1 HIS renowned reformer was first heard of at Merton college in Oxford, one of the most famous seminaries of learning in that age. Even VValden, his enemy, owns, that he was astonished at the strength of the argumentation, and the copiousness of the authorities, which he adduced to support his opinions. The latter end of the fourteenth century was, indeed, so overloaded with absurdities, that it was no very difficult matter, for a person of far less learning and ability than Wickliff, to confound the supporters of the hierarchy in reasoning.
He began to flourish about the year 1371, while Edward III. still reigned in England.* He preached on Sundays against the vices of the friars, and the prevailing abuses in religion, particularly against the real presence in the eucharist. In this point Wicklifl" has been considered as remarkably clear. Let the reader judge for himself, from the reformer's own expressions in a treatise, which among other things, contains also his accusations of the mendicants-f A short view of that treatise shall be given hereafter. We are informed, indeed, that he preached against purgatory. J But I much question the truth of this assertion, because, from his own writings, he by no means appears to have been clearly decided against that abomination of popery.
His labours on the other days in the week corresponded to those on the Lord's day. The schools were then in high repute.§ Aristotelian logic was at its
' Fox, vol. i. p. 484. Fuller's Church Hist. b. iv.p. 130.
f This was printed from two old manuscripts, one in Benet's college, Cambridge, the other in th6 public library at Oxford.
j The scholastic divinity pretended to discuss and settle all questions in theology in a rational and argumentative manner. Like. Plato's school, it
height; and Wicklift'made use of the same weapons to oppose error, which his adversaries employed to maintain it.
He was removed from his office of prior or warden of Canterbury college, in Oxford, with circumstances of great injustice, about the year 1367. The pope, in the year 1370, confirmed the sentence of his removal, which was not, indeed, to be wondered at, because the dignity and interest of the monastic orders were intimately connected with the question of Wickliff's right to hold his office. But it will be needless, on this head, to trouble the reader with an account of particulars. A judicious and circumstantial writer, whom have frequently consulted in these memoirs, apprehends, that Wickliff was probably heated against both the pope and the monks* by a resentful sense of the ill treatment he had met with on this occasion. And it is, no doubt, true, that where men are wholly devoid of divine grace, personal injuries not only sink deep into the mind, but frequently also are apt to predominate without control throughout all the conduct.
has had several ages or periods; The Ancient, the Middle and the
The ancient began under Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, or rather under Abelard, and his disciple Peter Lombard, called the master of the sentences, on account of his work of sentences, which appeared in 1172: it preserved its credit nearly one hundred years.
The middle may be reckoned to commence early in the thirteenth century, under Albertus Magnus, a learned dominican, who published twenty-one volumes in folio at Lyons. These contain chiefly long commentaries on Aristotle; and though they treat every thing in a logical way, are ot little real use, but to fill large libraries.' The famous Thomas Aquinas was the disciple of Albertus, and read lectures on the book of sentences. During this period the peripatetic philosophy was raised to its utmost reputation. The works of Aquinas have gone through several editions, in seventeen volumes, folio. The author died in 1274.
The new, or third, age of school divinity begins with Durandus de St Pourcain, who wrote commentaries on the four books of sentences, cornbatted the opinions of Thomas Aquinas, and is said to have displayed great wit and genius. Indeed after the time of Aquinas the scholastic disputes grew more and more subtile, and the whole attention of the disputants were employed on the most frivolous questions. They often contended with great heat about mere formalities, and even raised phantoms in their imaginations for the purpose of continuing disputes, and opposition of sentiment. Durandus died bishop of Meauxin 1333. School divinity is now fallen into the lowest contempt.
• Collier, p. 582.
a right to disseise the church of her endowments, in case of misbehaviour, was a sentiment at least expressed in too indefinite a manner; but, that John of Gaunt should eagerly support it, is what might be expected from his turbulent and violent character.
Wickliff, having escaped the persecution of the hierarchy, in the manner that has been mentioned, continued to preach to the people, during the minority of king Richard II. who was crowned in the year 1377. In the mean time, certain articles, (in substance, those, which have been laid before the reader)* were collected against him: and Sudbury, the archbishop of Canterbury, enjoined the reformer to be silent, and no more to handle such topics. The patronage, however, of the duke of Lancaster, for a time was stronger than the ecclesiastical inhibitions; till repeated mandates from the pope emboldened the bishops a second time to cite the innovator before them at Lambeth; and he was again protected by the civil power, though he was obliged to explain and qualify the meaning of some of his positions. Whether he acted in this matter with the simplicity and integrity of a christian, the reader must judge for himself from the few instances which follow.
One of his conclusions, as they were called, exhibited in the convocation of the bishops held at Lambeth, was this: " All the race of mankind here on earth, except Christ, have no power simply to ordain, that St. Peter and his successors should politically rule over the church for ever.'" His explanation before the assembly was to this effect: " This conclusion is selfevident; inasmuch as it is not in man's power to stop the coming of Christ to judge the quick and the dead." It seems natural to infer from the conclusion itself, that Wickliff meant to assert the right of mankind to subvert the political authority of the pope. A bold assertion! but, at the same time, an inestimable truth, because the papal power was founded in usurpation1. But the explanation of the conclusion renders it equivocal, if not altogether nugatory.
* Fox, p. 491.
Again: " There is no example of Christ, which giveth power to his disciples to excommunicate any subject, especially for denying clerical claims of temporalities; but the contrary." This is a part of Wickliff's doctrine, which undoubtedly was levelled at the right of the clergy to possess any kind of property; and was intended to be applied to the purpose of setting that right aside. He takes care, however, in his explanation to avoid the direct assertion of his real sentiment by saying only, " this is declared in that doctrinal principle, taught in scripture, according to which we believe that God is to be loved above all things; and our neighbour and enemy are to be loved above all temporal goods: for the law of God cannot be contrary to itself."
Further: " Whether the pope, or temporal lords, or any other persons, shall have endowed the church with temporalities, it is lawful for them to take away the same temporalities, as it were, by way of medicine to prevent sin, notwithstanding any excommunication, because they are not given but under a condition."
" The truth of this," says he, in his explanation, " is evident; because nothing ought to hinder a man from performing the principal works of charity. Yet, God forbid, that by these words occasion should be given to the lords temporal to take away the goods of the church."
I need make no remark on this conclusion and its explanation. The next head I shall mention may be reduced to the same class of sentiments; and seems to show the inconsistency, which I am exposing, in a still more glaring manner.
" If there be a God, the temporal lords may lawfully and meritoriously take away the riches of the church, when the clergy offend habitually."
