John Wycliffe 1384
There are many different dates given for his birth from 1320-1330. Many agree upon 1324
“I profess and claim to be by the grace of God a sound (that is, a true and orthodox) Christian and while there is breath in my body I will speak forth and defend the law of it. I am ready to defend my convictions even unto death.”
- John Wycliffe was a pioneer in the fight for the “common” person to know God intimately
- He was the morning star of the reformation, sowing the seeds that would turn the world upside down
- He translated the Bible from Latin into the common language so all could read and understand
In the Book of Revelation chapter two it says,
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember, therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and I will remove your lampstand out of its place- unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
Revelation 2: 3-6
The Spirit has always been speaking to His church, seeking to bring forth correction and comfort. Yet most of the time we fail to hear Him. The term Nicolaitan comes from two Greek words which mean, to conquer and laity. As we watch church history (and we are putting together an article on early church believers) you will see the church was taken over by religion and traditions of men. Religious leaders sought to control people and became the meditator between them and God. The Word was translated into Latin and unavailable for the common person to read out of fear they would not understand it. The Catholic Church, which ruled at the time, was extremely corrupt and had many traditions in place to control people and gather the much-needed finances to support their programs. Religion loves to conquer the laity and puts the religious leader on a seat of great honor. Now the Word says that teachers are worthy of double honor, but religion seeks to ensure they get triple and even more honor. They are placed on a pedestal and failure to obey them is disobedience against the Lord Himself. We must remember we are called to absolutely obey God and to walk in submission to leaders. Submission is however, not blind obedience, but a heart thing. We are to follow and obey as they follow and obey the Word. Our obedience must always be to the Word. When the demand is to violate the Word, we must remember to remain obedient to the Word with a submissive heart. Sounds contrary but it is not. Daniel failed to obey Nebuchadnezzar regarding prayer because he obeyed the Word. However, he submitted to the punishment for his obedience.
Prior to Wycliffe, the spirit of reformation was beginning in England. Men like Robert Grosetete, the bishop of Lincoln, William of Occam and Richard Fitzralph were among a few beginning to see and state the errors they saw in the Catholic Church. William Occam, for example, declared it to be a “mistaken and dangerous heresy to teach that Christ had endowed the pope with unlimited spiritual and temporal power.” (Life and times of Wycliffe)
John Wycliffe was a man of obedience to God and a submissive heart. He was a voice of righteousness in his hour and today we can freely read the Word because of Him. He was deemed a heretic in his day, but like so many, they hate you when you are living but sing your praises after you die.
He was born in Yorkshire, England, in a hamlet called Spresswell, which is close to the Tees and a half mile from Wycliffe around 1320. They were lords of the manor of Wycliffe and patrons of the rectory since the time of the Conquest. Based upon the custom, they took their name from their place of residence. He went to Oxford probably around 1335 and pursued his education for around ten years. He studied the earliest and most distinguished writers of the early Christian Church. What was different about Wycliffe was he trusted in the Word while others founded their theology upon the teachings of men. We know little about his early years until he entered Balliol College in Oxford in 1360. The belief is he entered Queen’s College when he was seventeen and later was transferred to Merton, having been made a Fellow of Merton. In 1360 he was promoted to president of Balliol. There is a lot of evidence pointing to a connection between the Wycliffe family and Balliol College. When he was around thirty years old he started to become a “reformer.” He lived long before the reformation, but he would sow the seeds that were scattered abroad and birthed the Reformation.
A key person in his life was John Gaunt, the second son of King Edward III. He was the feudal overlord of Wycliffe’s boyhood home. In other words, Gaunt owned the land and people who worked the land were given protection by him.
The Turning Point
As with most of the heroes of faith, there was a key turning point. It is how we respond to such crisis that is important. The heroes of faith went after the Lord. For many, they turn to men for answers and become bitter and so often turn from the Lord. We must realize that he is not the source of our problem, but He is the answer. He is the only unshakeable foundation.
Around the age of sixteen, he left for Oxford, and sometime afterwards was ordained into the priesthood.
