John Lambert

The Life And Martyrdom Of John Lambert

The Sower 1880:

This distinguished martyr was born in the county of Norfolk, and educated at the university of Cambridge. He became a very proficient scholar and a master of Greek and Latin, so that he translated several books from those languages into the English tongue. Through the instrumentality of Bilney, Lambert renounced the errors of Rome, and allied himself with those who were propagating the everlasting truths of the pure and unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ. His belief in the truth becoming known to the Papists, Lambert thought it advisable to flee; and so he crossed the sea, and joined Frith and Tyndale, with whom he remained more than a year. He was appointed chaplain to the English factory at Antwerp, which preferment he owed to his piety as a Christian and his ability as a preacher. Here, however, Lambert was not out of the reach of his persecutors; for Sir Thomas More, because of representations that had been made to him of Lambert’s “heretical” views, ordered his arrest. He was taken and brought to London. He was tried before Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, first at London, and then at Oxford. A long indictment of forty-four articles was read to him, to which Lambert replied in writing at considerable length. But at this juncture the archbishop died, and Lambert was then set at liberty.

Leaving Oxford, he returned to London, and there commenced a small school for the instruction of youth in the Greek and Latin tongues. Intending shortly to be married, Lambert resigned his priesthood, and devoted himself exclusively to teaching. But God was pleased to thwart Lambert’s designs, having other work for him to do that prevented his marriage.

In the year 1538, Lambert was present at a sermon preached in St. Peter’s Church, London, by Dr. Taylor, afterwards Protestant Bishop of Lincoln, who was then, in many points, opposed to the teaching of the Papacy. In the course of his remarks, this clergyman made some statements upon the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, which Lambert, considering to be erroneous, was constrained to refute. At the conclusion of the service, therefore, he went to the doctor and stated his objections. Dr. Taylor pleaded other business as an excuse for not contesting the matter with him at that time, but he desired Lambert to give his opinions in writing, and confer with him at some more convenient season. Lambert left him, and wrote a paper containing the arguments against the corporeal presence of Christ in the bread and wine—arguments that were supported with great force and authority by the Scriptures, the teaching of the early fathers, and common sense. Dr. Taylor, willing to discuss the matter with Lambert, consulted Dr. Barnes, who was a very earnest preacher of the day, and favourable to the truth. This clergy-man, however, did not at all favour this controversy, and he recommended Dr. Taylor to submit the entire question to the superior judgment of Cranmer, who was then Archbishop of Canterbury. Thus Lambert’s private discussion with Dr. Taylor became a public matter, as the archbishop ordered him to appear in open court and publicly defend his cause. Lambert appealed from this tribunal to the king’s majesty.

Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, learning the particulars of this dispute, went to the king and craved a private interview. This was granted; and the crafty and cruel prelate, ever alive to his own interests, and always ready to do hurt to the cause he so intensely hated, told Henry that the world was beginning to look upon him with suspicion as a favourer of “heretics;” and, as Lambert had so stoutly attacked the dogmas of Rome, now was the opportunity for the royal monarch to silence all such assertions, by immediately proceeding against him. To this advice Henry listened, and, resolving to act upon it, he sent out a general commission, summoning all the bishops and nobles of his realm to come with speed to London, and assist the king in purging the kingdom of “heresies and heretics.” The monarch decided to have Lambert brought before him; so a day was appointed for the assemblage of the nobility and gentry of’ the land, together with the bishops and lawyers, to hear Lambert’s case.

The day arrived, and Westminster Hall, the scene of the trial, was crowded. Henry, attended by his body-guard attired in white, seated himself exactly opposite the scaffold on which Lambert was to stand. On the right hand of the monarch sat the bishops, and behind them the legal officers, clothed in purple, according to the custom of the time. On Henry’s left hand sat the peers of the realm, justices, and other nobles in their order; and behind him were the gentlemen of the royal privy chamber. Lambert, escorted by a guard of armed men, was led to the platform opposite the king. The royal president, with knitted brows and scowling countenance, commenced the proceedings by calling upon Day, Bishop of Chichester, to declare to the audience the cause of their present assembly. The bishop made a long speech, in which he stated that, although the authority and name of the Bishop of Rome were utterly abolished in England, yet the king would on no account permit “heretics” to disturb and trouble the people without punishment. Moreover, they were not to think that they were assembled at that time to make any disputation upon the “heretical” doctrine: the object of their meeting was, by the industry of himself and the other bishops, to refute and openly condemn the “heresies” of Lambert.

