The Reformation was fueled by a series of leaders who were motivated, not by selfish ambition, but by the pursuit of Godly principle. Each of these men faced catastrophic personal consequences; loss of prestige and position, excommunication, torture and even death by horrific means. They responded with an uncompromised commitment to principles born of the Spirit and of God’s word. It is astonishing to realize how the words of Luther at the Diet of Worms could be equally attributed to the dozens of Reformers who were also used by God to purify and strengthen the church for centuries to come:
I stand (convinced) by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.
Their incredible commitment provided to us the gift of the Church we cherish today.
The subject of last week’s blog post was the Morning Star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe. He was so called because his principled positions, his writings and intellectual argumentation in opposition to the Roman church and in favor of Sola Scriptura inspired many of the Reformers who were to follow. One of those influenced was, Jan Hus. Although Hus, who’s last name is Czech for goose, was only 12 years old and lived in Bohemia when Wycliffe died, his writings would have a profound impact on his life.
He was born into a poor family but Hus’ easy intellect provided all he needed to attend and graduate from Prague University where he eventually received his Master’s degree and became a professor. Through his studies he discovered the writings of Wycliffe and they changed his view of the church and clergy.
As with Wycliffe before him, he was repulsed by the greed and wealth of the church and this led him to question its authority. From his pulpit at the influential Bethlehem Chapel in Prague he railed against leadership that looked less like the images of Christ painted on the walls of his church and more like the princes of this earth. This did not sit well with those whose power and comfort his teachings were threatening.
Because he challenged the teachings of the church, eventually they put him on trial. When he was given the opportunity recant under threat of death by fire he responded by appealing to Christ himself and said;
"O God and Lord, now the Council condemns even thine own act and thine own law as heresy, since thou thyself didst lay thy cause before thy Father as the just judge, as an example for us, whenever we are sorely oppressed. There I lay my cause.”
This only increased the cries of heretic and he was sentenced to be burned at the stake. Under heavy guard was led to his execution. The executioners undressed Hus and tied his hands behind his back with ropes, and his neck with a chain to a stake around which wood and straw had been piled up so that it covered, him to the neck. Still at the last moment the imperial marshal, in the presence of the Count Palatine, asked him to save his life by a recantation, but Hus declined with the words "God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have been accused by false witnesses. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached I will die today with gladness."
Thereupon the fire was kindled. With uplifted voice Hus sang, "Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me." And before he succumbed to the smoke and flame with his last breath he prophesied that although now they would “cook this goose”, "there will come a swan in a hundred years that you will not reach."
100 years later enters Martin Luther, whose family crest contained a swan.