Page images

of new nobles, knights, squires, and burghers, and the building and support of alnis-houses.

We now approach the greatest and most useful labour of Wycliffe's life—his translation of the Bible into English. The great Papal schism began in 1378, and Urban VI. was too fully occupied in launching the thunders of the Vatican at the rival Pope and his adherents to devote much attention to the heretical Rector of Lutterworth, who took advantage of the leisure and repose thus afforded him to carry through the translation of the Scriptures into the vulgar tongue. The Romaunt language was the first modern European tongue into which the whole Bible was translated. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it was understood over all the south of Europe and had a rich and varied popular literature. This translation was extensively circulated by the Albigenses, and materially contributed to extend their doctrines in the south of France. But Dominic and his mendicant friars, and Simon de Montfort and his crusaders, tempted by the Pope's offer of a plenary pardon for their sins, and stimulated by the prospect of license and plunder, were let loose upon this fair region, the most advanced in literature, the purest in religion of that era; and the progress of the human mind in knowledge and civilization, which had commenced so auspiciously, was thrown back for ages. The first Latin portion of Scripture translated into the Anglo-Saxon tongue was the Gospel of St. John, which occupied the hours of the Venerable Bede. It dates back to the eighth century. The great Alfred was most anxious to have the Scriptures rendered into the vulgar tongue ; and, at the time of his death, was personally engaged in translating a portion of the Bible. There are also two interlinear translations of the Gospels and of the Psalter, and there is a curious version, or rather paraphrase, of the historical books of the Old Testament by Elfric : all of which are of a date prior to the Norman conquest. But, between that era and the time of Wycliffe, a period of 300 years, no further progress was made. John Wycliffe was the first to translate the Latin Bible into English prose, and to put it, without note or comment, into the hands of his countrymen. This great labour occupied him between three and four years. At the same time he engaged in it, he was old, feeble, and paralytic, but his spirit was fresh and vigorous as ever.

“ With one or two friends to help him," says his biographer," he toiled at the noble work within the rectory of Lutterworth ; toiled patiently, hopefully, for he knew that if once that book were in the hands of all, they might do as they liked with him, but the light so kindled they could never quench." Once completed, Wycliffe's translation was largely sought for and extensively circulated. The good Queen Anne became one of its earliest and devoutest readers. Many in the middle rank were willing to assist in the work of multiplying copies without remuneration; and Wycliffe had already organized from the ranks of the humbler clergy a devoted band of itinerant preachers, who took with them, in parts or in whole, the sacred volume, and read or circulated it among the people. Such a work, however, could not be carried on in peace. From a hundred quarters arose the cry of heresy; but the reformer boldly stood forth to vindicate himself, and hurled the charge of heresy back on his accusers. “Those heretics,” he declared, “ are not to'be heard who imagine that temporal lords should not be allowed to possess the law of God, but that it is sufficient for them that they know what may be learnt concerning it from the lips of their priests and prophets. The faith of the Church is contained in the Seriptures; the more these are known, then, the better, and as secular men should assuredly understand the faith that they profess, that faith should be taught in whatever language may be best known to them.”

The Church of Rome has uniformly been consistent in opposing the spread of civil and religious liberty. The diffusion of Bible knowledge has always, therefore, been hateful to her. She condemned and attempted to suppress the Romaunt version of the Bible, and Wycliffe's translation met with similar treatment. In 1390, a Bill condemning it and prohibiting its circulation was introduced in the House of Lons, but rejected through the agency of the Duke of Lancaster, that staunch friend of national independence. “We will not,” he exclaimed, “ be the dregs of all, seeing other nations have the law of God, which is the law of our faith, written in their own language.” Thus foiled in Parliament, the clergy assembled a great convocation, which issued the Arundel Constitution—so called from the name of the presiding archbishop-one of which declared, “We decree and ordain that from henceforward no unauthorized person shall translate any part of the Holy Scripture into English, or any other language, under any form of book or treatise. Neither shall any such book, treatise, or version, made either in Wycliffe's time or since, be read either in whole or in part, publicly or privately, under the penalty of the greater excommunication, till the said translation shall be approved, either by the Bishop of the Diocese, or a Provincial Council, as occasion shall require.” Afterwards, the State lent their aid to the Church. It was made a civil crime to possess any portion of Wycliffe's Bible, and men and women against whom no other fault could be proved, were, for this alone, doomed to death. Wycliffe's version of the Bible has only recently appeared in a printed form. An admirable edition in four large octavo volumes, collated from no fewer than 150 separate manuscripts

, under the joint editorship of the Rev. Mr. Forshall and Sir Frederic Madden, has issued from the press of the University of Oxford. It is a work of great historic and linguistic interest, for, in addition to his other claims on our love and admiration, Wycliffe was one of the earliest and most successful cultivators of the English language ; his writings are remarkable for force and precision, and he has almost as strong a claim to be considered the father of English prose as Chaucer of English poetry.

