A knock came to the door of John Wyclif ’s home, and an elderly servant went to open it. Before him, he saw three Franciscan friars, “We have come to see Dr. Wyclif.”
The servant replied, “O sirs, he is bedfast, unwell, and unable to receive visitors today.” “We are here on official business and see him we shall!” So brushing past the servant, they entered the sickroom.
“Yes?” responded John Wyclif weakly.
“You have death on your lips, Wyclif, so be touched by your faults. Repent and retract all that you have said to our injury.” The friars smiled as they waited for Wyclif ’s humble repentance. Wyclif had often taught, “The Scriptures are the only law of the church; the church is not centered in the pope and the clergy, but in Christ the Head and in the whole body of his elect.”
Wyclif whispered to his servant, “Help me to sit up.” Feeble, pale, and barely able, he faced the friars. Looking into their eyes with a strength not his own, he declared, “I shall not die, but live. I will again declare the evil deeds of the friars!” Shocked and angry, the friars retreated in confusion, but John Wyclif lived on a few more years to further lay the foundation for freedom and the Protestant Reformation in England.
John Wyclif was born in 1320 in a small Yorkshire village in the north of England. His well-to-do parents raised young John to receive thorough instruction in the Latin language. At age 16, he entered Oxford University to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood. At Oxford, a statement by his famous instructor Bradwardine caused him to begin a serious study of the Scriptures. His teacher had said, “Worship of mere external forms and ceremonies can never take the place of the true worship of the heart.”
At that time, a horrible plague from continental Europe ravaged England, killing half of the country’s population. John helped the sick and dying and then buried the dead. He was overwhelmed with the horror and reality of death. In the midst of that awful year of death, Wyclif came to full peace with God by trusting in the completed atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thereafter, when his fellow students expressed their trust in the church and in its traditions, Wyclif declared that their misplaced trust would be their everlasting ruin. Confidently, he asserted that he intended to fill England with the Word of God in the English tongue so that everyone would know the truth of salvation by Christ alone and the authority of the Holy Bible alone. His fellow students told him that the Dominicans would burn him and confine his soul to the everlasting flames of hell for giving the Scriptures to the common Englishman.
Wyclif was awarded his doctorate in 1372 and continued teaching classes and preaching his popular chapel messages at the university. He was ordained a priest and appointed as the parish priest of the village of Lutterworth in 1374. Wyclif ’s ministry was not limited to a small parish, however, for his vast understanding of the Holy Scriptures opened many doors of service for him. He knew that the Word of God was to be applied to every area of human existence.
Because his preaching at Oxford was so well known, he was called upon to address the English Parliament after they had received a demand from the pope. The pope was ordering England to pay enormous taxes. Wyclif declared that the pope of Rome had no sovereign authority over either the king of England or over Parliament. The English people and the nobility agreed with Wyclif and they refused to pay. The English responded to the pope’s demands by expelling the foreigners who held high offices in the English church and replaced them with Englishmen.
John Wyclif had many enemies who wanted his life, such as the bishop of London and the pope who condemned Wyclif and his doctrine. They would have easily put Wyclif to death had it not been for the common people and some of the members of the English nobility protecting him.
Through the study of the Bible, Wyclif came to very enlightened views of Truth:
- Sola Scriptura—the Bible alone is the source of Christian doctrine and practice.
- Transubstantiation is a myth taught nowhere in Scripture.
- He rejected the worship of saints and relics.
- He stood against the sale of indulgences.
- He stood for the Truth of the gospel that Christ’s great work of living, suffering, and dying an agonized and bloody death for lost sinners is salvation and He is to be received by faith alone.
The feeble old man who sat up in his sickbed and faced the Franciscan friars was small in stature, but great in influence. Wyclif was one of many whom God raised up in times of national distress to deliver England from her enemies.
This account was taken from Andy Thomson’s Morning Star of the Reformation, an exciting book, especially written for young people. Thomson was helped in writing the book by Dr. Edward Panosian and Mrs. Judy Brown. He dedicated the book to the now-deceased Mrs. Marie Bayer of Faith Free Presbyterian Church.