My Dear Brethren,

Our Church commemorates Reformation Sunday today to remember the 16th century Protestant Reformation in which God raised several Reformers to preach and defend the truth of God’s Word during the dark ages of the Roman Catholic Church. These Reformers also endeavoured to translate the Word of God into the common language of the people so that they too can read and understand God’s Word themselves. Reformation is best remembered on 31 October 1517, in which Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Cathedral of Wittenberg, Germany. These theses condemned various practices and teachings of the Roman Church. After several years of stormy disputes with the Pope and other Church leaders, Martin Luther was finally excommunicated from the fellowship of the Roman Catholic Church in 1521.

Do you know that many Reformers were burnt at the stake to die for the truth of God’s Word? Historical record reveals that during the reign of Queen Mary from 1553-1558, who is also known as “Bloody Mary”, that no less than 288 protestant Christians were burnt at the stake for not renouncing their faith in Christ. Out of these 288 Christian martyrs, one was an archbishop, four were bishops, twenty-one were clergymen, fifty-five were women, and four were children. It is a clear fact that these 288 Christians were not put to death for any offence against property or person. They were not rebels against the Queen’s authority. They were not thieves, or murderers, or drunkards, or unbelievers, or men and women of immoral lives. On the contrary, they were, with barely an exception, some of the holiest, purest, and best Christians in England, and several of them the most learned men of their day. Let me share to you the recorded story of the first martyr by the name of John Rogers.

“The first leading English Reformer who died as a martyr in Queen Mary’s reign, was John Rogers, a London Minister, Vicar of St. Sepulchre’s. He was burned in Smithfield on Monday, the 4th of February, 1555. Rogers was born at Defttend, in the parish of Aston, near Birmingham. He was a man who, in one respect, had done more for the cause of Protestantism than any of his fellow-sufferers. He had assisted Tyndale and Coverdale in bringing out a most important version of the English Bible, a version commonly known as Matthews’ Bible. Indeed, he was condemned as “Rogers, alias Matthews.” This circumstance, in all human probability, made him a marked man, and was one cause why he was the first who was brought to the stake.

On the morning of his martyrdom he was roused hastily in his cell in Newgate, and hardly allowed time to dress himself. He was then led forth to Smithfield on foot, within sight of the Church of St. Sepulchre, where he had preached, and through the streets of the parish where he had done the work of a pastor. By the wayside stood his wife and ten children (one a baby) whom Bishop Bonner, in his diabolical cruelty, had flatly refused him leave to see in prison. He just saw them, but was hardly allowed to stop, and then walked on calmly to the stake, repeating the 51st Psalm. An immense crowd lined the street, and filled every available spot in Smithfield. Up to that day men could not tell how English Reformers would behave in the face of death. But when they saw John Rogers, the first martyr, walking steadily and unflinchingly into a fiery grave, the enthusiasm of the crowd knew no bounds. They rent the air with thunders of applause. Even Noailles, the French Ambassador, wrote home a description of the scene, and said that Rogers went to death “as if he was walking to his wedding.” By God’s great mercy he died with comparative ease.”

I constantly asked myself why were the Reformers willing and courageous to die for the Lord Jesus Christ and give up the world’s glory and even their own lives? Perhaps the answer is found in the Reformation hymn written by Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, which has often been called the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” It has been translated into almost every known language. It was perhaps the single most powerful hymn of the Reformation, as it was a great source of strength and inspiration for those who were persecuted and even martyred for their convictions to believe in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. In the 4th stanza of the hymn, it says :

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

The Reformers understood and obeyed in their hearts what Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Do you fear God in your life? May this Reformation Sunday teach us the fear of the Lord as the Reformers had demonstrated in their lives more than 400 years ago.

Elder John Leong