Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reformation England: When Grace Shines!

"We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things."
 - I Corinthians 4:10-13

I am reading the works of Augustus Toplady, a champion of the Reformed Protestant faith in the Church of England during the 18th Century, and author of timeless hymns, such as "Rock of Ages." The section I am going through now is brief biographies of bishops and other Reformational leaders from the reign of Edward VI who were executed during the persecutions of his sister and successor, Bloody Mary.

In addition to the well-known Bishops Thomas Cranmer and Miles Coverdale, he lists such lesser-knowns as the Rev. John Rogers (the publisher of the so-called Matthew's Bible), the Rev. Laurence Saunders, and the Rev. Dr. Rowland Taylor (just a partial list; Toplady continues with several more). While in prison, these men wrote and subscribed to a confession of faith as a response to the Papist accusations of heresy. It witnessed, in part, that "we believe and confess, concerning justification, that as it cometh only from God's mercy through Christ, so it is perceived and had of none, who be of years of discretion, otherwise than by faith only." For that confession, they had to die, for justification by grace through faith is the dagger in the heart of Papal religion: no priestly intermediary, no income from indulgences, and no papal authority.

Writing from prison, Saunders told his wife, "I do not doubt but that both I and you, as we be written in the book of life, so we shall together enjoy the same [life] everlastingly, through the grace and mercy of God our dear Father, in his Son, our Christ. I am merry, I thank my God and my Christ; in whom and through whom I shall, I know, be able to fight a good fight, and finish a good course."

Four days before his execution, Taylor recorded this doxology in his will: "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? God is he that justifieth; who is he that can condemn? In thee, O Lord, have I trusted; let me never be confounded."

Of such men, the world was not worthy! (Hebrews 11:38)

Taking a break from Toplady, I turned to read a Psalm from the Great Bible of 1539, as is my wont. Today, I was up to Psalm 52, verse 1 of which reads, "Why boastest thou thyself, thou Tyrant, that thou canst do mischief?" Then verse 6 announces, "Therefore shall God destroy thee forever: He shall take thee and pluck thee out of thy dwelling, and root thee out of the land of the living." Surely the Lord had a message for me today, and I felt compelled to write it for all.

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