Latimer maintained from the pulpit that the Bible ought to be read in the language of the people. The Author of Holy Scripture, said he, “is God Himself;” and this Scripture partakes of the might and eternity of its Author. “There is no king, emperor, magistrate, and ruler … but are bound to obey … His holy word.” “Let us not take any bywalks, but let God’s word direct us: let us not walk after … our forefathers, nor seek not what they did, but what they should have done.”—Hugh Latimer, “First Sermon Preached Before King Edward VI.”
Barnes and Frith, the faithful friends of Tyndale, arose to defend the truth. The Ridleys and Cranmer followed. These leaders in the English Reformation were men of learning, and most of them had been highly esteemed for zeal or piety in the Romish communion. Their opposition to the papacy was the result of their knowledge of the errors of the “holy see.” Their acquaintance with the mysteries of Babylon gave greater power to their testimonies against her.
“Now I would ask a strange question,” said Latimer. “Who is the most diligent bishop and prelate in all England? … I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him…. I will tell you: it is the devil…. He is never out of his diocese; call for him when you will, he is ever at home; … he is ever at his plow…. Ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you…. Where the devil is resident, … there away with books, and up with candles; away with Bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea, at noondays; … down with Christ’s cross, up with purgatory pickpurse; … away with clothing the naked, the poor, and impotent, up with decking of images and gay garnishing of stocks and stones; up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and His most holy word…. O that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel!”— Ibid., “Sermon of the Plough.”
The grand principle maintained by these Reformers—the same that had been held by the Waldenses, by Wycliffe, by John Huss, by Luther, Zwingli, and those who united with them—was the infallible authority of the Holy Scriptures as a rule of faith and practice. They denied the right of popes, councils, Fathers, and kings, to control the conscience in matters of religion. The Bible was their authority, and by its teaching they tested all doctrines and all claims. Faith in God and His word sustained these holy men as they yielded up their lives at the stake. “Be of good comfort,” exclaimed Latimer to his fellow martyr as the flames were about to silence their voices, “we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”— Works of Hugh Latimer 1:8 .
In Scotland the seeds of truth scattered by Columba and his colaborers had never been wholly destroyed. For hundreds of years after the churches of England submitted to Rome, those of Scotland maintained their freedom. In the twelfth century, however, popery became established here, and in no country did it exercise a more absolute sway. Nowhere was the darkness deeper. Still there came rays of light to pierce the gloom and give promise of the coming day. The Lollards, coming from England with the Bible and the teachings of Wycliffe, did much to preserve the knowledge of the gospel, and every century had its witnesses and martyrs.
With the opening of the Great Reformation came the writings of Luther, and then Tyndale’s English New Testament. Unnoticed by the hierarchy, these messengers silently traversed the mountains and valleys, kindling into new life the torch of truth so nearly extinguished in Scotland, and undoing the work which Rome for four centuries of oppression had done.
Then the blood of martyrs gave fresh impetus to the movement. The papist leaders, suddenly awakening to the danger that threatened their cause, brought to the stake some of the noblest and most honored of the sons of Scotland. They did but erect a pulpit, from which the words of these dying witnesses were heard throughout the land, thrilling the souls of the people with an undying purpose to cast off the shackles of Rome.
Hamilton and Wishart, princely in character as in birth, with a long line of humbler disciples, yielded up their lives at the stake. But from the burning pile of Wishart there came one whom the flames were not to silence, one who under God was to strike the death knell of popery in Scotland.
John Knox had turned away from the traditions and mysticisms of the church, to feed upon the truths of God’s word; and the teaching of Wishart had confirmed his determination to forsake the communion of Rome and join himself to the persecuted Reformers. GC 248.1 – GC 250.2
Popery had become the world’s despot. Kings and emperors bowed to the decrees of the Roman pontiff. The destinies of men, both for time and for eternity, seemed under his control. For hundreds of years the doctrines of Rome had been extensively and implicitly received, its rites reverently performed, its festivals generally observed. Its clergy were honored and liberally sustained. Never since has the Roman Church attained to greater dignity, magnificence, or power.
But “the noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world.”—J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, b. 1, ch. 4. The Holy Scriptures were almost unknown, not only to the people, but to the priests. Like the Pharisees of old, the papal leaders hated the light which would reveal their sins. God’s law, the standard of righteousness, having been removed, they exercised power without limit, and practiced vice without restraint. Fraud, avarice, and profligacy prevailed. Men shrank from no crime by which they could gain wealth or position. The palaces of popes and prelates were scenes of the vilest debauchery. Some of the reigning pontiffs were guilty of crimes so revolting that secular rulers endeavored to depose these dignitaries of the church as monsters too vile to be tolerated. For centuries Europe had made no progress in learning, arts, or civilization. A moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom.
The condition of the world under the Romish power presented a fearful and striking fulfillment of the words of the prophet Hosea: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee: … seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.” Hosea 4:6, 1, 2. Such were the results of banishing the word of God. GC 60.1 – GC 60.3