Category: Church History

Protestant Profiles #11: William Perkins

William Perkins (1558-1602) 

Born: Warwickshire, England
Role: Preacher, university fellow, early Puritan reformer
Emphases: practical piety, covenant of grace, sola Scriptura, solo Christus, double predestination
Protested against: forced religious conformity; religious formalism; kneeling at Communion; Pelagianism

With his lifetime spanning the reign of the mildly Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, William Perkins was one of the most significant figures in the early phase of English Puritanism. One of his biographers, Carl Trueman, has described him as “doubtless the most influential English theologian of his time” – noting his enormous influence on subsequent generations of English and Dutch Protestantism through both his writings and students.

The traditions surrounding Perkins’ life portray him as a drunkard and no-hoper who had a dramatic religious conversion while studying at Cambridge in the 1570s. His early ministry does demonstrate a heart for those from the wrong side of the tracks, as he became the equivalent of a prison chaplain, preaching every Sunday to the inmates near Cambridge. There is a remarkable story of Perkins praying for a young man moments before his execution and sharing the gospel with him, leading to the astonishing conversion and comfort of the condemned criminal.

[When Perkins’ prayer had ended, the young man] rose from his knees cheerfully, and went up the Ladder again comforted, and took his death with such patience and alacrity, as if he actually saw himself delivered from the hell which he feared before…

This illustrates the way God used Perkins as a minister to so many people, gifting him with an exceptional capacity for pastoral care and resolving issues of conscience, doubts about salvation and fear about eternity. His Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience (published after his death) was a very influential work on how pastors might address the spiritual concerns of their parishioners. This was the beginning of the art the Puritans sought to master in subsequent years – taking the biblical truths recovered in the Reformation and turning them into a kind of applied science of pastoral care to promote healthy growth in godliness and Christlikeness.

This was Perkins’ major contribution to the English Reformation: holding firmly to Protestant and Calvinist theological emphases and seeking to ensure that the implications of these beliefs were fully realized in Christian life and pastoral ministry. He famously described theology as “the science of living blessedly forever.” ‘Practical divinity’ as the Puritans would come to call it, was all about knowing God in truth and having a vibrant spirituality based on that knowledge.

Perkins did not push as hard for ecclesiastical or doctrinal reform within the wider, established English church (that had embraced a stagnant via media during Elizabeth’s reign in the name of religious “settlement”) as some of his contemporaries and successors. However, he did land in controversy for taking the classic English Protestant stance against kneeling at communion, on the basis that it conveyed a wrong notion of reverence which was residue from Rome rather than biblical practice.

The scope of his influence can be appreciated, at least in part, from the distribution of his writings and the significance of those who learned from him and built upon his approach to theology and ministry.
As Beeke and Pederson recount in their biographical sketch of Perkins: “By the time of his death, Perkins’s writings in England were outselling those of Calvin, Beza, and Bullinger combined.” An incredible feat indeed.

Perkins had a major impact on a younger generation of Puritan pastors who would themselves continually think about how to apply the grand truths of Reformed theology in a pastoral manner that was conducive to assurance, piety and spiritual growth. William Ames and Richard Sibbes are notable examples. His influence extended both to Calvinist churchmen such as Archbishop James Ussher and the emergent Congregationalists, including Thomas Goodwin and John Robinson.

In today’s religious climate there are a range of problems posed by dry Protestant orthodoxy and people who are better suited to online theological wrangling than pastoral ministry on the one hand, and wishy-washy approaches to counselling and spirituality divorced from solid biblical doctrine on the other. In times where cold Calvinism, hollow liberalism and frothy spirituality all gratify the carnal, prideful nature of sinful people – Perkins’ commitment to biblical truth, theologically-informed piety and gospel-saturated pastoral care challenges us to take stock of how we’re approaching the Scriptures, life and ministry God has graciously given to us.

 

Sources

Carl Trueman, “William Perkins” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals

“William Perkins” in Joel Beeke & Randall Pederson, Meet the Puritans

“William Perkins” wikipedia

Samuel Clarke, “The Marrow of Ecclesiastical History” (1654)

 

Protestant Profiles #1-10 The 16th Century

Lion & Phoenix is celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with a series of Protestant Profiles, featuring significant figures from the last five centuries. We’re nearly a third of a way through as we approach the anniversary on 31 October and I thought it would be good to provide a “catch-up” for anyone reading who may have missed some of the brief biographical sketches included so far.

Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church Door, instigating the Reformation

Our upcoming profile on William Perkins will take us out of the 16th century, so here are the notables from the 1500s we’ve featured in the series.

1 Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
2 Ulrich Zwingli (1484 – 1531)
3 Jean Calvin (1509 – 1564)
4 Philip Melancthon (1497 – 1560)
5 Heinrich Bullinger (1504 – 1575)
6 Theodore Beza (1519 – 1605)
7 William Tyndale (1494-1536)
8 John Knox (1513 – 1572)
9 John Bradford (1510–1555)
10 Queen Jane of England (c. 1537 – 1554)

We also featured a couple of posts in the lead up to the series on some of the predecessors to the Reformation from early and medieval church history. You can follow these links to read about Irenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine and about Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

While doing the series I’ve been continuing my (now doctoral) research into Thomas Watson and in exploring his influences and sources, I’ve encountered many other significant early Reformation figures, including some I’d never heard of. I realised that I could easily have devoted this entire series to the first and second generation of Reformers – but from the beginning I had planned to span Protestant history to chart out how the gospel has gone forth across the centuries.

But for interest’s sake, here are a few of the early Reformation figures I might have included, had I chosen to go down the alternative route.

Martin Bucer
Peter Martyr Vermigli
Pierre Viret
Girolamo Zanchi
Andre Rivet
Antoine de la Faye
Caspar Cruciger
Zacharias Ursinus
Martin Chemnitz
Andreas Hyperius
Johannes Oecolampadius
Theodore Bibliander
Sebastian Hofmeister
Simon Grynaeus
Jan Laski
Patrick Hamilton
George Wishart
John Hooper
Nicholas Ridley
Hugh Latimer

 

Protestant Profiles #10: Jane Grey

Jane Grey (c. 1537 – 1554)

 

Born: Leicestershire or London, England
Role: Temporary successor to Edward VI as monarch of the Kingdom of England, martyr
Emphasised: justification by faith
Protested against: transubstantiation

As England’s piously Protestant, but short-lived king Edward VI (son and successor of Henry VIII) neared his death from tuberculosis, the heirless ruler was certain to be succeeded by one of three women: Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s eldest child), Elizabeth Tudor (his other daughter) or Lady Jane Grey (Henry VIII’s grand-niece).

All, in fact, would succeed him at various points in the next 5 years – but the immediate question of who would preserve the political and religious status quo after his death was one of the utmost seriousness. In fact, it would prove to be deadly serious for the first woman to bear the weight of the Crown.

Jane Grey was a teenager during the reign of her cousin Edward and was both a brilliant student and a devout Protestant. The convergence of her noble status, academic intelligence and evangelical piety led to her correspondence with significant figures in the first and second generation of Protestant Reformers, including Martin Bucer and Heinreich Bullinger – both of whom were like spiritual and intellectual fathers to her. Well versed in the Scriptures, theology and the classics – including being a diligent student of Latin, Greek and Hebrew – Jane was a remarkable young female scholar in a period when women scarcely attained such an education. Her faith also appears to have outshone many of her noble peers – including her own parents, whose vices appear to have precluded genuine religious observance.

The circumstances surrounding Jane’s proclamation as Queen of England and her de facto reign of but a few days are truly tragic. From King Edward’s perspective she was a more suitable Protestant successor to his Catholic half-sister Mary and even his other, moderately Protestant, half-sister Elizabeth. Both had been removed from the line of succession by a legal and ecclesiastical declaration that they were not legitimate children of Henry VIII and therefore ineligible to be his heirs. There was a perceived likelihood of either of them marrying a foreign Catholic prince or monarch and thus compromising the established position of Protestantism in England. Jane was already married to a Protestant English nobleman and her solid commitment to evangelical religion made her a kindred spirit with her cousin the King.

But Edward was not the main person driving the plan to see Jane succeed him as Queen. The young Lady was seen as the ideal monarch by her parents and her even more powerful in-laws, who wished to consolidate their political position in the kingdom and effectively rule through the new Queen. Their motives appear to have had little to do with maintaining religious liberty for Protestants and everything to do with personal advancement.

