Today I’m beginning a short series that will be posted each Thursday titled, Do Not Worship the Reformers. The aim of the series is to point out why we love and respect these men, but at the same time, we should not hold them up to an unhealthy level of adoration and appreciation. The Reformers accomplished many things for the glory of God, but like you and I, they all had feet of clay.
We Should Applaud Luther’s Doctrine of Justification
Martin Luther was born November 10th, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. He would be baptized the following day. His family connections provided opportunity for education and to excel in life, but Luther’s life would take a different turn. One that he didn’t expect and one that his family opposed. He would enter the monastery in keeping with a promise he made out of fear to God in a violent thunderstorm. Little did he know that providence was guiding his footsteps. Those footsteps would eventually be led to the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517 in protest that would eventually be heard around the world.
Martin Luther has been hailed by some as a hero of church history. When we examine the history of the church, we see the enormous contribution of Luther as a man who brought the church back to the Bible and upheld justification by faith alone.
The material principle of the historic Protestant Reformation was justification by faith alone. Is the forgiveness of sins obtained by the work of Jesus alone, or is it obtained by the work of Jesus and the cooperation of sinners through external works, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches? That issue stood at the center of the debate in Luther’s day, and it remains central in our present day as well.
In thesis 52, Luther writes:
It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
Luther was outraged by the offer of salvation by the purchase of indulgences. Eventually Luther’s protest would grow in intensity after his conversion. True biblical salvation had been lost in the day of the sixteenth century like a precious diamond in the muck of a pig’s pen. God chose to raise up men who would recover the biblical teaching of salvation and bring God’s people back to the Bible. One such man was an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. Commenting on the importance of justification by faith alone, Luther wrote:
The article of justification and of grace is the most delightful, and it alone makes a person a theologian and makes of a theologian a judge of the earth and of all affairs. Few there are, however, who have thought it through well and who teach it aright. 
We Should Question Luther’s Doctrine of Baptism
While Luther was a faithful opponent of the false doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church on matters of salvation, he seems to contradict himself at times on the subject of sola fide (faith alone). In discussing religious works in relation to the sacraments, Luther writes:
Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the “signs” of efficacious grace. All such things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises. . . . In this way, the Romanists have put precepts in place of the sacraments, and works in place of faith. Now, if a sacrament were to give me grace just because I receive that sacrament, then surely I should obtain the grace, not by faith, but by my works. I should not gain the promise in the sacrament, but only the sign instituted and commanded by God. 
On a similar note, Luther writes the following about baptism:
A man can be saved without the sacrament, but not without the word; this is true of those who desire baptism but die before they can receive it. 
However, as we continue to read the works of Luther, we find statements that not only seem self-contradictory, but also seem to fall into tension with the faith alone formula of biblical salvation. The German Catechism was published in 1529. Concerning the effects of baptism, Luther appeals to Mark 16:16 and says:
This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves. For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with him forever. 
When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in 1517, he wasn’t yet a true Christian. It would be over the next few years that he would come to embrace Christ by faith alone.
Moving beyond Wittenberg in 1517 and Worms in 1521, Luther wrote, preached, and taught much about the doctrine of salvation. In many points, we applaud his preaching and writing, but in some areas, we find ourselves confused about Luther’s beliefs.
The tension we find in Luther’s theology reminds us that he had feet of clay. Luther was an imperfect man with imperfect theology who lived in the looming shadows of the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the sixteenth century. In short, Luther should be appreciated and applauded, but not worshipped.
What exactly did Luther mean when he said that baptism saves? Did he have in mind something different than the Roman Catholics? I believe he did have something else in mind. However, he seems to move beyond the idea of baptism being a “means of grace” whereby God bestows blessings on His people. He seems to press toward something different. While Luther was not a heretic who nullified sola fide by baptismal regeneration, it seems that he did walk too close to the line on the subject of baptism.
Whatever he truly believed about baptism, we may never fully understand. However, we do know that Luther did champion the idea of infant baptism. Once again, he was saying something different than what the Roman Catholic Church said infant baptism accomplished, but he was still not clear enough. Although Luther should be respected on many levels theologically, the mode and efficacy of baptism in Luther’s system must be called into question.
Luther proved his humanity through his doctrine of baptism. It’s here that we see strange tensions in Luther’s beliefs rising to the surface. Martin Luther came out of Rome, but at times, it seems that not all of Rome came out of Luther.
