Fundamental Baptist Institute

Facts From History About Our

King James Bible.

Written and Published by

by Rev. Ronald D. Lesley, Th. M., D.D.

Chapter V

John WYCKLIFFE

1324 - 1384 AD

 

John Wycliffe, or Wickliffe, known as "The morning star of the Reformation," was born about 1324 in Yorkshire, England. He was a good student graduating and teaching at Oxford University.

In 1348, a great, and fearful pestilence broke out. It was one of the most destructive in history. Appearing first in Asia it came west crossing Europe with its "terror marching before it, and death following in its rear." On the first of August the plague reached England. "Beginning at Dorchester,'' says Foxe, "every day twenty, some days forty, some fifty. and more, dead corpses were brought, and laid together in one deep pit." On the first of November it reached London, "where the vehement rage thereof was so hot, and did increase so much, that from the first day of February till about the beginning of May, in a church-yard then newly made by Smithfield (Charterhouse). about two hundred dead corpses every day were buried, besides those which in other church-yards of the city were

 

 

Wycliffe was the first person of his era who conceived the idea of giving to his countrymen, the whole Bible in the English language. For a period of 130 years Wycliffe’s translation from the Latin was the only complete Bible in the English language.

Before the invention of the printing press, no other book ever had such widespread distribution. Every copy had to be written by hand. Wycliffe employed a large number of scribes, but they were unable to supply the growing demands for the Bible. It is said that some of the "free farmer yeomen" were so anxious to obtain the Word of God that they often bartered a load of hay for just a few pages.

In 1374 Wycliffe became rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. He opposed the Pope’s claim to the right to tax, and to appoint men to church offices without asking the King.

In 1377, he was brought to trial before the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London. His London supporters came to his rescue and the effort to ruin Wycliffe failed.

Wycliffe had completed the translation of the New Testament and arranged with his friend Nicholas to translate the Old Testament. Before it could be finished the Roman prelates were informed of the work and Nicholas was tried and imprisoned at Rome. Nicholas accomplished an escape from prison. He did not return to England during Wycliffe’s lifetime. Wycliffe himself therefore resumed the work of the translation of the Old Testament, and completed it before his death in 1384.

Wycliffe was charged with heresy and cited before an ecclesiastical convention at Oxford in 1382. These charges in some way failed, but he was expelled from the university. The pope issued papal decrees against him. The effort condemned his teachings at Oxford. He, however, continued to preach boldly, and he wrote many Latin treatises to support his attacks on the beliefs of Catholicism, and practices of the Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church. Later Wycliffe was summoned to Rome to answer charges against him before the pope. Wycliffe’s health was fast failing and he died in 1384 before this was accomplished..

Nearly twenty years passed before the progress of the work of transcribing the Wycliffe Bible was checked by persecution.

2Ti 3:12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

 

Many of Wycliffe’s "poor priests" became followers of the Lollard movement. It is hard to say who was influencing whom. The Lollards were a Baptistic evangelist group of believers. Lollards copied and distributed the first full Bible, Wycliffe’s English translation. Their foundation was the authority of the Bible.

The Lollards were members of a widespread Christian movement in all England during the late 13th to the early 15th centuries. They were highly critical of the power and wealth of the Roman Church. The Lollards were joined by Wycliffe’s "poor priests," who were trained and organized to teach from his English translation of the Bible. They Biblically preached against the Sacraments of the Roman Church for salvation. They minimized clerical authority, and emphasized poverty, ethical purity, and a Christian devotional life. This revival spread rapidly during the decade following Wycliffe’s death in 1384.

The Lollards enjoyed the support of many Oxford scholars, powerful nobles, country gentlemen, wealthy merchants, and masses of common people. Their preachers based their teachings on personal faith in Christ, Divine election, and Biblical authority. They taught that the commonly held doctrines of transubstantiation, the Eucharist, Indulgences, and a hierarchical church organization are unscriptural and false doctrinally.