Edward’s sincere religious concerns and the political machinations of Jane’s family resulted in her becoming Queen on 9 June 1553. The royal office was thrust upon her in a sort of ambush – she was informed of Edward’s will for her to succeed him only moments after learning of his death. After initially refusing the crown on the basis that the right belonged not to her, but to Princess Mary (a view that was overwhelmingly shared by the English people), she reluctantly concluded that perhaps this fell within God’s providential will for her.

The dukes plead with Jane to accept the crown.

 

Those who had plotted to make Jane queen failed miserably in their attempt to establish her reign over the country. Supporters of Mary were able to show enough military force to assert her claim to the throne and displace Jane a mere nine days after her proclamation as queen. England would now have a Catholic monarch instead of a deeply Protestant one and Mary’s reign would see the deaths of many a Protestant martyr.

Numbered among those martyrs would be Jane herself. She was spared at first by her usurper, but committed to imprisonment in the Tower of London where she would spend the remainder of her life. An abortive insurrection was carried out by the Protestant Thomas Wyatt against Queen Mary in 1554, which hardened the authorities against keeping Jane and her (also incarcerated) husband Guildford Dudley alive any longer.

While her execution was a politically motivated one – to remove her as a potential, alternative Protestant ruler to Mary – the nature of the circumstances also make her a Protestant martyr. Her Protestant faith had been a significant element in her candidature for the English throne during Edward’s final days and it remained the factor that made her a perceived, ongoing risk to the security of Mary’s reign. Mary sent her chaplain to convert Jane to Catholicism while on death row, but Jane steadfastly remained true to what she knew was the biblical Christian faith. She was even offered a royal pardon if she would convert, but counted the truth more precious than her earthly life and refused.

Like many figures in the early Reformation, Jane was subjected by the Catholic authorities to a public disputation concerning the some of the articles of faith in contention between them. She gave a spirited defence of justification by faith and confessed the Protestant understanding of the sacraments against the unbiblical beliefs of the Catholics.
The night before her execution, Jane wrote the following exhortation to her younger sister Katherine:

Rejoice in Christ, as I do. Follow the steps of your master Christ, and take up your Cross: lay your sins on his back, and always embrace him. And as touching my death, rejoice as I do (good Sister) that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life: the which I pray God grant you, and send you of his grace to live in his fear, and to dye in the true Christian faith, from the which (in God’s name) I exhort you that you never swerve, neither for hope of life, nor for fear of death.

At her execution itself she made the following confession and plea to those in attendance:

I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I dye a true Christian woman, and that I do look to be saved by no other means, but only by the mercy of God in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ: and I confess that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, loved my self and the world, & therefore this plague and punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins: and yet I thank God of his goodness that he has thus given me a time and respite to repent: and now (good people) while I am alive I pray you assist me with your prayers.

Flagg_-_Lady_Jane_Grey

 

Jane is a significant figure for who she was, but just as much for who she might have been. She deserves to be recognised and remembered as a pious and scholarly star among her peers; as one whose position and reputation was maliciously exploited by the people who should have loved her – but were far less honourable than she was. Though a victim of political skulduggery, she stood firm in the face of execution and became one of the most high-profile martyrs of the English Reformation. Although John Rogers has been rightly identified as the first English Protestant martyr (on a purely religious basis) of the ‘Marian persecutions’ beginning in 1555 that would characterise Mary’s bloody reign – Jane’s execution was the first stroke of political and religious violence by the new regime against a woman who stood firmly for the biblical faith.

There is a chance that had this Protomartyress of Mary Tudor’s terror been recognised as Edward’s successor and remained as Queen of England she could have been the greatest Protestant ruler the country had ever seen. While the political operators who sought the throne through her may have made her reign difficult for her, Protestant clergy would likely have continued to live and preach freely and their churches flourish. Instead, they were to go the same way as their would-be Queen – the way of the Cross – as England instead got one of its worst ever regimes and a Queen of Cruelty and Oppression.

 

Sources

Faith Cook, Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2001).

