From Here to Forever

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A Keen Detector of Error

Wycliffe was a keen detector of error and struck fearlessly against abuses sanctioned by Rome. While chaplain for the king, he took a bold stand against payment of tribute claimed by the pope from the English monarch. Papal assumption of authority over secular rulers was contrary to both reason and revelation. The demands of the pope had excited indignation, and Wycliffe's teachings influenced the leading minds of the nation. The king and the nobles united in refusing the payment of tribute. HF 52.2

Mendicant friars swarmed in England, casting a blight upon the greatness and prosperity of the nation. The monks’ lives of idleness and beggary were not only a drain upon the resources of the people, they brought useful labor into contempt. Youth were demoralized and corrupted. Many were induced to devote themselves to a monastic life not only without the consent of their parents, but even without their knowledge and contrary to their commands. By this “monstrous inhumanity,” as Luther afterward styled it, “savoring more of the wolf and the tyrant than of the Christian and the man,” were the hearts of children steeled against their parents.1 HF 52.3

Even students in the universities were deceived by the monks and induced to join their orders. Once fast in the snare it was impossible to obtain freedom. Many parents refused to send their sons to the universities. The schools languished, and ignorance prevailed. HF 53.1

The pope had bestowed on these monks the power to hear confessions and grant pardon—a source of great evil. Bent on enhancing their gains, the friars were so ready to grant absolution that criminals resorted to them, and the worst vices rapidly increased. Gifts that should have relieved the sick and the poor went to the monks. The wealth of the friars was constantly increasing, and their magnificent edifices and luxurious tables made more apparent the growing poverty of the nation. Yet the friars continued to maintain their hold on the superstitious multitudes and led them to believe that all religious duty was comprised in acknowledging the supremacy of the pope, adoring the saints, and making gifts to the monks. This was sufficient to secure a place in heaven! HF 53.2

Wycliffe, with clear insight, struck at the root of the evil, declaring that the system itself was false and should be abolished. Discussion and inquiry were awakening. Many were led to question whether they should not seek pardon from God rather than from the pontiff of Rome. (See Appendix) “The monks and priests of Rome,” said they, “are eating us away like a cancer. God must deliver us, or the people will perish.”2 Begging monks claimed they were following the Saviour's example, declaring that Jesus and His disciples had been supported by the charities of the people. This claim led many to the Bible to learn the truth for themselves. HF 53.3

Wycliffe began to write and publish tracts against the friars, to call the people to the teachings of the Bible and its Author. In no more effectual way could he have undertaken the overthrow of that mammoth fabric which the pope had erected, in which millions were held captive. HF 54.1

Wycliffe, called to defend the rights of the English crown against the encroachments of Rome, was appointed a royal ambassador in the Netherlands. Here he was brought into communicaton with ecclesiastics from France, Italy, and Spain, and had opportunity to look behind the scenes hidden from him in England. In these representatives from the papal court he read the true character of the hierarchy. He returned to England to repeat his former teachings with greater zeal, declaring that pride and deception were the gods of Rome. HF 54.2

After his return to England, Wycliffe received from the king the appointment to the rectory of Lutterworth. This was an assurance that the monarch had not been displeased by his plain speaking. Wycliffe's influence was felt in molding the belief of the nation. HF 54.3

Papal thunders were soon hurled against him. Three bulls were dispatched commanding immediate measures to silence the teacher of “heresy.”3(See Appendix) HF 54.4

The arrival of the papal bulls laid upon all England a command for the imprisonment of the heretic. (See Appendix) It appeared certain that Wycliffe must soon fall to the vengeance of Rome. But He who declared to one of old, “Fear not: ... I am thy shield” (Genesis 15:1), stretched out His hand to protect His servant. Death came, not to the Reformer, but to the pontiff who had decreed his destruction. HF 54.5

The death of Gregory XI was followed by the election of two rival popes. (See Appendix.) Each called upon the faithful to make war on the other, enforcing his demands by terrible anathemas against his adversaries and promises of rewards in heaven to his supporters. The rival factions had all they could do to attack each other, and Wycliffe for a time had rest. HF 54.6

The schism, with all the strife and corruption which it caused, prepared the way for the Reformation by enabling the people to see what the papacy really was. Wycliffe called upon the people to consider whether these two popes were not speaking the truth in condemning each other as the antichrist. HF 55.1

Determined that the light should be carried to every part of England, Wycliffe organized a body of preachers, simple, devout men who loved the truth and desired to extend it. These men, teaching in market places, in the streets of the great cities, and in country lanes, sought out the aged, the sick, and the poor, and opened to them the glad tidings of the grace of God. HF 55.2

At Oxford, Wycliffe preached the Word of God in the halls of the university. He received the title of “the Gospel Doctor.” But the greatest work of his life was to be the translation of the Scriptures into English, so that every man in England might read the wonderful works of God. HF 55.3