Archive for July, 2010

Elizabeth Bunyan

“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.'”     (Acts 5:29)

Everyone is familiar with the famous author of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan. He was married twice; both wives were very godly women. When he met his first wife, Mary, he was a very irreligious man. Though she was advised about becoming unequally yoked, she married him in the hopes that he would be saved. She gave him several good books to read, and she reminded him of the devout life that her father had always led. He thought on these things and became softer toward the things of God, but it took many years before he was genuinely converted. By the grace of God, he wholeheartedly accepted Christ and was soon called to preach at the Baptist Church of Bedford. He enjoyed a ministry with the people in the surrounding communities, where hundreds would come to hear him. It is not quite certain when Mary died. She left John with four children – two daughters, Mary, who was blind, and Sarah; and two sons, Thomas and Joseph. Her death probably occurred sometime after 1656.

Several years after this, around 1659, John met and married Elizabeth. She was only 17 or 18 years old. He was 31 and a father with four children. Though young, she was known for her piety. God had prepared her for the affliction that was soon upon her. They had only been married a short while when he was thrown into prison. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, no one was allowed to preach without his permission. John Bunyan refused to get the license, believing that it was his responsibility and right and privilege to preach. The officials had thrown him into prison illegally, claiming that he was disturbing the peace. Those were false charges. He had only to sign a paper agreeing with them and he could have been released in three months, but he refused.

Elizabeth bravely went before the judges of Bedford to plead her husband’s case in 1661. She also presented a petition to the Earl of Bedford requesting his release. The petition was denied.

She then took her petition before two judges who sat in the Swan Inn in Bedford in the Swan Chamber. There were many other local people and officials present. They had come to watch Elizabeth as she confronted the judges with the justice of her husband’s case. She had a courageous exchange with them, all by herself. But she did not prevail. Bunyan would stay in prison for twelve years. During this time, he and Elizabeth would have to face the sorrow of losing a child. Elizabeth had conceived before John went to prison. The stress and strain of dealing with the court officials caused her to miscarry.

Elizabeth encouraged John to minister right where he was. She was allowed to visit him and bring the children. He preached the whole time he was in prison, and of course we all know that he did much writing as well. He was very grateful for Elizabeth. “The parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from the bones. . . .I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was like to meet with should I be taken from them. . .But yet, recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you.” What would have happened to his children if Elizabeth had not been there? Would he have signed the license agreement so that he could stay home and care for them? If he had not had twelve years in prison, would we not have one of the most popular books ever written? Imprisonment was a sorrow, but John and Elizabeth trusted God. They knew that they had to remain faithful because He had a purpose for all things.

John was released from prison in 1672 but rearrested in 1676. Eventually he was released again. In 1688, while on a journey to help a friend, he got very ill and died due to complications of exposure to the cold weather.

Elizabeth did honor to his memory by finding people to publish his works. The whole world would be grateful for this.

She only survived her husband for four years. We do not know much about her last years. We do know however, that John had made a will and signed over all of his property to her during his last imprisonment. This showed his confidence in her to take care of his children if he should perish in prison.

Elizabeth proved her loyalty and her love for her husband by standing behind him in all that he did – all of the trials, imprisonments, poverty, sorrows, and deprivations. She showed her courage by going into a man’s world of courts and justice systems. She was criticized because she was a woman, but her love for her husband and for the preaching of the word of God emboldened her to face the authorities, even as the apostles did in the early church. She is truly one of the shining lights of the Reformation.

