Many people misunderstand the main point of the Reformation. It wasn’t a worship war between the Roman Catholic Church and those who were protesting. It wasn’t a mere protest. It was about God raising up faithful men who would protect the gospel of Jesus Christ from the perversion of the Pope and the false religion of the Roman Catholic Church.
How was this possible? It was necessary to bring the Bible out of the shadows. For ages, the Bible had been locked away in a dungeon and the religion of Rome insisted that people could only hear the Word of God spoken in Latin (even though people couldn’t understand it). They were certainly not permitted to have the Bible in their own homes. Therefore, the protection of the purity of the gospel came through a rediscovery of God’s Word.
God would raise up a monk named Martin Luther who would do far more than nail a document to the castle church door in Wittenberg. He would be used to translate the Bible into the German language. This would be how the five Latin slogans of the Reformation would eventually emerge to the surface.
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
- Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
- Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
- Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
Standing upon the shoulders of Luther was another man—William Tyndale. He was born in 1494 in rural western England. At age 12, he entered a preparatory grammar school at Oxford University. He learned grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric, logic, and philosophy. He had a gift for the languages and made great progress as he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1512 and his master’s degree in 1515.
While studying theology, he came into contact with the writings of Martin Luther. In 1521, Tyndale stepped away from academic atmosphere in order to pursue his thoughts on the Reformation. During this time, he would be called upon to preach in small churches. His beliefs were aligning with Luther and people were noticing it. He would have meals with priests often and he became appalled at their ignorance and false doctrines.
In 1523, Tyndale traveled to London to seek official authorization for a translation project. He was denied permissions. In 1524, Tyndale at the age of 30, started his translation work without consent—which was a breach of the law. In 1526, the English New Testament was printed.
In the spring of 1526, Tyndale was smuggling the Bible into England in bales of cotton. They were quickly circulated throughout England to students, brick masons, tailors, weavers, and peasants. All types of people were hungry for the Bible in their language. By the summer, just a few weeks after the Bible smuggling project started – the church officials found out. Both the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London were enraged.
They condemned the Bible and confiscated as many copies as they could get their hands on. They called it a crime to read it, sell it, or even handle it. Bishop Tunstall preached a sermon against Tyndale’s New Testament at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and burned copies of the Bible. The archbishop of Canterbury decided to purchase all of the copies of Tyndale’s Bible. He thought this would stop the spread – so he purchased them and quickly burned them.
The money went to Tyndale and actually allowed him to produce a second edition which included some necessary revisions for accuracy and a larger print font. Over the next 8 years, two revised editions followed. In May of 1528, Tyndale published his first major theological work The Parable of the Wicked Mammon. In it, he focused on the heart of the gospel – the theme of justification by faith alone. Sola Fide was a major drum beat of the Reformation.
On June 18th, 1528, the archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey, dispatched agents to search for Tyndale. The arrest of Tyndale was a major work – but Tyndale had disguised his location by printing a false printer name in the front of the book along with a false location for the printing.
A man by the name of Henry Phillips, was hired by a church official of London to travel and find Tyndale. In 1535, he arrived in Antwerp. He located Tyndale (something nobody else was able to do) and befriended him. After earning his trust, he set a trap and lured him into a certain location where soldiers were waiting on him. They finally captured Tyndale after 12 years as a fugitive.
October 6th, 1536, Tyndale was taken to a place of execution outside the southern gate of the town. He was given a moment to pray. He was asked to recant. He refused. The guards tied his feet to the bottom of a cross and his neck was tied with a chain. They packed straw and brush around the bottom of the cross. They added gun powder to the brush pile. It was at this moment that Tyndale cried, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”
The executioner tightened the noose around Tyndale’s neck, strangling Tyndale. They took a lighted wax torch and lit the brush and straw. The brush caught fire as Tyndale’s life was strangled from his body. As the fire grew – the gun powder exploded the body of Tyndale. The entire corpse eventually dropped into the glowing flames below. Within a few short moments, the English Reformer was gone.
