Memoirs of the Reformers - Hugh Latimer (1487-1555)The Magisterial Reformation - Post Tenebras Lux - Out of Darkness Light
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The pious divine Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcestor.
OF this plain, but pious divine, it may be said he was one of the most zealous and useful reformers of the church of England. His father, an honest farmer at Thurcaston, near mount Sorrel in Leicestershire, though he possessed no land of his own, lived in good repute. His farm was stocked with an hundred sheep and thirty cows. He employed six men, and furnished the king, on necessary occasions, with a man and horse armed for the field. He had six daughters, each of whom had five pounds of marriage portion; and the subject of the present memoir, his only son, who was born in the farmhouse about the year 1470, the 11th year of Edward IV. He was early put to school at Thurcaston, and afterward sent to Leicester; and being a very promising scholar, his father determined to bring him up for the church. With this view, so soon as the young man was qualified, he was sent to Cambridge in 1484, where, at the usual time, he took his degrees in arts, and entering into priests orders, became a warm defender of the religion of Rome against the reformed opinions, which at this time were becoming popular in England. He held the teachers of the new doctrines in abhorrence, and heard them with indignation. In public and in private he cried them down; and so hateful were the principles they taught, that he declared it as his opinion, that the last times were come, that the day of judgment and the end of the world were certainly at hand. “Impiety,” says he, “gains ground apace; and to what lengths may not men he expected to run, when they begin to question even the infallibility of the pope!” When the good Mr. Stafford, divinity lecturer in Cambridge, read lectures in the schools, Latimer was sure to be there, driving forth the scholars.
When he commenced bachelor of divinity, which was in 1515, in his 45th year, he took occasion to give an open testimony of his dislike to the reformation, in an oration, which he delivered against Philip Melanchthon, whom he treated with unmerciful severity for his impious innovations in religion. His zeal was so much taken notice of in the university, that he was, the year after, elected crossbearer in all public processions; an employment which he accepted with reverence, and discharged with becoming solemnity for seven years.
Among those who favored the reformation about this time, the most conspicuous was Mr. Thomas Bilney, who afterwards suffered at Smithfield. It was Latimer’s happiness to be particularly acquainted with this good man, who had conceived a very favorable opinion of Latimer. He had known his life in the university to be strictly moral and devout, and ascribed his failings to the genius of his religion; and notwithstanding the ardor and tenacity with which he held and defended the dogmas of the Roman church, he could perceive in him a candor of temper prejudiced by no sinister views, and an integrity, which gave hopes that he could not fail becoming a reformer. Induced by these favorable appearances, Mr. Bilney took all proper occasions to introduce many things about corruption in general, dropping some occasional hints respecting the corruptions of the Romish church. Having in so far prepared the way, he ventured at last to request Mr. Latimer for once to divest his mind of all prejudice with respect to the doctrines held by either party, and place both sides of the question in full view before him. In what manner these hints were received, we have no certain account, only we find, that his friend’s labors were blessed to the conversion from popery of one of its most zealous members. This was in 1523, when Latimer was in his fifty-third year. Latimer no sooner ceased to be a zealous advocate for, the Roman church, than he proceeded on his reforming career with equal, if not with renovated assiduity.