“Jane Grey” wikipedia

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Protestant Profiles #9: John Bradford

John Bradford (1510-1555) 

BRADFORD-John

Born: Manchester, England
Role: 
English Reformer, preacher, royal chaplain, martyr
Theological Emphases: repentance; holiness of life
Protested against: neglect of true religion and God’s Word; “insatiable covetousness,” “filthy carnality” and “intolerable ambition and pride” of the English court.[1];  papal authority; transubstantiation

John Bradford had a relatively short life and an even shorter ministry as a preacher and reformer. He was converted in 1547, in his mid-late thirties; pursued the ministry a couple of years later and was burned at the stake on heresy charges at the age of 45. But the impact of his life, character and ministry have had a profound impact on English Christians in the centuries since his martyrdom.

Bradford’s name is lesser known today than those of several of his friends, associates and ministry partners. He was the junior of the more famous English Reformer-martyrs Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. He accompanied Martin Bucer (a continental Reformer cum theology professor in the English Reformation and contemporary of Luther and Calvin) to a meeting with Peter Martyr Vermigli (an imminent Italian Reformer and another contemporary of Luther, Calvin et. al) in 1550. And he was a chaplain for a short time to the famous Protestant king Edward VI.

But Bradford himself was known as powerful preacher in his day and was remembered by later Christian generations in his homeland for his great personal piety. Thomas Watson, a Puritan who did most of his own ministry a century after Bradford’s death said: “It is said of holy Bradford, that preaching, reading, and prayer were his whole life.”

In a biographical sketch, John Brentnall adds to this picture of piety:

In all the extant biographies of England’s worthies, we rarely hear of one who was ‘more devout and godly’ than the writer ever knew, who not only led ‘a heavenly life himself’, but also ‘very earnestly and heartily’ laboured ‘to persuade others’ to do the same. Yet such a man was John Bradford – scholar, royal chaplain, itinerant preacher, contender for the true faith and martyr.[2]

What was it about Bradford that made him so esteemed as a model for godliness? Accounts of his life attest to a deep and serious awareness of his own sinfulness and an earnestness in repentance and prayer. Watson again: “It is reported of Bradford, the martyr, that he was of a melting spirit; he seldom sat down to his meal but some tears trickled down his cheeks.” Watson also notes that Bradford would sign off his letters as “The most hard-hearted-sinner.”

His piety was also expressed in his fearless preaching. Brentnall says:

All who heard Bradford, including enemies, agreed on the quality of his preaching and the godliness of his life. His ‘passionate earnestness’ spared the sins of neither rich nor poor, while with bold single-mindedness he rebuked the worldliness of courtiers. Indeed, he was most forthright when attacking the greed and ambition of men in power under Edward VI.[3]

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs confirms this testimony:

Sharply he opened and reproved sin, sweetly he preached Christ crucified, pithily he impugned heresies and errors, earnestly he persuaded to godly life.[4]

Bradford’s unfettered proclaiming of God’s Word was part of what helped the Reformation continue to progress in England. It is also a significant factor that led to his arrest and execution by the authorities shortly after the Catholic Mary’s accession to the throne.

Bradford was arrested on trumped up sedition charges and later accused of heresy as well. He steadfastly refused to recant the Protestant faith or to seek the Queen’s mercy – as he rejected the accusation that he had done anything wrong. He was burned in July 1555, preaching from the stake to the largest crowd ever to gather for such an execution. Among his final exhortations was: “O England, England, repent thee of thy sins, repent thee of thy sins. Beware of idolatry, beware of false antichrists.”

Sometime before he knew he would face death, he wrote about the need for Christians not to fear it, but to be prepared for it:

Let death be premeditated, not only because it comes uncertainly (I mean with respect to the time, for aside from that, death is most certain) but also because it helps much to the contempt of this world (out of which, just as nothing will go with you, so also you can take nothing with you).

Because [premeditating on death] helps with the mortifying of the flesh, which when you feed, you do nothing else but feed worms. Because it helps with the well disposing and due ordering of the things you have in this life. Because it helps to repentance, to bring you to the knowledge of yourself, that you are but earth and ashes, and it brings you to know God better.[5]

Bradford is also notable as one of the possible sources of the famous phrase: “There, but for the grace of God go I.” He is said to have uttered similar words while witnessing the execution of violent criminals.