While we should applaud Luther’s position on Scripture and his willingness to protest the false doctrine of salvation taught by the Roman Catholic Church—he should not be worshipped. He should be appreciated. He should be recognized and respected, but he should not be adored and worshipped. Martin Luther, like us all, had feet of clay. Martin Luther was a sinner who God saved and used for His glory—not a superhero Christian who lived above sin. We should be grateful for the man, but he must not be worshiped.
- WA, 25:375, quoted in What Luther Says, 704.
- Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 300–301.
- Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (trans. Robert C. Schultz; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 349.
- The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 459.
Yesterday, on the first day of 2017, I had the privilege to preach from Romans 10 on the subject of missions. Each year, typically during the final few weeks of the year, I preach a missionary biography. The biography is either a missionary who served Christ on a foreign field or is someone used to educate and equip the local church at home to be involved in missions.
Due to the way the schedule fell in 2016, I was unable to preach that sermon due to a complicated church calendar, so yesterday, we started off 2017 with an emphasis on the Reformation and how our salvation is directly connected to the work of the Reformers. R. C. Sproul writes, “The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age.” 
In Romans 10:13-17, Paul is confronting Israel regarding their unbelief and pushing the need for zealous hearted missions. As the apostle to the Gentiles, you can hear the emphasis of a global salvation plan accenting the words of Paul as he points to “all” and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.” Certainly, as we consider the failure of the Jews in Paul’s day and the laziness of the evangelicals in our day, it would do us well to look at the Reformation and see the need to walk in the footsteps of Paul as we begin 2017.
During the days that preceded the Reformation, the Bible had been locked away in a dark dungeon by the Roman Catholic Church. They insisted that the Word of God must be heard by the priests, who would speak it only in Latin. The Roman Catholic Church insisted that the common person was unable to understand the Word of God without the aid of a priest. However, they were unwilling to release control of the Bible, and in order to prevent anyone from getting their hands on the Word of God—they would burn people at the stake as an example to all who resisted their authority.
John Hus was the first example, and John Wycliffe’s bones being exhumed, burned, and scattered in the River Swift many years after his death further illustrates their hatred for those who wanted to get the Bible into the hands of the common people in their own language. In 1517, Martin Luther unknowingly sparked a debate that was like a hot ember falling to the parched dry ground of Europe as he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg. After being converted in 1519 and preaching the true gospel, his Reformation zeal grew more intense and this led to a showdown at Worms where Luther made his famous “Here I Stand” speech.
God took a Roman Catholic named Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press, and used it as a vehicle to spread the truths of the gospel all across Europe. Soon, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others would be writing and preaching and their works would be spreading all around the world. Not only writing and preaching, but training and preparing missionaries to go and plant churches. In Romans 10:14-15, Paul asks a series of questions that places direct aim upon the need for missions. He writes:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 
As we look back at the historic Reformation, at the very core of the movement was a desire to unleash the Bible from the dark dungeon of the Roman Catholic Church. How would people believe if they couldn’t hear? How would people hear the good news unless someone was sent to preach? Emerging from the darkness were preachers, relentless preachers of God’s Word who would live out the words of Luther’s hymn:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Under John Calvin’s leadership in Geneva Switzerland, thousands of missionaries were being trained and by 1562, over 2,000 churches had been planted in France. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published which was greatly used in Europe and was also the Bible that was brought off of the Mayflower by the early Pilgrims of America. Through the Reformation, an explosion of gospel missions took place that shook the world.
If you heard the gospel read and proclaimed from an English speaking preacher with an English speaking Bible, you can draw a straight line from Gutenberg’s press through Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, to the work of William Tyndale and John Rogers in the printing of the first English Bible translated from the original languages, to the 1560 Geneva Bible, to your salvation.
We heard the good news that was preached and believed it by faith—all of this work of the Reformation and our individual salvation is the work of God. How will God use you and your local church to continue in the footsteps of the early church to carry out the task of the Great Commission given to us by Jesus Himself? In 2017, as we consider the historic Reformation that started 500 years ago, let us be mindful that the Reformation isn’t over and the Great Commission isn’t over—there is still much work to be done. Pope Francis began 2017 with a blasphemous tweet, and 500 years after Luther took his stand, we are reminded that the Reformation is far from over.
- R. C. Sproul and Archie Parrish,The Spirit of Revival, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), Introduction.
- Romans 10:14-15 — ESV
|Guest Article: Stephen McCaskell is the producer of the forthcoming documentary on Martin Luther titled LUTHER. He is married to his wife Samantha and they have three children.