In a short time he made many converts, both in town and country, and not a few in the university. He preached in public, exhorted in private, and everywhere pressed the necessity of true faith and holiness of life, in opposition to the splendor of those outward and mechanical services, which had been long considered the very soul and essence of religion. Cambridge, like the rest of the kingdom, was at this time entirely popish. Latimer’s behavior was much taken notice of, and he soon came to learn that he had made himself peculiarly obnoxious by the method he had pursued. The first serious opposition he met with from the popish party, was occasioned by a course of sermons he preached before the university during the Christmas holidays, in which he spoke his sentiments upon many opinions and usages maintained and practiced in the Romish church; and strongly contended, that the locking up of the scriptures from the people was a flagrant abuse of Christian power and authority, tending to perpetuate ignorance, and its natural consequences, vice and all sorts of immorality. Few of the tenets of Rome were at this time questioned in England, unless they tended to relax the manners of the people. Transubstantiation, and other points more speculative, still maintained their ground. Mr. Latimer therefore dwelt especially upon such tenets as tended to the dissolution of manners. He pointed out to the people what true religion was, and wherein it consisted: That it was seated in the heart, and always discovered itself by a life of holiness and sound morality: That it was the strait gate, and the narrow way to life everlasting, a precious peril of such inestimable value, that, compared with it, external appointments were of no value whatever. But so great was the outcry against these discourses, that the cardinal erected a court, consisting of bishops, divines, and canonists, to put the laws in execution against heretics. Tunstal was president of this court, and Bilney, Latimer, and two or three more were called before him. Bilney was considered the arch heretic, of course the rigor of the court was principally leveled against him: They succeeded, however, in persuading him to recant; accordingly he carried the faggot, a token of recantation and penance, and was dismissed. As for Latimer and the rest, they had easier terms. Tunstal omitted no opportunity of shewing mercy, and was dexterous at finding them; and the heretics returned to Cambridge, and were received by their friends with open arms. Amid this mutual gratulation, Bilney alone was unhappy; he shunned the sight of his acquaintances, and received their congratulations with confusion and blushes. Struck with remorse for what he had done, he became melancholy; and after leading a. life for two years in all the austerity of a hermit, he resolved to take the field once more, and acknowledge the truth even unto death. Bilney’s sufferings, instead of shocking and discouraging the reformers at Cambridge, inspired the leaders with renovated ,vigor. Latimer now began to exert himself more than he had yet done; and succeeded to that credit and reputation which Bilney had long supported. He constantly preached in Dr. Barnes’s church, and assisted him in his pastoral duties. Among other instances of his resolution and warm zeal, he gave one, which, considering the circumstances of the case, was truly remarkable. He had the courage to address his majesty, Henry VIII., against his proclamation just published, prohibiting the use of the bible in the mother tongue, together with other religious books. He had preached before his majesty two or three times at Windsor, and had been taken notice of in a more affable manner than that monarch was generally accustomed to do towards his subjects; but whatever hopes his sovereign’s favor had inspired him with, he chose to put all to hazard when it came in competition with what he conceived to be his duty. He was generally considered as one of the most eminent of the reformers, and thought it therefore became him to be one of the most forward in opposing popery. His letter bespeaks an honest and sincere heart; it was intended thereby to apprize the king of the danger of listening to all the intriguing insinuations of the bishops, and particularly their intentions in the proclamation in question, and concluded in these terms: “Accept, gracious sovereign, without displeasure, what I have written. I thought it my duty to mention these things to your majesty. No personal quarrel, as God shall judge me, have I with any man; I wanted merely to induce your majesty to consider well what kind of persons you have about you, and the ends for which they give counsel. Indeed, great prince, many of them, or they are much slandered, have very private ends in view. God grant your majesty may see through the evil designs of wicked men, and be in all things equal to the high office with which you are invested: Wherefore, gracious king, remember yourself, have pity upon your own soul, and consider that the day is’ at hand when you must render an account of your office, and the blood which has been shed by your sword. On which important day, that your grace may stand steadfast and unashamed, clear and ready in your reckoning, having your pardon sealed with the blood of our Saviour Christ, which alone can avail you on that decisive occasion, is my daily prayers to him who suffered death for our transgressions. May the Spirit of God preserve you.”
The influence of the popish party was so powerful at this time, that Latimer’s letter produced little or no effect; nevertheless the king received it, not only with temper, but also with uncommon condescension, and graciously thanked him for his well intended advice. The king loved sincerity, and Latimer’s plain and simple manner had formerly made a favorable impression upon him, which this letter contributed not a little to strengthen and improve; while his active and successful endeavors, in establishing the king’s supremacy in 1535, had riveted him in the royal favor. Dr. Butts, the king’s physician, having been sent to Cambridge on that business, as well as on the affair of the divorce, began to court the protestant party, from whom the king expected the greatest and most steadfast support; and Mr. Latimer was one of the first to whom he addressed himself, as a person most likely to afford him essential service in that delicate affair. He begged him to collect the opinion of his friends, and use his utmost endeavors to bring over the most eminent of those on the opposite side. Being a warm friend to the cause in which he had embarked, Latimer undertook the business with his usual zeal, and managed matters so much to the satisfaction of the doctor, that when that gentleman returned to court, he took Mr. Latimer along with him, with the intention no doubt of procuring him a proper consideration.
About this time lord Cromwell was rising into power, and being himself a friend to the reformation, encouraged such churchmen as were most inclined that way, and accordingly became the friend and patron of Mr. Latimer, and very soon procured for him the benefice of Westkingston in Wiltshire. Thither Latimer resolved to repair, and watch over the welfare of his flock. Surprised at this resolution, his friend Dr. Butts did what he could to dissuade him from residing constantly amongst his people. “You are deserting,” said the doctor, “the fairest opportunity of making your fortune. The prime minister only intends this as an earnest of his future favors, and will certainly in time do much greater things for you; but you must know, that it is the manner of courts to consider them provided for who seem satisfied with what they have got; and, trust me, an absent claimant stands but a poor chance with a present rival.” This the old courtier advised; but these considerations had no weight with Latimer, who was heartily tired of the court, where he saw so much irreligion and debauchery, without being able to oppose them, having neither authority, nor, as he thought, talents to reclaim the great.
The principal design of Cromwell and Dr. Butts in procuring Latimer this provision, was to encourage him in assisting them to render the king’s supremacy acceptable to the people; for Mr. Latimer was accounted the most diligent and popular preacher in the kingdom. They were anxious therefore to persuade him to exercise his talents in and about the metropolis; but Latimer had a very different view of the matter; his principal anxiety was to reclaim wandering sinners to Christ’s fold; and, next to that consideration, he longed to retire from the hustle of a court, where, with the greatest concern, he daily beheld every vice triumphant, and malice, envy, detraction, and vanity, sweeping every thing before them.
Having thus resolved, Mr. Latimer bade adieu to the splendor of the palace and the vanity of the court, and entered immediately oh the duties of his parish; and wherever he observed the pastoral duties neglected, thither he extended his labors on all sides, having for that particular purpose procured a general license from the university of Cambridge. Mr. Latimer’s mode of preaching being extremely popular, he was gladly received wherever he went. At Bristol, where he preached often, he was countenanced and much encouraged by the magistrates. But his reputation was too high for the popish party long to endure; and their malice was soon manifested. The mayor of Bristol had appointed him to preach in that city on Easterday: Public intimation had been given, and the people were highly pleased, when, all of a sudden, an order was emitted, prohibiting any one to preach there without the bishop’s license. The clergy of the town waited upon Latimer, informed him of the bishop’s order, and expressed their sorrow at being thereby prevented from hearing an excellent discourse. Mr. Latimer received their compliments with a smile, having been apprized of the whole affair; and knowing that the reverend gentlemen, who thus pretended to lament the effects of the bishop’s order, were the selfsame individuals who had called it forth, by letters addressed to him for that precise purpose.
The opposition manifested against this singular man, and the truths he so boldly asserted, increased with his growing reputation. The pulpits began to circulate their malevolent invectives against him, and such liberties were taken with his character, that he considered it necessary to vindicate himself from the injurious reflections with which his enemies had conspired to blast his honest fame. Accordingly, his calumniators were called before the mayor of Bristol, where his accusers were put to the proof; but could produce nothing but some loose and incredible hearsay information. His enemies, however, were too inveterate to be thus silenced. They consisted chiefly of the country clergymen, headed by some divines of more eminence, who, after long and mature deliberation, drew up various articles of accusation against him, extracted principally from his sermons; in which he was charged with speaking lightly of the worship of saints, with distorting that there was no material fire in hell, and that he would rather be in purgatory than in Lollard’s tower. These charges being laid before the bishop of London, Mr. Latimer was charged to appear before him, where, having appealed to his own ordinary, the bishop of London and some others were commissioned to examine him. His friends, aware of the danger to which he was exposed, advised and earnestly pressed him to save himself by retiring from the kingdom. But determined to face his adversaries, he took leave of his friends, and set out for London in the depth of winter, under a severe fit of the stone, and in the sixty-sixth year of his age. But the thought of leaving his parish exposed to the popish clergy hang heavy on his mind. On his arrival at London, a court of bishops and canonists were ready to receive him. Mr. Latimer had reason to believe, from the accusations that had formerly been charged upon him, that his sermons would constitute the principal ground of their investigation. He was therefore not a little surprised to find a paper put into his hands, declaring his belief in the efficacy of masses for the souls in purgatory; of prayers to dead saints; of pilgrimages to their