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JOHN ROGERS - BURNED AT THE STAKE!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, February 12, 2006
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment” (Hebrews 11:35-36).


Now turn with me to Matthew 5:10. Jesus said,

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

You may be seated.

John Rogers was tied to a stake at Smithfield, near Oxford University, and burned alive on Monday morning, February 4, 1555. Among those who stood and watched him burn to death were his wife and nine children, one of them nursing at its mother’s breast. His wife and children encouraged him as he faced the flames. After being tied to the stake, he was offered pardon if he would give up his Protestant views. He refused. The fire was lit and Rogers reached out and washed his hands in the flames as his body was burned to ashes. His wife and children, and many friends, stood by, watching this horrible spectacle. But who was John Rogers - and why did they kill him?

Rogers was born in 1500. He was educated at Cambridge and later at Oxford. For about two years he was the pastor of Trinity the Less in the city of London. In 1534 Rogers went to Antwerp, where William Tyndale was working on the translation of the Bible into English that led to his arrest. Tyndale was tried and condemned to death. He was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. John Rogers completed Tyndale’s translation and added notes to it. It is known as the Matthew Bible because Rogers published it under the pen name of Thomas Matthew to protect himself from the execution Tyndale experienced. This Bible translation, by Royal proclamation, was made the official translation for all the churches of England. It became the basis of the King James Bible we read today.

By this time John Rogers had left the Catholic priesthood and married Adriana Pratt de Weyden. Under the influence of Luther’s position of salvation by faith alone, Rogers went to Germany and became pastor to the Wittenberg congregation, where Luther’s 95 Theses against Catholic indulgences had been published twenty years earlier.

Soon after King Edward VI came to the throne, and the king allowed married clergy, Rogers returned to England. He became the pastor of St. Sepulcher’s, Holborn, and also received a stipend for his work at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. As a preacher, he fearlessly denounced the misuse of money coming from the sale of the Catholic monasteries.

However, the crowning of a Catholic Queen, Mary Tudor, led to a more severe test of the preacher’s courage and integrity. Rogers was the first man called upon to preach at St. Paul’s Cross, after Mary’s arrival to become queen. The council who would be listening to his sermon was full of “papist [Catholic] bishops.” Bilney and Frith had been killed for preaching Reformation doctrine, and Rogers knew that a confession of the Protestant faith in his preaching would put him in great danger. The Reformer Nicholas Ridley’s imprisonment for preaching Protestant doctrine showed him how dangerous it would be for him to preach like that. He was now the father of nine children. This must have added to his concern. But this courageous and godly man accepted the challenge. In his sermon that day he denounced Catholic errors and preached the great truths of the Reformation that he had learned from Tyndale, Luther and Melanchthon.

John Rogers was summoned to a Council after preaching this strong sermon. He defended himself by saying that the laws of Edward VI’s reign had not been repealed. They set him free, but he was rearrested a few days later. He was placed under house arrest. In December his wife and eight other women went before the Council to plead for his release. But in January 1554, he was imprisoned at Newgate, a short distance from his own church of St. Sepulcher. He was kept in a dungeon at Newgate for more than a year awaiting trial. During this time, until the day of his death, the Catholic authorities refused to let his wife and children visit him.

During his imprisonment Rogers wrote a long poem giving advice to his children, to be read by them after he was dead. It is believed that in the last moments when he met briefly with his wife, before going to his execution, he made known to her the existence of this document and where it was located.

A few nights ago, Chaplain Manuel Antonio Mencia, Jr. gave me a little book with that poem to his children in it. It brought tears to my eyes as I read John Rogers’ advice to his children after his death. Here are a few lines from it.

