Why some Reformers were martyred

Queen Mary was known as “Bloody Mary” for a reason — some 288 Reformers were burned at the stake under her reign.

That is fairly well-remembered.  What is forgotten is why many of them were put to death.  J. C. Ryle offers the astonishing explanation:

The principle reason why they were burned was because they refused one of the peculiar doctrines of the Romish Church.  On that doctrine, in almost every case, hinged their life or death.  If they admitted it, they might live; if they refused it, they must die.

The doctrine in question was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s supper.  Did they, or did they not believe that the body and blood of Christ were really, that is, corporally, literally, locally, and materially, present under the forms of bread and wine after the words of consecration were pronounced.

They were put to death for their view of communion.  Astonishing.  Why such staunch resistance to the view of transubstantiation?  Ryle answers:

Grant for a moment that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, and not a sacrament — grant that every time the words of consecration are used the natural body and blood of Christ are present on the Communion Table under the forms of bread and wine — grant that every one who eats that consecrated bread and drinks that consecrated wine does really eat and drink the natural body and blood of Christ — grant for a moment these things, and then see what momentous consequences result from these premises.  You spoil the blessed doctrine of Christ ’s finished work when died on the cross.  A sacrifice that needs to be repeated is not a perfect and complete thing.  You spoil the priestly office of Christ.  If there are priests that can offer an acceptable sacrifice of God besides Him, the great High Priest is robbed of His glory.  You spoil the Scriptural doctrine of the Christian ministry.  You exalt sinful men into the position of mediators between God and man.  You give to the sacramental elements of bread and wine an honour and veneration they were never meant to receive, and produce an idolatry to be abhorred of faithful Christians.  Last, but not least, you overthrow the true doctrine of Christ’s human nature.  If the body born of the Virgin Mary can be in more places than one at the same time, it is not a body like our own, and Jesus was not “the second Adam” in the truth of our nature.  I cannot doubt for a moment that our martyred Reformers saw and felt these things even more clearly than we do, and, seeing and feeling them, chose to die rather than admit the doctrine of the real presence.  Feeling them, they would not give way by subjection for a moment, and cheerfully laid down their lives. Let this fact be deeply graven in our minds.  Wherever the English language is spoken on the face of the globe this fact ought to be clearly understood by every Englishman who reads history.  Rather than admit the doctrine of the real presence of Christ’s natural body and blood under the forms of bread and wine, the Reformers of the Church of England were content to be burned.

The next time you come to the table of communion, recognize that not only did Christ die to procure our salvation, but many who have faithfully believed in Him have likewise died to preserve the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

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