After HENRY IV, in 1399, came to the English throne the Lollards were subject to increasing torture and persecution. In the House of Commons there was strong Lollard support, yet, the statute, De haeretico comburendo, (On the Burning of the Heretic) was passed by Parliament in 1401. Martyrdom followed as more organized efforts of evil churchmen developed against those who held to the authority of Scripture.

The Lollards did follow the teachings of the John Wickliffe, and were the adherents of a religious movement which was widespread in the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries. The Inquisition reached England for the condemnation of Wickliffe and his followers.

It is hard to say where the name, "Lollard," came from, but the most generally received explanation derives the words from lollen or Iullenl, to sing softly. The word is much older than its English use; there were Lollards in the Netherlands as early as the beginning of the 14th century, who were akin to the Fratricelli, Beghards, and other sects of the breakaway Franciscans.

The earliest official use of the name in England occurs in 1387 in a mandate of the bishop of Worcester against five "poor preachers," nomine seu rita Lollardorum confoederatos. It is probable that the name was given to the followers of Wickliffe because they resembled those offshoots from the great Franciscan movement which had disowned the pope's authority, and separated themselves from the mediaeval church.

Determined to break the support of Lollardism by rural aristocrats, Henry V brought his friend, Sir John Oldcastle (1378-1417), to trial and, finally, to the stake. He was placed over the flames as an animal would be roasted. He suffered a horrible death for his faith in Christ and His Word.

Above is the burning of Sir John Oldcastle a follower of Wycliffe

and supported the Lollards in 1413 AD.

The 14th century, so full of varied religious life, made it manifest that the two different ideas of a life of separation from the world, which in earlier times had lived on side by side within the mediaeval church were irreconcilable.

The Roman church chose to abide by the idea of Hildebrand, (Pope Gregory VII) and to reject that of Francis of Assisi; and the revolt of Ockham and the Franciscans, of the beghards, and other spiritual fraternities of Wickliffe, and the Lollards, were all protests against that decision. Hildebrand's object was to make church government, or polity in all respects distinct from civil government. It provided that no civil ruler could touch churchman, or church possession for trial or punishment, taxation, or confiscation. This directive in the hands of his successors who followed his principles, the Roman church became transformed into an empire. The Roman Church rivaled with kingdoms. However, its territories were scattered over the face of Europe in diocesan domains, convent lands, or priests' glebes. Its taxes were the tithes, and its nobles the prelates. The Roman Catholic church had taken on the political, and philosophical character under Gregory VII , that would make it the power we find today.

2Co 6:17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

The Roman Church built their empire around this verse. Their effort was to separate the church from governmental powers. They held land and possessions to the point that they were more wealthy and powerful than the states in which they did abide. Their whole treatise was one of separation from the world.

Francis of Assisi had another ideal. Christians, he thought, should separate themselves from the world, in imitation of Christ, by giving up property, and home, and country, and going about doing good. Priests should live only on the alms of the people. For a time these two ways of separation from the world lived on side by side in the Catholic church: but they were really irreconcilable.

Hildebrand's church required power to enforce her claims. And money, land, political position, were all sources of power. Church rulers favored the friars when they found means of evading their vows of absolute poverty. Gradually these forces came to be facing each other in the 14th century. A great political Christendom, whose rulers were statesmen, with aims, and policy of a worldly ambitious type, faced a Biblical Christendom, full of the ideas of separation from the world by self-sacrifice. New attitudes of participation in the benefits of Christ's work by an ascetic imitation, which separated itself from political Christianity, and called the pope and his church anti-Christ, were advancing with greater power.

Wickliffe's whole life was spent in the struggle, and he bequeathed his work to his followers the Lollards. The main practical thought with Wickliffe was that the church, if true to her divine mission, must aid men to live that life of evangelical poverty by which they could be separate from the world and imitate Christ. And if the church ceased to be true to her mission, she ceased to be a church. .

Wickliffe was a metaphysician and a theologian, and had to invent a metaphysical theory - the theory of Dominium--to enable him to transfer, in a way satisfactory to himself, the powers and privileges of the church to his company of poor Christians. But his followers, who were not troubled with need of theories, were content to allege that a church which held large landed possessions, collected tithes greedily, and took money from starving peasants for baptizing, burying, and praying, could not be the church of Christ and his apostles.

