Bilney, Thomas

Bilney, Thomas one of the English reformers and martyrs, was born at Norfolk about 1500, and educated at Cambridge. From his boyhood he was remarkable for his pious bent, and he sought aid in the way of holiness from his confessor and other priests in the Romish Church. But he sought in vain until, by reading the N.T. in the translation of Erasmus, he was delivered from the errors of popery and the bondage of sin; and, leaving the study of human law, devoted himself wholly to the study of divinity. He soon began to preach, and his ministry was wonderfully successful. -any gownsmen, among whom was Latimer, were led by his instrumentality to the Saviour. He continued his labors with great effect until Wolsey, alarmed by his success, arrested him, Nov. 25, 1527, and brought him to trial for preaching the doctrines of Luther. After four appearances before his judges, his firmness was overcome rather by the persuasions of his friends than from conviction, and he signed a recantation, December 7, 1529. After this he returned to Cambridge; but the consideration of what he had done brought him to the brink of despair. Being restored, however, by the grace of God to peace of conscience, he resolved to give up his life in defence of the truth he had sinfully abjured. Accordingly, in 1531, he went into Norfolk, and there preached the Gospel, at first privately and in houses, afterward openly in the fields, bewailing his former recantation, and begging all men to take warning by him, and never to trust the counsels of friends, so called, when their purpose is to draw them from the true religion. Being thrown into prison, Drs. Call and Stokes were sent to persuade him again to recant; but the former of these divines, by Bilney's doctrine and conduct, was greatly drawn over to the side of the Gospel. Finding him inflexible, his judges condemned him to be burned. At the stake he rivalled the noblest martyrs of antiquity in courage and constancy. His friend Dr. Warner, who had accompanied him, in taking his last leave of his beloved friend, was so much affected that he could say but little for his tears. Bilney accosted him with a heavenly smile, thanked him kindly for all his attentions, and, bending toward him, whispered, in a low voice, his farewell words, of which it is hard to say whether they convey more of love to his friend or faithfulness to his Master: " Pasce gregem tuum, paesce gregem tuum; ut cum venzerit Dominus, inveniat te sic facientem: Feed your flock, .feed your flock; that the Lord, when he cometh, may find you so doing." The fagots were then applied, and the body of the martyr was consumed to ashes, Sept. 6, 1531. Middleton, Evang. Biog.; Fox, Book of Martyrs; Burnet, Hist. of Reformation, i, 53, 268; Collier, Eccl. Hist. of England, p. 70, 184; Hook, Eccl. Biog. ii, 406.

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