In 1349, England was hit with the Bubonic Plague or Black Death. It would ravage the nation until 1353, killing almost half the population. This would greatly impact Wycliffe’s attendance at university as he watched many friends and family die. Wycliffe turned to the Word and became dependent on it for comfort and encouragement. He would build a foundation in His life based on the Word, and Wycliffe believed that God had final say in every matter.
During this time, there was no Bible available in the English language, but because of the Catholic Church, they were in Latin. The people had to trust priests to teach them about the Bible and to understand it. The Catholic Church also demanded money for all services, from baptism to forgiveness of sins. The policy of “indulgences” which was created by the Catholic Church allowed people who were greats sinners the ability to ensure salvation when they died by obtaining indulgences.
Behind the Scenes
As we look at England just before Wycliffe and during his period we see a lot of unrest. There is a stirring of the people. We see for example, the children of Israel in Egypt prior to their deliverance go through a period of great oppression. Somehow in the spiritual realm the enemy becomes aware the Lord is about to move and seeks to oppress the people so badly they will turn from the Lord. However, the days of humiliation and oppression from Rome were coming to an end. The Lord was raising up a voice, who would sound the war cry.
The Oxford Days
Wycliffe was greatly influenced by Augustine’s (354-430AD) writings. Augustine’s individualism inspired Wycliffe to pursue further research and study regarding the Word. Wycliffe became well known for his intellectual capacity and so he entered Balliol College as the regent master or dean from 1360 to 1361. In 1365 he was appointed to the Office of Warden of Canterbury Hall. He was displaced a year later when Simon Langham became Archbishop.
During this time we know that students were taught to trample underfoot the Word and build their opinions based on the teachings of men. (Life and Times)
His students did not have the option of student housing, which made it very difficult. The few places available had long lists and often required favors to get access to them. Wycliffe was offered some of Oxford’s finest housing, as he was a prized scholar. During this time, he was involved with the government of the Catholic Church. At the time if an Englishman died and they didn’t leave something to the church, the church would take over their affairs. This humiliating system caused many the desire to break free from papal authority.
Wycliffe saw his opportunity when the time came for the Pope to collect his annual rent. Wycliffe declared…
“There cannot be two temporal sovereigns in one country; either Edward is king or … (the pope) is king. We make our choice. We accept Edward of England and refuse…Rome.”
This was an incredibly brave move as England had no alternative to the Church of Rome. Wycliffe was more moved by the lives of Englishmen than by Rome. This began Wycliffe’s attacks on Rome and their wicked practices such as using “begging friars.”
England had for some time been seeking freedom from Rome. King John (thirteenth century) in a dispute with the Archbishop of Canterbury, was excommunicated. John had wanted to choose the archbishop but the Pope determined he was to decide and saw John’s efforts as an insult. The Pope threatened to have France invade Britain which resulted in John having to humble himself to the Pope. John was forced to unconditionally submit to Rome and pay large sums of money annually. This was dropped under Edward the II but Urban V reinstated it in 1366.
Pope Urban V, sought to reassert himself and his control over England. At the same time, Edward III had just won a great victory over France, and so England was growing more powerful. Many were now concerned that if they paid the money it would be used against them by their enemies.
King Edward took his case to Parliament, where Wycliffe’s opinions had made great inroads, so the Parliament agreed to reject the Pope’s demands. The parliament wrote…
“The king of England was of old won by the sword of it nobles, and by that sword has it ever defended against hostile attacks. My counsel therefore is, let the pope gird on his sword, and come and try and compel payment.”
The Pope stated they were to pay for the spiritual benefits they received.
Wycliffe had written several tracks including, “On Divine Dominion, On Civil Dominion, On the Duty of the King, and On the Church.” He attacked the wealth of the church and that civil and temporal church matters should be under the king. Wycliffe argues according to the Life and Times of Wycliffe, “ that if there is to be a superior lord or sovereign above the monarch, he must be no other than Christ Himself, that the pope is a man, liable like other men to sin.” Wycliffe stated “as I am the kings peculiar clerk, I the more willingly undertake the office of defending and counselling that the king exercises his just rule in the realm of England, when he refuses tribute to the Roman pontiff.” (Life and Times)
In 1371, Edward called for a war tax that should also be borne by the church. All were subject to the levy. In addition the king removed prelates from high offices of state and filled them with laymen.