Any one, who observes the manner in which Wickliff here speaks of the right of the church to worldly possessions, and compares it with his other declarations of the same kind, will not easily perceive on what ground he suffered ecclesiastical property to rest at all. But if he was sincere in the following explanation of this conclusion, the terms of it must appear perfectly insignificant,* and he may seem to have expressed in very equivocal and dangerous language, a tenet in itself perfectly harmless. " If," says he, " there be a God, he is omnipotent; if so, he can command the lords temporal thus to act; and if he may thus command, they may lawfully take away such goods. But God forbid, that any should believe my intention to have been, that secular lords may lawfully take away whatsoever goods they please by their own naked authority: only by the authority of the church they may do so, in cases and in form limited by the laws."
But candour and consistency oblige me to observe, that, there appear, especially in this last case, such sophistical methods of argument, and such evasive modes of speech, as are very incompatible with the character of a reformer. In some of the English manuscripts of Wickliff, the pope is called the insolent priest of Rome, antichristian, robber, &c; but nothing of this sort of language is found in his explanationsf of his tenets. I am much inclined to believe the account of L'Enfant in these transactions, because he is an author in general extremely accurate and judicious; and also, because nothing is more natural than for a man, who, in the confidence of great political support, had carried his ideas of external reformation to an unwarrantable length, and had exhibited too much of a military spirit, on finding himself deprived of that support, to sink into a timidity, which might be productive of artifice and dissimulation. In his work entitled, " The great Sentence of Excommunication explained," the following passage appears: " When shall we see the proud priest of Rome grant plenary indulgences to engage men to live in peace and charity, as
* Fox, p. 494. | I/Enfant's Hist- of Constance.
he does to engage christians to murder each other?" A severe but just reproof! and abundantly verified in this history of the church of Christ. But such boldness and severity of censure, ought to be accompanied with the spirit of martyrdom. In this Wickliff was deficient. It will appear hereafter from the history of the council of Constance, and also from some extracts of this reformer's own writings, that he expressly condemned all ecclesiastical property whatever. Yet he himself enjoyed tithes, and possessed the living of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, to his death.*
From a concise account, of the writings and public lectures of Wickliff, with which we purpose to gratify the reader,t it will also distinctly appear, in what manner he combatted the doctrine of transubstantiation. At the end of one of his English confessions,of the sacrament of the altar, he declared, that one third of the clergy were on his side, and would support him at the hazard of their lives. He was, however, condemned by the university for holding heretical opinions in this matter; and, from the chancellor's decree,J Wickliff's confessions, and other documents, a judgment may, in some measure, be formed what those opinions really were. Our reformer has been charged with retracting and explaining his meaning, in an artful manner after he had appealed to the secular arm in vain; but here again the reader must determine for himself how far the accusation is well founded. It is certain that his powerful patron, the duke of Lancaster, deserted him on this occasion, and advised him to submit to his natural judges; influenced, it is said, by his dread of the strength of the hierarchy, as well as by scruples of conscience.
Whoever carefully examines the original records, will be convinced that the merits of this reformer have been considerably exaggerated. His inconsistencies may indeed be palliated, and in part excused. I am apt to believe also, that in his latter days he thought more moderately, and altered some of his wild and irregular notions concerning property: besides, there are such undoubted proofs of his laborious and indefatigable cares in religion, and of his sound comprehension of the essentials of christianity, and of his general probity, integrity, and innocence of life, that I should be extremely sorry, if, in any one instance, he may reasonably be suspected of deliberate hypocrisy. That he sought divine truth, and seriously endeavoured both to teach and to practise it, the general tenor of his life evinces; the testimony also of the best and most upright men who lived nearest his times, is unequivocal in his favour. The great benefit likewise resulting from his labours, both in England and Bohemia, seems to show that God honoured him with evangelical fruitfulness, though it must be owned, that many of his disciples appeared on the whole to have been better christians than himself. That he was really pious can hardly be doubted; and one point of instruction may in some measure compensate the pain which every lover of truth must feel at the discovery of his inconsistencies. It is this: Let serious divines cease to immerse themselves in political concerns: politics was the rock on which this great and good man split, and in his case it clearly appeared, that the work of God is not to be carried on by " the arm of flesh."
* It is not to be wondered at, that he, who maintained, " that tithes were mere alms," should be accused of supporting the seditious practices of Tyler, Straw, and the other incendiaries in the time of Richard II. There is no clear evidence, however, that Wickliff ever patronised these men.
tPage 111 ofthisvolttmf. } P. 113 and 114 ibid.
To proceed: Wickliff was now delivered from persecution; and was still supported, in some degree, by the secular power and by individuals of distinction, though induced, as the price of that protection to make such sacrifices as are inconsistent with a direct and open sincerity. After this time, he had no trouble from his superiors, at least none that deserves any particular detail, though he certainly continued to the end of his days, in the unremitted exercise of zealous pastoral labours in his parish church of Lutterworth, though he persevered in attacking the abuses of popery by his writings against the mendicants, against transubstantiation, and against indulgences; and though he produced a translation of the bible from the Latin into the English tongue. This work alone sufficed to render his name immortal. The value of it was unspeakable; and his unwearied pains to propagate the genuine doctrines of revelation among mankind indicated the steady zeal with which he was endowed; while the rage, with which the hierarchy was inflamed against a work so undeniably seasonable, demonstrated, that the ecclesiastical rulers hated the light, and would not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.*
I know no person of ecclesiastical eminence, whose life and character have cost me more thought and care, than Wickliff's. Andafterall, thereisnotmuch to record that deserves the peculiar attention of godly persons. I have consulted the best authorities, and in scrutinizing their contents ha^e been mortified to find, that I could not conscientiously join with the popular cry in ranking this man among the highest worthies of the church. A political spirit, as we have seen, deeply infected his conduct. It nevertheless remains true, that sincere christians, and more particularly the protestants of all succeeding ages, are bound thankfully to acknowledge the divine goodness, for that there actually existed in the personal character of WicklifT " some good thing toward the Lord,"f that such a character was providentially raised up at the very time it was so much wanted, and, that from his labours considerable benefit accrued to the church of Christ, both in England and upon the continent.J
Wickliff died in peace at Lutterworth, of the palsy, in the year 1387. In the year 1410, his works were burned at Oxford; and in 1428, his remains were dug out of his grave and burned, and his ashes thrown into the river of Lutterworth. The number of his volumes committed to the flames by order of Su
• John, iii. ver. 20. f 1 Kings, xiv. 13.
J A Bohemian gentleman, who studied at Oxford, carried Wickliff's books into Bohemia.
binco* archbishop of Prague, amounted to about two hundred. His labours indeed appear to have been immense; and beyond all doubt, he was in that dark age a prodigy of knowledge.
