Having had the best part of the weekend in Oxford (Baptist Union Assembly), I must say what an inspiring place it is. I’m sure the sun shining was a major factor, not to mention the incredible falafal wraps I enjoyed, with a decent pint at the famous pub favoured by C. S. Lewis and the Inklings.
I wandered around the oldest University in the world, Balliol College (£2 entry fee!), established in the 13th century, and counts among its past students Herbert Asquith, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, and in 1360 AD John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English – a dangerous thing to do.
The main entrance to the college is on Broad Street, and it was here that a terrible event took place in both 1555 and 1556. This cross marks the spot where three Reformers were burnt at the stake for their part in the Reformation, accused of “heresy”, i.e. Protestantism.
Hugh Latimer (Bishop of Worcester); Nicolas Ridley (Bishop of London); and Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), were burned alive on this spot. To the left is Balliol College, and to the right are some shops, including outside seating areas for the coffee drinkers. It is an incredible thing to see and think about. This sign to the left of the cross describes the scene:
Latimer said as the flames spread, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley; play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
I was drinking coffee and reading a great little book reflecting on the atonement just half a dozen yards from the cross, a moment that was imbibed with more meaning given the historical significance of the place. Suddenly, thousands of runners thundered past me, over the cross, down the street. And I thought this was a God-given moment in all my thoughts on atonement and martyrdom, that it is only because of the cross and the grace of God seen therein, that we can run anywhere, or enjoy coffee in the sunshine, or think over the beauty and the horror of a cruciform salvation.
The martyrs set us an example, but Jesus saves humanity; to quote P. T. Forsyth as I was reading at that time:
“God dying for man; and for such men – hostile, malignantly hostile men.” The Work of Christ, pg. 25
Men (i.e. mankind) such as those who lit the fires that burned the men, and the crowd who most likely cheered and jeered. O rich irony!
Nearby, at the juction of Magdalen Street and St Giles, stands the Victorian Martyr’s Memorial, with a statue of the three men, each uniquely presented according to their particularity.
Above left is this little tribute, that echoes all the way back to John Wycliffe and Balliol College: “The Bible in English”
We are all children of this remarkable history. Scholars, martyrs and murderers!
What is the Church if not a bunch of sinners in need of a Saviour; and this we have, and this the world has, in Jesus Christ. A Saviour sufficient enough to compel people by their conviction to stand in the flames willingly for His sake; and to save to the uttermost the foulest of those who believe. Those who start fires designed to stunt the expansion of the Gospel, maintain a social order antithetical to the Kingdom of God, and keep God contained, have profoundly misunderstood the fact of the matter: God is not contained, neither by flame nor fury.
Finally, here is the book I am reading by Rick Floyd: In his introduction, Rick quotes Moltmann’s penetrating question for us today, “What does it mean to recall the God who was crucified in a society whose official creed is optimism, and which is knee deep in blood?”
“Unlike the death of a suffering martyr, which may inspire but cannot save, Christ’s death is a divinely willed event, an eschatological event.”
Richard Floyd, pg.4
The Cross is just so much more. Quoting P. T. Forsyth on page 30 he aids our perspective on the matter:
“If you took all the world, and made heroes of them all, and kept them heroic all their lives, instead of only in one act, still you would not get the value, the equivalent, of Christ’s sacrifice…..When Christ did what he did, it was God doing it.”
Also: Mike Reeves has an excellent 22 minutes session on the background to this here: