Gospel: Great Men with Great Texts – Hugh Latimer (1 Timothy 1:15)

Eugene Higgins

His name was Hugh Latimer. His conversion was remarkable for its simplicity. Born in England around 1490, he went to Christ’s College, Cambridge, at the age of 14. Deeply religious, he became a priest in the Catholic Church in his 20s and zealously opposed the English Reformation movement. He labored to dissuade people from reading the Bible and became the leading defender of his faith in England. In 1523, he delivered a sermon in which he denounced Melanchthon and the Reformation. In his audience that day was Thomas Bilney, who had recently trusted the Lord Jesus as his Savior. He had a deep concern to win Latimer’s soul for Christ and asked Latimer if he would hear his confession. In the confessional, Bilney explained how he had found Christ. "My soul was sick, and I longed for peace, but nowhere could I find it … I went to the priests, and they appointed me penances and pilgrimages; yet, by these things my poor sick soul was nothing profited … But at last I heard of Jesus. It was then, when first the New Testament was set forth by Erasmus, that the light came … I bought the book … and, on the first reading of it, as I well remember, I chanced upon these words, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.’ That one sentence, through God’s inward working, did so lift up my poor bruised spirit that the very bones within me leaped for joy and gladness. It was as if, after a long, dark night, day had suddenly broke!" Latimer’s reaction was more than Bilney could have hoped for. He, too, had known the awful uncertainty, the same unsatisfied thirst for truth that Bilney described. And that day Latimer, too, found peace with God through the One Who came to save sinners.

As was the case with Saul of Tarsus, the man who had been the most zealous defender of a Christ-less religion became a mighty vessel for God. Eventually, during the reign of the queen whom history would remember as "Bloody Mary," Hugh Latimer was condemned to death as a heretic. He and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake in Oxford on October 16, 1555. As the flames quickly rose, Latimer encouraged Ridley, "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 never shall be put out."

And the flames leaped up, but the blinding smoke
Could not the soul of Hugh Latimer choke;
For, said he, "Brother Ridley, be of good cheer,
A candle in England is lighted here,
Which by grace of God shall never go out!"
And that speech in whispers was echoed about—
Latimer’s Light shall never go out.
However the winds may blow it about.
Latimer’s Light has come to stay
Till the trump of a coming judgment day.

The salvation that Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley found is offered to you by God this day. The Savior’s Advent makes this possible: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." He did not come to call the righteous; He came to call sinners to repentance. He does not receive the self-righteous; He receives sinners. He did not come to seek and save those who are secure in themselves or in their own religion; He came to seek and to save the lost.

When Paul stated, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation," he made it clear that the Word of God is true and deserves the sinner’s acceptance. God is giving you His Word that Christ came to save sinners. Receive that Savior today; accept the truth of God’s Word, and you will be saved.

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