After having observed that his works were burned at Oxford, it is proper to add, that previous both to this, and also to the burning of his bones by order of the council of Constance, a testimonial was publicly given, by the university of Oxford, to his character, dated in the year 1406, which declares,f " That all his conduct through life was sincere and commendable, that his conversation from his youth upward, to the time of his death, was so praiseworthy and honest, that never at any time was there a particle of suspicion raised against him, and that he vanquished, by the force of the scriptures, all such as slandered Christ's religion. God forbid that our prelates should condemn such a man as an heretic, who has written better than any others in the university, on logic, philosophy, divinity, morality, and the speculative arts." This honourable testimony shows, that the speculative errors of Wickliff, were not attended with practical consequences; and that sedition in church and state, was never meant to be encouraged by that reformer, though the enormities of the age induced him much to exceed the bounds of discretion in his attempts to oppose them.
The distinguishing tenet of Wickliff in religion was, undoubtedly, the election of grace. He calls the church an assembly of predestinated persons. To those, who said that God did not every thing for them, but that their own merits contributed in part to salvation, he replied with a short prayer, " Heal us gratis, O Lord." Those, who have diligently studied the sacred volumes, and also the writings of truly pious christians, will understand, how evangelically humble this reformer might be in the use of such doctrine, and at the same time, how sincerely laborious in in
• culcating whatever belongs to genuine piety and virtue, in opposition to the pharisaic superstitions of the times. And if any one be inclined to doubt this, let him consider, that the eleventh article of our own church says, that we are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Saviour, by faith, and not for our own works and deservings; and yet no sound divine conceives that, for this reason, any man is released from the duty of obeying God's commandments, and of abounding in all the fruits of a pure and evangelical faith.* But let us proceed to give a brief sketch of his doctrines, as extracted from his writings and other authentic documents.
* Fox, p. 509 f lb. p. 515.
In one of his treatises against the mendicant friars, called " The Complaint of John Wickliff to the King and Parliament," he says,f " If ministers, in the execution of their office, do not act, both by word and example, as God commandeth, their people are not bound to pay them tithes and offerings."
" When the principal cause for which tithes and offerings should be paid does not exist, the payment of tithes should cease. Also clergymen are more to be condemned for withdrawing their teaching in word and in example, then the parishioners are for withdrawing tithes and offerings, even though they discharge their office as they ought."
This last observation presents us with an absurd comparison between two species of transgression; and we need not wonder if the doctrine of the whole passage should have often influenced the conduct of misers and extortioners.
•Persons of an arminian way of thinking, are very apt to consider all calvinistic doctrine as of an antinomian tindencyj and on the contrary, the calvinist too frequently reproaches the arminian for being of a legalspirit, and for denying the free and unmerited salvation of men by Jesus Christ. Neither Party Should Be Pressed With Consequences Which They Themselves Disavow. The writer of this history is o'en called upon to form the best estimate he can of religious characters; and for this purpose, the observance of the rule just mentioned, is of the utmost consequence,. It is not his province to enter into the discussion of nice theological or metaphysical questions.
f Page 15. N. B. Though several of the quotations which follow are marked with inverted commas, for the sake of distinction, they are to be understood as only containing the substance of Wickliff's sentiments, and not his very words. The originals are frequently in Latin, and often in such antiquated English as would be unintelligible to ordinary readers.
In the sixteenth chapter of another treatise against the orders of friars, he directly charges them with perverting the right faith of the sacrament of the altar. " Christ says, that the bread, which he brake and blessed, is his body; and the scripture says openly, that the sacrament is bread that we break and God's body: but they say, ' it is an accident without subject,' and therefore nothing; neither bread nor God's body. Augustin says,' what we see, is bread, but to those, who are faithfully taught, the bread is Christ's body.' Why should our almighty Saviour conceal this notion of the friars for a thousand years; and never teach the doctrine to his apostles, or to so many saints, but at length communicate it to these hypocrites?"
In his public lectures, which he read, as professor of divinity at Oxford in the summer of 1381,* Wickliff appears to have opposed the papistical doctrine of transubstantiation with all his might; and at the same time to have maintained the true, ancient and scriptural, notion of the Lord's supper. With this view he published sixteen conclusions, the first of which is expressed in these words, " The consecrated host, which we see upon the altar is neither Christ nor any part of him, but an effectual sign of him." And he offered to defend this and his other conclusions in public disputation with any one. But he was prohibited by the rulers of the university and doctors of divinity. Upon which Wickliff published a defencef of his doctrine, which the intelligent reader will think less satisfactory than the above mentioned conclusion. " The eucharist," says he, " is the body of Christ in the form of bread. The right faith of christian men is this, that this worshipful sacrament is bread and Christ's body, as Jesus Christ is very God and very man."
* Hist, and Antiq. Oxon. A. D. 1381. I MS. on a feigned contemplative life.
In his Trialog.* he observes, " that though the bread in the eucharist begins to be the body of Christ, by virtue of the consecration, it must not be believed that it ceases to be bread. It is plain it is Substantially bread, because it begins tobesAcRAMENTALLY the body of Christ. So Christ says, This is my body. The nature of bread is not thenceforth destroyed, but is exalted into a substance of greater dignity. In a similar way the Baptist was made Elias, by virtue of Christ's words in the eleventh of St. Matthew, yet he did not cease to be John. And St. Austin observes, that the scripture does not say that seven ears of corn and seven fat kine Signify seven years of plenty, but that they Are those years. Such expressions denote that the subject is ordained of God ;to Figure the thing predicated according to its fitness. And in the same sense and manner the sacramental bread is specially the body of Christ." Wickliff very modestly concludes this explanation, with declaring, " that he was read}- to believe a more subtile sense, if he could be convinced of the truth of it by scripture or reason."
We have observed above that Wickliff, in the matter of transubstantiation, appears both to have opposed the papistical doctrine, and also to have maintained the true. But the discerning reader cannot fail to remark, that authentic documents leave the former proposition in much less doubt than they do the latter.