sepulchers and relics: In the power of the pope to forgive sins; in the doctrine of merit; the seven sacraments; and the worship of images. This paper Latimer refused to subscribe; and the archbishop, with a frown on his countenance, begged he would consider what he did. “We have no intention,” Mr. Latimer, “continued he, to be hard upon you; we dismiss you for the present; take a copy of the articles, examine them carefully; and God grant, at our next meeting, we may find each other in better temper.” At the next, and several subsequent meetings, the same farce was acted afresh. He continued inflexible, and they to distress him. Thrice a week he was regularly called before them, with the design of cither ensnaring him by captious questions, or teasing him into compliance. Tired out at last with such vexatious usage, instead of answering their next summons, he sent a letter to the archbishop, in which, with great freedom, ho informs him, that their former treatment had fretted him into such disorder,’ that he was unfit to attend them. • That, in the meantime, he took the liberty of expostulating with his grace for so long detaining him from discharging the duties of his office: . That to him it appeared the most unaccountable and preposterous thing in the world, that they, who never preached themselves, should prevent others, especially now that some abuses in religion were supposed to exist, whereas preaching was the best, and perhaps the only practical method for discountenancing them: That, with regard to their examination, he was at a loss to conceive what they were aiming at; they pretended one thing at the beginning, and another in the progress: That if his sermons were offensive, which, however, e believed were neither contrary to truth or to any canon of the church, he was ready to answer whatever might be considered exceptionable: That be wished they would pay a little more respect to the judgment of the people, and particularly, that they would make some reasonable distinction between the ordinances of God and those of man: That he. was desirous all pastors might be obliged to do, their duty; but, at any rate, that those who were willing to do theirs, should be rather encouraged than unnecessarily prevented: That respecting the articles proposed, he begged to be excused from subscribing them. He was determined, during life, he should at no time, and under no circumstances, become an a better of superstition; That he hoped the archbishop would excuse the freedom with which he had written. He knew his duty to superiors; and in practice should not be wanting; but, in the present case, he was satisfied he lay under a much more important obligation.
The bishops, nevertheless, continued their persecutions, till Latimer wag relieved from their oppression by a very unexpected hand. Informed, probably by lord Cromwell, of Latimer’s ill usage, the king interposed, and rescued him from the hands of his enemies. Latimer was the very figure of simplicity, and exhibiting such a reverend and apostolic appearance at court, attracted the particular notice of Anne Boleyn, the favorite wife of Henry, and a warm friend to the reformed religion. This amiable but unfortunate queen mentioned him to her reforming friends, as, in her opinion, equally, if not better qualified for forwarding the reformation than any she had seen. Lord Cromwell raised him still higher in her estimation; and both joined in recommending him to the king for a bishopric, who, perhaps recollecting the sincerity and simplicity of his admonitory letter, and former services done him, wanted little solicitation. The see of Worchester was accordingly offered him; and Latimer, as he had been at no pains to procure this promotion, considered it the work of providence, and accepted the same. Indeed, considering the rough path he had already trode in. the faithful performance of his duty, and observing the hazardous prospect before him in his old station, he found it necessary, both for his own safety, and the good of the church, to avail himself of this proffered acquisition of refuge and of power.
In discharging the duties of his new office, all the historians of these times inform us, that Latimer was remarkably zealous. That in overlooking the clergy of his diocese, he was active, warm, and determined; and that, in presiding in his ecclesiastic courts, he evinced the same spirit. In ordaining, he was wary; in preaching, indefatigable; in reproving or exhorting, severe and persuasive. Thus far be could act with authority; but, with regard to the popish ceremonies, in times so unsettled and dangerous, he neither durst lay them wholly aside, nor was he willing to retain them. In this critical dilemma, his address was admirable. He inquired into ‘their origin, and when he found any of them, as several had been introduced with a good meaning and intent, he was careful to inculcate their original, though a corruption, in place of a still more corrupt practice. Thus, for example, he would put the people in mind, that holy bread and holy water, which had been for ages considered as possessing a sort of magical influence, were nothing but simple bread and water. The one to put us in remembrance of the death of Christ, and that the other was merely a simple representation of the washing away our sins. Thus, by reducing popery to its first principles, he did what he could to improve a bad stock, by lopping off some of its hurtful excrescences.