Wycliffe's profound and patient study of the Scriptures at length convinced him that they alone upply a sufficient and infallible rule of faith and practice to the Church. This conclusion he announced and

defended in his work De Veritate Scripturæ." “God's will,” he says, “is plainly revealed in the two Testaments, which may be called Christ's law, or the faith of the Church, and Christ's law sufficient of itself to rule Christ's Church, which law a Christian man well understanding may thence gather sufficient knowledge during his pilgrimage here on earth.” Wycliffe's superiority to the false and superstitious beliefs of his time, his clear, firm, simple, Bible Christianity, form very remarkable features in his character. He repudiated the whole doctrine of the Papacy, as to the primacy of the Pope, his headship over the Church, the divine origin and authority of the hierarchy, the power of the priesthood, auricular confession, the celibacy of the clergy, absolutions, indulgences, interdicts, excommunications, the native efficacy of the sacraments, the adoration of saints, and the worship of images and relics. In 1381 he openly attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation, and published a paper at Oxford containing twelve conclusions directed against it, and a challenge to all the members of the University to meet him in a public discussion. The challenge was declined ; but the whole power of the University was promptly directed against the bold challenger. He was ultimately obliged to retire to Lutterworth, in order to be beyond the jurisdiction of the Chancellor of the University, pleading an appeal, which he had taken from his judgment to the King and Parliament. At Lutterworth he devoted himself with characteristic energy to the care of his parish, and to preaching ; and no fewer than 300 of his Lutterworth discourses have come down to us, in spite of the efforts made to destroy them.

In 1382 Constance, Bishop of London, Wycliffe's most powerful enemy, was elevated to the primacy, and lost no time in convoking a synod to condemn the heresies of the reformer. Twenty-six articles were selected from his writings, of which ten were condemned as heretical, and the remainder as erroneous. In defence of the itinerant preachers, who went about teaching his doctrines, and disseminating the Scriptures, and against whom a royal proclamation had been issued, Wycliffe published a treatise, with the title, “Why poor Priests have no Benefices," and also appealed to the Commons in their behalf. In this appeal he was successful, and the obnoxious proclamation was withdrawn. In 1783 he appeared for the last time before the convocation at Oxford, to answer for his teaching in regard to the doctrine of transubstantiation. He was alone, aged, feeble, unfriended ; but he scorned to recant, and persisted in denying any material or fleshly presence of Christ in the sacramental bread. He, however, put forth his unrivalled powers as a master of the scholastic art, and confounded his judges by the subtilty of his reasonings. The result was that they passed no sentence upon him, but satisfied themselves with obtaining letters from the king, permanently expelling him from Oxford.

This was the reformer's last trial and last triumph ; but, like a good soldier, he died in harness ; for on the 29th December, whilst engaged in conducting divine service, he was struck down by a final stroke of paralysis. He was borne to the rectory, and there expired, full of hope

and peace, on the last day of the year 1384, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. The dawn of Wycliffe's reformation, so bright and full of promise, was speedily overcast. King Henry IV. lent all his influence to suppress the movement, and it finally sunk under the weight of persecution. Wycliffe's writings were publicly burnt, anathemas heaped upon his name, and his very bones ordered to be dug up, and thrown out of consecrated ground. In 1428—forty-two years after their interment in the chancel of Lutterworth church-his remains were disinterred, then burnt on the bridge that spans the little stream that flows past Lutterworth, and the ashes flung into the water. “This brook," says Fuller, " did convey his ashes to the Avon, Aron into the Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, thus into the main ocean ; and thus the ashes of Wycliffe were the emblems of his doctrine, which is now dispersed all the world over.”

Brief Dutices.




Baldwin Brown, B.A., Minister of Clayland's Chapel, Clapham-road, London.

London: Ward and Co. SERMONS. By the Rev. Henry John

Gamble, Author of Paul the Apostle,” “ Scripture Baptism,” &c. London:

John Snow.
SERMONS. By Edwin Paxton Hood,

Minister of the Offord Road Church and
Congregation; Author of the “Earnest
Minister;” “Wordsworth, a Biography;"
* Self-Formation," &c. London: Judd

and Glass.

Con. ducted by the Rev. J. G. Horton. Vol. VIII. London: Judd and Glass.

THERE are certain truths which form the ground-work of the whole Christian system, and on which its entire superstructure rests-certain central verities, without which we can no more adjust and harmonise the various statements and disclosures of the Christian Testament, than we can explain the sublime and beautiful mechanism of the heavens in the absence of those suns and centres around which allthe other bodies move. The doctrine of the Atonement is the chief of these. And if there be a full and hearty attachment to the doctrine of Christ the Crucified, then in every other truth, whether more immediately or more remotely related to this great central one, there will be equal confidence and repose ; and with the heart peacefully resting in these sublime and saving verities, the preacher will desire, and labour, to make them known in all their grandeur and entireness.

And here we think Mr. Brown, in his admirable volume, which we have

placed at the head of this article, has laid himself open to serious misapprehension. After setting forth, by a process of reasoning of the most forcible and conclusive character, the utter helplessness and hopelessness of humanity as the consequence of sin, and the need there is of some supernatural intervention on behalf of man, he proceeds to treat of the Gospel as the organ through which the power of God reveals and exerts itself in the reproduction of the Divine life in the soul. Now, it is just here that we should have expected to find some distinct and full deliverance on the nature and efficacy of the Atonement, as involving in itself every other fact and truth of the Christian system. But while he throws away from him the mere subjective view of the Atonement, in which it “is conceived of as simply acting on the human spirit, and setting right its relations to God by kindling its love ;" while he believes that the Incarnate One was, “in some other than the subjective sense, wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniqnities," he yet declines to

enter into what may be conceived of as the element of the Atonement.” But why should Mr. Brown shrink from this duty? His volume has in it such a compass and power as to justify the belief that his hand might grasp the spear of Achilles with

He admits that “the sense of guilt is among the most real and deep of human experiences, “and hence that while the first element of the power of the Gospel lies in the Gospel doctrine of sin, the second element is to be found in the atonement offered for the sins of the world.” Then we ask, What is the Atonement ? But instead of a direct



« PreviousContinue »