During this time period there is a lot of frustration with Rome and the burden is being put on the nation. A commission was issued in 1374 to determine the number of ecclesiastical benefices and dignities in England by foreigners. The number was determined to be so large that it was enough to impoverish the nation. (Life and Times).
Wycliffe was sent with a delegation to Bruges in the Netherlands (July 1374) to meet with papal delegates to resolve the issue. The commission was given full powers to resolve the dispute. The negotiations dragged on but it did allow Wycliffe to make key connections, such as with Duke of Lancaster. The pope, in 1375, issued bulls which gave him power equal to or greater than the king. The commission led by the Bishop of Bangor compromised and a hollow truce existed. In 1375 Wycliffe returned to England, deeming his time as having been wasted. Wycliffe, would now refer to the Pope as the antichrist. Edward III, rewarded Wycliffe by appointing him as the rector of Lutterworth. This is important because his influence in Leicestershire would become very powerful as the Lollard movement started.
Wycliffe during this time gained great favor and influence in the country, even among Parliament. But he had enemies as the Pope sought through issuing papal “bulls” to have Wycliffe imprisoned for heresy. Wycliffe was summoned twice in 1377 to appear before spiritual tribunals. In February 1377, he was summoned to appear in St Paul’s by the Bishop of London, Courtenay. The crowds were so large there was a wall of people preventing Wycliffe from entering the building. The prince of England told Wycliffe, “Let not the sight of these bishops make you shrink a hair’s breadth in your profession of faith.” (Life and Times). Several powerful friends would come to his aid, John Gaunt, Lord Percy and the Duke of Lancaster. A massive crowd had gathered and the exchanges were heated. The trial was abandoned and Wycliffe returned to his home. Public opinion was in favor of Wycliffe. “If he is guilty” they said, ‘why is he not punished? If he is innocent, why is he ordered to be silent? If he is the weaker in power, he is strongest in the truth!” (History of the Reformation Vol. V)
Pope Gregory XI would issue several bulls against Wycliffe. They cited errors in his tract, “On Civil Dominion.” The Pope told Oxford university that their name would be blemished and souls put in peril if they did not do something about Wycliffe. However, Oxford took Wycliffe’s side.
Wycliffe put himself under house arrest to spare the university further action from the Pope.
I want to go back to the verse I quoted from Revelation chapter two earlier. We must return to our First Love, Jesus, the Living Word. Religion loves to steal the power of the Word and deny us the liberty He won for us. Religion, through manipulation, control and politics seeks to kill any move of the Spirit, deny any hungry soul from going deeper, and end any revival. Just like in Wycliffe’s day, we need a reformation and I believe that John did not realize that his stand was a cry of war in the spiritual realm, that disturbed the forces of hell. But he understood the importance of remaining brave.
Religion holds men to a holy fear of the system. Men fear offending religious figures, missing service, not been seen doing something, etc., rather than walking in a holy fear of the Word. But walking in a fear of the Word and obedience comes at cost and will be challenged. Those of faint heart soon return to the mire from which them came, but the bold of spirit press on. Today, we need a reformation. In fact, every generation needs a reformation, as religion seeks to rob from the children their inheritance. But few are willing to stand up and take the ridicule, the being made to look like a fool, and at times like they are the ones in serious error. Religion will manipulate the Word. It is essential that we have a living relationship with the Word, which is so often forged like Wycliffe in the difficult seasons when all we have is the Word and we choose to trust the Word during those times. We must remember the Word has creative power and is more than able to save us. The Word delivered Wycliffe again and again. It will work for us as well, if we will dare step up to the plate and live out the Word. The question we must all ask is, are we walking in obedience and holy fear of the Word, or religion and men?
In 1377, Edward III, died along with the Black Prince. But the Lord gave Wycliffe favor with the Black Prince’s widow and mother of the new king, eleven-year-old, Prine Richard II (the grandson of Edward II)
After 1378, Wycliffe’s political popularity began to diminish. However, the Lord continued to stand with him, increasing his spiritual influence on the nation.
