The Oxford Martyrs, the Place of Faith, and Troubled Times

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The Oxford Martyrs, the Place of Faith, and Troubled Times

Oxford, in the United Kingdom, is an enchanting and beautiful place.  Called the English Athens, the ancient university town has been described as "that sweet city of dreaming spires." Indeed, the Romantic Poet William Wordsworth renounced his alma mater of Cambridge for the love of Oxford and her singular splendor.

But Oxford's long history as a "citadel of truth and beauty" has a dark side as well. In the center of the city, there is a cross of iron and stones embedded in Oxford's famous Broad Street near Balliol College. 

The simple black and white cross is a reminder of a time of deep trouble in England's religious history.  It marks the place where three men were burned at stake for their faithfulness and their faith.  They are known as the "Oxford Martyrs."

In his Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563), John Foxe tells the story of the tragic events that took place in 1554-1556.  The bloody Queen Mary Tudor ruled England, and for those committed to Biblical Christianity, these were troubled times.  Three bishops, Hugh Latimer, Nicolas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, found themselves charged with heresy and placed on trial in the university church of St Mary's.  The chief reason for their trial was a commitment to the belief in the sole sufficiency of Christ's atoning death for salvation and their refusal to compromise with the Catholic traditions and views of the Queen.   Eventually, Latimer and Ridley were punished together, while Cranmer's trial and martyrdom came later.

According to Foxe, Ridley arrived at the place of execution first. When Latimer arrived, the two embraced, and Ridley called his friend to practice great faith in a terrible time.  He said, "Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame or else strengthen us to abide it." They both knelt and prayed before listening to an exhortation from a preacher calling on them to repent before death.

After the sermon, one of the officials pleaded, "Mr. Ridley, if you will revoke your erroneous opinions, you shall not only have liberty so to do but also your life."

"Not otherwise?" said Ridley.

"If you will not do so," replied the official, "there is no remedy: you must suffer for your deserts."

"Well," concluded Ridley, "so long as the breath is in my body, I will never deny my Lord Christ and his known truth. God's will be done in me."

The blacksmith wrapped a chain of iron around the waists of Ridley and Latimer. When the wood about Ridley's feet was lit, Latimer said, "Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall see this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out."

As the fire rose, Latimer cried out, "O Father of heaven, receive my soul!" He died almost immediately. Ridley, however, hung on, with most of his lower body having burned before he passed away.

Such faith!  Such deep faith in deeply troubled times!

Although our troubles are distinctly different from Latimer and Ridley, we live in troubled times of our own.  No one really knows what to do . . . or what will happen in the end.

Fear and uncertainty are growing and spreading almost unchecked like kudzu in the South. 

While these are, indeed, troubled and very troubling times, the fact of the matter is that trouble is not extraordinary.  In fact, trouble is a regular part of life.

As far as I can tell, there are three kinds of trouble:

First, there is the trouble we make for ourselves. 

Second, there is the trouble others make for us.

And, finally, there is the trouble that comes simply from living in a broken world.

However it comes, trouble is a regular part of life.

The Bible repeatedly affirms that trouble is a fact of life that no one can escape.  

  • The Old Testament says, "Man's days are few and full of trouble" (Job 14.1).
  • To His followers, Jesus said plainly, "In this world, you will have trouble" (John 16.33).

But the Bible shows us that every trouble we face in life comes with an invitation to triumph over it by trusting God in Christ.

There are help and encouragement today for those who will take that invitation and make God's triumph a reality in their lives--regardless of the troubles we face.