As a Church History teacher, I so enjoy studying the lives of the great revivalists and reformers. These men have been a real inspiration in my life and ministry. I find myself challenged by their lifestyles and their tremendous determination to fulfill their destiny in God no matter what it cost them. I covet what these men possessed within their mortal bodies.
John Wycliffe was really a reformer before the Reformation even took place. He was the one who laid the ground-work for John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin and others.
I personally believe the Reformation could have easily started with John Wycliffe instead of Martin Luther if the printing press would have been invented during Wycliffe’s lifetime.
Born in Yorkshire, England in 1330, little is known of his childhood years.
Wycliffe grew to be a very intelligent man, one who possessed determination, knowledge, strong faith, stability and much wisdom. His name later became very recognized as he received his bachelor of divinity in 1369 and in 1371, he was known as the world’s leading theologian at Oxford, a school that was of great renown throughout Europe.
He identified with the common people and had a strong desire for them to be able to know God in an intimate way. Most of the laity at this time were ignorant of the Scriptures because the word of God was not written in the common language of the people. It was written in Latin. Only the priests could read it. Wycliffe had a vision burning inside his heart to change this dilemma. He began to seek the Lord regarding the timing of translating the Latin Bible into English.
As a result of Wycliffe’s study of the Scriptures, he received much revelation that revealed the hypocritical and heretical teachings of the Catholic Church. His troubles began when he proposed to expose these falsehoods to the people.
He wrote many tracts and books, and preached the truth of God’s word to the common people and to his students. He trained many preachers and teachers and sent them forth to minister the revelation of God’s word in various places.
The more Wycliffe preached against the heresies of the Catholic Church, the more they hated him. They believed Wycliffe was in error, not them.
Wycliffe was very bold in his attacks against the Catholic Church. He left no rock unturned. He preached against confessionals and absolution. Scriptures declared that only God could forgive a man of sins committed. He attacked indulgences – a way people could buy their way out of purgatory. The church became very wealthy while the common people became very poor.
The persecution against Wycliffe eventually became so strong that he was forced into a type of exile or isolation. Most of his time was spent in Lutterworth, and it was here that the vision in Wycliffe’s heart began to come to pass. Many of Wycliffe’s followers helped him in his endeavor to translate the Bible from Latin to English. Translation of the Bible was considered to be heresy in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
Regardless, the men worked tirelessly translating the Scriptures into the English language.
The first version of the English Bible was finished before Wycliffe’s death.
Wycliffe suffered a stroke in 1382 which left him partially paralyzed. He suffered another stroke in 1384 which left him completely paralyzed and unable to speak. Three days after this stroke, he passed from this life to be with Jesus.
Twenty nine years after his death, a papal decree was issued in 1413 ordering Wycliffe’s books to be burned. Thirty one years after his death, the general council condemned Wycliffe’s teachings on three hundred accounts. Forty four years after his death, the pope commanded that Wycliffe’s bones be dug up and burned. They threw his ashes in a river with the intent to destroy all remembrance of this great man of God. However, the river carried his ashes into the open seas. Many believe this was a prophetic statement to the world that Wycliffe’s life and teachings would always be remembered from one end of the earth to the other.
Though Wycliffe was not able to see the fruits of his labor while he lived, today we can look back and see how God used this man in a mighty way to be a blessing to the world. As a result of his life and his dedication to God, many men and women have been able to read the Scriptures in their own language and have an intimate relationship with their Creator.