The Providence of God in the Translation of the Bible
Coming in the wake of Tyndale was John Rogers who was born in about year 1500. After being educated in Cambridge, he eventually became a Catholic priest and was granted a position during the Reformation. In God’s providence, Rogers would move to Antwerp, Holland where he would become the chaplain for the Merchant Adventurers. This corporation was led by Thomas Poyntz, and as God would have it, William Tyndale was hiding out in his home to do his translation work of the Bible. It’s almost as if God brought John Rogers to the home of Poyntz and said, “John Rogers, meet William Tyndale.”
John Rogers and William Tyndale became friends, and it was through this friendship that Rogers started listening to the doctrine of Tyndale. Soon Rogers would renounce the Catholic faith and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. After his conversion, he continued to grow in the faith, although he would not be able to sever himself fully from popery until after Tyndale’s death. One thing that certainly strengthened his faith was watching Tyndale, his friend, die for his faith and his work as a translator of the English Bible. Soon after Tyndale’s martyrdom, Rogers met a woman named Adriana de Weyden. They married and moved to Wittenberg.
In God’s providence, as Tyndale was finally located and arrested in the home of Thomas Poyntz, although his property was confiscated, his translation work of the Old Testament found its way into the possession of John Rogers. The details are unclear as to how Rogers ended up with this great treasure, but we can be sure it was nothing short of God’s meticulous providence.
Rogers dedicated himself to completing the work of his friend William Tyndale. Two years later in the year 1537, after working under a pseudonym Thomas Matthew, the work was finished. The first printed English Bible of the Old and New Testaments translated from the original biblical languages was now complete. Although Miles Coverdale had completed the Coverdale Bible in 1535, the Old Testament was a translation from Martin Luther’s work and the Latin text, but not translated from the original languages. That is what set the Matthew Bible apart from the Coverdale Bible.
The Perseverance of John Rogers
Over time, John Rogers would continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. His positions, his doctrine, and his work in the Reformation was not appreciated by the Roman Catholic Church. After Queen Mary I came to power, the pressure was intensified upon anyone who preached and taught in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. John Rogers was eventually arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake. In 1555, as he was being led to the stake, his family was there on the street at Smithfield among other witnesses. As he passed by his family, he saw his youngest of eleven children for the first time as they marched him to the stake.
Although his friend Tyndale was burned for his work in the translation of the Bible into English, according to John Foxe, in his famous work known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, John Rogers stood firm when asked to recant of his rejection of transubstantiation. Mr. Woodroofe, one of the sheriffs, first came to Mr. Rogers, and asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and the evil opinion of the Sacrament of the altar. Mr. Rogers answered, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” Woodroofe replied, “Then, you are a heretic. That will be known on the day of judgment.” According to Foxe’s record, when the flames were ignited, he washed his hands in the flames as he was burned. In a short time, this faithful Christian, Bible translator, husband, and father was gone. Rogers was the first martyr under the reign of Queen Mary I, known in history as Bloody Mary.
Sometimes great men offer great service to God and remain unnoticed throughout history. John Rogers is a name that some people know from history, but his name certainly is not well recognized. In God’s providence, John Rogers was used to bring about the printing of the first completed Bible in the English language (translated from the original biblical languages). The Bible is known as the Matthew Bible.
If you visit London today, you will find a small plaque on the wall outside of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. The plaque reads beginning with the arch above the plaque these words, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. The noble army of martyrs praise thee!” On the plaque beneath the arch, it reads, “Within a few feet of this spot, John Rogers, John Bradford, and John Philpot, and other servants of God suffered death by fire for the faith of Christ in the years 1555, 1556, 1557.”
As I stood in that very spot, I thought about how dangerous it is to follow Christ. At certain times in history, it seems that it’s less dangerous, but there is always a danger, always a risk to follow Christ. Rogers remained faithful to the end and remains an example to us who walk in his footsteps. As I stood before the monument, I thought about D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. What were his thoughts as he walked by this monument? Perhaps Rogers impacted Lloyd-Jones. We are all leaving behind a legacy to be remembered. Will we be found faithful in the day of testing? What will be the legacy that we leave to our family, friends, and our church?