The chancellor of the university of Oxford, after reciting, before several doctors in divinity, the reformer's conclusions, namely first, That in the sacrament the substance of the material bread and wine remain the same after consecration; and secondly, That in that venerable sacrament the body and blood of Christ are not present essentially, but only figuratively, with their consent decreed that, " These are execrable errors, and repugnant to the determinations of the church- "f
From this decree of the chancellor, Wickliff appealed to the king. But the duke of Lancaster,* who had countenanced his opposition to papal usurpation, did not approve his heretical sentiments respecting the received doctrine of the real presence; and is said to have enjoined silence to this bold innovator on that head. Soon after this, Wickliff published a long, obscure, and equivocal sort of confession, which by his enemies has been termed a retraction of his sentiments. In this confession he declares his belief in the following terms. " The same body of Christ which was incarnate of the Virgin, which suffered on the cross, which lay three days in the grave, and rose again on the third day, this same body and same substance is verily and really the sacramental bread or consecrated host, which we see in the hands- of the priest." But he presently adds,f " That he dare not say that the body of Christ, considered as an Extended Body, is essentially and substantially the bread: There is a threefold manner of the body of Christ being in the consecrated host, viz. a virtual, spiritual, and sacramental." And so in his Trialogus he says, " this sacrament is the body of Christ; and not only that which shall be, or which figures sacramentally the body of Christ." And again, " That the host is to be adored principally for this reason, not because it is in some respect the body of Christ, but because it contains in a secret manner the body of Christ within itself." He is very constant in assertingJ " That the bread, by the words of consecration, is not made the Lord's glorified body, or his spiritual body, which is risen from the dead, nor his fleshly body as it was before he suffered death; but that the bread still continues bread; and so there is bread and the body of Christ together."
Some of Wickliff's admirers, who can see no defects in their favourite, would explain the contradictions, and obscurities, which are to be found in his various writings and confessions on the subject of transubstantiation, by affirming, that he discovered the truth gradually, and that he was late in fixing his opinions on the Lord's supper. And if this could be made out, it would doubtless, be a very natural and a very satisfactory defence of the reformer; but let us attend to the sentiments of a very great man, whose extensive learning, and extraordinary candour, were never called in question. " I have looked,"* says Melancthon, " into Wickliff, who is very confused in this controversy of the Lord's supper; but I have found in him, also, many other errors, by which a judgment may be made of his spirit. He neither understood nor believed the righteousness of faith. He foolishly confounds the gospel and politics; and does not see that the gospel allows us to make use of the lawful forms of government of all nations. He contends, that it is not lawful for priests to have any property. He wrangles sophistically and downright seditiously about civil dominion. In the same manner he cavils sophistically against the received opinion of the Lord's supper."
* Walsingh. Hist. Anglise. and Antiq. Oxon. + Wickliff's Confession. J See Wickliff's Wicket, and Trialog. lib. iv.
The most important Latin performance of Wickliff, seems to be his Trialogus; from which several passages have already been quoted for the purpose of elucidating the author's sentiments on the doctrine of transubstantiation.
This brilliant work was answered by Widefort, a franciscan, who dedicated his laboured reply to archbishop Arundel. L'Enfant tells us, in his history of the council of Constance, that he found a copy of the Trialogus in the university of Frankfort on the Oder. It contains a dialogue between three speakers, whom the author calls, Truth, Falsehood, and Wisdom. With what vehemence he opposed the fashionable abuses may be collected from a single sentence respecting the crime of simony. " Those stupid simonists imagine that grace may be bought and sold like an ox or an ass." And speaking of the invocation of saints, he observes, *'the festival of the day is to no purpose, if it do not tend to magnify Jesus Christ, and induce men to love Him. Moreover, our redeemer Jesus Christ is very God, as well as very man, and therefore, on account of his divinity, he must infinitely exceed any other man. And this consideration induces many to think that it would be expedient to worship no other being among men except Jesus Christ; insomuch as he is the best mediator and best intercessor; and they likewise think, that when this was the practice of the church, it increased and prospered much better than it does now. What folly then to apply to any other person to be our intercessor? What folly to choose of two persons proposed, the less eligible of the two, to be our intercessor? Would any one choose the king's buffoon to be an intercessor? The saints in heaven are not indeed buffoons; but in dignity they are less, compared with Jesus Christ, than a buffoon is, when compared with an earthly king."
* Sententise vetcnim de caena Domini.
He is very pointed in asserting the authority of scripture, which, he maintains, infinitely surpasses the authority of any other writings whatsoever; and he declares, that to hold the contrary, is the most damnable of all heresies. He assures us, that he so strenuously combatted, in the university and before the people, the errors on the sacrament, because none had proved more destructive to mankind. " These errors," says he, " fleece men and draw them into idolatry: they then deny the faith of the scriptures; and by their infidelity provoke the God of truth." Such were the principles of Wickliff, and such the testimonies which he has left against the corruptions of the church of Rome.
There is preserved in the library of the cathedral of York, an apology for Wickliff, written by Dr. Thomas James, keeper of the public library at Oxford, for the purpose of showing this great reformer's conformity with the present church of England. The contents of the apology are collected chiefly from Wickliff 's own manuscripts. I shall present the reader with a few quotations.
Speaking of the scriptures, Wickliff says, " I think it absurd to be warm in defence of the apocryphal books when we have so many which are undeniably authentic. In order to distinguish canonical books from such as are apocryphal, use the following rules: 1. Look into the new testament, and see what books of the old testament are therein cited and authenticated by the Holyghost. 2. Consider whether the like doctrine be delivered by the Holyghost elsewhere in the scripture." These observations to us, no doubt, appear extremely obvious, and no more than plain, common sense: but those, who are aware of the dominion of prejudice in the age of Wickliff, and of the implicit obedience then shown to ecclesiastical authority, will be best qualified to appreciate that vigor of understanding, and that resolute integrity, which could produce such sentiments, and a correspondent practical conduct.
Dr. James the compiler tells us, that Wickliff was earnest, every where in his writings, to establish the grand protestant sentiment, of the sufficiency of the scriptures for saving instruction; and that the reason of his earnestness and pious zeal was, in substance, this, " Few sermons were preached in his time; and those few were on fabulous subjects and traditions, and profaned with much scurrility and emptiness. Friars persecuted the faithful, and said, it had never been well with the church since lords and ladies regarded the gospel, and relinquished the manners of their ancestors."
" Some," he says, " are enlightened from above that they may explain the proper, literal, and historical, sense of scripture, in which sense all things necessary in scripture are contained."
This remark was doubtless made to guard his readers against the devious paths of fantastic and endless allegories, in which the sportive genius of Origen had been so conversant; and which, for ages, had
Vol. IV. 16
thrown so great a cloud over the genuine meaning of the sacred writers. It was, at the same time, a strong indication of the native vigor of that good sense, with which the pastor of Lutterworth was eminently endowed; and his idea of divine assistance, as necessary to qualify a man for the explanation of the revealed word, indicates his knowledge of our natural blindness and depravity; and further, in making this last observation, he doubtless, intimates the very great advantage, which, as a religious instructor, a person, who is practically led by the Spirit of God, has over a mere selfsufficient theorist depending on the use of, his own understanding. We have indeed, from the extreme disadvantages of obscurity, in which this author's works appear, little opportunity of estimating his merits as a theologian; but it is sufficiently evident from a few fragments* of his voluminous writings, that, in light and talents, he was greatly superior to his contemporaries; and if he had escaped the snare of that political speculation, which encourages sedition, and makes Christ's kingdom to be of this world, he might have stood among the foremost of those geniuses, who, since the apostolic age, have been raised up by providence to instruct and reform the human race.
