America just celebrated the 242nd anniversary of our birth as a nation. Fifty-six statesmen eventually signed the Declaration of Independence from England. The rest is history. You and I enjoy the benefits of the courage and wisdom of our founding fathers. It was one thing to declare independence but another to experience it. Blood was spilled in that pursuit.
Today, as I write on July 6, 2018 I am reminded of another historic event that helped shape our history as followers of Jesus Christ. Today I am free to read and interpret and proclaim the Scriptures because of a man who paid the ultimate price rather than recant or compromise his convictions. I speak of John Huss who was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415 in Konstanz Germany.
Huss, a Roman Catholic priest, preached at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague (which held 3,000 people). It became the most popular church and center of reform in Bohemia. His sermons were often preached in the Czech language rather than Latin.
This break from Catholic tradition and dogma was the result of Huss discovering the writings of another reformer, John Wycliffe, who had advocated and published the Bible in English so the common man could read and comprehend. Wycliffe would also be persecuted for this “crime.”
After Huss “discovered the Bible” he said “the Lord gave me knowledge of Scriptures…” These discoveries led to Huss opposing errors he saw in the Roman Church- errors such as the selling of indulgences to raise money for the Church. Huss also proclaimed the Bible was the authority for the church. He published sermons and other literature in the language of the people calling for correcting errors that had crept into the Church.
In November 1414 Hus was invited to the Council of Constance to present and defend his teachings. Promised safe conduct, he agreed to attend the council but was immediately arrested and imprisoned. He was charged with 39 errors- many were not things he had taught or advocated. Called to recant or perish, Huss responded, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written… I am ready to die today.”
On the day of his execution (July 6, 1415) he was dressed in his priestly robes and then stripped of them one by one and tied to the stake. Given one last opportunity to recant- to deny the truth he had discovered in Scripture, Huss prayed, “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies.” He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him.
Many of my readers may have never heard of John Huss, but we all know about Martin Luther, the great reformer. Huss became a hero to Luther and other reformation leaders. Huss preached the same truths a century before Luther nailed up his 95 theses. The surname “Huss” means goose in the Czech language. Luther would later anecdotally remind his followers of the “goose who had been cooked for defying the pope.”
So today, just two days after celebrating the independence my country and as a citizen of another greater and eternal kingdom- The Kingdom of God- I thank God for men like Wycliffe and Luther, but especially on this day, I am grateful for John Huss.
I am who I am, a student of the Bible and a preacher of the gospel because Huss paid the ultimate price to preserve the truth.