Lollardy was flourishing, and most dangerous to the ecclesiastical organization of England, during the ten years after Wickliffe's death. It had spread so rapidly, and grown so popular, that a hostile chronicler could say that almost every second man was a Lollard.

Wickliffe left three intimate disciples. They were: Nicolas Hereford, a doctor of theology of Oxford, who had helped his master to translate the Bible into English: John Ashton, also a fellow of an Oxford college: and John Purvey, Wickliffe's colleague at Lutterworth, and a co-translator of the Bible. Associated with these were, in the first age of Lollardy, John Parker, William Smith, Swynderly, Richard Waytstract, and Crompe. There must have been a large number of preachers who traveled throughout England preaching the doctrines of their Master.

Wickliffe had organized in Lutterworth an association for sending the gospel into all England. It was a company of poor preachers of the Word. They were to be poor without money or property, to unite with flexible unity, with free and constant mingling among the poor. Such was the ideal of Wickliffe's "poor preachers." Armed only with portions of their master's translation of the Bible in their hand to guide them, they preached all over England, wherever they could be heard without detection.

Oxford university, and many nobles supported Wycliffe and his poor preachers.

Lord Montacute, Lord Salisbury, Sir Thomas Latimer of Braybrooke, and several others had chaplains who were Lollardist preachers. They were assisted by many merchants and burgesses with money. Literally, God honored their faith.

Their organization must have been strong in numbers, but only the names of those have come down to us who were seized for heresy. It is only from the indictments of their accusers that their opinions and names can be gathered. (This will be lost as Latin becomes a lost langusge.)

The preachers were picturesque figures in long russet dress down to the heels, who, staff in hand, preached in the mother tongue to the people in churches, graveyards, squares, streets, and houses, wherever they could meet with people. They then talked privately with those who had been impressed by the Gospel.

Lollard literature was very widely circulated,--books by Wickliffe and Hereford, tracts and broadsides,--in spite of many edicts forbidding it.

In 1395, a grave political mistake was made. The Lollards grew so strong that they petitioned parliament through Sir Thomas Latimer, and Stury to reform the church on Lollardist grounds. It is said that the Lollard Conclusions printed by Canon Shirley contain the substance of this petition. Parliament was told that temporal possessions ruin the church, and drive out the Christian graces of faith, hope, and charity. The priesthood of the church in communion with Rome was not the priesthood Christ gave to his apostles. They asserted that the monk's vow of celibacy had for its consequence unnatural lust, and should not be imposed. They contended that transubstantiation was a feigned miracle, and led people to idolatry. The petition also stated that prayers made over wine, bread, water, oil, salt, wax, incense, altars of stone, church walls, vestments, miters, crosses, staves, were magical, and should not be allowed; That kings should possess the jus episcopale, and bring good government into the church; That no special prayers should be made for the dead; that auricular confession made to the clergy, and declared to be necessary for salvation, was the root of clerical arrogance and the cause of indulgences and other abuses in pardoning sin. They asserted that all wars were against the principles of the New Testament, and were but murdering and plundering the poor to win glory for kings. They maintained that the vows of chastity laid upon the nuns led to child murder. (very late term abortions) That many of the trades practiced in the commonwealth, such as those of goldsmiths and armourers, were unnecessary and led to luxury and waste. These Conclusions really contain the sum of Wickliffite teaching. If we add that the principal duty of priests is to preach, and that the worship of images and going on pilgrimages are sinful, they include almost all the heresies charged in the indictments against individual Lollards down to the middle of the 15th century.

Luther must have been aware of these teaching as he concluded that faith in Christ Jesus alone brings forgiveness of sins, and salvation.

Martin Luther and his wife Catharine Von Bora.

 

The king, who had hitherto seemed anxious to repress the action of the clergy against the Lollards, spoke strongly against the petition and its promoters, and Lollardy never again had the power in England which it wielded up to that year.

If the formal statements of the Lollard creed are to be gotten from these conclusions, the popular view of their controversy with the church may be gathered from the ballads preserved in the collection of political poems and songs relating to English history.

