Richard M. Hannula EP Books, 128 pages, £6.99 ISBN: 978-0-85234-304-4
This concise Bitesize Biography of Hugh Latimer is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Its subject was the foremost preacher of the English Reformation.
Each chapter summarises a significant section of Latimer’s life, beginning with his conversion at Cambridge University, where, after strongly opposing the teaching of the Reformers, he was led to Christ through the witness of the remarkable Thomas Bilney.
The next chapter covers Latimer’s ministry as a passionate preacher of the gospel, first at Cambridge and then further afield. Of special interest is his impact on Henry VIII, whose relationship with the Reformer seems similar to that of Herod Antipas with John the Baptist. The king admired him as a preacher and appointed him as a royal chaplain, in spite of his uncompromising preaching.
The third chapter covers Latimer’s ministry as a pastor while rector of West Kington, near Bristol, where for four years he pointed his flock to faith in the finished work of Christ, emphasising also the fruits of true faith in concern for the poor and underprivileged.
In chapter 4 we read of his appointment by King Henry as Bishop of Worcester and his attempts to promote the reformation of the church, in spite of the opposition of most of his fellow bishops and the king himself. This ended with his resignation as a bishop when Henry insisted on the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory.
The next stage of Latimer’s ministry followed the death of Henry, when, during the reign of his son Edward VI, biblical preaching was encouraged. During this period Latimer was probably the most influential preacher in the land.
This happy period was all too short. After Edward’s death, the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I attempted to undo all that the Reformers had done. Many of them fled to the continent, while others, like Latimer, remained in this country and were put to death at the stake.
I particularly appreciated the many quotations from Latimer’s sermons and the reminder of the immense difficulties the English Reformers encountered, as they slowly influenced the church in a more biblical direction, in spite of a largely unsympathetic government and clergy.
Even the Reformers gradually grew in their understanding. After Latimer’s conversion, he continued to believe that Christ’s body and blood were truly, physically present in the bread and wine. It was only after the arrival of the continental Reformers, during the reign of Edward, that he and others came to a more biblical view. This book is a great reminder of the sheer power of the Bible, as it was rediscovered and preached in the 16th century. What a blessing it would be to have such gifted, faithful and uncompromising preachers and bishops today!