Timeline of the Reformation

Written by John Samson

May 24, 2023

Transcript (slightly edited) of an excerpt from a message by Dr. Steve Lawson entitled “William Tyndale and the English Reformation” from November 21, 2017 – original source – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWtWdAGjj4s – from the 7 minute 40 second mark)

If I could take a brief moment and help you just trace the flow of the Reformation. In its most simplest terms, the Reformation went from the German Reformation, to the English Reformation, to the Swiss Reformation, to the Scottish Reformation.

That is the flow of the stream of the Reformation. And there was one man in each of those four Reformations who became the point man, who became the chief influencer.

And in Germany it was Martin Luther.

In England it was William Tyndale.

In the Swiss Republics it was John Calvin.

And in Scotland it was John Knox.

In its simplest form, that is the flow of the Reformation.

Let me give you some dates.

Martin Luther was born in 1483. John Knox died in 1572. That is the tightest little brackets to put around the Reformation.

In reality, the Reformation continued in England under the Elizabeth reign, Elizabeth I, in England, which eventually became the birth of the Puritan era. But to understand the Reformation, you just simply need to walk from Luther to Tyndale, to Calvin, to Knox. And one man influenced the next, influenced the next, influenced the next. Let me try to create this for you in simplest terms before we look at Tyndale.

Martin Luther was born in 1483. He nailed his 95 theses in 1517. By his own admission, he was converted in 1519.

At that very same time, the greatest small group bible study in the history of Christendom was meeting across the English channel at Cambridge in the White Horse Inn. And in that small group Bible study was William Tyndale. And while Martin Luther was being converted and being summoned to the Diet of Worms, and while he was saying, ‘here I stand, I can do no other, God help me,’ God was raising up William Tyndale, who was reading Martin Luther.

The small group Bible study at Cambridge were reading the works of Martin Luther. In fact, that small group Bible study became known as ‘Little Germany’ and they would rock the English world.

In that small group Bible study were 9 martyrs, two of whom were burned at the same stake together. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, in which Hugh Latimer gave that all time famous line as they were being burned together at the same stake, ‘play the man, Mr. Ridley. We shall light a candle this day in England that shall never be extinguished.’

So they’re meeting in England at exactly the same time Luther is being converted and Luther is being summoned to the Diet of Worms. The flame is spreading to England and William Tyndale is coming to faith in Christ. And William Tyndale comes to the realization that the entirety of England is lost, with a few exceptions of Lollards and those who had been under the influence of the Lollards, who were the preachers sent out by John Wycliffe.

William Tyndale sets out on a mission, that is the most extraordinary mission – to translate the Bible into the English language. He would have to go underground for 12 years and live basically in a backroom closet and translate under candlelight the Bible into the English language. He would never marry. It would take him 12 years. He was burned, hung, and blown up in 1536. That is the very same year John Calvin went to Geneva.

One man steps off the scene, God has next man up.

And the very time that Tyndale is being martyred, Calvin is providentially being led to Geneva having no intention to go to Geneva. There was a roadblock in the middle of the night. He was forced to go to Geneva and he ended up staying and being the force of the Swiss Reformation.

Calvin went there in 1536. He was run out of town in 1538, he was run out of town in 1538. He was gone for three and a half years. He comes back in 1541. He remains for the next 23 years until 1564 when Calvin dies.

In 1553, there comes to the throne of England, Mary I, Mary Tudor, who became well known as Bloody Mary, for good reason. She put to death 288 Protestants – burned them at the stake. And the very first one she burned at the stake, I carry his picture in my preaching Bible. That’s 1553.

And because of the reign of terror that Bloody Mary unleashed upon England, English Reformers and people who were members of English Reformed Churches had to make a difficult decision. Do we stay and face being burned at the stake or do we flee for our life out of England? Many chose to stay, others chose to flee.

One of those who fled was a royal chaplain under Edward VI, the teenage Protestant King. His name was John Knox.

John Knox fled England for his life and he went to, of all places on planet Earth, he went to Geneva. And he sat at the feet of Calvin and was personally under the preaching – verse by verse – of John Calvin.

He was across the street at Calvin’s auditorium, which became in essence Calvin’s seminary in which men were being trained for ministry and were being sent out by waves to the nations. John Knox is now being personally trained and discipled through the pulpit ministry of John Calvin.

And when Bloody Mary mercifully dies in 1538, John Knox is now free to go from the feet of Calvin to his native homeland in Scotland and he hits Scotland like a category 5 hurricane. He hit Scotland like a tsunami would hit the beach. And he established within one year the Church of Scotland and the Reformation in Scotland went further than the Reformation in England.

But the point I want to make with you is there is an unbroken succession from Martin Luther to William Tyndale reading Martin Luther, and William Tyndale launching the English Reformation, to the year that he is martyred, John Calvin steps out of nowhere onto the pages of history and becomes the pastor of Geneva. And while Calvin is there through the persecution of Bloody Mary, it flushes John Knox out of England into the congregation of John Calvin, who (Knox) will then take the gospel and the message and the word of God to Scotland and give birth to the Scottish Reformation. It will be from there that it will be taken across the Atlantic to the colonies of my home country, America. And it will spread eventually around the world.

So just understand the domino effect. Understand the sequence.

Germany, England, Switzerland, Scotland. Luther, Tyndale, Calvin, Knox.

That is the simplest overview of the Reformation from 1517 to 1572, that little window of time.

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