Today, if you visit Oxford, England, on Broad Street you will find an area of preserved cobble stones forming a cross. This cross marks the place where on October 16, 1555, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake. Latimer and Ridley were English Bishops who had come to adopt Reformation principles under Thomas Cranmer when he was Archbishop of Canterbury (he would later suffer the same fate in the same spot). As soon as the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary, ascended to the throne, (history has dubbed her “Bloody Mary”) they were arrested. Throughout the course of their trial, they rejected papal authority and the Roman mass. In principle, they defended Scripture alone and justification by faith alone. For these offences they were condemned to death.
Reportedly, Ridley’s branches were greener than those fueling the fire under Bishop Latimer. As the flames licked their bodies, and they began to redden and ashen in the heat, Hugh Latimer turned to Nicholas Ridley and said,
“Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust, never shall be put out.”
As Ridley died, much more slowly “playing the man”, he prayed to God for men:
“ Oh, Heavenly Father, I give unto Thee most hearty thanks that Thu hast called me to be a professor of Thee, even unto death. I beseech Thee, Lord God, have mercy on the realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies.”
This gives us a little different understanding of verses like:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16
What was the candle that they hoped they would light and would never go out? The truths of the Gospel. There is a fire that burns hotter than the flames. William Tyndale who was burned nineteen years earlier in Brussels confessed, “for the word of God boileth in my body like a fervent fire…” May these men who boldly faced flames on this earth with the hope to spare others the flames of eternity ignite a passion for us today for the same principles for which they burned – salvation through Christ alone by God’s grace through faith as revealed in Scripture to God’s glory.
(Check out this message by Dr. David Platt from Together for the Gospel 2016)