“Consider how great a man Luther is, and what excellent gifts he has; the strength of mind and resolute constancy, the skillfulness, efficiency and theological power he has used in devoting all his energies to overthrowing the reign of Antichrist and to spread far and near the teaching of salvation. I have often said that even if he were to call me a devil I should still regard him as an outstanding servant of God…” – John Calvin
Luther indeed was a man gifted of God with excellent gifts. From childhood through University, Luther was consistently at the top of his class. He set his sights on being a lawyer, as to his father’s wish, and his studies to do so were rigorous. He awakened at 4am and was sleeping by 8pm everyday. Students were given only two meals each day and were required to study and speak Latin, even outside of the classroom.
He graduated second overall in his class for his Masters of Liberal Arts degree and was planning on entering law school, but God had very different plans for young Luther.
In June of 1505, as Luther was travelling back home to visit his parents he was suddenly caught in a violent storm. A bolt of lightning struck the ground near him, knocking him off his horse and injuring his leg. Terrified, he cried out and made an oath to St Anne that should he survive the storm, he would become a monk.
That moment was the beginning of a journey for Luther which would eventually lead him to reform the church, bringing her back to the truths laid out in scripture. But in the process of becoming one of the most influential men in history, he also became controversial and stubborn, even to those within the movement.
Continuing John Calvin’s quote:
“…But with all his rare and excellent virtues he has also serious faults. Would that he had studied to curb his restless uneasy temper which is so ready to boil over everywhere… Flatterers have done him much mischief, since he is by nature too prone to be over-indulgent to himself.”
It’s important to note that Luther wasn’t perfect. And while those closest to him would say that his harshness came from his zeal for the truth, we must be careful that we do not venerate the man.
With the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation right around the corner, now is a perfect time for a fresh look at this pivotal time in history. We have partnered with some of the top Luther scholars in the world, including Dr. Carl Trueman, to help us tell the story of Luther, a gifted, but flawed child of God who was used mightly by God.
If you’d like to pre-order a copy of the documentary or would like to purchase a screening license to show your church, you can do all that and more at www.lutherdocumentary.com
In my doctoral work in seminary, I studied expository preaching. Out of the myriad of books I read during my time in seminary, the one book on preaching that still grips my heart perhaps more than any other is one written by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones titled, Preaching and Preachers. That book was my first real introduction to this bold preacher of the gospel. Although written over 40 years ago, it has a way of remaining current and contemporary in ways that other books do not. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was known by many as “The Doctor” since he was a medical doctor who became a “surgeon for souls.” It was in his book on preaching that originated as a series of lectures for preachers that he defined preaching as “Logic on fire.”
Matthew Robinson and his team at Media Gratiae have produced an excellent resource on the life and legacy of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones titled, Logic on Fire. In a professional and classy manner, they chart his early life, pre-ministerial life, and his ministry. During the documentary, you will hear from a great list of preachers (R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, Anthony Mathenia, John Snyder, Jeremy Walker, Iain Murray, Kevin DeYoung, Conrad Mbewe, John MacArthur, Richard Owen Roberts, and Sinclair Ferguson to name a few). In addition to the preachers, you will likewise hear from family members of Lloyd-Jones such as Ann Beatt (the younger daughter of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones), Elizabeth Catherwood (the eldest daughter), Adam Desmond (the youngest grandchild), Christopher Catherwood (the eldest grandson) and Jonathan Catherwood (the middle grandson). As you can imagine, the story told through the lens of preachers and family who’ve been shaped by Lloyd-Jones and his preaching is captivating. You will be pulled in by the testimony of his daughters.
For those who don’t know D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his ministry, he was trained as a medical doctor and later became a pastor. His early ministry was in Aberavon, Wales. Lloyd-Jones would eventually be called to serve the historic Westminster Chapel in London. Under the preaching of God’s Word, the Westminster Chapel would be filled with people who longed to hear from God. Lloyd-Jones’ no-nonsense style of preaching was used by God to pierce the hearts of unbelievers and to disciple the flock of God. Logic on Fire presents the story of Lloyd-Jones in such a manner that the Lloyd-Jones expert and novice would both walk away having learned something and been encouraged at the same time. For instance, one night recently, my wife watched the documentary with me for the first time and she loved it.