" Sanctity of Jife," he observes, " promotes this IlluminAtion so necessary for understanding the revealed word; to continue which in the church is the duty of theologians, who ought to remain within their proper limits, and not to invent things foreign to the faith of scripture."
He lays down some good rules for an expositor. 1. He should be able by collation of manuscripts to settle well the sacred text. 2. He should be conversant in logic. 3. He should be constantly engaged in
• Subinco, archbishop of Prague, about the year 1409, endeavoured to collect all the writings of Wickliff, which had been introduced into Bohemia He is said to have gotten into his possession 200 of them, all which he burnt by virtue of a royal edict. Camerarius Histories Narratio, p. 32.
comparing one part of scripture with another. 4. The student should be a man of prayer, and his disposition should be upright. 5. He needs the internal instruction of the primary Teacher." This last is Augustin's favourite idea; namely, that a genuine relish for divine aid in rightly interpreting and applying scripture is the sure index of an humble spirit; and that the contempt of it no less powerfully indicates the prevalence of profaneness or selfconceit.
The council of Constance condemned this great man for denying the pope's supremacy. We shall afterwards see, that that council is entitled- to little regard. What colour they might have for their censure seems to be grounded on his avowed opinion, that all the bishops of Rome before his time for three hundred years had been heretics: and yet he advances, that whoever disobeys the papal mandates, incurs the charge of paganism."* By comparing these two passages together, it seems that he was willing to own the supremacy of that see, provided it was filled by a faithful pastor.
Further in Dr. James's collection, there are also extracts and observations, in substance, as follows:
" The merit of Christ is of itself sufficient to redeem every man from hell. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation; and without faith it is impossible to please God."
And the writer informs us, that, on the leading controversy respecting justification, Wickliffaccorded fully with the church of England; and that he persuaded men " to trust wholly to Christ, to rely altogether upon his sufferings, and not to seek to be justified in any other way than by his justice:" that he said, " Unbelievers, though they might perform works apparently good in their matter, still were not to be accounted righteous men; that all, who followed Christ, became righteous through the participation of his righteousness, and would be saved." He adds the following sentences. " Human nature is wholly at en* mity with God: All men are originally sinners, not only from their mother's wombs, but in their mother's wombs: We cannot think a good thought unless Jesus send it: We cannot perform a good work unless it be properly his good work: His mercy prevents us so that we receive grace; and it follows us so as to help us and keep us in grace. Heal us, good Lord, we have no merit! Give us grace to know that all thy gifts be of thy goodness only."*
* Apology, chap- on the pope. sect. 1.
I recommend these hints to the particular notice of such serious readers as set a high value on the essential truths of the gospel. They will draw their own conclusions from them. In regard to myself, I have been much mortified to find so little recorded from Wickliff's writings respecting these truths, even by his most diligent biographers. Two of these, very great admirers of this reformer, either did not comprehend the great doctrines of justification by faith, and of the nature of good works, or, they must have thought them of little consequence. On all other points they dwell with sufficient accuracy, and with a minuteness of detail; whereas if they touch on these at all, it is done with the greatest reserve; and the little they say is far from being clear. Yet both of the authors to whom I allude, show that they were well aware of the above mentioned censure of Wickliff by Melancthon;f for one of them has given a very unsatisfactory answer to the charge; and the other appears to me to have evaded the question, and to have presented his reader with a very imperfect view of Wickliff's sentiments on a most important point. He barely says, " Wickliff asserted the necessity of divine grace. Withoixt this, he saw not how a human being could make himself acceptable to God." Every admirer of Wickliff, if he also be a sincere approver of the inestimable protestant doctrines concerning the grace of God and of the justification of man, will be gratified in reading the sentiments I have produced from Dr. James's collection. If such sentiments abound not in WicklifPs writings so much as sound and enlightened christians might wish, it becomes the more necessary to take notice of those which we do find there. At least the plan of this history, which professes to search everywhere for the real church of Christ, rendered these remarks indispensably necessary.
* De Veritate Script, in Expos. Decal. Comment, in Psalm, f Page 115. of this vol.
The apology by Dr. James contains many other memorable sentiments of this reformer: Among which is this:
" We worship not the image, but the being represented by the image, say the patrons of idolatry in our times. Suffice it to say, idolatrous heathens said the same."
He also vehemently opposed the w-hole doctrine of indulgences; and expressed in the most decisive manner, his disapprobation of forced vows of celibacy, either in the case of monks or of the secular clergy. He is accused of having been an enemy to all oaths; but the apology proves directly the contrary; also a passage in his book against the mendicant friars, seems to invalidate the charge. " God," says he, " teaches us to swear by himself, when necessity calls for it, and not by his creatures."
It has been thought, I am well aware, that the reformers of the sixteenth century built on the foundation, which Wickliff had laid. But his knowledge of christian doctrine, though fundamentally sound, was yet so defective, so obscure, and so scholastical, while that of those admirable reformers, carries such internal marks of originality, of accurate method, and of solid scriptural investigation, that they do not appear to have followed him at all as a guide in theology. We have seen that Melancthon, one of the most judicious and candid of them, thought, that Wickliff understood not the doctrine of the righteousness of faith. It might, perhaps be nearer the truth to say that, in an accurate knowledge of that important article he seems to have been defective. At the same time, however, that his light respecting pure evangelical doctrine was scanty, his views of external reformation erred in the extreme of excess. He disliked All church endowments, and wished to have the clergy reduced to a state of poverty. He insists that parishioners had a right to withhold tithes from pastors who were guilty of fornication. Now if, in such cases, he would have allowed every individual to have judged for himself, who does not see what a door might be opened to confusion, fraud, and the encouragement of avarice?
In vitum duck culpse fuga, si caret arte. Hor.
Never was this remark of the poet more completely exemplified than in the conduct of Wickliff. An honest indignation on account of the enormities and immense revenues of the clergy in his day, led this extraordinary genius to use rash and indefensible expressions, which his own practice, in regard to his benefice at Lutterworth, seemed to contradict. Hence I am led to conclude, that this good man intended not absolutely, on this subject, the whole of what he uttered in his warmth. Hath the Lord ordained, that they, who " preach the gospel, should live of the gospel."* And have pastors, after all, no right to be maintained by their people? Doubtless, they have not, if it be true, that all which they receive, is properly to be called alms. Or, ought they, whose business it is, to instruct their flocks in their most important and eternal concerns, to be placed in situations not really differing from those of beggars? In such a view, the whole body of the clergy might justly be denominated Mendicants, the very orders of men, against which Wickliff so copiously inveighed. This whole sentiment of reducing the tithes and offerings conferred on the clergy to alms, however it may flatter the pride and avarice, and profaneness of many of the laity in our days, appears on every account perfectly indefensible. The very nature of alms supposes.
