John Wickliffe — from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

As mentioned in my last post on this subject, Constantine the Great stopped the persecutions for 1,000 years until John Wickliffe. However, it was through the doings of Constantine that the church became corrupted by the Romans as they successfully mixed the church with the evil Roman government (as they were corrupted by Babylonian influence by which much idolatry was introduced).

So it was, with this background, John Wickliffe came on the scene. This biblical scholar from England, the Lord raised up to detect and combat all the Pope’s false doctrine. Indeed, he had a challenge since the Pope managed to keep the true gospel and all of the bible out of the hands of the people. They did know the name of Christ, but they knew nothing of the apostle’s doctrine, such as justification by faith, the liberty of the Christian, the strength of sin, etc. Instead, the Pope’s main teaching was of ceremonies and traditions.

So it was, seemingly, that John Wickliffe alone took great pains to protest this false teaching of the Pope openly in the schools. And he was somewhat supported by the King—at least at first.

Oh, Wickliffe was a bold fellow, not afraid of the Papacy in the least. Here are a few points of Wickliffe’s sermons:

  • The holy eucharist is not the very body of Christ.
  • The church of Rome is not the head of all churches.
  • The Gospel is a rule sufficient of itself, without any other rule.
  • The Pope ought not to have prisons to punish transgressors.

Wickliffe, for his sermons, was commanded by the bishops to keep silence, but it was written that “he burst out afterward much more fiercely.” And he for his boldness got “the goodwill and favour of certain noblemen… [and] the common people.”

Then, in 1377, Pope Gregory, sent a letter (a bull) to the university of Oxford (where Wickliffe arrived from and taught at) and rebuked them for putting up with the teachings of Wickliffe. His words were quite fierce against Wickliffe: that he made “erroneous and false propositions…savoring even of heretical pravity, tending to weaken and overthrow the status of the whole church…” So, they were told, “By our authority you seize or cause to be seized the said John.” And then another letter was sent that he should be warned by public citation to appear before the Pope to be admonished.

Well, as it happened, by the miraculous grace of God, John Wickliffe managed to escape out of the bishops’ hands, by the aid one time of a great earthquake, and a second time by a lightning strike.

But yet, the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered a mandate against John Wickliffe that he was forbidden to preach “his heresies” against the church. But at the same time the chancellor in Oxford favoured Wickliffe and said that he was a good and innocent man. And so, it went like that back and forth.

Well, as it happened Wickliffe was secretly kept safe from the Pope and he died an old man. Yet he was declared a heretic and was cursed by the holy catholic church. And they set out to find his body and to burn his bones, but they could not find him; so they burned the bones of another man instead and said it was John Wickliffe.

Wickliffe became the father and leader of all those true Christians who would follow him. And though he was not martyred, all that followed him were martyred, as the Popes became more and more evil and not willing that any would escape from their grasp.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: Peter, Paul and John

I have been writing notes and excepts from the book, and this time I will write about the apostle Peter, Paul and John. Beginning with Peter, as he was waiting to be crucified, some were telling him to run out of the city (Rome). And as he was trying to avoid what they were saying, yet running, it was reported that he saw the Lord Christ coming to meet him. I will quote exactly what was written:

Coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to Whom he, worshipping, said, ‘Lord, whither dost Thou go?’ To whom He answered and said, ‘I am come to be crucified.’ By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned back into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.

As for Paul, there is not much written about him, except that before he was beheaded, it was written that he suffered some under Nero. Then the two men, Ferega and Parthemius, who came to execute him, first desired him to pray for them that they might believe. He did pray for them, and after he prayed, the executioners gave his neck to the sword. So, he died in the same way John the Baptist died. And Paul also died much like Jesus in that he was praying for others right up until his death.

John the apostle was exiled into Patmos. Then, after the death of Domitian Nero, John was released and came to Ephesus and there governed the churches of Asia and also where he wrote his gospel. He lived there until he dies at the age of about one hundred. (So, it appears that he weas the only apostle who weas not martyred, except for being sent to Patmos.)

The persecutions continued according to “whatsoever the cruelness of man’s invention could devise…”  But in spite of it, “the church daily increased, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles…”

Taken from pages 12-18 of the book.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: The First Christian Martyrs

The most brutal emperor was Domitius Nero. It was he that slew most of the Roman senators and it was he that commanded Rome to be set on fire; and then he laid the blame on Christian men and caused them to be persecuted.

At that time of Nero, he was so enraged with Christians that a person might see cities full of dead, naked bodies lying in the streets with no regard to sex; there were men, women and even children cast out naked in the streets. Many in those days thought that he was the antichrist (Many even today think that he was the antichrist—but we know that he is yet to come and with even more rage.)

After that, about 40 years after the death of Christ, Titus slew many thousands of Jews. Also, 17,000 were sold as slaves and about 2,000 were brought to Rome to be devoured by wild beasts in the coliseum.

I will give the names of a few prominent martyrs. Stephen was the first, then James and Thomas, then Simon the brother of Jude, then Mark and Andrew.

Andrew it was said was very steadfast as he went to die on a cross. His body fainted not, nor did his understanding fail him. And with a very clear and kind voice he said,

“O cross, most welcome and long looked for! With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to thee, being the scholar of Him which did hang on thee: because I have always been the lover, and have coveted to embrace thee.”

Philip was a great preacher. He was crucified and also stoned to death. His daughters died with him.

James, the brother of our Lord took it upon himself to govern the church at that time. He was known to have the knees of a camel because he prayed so much on his knees to safeguard the people. The Scribes and Pharisees hated him. So, they went and threw him down from the top of the temple. Yet he was not killed by the fall, and turning, he fell upon his knees, saying, “O Lord God, Father, I beseech thee to forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was then about to be stones, but someone stopped it because he was praying for them. Then someone present hit him on the head with an instrument and he died.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: Events following Christ’s Crucifixion

I have read the book before—a while ago. Now I’m reading it again, this time more carefully. I may give a series of blog posts on it, hoping to inspire some of you. Parts of it are gory, but I would focus more on the strength and boldness of the precious martyrs who loved the Lord. They were all so willing and even joyous in their suffering and death, as cruel as it was.

I will start with what happened after the crucifixion of Christ. According to the research of John Fox in 1516, Pontius Pilate was so moved by Christ that he may have become a Christian and tried to convert the whole Roman senate. But Tiberius Caesar would have none of it, and, as Foxe points out, almost all the senators were destroyed and the whole city of Rome was “most horribly afflicted” for almost three hundred years. As for Pilate, he was “sent to Rome, deposed, then banished to the town of Vienne in Dauphiny, and at length did slay himself.”

So, as it appears, Christ was the first of the martyrs. It was his death that so stirred up all of Rome either to believe and not to believe. But it was the evil emperors that were so full of the devil that started the flames of persecution and martyrdom. After Tiberius it was Caligula, Claudius Nero and Domitius Nero who began the reign of terror on the Christians.