Refusal to Swerve from the Truth (Huss)

 In the last months of his life, while he was in prison charged with heresy, John Huss faced many false accusations.  Many people thought that he should just recant of these accusations even though they were false – this way he could live on and not die as a martyr.  But Huss was a man of truth and firm Christian conviction.  Here’s how Martin Pope and Herbert Workman explained it (using some of Huss’ own words):

[Huss] could not acknowledge that he recanted heresies which he had always stoutly disclaimed, and which the Council had attributed to him along with doctrines to which he confessed. ‘Serene Prince,’ said Hus to Sigismund, ‘I do not want to cling to any error, and I am perfectly willing to submit to the determination of the Council. But I may not offend God and my conscience by saying that I hold heresies that I have never held.’

For Hus truth was supreme: ‘I have said that I would not for a chapel full of gold recede from the truth.’ ‘I know,’ he had written in 1412, ‘that the truth stands and is mighty forever, and abides eternally, with whom there is no respect of persons.’

Throughout his letters his chief anxiety is ‘lest liars should say that I have slipped back from the truth I preached.’ Few scenes in history are more touching or ennobling than the fidelity with which Hus refused to swerve from absolute truth even to save his life. He realized that it was better that he should burn than confess that he had ever held doctrines which his soul abhorred, as, for instance, the monstrous article alleged against him by a nameless doctor ‘that he had stated that he was the fourth person in the Trinity!’ (Doc. 318). To Sigismund and worldlings of that ilk recantation of such a charge seemed a bagatelle [trivial matter]; the falser the charge the easier to recant. But Hus thought otherwise…. 

The Letters of Huss, ed. Martin Pope and Herbert Workman, section LIX.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Difficulty of Rejoicing During Trials (Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.)Peter and James both wrote about rejoicing during trials, tribulation, and suffering (1 Peter 1:6; James 1:2).  Yes, God keeps his people even through tribulation.  Yes, he is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Yes, we know that not even trials can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Yes, we believe that we’re united to Christ with an unbreakable bond, and we will one day see him in glory.  Yes, these things give us real and deep joy.  But it’s not always easy to rejoice during a fierce trial.  I appreciate John Huss’ comments on this reality – comments he wrote while very ill and in prison unjustly for his preaching and teaching:

Verily, it is a difficult thing to rejoice with tranquillity, and to count it all joy in the midst of divers temptations. It is easy to quote and expound the words, but difficult to carry them out when that most patient and brave Soldier, although He knew He would rise again on the third day and overcome His foes by His death and redeem the elect from damnation, was yet after the last supper troubled in spirit, and said: My soul is sorrowful even unto death.  Of Whom the gospel saith that He began to fear and to be heavy and sad; nay, being in an agony He was strengthened by an angel, and his sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground.

Huss went on:

Yet He, though thus troubled, said to His faithful ones: Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid; let it not be troubled because of my short absence nor let it be afraid of the cruelty of them that rage; for you will have Me for ever, and will overcome the cruelty of them that rage. Therefore, the soldiers of Christ looking to their leader, the King of glory, fought a great fight. They passed through fire and water, yet were saved alive, and received from the Lord God the crown of life, of which James in the canonical epistle saith: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him. That crown, I verily trust, the Lord will make me to share along with you also, warm-hearted zealots for the truth, and with all who steadfastly love the Lord Jesus, Who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.

 Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 252–253.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

If Thou Drawest Me Not (Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.) In 1415 John Huss was in prison for “heresies” such as saying that belief in the Pope is not necessary for salvation, that laypeople should be able to drink the wine in the Lord’s Supper, and for pointing out other inconsistencies and immorality in the Church.  Huss also faced many false accusations, such as the one where he supposedly called himself the fourth person of the Trinity.

Although Huss was suffering terribly in prison (headaches, toothaches, vomiting, [kidney or gall] stones, and horrific nightmares), he would not recant.  Some thought he should just admit to the false accusations – since they were obviously false, everyone would understand.  Others even tried to sort of trick Huss into recanting.  But he continually said he would not recant of anything he taught that agreed with the truth of Scripture.  “I would not for a chapel full of gold recede from the truth,” he wrote.  Huss said that if he did recant, he would be breaking the 9th commandment and scandalizing God’s people who had heard his sermons.

The last letters Huss wrote from prison are very much worth reading.  He knew he was going to die, and at times he was afraid that he would waver in his faith.  Here’s one moving prayer he wrote in a letter to his friends at Constance in 1415:

O loving Christ, draw me, a weakling, after Thyself; for if Thou drawest me not, I cannot follow Thee. Grant me a brave spirit that it may be ready. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace prevent, come in the middle, and follow; for without Thee I can do nothing, and, especially, for Thy sake I cannot go to a cruel death. Grant me a ready spirit, a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, and a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.

Although many of us reading this are not in prison for the sake of the gospel, the attitude and ethos of this prayer is one we all should share as we call on the name of the Lord.  Indeed, we are weak, but he is strong!

[The above info and quote is found in  Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Huss: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 253.]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“We Are All Hussites” (Luther)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.) Martin Luther (d. 1546) thought very highly of John Huss (d. 1415).  Luther first read Huss when he was newly ordained at the church in Erfurt.  Here’s how Luther explained it:

‘When I was a tyro [novice] at Erfurt …I found in the library of the convent a volume of The Sermons of John Huss. When I read the title I had a great curiosity to know what doctrines that heresiarch had propagated, since a volume like this in a public library had been saved from the fire. On reading I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill. But as the very name of Huss was held in so great abomination that I imagined the sky would fall and the sun be darkened if I made honourable mention of him, I shut the book and went away with no little indignation. This, however, was my comfort, that perhaps Huss had written these things before he fell into heresy. For as yet I knew not what was done at the Council of Constance’ (Mon. Hus. vol. i. Preface).

