1521: A single German scholar, facing the assembled might of both church and state, is ordered to recant his positions against the many corruptions and false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Before the entire assembly, he replies that he cannot recant, as his conscience is held fast by God’s Word. He will be excommunicated, a hunted man, kidnapped by his own supporters, living in disguise for a year as a knight to avoid being caught and killed by those would see him and this growing movement crushed.
1536: Captured after years of smuggling his English Holy Bible translation into his native land, so that his countrymen could finally read God’s Word for themselves, just before being strangled to death and burnt, a man prays that the Lord will open the eyes of the King of England to God’s truth.
1555: A defiant leader of the English Reformation is about to be burnt at as part of “Bloody” Queen Mary’s purges. Disdaining the flames, he tells his fellow martyr, “We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
1660: A tinker, faced with the choice of either stopping his preaching of the gospel, or going to prison, tells a court he will not comply with their demands. He will spend over 12 years imprisoned, but in all that time, he never stops preaching or writing concerning God's Word and the Christian life, including a book that will become the best-selling book of all time next to the Bible itself.
1730: A young French woman, just recently married, is imprisoned for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith. She is only 19 years old, and will spend the next 38 years in prison. She will be released, finding that both her father and husband have died during her long sentence. Yet in all those years, she holds firm to her biblical faith, even writing and encouraging many others who find themselves similarly oppressed.
We have described the lives of five unique individuals above: Martin Luther, William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, John Bunyan, and Marie Durand. Each of them were part of different circumstances and times, and each suffered in a unique way, but all of them did it for much the same reason: the idea that men and women would be free to know the truths of God’s Word, would be able to learn the Scriptures for themselves, and would be able to hear biblical teaching and preaching. Each of these individuals held tightly to this great, recovered, Scriptural truth of the Reformation: The just shall live by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, as related by Scripture alone. And this wonderful truth is fully worth living a life consciously dedicated in every season and adversity to the glory of God alone.
The truth that was fought and paid for so dearly by the saints and martyrs through the ages is eternal, as it is the truth as defined by our Lord and Creator. The ability to study and share God’s Word is never something that is to be taken for granted—a fact that one look at the persecuted church around the world today will readily tell us. Our generation of the church can look to these faithful witnesses to remind us the preciousness of being able to have God’s Word, and the urgency that the message of salvation be shared with a dying world.
The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is a good time to examine ourselves in relation to how we treat God’s Word and the gospel therein. Do our lives reflect a love for it? Is it compartmentalized to 90 minutes on Sunday, or is it something much more than that? Do we plead we “have no time for it”? Do we acknowledge that if it is worth dying for, it is beyond certainty worth living for? Let us study and share the Word, living it out daily, embracing our Savior’s call to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and not squander the incredible freedom that God has graced us with by the willing sacrifice of so many valiant saints.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. -Romans 10:17