Monday, October 25, 2010

The Conversion of Hugh Latimer

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I ran across this fascinating story of the conversion of Hugh Latimer while reading The History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century by Merle d' Aubigne.

Latimer, a vehement and brilliant defender of the Catholic Church, was out to stop the spread of the Reformation in England when he ran into Bilney, a teacher who had who had embraced the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrines of the Reformation. Bilney went to hear Latimer's lectures against Philip Melancthon (Martin Luther's right hand man) and launched upon one of the most interesting evangelistic endeavors ever recorded.

Knowing that Latimer would never listen to his arguments for the Reformed faith he asked Latimer if he could make a confession to him. Latimer, in his great arrogance, assumed that his brilliant lectures had convinced Bilney of his doctrinal errors and now Bilney wanted to confess his sin to him. Once in the confessional, however, Bilney related his struggles with his conviction of sin, the overwhelming guilt he had experienced and how Christ had set him free of it all and absolved him of all his sin and guilt. The Spirit of God overpowered Latimers hard heart and the one receiving the confession confessed his sin to the Lord Jesus Christ. Latimer left the confessional a new man and went on to die as a martyr for the Reformed faith.

What a story, you just can’t make stuff like that up! So here it is as recorded in d' Aubigne's History.

"Bilney easily detected Latimer’s sophisms, but at the same time loved his person and conceived the design of winning him to the gospel. But how would he manage it? The prejudiced Latimer would not even listen to the evangelical Bilney. Bilney reflected, prayed and at last planned a very candid and very strange plot, which led to one of the most astonishing conversions recorded in history.

He went to the college where Latimer resided. “For the love of God,” he said to Latimer, “be pleased to hear my confession.” The heretic (so Latimer thought) asked to make confession to the Catholic. What a singular fact! My discourse against Melancthon has no doubt converted him, said Latimer to himself. Had not Bilney once been among the number of most pious zealots?…..If he turns back (to Catholicism) all will turn back with him and the reaction will be complete at Cambridge. The ardent Latimer eagerly yielded to Bilney’s request, and Bilney, kneeling before Latimer, related to him with touching simplicity the anguish he had once felt in his soul, the efforts he had made to remove it; there unprofitableness as long as he determined to follow the precepts of the church, and lastly, the peace he had felt when he believed that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. He described to Latimer the spirit of adoption he had received, and the happiness he experienced in being able now to call God his Father….

Latimer, who expected to receive a confession, listened without mistrust. His heart was opened, and the voice of the pious Bilney penetrated it without obstacle. From time to time Latimer would have chased away the thoughts which came crowding into his bosom; but Bilney continued. His language, at once so simple and so lively, entered like a two-edged sword. Bilney was not without assistance in his work. A new and strange witness – the Holy Ghost – was speaking in Latimer’s soul. He learned from God to know God: he received a new heart.

At length grace prevailed: Bilney rose up, but Latimer remained seated, absorbed in thought. The strong Latimer contended in vain against the words of the feeble Bilney. Like Saul on his way to Damascus, he was conquered, and his conversion, like the Apostle’s was instantaneous. He stammered out a few words; Bilney drew near him with love, and God scattered the darkness which still obscured his mind. He saw Jesus Christ as the only Savior given to man: he contemplated and adored him. “I learned more by this confession,” he said afterward, “then by much reading and in many years before….I now tasted the word of God, and forsook the doctors of the school and all their fooleries…”

It was not Bilney, but Latimer who received absolution. Latimer viewed with horror the obstinate war he had waged against God; he wept bitterly; but Bilney consoled him. “Brother”, Bilney said, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” These two men, then locked in their solitary chamber at Cambridge, were one day to mount the scaffold for that divine Master whose Spirit was teaching them."

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