Rawlins White

The Life And Martyrdom Of Rawlins White

The Sower 1880:

The sole and infallible authority of Holy Scripture was the grand fundamental principle of the Reformation. The Bible was the potent instrumentality that transformed the face of Europe at the commencement of the sixteenth century, its glorious truths permeating the various ranks of society, and awakening those aspirations for liberty which, after an arduous and protracted struggle, were eventually realized. The clouds of ignorance and superstition in which the whole Continent was enveloped quickly dispersed before this light, and a thorough renovation—religious, political, and social—was effected in the various countries that opened their doors to receive this harbinger of prosperity and stability. God, speaking through His Word to the hearts and souls of men, aroused them to a sense of their abject condition and utter misery, and thereby illuminated their understandings, so that they were able to discern between the errors of man and the truths of the Gospel—between man’s system for saving souls, and the unalterable plan of the Almighty for the same beneficent and merciful purpose, designed ere time began. The Holy Spirit guided “Wickliffe, Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and the master-minds of the Reformation past the scholastic philosophy and subtle sophisms of medievalism to the Bible. These men were enabled, under the power and influence of the divine Teacher, to submit their reason and judgment to the revealed will of God; and from that source, and that source alone, they derived those doctrines and principles which they so earnestly proclaimed to the world. Standing before the Bible, forgetting the teaching of ages—the glosses of doctors, the edicts of councils, and the bulls of Popes—the Reformers implicitly accepted its teaching as in very truth the Word of God. With a clear and powerful ring, they proclaimed to the enslaved nations of Europe the glorious principle, “The Bible, and the Bible alone, is the one infallible rule.”

“The Bible alone!” was the war-cry of the Reformers. This principle, wherever these heroes unfurled their banners and proclaimed their cause, was sure to be heard. Its publication was the knell of Rome’s power and the advent of Europe’s liberty. Terror and rage seized the inmates of the Vatican as its echoes reached the very gates of Rome, and edicts were accordingly fulminated against all individuals and nations that dared to espouse its cause. Kings and emperors hastened to unsheath their swords against its advocates, and the whole world seemed up in arms against it.

The long-lost Bible had at last been restored to mankind, and its truths began to ring over the hills and through the valleys of Europe. “The Bible must be the supreme arbiter,” said the Reformers. Every doctrine and practice, all ceremonies and institutions, no matter how antiquity or custom might plead in their favour, must fall unless upheld and sanctioned by the Scriptures. God, speaking through His Word to their very souls, nerved men to stand before august tribunals and irate judges, to contend for this principle. He nerved Luther to stand before the crowned heads of Europe and declare the supremacy of the Bible; and He also nerved Rawlins White, the poor fisherman of Wales, to reiterate the same principle before the Bishop of Llandaff. “I hold no opinions contrary to the Word of God,” meekly said Rawlins to the bishop; “and if I do, I desire to be reformed out of the Word of God, as a Christian ought to be.”

It is here we find the line of demarcation between Romanism and Protestantism. The Bible was the standpoint of the Reformers. “If,” said Luther, before the emperor and grandees of Germany at Worms, “my writings are contrary to the Scriptures, I will retreat;” and, on the same terms, martyrs were willing to abandon their principles and return to the bosom of “Mother Church.” By the Bible must their opinions, as well as the dogmas of Rome, be tested; by that rule they must stand or fall. Thus did these wise builders, the heroes of the Reformation, lay a durable and lasting foundation, upon which there has been reared that grand edifice of truth, order, and liberty which is the glory and bulwark of our land.

From the humble ranks of society the Almighty has been pleased to raise up many of His most distinguished heroes. “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” These assertions of infallible truth have been repeatedly verified by historical facts, and instances of men whom God has signally honoured in the propagation of His truth having been chosen from the humble ranks of society will readily occur to the reader. The shepherd boy David was chosen to occupy the throne of Israel, and to become the most illustrious ruler of that highly- favoured people. Amos, the prophet, “was among the herdmen of Tekoa,” when he was called by God to speak in His holy name; and, passing by the scholars and magnates of the day, our Saviour selected for His constant earthly companions the poor, despised fishermen of Galilee. Coming down to modern times, similar examples meet us. The cradle of Luther, “the monk that shook the world,” was rocked in a miner’s cottage; the grandfather of Calvin was a cooper by trade; Ulric Zwingle, the patriotic Reformer of Switzerland, was the son of a herdsman; and the father of our own Latimer was a Leicestershire yeoman.

