs we now sit in peace. It was through God's grace working in them that we now possess a free and full Bible. Let us, then, give heed to the truths it contains, and yield our hearts to the gracious Saviour it makes known.
III: The Bohemian Witness.
In the country that once formed the kingdom of Bohemia is a wide district known as the Black Forest. Its northern parts consist of lofty mountains, whose rough ridges and peaks tower aloft to the height of five thousand feet. Some of these mountain tops are bleak and barren, and during a great part of the year are covered with snow, which reflects a variety of colours as the frequent changes of light and shade of the sky pass over them. Others are covered with thick woods and forests of pine trees, presenting a bold, wild, and beautiful scene to the eye of the traveller. Ruins of castles, the homes of the nobles of former ages, still stand on many of these heights.
In the southern portion of this range, the forest has been long since cleared by the hand of man. On their lovely slopes are pasture grounds and cornfields, orchards and vineyards, with farms standing here and there. Rivulets and lakes formed by the ...
more to come . . .
"Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise" Heb 11:36-39 KJV