Lollard thought can be found in the works published in 1859 by Mr. Thomas Wright for the, Master of the Rolls, series, and in the Piers Ploughman poems. The Piers Ploughman's Creed was probably written about 1394, when Lollardy was at its greatest strength. The ploughman of the Creed is a man gifted with sense enough to see through the tricks of the friars, and with much religious knowledge as can be gotten from the creed, and from Wickliffe’s version of the Gospels. The poet gives us a "portrait of the fat friar with his double chin shaking about as big as a goose's egg, and the ploughman with his hood full of holes, his mittens made of patches, and his poor wife going barefoot on the ice so that her blood followed" (Early English Text Society, vol. xxx., pref., p. 16). One can easily see why farmers, and peasants turned from the friars to the poor preachers.

The Ploughman's Complaint, tells the same tale. It paints popes, cardinals, prelates, rectors, monks, and friars, who call themselves followers of Peter and keepers of the gates of heaven and hell, and pale poverty-stricken people, cotless and landless, who have to pay the fat clergy for spiritual assistance. They asks if these are Peter's priests after all. " I trowe Peter took no money, for no sinners that he sold. … Peter was never so great a fole (fool), to leave his key with such a losell."

In 1399, King Henry IV overthrew Richard II, and one of the most active partisans of the new monarch was Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury. Arundel was the most determined opponent of Lollardy. It has been alleged that Henry won his help by promising to do his utmost to suppress the followers of Wickliffe. This much is certain, when the house of Lancaster was firmly established upon the throne, the infamous act De combruendo hereiticos (The Burning of the Heretic) was passed in 1400. This ungodly act united church and state in their effort to crush the Lollards.

John Purvey was seized, and William Sautrey (Chartris) was tried, condemned, and both burned. The Lollards, far from shaken, gave up no ground, and united a struggle for social and political liberty to the hatred felt by the peasants towards the Roman clergy. Jak Upland (John Countryman) took the place of Piers Ploughman, and upbraided the false clergy, especially the friars, for their wealth and luxury.

Wickliffe had published the rule of St. Francis, and had pointed out in a commentary on how far friars had departed from the maxims of their founder, and had persecuted the Spirituales (the Fratricelli, Beghards, Lollards of the Netherlands) for keeping them to the letter.

Jak Upland put all this into rude nervous English verse:--

'"Freer, what charitie is this

To fain that whoso liveth after your order

Liveth most perfectlie,

And next followeth the state of the apostles

in povertie and pennance:

And yet the wisest and greatest clerkes of you

Wend or send or procure to the courts of Rome,

….and to be assoiled of the vow of povertie.

The archbishop of Canterbury, having the power of the state behind him, attacked that stronghold of Lollardy at the university of Oxford.

In 1406, a document appeared appearing to be the testimony of the university in favor of Wickliffe. Its genuineness was disputed at the time, and when quoted by Huss at the council of Constance, it was repudiated by the English delegates. The archbishop treated Oxford as if it had issued the document, and procured the issue of severe regulations in order to purge the university of heresy.

In 1408 Arundel in convocation proposed the famous, Constitutiones. Thomae Arundel intended to put down Wickliffite preachers and teaching. They provided amongst other things that no one was to be allowed to preach without a bishop's license, that preachers preaching to the laity were not to rebuke the sins of the clergy, and that Lollard books and the translation of the Bible were to be searched for and destroyed.

License means control. This is why Baptist have never submitted to license by the state, or hierarchy. John Bunyon spent many years in prison for preaching without a license from the church, or state.

The next attempted was to purge the nobility of Lollardy. All the earlier noble leaders had died, but there was still one distinguished Lollard, Sir John Oldcastle. Sir John Oldcastle, "the good Lord Cobham" of the common people, had been won to pious living by the poor preachers, and openly professed Christ and the common Lollard doctrines. His chaplain was seized, then his books and papers were taken and burned in the king's presence. Oldcastle was later indicted for heresy. He was burnt for an obstinate heretic. Obstinate heretics would feel the full wrath of the burning. He would not be mercifully strangled beforehand. Mocking ballads were composed against the martyr Oldcastle.