The Fight Continues
We must not grow weary in battle.
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not loose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
2 Corinthians 4: 1, 2
We will face different seasons in our walk, but we must appreciate that when we make a bold stand, the enemy will do everything to stop us. We are dangerous to his kingdom. Wycliffe in the natural was standing and fighting for his fellow Englishmen, but in the spiritual he was fighting for souls to be set free from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus. When we understand the true significance of our stand we must not lose heart. His mercy set us free, now we must share the message of His mercy so others can be free as well.
So, the battle went on for Wycliffe and in 1378, another papal bull was issued. Courtenay, driven by political and religious ambitions, went after Wycliffe and demanded he address the pope’s charges. He was taken to Lambath in April of 1378, where a large crowd again gathered. The Bishop Canterbury, along with many bishops and priests all gathered. The queen mother wrote a letter warning them not to harm or pass sentence on Wycliffe. Sir Henry Clifford presented this letter calling for them to abstain from any final judgment. Wycliffe wrote a lengthy letter pointing out the errors of the papacy and called for reform. He called for the church to return and be true to Christ and His commandments.
“I deny that the Pope has any right to political dominion: that he has any perpetual civil dominion; that he can qualify or disqualify simply by his bulls.”
One of Wycliffe’s challenges to the pope was, “Not bearing rule as lords over God’s heritage, but yielding yourselves as examples to the flock…The kings of the nations have lordship over them, but it shall not be so with you.”
“They have reigned. But not through Me, they have become princes, but I have not known them…He who is the greatest among you shall be made as the least, and he who is the highest shall be your minister.”
Wycliffe’s bold and strong stand challenged the court and left them speechless. No one had ever challenged the pope’s authority before.
Wycliffe’s influence in the government proved powerful as stated in the book by David Foundation. He pointed out how the pope had sought a Papal Inquisition in England, but because of Wycliffe’s council to the government, was unable. This makes an interesting point. The pope wished to establish the Papal Inquisition in England. So, even though English “heretics” were persecuted over the next 200 years, had it not been for Wycliffe things would have been much worse for them.
A schism occurred in the Papacy, with one pope claiming to be the true pope in Avignon, France and the other one in Rome. Wycliffe’s criticism of the pope and claim he was the antichrist came from Second Thessalonians where it states in chapter two, verse four, the antichrist, “exalts himself above God.”
Wycliffe stood on the truth of the Word and allowed the Word to separate what was truth and what was not. Many people through a religious spirit either deem the Word too holy to touch, or look at the heroes of faith and deem that they can never achieve such a walk as they are not holy enough. Religion loves to make you feel so unworthy and hold you captive to your past.
A New Season
The Catholic church now seemed powerless to stop Wycliffe. Wycliffe, who was an ordained priest, presided over several parishes. He formed a group of street evangelists that were called the “poor priests.” They were personally mentored by Wycliffe and traveled about preaching the Gospel. These men shunned wealth and dressed in a humble manner. Up till this point the common person had been told stories to entertain them. Now they would hear the Gospel and be told of the abuses of the Catholic Church. The Word was told to the people in their common language so they could understand it.
Wycliffe used the time of the schism (1378-79) to do an in-depth study and expose on the heresies in found in the Catholic Church. Wycliffe was now more than ever clear on the errors of the papacy and sought to enlighten others.He concluded that the Scripture or Bible was the sole foundation of all doctrine. In March of 1378, he released his booklet, “One the Truth of the Holy Scripture.” The Catholic church went ballistic over the book.
From 1378 until 1381, John of Gaunt became head of England until the young King Richard II became old enough to reign. Wycliffe defended his validity of the Scriptures. At the time, England was more focused on ruling the country without an official king and not Wycliffe. He determined that all should have access to the Bible. He said…
“All Christians, and lay lords in particular, ought to know the holy writ and to defend it,” and “No man is so rude a scholar but that he may learn the words of the Gospel according to his simplicity.”
Wycliffe began to separate out what were man made ideas of the Church from the truths of the Scripture. He attacked:
- Demanded Use of Preaching
- Transubstantiation- Eucharist being the real body and blood of Jesus
During this time in 1379, he became dangerously ill and many of his enemies hoped it would cause him to recant and repent to the Catholic Church.