' 1 Cor. ix. 14
that the objects of them are recommended to our regard, not by the services which they perform, but by the distresses which they endure. Is this the proper light in which we should view the character of a christian pastor; or, can this be called in any degree a just representation of the functions of a teacher of the gospel? And, lastly, are spiritual services of so little estimation, as to claim no reward from those on whom they are conferred?
This great defect in Wickliff's ideas of church re-' formation very much lessened his reputation in the eyes of those reformers, who followed him. Melancthon in particular, a zealous friend of order and decorum, represents him, as we have already seen, to have been in this respect, destitute of all sobriety of judgment. It is not to be denied, however, that he was a light in his day. There is reason to believe, that many, who were by no means disposed to defend his errors, admired his virtues; and even those, who would describe his lanthorn as dimly scattering only a few obscure rays of evangelical truth, must still confess that it sufficed to discover to mankind the turpitude of the works of darkness, which predominated in England. The inestimable present of the word of God in their own language, with which he was enabled to favour his countrymen, conveyed instruction to great numbers: there was an effusion of the divine Spirit; and in the next chapter we must attend to its effects.
The reader is now to judge, whether from the historical facts, which have been laid before him, together with the extracts from the writings of Wickliff, the writer of this ecclesiastical history be well founded in the observations, which he has made on the character and opinion of this celebrated reformer. And, though it is much to be regretted, that, in regard to certain parts of his conduct, neither the purity of his motives, nor the clearness of his knowledge can be so ascertained, as entirely to stifle suspicion, or silence objection, yet is our information sufficient to explain several things which appear inconsistent or contradictor)' as recorded by memorialists and biographers.
For example, 1. We may allow and lament, that in certain difficult and dangerous moments of his life, there existed in the defences and explanations of Wickliff, more equivocation and artifice than are consistent, with the simplicity of character which should mark a true disciple and follower of Jesus Christ; but when this defect is admitted, who can deny, that, on the whole, he was a sincere believer of christianity, and a zealous advocate for its essential doctrines? Mr. Hume had too much good sense, and was too acute an observer, not to discover in Wickliff this firm belief of the christian religion, and this fervent love of the great truths, which it teaches; but in order to appreciate justly His remarks on any religious character of this kind, we ought to keep in view the well known prejudices of this otherwise incomparable historian. His dislike of the gospel of Christ is so perfect and complete, that wherever he finds sincerity in believing and zeal in supporting and propagating its fundamentals, these dispositions sink, in his esteem, all such persons without exception; and, in most cases, when the question turns intirely upon religion, we expect in vain from him, not only the candour and moderation of a philosophical critic, but the justice and impartiality of an upright judge. Mr. Hume's account of Wickliff is as follows.* " He denied the doctrine of the real presence, the supremacy of the church of Rome, the merit of monastic vows. He maintained, that the scripture was the sole rule of faith; that the church was dependent on the state, and should be reformed by it; that the clergy ought to possess no estates; that the begging friars were a general nuisance, and ought not to be supported; that the numerous ceremonies of the church were hurtful to true piety. He asserted that oaths were unlawful, that dominion was founded in grace, that every thing was
: Hume, Rich. II. chap. 1"
subject to fate and destiny, and that all men were preordained either to eternal salvation or reprobation." This same historian also owns, that the doctrines of Wickliff were derived from his search into the scriptures and into ecclesiastical antiquity; and he tells us that they were nearly the same with those which were propagated, by reformers in the sixteenth century. After such a detail, who would expect the author to conclude with this remarkable sentence?"Fromthe Whole of his doctrine, Wickliff appears to have been strongly tinctured with Enthusiasm, and to have been thereby better qualified to oppose a church, whose chief characteristic is Superstition." Therefore, according to Mr. Hume'sjudgment, it was not so much the rational argumentation of Wickliff, or his diligent search into the scriptures, as his enthusiasm, which qualified him to become a formidable adversary of the papal superstitions and corruptions. If Wickliff had opposed the abominations of the church of Rome by ridicule and banter, by scorn and contempt, by sceptical objections to revelation in general, and by these methods only, he would probably have escaped this censure.
" He was distinguished," Mr. Hume says, " by a great austerity of life and manners;" and the historian then coolly observes, that this is " a circumstance common to almost all those, who Dogmatize In Any New Way." Infidel philosophers and infidel historians, never comprehend how the honour of God, and the salvation of men can be the ruling principles of a rational conduct. The profession of such principles appear to them to be connected with hypocrisy or enthusiasm: and therefore in estimating the merits of truly religious characters, they make no candid allowance, for the weakness and imperfection of human nature; but are most ingenious and acute in discovering faults and inconsistencies, as well as bitter and sarcastic in exposing them. If, on the one hand, I have been mortified in finding myself constrained to differ from many in their unbounded applause of Dr. Wickliff, I have
Vol. IV. 17
Celt it a duty on the other, to correct the uncandid and injurious representations of a profane historian, who would insinuate to the minds of the unwary, that this reformer, " though a man of parts and learning," was in fact a cautious or cowardly enthusiast. The defects and inconsistencies, with which, in the former part of this account, I acknowledge the memory of this great man to be considerably stained, afford some handle for the suspicion of timidity or cowardice; but, for the charge of enthusiasm the historian has no warrant whatever. Moreover, supposing it true, that Wickliff's timid disposition, or any other cause, induced him to decline the praise of martyrdom, is it not at least equally true, that he involved himself in much danger and difficulty by bringing forward his opinions; that the showed much courage and ability in supporting them, and that rather than retract them, he suffered heavy persecutions with great patience and fortitude? Did the philosophic Mr. Hume infer the nature of a man's disposition from an occasional imbecility manifested in some trying moments, rather than from the uniform tenor of his conduct? Or did he esteem every man a coward or a hypocrite, who, in explaining his religious sentiments, may, in some instances, have softened them, or perhaps equivocated, for the purpose of saving his life?*
I consider this as One very clear and decisive instance of Mr. Hume's prejudice and partiality. There are many others, in his very excellent writings, of a similar kind. He has a very sly and artful way of insinuating his own opinions, and of depreciating truly religious men; and it is not a sufficient guard against this practice, merely to advertise the young student that this is actually the case, and that therefore he must be constantly on the watch. Clear instances, like this respecting Wickliff, should be produced. It would be very easy to collect a number of a similar sort; and such a collection of particular and distinct examples passed for certain and undisputed during many ages, and then, I think, we must cease to wonder, that this reformer's conduct and opinions should have been often exhibited to us in the most glowing terms of veneration and respect; which terms, however may be expected to vary materially, according as the sentiments of the historian or biographer have more or less of an aristocratic or a popular tendency; and again, according as the writer's views of ecclesiastical government are confined to merely political considerations, or as they extend to the eternal interests of mankind. No apology can be necessary for having freely animadverted upon such a writer as Mr. Hume; but it might be invidious to exemplify the distinctions here alluded to by apposite quotations from authors, whose zeal for liberty, or whose predilection for particular sentiments, appear to me to have carried them unwarrantable lengths in the commendation of Wickliff. The student of ecclesiastical history will, however, do well to recollect, that unless he keeps these and similar distinctions in his mind, and carefully allows for them, he will be much bewildered in his researches. The bigoted papist usually loses his patience in describing the principles and conduct of Wickliff: the unbeliever, in treating the same subject, sees no difficulties, but what are easily explained on the supposition of enthusiasm, hypocrisy, pride of the human heart, or love of popularity: moderate divines, even of the roman catholic persuasion, support Wickliff to a certain point, particularly in his attack of the abuses, which interfered with their own interests and privileges: protestant divines may be expected to defend the reformer much further: and, in fact, those protestants, who are usually denominated low churchmen, have shown themselves disposed to transmit his memory to posterity with the most exalted encomiums. His manly freedom in inquiring after truth, and his great boldness in defending it and in encountering dangers, please them so much, that they become almost blind to the faults, errors, and defects, of their favourite
* Hume, ibid.
