Any reader of early Christian history will concede that the burning torch of revival fires eventually became a flickering candle from the fifth to the fourteenth century. During the first three centuries there was a rapid, extensive spread of Christianity, even though a severe blow was struck under Diocletian. The success is attributed to the translation of the Scriptures in the language of the Roman world and the fidelity of the preachers of the gospel. However, in the 4th century corruptions emerged rapidly. By making Christianity a universal religion, Emperor Constantine dealt it a heavy blow. This resulted in withdrawing the Bible from the common people and exalting the papacy, whose yoke of bondage prevailed until the 15th century. Corruption, scandal, superstition, and moral degradation overran Europe. Bondage displaced liberty, popes displaced Christ, and human traditions displaced the authority of the Bible. What followed was called the Reformation but another title is appropriate: the Revival. Revivals have prominent leaders and, in this revival, the outstanding vessel is rightly called the Morning Star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe. A century after this noble man’s death, the day broke through; God raised up vessels which will be considered in another article.
How did this revival commence?
In 1324, while darkness pervaded Europe through the rule of popes, bishops, priests, friars, and monks, John Wycliffe was born in England. In young life, he listened to the Biblical teaching of Bradwardine. As this Christian theologian expounded on the doctrines of free grace, the soul of Wycliffe was unmoved. However, Bradwardine brought a copy of the Scriptures to young Wycliffe and this proved invaluable to this intelligent young scholar. A devastating plague swept through Europe and finally reached London claiming 100,000 lives, awakening in young Wycliffe a return to the Bible. Now he searched the Scriptures as a lost and an awakened sinner and found refuge and security from eternal wrath in Christ.
As to his academic attainments, he passed twenty years at Merton College, Oxford – first as a scholar, next as a fellow. In 1360 he was appointed to the Mastership at Balliol College, which affirmed his brilliant scholarship. He was well equipped to advance the cause of Christ and His kingdom. One individual touched by God and in touch with God can startle a nation. From the dead debris of religious darkness sprang an army of redeemed ones.
What was the secret in this revival?
It cannot be disputed that John Wycliffe loved God and His truth and this he pursued relentlessly to free England, enslaved in religious bondage. In his quest this indomitable servant battled with the hosts of darkness in England, Rome, and Europe. Often single-handedly he faced the enemies and routed them with the authoritative Scriptures. At times his trusted friends withdrew when the battle became heated. He was well-verse in the Word of God, and his ability to speak in Latin was a tremendous asset. He used this in his later life to great advantage when translating the Bible (called the Wycliffe Bible) from Latin to English. This was necessary to reach the masses that were uneducated in Latin and unable to read it and, indeed, were forbidden to read it. He became the center of this heaven-sent movement to revive a deceived and slumbering nation. Thus he was a marked man. However, the God Who hurled the farthest planets into space and Who controls the lives of His redeemed, protected and preserved this man until his work was done. He died a natural death, escaping the evil intentions of his enemies to burn him at the stake.
What were the results? How does this relate to our generation?
Wycliffe’s legacy influenced generations that followed, even to 2007. We salute this man for the monumental work of translating the whole Bible into the vernacular of the English people in his day. This enabled everyone in the realm to read in his native tongue. And he accomplished this by hand writing! He worked four years and completed this incredible task in 1382. What an epoch in the history of England! He kindled a light that could never be put out. This was before the printing press was invented. We are aware that other attempts in earlier centuries were made to produce Bibles but this Bible was “the light” that flung open the doors of liberty from the dark dungeon of the centuries past. Forty years after his death his enemies dug up his grave and crushed his bones and threw the ashes into the River Avon. One has said this was symbolic; “for the Avon River poured into another river and yet another, until reaching the vast oceans to far-off shores; this was true of the Bible he produced. It reached to other shores with everlasting blessing.” Wycliffe also left behind a band of redeemed ones, known as the Lollards. He taught them great principles: how to preach the pure gospel; to live, trusting God to meet their daily needs; to behave as those belonging to another country, heaven. Many turned to the Lord through their faithful witness. Finally, he taught them how to die. The revival was so great that if two men were walking down the street, one was a Lollard. This was amazing and this lasted for two centuries. They were brave men and women in those days. There is a place in Norwich called the Lollards Pit where hundreds died for the cause of their Redeemer. They “loved not their lives unto the death.” We are well equipped with spiritual tools and theology at our fingertips; however, it takes more than tools and cold theology. It takes devoted, sacrificial believers, dedicated to God and to His truth. In a society that spirals downward to the eternal flames, we hold the destiny of men and women in our hands. We could well cry to God, “Revive us again.” May this brief sketch of a revival result in a genuine rekindling for North America and elsewhere. It is not so much who is willing to go, but who is willing to “forsake all” and go. This is the cost.