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Katherine Parr

Would you marry a man who had put to death two of his five former wives, set two others aside and remarried quickly after one died in childbirth? If this man had the power to send you to the chopping block on just his word, would you be comfortable as his new wife? This is the situation that Queen Katherine Parr faced.
Katherine Parr was in love with someone else when she became the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII. She really did not wish to marry Henry, but had to obey him as her sovereign lord. By the time he married her, Henry had settled down somewhat to a comparatively peaceful life. This was due in part to his painful, ulcerous leg. Katherine spent much time reading and conversing with her husband to help keep his mind off of the pain. He enjoyed her company and appreciated her fine mind. His other wives had mostly been chosen for their good looks and vivacity. For his last wife, Henry chose a woman who would be more of a comfort to him.
Katherine was a godly, and kind woman who was partially responsible for reconciling Henry with his daughters from his first two marriages, both of whom would later become Queens. His eldest daughter would become Mary I (also known in history as “Bloody Mary” due to her persecution of the Protestants). Anne Boleyn’s daughter would become Elizabeth I.  Katherine also developed a good relationship with Henry’s son Edward, his child with Jane Seymour. When Henry died, this son would become king and known as Edward VI.
Katherine married Henry VIII on 12 July 1543. Although she must have been brought up as a Catholic, she later became sympathetic to and interested in the “New Faith.” She was probably of the Reformed religion by the mid-1540s. And we can be sure that she held some strong Reformed ideas because after Henry’s death, her book, Lamentacions of a synner (“Lamentations of a Sinner”) was published in late 1547. The book promoted the reformed concept of justification by faith alone, a doctrine which the Catholic Church deemed to be heresy. Catholic Bishop Stephen Gardiner and Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, 1st earl of Southampton, knew of her Reformed persuasion and probably of the Bible studies that she and her ladies were conducting secretly, and these two influential men tried to turn Henry VIII against her in 1546. (One of the ladies at her Bible study was Anne Askew, a martyr for her faith, whom we have met elsewhere in this Blog.)  Remember, Henry was really a staunch Catholic, and had started burning heretics again after Anne Boleyn’s death. Henry’s health was bad and the Catholics at this time were worried about what would happen after Henry’s death. Who would run the country – The Catholic party or the Reformers? In those days the political parties lined up according to religion. Often, political leaders were not that religious themselves, but used the faith of the devout followers to create factions.
An arrest warrant was drawn up for Katherine by the Catholic faction. She became aware of this and knew she needed to act quickly to save herself and her other Reformed friends. She managed to reconcile with the King by going into his chamber and bowing submissively.
She pleaded with him,
Your Majesty doth right well know, neither I myself am ignorant, what great imperfection and weakness by our first creation, is allotted unto us women, to be ordained and appointed as inferior and subject unto men as our head, from which head all our direction ought to proceed, … Where womanly weakness and natural imperfection, ought to be tolerated, aided, and borne without, so that by his wisdom such things as are lacking in her, ought to be supplied.
The idea here is that Katherine submitted herself to Henry in order to prevent her arrest. It was very courageous for this woman to face the man who had already beheaded two wives, set aside two others, and callously remarried within months after the death of the fifth one. On his whim, she could have gone to the scaffold. Henry did not accept any opinions by anyone else on religion. He considered himself to be a theologian in his own right. After all, he was a published author, having written many protests against Martin Luther. How dare a woman, even his wife, question his authority over all things religious in England?
Fortunately, Henry accepted Katherine’s obeisance and the two were on congenial terms again. The plot of Wriothesley’s faction failed. By her outstanding courage, Katherine prevented what could have been a very grave situation for England after Henry’s death.
Katherine’s brave actions may have also helped to save the Reformation in England. Henry could have been so irritated with her that he named Catholic advisors for his son after his death. Instead, Henry would name Edward’s uncles, devout Reformers, to be his councilors until Edward reached maturity. Edward VI would begin the reformation of the faith in England.
While women today would see Katherine’s behavior as humiliating, Katherine would have considered it a small price to pay for the cause of Christ. She was able to see beyond herself to the big picture. She knew what was at stake and was willing to submit herself as much as she needed in order to follow God.
We may not all be called on to face certain death, but we can learn a lesson in humility from Katherine. It is wise to submit to those in authority and trust God to take care of us.
For the Lord will be your confidence
And will keep your foot from being caught.
” (Proverbs 3:26)