While thus exerting himself to reform his diocese, he was summoned to parliament and convocation in 1536. This session was considered by the protestant party as a crisis. At the head of the reformers stood lord Cromwell, whose favor with the king was now at its meridian; next to him, in power and influence, was Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury; and next to these, in consideration, stood our bishop of Worcester, to whom were added, on the side of reform, the bishops of Ely, Rochester, Hereford, Salisbury, and St. David’s. The popish party were headed by Lee, archbishop of York; Gardiner, Stokesly, and Tunstal, bishops of Winchester, London, and Durham.
The convocation was opened, on the 9th of June, by an oration spoken by Latimer, whose eloquence was at this time famed throughout the kingdom. Many warm debates took place in this assembly; the result of which was, that four sacraments out of the seven were concluded to be insignificant. Latimer had no talents for state affairs; and he was satisfied he had none; he therefore returned to his charge at Worcester, highly pleased with the prospect of the times relative to the reformation.
Perhaps no man ever made so little use of a good judgment as Henry VIII. His reign consisted in one unceasing rotation of violent passions, which rendered him such a mere machine in the hands of his ministers, that whoever amongst them could most artfully address the passion of the day, was certain to carry his point. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, had just returned from Germany, where he had successfully negotiated some orders that the king had greatly at heart. That subtle minister, in 1539, when the parliament was called to confirm the seizure of the monasteries, prevailed on his majesty to do something towards the restoration of the popish religion. In consequence of this, Latimer was summoned to parliament, and accused, before the king, of preaching a seditious sermon. This sermon had been preached before the king; and, to speak truth, Latimer had lashed the vices of the court with conscientious and fearless severity. The king had called together several bishops to consult them on some points of religion; and having all given their opinions, and about to break up, one of them, thought to have been Gardiner, kneeled down before the king, and accused Latimer. The king, with a stern countenance, called him to vindicate himself; when Latimer, so far from denying, or even palliating what the had advanced, boldly justified himself; and, turning to the king, with all that noble confidence that a good cause inspires, said, “I never considered myself worthy, nor did I ever request the honor of preaching before your grace; but being called to the performance of that duty, I endeavored to perform it. If, however, my manner or matter be in any way displeasing, I cheerfully give place to my betters; for I grant there are many more worthy of that honor than I; and if it be your grace’s pleasure to appoint them for preachers, I shall be content to bear their books after them. But if your grace allow me for a preacher, I beseech you give me leave to discharge my conscience, and accommodate my doctrine to my audience: I had been a very dolt indeed to have preached at the borders of your realm as I have done before your grace.” The greatness of the answer baffled the malice of his accuser; the severity of the king’s countenance was relaxed into a gracious smile, and the bishop was dismissed with that obliging freedom, which was only the privilege of those he esteemed.
Latimer was a true bishop, for he not only labored for the salvation of his flock, watching over their faith and morals, but also over their temporal welfare and happiness; particularly he watched over the rights of the poor, that they might not be wronged by their rich and overbearing neighbors. An instance of this generous guardianship of the poor’ we have from Mr. Fox, who says: It seems there lived a certain gentleman in that part of Warwickshire that is included in the diocese of Worchester, who had considerably wronged a poor neighbour, notwithstanding that he had kept within the letter of the law. This gentleman had a large estate in the county. His brother was also in the commission of the peace; and they two together had long overawed the country for many miles round. The poor man, quite at a loss what to do, applied to his own diocesan. Latimer heard his story, pitied his case, and promised to endeavor to see him redressed. Accordingly he wrote a long letter to the parties, wherein he reproved them sharply for the injury they had done, requiring them to do the poor man justice, and that speedily. They replied to the bishop, and vindicated their procedure as legal and right, and declared themselves ready to stand by what they had done. That with regard to the complainer, the law was open; and as for Ms lordship, they could not but think he had interfered very impertinently in a matter in which he had not the least concern. Latimer, finding they were determined to substitute might in the place of right, wrote them again, stating, in few words, that if they did not forthwith do justice to the injured man, he himself would lay the whole affair before the king. This brought them to reason, and the affair was settled to the satisfaction of the complainer.