A few years later Luther wrote this to Spalatin:

‘I have hitherto taught and held all the opinions of Huss without knowing it. With a like unconsciousness has Staupitz taught them. We are all of us Hussites without knowing it. I do not know what to think for amazement.’

Luther was also instrumental in having Huss’ letters translated and published in Germany.  Here’s an excerpt from Luther’s introduction to the German edition of Huss’ Letters:

Observe… how firmly Huss clung in his writings and words to the doctrines of Christ; with what courage he struggled against the agonies of death; with what patience and humility he suffered every indignity, and with what greatness of soul he at last confronted a cruel death in defence of the truth; doing all these things alone before an imposing assembly of the great ones of the earth, like a lamb in the midst of lions and wolves. If such a man is to be regarded as a heretic, no person under the sun can be looked on as a true Christian. By what fruits then shall we recognise the truth, if it is not manifest by those with which John Huss was so richly adorned?’

 Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 1-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Let No Tribulation in Christ’s Cause Discourage Us (Wyche to Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.) In the early 15th century John Wycliffe’s influence was still being felt in the Western church even outside of England.  However, many church leaders were not fans of Wycliffe’s critique of the church nor did they favor major reformation of the church.  In fact, in a papal decree Pope Gregory XI called Wycliffe “the master of errors.”

John Huss, a Bohemian reformer, followed in Wycliffe’s footsteps.  In fact, when the church leaders in Prague burned many of Wycliffe’s books in 1410, Huss and others were excommunicated for not giving up their copies of Wycliffe’s books and for “opposing the Catholic faith.”  There’s more to the story, of course, but one thing worth noting is that an English Lollard (someone who agreed with Wycliffe) named Richard Wyche heard about the incident and wrote a letter of encouragement to Huss – whom he had never met.  I’ll post the letter from Wyche to Huss below.  It is slightly longer than I usually like to post, but it is worth reading as an edifying piece of pre-Reformation literature:

I rejoiced above measure when our beloved brethren came and gave testimony to us of your truth, how also you walked in the truth. I have heard, brethren, how sharply Antichrist persecutes you in vexing the faithful servants of Christ with diverse and unheard-of afflictions. And surely no marvel if amongst you (as it is so almost all the world over) the law of Christ be grievously impugned, and that red dragon with his many heads, of whom it is spoken in the Apocalypse, have now vomited that great flood out of his mouth whereby he goeth about to swallow up the woman. But the most gracious God will deliver for ever his only and most faithful spouse. Let us therefore comfort ourselves in the Lord our God and in his innumerable goodness, hoping strongly in Him who will not suffer those that love Him to be unmercifully defrauded of any of their purpose, if we, according to our duty, shall love Him with all our heart. For adversity should by no means prevail over us if there were no iniquity reigning in us. Therefore let no tribulation or anguish for Christ’s cause discourage us; knowing this for a surety, that whomsoever the Lord vouchsafes to receive to be His children, these he scourgeth; for so the merciful Father wills that they be tried in this miserable life through and in persecutions that afterwards He may spare us. For the gold that this high Artificer hath chosen He purgeth and trieth in this fire, that He may afterwards lay it up in His pure treasury. For we see that the time we shall abide here is short and transitory; the life that we hope for hereafter is blessed and everlasting. Therefore, while we have time, let us strive earnestly that we may enter into that rest. What other things do we see in this frail life save sorrow, heaviness, and sadness, and that which is most grievous of all to the faithful, too much abusing and contempt of the law of the Lord?

Let us therefore endeavour ourselves, as much as we may, to lay hold of the things that are eternal and abiding, despising in our mind all transitory and frail things. Let us consider the holy fellowship of our fathers that have gone before us. Let us consider the saints of the Old and New Testaments. Did they not all pass through this sea of tribulation and persecution? Were not some of them cut in pieces, others stoned, and others slain with the sword? Some of them went about in sheepskins and goatskins, as the apostle to the Hebrews witnesses. Surely they all kept the straight and narrow road, following the steps of Christ, who said: ‘He that ministereth unto Me, let him follow Me, and where I am,’ etc. Therefore let us also, who have such noble examples given us of the saints that went before us, laying aside as much as in us lies every weight, and the sin which compasseth us about, run forward with patience to the battle that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon the Author of faith, and Jesus the Finisher of the same, who for the joy that was set before Him suffered the cross, despising the shame. Let us call upon Him who suffered much reproach of sinners against Himself, that we be not wearied, fainting in our minds, but that with all our hearts we may pray for help from the Lord, that we may fight against his adversary Antichrist, that we may love His law, that we be not deceitful labourers, but may deal faithfully in all things according as God vouchsafes to give us, and that we may labour diligently in the Lord’s cause under hope of an everlasting reward.

Behold therefore, Hus, most dearly beloved brother in Christ, although in face unknown to me, yet not in faith or love (for distance of place cannot separate those whom the love of Christ doth effectually knit together), be comforted in the grace which is given to thee; labour like a good soldier of Jesus Christ; preach; be instant in word and example, and recall as many as thou canst to the way of truth; for the truth of the gospel is not to be kept in silence because of the frivolous censures and thunderbolts of Antichrist. And therefore to the uttermost of thy power strengthen thou and confirm the members of Christ who are weakened by the devil; and if the Most High will vouchsafe it, Antichrist shall shortly come to an end. And there is one thing wherein I do greatly rejoice, that in your realm and in other places God hath stirred up the hearts of some men that they can gladly suffer for the word of Christ even unto imprisonment, banishment, and death.

The above quotes are taken from Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 32–34.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015