Queen “Bloody” Mary came to the throne of England in 1553. As a Catholic, she opposed the Protestant Reformers that were turning England upside down. Most of all, she detested Thomas Cranmer.
Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest office in the Anglican church. Cranmer had been the personal counselor to kings Henry VIII and Edward VI. Although Cranmer was frequently embroiled in political affairs, he was somehow always able to maintain an above-reproach reputation of godliness. JC Ryle said of him that “No man passed through so much dirt, and yet came out of it so thoroughly undefiled.”
But under Mary his luck ran out. Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Argon. Mary blamed Cranmer for her parents’ divorce. When she came to power, she arrested Cranmer and tried him for heresy. He was instructed to recant his teachings about the doctrines of the Reformation, or face execution. Cranmer boldly refused to recant, as Mary knew he would, and so he was condemned to be burned at the stake.
He was a hero of the English Reformation, a picture of the true saint, one who would rather die than deny Christ’s gospel. But then something happened. A month before his execution, Cranmer’s courage failed him. He was so afraid of the prospect of being burned alive that he signed an official recantation of his beliefs and teachings.
The Christian world was deeply disappointed in their once-heroic martyr for the faith, now denying the faith to save his skin. But no one was more disappointed in Cranmer’s decision than Queen Mary. She wanted to execute him. She never imagined he’d actually recant. Enraged that her plan to kill him had been thwarted by his cowardice, Mary decreed that Cranmer be burned anyway!
But in so doing, she gave Cranmer something no one else could have: a second chance to prove himself. On the day of his execution, he addressed the crowd and expressed the heartfelt repentance of his recantation. He declared anew his belief in the teachings of the Reformation.
JC Ryle writes of his last moments: “With a light heart and a clear conscience, he cheerfully allowed himself to be hurried to the stake…Boldly and undauntedly he stood up at the stake while the flames curled around him…” Then, he took his right hand, with which had signed the recantation, and he reached down, thrusting it into the flames, shouting ‘This unworthy right hand!’ And he held it there steadily as it burned to a stump.
The man who was so afraid of fire was given a chance to show as much courage as any of the English Martyrs … thanks to a second chance. Today we see another man dealing with the fires of denial.
3 Probing Questions to Test Our Commitment to Christ
1. How Are You Ashamed of Being a Christian?
The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” (John 18:17)