Give ear my children to my words
   whom God hath dearly bought,
Lay up his laws within your heart,
   and print them in your thoughts.
I leave you here a little book
   for you to look upon,
That you may see your father’s face
   when he is dead and gone:
Who for the hope of heavenly things,
   while he did here remain,
Gave over all his golden years
   to prison and to pain.
Where I, among my iron bands,
   inclosed in the dark
Not many days before my death
   I did compose this work:
And for example to your youth,
   to whom I wish all good,
I send you here God’s perfect truth,
   and seal it with my blood.
To you, my heirs of earthly things:
   which I do leave behind,
That you may read and understand
   and keep it in your mind.
That as you have been heirs of that
   that once shall wear away,
You also may possess that part,
   which never shall decay…
I do beseech Almighty GOD,
   replenish you with grace,
That I might meet you in the heavens,
   and see you face to face.
And though the fire my body burns,
   contrary to my kind,
That I cannot enjoy your love
   according to my mind:
Yet I do hope that when the heavens
   shall vanish like a scroll,
I shall see you in perfect shape,
   in body and in soul.
And that I may enjoy your love,
   and you enjoy the land,
I do beseech the living LORD,
   to hold you in his hand.
Though here my body be adjudged,
   in flaming fire to fry,
My soul I trust, will straight ascend
   to live with GOD on high.
What though this carcase smart awhile
   what though this life decay,
My soul I hope will be with GOD,
   and live with him for aye.
I know I am a sinner born,
   from the original,
And that I do deserve to die
   by my forefather’s fall:
But by our SAVIOUR’S precious blood
   which on the cross was spilt,
Who freely offered up his life,
   to save our souls from guilt:
I hope redemption I shall have,
   and all who in him trust,
When I shall see him face to face,
   and live among the just.
Why then should I fear death’s grim look,
   since CHRIST for me did die,
For King and Caesar, rich and poor,
   the force of death must try.
When I am chained to the stake,
   and fagots girt me round,
Then pray the LORD my soul in heaven
   may be with glory crowned.
Come welcome death the end of fears,
   I am prepared to die:
Those earthly flames will send my soul
   up to the Lord on high.
Farewell my children to the world,
   Where you must yet remain;
The Lord of hosts be your defence
    ‘till we do meet again.
Farewell my true and loving wife,
   my children and my friends,
I hope in heaven to see you all,
   when all things have their end.
If you go on to serve the LORD,
   as you have now begun,
You shall walk safely all your days,
   until your life be done.
GOD grant you so to end your days,
   as he shall think it best,
That I might meet you in the heavens
   where I do hope to rest.
Our days begin with trouble here,
   our life is but a span,
And cruel death is always near,
   so frail a thing is man.
Then sow the seeds of grace while young
   that when thou comest to die,
Thou may sing forth the triumph song,
   Death where’s thy victory?

John Rogers was taken to the place of execution at Smithfield near Oxford. As he went along the road from Newgate Prison to Smithfield, he passed his own church of St. Sepulcher’s. There were shouts of thanksgiving for his courage from the crowds.

On the morning of his death, the Sheriff showed Rogers a document promising him full pardon if he would recant and go back to the Roman Catholic Church. Rogers answered, “That which I have preached with my lips will I seal with my blood.”

Rogers died for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. He was the first of three hundred others who followed him to be burned at Smithfield.

The bells of the church he had pastored rang as he passed down the street, through the crowds to the place of execution. They said that shouts of praise and thanksgiving rose loudly from the crowd of his supporters. Even the enemies of his Faith described the scene as a groom going to meet his bride at the wedding altar.

Upon reaching Smithfield, he was bound with chains at the stake. The fire was lit and the flames leaped up around him. He washed his hands in the flames as he died, with his wife and nine children watching, one so young it was at its mother’s breast. So ended the earthly life of John Rogers, a great and godly martyr for Christ.

And now, as Paul Harvey would have said, “Here is the rest of the story.” Chaplain Mencia was walking through the lunchroom at his work several weeks ago. He passed behind a man at the lunch table. Looking over the man’s shoulder, he observed that he was reading the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Mr. Mencia asked him how he could read Hebrew, and the man told him he had studied for the ministry and once pastored a church. He told Mr. Mencia that his name was Jim Rogers, and that eleven generations earlier his forefather had been John Rogers.

I phoned Jim Rogers this afternoon, and he said that his father had traced their family tree, and that he was indeed an offspring of one of John Rogers’ children who stood and watched that godly man as he burned at the stake so long ago. I could not help but think that John Rogers must be looking down from Heaven and rejoicing that his descendant is a Christian today, here in Los Angeles, five hundred years after his forefather suffered and died for Christ.

And now I turn your attention back to our two opening texts.

“And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment” (Hebrews 11:35-36).

Added to this are the words of Jesus,

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

At best, our lives are short. Soon, like John Rogers, all of us will die. When that day comes for you, nothing will matter except your relationship to Jesus Christ. How much money you made will mean nothing to you then. Your academic accomplishments will mean nothing to you then. The pleasures and joys of the world will mean nothing to you then. On the day you die, the only thing that will be of any importance to you is whether you have come to Jesus by faith and have been washed clean in His precious Blood. God grant that it will be so for you. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Hebrews 11:32-40.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Faith of Our Fathers” (by Frederick W. Faber, 1814-1863).