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Idelette de Bure

Gentle Idelette de Bure was the wife of John Calvin. She was, “comely, kindly, and very intelligent.” In fact, she was the perfect wife for a busy Reformer. She provided a comfortable home and much happiness to the man who was often pressed on every side by friends and foe. Like other ministers at that time, he was overworked and underpaid. But he and Idelette had a very happy marriage in spite of poverty and persecution from those who did not like to hear Calvin’s call to people to actually live their lives in accordance with their beliefs.
John Calvin was actually Idelette’s second husband. Idelette and her first husband, John Storder had first heard Calvin preach in Strasburg, where Calvin was pastoring a French congregation. They had belonged to an Anabaptist group, but on hearing about Calvin’s clear and masterful Biblical teaching they decided to go and listen to him. They were struck, not only with his erudition, but also his obvious love for the Lord. They joined Calvin’s church and became good friends.
This friendship had been strong for about two years when tragedy struck. John Storder was a victim of the plague after a struggle of only three days. Suddenly, Idelette was a widow with young children. Her grief was tremendous. Calvin continued to be her friend and visit her home. He enjoyed her good meals and conversation.
In the meantime, friends had been urging him to get married. He put together a committee to help him find a wife. He wrote to a friend, “The only kind of beauty which can win my soul is a woman who is chaste, fastidious, economical, patient, and who is likely to interest herself in my health.’ (Calvin suffered with various ailments all of his life.) The committee’s attempts failed several times. Finally, someone asked him, “What about the gentle Idelette?” He decided to court her and in a few months they were married. The occasion called for a big celebration and much rejoicing. They probably set up their home in the Storder house.
Within a few months, Calvin was pressed by the councilors of Geneva to return and help them restore order to their town. They had seen some changes for the better when Calvin had lived and preached there before. Immoral men who did not like to hear about God’s Word were the cause of getting him kicked out of Geneva. He did not want to return. But many of the trouble-makers were gone. Also, Calvin’s friend and mentor, Bucer, convinced him that he had a duty to go back and try to help the people learn how to live a Christian life. The magistrates were willing to let Calvin come and preach and help them set up a government based on Godly principles. The Genevese people where glad to have him back. When he preached the Word of God, lives were changed and so the society was changed. There was less corruption and the town was more peaceful.
During this time, a baby boy was born to John and Idelette. This birth nearly brought Idelette to her death, but she recovered. The little boy died however. This caused them much heartache. But John and Idelette trusted God. “The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound by the death of our infant son. But He is himself a Father and knows what is necessary for his children.” Two years later, a little daughter was born. She too died. Then a third child was born, which was also taken away from them. Calvin’s enemies would taunt him about this. They loved to tell him that his childlessness was a disgrace. But he and Idelette knew that there was a reason. They also knew that God had given them “myriads of sons throughout the Christian world.”
During the next few years, Idelette would remain Calvin’s best companion and most faithful helper in his ministry. Sadly, their marriage would end after nine years of happiness together. Idelette had suffered from illness during the last few years, and she succumbed in April, 1549. Calvin would never remarry and would carry on his work for fifteen years without her.
Idelette had made a real difference in Calvin’s life. Many other Reformers thanked God for their Proverbs 31 wives. These great men said themselves that their ministries were more productive thanks to the support of their wives. Idelette’s gentleness had an effect on Calvin’s ministry. The grief he felt at her death made him more sympathetic to others. It was said of him that, “From what he suffered in his heart on this occasion he was touched with a tenderer sympathy than he had previously felt for his brethren when visited with the same kind of trial.”
Idelette could not know how much her husband’s ministry would change the lives of countless thousands in the coming centuries. She was faithful to her calling as she believed God wanted her to be. She lived a selfless life, ministering to others around her. As we think about the famous men who struggled to bring about reform in Christ’s church, let us not forget the great women who supported them.

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Oftentimes we think that women who lived before the twentieth century were not allowed to be educated. Modern feminists would have you believe that women’s rights began with their efforts. The truth is that down through the centuries there have always been women who have risen above their social circumstances and made great contributions to society.

The majority of women then, and even now, preferred to marry and have children and raise a family. This has not precluded them from reading and studying on their own, when they have had the strong desire to educate themselves and not remain in ignorance. Even when women chose to live at home and take care of a family, many were literate and indeed some were great writers. There have always been many women who were extremely intelligent and gifted and did not let their gender stop them from educating themselves.

Modern feminists will tell you that men have always suppressed women and not allowed them to have a life outside of the home. But, throughout all of history and especially during the time of the Reformation, many fathers and husbands were not threatened by the fact that their gifted wives and daughters were female and actually encouraged them to read and study and write. These men were even proud of their wives and daughters and said so publicly.

Anne Locke (1533 – 1607) was just such a fortunate woman.  Anne was born in the parish of St. Mary Bow in London around 1533.  She was the daughter of Londoner Stephen Vaughan and a Welsh mother, Margery Guinet or Gwynneth. Her father was a mercer who served as president of the English merchants’ factory at Antwerp, where he spent a good deal of time, and also as an envoy-at-large for Henry VIII. (Henry reigned from 1509 to his death in 1547). In her upbringing Anne was given an education that made her literate in at least three languages (English, French and Latin), and a zeal that would mark the rest of her life. So here we have an example of a wise father who recognized his daughter’s gifts and saw to her education.

Anne was not a woman of the nobility, as were Queen Catherine Parr and Anne Boleyn, (two of the six wives of Henry VIII), but of the increasingly prosperous and mobile merchant class. This rising middle class of people was well educated and influential. Many women availed themselves of the opportunity to help out in family businesses.

