You Won't Be Burned at the Stake

Donald R. Givens
Novato, California

Would you still read the Bible if it endangered your life? Would you read the Bible if you knew that it meant possible death? Would you read God's Word if the penalty was being burnt at the stake? Do you read it now even though you will not be burnt at the stake?

Great privileges become common burdens if we take them for granted and fail to appreciate their value. To many people the reading of the Bible is an inconvenient task. Such individuals are ungrateful for the blessings of God's revelation. Are you guilty of making Bible reading a tedious burden? Then ponder this:

"The first English Bible was a dangerous possession. It was kept underneath the floorboards; it was read in the cellar or in the heart of the forest. To meet together to read the Word of God in the English tongue in the fifteenth century constituted not only an act of defiance: it was an act of considerable courage. The consequences could be dire and well might John Foxe write of those who in those days dared the worst: '. . . to see their travails, their earnest seeking, their burning zeal, their readings, their watching, their sweet assemblies, their love and concord, their godly living, their faithful demeaning with the faithful, may make us now in these days of free profession, to blush for shame  " ("No Greater Heritage," by Charles Gulston, p. 132).

The Bible is in no sense a "dangerous possession" today, but the way some individuals avoid it one would get that impression. We ought to be ashamed for neglecting Bible study and failing to appreciate our freedom to possess and read it.

"It is not easy to understand how a country which today pours, forth a never-ending stream of Bibles and allows freedom of worship to every sect under the sun, four hundred years ago burnt people with copies of the Scriptures round their necks, and promulgated laws which stated that "whoever read 'Wycliffe's learning' (as the Bible was called then) should forfeit land, cattle, goods and life, and be condemned as heretics to God, enemies to the Crown, and. traitors to the kingdom." Yet such was the case" (Ibid., pp. 132,133).

The English speaking people of the age of John Wycliff and William Tyndale were hungering for a Bible in the English language. They were thirsting for the Word of God in their own tongue. But the apostate church, led by the papacy, was dead set against translating the Scriptures into the vernacular. Wycliffe and Tyndale and others risked their lives in order to translate God's Word. Tyndale was finally burnt at the stake for his "heresy."

The translated Bible became a-"forbidden book." It was outlawed in fifteenth and sixteenth century England. To possess copies of the English Bible was to be branded as a "heretic" and sometimes to be burned at the stake if you did not repent by confirming allegiance to the papacy. Many bravely died for their Opposition to the papal system and "as courageously perhaps as John Badby, a layman of the diocese of Worcester who was hurried to Smithfield in March of 1409, put on an empty barrel, bound with chains and fastened to the stake. Even, at that late hour Badby could have saved himself. His martyrdom was witnessed by Prince Henry, the king's eldest son who, moved by pity, exhorted the poor man to recant. But even as the procession of the sacrament was passing before him Badby still declared that the 'bread was hallowed bread, not God's body.' The faggots were lit and a cry escaped the victim's lips. The prince, thinking that it was a denial of Badby's former beliefs, ordered that the fire be extinguished, and promised Badby a stipend for life. But this offer of earthly wealth was refused and the fire consumed the Lollard's body. Not all of those fifteenth century Protestants exhibited the courage of Badby, for the manner of a 'heretic's' death was not a pleasant one. But enough spurned the easier path to keep alive the spirit Of Wycliffe until the day of triumph at last dawned" (Ibid., pp. 131, 132).

During this, period of England's history it was a terrible offense to even possess portions of the translated Scriptures. It was a crime to read and teach the Word of God as proven by the following statements:

"It is mainly to the Episcopal records of the times that we are indebted for our knowledge of the offenses which brought the wrath of the authorities upon the unfortunate heads of those early "strayers" from orthodoxy. The Bishop of Lincoln appears to have been particularly active in curbing any enthusiasm for reading the Bible in its new form. We find, for instance, that a certain John Higgs was summoned because he "had in his keeping a book of the four Evangelists, and did often read them"; that Richard Hun "possessed divers English books, the Gospels in English and Wycliffe's damnable books"; that "James Brewster was charged because he had a certain little book of Scripture in English." Thomas Chase was "detected because someone heard him twice recite the epistle of St. James and the first chapter of Luke"; while Agnes Ashford was also "charged with teaching this man a part of the Sermon on the Mount. These lessons the said Agnes was bid to recite before six bishops who straightway enjoined and commanded her that she should teach these lessons no more to any man, and especially not to her children" (Ibid., p. 132).

No, you won't be burned at the stake today for reading the Bible, but if you do, not read it and obey it - you'll suffer from a worse kind of fire.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 4, pp. 20-21
January 1967