Thursday, May 27, 2010

Refreshing Conviction and Commitment

John Brown was a devout Christian living in Roman Catholic England during the early 16th Century. Such were turbulent times for Christianity as hunger for reformation was sweeping Europe. Luther is given credit for beginning the Reformation in 1517 with the posting of his protests on the castle door at Wittenburg, but in reality the winds of reformation were blowing in many places years before the time of Luther. England was such a place. John Wycliffe, the "morning star" of the Reformation gave the English people a bible in their native tongue,stoking the flames of reform in the hearts of many in the 14th Century. It also led to the stoking of execution pyres all over England as the Romanists resisted efforts to shift authority from Rome to the Bible.

John Brown was a faithful Christian in England. He read the bible Wycliffe provided with regularity. He tangled with the wrong priest one day concerning a doctrinal matter and found himself arrested and thrown in jail. Again I share with you J.H. Merle D'Aubigne's recounting of John Brown's trial, torture, and execution.

The cavalcade rode off quickly, and Brown was thrown into prison, and there left forty days. At the end of this time the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Rochester called before them the impudent fellow who doubted whether a priest's mass could save souls, and required him to retract this "blasphemy." But Brown, if he did not believe in the mass, believed in the Gospel: "Christ was once offered," he said, "to take away the sins of many. It is by this sacrifice we are saved, and not by the repetitions of the priests." At this reply the archbishop made a sign to the executioners, one of whom took off the shoes and stockings of this pious Christian, while the other brought in a pan of burning coals, upon which they set the martyr's feet. The English laws, in truth, forbade torture to be inflicted on any subject of the crown, but the clergy thought themselves above the laws. "Confess the efilcacity of the mass," cried the two bishops to poor Brown. "If I deny my Lord upon earth," he replied, "He will deny me before His Father in heaven." The flesh was burnt off the soles of the feet even to the bones, and still John Brown remained unshaken. The bishops therefore ordered him to be given over to the secular arm, that he might be burnt alive.

On the Saturday preceding the festival of Pentecost, in the year 1517, the martyr was led back to Ashford, where he arrived just as the day was drawing to a close. A number of idle persons were collected in the street, and among them was Brown's maid-servant,who ran off crying to the house, and told her mistress: "I have seen him !... He was bound, and they were taking him to prison." Elizabeth hastened to her husband, and found him sitting with his feet in the stocks, his features changed by suffering, and expecting to be burnt alive on the morrow. The poor woman sat down beside him, weeping most bitterly; while he, being hindered by his chains, could not so much as bend towards her. "I cannot set my feet to the ground," said he, "for bishops have burnt them to the bones; but they could not burn my tongue and prevent my confessing the Lord... 0 Elizabeth!... continue to love Him, for He is good; and bring up our children in His fear."

On the following morning—it was Whitsunday—• the brutal Chilton and his assistants led Brown to the place of execution, and fastened him to the stake. Elizabeth and Alice, with his other children and his friends, desirous of receiving his last sigh, surrounded the pile, uttering cries of anguish. The fagots were set on fire, while Brown, calm and collected, and full of confidence in the blood of the Saviour, clasped his hands, and sang a hymn unto God before the flames consumed him.

The story is harrowing, but it is something more for me; we live in a day where theological precision and doctrinal commitment are looked down upon or not regarded at all. Here we have an account that depicts a man who was willing to be tortured and killed defending a biblical view of Christ and His sufficient atonement! I find Brown's conviction and commitment both convicting and encouraging.


Woody Woodward said...

That has to be one of the most heroic and heart-wrenching stories of martyrdom I have even heard. Talking about “running the race with endurance”; “having done all, therefore stand!” “Tried and proven in the fires itself, to test the quality of each man’s work” “Fought the good fight and kept the faith!”

Adam said...

Refreshing conviction indeed