Oct 20, 2017

A Reformer Made Strong In Weakness

I often feel quite weak in my faith. I have been a Christian for nearly 50 years and in the ministry for around 35 years—but still, I often feel quite weak in my faith. I don’t pray as much as I should. Sometimes I lack the courage to take a stand for truth. My love for people is greatly limited by my own self-centeredness. I have many weaknesses. An encouraging passage for weak Christians is 2 Corinthians 12:9 in which the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  

Another encouragement for weak Christians is seeing how the Lord has worked in the lives of other believers who also have obvious weaknesses. One such man is Thomas Bilney. Bilney lived from 1495 to 1531. He was a man God used during the Reformation to introduce the gospel to England. Thomas Bilney was an instructor at Cambridge University. He was very religious but struggled greatly with his faith. He had exhausted every means he knew of to try to find peace with God. He had fasted, disciplined his body, bought indulgences, went daily to mass and often confessed his sins to the priest—but he still failed to find peace with God.

In 1514 Erasmus, the Dutch scholar and theologian, produced a Greek New Testament. Church leaders were afraid that it might lead to “Lutheran ideas” and so it was banned in England. Thomas Bilney desperately wanted one of these New Testaments so that he could see for himself what the Bible taught. He knew where he could get a copy—but he was afraid. He was fearful of going to prison or worse if he was found with this illegal book. But he finally worked up the courage to buy the book, then he ran back to his room. He excitedly began to read. He read in 1 Timothy 1:15, that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Bilney knew very well that he was a sinner and at this invitation, he embraced Jesus Christ as his Savior. The Lord had changed his heart.

Thomas began to share with others what he was learning. He took his Greek New Testament to the White Horse Inn, where scholars often gathered. They began to read and study the Scriptures together. Many were converted and encouraged in their faith. Soon Bilney left Cambridge and this once fearful Christian began to preach openly. At times angry priests dragged him from the pulpit. Soon he was arrested and stood trial in London. He was declared a heretic. But instead of executing Bilney, the church leaders thought it would be more effective if they could get him to recant. After much badgering, Thomas Bilney did in fact recant to save his life. As penance, he was forced to carry a large bundle of sticks as he walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Bilney was also forced to burn a pile of William Tyndale’s English Bibles. Then he was held in prison for another year.

Thomas was heartbroken. He was in deep despair over the fact that he had denied his Lord and Savior. His friends tried to comfort him, but he would not be comforted. He had failed.

Then by God’s grace, Bilney received the Lord’s forgiveness and once again began preaching the gospel. Everywhere he went he gave away copies of Tyndale’s English New Testament—which was forbidden by the king. Once again, he was arrested and convicted of heresy. But there was no recanting this time. God had given him the courage he needed to die for his faith. On the morning of his execution, Thomas Bilney was lead to the place of execution. Once he saw the stake where he was to be burned, Bilney ran and embraced it. He prayed and recited Psalm 143. Then as the fire was lit he called out, “Jesus, I believe!” Soon, the man who once recanted his faith to avoid death was dead.

In Christ we can be forgiven of our sin and made righteous before God like Thomas Bilney was. It is by grace we are saved through faith in Christ. It is also by grace that weak and fearful Christians live out their salvation even in hard trials.

The Lord’s grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.