Here is an example of a man who grasped the innate depravity of the human heart, just as his forebears Calvin, Augustine and Paul had. Here was a reformer who echoed Luther’s powerful emphasis on continual, heartfelt repentance. His personal piety and powerful preaching are Reformation truth on fire and in action.

We need evangelical Protestants like Bradford, who will live and die daily for Christ and perhaps lose their earthly life for the sake of His name – all the while striving to make him known in our nations.

You can read a fuller biography of John Bradford here.
Or you can read his works online here.

Sources

“John Bradford” wikipedia
https://www.crichbaptist.org/articles/john-bradford/
https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2010/john-bradford-1510-1555/
https://www.ccel.org/ccel/bradford/sertract.iv.html
http://www.exclassics.com/foxe/foxe294.htm

Protestant Profiles #8: John Knox

John Knox (c. 1513 – 1572)

 

Born: Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
Role: Pastor; bodyguard; reformer; royal chaplain; pamphleteer; historian; founder of Scottish Presbyterianism & co-author of the Scots Confession
Theological Emphases: sola Scriptura; justification by grace through faith alone; God’s preservation of His church; true vs. false churches; predestination; Christian society
Protested against: papacy; Mass; purgatory; kneeling during communion; indulgences; pilgrimages; clerical celibacy; mandatory fasting

 

John Knox is best known for his vital role in the Scottish Reformation and consequent formation of the Presbyterian family churches. He was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in his early 20s and functioned as a notary public for the early part of his career, until he came under the influence of Protestant ideas around the time he turned 30.
He had a brief stint as a bodyguard to Protestant preacher George Wishart – famously carrying a sword to defend him against would-be assailants – as Wishart spread Continental-Reformed ideas throughout Scotland by way of itinerant preaching.

Wishart was captured on the authority of Cardinal David Beaton, tried and executed in 1546. The following year, a band of Wishart’s friends assassinated the cardinal in a revenge attack and seized control of his castle in St. Andrews, Fife. Knox reluctantly began a preaching ministry at the castle, which began with a fiery denouncement of the papacy as the Antichrist depicted in Daniel 7. This period of ministry only lasted a few months, before the castle was put under siege by forces from Scotland’s Catholic ally, France, and Knox and the other members of the community were imprisoned upon galley ships for the next year and a half.

Knox spent around 5 years in England, preaching in favour of widespread reformation in the English and Scottish Church and briefly serving as a chaplain to (arguably) England’s most committed Protestant monarch, King Edward VI. He fled to the Continent in 1554, due to the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary to the English throne and the onset of her ruthlessly bloody persecution of Protestants. He spend the next year or so travelling through Switzerland and increasing his connections with the Continental reformers.

Calvin’s Geneva made a particularly strong impression upon Knox – he referred to it later as “the most perfect school of Christ.” He returned to Scotland in late 1555, where he was warmly welcomed by some Protestant nobles, but treated warily by the Scottish royal and Catholic authorities. Instead of staying there, he soon returned to Geneva and continued to minister to Protestant (mainly English) exiles who lived there. He remained in Switzerland until Mary’s death saw the Protestant Elizabeth I take the English throne and most of his congregation moved home.

Ministry in England was not a viable option for Knox, who had alienated Elizabeth through his infamous pamphlet The First blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous Regiment of Women – attacking the legitimacy of female rule (aimed specifically at the Scottish regent Mary of Guise). But the folly of this publication – which earned the ire of key allies including Calvin – providentially led to Knox’s return in 1559 to Scotland where he would have an enormous impact.

1560 was a hugely significant year in the Scottish Reformation – with Parliament outlawing mass, divorcing the nation from the Catholic Church and Knox leading the process of formulating and publishing a national confession of faith: the Scots Confession. But Knox was unable to see the Kirk (Scots for ‘church’) reorganised and financed according to his reform agenda – due to political difficulties with the nobility and the return of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.

Knox’s meetings with Mary are almost legendary – with the monarch’s disposition towards the reformer ranging from cordial to infuriated and on more than one occasion he is said to have brought the young woman to tears. In the end, Knox never managed to sway Mary to abandon Catholicism in favour of reformed principles – with the result that although Protestantism was the official religion of the land and elements of Catholic liturgy remained unlawful, the queen herself continued to worship privately according to Roman rites and receive the Mass from her priests.

