The following account is an inspirational story of strength. This is not a weight loss tale or a bulk-up success story, nor is it a story of mighty Samson ripping a lion apart or heroic David hauling the head of his defeated giant away.
This is a story of steel-spined resolve, and a display of strong convictions in the midst of impending death. This is a story worth remembering and worth sharing. This story is about God displaying His power through the lives of two ordinary men, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, so that we might learn from their faith and the mighty God they believed in.
Strength at the Stake
October 16th, 1555. Oxford, England.
A coarse wooden stake protruded from the ground in the middle of a crowd. Spears of armed guards made a fence line between the crowd and the stake. The eyes of the onlookers blinked between the spear tips, watching the two men who stood still on either side of the stake.
All ears were listening to the final words of a sermon, spoken by the priest who was directing his message at the two men.
“Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, I am nothing”.
The priest twisted this text into a jab aimed at the two men who stood waiting to be burned. As he finished his perfidious discourse, the two men attempted the address the false statements, but were not allowed to refute the claims.
The execution proceeded. A smith carrying an iron chain walked towards the two men, and they were commanded to undress to their shrouds. One of the men removed his furred black gown, and the other had his Bristol frieze frock removed by the administrators of his execution. The smith started to bind the two men to the stake.
One of these men, Hugh Latimer, stood erect as the iron chain was worked around his waist. His seriousness and strength reflected that of a man far younger than his 70 years, empowered by the prayers he had made next to the stake just moments ago.
The other man, Nicholas Ridley, had kissed the stake upon arrival and petitioned God through his own prayers for strength and encouragement. Ridley now took the iron chain in his hand and gave it to the smith, saying “Good fellow, knock it in hard, for flesh will have its course”.
Bags of gunpowder were tied around the necks of Latimer and Ridley, and bundles of sticks were piled around them, until their bodies were buried under the kindling pile. Though the stake rose taller than both men, their conviction was planted deeper and more firmly than the stake’s own foundations.
This was no more obvious than when the fire was ignited at Ridley’s feet. As the ignition turned to flames, Latimer turned to his friend and said:
“Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust should never be put out.”
The men were heard praying as the fire engulfed them.
The Strength of Conviction
Latimer and Ridley had a vision for their lives that extended generations beyond their own perilous circumstances. They believed that God would succeed in fulfilling His mission in glorifying Himself for generations.
Their defiance until death displays the unflinching resolve of one who has had a small taste of the truth and reality of God and His plan for the world. And they held onto this conviction, at the risk of their lives, all the way to death at the hand of Queen Mary. They stood firm and they stood strong.
They were ordinary men. But these ordinary men had a clear view of an extraordinary God. Their minds were ready for action, and with sober spirits they set their hope fully on the grace that was soon to be theirs in Christ (1 Peter 1:13). This conviction was their strength.
We have an inheritance given to us by generations of believers who have gone before us. And in our generation, we must pick up this work ourselves and pass it into the next generation. The flame must not go out.
*Five English Reformers, by J.C. Ryle,
*Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe.
These were the resources behind the Latimer and Ridley story. Both are worth the read and will cause your spiritual strength to burn.
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