ecclesiastic. Lastly, it deserves, also, to be remembered, that those, who are most godly and practical in their conversation, and whose lives are most devoted to promote the salvation of the souls of men, who are the least worldly minded, and meddle the least with political discussions, and controversies, such persons, with regret, are compelled to withhold an unlimited approbation of Wickliff. They gratefully praise God for having raised up a champion for the faith of the gospel in the most perilous times, and when very much needed; they rejoice in finding evidence that this celebrated champion did belong to the true church of Christ; they charitably hope and believe that he said and did many things, which, had they been recorded, might perhaps have made it still clearer that he belonged to the most distinguished part of Christ's little flock; and lastly, they sincerely lament, that so honoured a servant of God, should seem, oa any occasion in supporting the righteous cause of religion, to have relied on political dexterity or on the favour of a court, or to have afforded a handle for the suspicion of artifice and duplicity.
For the purpose of still further explaining the different degrees of panegyric or of calumny with which the character of Wickliff is loaded by historians and biographers, there remain several considerations, to which the reader will do well to advert.
1. The mendicant friars, who settled in Oxford about the year 1230, proved very troublesome and offensive to the university. Their insolent behaviour produced endless quarrels, and their conduct in general was so exceptionable, that so far from being objects of charity, they became a reproach to all religion. Wickliff lashed this set of men with great acrimony and acuteness; and by exposing their shameful corruptions and hypocritical pretences, made known his learning and talents; and established his own reputation and consequence. He became at once the beloved and the admired champion of the university. On the contrary, the mendicants " were set on a rage and madness; and even as hornets with their sharp stings they assailed this good man on every side, fighting for their altars, paunches and bellies."* But the daring, active* spirit of Wickliff was not to be overcome by the opposition of such men. Fortunately for him, they were in the highest discredit at Oxford; whereas our reformer was looked up to almost as an oracle; for he had not, as yet, proceeded to those lengths of innovation, which afterwards called forth the vengeance of the hierarchy, and involved him in various difficulties and persecutions. His friends procured him a benefice; he took his degree of doctor of divinity; he was elected into the professor's chair; and he read lectures publicly with the greatest applause.f
2. The credit and interest of Wickliff were much strengthened by the active part which he took in sup-: porting the independence of the crown, against the pope's pretensions and menaces. Pope Urban, claimed a tribute from king Edward III. The clergy in general espoused the cause of his holiness; but Wickliff distinguished himself, by publishing a masterly answer to the most plausible arguments, which could be produced in support of so unjust a demand. This step irritated his brethren, the clergy, with the pope at their head; the professor of divinity, however, had the parliament, as well as every disinterested subject of the realm, on his side in this question. From the same cause he seems to have been first made known at court, and particularly to the duke of Lancaster. His great learning, increasing celebrity, and powerful connexions, all contributed to support his courage, and to give vigour to the resolutions which he had secretly made for reforming the prevailing corruptions. Accordingly, he proceeded to open the eyes of the people with still greater boldness- and plainness of speech. He demonstrated the romish religion to be a system of errors: he attacked the scandalous lives of the monastic clergy; and showed how they invented and multiplied such
* Fox's Acts and Monuments. f Leland de Scrip. Brit
superstitious opinions and doctrines, as suited their worldly, sensual, and avaricious views.
3. These extraordinary steps both alarmed the hierarchy and excited its resentment. The clergy raised violent clamours against the heretic: the archbishop of Canterbury took the lead; and the professor was silenced and deprived. In this very moment of his disgrace, we find Dr. Wickliff was brought to court, treated with peculiar kindness, and appointed one of the king's ambassadors,* for the purpose of treating with the pope, concerning a variety of intolerable hardships and usurpations under which the nation had long groaned. On his return, he appears to have recovered his station in Oxford, and to have inveighed against the church of Rome, in harsher language than he had ever done before, both in his public lectures and in private. His negotiations abroad with the pope's nuncios had* probably, afforded him opportunities of seeing more striking proofs of the ambition, covetousness, tyranny, and insolence of the papal domination. In this part of the history of our reformer, there is considerable defect and obscurity. We find however that, notwithstanding his employments in the university, he did not neglect to cultivate his great connexions. He was often at court, and continued in high credit with the duke of Lancaster; and though, by many of the clergy, he was esteemed an enemy to the church and a false brother, he obtained the valuable rectory of Lutterworth, through the royal favour. These facts deserve particular notice; as they determine several points beyond all controversy: namely, the great weight of Wickliff's character and reputation; his disposition to political concerns and to public business; and lastly, the sources of that esteem and applause on the one hand; and, on the other, of that hatred and calumny which he met with so plentifully in the former part of his life.
