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Then the drums began to beat
G. W. Thornbury.
JOHN WYCLIFFE. IN a village near Richmond, in Yorkshire, in the year 1324, a little boy was born, who afterwards became known to all England as the first of the Reformers. His name was John Wycliffe. We know very little about his early life; but he went when a lad to Queen's College, Oxford, and afterwards to Merton College, where he became a very learned man.
We do not know when he began to be a true follower of Christ, but we believe that he was so in early life; and he soon began to see that there were many things in popery which were not in the Bible, and many things said and done by the priests which were very wrong. At this time there were in England a great many “Begging Friars." They were something like monks, and they lived by going about the country preaching to the people foolish stories of saints and miracles, and begging money of them. Among other wicked things they taught the people, one was, that if when they died they were wrapped up in the old robe of one of these friars, they would go to heaven; and the people were so ignorant that they believed this, and gave these wicked friars a great deal of money. Some they kept for themselves; and some they sent to the pope at Rome. Wycliffe at Oxford knew what these men where doing, and he preached to the people about their evil deeds, and how they cheated the people out of their money. The friars were very angry with him for this, and sent word of it to the pope, who tried to get Wycliffe sent away from Oxford. The pope was afraid of this man, who told so plainly of the evil deeds of the friars, and even of the pope himself.
But Wycliffe had many powerful friends, one of whom was the famous John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. In the year 1347, he became rector of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire. The pope sent five Bulls, that is, written commands, to the king, the archbishop of Canterbury, and to the university of Oxford, ordering Wycliffe to be put in prison and punished; but though the archbishop would have been glad to obey the pope, Wycliffe's friends protected him, and he kept on preaching and teaching the people.
He still lived at Lutterworth, and there he began and finished the greatest and best work of all his life. There was no English Bible in those days, only the Latin one, which the people could not read; and so it was, that because the people did not know the truth of God's Word, they believed the false teaching of the priests and friars. Wycliffe knew the Bible would teach them better, and he determined that the English people should have the Bible in English; so he got together a few good men who thought as he did, and they translated the Bible out of Latin into English, so that the people could read it for themselves. There had never been a Bible in English before this, only part of it, and these parts of it were very difficult to get. There were no printed books at this time, and all Wycliffe's Bibles had to be written: but many copies were made, and many people began to read the Word of God for themselves, and to learn from it the way of salvation. .
Whilst he was doing this great work he was taken very ill, and it seemed likely that he would die. The friars heard of this, and some of the cleverest came to talk to him. They began to tell him how much harm he had done to the begging friars by his sermons and his writings, and tried to persuade him to repent of what he had said. Wycliffe listened to them very patiently, and then called to his servant to raise him up a little in bed, for he was very weak. The friars, perhaps, thought he was going to do as they wished, but they were mistaken ; for when he was able to speak, he said, in a loud voice, " I shall not die, but live and declare the evil deeds of the friars !” They did not stop to say any more to him, but immediately went away; and Wycliffe did live, and the year after was able to finish translating the Bible.
He not only preached himself, but he had many disciples who loved the Bible as he did, and he sent them all over the country preaching to the people, that they might know the true way of salvation through Christ.
In the year 1384, whilst he was attending Divine service, he was taken very ill; he never spoke afterwards, and soon died. He was buried at Lutterworth.
Forty-four years afterwards, there was an assembly of bishops and clergy of the church of Rome held at Constance. They all agreed that Wycliffe was a heretic; that is, a man who does not believe the truth, and teaches false doctrine; and they ordered that if his bones could be found, they should be taken up and thrown on a dunghill. So the bishop's officers dug his bones out of the grave, burned them, and cast the ashes into the Swift-a little brook that runs near the church. But it did not matter to Wycliffe then what became of his bones; they could not take his happy spirit away from the Saviour he loved and served.
If you have ever been up very early in the morning, before the sun has risen, just when it begins to look light in the far east, you have seen up in the sky above that light a bright, beautiful star. Brightly it shines there between the light and the darkness : but the light grows stronger and stronger, and the sky gets lighter and lighter, and the star gradually fades away, and when the sun throws up his first glad beams, it goes out of sight altogether. Wycliffe was called the Morning Star of the Reformation. It was in the time of great darkness that he first began to give to the people of England the glorious light of God's truth, and soon that light grew brighter and brighter like the sun, and in time the darkness fled away. Long before then, Wycliffe, the Morning Star, had gone out of sight, but he is not forgotten yet; and God's Word says about those who are faithful as he was, “ They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament;