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.