As I read the two volume work by Iain Murray on D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I recall the being impacted by Lloyd-Jones’ absolute trust and confidence in the power of God in ministry. Upon arriving to serve the church at Sanfields, they immediately had questions about how to answer their growth problems. They had various activities going on within the church such as football, musical events, and a dramatic society. Some members approached D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and suggested that they could be successful if they majored on their children’s ministry. However, to their surprise, the new pastor wasn’t interested in using such things to attract people. In fact, the secretary was very surprised at Lloyd-Jones’ response to the question about the use of such means to attract people to the church. He was interested in the regular church services of 11am, 6pm, a Monday evening prayer service, a mid-week worship service on Wednesday, and a Saturday morning men’s meeting. In the words of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, all of the other things could go. When the Committee asked what they were to do with the wooden stage for the dramatic society, Lloyd-Jones shocked them by saying, “You can heat the church with it.”
Logic on Fire does a great job of documenting Lloyd-Jones’ emphasis on God’s Word, prayer, and his utter dependence upon the Spirit of God. Imagine if more preachers were focused on God’s Word, on their knees in prayer, and depending upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Where would the evangelical church be today if we had more men like The Doctor. Paul Washer described the ministry of Lloyd-Jones as the “unflinching tenacity to strip himself of every tool or armor of the flesh and to hold on to only the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of intercession.”
As you can imagine, the documentary is loaded with great insight into this man who was used by God to shake the United Kingdom and beyond with the gospel of Christ. As you will see, on the Logic on Fire website, the full set comes with 3 DVD discs, 5 printed postcard prints, a 128 page clothbound book, and it all wraps up in a neatly designed case for storage.
Who would benefit the most from this documentary?
- The pastor who labors in the Word of God each week.
- The church as a whole (a great tool for the church’s library).
- The man who has a desire to serve as an elder in the local church.
If you’re looking for a classy and professional gift for a pastor or seminary student – this is it.
- Where to purchase the documentary? Logic on Fire website.
- Cost: $39.95
- *Don’t overlook the “extras” in the set. You will hear many compelling stories and information that documents the ministry and work of Lloyd-Jones.
Logic on Fire: Trailer 2
Recently, my wife and I spent nine days in London and traveled out each day to various cities such as Bristol, Bedford, Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Upon our return home, I decided to write a series of posts on the lives of specific people from church history that left us with testimonies of genuine faith in the gospel, perseverance under persecution, and remained steadfast to the end. The goal in this series of articles is to lightly explore their lives and focus on their perseverance in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A life that finished well in the gospel is a life worth remembering. We have already looked at the lives of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, the Oxford martyrs, and John Rogers. Today’s focus is on a man named John Knox.
John Knox’s Early Life and Conversion
John Knox was born near Edinburgh, Scotland 1514, and we don’t know much about his early life until he bursts from the pages of history in his 30s. He was ordained as a Catholic priest and at some point in the 1540s he was converted to Christianity. He was greatly influenced by Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. Hamilton was martyred for his faith and Wishart would be burned at the stake for his Protestant doctrine too. However, as Wishart traveled and preached, he needed a bodyguard to travel with him. He hires John Knox as the sword bearer. After Wishart is arrested and martyred, Knox goes into hiding. These two men had a profound impact upon his life and greatly influenced his doctrine and desire to enter the cause of the Reformation.
John Knox’s Courageous Ministry
The time of Knox’s life marks a low in Scotland spiritually. Corrupt ministers and evil Roman Catholic methods and beliefs prevailed. However, through the thundering voice of Knox, Scotland would be turned toward God. From the preaching of John Knox, we have some juicy quotes, but we likewise have some embarrassing moments as well. With his courageous heart came a tongue that was difficult to tame.
Some juicy quotes from the preaching and writing ministry of John Knox:
- I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit.
- A man with God is always in the majority.
- I am no master of myself, but must obey him who commands me to speak plain and to flatter no flesh upon the face of the earth.
- The prayers of the great cloud of witnesses rebuke us in our prayerlessness.
John Knox was not afraid of the devil, and he wasn’t afraid of any person in the flesh – including royalty. He had the ear of King Edward VI, the king of England, and he preached a sermon condemning the Book of Common Prayer’s assertion that we must receive communion on our knees. Knox insisted that it had zero Scriptural grounds.
On another occasion, Knox stood before Queen Mary of Scots, and he actually caused her to burst into tears. She was 18 years of age and Knox at that time was in his mid 40s. She was angry with Knox’s rumors about her marriage plans, and if the truth were known, she greatly feared Knox. In fact, at one point, this Roman Catholic Queen said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” Nevertheless, Knox insulted her as well as other women in his booklet titled, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Although he had good reason to oppose Mary I (Bloody Mary) and others such as Mary Queen of Scots, he could have approached it in a more careful manner than he did. He wrote, “Nature, I say, doth paint [women] forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish, and experience hath declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faults have men in all ages espied.”
