AMID the gloom that settled upon the earth
during the long period of papal supremacy, the light of truth could not be wholly
extinguished. In every age there were witnesses for God--men who cherished faith in Christ
as the only mediator between God and man, who held the Bible as the only rule of life, and
who hallowed the true Sabbath. How much the world owes to these men, posterity will never
know. They were branded as heretics, their motives impugned, their characters maligned,
their writings suppressed, misrepresented, or mutilated. Yet they stood firm, and from age
to age maintained their faith in its purity, as a sacred heritage for the generations to
So bitter had been the war
waged upon the Bible that at times there were very few copies in existence; but God had
not suffered His Word to be wholly destroyed. Its truths were not to be forever hidden. He
could as easily unchain the words of life as He could open prison doors and unbolt iron
gates to set His servants free. In the different countries of Europe men were moved by the
Spirit of God to search for the truth as for hidden treasure. Providentially guided to the
Holy Scriptures, they studied the sacred pages with intense interest. They were willing to
accept the light at any cost to themselves. Though they did not see all things clearly,
they were enabled to perceive
many long-buried truths. As Heaven-sent messengers they went
forth, rending asunder the chains of error and superstition, and calling upon those who
had been so long enslaved to arise and assert their liberty.
The time had come for the
Scriptures to be translated and given to the people of different lands in their native
tongue. The world had passed its midnight. The hours of darkness were wearing away, and in
many lands appeared tokens of the coming dawn.
Morning Star of the Reformation
In the fourteenth century
arose in England the "morning star of the Reformation." John Wycliffe was the
herald of reform, not for England alone, but for all Christendom. He was the progenitor of
the Puritans; his era was an oasis in the desert.
The Lord saw fit to entrust
the work of reform to one whose intellectual ability would give character and dignity to
his labors. This silenced the voice of contempt, and prevented the adversaries of truth
from attempting to put discredit upon his cause by ridiculing the ignorance of the
advocate. When Wycliffe had mastered the learning of the schools, he entered upon the
study of the Scriptures. In the Scriptures he found that which he had before sought in
vain. Here he saw the plan of salvation revealed, and Christ set forth as the only
advocate for man. He saw that Rome had forsaken the Biblical paths for human traditions.
He gave himself to the service of Christ, and determined to proclaim the truths which he
The greatest work of his life
was the translation of the Scriptures into the English language. This was the first
complete English translation ever made. The art of printing being still unknown, it was
only by slow and wearisome labor that copies of the work could be
multiplied; yet this was
done, and the people of England received the Bible in their own tongue. Thus the light of
God's Word began to shed its bright beams athwart the darkness. A divine hand was
preparing the way for the Great Reformation.
The appeal to men's reason
aroused them from their passive submission to papal dogmas. The Scriptures were received
with favor by the higher classes, who alone in that age possessed a knowledge of letters.
Wycliffe now taught the distinctive doctrines of Protestantism--salvation through faith in
Christ, and the sole infallibility of the Scriptures. Many priests joined him in
circulating the Bible and in preaching the gospel; and so great was the effect of these
labors and of Wycliffe's writings that the new faith was accepted by nearly one half of
the people of England. The kingdom of darkness trembled.
The efforts of his enemies to
stop his work and to destroy his life were alike unsuccessful, and in his sixty-first year
he died in peace in the very service of the altar.
It was through the writings
of Wycliffe that John Huss of Bohemia was led to renounce many of the errors of Romanism
and to enter upon the work of reform. Like Wycliffe, Huss was a noble Christian, a man of
learning and of unswerving devotion to the truth. His appeals to the Scriptures and his
bold denunciations of the scandalous and immoral lives of the clergy awakened widespread
interest, and thousands gladly accepted a purer faith. This excited the ire of pope and
prelates, priests and friars, and Huss was summoned to appear before the Council of
Constance to answer to the charge of heresy. A safe conduct was granted him by the German
and upon his arrival at Constance he was personally assured by the pope that no
injustice should be done him.
After a long trial, in which
he maintained the truth, Huss was required to choose whether he would recant his doctrines
or suffer death. He chose the martyr's fate, and after seeing his books given to the
flames, he was himself burned at the stake. In the presence of the assembled dignitaries
of church and state, the servant of God had uttered a solemn and faithful protest against
the corruptions of the papal hierarchy. His execution, in shameless violation of the most
solemn and public promise of protection, exhibited to the whole world the perfidious
cruelty of Rome. The enemies of truth, though they knew it not, were furthering the cause
which they sought vainly to destroy.
Notwithstanding the rage of
persecution, a calm, devout, earnest, patient protest against the prevailing corruption of
religious faith continued to be uttered after the death of Wycliffe. Like the believers in
apostolic days, many freely sacrificed their worldly possessions for the cause of Christ.
Strenuous efforts were made
to strengthen and extend the power of the papacy, but while the popes still claimed to be
Christ's representatives, their lives were so corrupt as to disgust the people. By the aid
of the invention of printing the Scriptures were more widely circulated, and many were led
to see that the papal doctrines were not sustained by the Word of God.
When one witness was forced
to let fall the torch of truth, another seized it from his hand and with undaunted courage
held it aloft. The struggle had opened that was to result in the emancipation, not only of
individuals and churches, but of nations. Across
the gulf of a hundred years men stretched
their hands to grasp the hands of the Lollards of the time of Wycliffe. Under Luther began
the Reformation in Germany; Calvin preached the gospel in France, Zwingle in Switzerland.
The world was awakened from the slumber of ages, as from land to land were sounded the
magic words, "Religious Liberty."
Copyright © 1974
The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
All Rights Reserved