“You have death on your lips…be touched by your faults, and retract in our presence all that you have said to our injury.”
However, Wycliffe prophesized that “I shall not die but live, and again declare the evil deeds of the friars.” Wycliffe did just that.
Sometimes it looks like we have failed. Paul finished his ministry under house arrest with all having abandoned him. The devil loves to put us in a corner where it looks like God Himself is judging us and we are wrong. We must know the rock on which we stand. Our hearts we must open bare before the Lord and allow Him full access so that anything of us that needs removed, shall be removed. It is often the most difficult of times, that the Lord makes the man. We must stand in integrity and full of His fruit despite all. We must remember that though we fall, we shall rise again. We may be down, but we are not out and the momentary light affliction is producing a far greater weight of glory.
A New Door Opens
In 1380, Oxford University finally decided, based upon Wycliffe’s attack on the Eucharist, that something had to be done. Twelve doctors of divinity met, of which only seven declared him to be in error. The chancellor was in outrage and stated that anyone who taught Wycliffe’s doctrine would be imprisoned, suspended from all university functions and excommunicated. It is important to understand that for many of the people called to pass sentence, they saw Wycliffe as one of their own.
Wycliffe declared he was unmoved by the opinion of men and that his beliefs were not weakened. He appealed to the king to overturn the chancellor’s decision. John of Gaunt tried pleading with Wycliffe to obey the chancellor, but Wycliffe refused. In addition, the Duke of Lancaster begged him as a friend to not go forward with this attack on the Eucharist. Wycliffe remained quiet for a season as a result, and the question was, would he seek to save his reputation or stand up for the truth.
In his “Confession” tract he wrote…
Christ hath revealed to us that there are two ways, one leading to life, and the other leading to death; the former narrow, the latter broad. Let us therefore, pray to God to strengthen us by His grace in the spiritual life, that we may enter in through the strait gate, and that He would defend us in the hour of temptation. Temptation to depart from God and fall into idolatry is already present, when men declare it to be heresy to speak the Word of God to the people in English.”
Wycliffe moved into isolation at Lutterworth and all seemed lost. For many heroes of faith, the Lord shuts a door and in doing so opens a new one. For a season, we seek to open the old door and fail to realize the door He has opened to us. Wycliffe’s world was changing. He had been cut off from Oxford, the place he knew and where he had his earthly identity. Many of us face this same situation where the old world we knew and felt secure ends and the Lord shuts that door. We so often refuse to believe and try so hard to re-open it. But we must boldly go on knowing He has gone before us, He is with us and if no one goes with us still we will follow. It seems for a season heaven remains quiet and we wonder if we made a mistake. But we must keep pressing on in faith. Wycliffe felt cut off from everything and was forced to turn to the Lord for direction.
After a season of much prayer, Wycliffe was inspired and understood that his imprisonment at Lutterworth would be a place where he could fulfill his divine destiny and translate the Word from Latin into English. At the same time, Wycliffe used this opportunity to write articles challenging the corruption of the church including, “Objection to the Friars.” He carried on a war with them on fundamental principle. (Lechler, Vol II., pp 141, 142)
“May the God of endless mercy destroy the pride, covetousness, hypocrisy, and heresy of this feigned pardoning, and make men busy to keep His commandments, and to set fully their trust in Jesus Christ.”
They would work on translating the Word day and night. It is believed Wycliffe did the whole New Testament and oversaw the Old Testament. At the time, like so many things of God, it seemed a ridiculous call. Most of the common people were illiterate and printing had not yet been developed. The Latin language seemed sacred and mystical. I wonder how many times they must have thought, “why are we doing this?” Many seasons that we go through our efforts seem in our eyes to carry no value and we wonder, “why?” But the translation of the Word was a massive effort and only through hearing from heaven could Wycliffe have had the faith to continue in this effort. But Wycliffe believed the Word was the sole authority for all of life. Wycliffe wrote…
“Forasmuch as the Bible contains Christ, that is all that is necessary for salvation for all men, not for priests alone. It alone is the supreme law that is to rule church, state, and Christian life, without human traditions and statutes.”