John Knox was not perfect, but he was a man who loved God. He prayed, “Give me Scotland, or I die!” God raised up Knox for a unique purpose at a unique juncture in church history and Scotland’s history. It would be through his praying, his preaching, and his work as a reformer that the Presbyterian Church would be founded. A staunchly Reformed preacher and anti-Catholic, Knox would devote his life to the Reformation of Scotland and beyond. Mary Queen of Scots went on record in 1561 as stating that John Knox was the most dangerous man in her Kingdom. Burk Parsons writes:
He reinvigorated God’s shepherds throughout the nation; this, in turn, reformed the church and, thus, in God’s providence, revived the country. Most notably, what inspired the pastors perhaps more than any other characteristic in Knox was that he did not fear men, because he feared God—he was a man willing to offend men, because he was unwilling to offend God. 
John Knox’s Legacy of Faithfulness
According to a Roman Catholic chronicler, “John Knox, a Scotsman by nation and a great enemy of the Catholic Church, arrived in the town. This man was so audacious and learned and factious, and so eloquent that he managed men’s souls as he wished.”  Knox stood firm in a time of spiritual compromise, national conflict, and religious persecution. He would travel across Scotland preaching the gospel and many people were saved. Through the unflinching resolve of Knox and others who helped in the cause, the people of Scotland could worship freely, sing hymns of the faith, and hear the preaching of the Word in their language. The tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church was overcome and the work of Reformation spread. This caused the church to bloom across Scotland.
When John Knox died in 1572, he was buried on what is today known as “The Royal Mile” in Edinburgh, Scotland. At his burial, it was said of Knox, “Here lies a man who in his life never feared the face of man.” Today, if you visit Edinburgh, you will find a small museum in the house on the main stretch that leads up to the castle called The Knox House. It was here in this house that John Knox lived for the remaining 18 months of his life. If you travel up toward the castle from there, you will come to St Giles’ Cathedral approximately 1/4 of a mile from The Knox House. If you walk behind the Cathedral and look in parking place #23, you will see a stone marker with these words, “The above stone marks the approximate site of the burial in St Giles graveyard of John Knox the great Scottish Divine who died 24 Nov 1572.”
It’s not about the nobility of your gravesite 500 years after your birth, but about the nobility of your legacy for Christ that matters most. Some of us will lie beneath parking lots 500 years after our life ends, but will our legacy survive? For Knox, a parking lot could not extinguish the flames of his legacy for Jesus. What about your legacy? Will your life be remembered or will you be another worthless life among the archives of human history? Spend your life for King Jesus and die without regret. It’s not about how you’re buried, it’s about how you die.
- Burk Parsons, “Give Me Scotland, or I Die“
- Taken from “The Ancient Chronicles of Dieppe”
Recently, my wife and I spent nine days in London and traveled out each day to various cities such as Bristol, Bedford, Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Upon our return home, I decided to write a series of posts on the lives of specific people from church history that left us with testimonies of genuine faith in the gospel, perseverance under persecution, and remained steadfast to the end. The goal in this series of articles is to lightly explore their lives and focus on their perseverance in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A life that finished well in the gospel is a life worth remembering. We have already looked at the lives of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and the Oxford martyrs. Today’s focus is on a man named John Rogers, also known as Thomas Matthew.
The Salvation of John Rogers
John Rogers 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.
The Sacrifice of John Rogers
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.
John Rogers got a copy of the Bible into the hands of archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Rogers asked him to get it before the king and ask him to license it. Cranmer immediately recognized the quality. He presented it to Thomas Cromwell and it was then presented to King Henry VIII. Cromwell was asked, “Does this book contain any heresy?” Cromwell assured King Henry VIII that there was no heresy in the Matthew Bible, and the rest is history. The first complete Bible to be printed in the English language (taken from the original biblical languages) had now been licensed by the king. The dying prayer of William Tyndale had been answered, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” John Rogers wanted to honor Tyndale in the work of the Matthew Bible, but his name was viewed as an evil heretic among the Roman Catholic Church. So, Rogers included a large decorative WT at the end of Malachi. This was a way to honor his friend without putting his name on the Bible.
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.
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 doctrine. 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.
The Legacy of John Rogers
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?
Psalm 73:25-26 – Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.