We will give one other example. Rawlins White, who was honoured with a martyr’s crown, was a poor fisherman in the town of Cardiff. His position in life precluded the possibility of education; and, with regard to his religious views, he was, in the days of Henry VIII, a deluded follower of the idolatry and superstition of the age. But the Almighty was pleased to open his eyes. When Edward VI ascended the throne, and liberty was given to preach the Gospel, Rawlins embraced the opportunity of being a hearer of “the truth as it is in Jesus.” Gradually the light broke upon his mind, and his allegiance to the dogmas of Rome became weaker and weaker, until he was enabled, by God’s grace, to throw off the shackles of priestcraft and enjoy the liberty of the Gospel. Having heard of the Bible, Rawlins was possessed with a strong desire to study its sacred pages, but he was confronted by a very serious difficulty—his inability to read. This obstacle, however, he was determined to overcome, so he sent his son to school to learn to read English. In due time, the boy had sufficiently progressed to be able to read out of the grand old volume to his father every night after supper; and Rawlins paid such diligent attention that he was soon able to instruct and admonish others, and at length became a preacher of the Gospel.

Itinerating from place to place, proclaiming the Gospel of salvation by grace in contradistinction to Rome’s idea of salvation by works, was not the way to gain favour in the days of Queen Mary. Rawlins was very quickly surrounded by spies, and dangers thickened over his head, but as the clouds became darker, the poor fisherman’s heart grew stouter. He continued preaching despite the entreaties of friends and the malignity of opponents, until he was arrested in his native town as a man suspected of heresy. Rawlins was brought before the Bishop of Llandaff and his court at Chepstow, when he was desired to renounce his opinions and return to the Church of his fathers. The bishop persuaded, entreated, argued, and threatened, but in vain. Rawlins was determined, with God’s help, to stand true to his colours. Under the banner of Christ he had fought, and under that same standard he would die. After many interviews and long debates, the episcopal judge ordered his prisoner to be thrown into Chepstow Gaol. From thence he was removed to Cardiff Castle, where he was confined for twelve months; and during that time he was liberally supplied with money and other relief by Mrs. Dane, a great succourer of God’s persecuted ones in those days. After the expiration of this term of imprisonment, White was again brought before his diocesan, who expostulated with the poor fisherman on his folly and stubbornness. “Return to Mother Church,” said the bishop, “and all will be well.” “No!” was Rawlins’ firm resolve. Finding his promises and threats ineffectual, the bishop gave him one other chance before proceeding to carry out the rigours of the law, by appointing a day when it should be decided whether White should abjure and carry the taper, or remain firm and wear a martyr’s crown. The day arrived. The bishop, attended by his chaplains and officers, waited for the prisoner. On the appearance of Rawlins in the court, the president opened the proceedings with a long oration, in which he animadverted upon the heretical views of the man before him, and the ravage; he had committed among the flock of Christ by his preaching. Closing his address, the bishop earnestly requested Rawlins to consider his position ere it be too late. The poor fisherman replied to the bishop’s address in these words: “My lord, I thank God I am a Christian man, and I hold no opinions contrary to the Word of God; and if I do, I desire to be reformed out of the Word of God, as a Christian ought to be.” The bishop then said he must proceed with the law, and condemn him as a heretic. “Proceed by your law, in God’s name,” was the fearless response, “but for a heretic you shall never condemn me while the world stands.” This intrepid answer somewhat startled the bishop, who, after a short silence, said to his subordinates, “Before we proceed any farther with him, let us pray to God that He would send some spark of grace upon him, and it may so chance that God, through our prayers, will here turn his heart.” What a suggestion! Prayers were accordingly offered for White’s recantation, but they availed not. The bishop again asked the prisoner, “Now, Rawlins, wilt thou revoke thy opinions or not?” The noble fisherman stoutly replied, “Surely, my lord, Rawlins you left me, Rawlins you find me, and by God’s grace Rawlins I will continue.” Yet another delay before proceeding to extremities! The bishop was about to pass sentence of condemnation upon the heroic martyr, when one of his chaplains suggested that it would be better to have a Mass, and perhaps during its celebration some change for the better might come over the mind of White. During the Mass Rawlins retired to a place of secrecy and there prayed, until he heard the bell ring that is usual on such occasions, when he ran to the choir door and said to the worshippers, “Good people, if there be any brethren amongst you, or at least if there be but one brother amongst you, the same one bear witness at the day of judgment that I bow not to this idol,” meaning the Host that the priest exalted above his head, before which the people were to prostrate themselves. The service having come to a conclusion, Rawlins was again called into court, when the bishop repeated his promises and threats. But Rawlins was as firm as ever. Prove that he was in error from the Word of God and he would recant; but, failing this he must remain obstinate. Sentence was accordingly passed upon him, and he was delivered over to the secular power.

