On this day in 1555, Bishops (Church of England) Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake under the reign of Mary I. The Unquenchable Flame is one of my favorite little books on the Reformation written by Michael Reeves. Reeves summarized their martyrdom as follows:
Ridley and Latimer were burned together, back to back, at the end of Broad Street in Oxford. Latimer, aged about eighty, was the first to die, shouting through the flames: ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’ Unfortunately for Ridley the wood had been badly laid around him so that he suffered terribly, his legs burning off before the rest of him was touched. The horrible sight apparently moved hundreds to tears. (pg. 138)
Five months later Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was burned at the same location. Cranmer famously said, the hand that signed the recantation should burn first, and then he thrust his hand into the flames. (He had signed a recantation renouncing Protestantism while “under extreme duress.”) English Reformers John Bradford and John Leaf were also executed that year. In another book, Reeves wrote this of their deaths: “Tied to the stake, he turned to his fellow martyr, John Leaf, and said, ‘Be of good comfort, brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night.’” (pg. 14)
We can learn two things from the Latimer/Ridley and Bradford/Leaf executions. First, when we suffer we should pray that the Lord would use our suffering for His glory and the good of others. This was the intent of Latimer’s remarks to Ridley in their dying; “by God’s grace,” may we too suffer with such a desire. Second, when we suffer, we should not be driven to despair because we have great hope in Christ. Hope was precisely what drove Bradford’s encouragement to Leaf; he knew a “merry supper” awaited them.