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was one of his converts, describes him as having fallen into so deep a melancholy, that his friends were fain to be with him day and night, fearing to leave him alone, and seeking to comfort him, who would not be comforted, not even by religion, for “he thought the whole Scriptures were against him, and sounded to his condemnation.” In this state he continued nearly two years, till feeling that death was better than to live thus self-condemned, he overcame the weakness of his nature, and resolved by a brave repentance to expiate an offence, for which he should otherwise never forgive himself. Without communicating the
purpose to his friends, he took leave of them one night in Trinity Hall, saying, he would go up to Jerusalem, and should see them no more. Immediately he departed into Norfolk, and there preached, not only secretly in houses among the reformed, but openly in the fields, confessing how he had fallen and publicly declaring his repentance, and warning all men by his.example to beware how they denied the truth, for which it was their duty, if need were, to lay down their lives.
It was not long before he was apprehended in Norwich, for giving an English New Testament to a recluse, or anchoress, in that city; and immediately Nix, the merciless Bishop of that diocese, sent to London for a writ to burn him.
The Sheriff, to whose custody he was delivered, happened to be one of his friends, and therefore treated him with every kindness which could be afforded during his imprisonment. The night before he was to suffer, some friends who visited him, found him at supper eating heartily, and with a cheerful countenance; and one of them saying he was glad to see him refresh himself thus, so shortly before he was to undergo so painful a death, he replied, "I follow the example of those who, having a ruinous house to dwell in, hold it up by props as long as they may.” Another observed, that his pains would be short, and the Spirit of God would support him in them, and reward him afterward with everlasting rest. Bilney, upon this, put his finger into the candle which was burning before him, more than once. “I feel,” said he, “ by experience, and have long known by philosophy, that fire is naturally hot; yet, I am persuaded by God's holy word, and by the experience of some Saints of God therein recorded, that in the flame they may feel no heat, and in the fire
no consumption. And I constantly believe, that, however the stubble of this my body shall be wasted by it, yet my soul and spirit shall be purged thereby, ... a pain for the time, ... whereon followeth joy unspeakable.” And then he repeated the words of Scripture, “ Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, and called thee by thy name; thou art mine own. When thou * goest through the water I will be with thee, and the strong floods shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest in the fire, thou shalt not be consumed, and the flame shall not burn thee; for I am the Lord thy God, the holy One of Israel, thy Saviour!” This text he applied to himself, and to those who were present, some of whom, receiving the words as the legacy of a blessed martyr, had them fairly written in tables, or in books, and derived comfort from them till their dying day.
On the following morning he was led to execution. One of his friends exhorting him at the prison door with few and secret words, to take his death patiently and constantly, Bilney answered, “ When the mariner is tossed upon the troubled sea, he beareth his perils better in hope that he shall yet reach his harbour; so, whatever storms I shall feel, my ship will soon be in its quiet haven; thereof I doubt not, by the grace of God; ... and I entreat you, help me with your prayers, to the same effect.” The place of execution was a low valley, surrounded with rising ground, without the Bishop's Gate. It was chosen for these executions, that the people might see the spectacle from the ascent, as in an amphitheatre; and from the frequency of such spectacles, it was called the Lollard's Pit. There was a ledge upon the stake to raise the victim, that he might be the better seen; for the persecutors were desirous of displaying to the utmost these inhuman executions, not understanding that though many hearts would be hardened by such sights, and many intimidated, there were not a few also which would be strengthened and inflamed. Having put off the layman's gown, in which, after his degradation, he had been clad, he knelt upon the ledge, and prayed with deep and quiet devotion, ending with the 143rd Psalm, in which he thrice repeated the verse, “ Enter not into judgement with thy servant, O Lord, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” He then put off his jacket and doublet, and remained in his hose and shirt, and so was chained to the
stake. Some Friars came to him, and said the people imputed his death to them, and for that reason would withhold their alms; wherefore they entreated him to assure the spectators, that it was not their act. Bilney, upon this, said with a loud voice, “I pray you, good people, be never the worse to these men for my sake, as though they were the authors of my death : it was not they.” The dry reeds were then kindled; and in a few minutes, Bilney, triumphing over death, rendered up his soul in the fulness of faith, and entered into his reward.