4. While the reformer confined himself to attacks on the luxury and indolence of the mendicant friars, he was the favourite of the university of Oxford: while he only opposed the exorbitant claims of the papacy upon the king and his subjects, he was admired and applauded by the English court and parliament. His conduct however, in both these instances, marked him at the court of Rome as an object of detestation and vengeance; and we need not wonder, if the ecclesiastical dignitaries in England, and the regular clergy in general, sympathized with the pope in sentiment and feeling. But as soon as Wickliff began to assail the roman catholic religion in a closer manner, and to level his batteries at its very foundations; when he was no longer content with exposing the infamous lives and practices of the monastic orders, or with declaiming against the avaricious encroachments and contemptible superstitions of the papal system; when he proceeded to show how the pure doctrines of the gospel, and the true spirit of christianity were almost lost amidst the innumerable abominations of popery; when he descended to particulars, attacked the reigning doctrines of transubstantiation, of worshipping images, and deceased saints, and above all, of merits and satisfactions, and restored in their place the sound evangelical doctrines of the meritorious sacrifice of our Saviour, and of justification by faith, we tlien find the whole hierarchy in a flame. The archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London then complain to the pope; and the pope in great wrath sends bull after bull, to those dignitaries, directing them to take immediate cognisance of Wickliff's heresies, and to imprison him. Hence the citation, of which and of its consequences we have already given a concise account.* And it deserves to be remembered, how in that affair the pope and his delegates had the art to select such articles of accusation against the innovator, as might bring the least odium upon themselves, and at the same time, prove a severe trial of the for
* Rymer's Fxdera A. D. 1374.
' Page 103—111, of this volume.
titude and sincerity of the heretic, and be likely to involve him in much difficulty and equivocation. Hence also the chancellor's peremptory decree, at Oxford,* against Wickliff's notions of transubstantiation; and we may add, hence also the decline of our theologian's interest with the nobility and worldly persons of all descriptions. To understand this rightly, we should constantly keep in view the distinction that is to be made between the applause which, in general, failed not to accompany Wickliff, as a censurer of gross immoralities, and an advocate for religious liberty, and the cold approbation or sceptical reserve with which he was treated, considered as a preacher of the pure gospel of Christ and a reviver of the most important practical truths. In the former case, he met with few to oppose or envy him, except those who were immediately interested in supporting vice or usurpation; but, in regard to the latter, the greater part of mankind did as they have often done in far more enlightened times: they either suspected that he' carried his notions too far, or they kept aloof from him with a profane and indolent negligence, or lastly, they wavered between the religion in which they had been educated, and the reformer's novelties, and by immersing themselves in business, or in pleasure, both stifled the convictions of conscience, and escaped the dangers of persecution.
5. It will easily be conceived, that to accomplish Wickliff's views, one of the most popular, and at the same time most useful steps, which he could possibly have taken, was his translation of the bible into the English language. The clergy indeed clamoured against this measure almost universally; and it may be instructive, as well as entertaining to the reader, to see by a short quotation from a learned canonf of Leicester, and a contemporary of Wickliff, what was thought to be good reasoning by the ecclesiastics of that day. " Christ," says he, " committed the gospel
* Page 113, of this volume. f Knyghton, <le Event.
Vol. IV. ■ 18
to the clergy and doctors of the church, that they might minister it to the laity and weaker persons, according to the exigency of times and person's wants; but this master John Wickliff translated it out of Latin into English; and by that means laid it more open to the laity and to women who could read, than it used to be to the most learned of the clergy, and those of them who had the best understanding. And so the gospel pearl is cast abroad and trodden under swine; and that which used to be precious to both clergy and laity, is made, as it were, the common jests of both; and the jewel of the church is turned into the sport of the laity."
In our times, one cannot but be astonished, that the bishops, after much consultation, should have brought a bill into parliament to suppress Wickliff's bible; but it was thrown out by a great majority.
The effect, which, under the direction of the good providence of God, the publication of the holy scriptures translated into our own language, produced on the minds of men, must have been very considerable in no great length of time: and it is not easy to conceive how any human means could contribute more to the spreading of the essential doctrines of christianity. I wish that several diligent and spirited panegyrists of Wickliff had shown an anxiety, in their laudable researches into antiquity, to furnish instances of the conversion of our countrymen, from the ways of the world to the practice of" godliness. That many such instances did exist, through the indefatigable labours of Wickliff in public and in private, I doubt not; yet I mean not to insinuate, that if they had been recorded, they would have added much to the fame or celebrity of the reformer, in the present circumstances of the world. There is indeed, in the holy scriptures, a most encouraging promise to those that be wise, and who shall " turn many unto righteousness;" but, it is not in this state of existence, it is when they shall awake from their sleep in the dust of the
earth, that they shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever.*
6. To return: Let the reader remember, that Wickliff not only published an English translation of the bible; but also pleaded, in a very spirited and sensible manner, the Right of the people to read the scriptures, f All this tended the more to provoke the clergy, and to increase his popularity with the laity. Disinterested persons of every description, if they possessed the least degree of seriousness, and liberality of thinking, must have been gratified to have the bible rescued from obscurity; though we may allow without difficulty, that many sincere roman catholics of the unlearned and weaker sort, may have been greatly puzzled and distressed in their minds, between the discoveries made to them by the scriptures, and that mass of wretched superstitions, which they had been accustomed to receive, all their days, with implicit faith.
If these facts and suggestions prove useful to the curious reader, who wishes to understand and settle the character of this extraordinary reformer, and to account for the various lights, and I might add, the various obscurities in which he has been transmitted to us, I have gained my aim. I shall conclude this whole narrative with two short quotations.
The first is, from a very concise life of Wickliff, written by Dr. Thomas James, author of the apology already mentioned.
" God gave Dr. Wickliff grace to see the truth of his gospel, and by seeing it, to lothe all superstition
and popery By Abelard and others, he was
grounded in the right faith of the sacrament of the Lord's supper; by Bradwardine in the nature of a true sole-justifying faith, against merit-mongers and pardoners, Pelagians and Papists. Finally, by reading Grosseteste's works, in whom he seemed to be most conversant, he descried the pope to be antichrist."
* Dan. xii. 2, 3.
t Speculum secular: also Doctrin. Christiana, lib.
The second is a very solemn declaration of Wickliff, contained in one of his Latin tracts.*
" Let God be my witness," says he, " that I principally intend the honour of God, and the good of the church, from a spirit of veneration to the divine word, and of obedience to the law of Christ. But if, with that intention, a sinister view of vain glory, of secular gain, or of vindictive malice, hath crept in unknown to myself, I sincerely grieve on the account, and, by the grace of God, will guard against it."
Dr. James asks, " What could be spoken more ingenuously, soberly, or christianly."f
* De Ver. Script- t Dr. James's Apology