So soon as parliament had passed the famous act of the six articles, to which Latimer could not give his vote; and conceiving it wrong to hold an office in a church where such terms of communion were required, he resigned his bishopric, and retired into the country. Here he remained during the heat of the persecution that followed upon this act, and thought of nothing, for the remainder of his days, but a sequestrate life; but an unhappy accident carried him again into the tempestuous ocean. He had received a bruise, by the falling of a tree, that seemed so dangerous, that he was obliged to look out for better assistance than the surgeons of that place in the country could afford. With this view he repaired to London, where he had the sorrow to see the fall of his generous patron, the lord Cromwell; nor was it long before he learned the extent of the loss he had thereby sustained: For Gardiner’s emissaries soon discovered his retreat; and something that somebody had somewhere heard him say against the six articles being alleged against him, he was committed to the tower. Here, without any judicial examination, he suffered imprisonment during the six last years of Henry’s reign.
He was confined along with the bishop of Chichester, but not so strictly that his friends might not see and converse with him; for neither Henry nor Gardiner had any design on his life. But the king had already received all the advantages of his faithful services that he expected; and a different adviser had put him on a train of operations, in forwarding which, he was sensible Latimer would not assist him. He was therefore no longer necessary to his happiness, and ungratefully forgotten. But Latimer is not the only instance of this prince’s royal ingratitude to those who had afforded him the most essential services; witness the capitation of Sir Thomas More; his cruel usage of Wolsey; and his barbarous, illegal, and unjust severity exercised against lord Cromwell.
Considering the capricious disposition of Henry, Latimer suffered, upon the whole, a mild sort of imprisonment; and, on the accession of Edward VI., all who were prisoners for the same cause were set at liberty. Latimer’s old friends being now in power, he was received by them with every mark of affectionate regard; and had it in his power to dispossess his successor from his diocese; but he had very different sentiments, and neither would apply himself, nor suffer his friends to apply for his restoration. This, however, was soon after done by the parliament; but Latimer pled his great age as a reason why he should be suffered to end his days in private.
Having thus rid himself of all importunities on this head, he accepted an invitation from Cranmer, and took up his residence at Lambeth, where he was chiefly employed in hearing the complaints, and redressing the wrongs of poor people; and his character, for this kind of service, was so generally known, that he had as crowded a levee as any minister of state.
Latimer’s sermons, some of which are still extant, are indeed far from correct or regular pieces of composition; yet his simplicity and familiarity, his humor and jibing drollery, were well adapted to the taste of these times. His oratory, according to the mode of eloquence then in vogue, was exceedingly popular. His action, and manner of preaching, were likewise both agreeable and very affecting. His abilities, as an orator, however, constituted only the inferior part of his character as a preacher. His commanding manner, his noble zeal for the truth, and the pressing sincerity with which he urged it home to the consciences of his auditory, rendered his discourses more exceedingly interesting.
Latimer has been slandered by the opposite party for vindicating, in a sermon preached before the king, the justice of the sentence and execution of the lord high admiral. The charges are, that he publicly defended his death; that he aspersed his character; and did so that he might pay a servile compliment to the protector. The first part of the charge was true, he did defend his death; bat the admiral’s character was so very bad, that there was no room left for aspersion. His treasonable practices were notorious; and though he was proceeded against by a bill in parliament, according to the custom of those times, which may be now accounted inequitable, still he had forfeited his life, to all intents and purposes, according to the laws of his country. His death, nevertheless, occasioned much clamor; which was chiefly raised and encouraged by the lords of the opposition, to cast a popular odium on the protector, for whom Latimer had a high respect, and was mortified to see an invidious opposition thwarting the schemes of such a public spirited individual. On purpose therefore to lessen or remove this unmerited reproach, he exhibited the admiral’s character in its true light, from circumstances with which the public were unacquainted.