The heart of man is strong when it is put to the proof; and those were times which tried the heart. These dreadful spectacles were attended, not by the brutal multitude alone, who came as to a pastime, and by those who, for the sake of gratifying their curiosity, chose to endure the sight: the friends and fellowbelievers of the sufferer seem generally to have been present as an act of duty; they derived, from his example, strength to follow it, when their hour should come; and to him it was a consolation to recognise sympathizing faces amid the crowd; to be assured, that in his agony he had their silent, but fervent, prayers to support him; and to know that, as faithful witnesses, they would do justice to his memory, which else was at the mercy
of his enemies. For it was one of the pious frauds of the Romanists, to spread reports that their victims had seen and acknowledged their error, when too late to save their lives, and had asked pardon of God and man for their heresies, with their latest breath. This last wrong was offered to Bilney, and it would have been fatal to his good name on earth, the falsehood having been believed and published by Sir Thomas More, if Parker, in whose primacy the Church of England was afterwards established by Elizabeth, had not attended at this martyrdom, for the love which he bore the martyr, and established the truth by his unquestionable testimony."
Bilney's example, in all parts, was followed by James Bainham, of the Middle Temple, the son of a Gloucestershire knight. Having been flogged and racked, without effect, to make him accuse others of holding the same opinions as himself, the fear of death induced him to abjure, and bear a faggot. But a month had scarcely elapsed before he stood up in the face of the con
Fox, ii. 211--228.
gregation in St. Austin's Church, with the English Testament in his hand, and openly proclaiming that he had denied the truth, declared that, if he did not return to it, that book would condemn him at the day of judgement; and he exhorted all who heard him, rather to suffer death, than fall as he had fallen, for all the world's good would not induce him again to feel such a hell as he had borne within him since the hour of his abjuration. He was accordingly brought to the stake in Smithfield, and there, to the astonishment of the spectators, when his extremities were half consumed, he cried aloud, “O ye Papists, ye look for miracles, and behold a miracle ; for in this fire I feel no pain; ... it is to me as a bed of roses !”] The fact may be believed, without supposing a miracle, or even recurring to that almost miraculous power which the mind sometimes can exercise over the body. Nature is more merciful to us than man to man; this was a case in which excess of pain had destroyed the power of suffering; no other bodily feeling was left but that of ease after torture: while the soul triumphed in its victory, and in the sure anticipation of its immediate and eternal reward.
The book which Bainham held up in the church, when he proclaimed his repentance, and his readiness to die for the truth, would alone have been sufficient to draw upon him inquiry and persecution. It was Tindal's translation, now one of the rarest volumes in the collections of the curious; and in its effects upon this nation, the most important that ever issued from the press. Nothing more is known of the translator's origin, than that he was born somewhere upon the borders of Wales. Having been bred up from a child at Oxford, and graduated there, and studied afterwards awhile at the other University, he was engaged in the family of a Gloucestershire knight, Welsh, by name, as tutor to his children. Open house was kept there, and the table being frequented by Abbots, Deans, and the other higher Clergy of the country, the conversation turned often upon Luther and Erasmus, and other points which were the touchstones of men's minds. In these conversations, Tindal declared his opinions with so much freedom, and pressed them sometimes with so much force, that, at length, for his own safety, and for the sake of the family which favoured him, he deemed it necessary to
I Fox, ii. 245—249.
withdraw. He was eminently one of those fit instruments which are never wanting when any great design of Providence is to be brought about; a man devoted to learning, zealous for the truth, of irreproachable life, and moderate desires, wishing for nothing more than a yearly income of ten pounds for his subsistence, and a situation in which he might teach children and preach the word of God.
Itinerant preaching excited no surprise in those days, because it was practised by the Friars. He preached awhile about the country, and more particularly about Bristol, and in that part
of the city which was then called St. Austin's Green. Experience had made him cautious; and his opinions, when he addressed the people, were probably rather to be inferred from his silence upon dangerous points, than from his words. For at this time he had formed the intention of translating the New Testament; the language of Wicliffe's version had become obsolete, and it was also a prohibited book. Tindal meant to render it from the original Greek, and entertained a hope of doing it under Tonstal's protection, whom Erasmus had so “extolled for his learning and virtue, that he thought no lot could be more desirable for him, nor more suitable to his purpose, than to be received into the Bishop's service.” He presented himself, therefore, with a recommendatory letter from Sir Henry Gilford, the King's Controller, and an oration of Isocrates translated from the Greek. But Tonstal's establishment was full, and he was taken into the house of Humphrey Monmouth, a wealthy and benevolent citizen, who inclined to the principles of the Reformation. This liberal man bestowed exhibitions at that time upon many
deserving men at the Universities, some of whom rose to great distinction ; approving of Tindal's views and intentions, he engaged to supply him with ten pounds a year: other good men contributed something, and Tindal embarked for Hamburg, travelled into Germany, where he conferred with Luther and others of the great Protestant Divines, and then settling at Antwerp, as the best place for printing his book and securing its transmission to England, completed the New Testament there.
Tindal had perceived, he said, that it was impossible to establish the people in any truth, except the Scriptures were plainly laid before them in their mother tongue, that they might see the