These persecutions were not greatly protested against because of the wars of Henry V with France, which had awakened the martial spirit of the nation. Little sympathy was felt for men who had declared that all wars were but for the murder, and plundering of poor people for the sake of kings.

Arundel could not prevent the writing, and distribution of Lollard books and pamphlets. Two appeared just about the time of the martyrdom of Oldcastle-The Ploughman’s Prayer and the Lanthorne of Light.

The Ploughman’s Prayer declared that true worship consists in three things--in loving God, and in dreading God, and trusting in God above all other things. It showed how Lollards, pressed by persecution, became further separated from the religious life of the church. "Men maketh now great stonen houses full of glasen windows, and clepeth thilke thine houses and churches. And they setten in these houses mawmets of stocks and stones, to fore them they knelen privilich and apert and maken their prayers, and all this they say is they worship..... For Lorde our belief is that thine house is man's soul."

The council of Constance (1414-1418) put an end to the papal schism, and also showed its determination to put down what it determined to be heresy by burning John Huss. When news of this reached England the clergy were incited to still more vigorous proceedings against Lollard preachers, and books. From this time, Lollardy appears banished from the fields and streets, and took refuge in houses and places of concealment.

There was no more wayside preaching, but instead there were in houses, in peasants' huts, in saw pits, and in field ditches, where the Bible was read, and exhortations were given, and so Lollardy continued. In 1428, Archbishop Chichele confessed that the Lollards seemed as numerous as ever, and that their literary, and preaching work, went on as vigorously as before. It was found out also that many of the poorer rectors and parish priests, a great many chaplains, and curates, were in secret association with the Lollards. Lollard association was so greatly made, that in many places, high church processions were never made, and worship on saints' days was abandoned.

Lollards, if not stamped out, were strengthened by persecution, and became more militant in proclaiming their doctrines. Thomas Bagley was accused of declaring that if in the sacrament a priest made bread into God, he made a God that can be eaten by rats and mice! He pronounced that the Pharisees of the day, the monks, and the nuns, and the friars, and all other privileged persons recognized by the church, were limbs of Satan! He preached that auricular confession to the priest, was the will, not of God, but of the devil. Others held that any priest who took salary was excommunicate, and that boys could bless the bread as well as those priests.

From England Lollardy passed into Scotland. Oxford infected St. Andrews, and we find traces of more than one vigorous search made for Lollards among the teaching staff of the Scottish university. Lollards of Kyle in Ayrstlire were claimed by Knox as the forerunners of the Scotch reformation.

The Holy Spirit giving a thirst for Bibles from the original tongues into English, by Tyndale, Coverdale, Taverner, Cranmer, the Geneva refugees, and Parker, with the revisions and combinations of these various translations, on to our present perfected Authorized Version, have come from the fact that from this thirst, Lollard Bible-men had made as good an English Bible as necessary, for an English reformation of truth.

The hatred, and enmity of the Roman Catholic Church followed John Wycliffe to the grave. In the year 1416 the Council of Constance, which burned John Huss, officially condemned Wycliffe. Decree was made that the body of Wycliffe be exhumed, and burned. The order that his remains should be removed from consecrated ground, and his ashes cast into the river Swift, at Lutterworth, was given. However, the decree was not carried out until thirteen years later. It is amazing how patient and determined the haters and persecutors of the saints of God can be to carry out their plans.

During this time the Pope was addressed as, "Our Lord God The Pope."

The translation character of the Wycliffe Bible furnished for all time to come the design, and pattern of the English Bible. The work of John Wycliffe prepared the way for a greater evangelistic outreach, and hastened the reformation of England. How thankful we should be that God raised up these great, and faithful men.

It should be noted that Wycliffe translated from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate of 382 AD. Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus to revise the old Latin Bible. Jerome in his title page wrote, "You urge me to revise the Old Latin version, and , as it were, sit in judgment on the copies of Scripture which are now scattered the world; and, inasmuch as they differ from one another, you would have me decide which of them agree with the original Greek."


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Ronald D. Lesley

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