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Meekness of temper and gentleness of disposition towards others appear the distinguishing features in the good bishop's character throughout his life : that some attachment to things in themselves indifferent should have been felt by him, is not surprising, especially if the times in which he lived be considered. As soon, however, as his judgment was convinced, -and he omitted no means in order to the attainment of so desirable an end,-he hesitated not to act agreeably with its dictates, as well as to acknowledge any evil into which false attachment might have led him; hence his modest letter of apology to Bishop Hooper, when they both were in prison for having insisted so strenuously as he had done, that at his consecration he should appear arrayed in his linen surplice and cope. The entire letter is worth a thousand homilies, and furnishes an example worthy the close imitation of all christians, in whatsoever sphere they move in the church.
“ My dear brother," writes the worthy prelate, “I understand by your works that we thoroughly agree, and wholly consent together in those things which are the grounds and substantial points of our religion, howsoever, in times past, in similar matters and circumstances of religion, your wisdom and my simplicity made us to think differently."
Even at the time of the dispute, to which this letter refers, Ridley agreed with Hooper, that there was more pomp than was convenient; but he judged it dangerous when the Papists withdrew their obedience from the King in his minority, and others maintained errors subversive of all good government, to countenance a refusal to submit to the laws in being, in things not sinful in themselves.
With a heart of Charity, and the hand of Wisdom, the bishop proceeded to reform and remove the errors and abuses which were connected with religious ceremonies ; and hence, although in the face of considerable opposition, he proceeded to enforce a command which he had obtained in council
, that in every church and chapel throughout his diocese the altars should be taken down at which the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper had been administered, and that tables should be set up in their stead, in some convenient part of the chancel. The reasons of Ridley for this change were, because he conceived it most in accordance with the first institution of Christ, while it prevented the untaught communicants, as well as the ignorant and evil-persuaded priests, from confounding the ordinance with a sacrifice, which they always had done, while they attended before an altar.
Ridley's care for the poor had long and actively been displayed, and now, as he possessed more influence, he employed it more fully to their advantage. The suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII. had not only withdrawn charitable assistance from the poor, but had tended considerably to increase their numbers; to remove which evils the worthy bishop employed his interest, and succeeded in obtaining royal and other grants for their support to a considerable extent; many of which grants might now be looked after, or employed for the same purpose, with advantage to the community, and honour to themselves, by the Holy Ridley's successors in office.
The Reformation was now making rapid advancement in this land and others; for although the changes in outward things were yet but comparatively few, the hold which the doctrines of Truth had upon many of the people's minds was considerable. Hope filled the hearts of the faithful with joy and gladness, as the reign of righteousness appeared to them about to commence. Suddenly, however, a check was given to the delightful progress which had, chiefly through the labours of Ridley, been so happily witnessed. King Edward died; and after a short struggle the sanguinary-minded Mary came to the throne: Lady Jane was committed to the Tower, while Mary, with the proud title of Supreme Head of the Church, commenced her reign of terror, persecution, and blood !
Anxious, as it would appear, to put out the light which already dawned upon ill-fated England, the queen proceeded to draw the sword against her most loyal and useful subjects. Among numbers, whose purity of life and doctrine offended Mary, and who, in consequence, were imprisoned and slain, was the pious Ridley, and afterwards Cranmer and Latimer. Ridley, for the faithful and conscientious discharge of his duty, was despoiled of his authority and rights, and on the 26th of July, 1553, was sent prisoner to the Tower.
From his first apprehension, it appeared quite certain, from the spirit displayed by the bigoted and dark-minded queen, that his life woulă be sacrificed, unless the interposition of Divine Providence ordered it otherwise. Of that fact the bishop was fully convinced. Not willing, however, to rush on death through disgrace and torture, for a mistaken question, or a point of minor importance, and determined not to betray the cause of truth, or be seduced by sophistry, or terrified by cruelties, he sought the advice of true friends, either to point out his errors, or to confirm him in the faith. His famous conference with Latimer and Cranmer on this subject is worthy of notice, but too lengthy to be inserted here.
After various trials, and numerous attempts to induce Ridley to recant, his final examination came; at which, after much piety and wisdom had been displayed by him, and before which his very judges appeared to quail, he was found guilty-guilty of being an humble, but fearless follower of Him who has said, “ Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” His sentence of condemnation was read in his hearing, which adjudged him an heretic, and degraded him from the degree of bishop, from the priesthood, and all ecclesiastical orders. It moreover declared he was not a member of the Church, and therefore he was committed to the secular powers, of them to receive due punishment, according to the tenor of the temporal laws; and finally he was excommunicated. Almost the last act of the pious Ridley was writing a farewell to his relations, which for Christian spirit and saintly counsel is worthy of universal perusal.
The day appointed for his martyrdom having come, Ridley walked firmly between the mayor and one of the aldermen to the stake, where he was joined by Latimer, who having kissed him, they prayed together with much earnestness and resignation of spirit. After a sermon had been preached, the martyrs were stripped. Ridley, standing on a stone by the stake, raised his hands piously towards heaven and prayed. The iron chain was then fastened round the middle of both, and in a short time the fire being lighted, the bodies of the holy men were subjected to the tortures of the flame. Latimer's sufferings were soon terminated, but those of Ridley were of a protracted and most excruciating character. At length death released him from the reproach and tauntings of base men, and the pain of a burning body; and his triumphant soul joined that of his fellow-martyrs in that state of consummate blessedness prepared for and promised by Him whose honour they sought, and whose favour they enjoyed.
Where pain and toil, reproach and shame,
A crystal streamlet from the hill
Wound through the valley, wild and free,
John HOWDEN, B.A.]