Further he said,
“Christ and His apostle taught the people in the language best known to them. It is certain that the truth of the Christian faith becomes more evident the more faith itself is known. Therefore, the doctrine should not only be in Latin but the vulgar (common) tongue…believers should have the Scriptures in a language which they fully understand.”
Wycliffe outlines five basic rules for reading and studying the Word…
- Obtain a reliable text
- Understand the logic of the Scripture
- Compare the parts of the Scripture with one another
- Maintain an attitude of humble seeking
- Receive the instruction of the Spirit.
The response by the Catholic Church at the time was…
“Christ gave His Gospel to the clergy and the learned doctors of the Church so that they might give it to the laity and to the weaker persons…But this Master John Wyclif(fe) translated the Gospel from the Latin into English- the Angle (Anglo) not the angel language. And Wyclif(fe), by thus translating the Bible, made it the property of the masses and common to all and more open to the laity, and even to women who were able to read…And so the pearl of the Gospel is thrown before swine…The jewel of the clergy has been turned into the sport of the laity, so that what used to be the highest gift of the clergy and the learned members of the church has become common to the laity.”
The archbishop of Canterbury, Arundel, later wrote…
“The pestilent and most wretched John Wycliffe, of damnable memory, a child of the old devil, and himself a child or pupil of the Antichrist, which, while he lived, walking in the vanity of his mind- with a few other adjectives, adverbs and verbs, which I shall not give- crowned his wickedness by translating the Scriptures into the mother tongue.”
The last three years of his life saw unrest in England. Common laborers arose in a struggle for civil liberty. A massive revolt occurred and Wycliffe’s name was tied to it, although he had absolutely nothing to do with it. A group called the “Lollards” or mumblers, arose. Many historians incorrectly tied all the Lollards to Wycliffe. The group soon became associated with being opposed to the Catholic Church and were also like Wycliffe declared heretics.
Some of these educated Lollards were indeed from Wycliffe. He trained them and sent them out. The less educated did not hold a set of doctrines but simply opposed the Catholic church.
The center of Lollard activity was greatest in Oxford and Leicestershire.
In 1382, one of Wycliffe’s most loyal followers held a Lollard meeting on the Oxford campus. He gave a powerful sermon supporting Wycliffe and attacking the Catholic Church. From this point all Wycliffe followers were excommunicated.
Also in 1382, Courtenay became archbishop of Canterbury, and set as his first goal to take on Wycliffe and his followers. A council of Blackfriars was held to formally condemn Wycliffe’s opinions. What is interesting is that on May 17th, 1382 as the members took their seats, a dreadful earthquake struck London. A decree was passed that a; the “poor preachers” of Wycliffe be arrested. Sentence was passed on all of Wycliffe’s work. Any student at Oxford found guilty of following Wycliffe and his doctrine was to be expelled without discussion. However, he did not touch Wycliffe. Wycliffe remained focused at the time on his new assignment, translating the Word and never attended the council or defended himself.
Further, in 1382, King Richard II married Anne of Bohemia. Uniting these two countries, resulted in students from Bohemia coming to Oxford to be educated. Many of these students secretly studied the writings of Wycliffe. One of these students was Jerome of Prague, who carried back the works of Wycliffe to Bohemia where they fell into the hands of the Reformer, John Hus. In Bohemia his teachings took off and the Hussite movement moved forward the Reformation.
Wycliffe also wrote the “Trialogue,” which was about Truth, Falsehood, and Wisdom. It covered all the things Wycliffe had previously dealt with in length. It was not printed until 1532, and became the historical link to him and the Reformers.
His Promotion to Heaven
Wycliffe was summoned to Rome to meet with the pope in 1382, but due to poor health he was unable to make the journey. Wycliffe continued to pastor at Lutterworth and many of his sermons are still available.
In late December 1384, he took a second stroke which caused paralysis and prevented him from speaking. Three days later on December 31st, 1384, Wycliffe died and was promoted to heaven.
Even though the Catholic church hated him, they never did excommunicate him. He had a simple funeral service and his body was buried at Lutterworth.