An uncompromising figure, Knox saw many of his goals for reformation achieved, while constantly experiencing frustration at those further elements of reform that seemed unachievable in his lifetime. As his biographer M.H. Dottwerweich notes, “Knox’s firm stance on the scripture principle and against idolatry…made him a ‘founding father of English Puritanism’ as well as an influence on later Scots Protestantism.” The continuation of his personal ethos in these two movements, in different kingdoms on that shared isle of Great Britain, is perhaps his greatest legacy. It is hard to imagine what Presbyterianism would be today without the foundation it had in Scotland that was largely due to Knox’s contribution. Likewise, without similar-spirited individuals to Knox that characterised the English Puritanism movement, evangelical Christianity as-we-know-it would not exist today.

You can read a biography of Knox’s life and ministry here
Or read his Scot’s Confession here.

Sources

John Knox @ en.wikipedia.org
Dotterweich, “KNOX, John” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals 

Protestant Profiles #7: William Tyndale

William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536)

 

Born: Gloucestershire (near the town of Dursley), England
Role: Scholar, Bible Translator, Early English Reformer
Emphases: Bible in English; justification by faith; translation of key biblical ecclesiastical terms in line with original NT context, rather than with Catholic terms (eg; ‘overseer’ instead of ‘bishop’; ‘elder’ instead of ‘priest’; ‘congregation’ instead of ‘church’ etc;)
Protested against: veneration of saints/Mary, papacy, purgatory

In 1523, a young English scholar travelled to London to seek the endorsement of the city’s bishop to undertake perhaps the most important translation project in the history of the English language. William Tyndale, aged in his late 20s-early 30s was convinced of the need to produce an English version of the Holy Scriptures, which would be the first to be translated from the original biblical languages and the first ever to be mass-printed using the printing press.

His mission to ensure that the Bible was available to all literate English men and women was born out of a desire to see the knowledge of the Lord and access to the truths of gospel spread throughout society. The refusal of the English Catholic hierarchy to support his project was born out of their desire to ensure the Church remained in control of what the English knew about God and His Word.

Tyndale was heavily influenced by Luther and the Protestant Reformation on the European continent – a fact that is evident throughout his translation work and other writings. The English bishops were strongly determined to suppress Luther’s ideas and prevent them from gaining traction in the British Isles and preventing the Scriptures from being translated into the common language was one way the Catholic Church could contain the theological uprising they were trying to put down.

And so, Tyndale translated the New Testament into English from Greek: not in England, but as an exile of sorts in Germany. His New Testament translation was completed after around a year of work and began to be distributed illegally throughout England in 1526. Over the next decade, Tyndale continued to revise his work, in an effort to make it as accurate a translation as possible, and collaborated with others such as Miles Coverdale to work towards a complete translation of the Bible, with the Old Testament based on the best available Hebrew text.

The intensity of Tyndale’s passion to get a Bible people could read into the hands of his countrymen was matched only by the passionate hatred of those who wanted to stop his work. He was abducted by officers working for King Henry VIII while walking in Antwerp with a treacherous friend who had deliberately betrayed him. After being imprisoned for well over a year, he was trialled – essentially on charges of being a Protestant – and then executed by strangulation followed by the burning of his corpse, in October 1536. Tyndale’s last words were reportedly, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

Tyndale’s legacy in the English-speaking Christian world is hard to overstate. Amongst Anglophones he is at least as significant as Luther and Calvin to the understanding of Christianity we enjoy today. This is because his Bible translation work is the textual foundation for the most influential of all English Bibles – the Authorised Version published in 1611 under the reign of King James I. Even popular English translations of the last 50 years, including the NIV and ESV are indebted to Tyndale’s work in so many ways.

As evangelical Christians, we must always esteem the matchless sacrifice of Jesus Christ – to make atonement for our sins – as unique, supreme and incomparable. Yet as people who love the Bible (and yet in some ways take it for granted) we would do well to remember that someone seeking to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus died so that we could have God’s Word in a language we could understand. While in one sense Tyndale’s death does not benefit us spiritually whatsoever – in God’s providence this man lived and died a martyr of the faith in his quest to make sure people like you and I could read and understand the Gospel for ourselves.