Not only was Anne literate, but impressively erudite: she not only knew Scripture, but also translated Calvin from French. She probably rendered her own translation of the 51st Psalm from Latin, which was the basis for her sonnet, The Meditation of a Penitent Sinner. As is evident from her famous letter to the Duchess of Suffolk, she had a delightful command of rhetoric. Perhaps most importantly, however, Anne possessed strong religious convictions formed by her Protestant theology that emphasized the need for each Christian to bear personal witness to his or her faith. This meant each and every Christian, male and female.

Anne’s writing ability was recognized by many in her day. Interestingly, according to Robert Louis Stevenson, she was the woman “Knox loved most.” John Knox was a famous Scottish Reformer. (1514-1572) He and Anne certainly had a great friendship. She joined him in Geneva during the persecution under Queen “Bloody” Mary. (Mary reigned from 1553-1558) When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, she returned to England. Knox returned to Scotland and they continued to correspond for a number of years.

Besides her translations and her letters, we have a long sonnet which she wrote and is considered to be the first English sonnet sequence by a woman, A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner published in 1560.

Within a year or two of her father’s death, Anne married Henry Locke, a neighbor of the Vaughans’ and himself a mercer. They remained in Cheapside, in Stephen Vaughan’s parish of St. Mary Bow.

There were many other gifted women who were influential during the 16th century. God raised up remarkable women to help with the Reformation. Examples of other faithful women are Mrs. Martin Luther, Argula von Grumbach, the Solway Martyrs, Angela Merici, and others. Incredible women can be found in any century. It takes courage and a strong commitment to the Lord and your convictions to make a difference in the lives of those around you. These women were special because they lived according to those convictions and did not let their circumstances stop them. We can all learn from them and be a light in our corner of the world in our own time.

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Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)

There was a time in the history of the church when unbelievers had the power to rid themselves of Christians with little pretext other than the fact that they believed in Christ. Blandina lived during just such a time. The early church martyrs were purposefully tortured and killed in order to make a statement by the Roman government that worship of anyone else other than Caesar would not be tolerated.

We have heard many stories about the Christians being thrown to wild beasts just to entertain the Roman populace. Often, Christians who were Roman citizens would have the easier execution of beheading. But the slaves who were Christians suffered horrible torture and gory death in the amphitheaters to amuse the Roman crowds.

Blandina (martyred in 177 AD) was a slave woman who had been taken into custody with her master who was also a Christian. She was not in very good health and not expected to survive torture, but she seemed to get stronger and stronger the more the executioners beat and abused her. She would simply repeat, “I am a Christian,” over and over. This infuriated her torturers and they whipped her until they were tired out. Finally, they decided to take her to the amphitheater where other Christians were being beaten and burned. She was hung on a stake and put out for the wild beasts, but they would not touch her. And so,

“. . at length she was put in a net, and thrown to the wild bull; and when she had been sufficiently gored and wounded with the horns of the beast, and heeded nothing of all that chanced to her, for the great hope and consolation she had in Christ and heavenly things, was thus slain, insomuch that there was never woman put to death, that suffered so much as this woman did. Neither yet was their furious cruelty thus assuaged against the Christians.” The heathens invented crueler and more wicked things to do to the believers. The persecutors did not bury their bodies, but burned them and threw the ashes into the river thinking that they would be forgotten. “And this they did as if they had been able to have pulled God out of His seat, and to have hindered the regeneration of the saints, and taken from them the hope of the resurrection.” (John Foxe’s, The Acts and Monuments of the Church, page 42)

Others who watched her courageous death were blessed by her testimony and their own faith was bolstered. Even another woman, Biblias, who had renounced her faith, renewed her commitment to Christ and is listed among the roll of the martyrs.

Eusebius, writing several centuries later tells us of the results. Blandina, “by her continuous prayer gave great zeal to the combatants, while they looked on during the contest, and with their outward eyes saw in the form of their sister Him who was crucified for them, to persuade those who believe on Him that all who suffer for the glory of Christ have forever fellowship with the living God. And so she too was sacrificed, and the heathen themselves confessed that never before among them had a woman suffered so much and so long.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History)

And so, Blandina’s acts of courage affected many more people than herself. Faith in God and His promises is our chief mainstay for the courage we have. Her concern was Christ and Christ only. God used her martyrdom, and those of many other saints, to encourage and build His church.

I pray that we will never have to suffer as Blandina did. But, do we even have enough courage to stand up for Christ against the political correctness of our day? We are still blessed with some freedom of speech in our country. Are we too frightened of what others may think of us to speak out boldly for Christ? I fear that if the church does not begin to take a stand against the wickedness and sin that is rampant in our country now, we will suffer at least imprisonment and maybe death for “breaking the law” of the unbelievers who will not tolerate any other god than their own god, the state.

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