Before he died, the first version of the Bible was produced, but Purvey, his faithful associate, did a revision and named it the Wycliffe Bible.
Wycliffe never compromised his principles of values. He was a bold voice that served not just his generation but all since. He refused to allow the difficult times to discourage him or sidetrack him.
The Hatred of Wycliffe
The archbishop of Canterbury, Arundel, ordered in 1408 that all found with a copy of the Wycliffe translation or his tracts would lose his land and all personal property. Then in 1413, the pope ordered all Wycliffe translations of the Bible and tracts be burnt. In 1415 the general council of the Western Church met in Constance and officially condemned Wycliffe and declared him a heretic. They wanted his bones exhumed and “cast at a distance from the sepulcher of the church.” However, Bishop Philip Repton who was head of the Lutterworth diocese, left his grave untouched. However, in 1428, the people commanded Wycliffe’s bones be exhumed and the new bishop, Richard Fleming, finally carried out the task. His bones were exhumed, burnt to ashes and cast into the Swift River.
Thomas Fuller said, “this brook conveyed them into the Avon, the Avon into the Severn, the Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean; and thus the ashes of Wycliffe were the emblem of his doctrine, which is now dispersed all over the world.” (Life and Times)
Sometimes we don’t realize what is going on behind the scenes. Wycliffe could never have imagined the consequences of what he did and the worldwide impact. In the difficult seasons, it is easy to get tunnel vision and fail to see what He is doing. The task He calls us to can seem so insignificant, yet even simple acts of obedience can bare great fruit.
Wycliffe was a powerful man because he built his life on the Word. He used the Word to defend himself. His heart was for the people. He wanted them to know the Lord and be free from the bondage religion had put on them. Every generation needs a reformation. We so quickly return to the place where we came from and the bondage we once knew. It takes brave people to go against the flow, trusting in the Word, daring to speak up to bring forth the necessary reformations. We must, like Wycliffe, cast aside our reputation and walk in holy fear of Him, not religion and a man. Why do we do what we do? May the light of truth shine on us and expose all darkness in us, so we may be found having built our lives on the Word and in a holy fear of Him. He is the Head of the church. We are simply called to obey no matter the price. So, let us be found faithful to Him and run the race before us. Who knows the lives we will impact and the souls that will come to Jesus through our obedience?
Some quotes from Wycliffe
“The first, is that blasphemous heresy among them, whereby they deceive the church in the sacrament of the altar, so that, as they have deviated from the faith of the Scriptures.”
“A second abuse of the friars is the crime of blasphemy, because they impute to Christ that he publically begged of men, as the friars beg of the poor.”
“God is the first cause of all things; the second exhibits Him as taking necessary precedence of all things; and in the third He is set forth as the great reality, whose nature is such, that our thoughts can never rise to the conception of any high reality.”
“And inasmuch as Scripture is full of testimony to this truth, it is most necessary that man should embrace it. It is just as imperative that the Christian should believe that the soul will exist after this life, as that he should believe that God is, and that He is the rewarder of the good.”
“Thus, in consequence of maintaining this special reverence for Scripture, I humbly admit the afore said conclusion without reserve, being certain that no part of the Holy Writings can be false.”
“I shall not, on that account change my reply, as to the doctrine on such subjects which I have learned from the Scriptures.”
“But, by the grace of Christ, I will maintain the sense of Scripture, and keep clear of the heresy which teaches, that ‘if the pope and cardinals assert them to be the sense of Scripture, therefore so it is.”
“No many can enter the kingdom of heaven except he be baptized with baptism of the water that flowed from the side of Christ, (i.e. cleansing from the guilt by His passion,) and with the baptism of fire, (i.e. from the influence of the Holy Spirit,) since the Trinity could not save the fallen by receiving them into happiness, unless the second and third persons remove their sins.”
“One thing I confidently assert, that in the primitive church, or the time of Paul, two orders were held sufficient, – those of priest and deacons. No less certain am I, that in the time of Paul, presbyter and bishop were the same, as shown in I Tim iii, and Ti. i. That profound theologian Jerome attests the same facts, see lxxxvii. Dis. Ca. Olim. For there were not then the distinctions of pope and cardinals, patriarchs and archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, officials and deacons, with other officers and religious bodies, without number or rule.”
