Love Under Fire


First Spokesman of a New Era

God had put the word of truth in Wycliffe's mouth and had protected his life and prolonged his work until he had laid a foundation for the Reformation. There was no one before Wycliffe whose work could help him shape his system of reform. He was the first spokesman of a new era. Yet in the truth he presented there was a unity and completeness that later Reformers did not exceed and that some did not reach. The framework was so firm and true that those who followed him did not need to redo it. LF 41.8

The great movement that Wycliffe began—to set free the nations so long tied to Rome—had its origin in the Bible. Here was the source of the stream of blessing that has flowed down the ages since the fourteenth century. Though Wycliffe had been educated to consider Rome the infallible authority and to accept her thousand-year-old teachings and customs with unquestioning reverence, he turned away from all these to listen to God's Holy Word. He declared that the only true authority was not the church speaking through the pope, but the voice of God speaking through His Word. And he taught that the Holy Spirit is its only interpreter. LF 41.9

Wycliffe was one of the greatest of the Reformers. Few who came after him equaled him. Purity of life, constant diligence in study and labor, incorruptible integrity, and Christlike love characterized the first of the Reformers. LF 42.1

It was the Bible that made him what he was. The study of the Bible will make noble every thought, feeling, and ambition as no other study can. It gives firmness of purpose, courage, and strength. An earnest, reverent study of the Scriptures would give the world people of stronger intellect and of nobler principle than has ever resulted from the best training available from human philosophy. LF 42.2

Wycliffe's followers, known as Wycliffites and Lollards, scattered to other lands and carried the gospel with them. Now that their leader was gone, the preachers worked with even more zeal than before. Many people flocked to listen. Some of the nobility, and even the wife of the king, were among the converts. In many places the people removed Rome's idolatrous symbols from the churches. LF 42.3

But soon relentless persecution burst on those who had dared to accept the Bible as their guide. For the first time in the history of England, the law condemned the disciples of the gospel to the stake. Martyrdom followed martyrdom. Those who preached the truth were hunted as enemies of the church and traitors to the kingdom, yet they continued to preach in secret places. They found shelter in the humble homes of the poor and often hid even in dens and caves. LF 42.4

A calm, patient protest against the corruption of religious faith continued for centuries. The Christians of that early time had learned to love God's Word and patiently suffered for its sake. Many sacrificed their earthly possessions for Christ. Those who were allowed to live in their homes gladly sheltered their banished fellow believers. Then when they too were driven out, they cheerfully accepted the role of the outcast. Many bore fearless testimony to the truth in dungeon cells and in torture and flames, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to know “the fellowship of his sufferings.” LF 42.5

The hatred of the pope's advocates could not be satisfied while Wycliffe's body rested in the grave. More than forty years after his death, they dug up his bones. They then burned them publicly and threw the ashes into a nearby brook. “This brook,” says an old writer, “conveyed his ashes into the Avon River, the Avon into the Severn, the Severn into the narrow seas, and the seas into the main ocean. And so the ashes of Wycliffe are a symbol of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all over the world.”6 LF 42.6

Through the writings of Wycliffe, John Huss of Bohemia came to renounce many of the Catholic Church's errors. From Bohemia the work went out to other lands. A divine hand was preparing the way for the Great Reformation. LF 43.1