You can read a sample of Tyndale’s translation work here (John’s Gospel).
For a more substantial biography of his life and ministry, see here.

Sources

Tyndale’s Betrayal and Execution – Christian History
“William Tyndale” Wikipedia
ANS Lane, “TYNDALE, William” Dictionary of Evangelical Biography

Protestant Profiles #6 Theodore Beza

Theodore Beza (1519-1605) 

Born: Vezelay, Burgundy (France)
Roles: Pastor; theologian; university professor; Reformer; Calvin’s biographer and successor in Geneva
Theological emphases: (Double) Predestination; supralapsarianism, Reformed sacramentalism
Protested against: purgatory, monastic vows, pilgrimages, Catholic prohibition of marriage, Catholic food prohibitions, ceremonial observance of days, auricular confession, indulgences

 

Beza’s involvement in the Protestant Reformation is inseparably tied to Jean Calvin. The two became personally connected in the 1540s and not long after Beza’s conversion to Protestantism he became (with the backing of Calvin and other key Reformation figures) the professor of Greek at the Lausanne Academy – an institution for the preparatory training of gospel ministers. During these years – until the end of Calvin’s life – Beza served as his offsider, aiding him in disputations, defending his theology and actions and working together for continued Reformation in Europe.

Beza was definitively Calvinist in his theology, but he was not factious or irreconcilable towards Christians of different theological persuasions. He demonstrated genuine love and concern for other Christians in his persistent advocacy for the Waldensians – the religious minority of Peter Waldo’s followers in Southern France who were being ruthlessly persecuted by Catholic authorities – and a desire for unity amongst Protestants in his dealings with Lutherans and Zwinglians.

Not long before Calvin’s death, Beza became the inaugural rector of the newly established University of Geneva (which continues today) and when the Genevan Reformer died in 1564, Beza succeeded him as head of the movement. Beza’s biographer, Baird says:

Calvin saw in Beza not the slavish copy of himself, but a scholar of greater polish and wider knowledge of polite society, better capable of dealing with courts, with a stronger physical constitution, and therefore having the promise of being able to accomplish much that was denied to his own enfeebled health.

This capacity for scholarship was on display when in the year following Calvin’s death, Beza published an important edition of the Greek New Testament, based on the earlier works of Erasmus and Estienne and also based – in all likelihood – upon the Greek manuscript which bears his name Codex Bezæ. Along with his Latin translations from the Greek, these works played an important part in biblical scholarship in this period.

His role as Calvin’s successor was on display in 1571 when he presided as moderator over the Synod of all French Protestant churches – a meeting which was attending by numerous Protestant royals and luminaries and which affirmed the doctrinal standards of the French Reformation. The atrocious St. Bartholemew’s Day massacre occurred the following year and Beza found himself welcoming Protestant survivors and Huguenot pastors to Geneva as refugees fleeing Catholic aggression. He was an ally and encourager of Protestantism in Britain, especially Presbyterianism and the emerging Puritan movement.

Beza’s life and ministry highlights the need for faithful and suitable succession to Christianity’s great leaders, thinker, movers and shakers. Beza would have no significance to our history if it were not for Calvin and yet our appreciation of Calvin would likely be significantly less if it were not for the work of Beza. As Calvin’s biographer and the man who laboured hard to see his theology established in European churches and the institutions he founded prosper, Beza could be called the Calvinist of Calvinists. Yet, as we have seen he did not promote this theological disposition from a place of arrogance or contempt for other Christians.

Beza devoted himself to the teachings of Calvin insomuch as he believed Calvin had devoted himself to the teachings of Christ and the apostles. In so doing, he provides a model for today’s Christians of how we might faithfully promote the theological heritage we’ve received (as far as we believe it to be in harmony with Scripture), without sacrificing our love and goodwill towards those who share our evangelical faith while differing on secondary matters of doctrine.

You can read a fuller treatment of Beza’s life and ministry here

Other sources:
Robert Letham, “Beza” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
Theodore Beza @
wikipedia