On the death of the duke of Somerset, and the consequent revolution that took place at court, Latimer retired to the country, and, authorized by the king’s general license, he preached wherever he thought his labors were most necessary; and continued to prosecute, the same apostolic manner of itinerant preaching during the remainder of Edward’s reign, and also for some short time after Mary had mounted the throne. But no sooner had Mary’s ministers secured their places, and completed their political arrangements, than the introduction of popery was finally resolved on, and the preliminary steps toward effecting their purpose were, First, The prohibition of all preaching through the kingdom. Secondly, The licensing of those clergymen only who were known to lean towards the church of Rome. Accordingly, an inquisitorial search was made for the more forward and popular preachers amongst the protestants, and many of them were committed to prison. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was made prime minister; and having prescribed Mr. Latimer from the first, sent a messenger to cite him before the council. Latimer, who had previous notice of his design, made no use of the friendly information. The messenger, on his arrival, finding him equipped for his journey, expressed his surprise; but Latimer told him he would attend him with as little trepidation as ever he had mounted the pulpit, and answer for his faith with as much pleasure, not doubting but God, who had enabled him to stand before two princes, would also enable him to stand before a third, either to her unspeakable joy or everlasting anguish. The messenger informed him that lie had no orders to seize his person, and putting a letter into his hand, departed. Hence some have imagined, not without considerable probability, that the real design of this citation was to drive him out of the kingdom, and in this way get rid of a dangerous antagonist, who, by his unshaken firmness, might outbrave their power and cruelty, and thereby confirm the faithful in their protestant opinions. However this may be, Latimer found, on opening the letter, that it contained a summons from the council; and resolving to obey, he set out immediately. Passing through Smithfield, where the heretics were usually burnt, he said, pleasantly, Smithfield has long groaned for my old carcass. Next morning he waited on the council, who, after loading him with many bitter reproaches, and otherwise evil entreating him, sent him to the tower. Here Latimer had a larger field wherein to exercise his patience and resignation than any heretofore; and few men seemed to possess a larger allowance of these distinguishing virtues. The uncommon cheerfulness of his disposition never forsook him even in the most trying occasions; one instance of which is still on record. A servant leaving his apartment in the tower, Latimer called him hack, and requested that he would tell his master, that unless he took better care of him, he would most assuredly escape him. On hearing which, the lieutenant, with a countenance rather discomposed, came to Latimer, requesting an explanation. I suppose, sir, replied Mr. Latimer, you expect I shall be burnt; but I can assure you, that unless you allow me a little fire in this severe frost, I shall starve to death with cold.
Cranmer and Ridley were also prisoners in the same cause with Latimer; and when the council came to the ensnaring resolution of appointing a public disputation between the most eminent of the popish and protestant divines, these three were appointed to manage the dispute on the part of the protestants. Accordingly, in the spring of 1554, they were removed from the tower, where they had been imprisoned during the winter, forwarded to Oxford, and there put under close confinement in the common prison, where they had a fair specimen of the impartiality with which the public disputation was likely to be conducted, in their being denied even the use of paper, pen, and ink, books, and whatever else might aid their preparation for the important controversy, in which they were obliged to act so conspicuous a part. Under these distressing circumstances, while sitting in their prison house, and ruminating on the mock solemnity of the preparations then making for their trial, of which it is probable they were newly informed, a conversation took place between Ridley and his suffering associate. The time, said Ridley, is now come when we must either sin or suffer, deny the truths we believe, and have so long and so warmly recommended to the faith of others, or give our bodies to the flames in defense of our faith and hope. You are an old soldier of Christ’s,. Mr. Latimer, and have frequently withstood the fear of death, whereas I am raw in the service, and destitute of experience. With this introduction, he proceeded to request Mr. Latimer to hear him propose such arguments, as, in his opinion, his adversaries were most likely to urge against him, and that he would assist him in furnishing himself with appropriate answers.
