You don't have to be a somebody to make a difference for Christ, but you do have to take a stand. John Huss understood this. His stand cost him his life.
Huss was a reformer 100 years before Luther and the Reformation:
Early in his monastic career, Martin Luther, rummaging through the stacks of a library, happened upon a volume of sermons by John Huss, the Bohemian who had been condemned as a heretic. "I was overwhelmed with astonishment," Luther later wrote. "I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill."
Not every so-called heretic is a liar. Huss, branded such by the church, went to his death because he refused to unloose the belt of God's truth from around his waist. His life was an interesting and complicated mix of church, academia, and politics.
As a young man, Huss trained for the priesthood, but it wasn't from altruistic motives. Huss said, "I had thought to become a priest quickly in order to secure a good livelihood and dress and to be held in esteem by men." No worries. God, who raises up the "basest of men" (Daniel 4:17) can also transform them, which is exactly what he would do with Huss.
Training necessitates learning so Huss entered the University of Prague where he would he would study from 1390-1396, earning a bachelors, Masters, and doctorate.
Ordained as a priest in 1401, Huss became the preacher at Bethlehem Chapel in 1402, which held the staggering number of 3,000 people. About this time Huss became a professor (and later the rector) of the University of Prague. He also came under the influence of John Wycliffe (1330-1384).
Wycliffe taught the authority of the Bible over Pope and church, challenged indulgences (the selling of pardon for sin), argued against transubstantiation and pleaded for common people to have access to the Scriptures in their own language. Most importantly (and "heretically"), he taught people were made right with God by faith in Christ alone:
Wycliffe pointed Huss to the Scriptures. Reflecting on previous beliefs in light of this new awareness of the authority of the Bible, Huss said,
I noted the complicated mix of church, academia, and politics. The three were closely knit in Huss's day. When Huss was at the University of Prague, the institution was under control of two groups, one predominantly German (and anti-Wycliffe) and the other Czech (and pro-Wycliffe). When the German professors lost their influence and voting power at Prague, they left for other universities and branded Huss a heretic.
Thus began a twisted web of competing popes, bribes for influence, and a flip-flopping King of Bohemia. When Pope John XXIII issued indulgences to fund his feud against one of his rivals, Huss spoke out. He preached against the evil, was excommunicated from the church, and severe penalties were placed on Prague until Huss recanted.
Huss left Prague for a time (1412-1414). He did this to safeguard his life and the people of Prague, but returned for the Council of Constance in November 1414. Huss returned under guarantees of"safe passage," meaning he would not be arrested and he would be allowed the opportunity to defend his belief. However, no sooner did Huss enter Constance, that he was arrested and imprisoned.
Prison conditions were deplorable. Huss languished away for seventy-three days, chained day and night, separated from friends, poorly fed, and racked by disease. When finally allowed to make his appeal (which was a sham), "the council condemned 45 propositions of Wycliffe and 30 of Hus, who was declared an obstinate heretic, delivered to the secular power" to be burned at the stake."
On July 6, 1415 Huss was paraded to the cathedral, ceremonially dressed then stripped of his priestly garments. He was chained to a stake with wood at the base and hay up to his neck. Derided and humiliated Huss said:
The fire was lit. Huss was gone. But not his influence. One hundred years later, God would use the writings of Huss to impact another reformer, Martin Luther.
There is so much to learn from the life of Huss:
- God gives grace when we least deserve it.
- We are called to obey when we least want to give it.
- One life can leave an indelible influence when one least expects it.
But the biggest lesson I take from Huss is to stand on the truth of God's Word. Huss stood with "the belt of truth" around his waist. He refused to remove it. His stand cost him his life, but standing he honored Christ and impacted me -- and you.
You don't have to be a somebody to make a difference for Christ, but you do have to take a stand. Stand on the truth of God's Word.
Notes: On my recent trip to Prague and Germany, I had the pleasure of sharing about the life of Huss with our group from Lancaster Bible College. Clicking the pictures below this one will provide a little more information on Huss and Bethlehem Chapel.
- "I had thought to become . . ." from John Huss: Pre-Reformation Reformer. www.christianitytoday.com. Accessed October 7, 2017.
- Matthew Spinka, František M. Bartoš. Jan Hus: Bohemian religious leader. Encyclopædia Britannica. www.encyclopaediabritannica.com. Accessed October 7, 2017.
- Jan Hus Monument in the middle of the Old Town Square. http://www.prague.cz/jan-hus-monument/. Accessed October 7, 2017.
- John Wycliffe: Medieval "protestant." http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/moversandshakers/john-wycliffe.html. www.christianitytoday.com. Accessed October 8, 2017.
- John Huss: A Brief Story Of The Life Of A Martyr by William Dallmann (1862-1952).