John Wickliffe and the Lollards

John Wickliffe was born in 1324, in Yorkshire on the Tee, in the northern part of England. He was educated at Oxford University, where he passed his early childhood. Entering the clerical order, he beheld the highest honors in the "church" before him. But the light of God's word shone into his heart, and in obedience to its teaching, he tore away from his heart the webs of error. On, step by step, he struggled into the light of Bible truth, until he, too, took a sublime and defiant stand on the Bible alone. His anti-Romish views first appeared in a series of lectures on Divinity, delivered at Oxford in 1363. In 1374 he became rector of the parish of Lutterworth, where he remained a priest until his death. Here he labored with great zeal, preaching against the corrupt practices of the papacy of Rome. He is said to have gone so far at one time as to style the pope "anti-christ." Then his troubles with the hierarchy began in real earnest. He was summoned to a convocation to be examined for his opinions, in 1378. He obeyed the summons, but his friends were so numerous that a great tumult ensued. The papal authority was then invoked against him, and Gregory VI issued several bulls commanding an inquest into the doctrines attibuted to the bold Reformer. Accordingly he was again summoned to appear before the prelates of Lambeth, but circumstances favoring him, he escaped with an injunction to refrain from preaching his obnoxious doctrines. This only served to embolden the zealous Reformer, who now entered upon the work of translating the Scriptures and circulating them among the common people. This great work was prosecuted with unabating zeal. A retinue of preachers of the Waldenses assisted by going from village to village bearing copies of parts of his translations. He opposed and challenged the Romish heresy of transubstantiation, and advocated that the church consisted of believers only, and that baptism was a "sign of grace received before." He was an uncompromising predestinarian, showing bitter hostility to Pelagianism, and advocating the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. While he did not come out of Rome (Babylon), he denounced her abominations, and spread the light of truth among the true followers of the Lamb, who were eager to study God's word and walk in its precepts. Through his work the poor people who had been denied the luxury of a Bible, had access to that fountain of truth. This intrepid author and translator died in 1384, being struck with paralysis while conducting public worship, and expiring two days later.

The followers of Wickliffe in England were designated by the name of Lollards, a name at first given to a semi-monastic sect, devoted to the care of the sick and dead, formed in Antwerp about 1300. The name arose from the practice of singing funeral dirges - the German word Lollen, or lullen, signifiying to sing softly or slowly. These Lollards having been reproached with heresy, all who did not agree with the Catholics came to be known by them as Lollards. That the true followers of Christ in England, who came to be known by that name in the fourteenth century, were Baptists, can not be successfully disputed. Many of them had come to England from the Waldenses, and the principles advocated by them were in direct line with their predecessors. Among these, Walter Reynard, known as Reynard Lollard, a Dutchman, was apprehended and burned at Cologne. The name of William Sawter is found in that illustrious roll of martyrs who died for the cause of soul freedom in Britain. Not long after the king and a troop of his courtiers tracked and murdered one hundred of these down-trodden Christians, who had assembled at the hour of midnight to worship God among the bushes of St. Giles, near London; Sir John Oldcastle, Earl of Cobham, was apprehended, brought before the Bishops for trial, and promised honor and preferment if he would but recant. He refused to do so, preferring to die rather than to deny his Lord and Master. This noble man was dragged to Tyburn, where he was hung up by his waist and burned to death. In his agonies of suffering he prayed for his enemies and exclaimed, "I die in triumph." But we forbear to record more of the sufferings endured by the Lollards of England, our purpose being only to show that they were persecuted as opposers of the Romish church. The faithful ones who, in different ages and countries, lifted their voices against the corruptions of Catholicism, were known by the general term anabaptists, because they baptized those who came to them from the Catholic party. Long before the Reformation inaugurated by Luther took its rise, the Baptists stood out against the abominable practices of the recognized "church," and, unlike Luther, stood upon the plain teaching of God's holy word.

- Elder John R. Daily, Primitive Monitor, 1897, pp. 558-560.

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