To this Mr. Latimer, with his usual good humor, replied: That he fancied the good bishop was treating him as he remembered Mr. Bilney was wont to do, who, when he wanted to teach him, always did so under the color of being taught himself; but, in the present case, said he, I am determined to give them very little trouble. I shall just offer them a plain account of my faith, and shall say very little more on the subject, well knowing it would answer no good purpose. They talk of a free disputation, which they have already belied by the treatment we have received at their hands; they also talk about an impartial decision regarding the merit of the arguments brought forward; but, be assured, my lord, their most energetic argument will be that used by their fathers, when driven from every equitable position: We have a law, and by our law you ought to die. As for myself, had I the wisdom of Solomon, and all the learning of St. Paul, I should consider them ill applied in making an elaborate defense; yet our case is neither singular nor desperate: No, my lord, it admits of this peculiar consolation, that our enemies can do no more than God permits; and God is faithful, who will not suffer them to load us with sufferings above what we are able to bear. Bring them to a point, and there hold them fast, let them say or do what they please; many words will be of no avail. It is requisite, nevertheless, that you give them some reasonable account of your faith, if they will quietly hear you. For other things, in a wicked judgment hall, a man may keep silence, after the example of Christ himself. But, above all things, guard yourself against the fear of death; this is the great argument you must prepare yourself to oppose. Poor Shaxton! we have reason to fear this argument had the greatest weight in his recantation. The fear of death makes men slaves. He who has conquered this fear, can triumph over the malice of earth and hell. Let us be steadfast and immoveable, in the full confidence that nothing can add to our honor and felicity, if we, like the Philippians, not only believe in Christ, but dare to suffer for
Corresponding with these sentiments, Latimer conducted himself through the whole of this dispute, wherein much artifice was used to draw him into a formal mode of reasoning, without effect. He answered their questions, however, as far as civility required; and, in these answers, managed his argument much better than either Ridley or Cranmer, who, when they were pressed with passages from the fathers in support of transubstantiation, in place of rejecting their insufficient authority, weakly defended a good cause by scholastic distinctions and evasions. Whereas, when the same proofs were crowded upon Latimer, he boldly rejected their authority, for the obvious reason, that, like other men, the fathers were liable to err; that he never depended upon them, unless when they depended upon scripture. Then, said his antagonist, you are not of St. Austin or Chrysostom’s faith. I have told you already, said Latimer, I am not, unless they bring scripture for what they say. Mr. Addison admires his behavior on this occasion. “This remarkable old man (says he), conscious that age had impaired his abilities, and that it was impossible for him to recollect the reasons that had directed him in the choice of his religion, left his companions, who were in the full possession of their learning and faculties, to baffle and confound their antagonists by the force of reason. As for himself, he did little more than repeat to his adversaries the articles in which he firmly believed, and in the profession of which he had determined to die.”
The dispute being ended, sentence was passed upon him in the beginning of October; and upon the sixteenth of the same month, he and Ridley were burnt on a spot of ground on the north side of Baliol college. When they came to the stake, Latimer lifted up his eyes, with a meek and serene countenance, saying, Fidelis est Deus, God is faithful. When they were brought to the fire, after a most abusive sermon, an officer informed them that they might now prepare themselves for the stake. Mr. Latimer having thrown off his prison attire, appeared in a shroud prepared for the purpose. Some gunpowder had been attached to their bodies to hasten their death; and Latimer, after recommending his soul to God, turning to the bishop of London, his companion in tribulation, he said, brother, be of good comfort, today we light such a torch in England as I trust shall never be extinguished. When the fire was kindled, he cried, O Father of heaven receive my soul; and seeming to embrace the flame, he stroked his face with his hands, after having, as it were, bathed them for a short space in the fire, when the powder exploded, and he expired.
Such was the death of Hugh Latimer, bishop of Worcester, one of the leaders of that noble army of martyrs who introduced the reformation into England.
Cheerfulness and fortitude were so happily blended in his constitution, his principles were so just, and his resolutions so determined, that neither prosperity nor adversity had the power to disturb the serenity of his soul. No trials could unman him, neither could the splendor of the world allure him. Amid the most alarming circumstances of life he stood firm and collected, at no time destitute of resources, but could, on every emergency, retire within himself, and there luxuriate on those consolations that spring from the faith of the gospel, and the well grounded hope of eternal glory. Conversant in courts, and intimate with princes, he still preserved his original plainness and moderation. Of his indefatigable labors, and the conscientious manner in which he discharged the duties of the pastoral office, we have many examples. No man could persuade more forcibly, or exert, on proper occasions, a more commanding severity. The wicked he rebuked without respect of persons; and, with the dignity that became his high office, overawed them more than did the terrors of the penal law.
He was not considered a man of extensive learning, having only cultivated useful knowledge, which, he thought, lay in a narrow circle; neither could he ever be persuaded to take any part in secular affairs, under an apprehension that a clergyman ought to employ himself entirely in matters connected with his profession. Thus he lived rather a good, than what the world calls a great man. He had never cultivated those talents which give superiority in transacting business; but for honest sincerity and true simplicity of manners, for apostolic zeal in the cause of religion, and for every virtue that ought to adorn the life of a Christian, he was eminent and exemplary, beyond most men of his own or any other time or place; and of him it may, with much propriety, be said, that with the testimony of a good conscience, in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, had he his conversation in the world.