The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER SIXTEEN: English Martyrs Nerved for Stake by Prophecies

I. English Reform Movement Differs From Continental


The Protestant Reformation took place in stages during a period of about a century. The commencement is usually reckoned from October 31, 1517, when Luther posted on the Wittenberg church door his theses against indulgences. In Ger many its close is dated from the Peace of Augsburg, in 1555, which confirmed Protestantism in its rights and possessions, recognizing complete national and ecclesiastical independence from the pope. In England many place it from the full establishment of the Protestant church under Queen Elizabeth, about 1563. PFF2 350.1

The Reformation was more than a spiritual formation of the Protestant church. It was more than a spiritual revival, for it brought into being a new ecclesiastical system, establishing the Reformed churches in separation from Rome-national churches, in some cases with secular monarchs at the head. It was a movement of renovation and liberation, spreading in ever-widening circles, from the individual to the group, then to the church, and finally to the nation. PFF2 350.2

Because of the terrific papal reaction, the struggle to maintain the position gained, occupied a much longer period in Central Europe, extending beyond the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In France and England it extended till the close of the seventeenth century, when it was settled in favor of Catholicism in France by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and in favor of Protestantism in England by the act which excluded papal monarchs from the throne. PFF2 350.3


For a clear picture of the English Reformation it is essential to bear in mind four successive royal reigns, in which the tide of Reformation favor ebbed and flowed alternately. These are: PFF2 351.1

1. Henry VIII (1509-1547), a Romanist at heart, breaking with Rome over the divorce issue. PFF2 351.2

2. Protestant Edward VI (1547-1553), son of Henry VIII by Jane Seymour. PFF2 351.3

3. Catholic “Bloody” Mary (I), or Mary Tudor (1553-1558), daughter of Henry VIII by Catherine of Aragon. PFF2 351.4

4. Protestant Elizabeth I (1558-1603), daughter of Henry VIII by Anne Boleyn. 1 PFF2 351.5

It was under Edward VI that Protestantism made its great strides, but the Roman Catholic resurgence under Mary produced that storm period during which the exile of so many Protestant leaders to the Continent took place. Many others—Latimer, Ridley, Hooper, Philpot, Cranmer, et cetera-perished in the fierce fires of Smithfield, and other places. Then, upon Mary’s death, the return of the exiles began. The reaction from Mary’s persecutions did more to establish the Reformation than the favors of her predecessors. 2 A carefully detailed dating of the events in the lives of the English Reformers will be followed, for only by comparing these years with the ebb and flow of Reformation fortunes under these four monarchs, will the picture assume its true and significant pattern. See medals on page 556.) PFF2 351.6


At Smithfield some two hundred persons perished at the stake for religious conviction during a brief four years. In February, 1555, John Rogers and John Bradford, prebendaries of St. Paul’s, and John Philpot, archdeacon of Winchester, were led from prison past friends and families to the stake to die rather than to surrender their Protestant faith based on the evangelic and prophetic Scriptures. An impressive memorial tablet marks the place, and the Smithfield Martyrs Memorial Church, not far away, was built in remembrance of sixty-six of the most prominent. The interior walls bear mural scrolls, tabulating the names of these martyrs, the alleged offenses, and the names of the monarchs under whom they suffered. On the outside life-sized figures in stone depict in relief the martyrdoms in progress—portraying John Rogers, Anne Askew, and others. (Illustrations appear on page 359). PFF2 351.7

Anne Askew, for example, daughter of a Lincolnshire knight, had been in the habit of visiting the cathedral daily, reading there the open Bible in English which, in 1538, Henry VIII had commanded to be placed in all the churches. Anne had been cast out of her home by her Catholic husband because of her deep-rooted religious belief in the Protestant faith. She was finally arrested and put in the Tower of London, and there subjected to the excruciating torture of the rack. On July 16, 1546, suffering from extreme weakness as a result of her tortures, she was carried in a chair to Smithfield, tied with a harsh metal chain to a stake which was surrounded by fagots at the bottom, and under which gunpowder had been placed, and was executed there along with three other Protestants. She was then only about twenty-five years old and the mother of two young children. 3 PFF2 352.1

On the bench sat the lord chancelor, the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Bedford, and the lord mayor of London to witness the tragedy. The lord bishop of Salisbury was deputed to ad monish the victims. After a sermon and prayers, which disturbed the titled spectators, the lord chancelor endeavored to get Anne to recant; but she refused to deny her Lord and Master. So the order for firing the fagots was given. Scenes such as this helped produce the Protestant reaction in the short reign of Edward VI (1547-1553). But again, in the reign of Bloody Mary, the fires were rekindled (1553-1558) when Bradford and Philpot were burned. PFF2 352.2


From the very first, and throughout the Reformation century, the movement was energized and aided by the prophetic Word. Luther never thought of separating from Rome until the pope had given him sufficient reason to recognize in him the predicted Antichrist. The Reformers embodied their prophetic interpretation of Antichrist in their confessions of faith. In this they were united and assured. It determined their reformatory action, and led them to protest against Rome with undaunted courage. It nerved them to resist her claims to the utmos8 Tyndale, The Obedience of a Christian Man, in Works, vol. 1, p. 307. t. It made them martyrs, and sustained them at the stake. Moreover, these views were shared by hundreds and thousands. PFF2 353.1


The fact is conspicuous, and well-nigh universal among English Reformers, that prophetic emphasis now centers on those portions of prophecy dealing with the supremacy and decline of the Papacy as the predicted Antichrist of Daniel, Jesus, Paul, and John—just as in the early centuries it was focused on Rome as the fourth prophetic empire, next upon Rome’s division, and then upon the impending Antichrist that had not yet been identified. And now, as in Roman days, a great cluster of witnesses in various countries—Germany, Switzerland, England, France, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries—were giving the same emphasis. It is one of those clear evidences of the trend of the times, and was a fundamental part of the Reformation message. PFF2 353.2


The educational and ecclesiastical achievements of prophetic interpreters are rather uniformly cited, not to laud scholastic degrees and churchly office, but to show that the leaders in evangelical and prophetic reform were among the most highly trained, capable, and brilliant men that the realm afforded-leaders and molders of thought, keen scholars, and in sheer ability the peers of any of their opposers. The witnesses will appear in chronological sequence, for this will best unfold the developing picture. 4 PFF2 353.3