This oration being concluded, the king rose, and, leaning upon a cushion, turned himself toward Lambert with his indignant looks, and said, “Ho, good fellow, what is thy name?” Then the prisoner kneeling down, answered, “My name is John Nicholson, although by many I am called Lambert.” “What!” said the king, “have you two names? I would not trust you, having two names, although you were my brother.” Lambert replied, “O most noble prince, your bishops forced me of necessity to change my name.” The king then commanded him to declare his opinion concerning the sacrament of the altar.

Lambert commenced his address by thanking God for so inclining the heart of the king to hear and understand the controversies of religion; and he hoped that, as God had endued the monarch with many brilliant gifts, He would bring about some event through him to the glory of His name. Here Henry angrily interrupted him, and said, “I came not hither to hear mine own praises thus pointed out in my presence; but briefly to go into the matter without any circumstance.” At this Lambert became greatly confused, and stopped speaking, which again exasperated the king, who vehemently exclaimed, “Why standest thou still? Answer as touching the sacrament of the altar— whether dost thou say that it is the body of Christ, or wilt deny it?” To this question Lambert replied, “I answer with St. Augustine, that it is the body of Christ, after a certain manner.” Then the king said, “Answer me neither out of St. Augustine, neither by the authority of any other man; but tell me plainly whether thou sayest it is the body of Christ or no?” Then the prisoner meekly replied, “I deny it to be the body of Christ.” Henry replied, “Mark well, for now thou shalt be condemned even by Christ’s words: ‘Hoe est corpus meum.’”

Cranmer was now ordered to refute Lambert’s arguments. The archbishop argued so gently with him, styling him “Brother Lambert,” that Gardiner, after a time, interrupted him, and, though sixth in the order of disputants, began before the primate had ended. Tonstal, Bishop of Durham, was the third opponent of Lambert, who was more than a match for him, as he had been for Cranmer and Gardiner. It was reserved for Stokesly, Bishop of London, who was the next speaker, to try and demonstrate the truth of the orthodox doctrine that one substance might be changed into another, as the bread was held to be changed into Christ’s body. He did this by adducing the case of steam from boiling water, which, said he, “passes into the substance of air.” The king and bishops were elated with this argument, and they hooted and yelled at Lambert, who, when the general clamour had somewhat subsided, shrewdly told his august audience that the water remained itself in the air after all.

Ten bishops in all were let loose on this defenceless man, and five hours were spent in this fruitless and despicable dispute; and during the whole of the time Lambert was compelled to stand. For a time Lambert made replies to the statements of the different bishops, but his opponents became so infuriated that they drowned his voice with their jeers and clamour. He then allowed the bishops to proceed without any interruption, except that he would now and then say a word or two for the defence of his cause.

The day was fast drawing to a close; so that torches now illumined the scene, when the royal president, desirous of bringing the mock trial to an end, addressed Lambert as follows: “What, sayest thou now after all these great labours which thou hast taken upon thee, and all the reasons and instruction of these learned men? Art thou not yet satisfied? Wilt thou live or die? Thou hast yet free choice.” Lambert answered, “I yield and submit myself wholly unto the will of your majesty.” “Then,” said the king, “commit thyself unto the hand of God, and not unto mine.” To which the bullied and browbeaten martyr meekly replied, “I commend my soul unto the hand of God, but my body I wholly yield and submit unto your clemency.” ”Then,” said the royal judge, “if you do commit yourself unto my judgment, you must die, for I will not be a patron unto heretics.” The stern monarch then turned to Cromwell, and ordered him to read the sentence of condemnation.

On the day appointed for this constant and faithful martyr of God to suffer, he was brought out of prison at eight o’clock in the morning, and, after having breakfasted, was led to the place of execution at Smithfield. Lambert suffered a most cruel death, for, after his legs were nearly burnt, his wretched persecutors withdrew the fire from him, and two of them stood on each side with their halberds, and pitched him from side to side so far as the chain would reach: whilst he, lifting up his hands, loudly cried, “None but Christ! none but Christ!” He was soon after let down again from their halberds, fell into the flames, and thus ended his mortal career. It was by the “much-tribulation” path that this valiant champion for the truth entered the place where sin and sorrow never can enter, and where he will for ever enjoy the presence of his blessed Saviour and Redeemer, to whose almighty power and all-sufficiency in the hour of death he bore witness with his last breath.

John Lambert (?-1538) was an English Protestant Reformer and martyr. A friend and colleague of William Tyndale and John Frith, he stood against the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation, resulting in martyrdom. His last words, while burning at the stake, “None but Christ! None but Christ!”