by Tom Stewart
In this age of machismo, what do the “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) have to do with Christian Courage? “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). Throughout the ages, the Saints have been blessed by examples of selfless courage of those who have followed in the steps of the Saviour to do the will of God. “And [Christ] made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death; because He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). But, then, who is Hugh Latimer? In short, Hugh Latimer (1485-1555) was a leader of English Protestantism, who followed in the steps of Martin Luther in leading England to depart from the errors of the Church of Rome. “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:5).
Hugh Latimer was the son of an English farmer, educated at Cambridge University, and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1510. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Though reputed as a preacher prior to his conversion to Christ in 1525, after contact with Thomas Bilney– another Cambridge scholar who had come to accept the preeminence of the Scriptures over the preeminence of the Pope– Hugh Latimer was transformed into a mouthpiece for the claims of Christ over the claims of Romanism. “We have also a More Sure Word of Prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a Light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the Day Star arise in your hearts” (2Peter 1:19). Armed with faith in the LORD Jesus Christ for his Eternal Salvation, Latimer used the position of influence that had come to him for the faithful declaration of the Word of God. “10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Whom ye crucified, Whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole. 11 This is the Stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the Head of the Corner. 12 Neither is there Salvation in any other: for there is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).
It is said that Hugh Latimer, with the courage of a lion, approached his immoral sovereign– Henry VIII– with a New Year’s Day gift, a Bible with the leaf turned down to the passage, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). “Then said [John the Baptist] to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). At another time, Henry VIII called Latimer to preach before his court. With towering unction and the plainest language, Hugh Latimer faithfully denounced the king and his courtiers, like John the Baptist before King Herod. “For John said unto [Herod], It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matthew 14:4). Enraged, the king demanded that Latimer retract his denunciations upon the next LORD’s Day. “For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Entering the pulpit, Latimer announced the same text. Then he paused and said:
“Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the King’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease! And then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence comest thou; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God! Who is all present! and Who beholdeth all thy ways! and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.”
Speaking thus, to the amazement of all the court, Latimer renewed his preaching with even greater zeal and strength. “O Earth, Earth, Earth, hear the Word of the LORD” (Jeremiah 22:29). All present were certain that Henry would have Hugh Latimer beheaded; but, the king, subdued by Latimer’s earnestness, exclaimed, “Blessed be God, I have so honest a servant!” And, though Henry VIII is still identified with the debauchery and treachery that brought him to divorce or behead nearly six wives– Catherine Parr, his sixth wife, outlived him– he was instrumental in divorcing the influence of the Church of Rome over what would become Protestant England. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).
And, what became of Hugh Latimer? Henry VIII was succeeded to the throne in 1547 by his sickly young son, Edward VI, whose short reign ended with his death by tuberculosis and the ascension to the throne of the Roman Catholic, Mary Tudor, later vilified as Bloody Mary. “When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase” (Proverbs 28:28). Immediately, Latimer was arrested for treason, tried, and consigned to execution. On October 16th 1555, he and fellow Reformer, Nicholas Ridley, were burned at the stake; and, while at the stake, Latimer exhorted Ridley with the prophetic encouragement,
“We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out.”
“13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, Who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, Who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14 That thou keep this Commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our LORD Jesus Christ: 15 Which in His times He shall shew, Who is the Blessed and Only Potentate, the KING of Kings, and LORD of Lords; 16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; Whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to Whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1Timothy 6:13-16). May God grant to us a like Christian Courage!