Rawlins was now immured in the town prison of Cardiff, a very dark and loathsome dungeon being allotted to him; and so anxious were some of his enemies to get rid of him, that they wished to burn him before the arrival of the writ of execution. This document having been received from London, preparations for his execution at once commenced. On the night before the day on which the tragic scene was to be enacted, the brave old fisherman was informed that tomorrow he must die. The news gladdened him, and he sent to his wife, desiring her to send him his “wedding-garment,” for so did he style the vest in which he was to be burnt.

The day had now arrived, and at the appointed hour the door of his cell was opened, and Rawlins was conducted out of prison. A strong body-guard awaited to lead him to the stake. The sight of so many men, armed with swords and other weapons, caused the good man to exclaim, “Alas! what meaneth it? By God’s grace I will not runaway. With all my heart and mind I give God most hearty thanks that He hath made me worthy to abide all this for His holy name’s sake.” On his way his poor wife and children with loud and piteous cries, met him, and the sudden sight of his dearest earthly friends pierced his heart, and his flesh shrank from the ordeal of leaving the dear ones. What a hard separation! Shall he, for the sake of his own flesh and blood, deny his Lord and Master? Rawlins hesitated but for a moment.” Ah! flesh,” said he, “hinderest thou me so? Well, I tell thee, do what thou canst, thou shalt not, by God’s grace, have the victory!” The stake was now in sight, and the martyr went fearlessly towards it. As he was approaching it, he fell down on his knees and kissed the ground; and, on rising, a little earth sticking to his face, he said, “Earth unto earth, and dust unto dust; thou art my mother, and unto thee I shall return.” A smith now fastened him with a chain to the stake, when he loudly praised and thanked his God. Reeds, wood, and straw were now piled around him, the good man assisting the officers as far as he was able. All was now ready.

It being market day, a large concourse of spectators—residents and visitors—had assembled to witness the scene. Precisely in front of the martyr a kind of platform was erected, and a priest now mounted it in order to address the people. He commenced his harangue by warmly extolling and upholding the authority of the Church of Rome, and he continued advocating one dogma after another, until he came to the Sacrament of the altar—the Mass. This sacrifice he ventured to support by the Scriptures. Rawlins, who up to this point had paid but little attention to the priest’s statements, now interrupted. Beckoning his hands to the people, the martyr shouted twice, “Come hither, good people, and hear not a false prophet preaching!” and then addressing the priest, Rawlins said, “Ah! thou wicked hypocrite, dost thou presume to prove thy false doctrine by Scripture? Look in the text what followeth. Did not Christ say, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me?’” This interruption of the priest’s address on the part of White aroused the indignation of some of Rome’s partisans, who cried out, “Put fire! set to fire!” This order was immediately obeyed, and soon the happy fisherman was surrounded with flames. Bathing his hands in the fire, the heroic Rawlins cried with a loud voice, “O Lord, receive my soul! O Lord, receive my spirit!” until he was unable to open his mouth. His legs being consumed first, his body fell over the chain into the fire, and this noble martyr, poor in this world’s goods, but rich in divine faith, was no more. The enemies of Rawlins had burnt his body, and after that they had no more that they could do; for his soul had fled to those regions where trials and persecutions find no admittance.

Rawlins White (1485-155) was a Protestant Reformer who was one of three Welsh believers who suffered martyrdom under the bloody reign of Queen Mary. A fisherman by trade, he left his nets to be a fisher of men, serving as a gospel preacher after his conversion to Christ. His fellow Welsh martyrs were the others were Robert Ferrar and William Nichol, of whom little is known