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, and George Muller. Today’s focus is on the Oxford martyrs – Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer.
The Catholic Queen – Bloody Mary
Queen Mary I, the daughter of King Henry VIII, tried to correct her father’s attempt to sever England from the rule of Roman Catholicism. Her agenda was to move England back to a firm connection to Roman Catholic authority. This agenda would cause 288 Reformers to be burned at the stake. Of these, 1 was an archbishop, 4 were bishops, 21 were clergymen, 55 were women, and 4 were children.  Therefore, Queen Mary became known as Bloody Mary.
The Blood of the Martyrs
Augustine was once quoted as saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” A seedbed of martyrs often gathered in a little pub in Cambridge called The White Horse Inn to talk about the gospel and biblical theology. It would be there that men such as Robert Barnes, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Miles Coverdale, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Bilney, Robert Clark, John Frith, and John Lambert. Some actually believe William Tyndale was one of the group who would meet to discuss the Word of God. 
This group would produce two archbishops, seven bishops, and nine martyrs of the faith. Bloody Mary was vehemently opposed to anyone who would preach and teach in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. Converts would be rebaptized and this was an open sign that they had renounced the Catholic faith. Bloody Mary took issue with those who refused to confess that the presence of Christ was among the people in the Catholic Mass. This was one of the primary issues that she had with Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer. According to John Piper:
And why were they burned? Because they stood by a truth—the truth that the real presence of Jesus’ body is not in the eucharist but in heaven at the Father’s right hand. For that truth they endured the excruciating pain of being burned alive. 
These were truths worth dying for. For Bloody Mary, they were worth killing for. For the evangelical church today it would hardly seem like an issue worthy of sacrificing your life. The present day evangelical church has lost sight of what it means to be Protestant. Ecumenical unity and a refusal to offend others has led to blurred lines and muddy religious waters. Does the evangelical church today have any doctrines worthy of death?
Augustine was right, these men didn’t die in vain. The bowels of the Roman Catholic Church had been pierced in 1517 and desperation was setting in as the Word of God continued to spread far and wide. Freedom for us today seems so easy and “free” but it cost Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer and others their lives. We have much to be thankful for.
The Unquenchable Flame
After imprisonment in the Tower of London, Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer were transported to Oxford to stand trial for their beliefs and doctrine. They refused to honor the pope and his teachings. They all refused to embrace the Catholic Mass and the doctrine of Transubstantiation. As Latimer and Ridley were prepared to die at the stake by fire in 1555, the crowd of Catholic supporters gathered around them in streets of Oxford. They taunted them and laughed at them. Their close friends also gathered to support them. Records tell of friends weeping as they bid them farewell.
As Latimer and Ridley came together at the stake, they embraced one another and then knelt to pray. After praying they were bound to the stake and the flames were ignited. John Foxe records the words of Latimer to Ridley. He said, “Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out.” As the flames engulfed their bodies, they died in ease according to the witnesses. After their bodies were burned, the flame eventually burned out, or did it?
Just as Latimer promised Ridley, the flame of the gospel continues to burn in England and beyond. The Bible has now been printed and distributed openly in the common man’s language. Bloody Mary’s evil reign was short lived. If you visit the city of Oxford today, you will find a large monument dedicated to the martyrs in the middle of the intersection of St Giles’, Magdalen Street and Beaumont Street, in a very well traveled popular location. Information about the memorial is provided on a memorial board that explains the martyrs memorial. It likewise points people to nearby Broad Street where a cross in the road marks the very spot where the martyrs were burned. If you travel there, as my wife and I did recently, you will find the cross in Broad Street as a place where many pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobiles are passing frequently. The flames on their bodies have long disappeared, but the flame of their legacy and their unwillingness to capitulate on the gospel of Jesus Christ remains bright.
We can learn much from these men who remained faithful to the end. As we see a growing trend of Christian persecution that’s starting to get media attention, it would serve us well to evaluate our faith. Is your faith the real thing or would the fires of persecution cause you to recant Jesus Christ? May you be found faithful in the day of testing.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, let us mediate upon the blessings of the gospel and the great freedoms that many of us enjoy as we embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ without the threat of Christian persecution. We have much to be thankful for.
Colossians 3:15-17 – And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
- John Charles Ryle, Light from Old Times (Moscow, Idaho: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2000, first published 1890), 36.
- Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace – A Long Line of Godly Men, Vol. 2 (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2011), 452-453.
- John Piper, “Contend for the Faith” a sermon preached on November 25, 1984.