“So that those blaspheme who extol the rights of the pope above Christ.”
“Hence all these fictitious dogmas are generally promulgated to keep the people in subjection, and to detail them in a fallacious obedience”
“Let us look, then, and see what is enjoined and commanded by the Lord, in the law of perfect liberty, and observe it, and abstain from what is forbidden, and from giving attention to laws newly ordained, and this will be enough.”
“For the faithful might urge with sufficient reasons, that this holy apostle does not specify the last sickness, but merely says that consolation should be administered by the presbyter when any one is sick”
“How then can such a heresy fail to place an occasion of falling in the way of the believer? Will a man shrink from acts of licentiousness and fraud, if he believes that soon after, by the aid of a little money bestowed on friars, an entire absolution from the crime he has committed may be obtained?”
“because men thus blind nourish friars, the disciples of Antichrist, and reject the poor, the blind, the halt, and the sick, to whom they ought, by the law of God, to be bountiful.”
“Alas!, Out on such heresy, that man’s ordinance is holden to be stronger than is the ordinance of God.
“He shall not preach freely and generally the Gospel of Christian men, without license of his sovereign, for virtue of obedience.”
“Also friars charge more breaking of their own traditions that breaking of the commandments of God. For a friar shall more be punished for breaking of one of them, than for breaking of God’s hests.”
“Also capped friars, that be called masters of divinity, have their chamber and service as lords or kings, and send out idiots full of covetousness to preach not the Gospel, but chronicles, fables, … to please the people and to rob them.”
Also friars, show not to the people their great sins stably, as God bids, and namely to mighty men of the world, but flatter them, and glozen them, and nourish them in sin. And since it is the office of the preacher to show men their foul sins and pains”
“and when men be hardened in such great sins, and will not amend them, friars should flee their homely company; but they do not thus, lest they lose worldly friendship, favour, or winning; and this for money they sell men’s souls to Satan.”
“Friars also destroy obedience of God’s law, and magnify singular obedience made to sinful men.”
“We be not as ‘lords over God’s heritage,’ but that we would willingly abased for the service of the flock, not studying how we may play the lord over those put under us.”
“The servant is not greater than his Lord,”- Matt X. Since Christ is the best Master, and Lord of the lords, and all prelates should be servants and disciples of the Lord, it is clear that they ought not be raised above Christ in secular dominion”
“For by teachings of St Paul, each man ought to be subject to the other in the dread of Christ, that is, inasmuch as he teaches them God’s will, and no man should obey more to any man.”
“Friars also keep not correction of the Gospel against their brethren that trespass, but cruelly doom them to painful prison, but this is not the meek suing of Jesus Christ”
“And when the potestates of friars be proud, covetous, and sinful, and hate the truth, they will soon prison true men that reprove their sins, and spare other shrews that they may flatter them and maintain them in their sin.”
“Also, friars, by hypocrisy, bind them to impossible things, that they may not do; for they bind them over the commandments of God,”
“and with regard to their preaching, the result shows its tendency to deteriorate the church, for they give all their attention to ritual, flattery, detration, and falsehood, rejecting Scripture and neglecting to rebuke sin.”
“Let the worldly prelates cease to slander the poor priests, saying ‘that they will not obey their sovereigns, nor dread the curse, but despise the law- for in these three things they are clear before God and man, if right, and reason and charity, be well sought.”
Liardon, Roberts, “Gond Generals, The Roaring Reformers, Whitaker House, New Kensington, PA, 2003
“John Wycliffe,” EPC of Australia. http://www.epc.org.au
“The Life and Times of John Wycliffe, The Morning Star of the Reformation.” The Religious Tract Society, 1884
“John Wycliffe- The Morningstar of the Reformation.” Poole, Reginald Lane, Phillips, Waltar Alison. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
John Wycliffe and His Work.”Ryle, J.C.
“John De Wycliffe, D.D. With Selections and Translations From His Manuscripts, and Latin Works.” The Wycliffe Society. Vaughan, Robert, D.D. London, 1855