(Heb 12:4 ESV)
On October 16, 1555 thirty-eight years after Martin Luther had nailed his nintyfive theses to the door of Wittenburg's Castle Church two men walked calmly to their deaths. Mary Tudor determined to return England to the darkness of romanism had imprisoned the leading reformers of the land and sentenced them to be burned to death.
Hugh Latimer started out a confirmed romanist ardent against the preaching of the reformers persuing them to their meeting houses and arguing with them to return to Rome. Of Latimer it was said that: “England, nay Cambridge will furnish a champion for the church that will confront the Wittenberg doctors and save the vassal of our Lord.”
Latimer came under the influence of Thomas Bilney who came to Latimer asking that he hear his confession. Latimer thinking that he had won over one of the reformers and while Bilney was on his knees before Latimer he preached to Latimer the gospel. Latimer overcome by grief by what Bilney said to him trusted Christ and became a new man.
No longer the oppressor of the reformers Latimer became the most popular of preachers exhorting everyone to godly living and the reading of the scriptures. Even though Latimer was at times imprisoned he still was able to preach Reformed doctrine each time that he was released. He continued to do so until imprisoned by Mary Tudor.
Nickolas Ridley too became a priest as had Latimer but while a proctor in Cambridge through his study of the scripture signed the degree against the pope's supremacy in England. He became the bishop of Rochester in 1547 and was part of the committee that drew up the first English Book of Common Prayer. As Bishop of Rochester he strengthened Reformed teachings in Cambridge. With Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer he took part in the Oxford disputations against a group of romanist theologians and would not recant his Protestant faith. Like Latimer Ridley was arrested and sentenced to death by burning.
Foxes book of Martyrs account of the death of Latimer and Ridley:
The place of death was on the northside of the town, opposite Baliol College. Dr. Ridley was dressed in a black gown furred, and Mr. Latimer had a long shroud on, hanging down to his feet. Dr. Ridley, as he passed Bocardo, looked up to see Dr. Cranmer, but the latter was then engaged in disputation with a friar. When they came to the stake, Mr. Ridley embraced Latimer fervently, and bid him: "Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it." He then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation. Dr. Smith then preached a short sermon against the martyrs, who would have answered him, but were prevented by Dr. Marshal, the vice-chancellor. Dr. Ridley then took off his gown and tippet, and gave them to his brother-in-law, Mr. Shipside. He gave away also many trifles to his weeping friends, and the populace were anxious to get even a fragment of his garments. Mr. Latimer gave nothing, and from the poverty of his garb, was soon stripped to his shroud, and stood venerable and erect, fearless of death.
Dr. Ridley being unclothed to his shirt, the smith placed an iron chain about their waists, and Dr. Ridley bid him fasten it securely; his brother having tied a bag of gunpowder about his neck, gave some also to Mr. Latimer.
Dr. Ridley then requested of Lord Williams, of Fame, to advocate with the queen the cause of some poor men to whom he had, when bishop, granted leases, but which the present bishop refused to confirm. A lighted fagot was now laid at Dr. Ridley's feet, which caused Mr. Latimer to say: "Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God's grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out."
When Dr. Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried with a wonderful loud voice, "Lord, Lord, receive my spirit." Master Latimer, crying as vehemently on the other side, "O Father of heaven, receive my soul!" received the flame as it were embracing of it. After that he had stroked his face with his hands, and as it were, bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died (as it appeareth) with very little pain or none.
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.