Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ties That Bind: The Faith of our Fathers

When I set out to discover my heritage by doing a family tree, I never gave much thought to finding anyone "famous". More than anything, I just wanted to learn who my people are, where they came from and what kind of people they were.

Over the last couple of days, there have been two names that have presented something of a challenge for me. The problem hasn't been a lack of information, but quite the opposite. The problem is that there is an abundant amount of information on both of these names, and much of conflicts. Eventually I hope to sort through it. Both of these men that I am *possibly* related to are quite well known figures in Protestant history (which explains the abundance of info and the abundance of conflict from sloppy record keeping).

It was in the course of trying to straighten out the lineage, that I discovered something (or someone, rather) I wasn't even looking for. On this information, there is no conflict at all, from all available records. This timeline explains how many "great-grandfathers" ago I am connected to this particular person:

My mother is Estella, her father was Harry, his father was Lochiel(1), his father was John(2), his mother was Susan(3), her father was Drury(4), his father was Dunmore(5), his father was Michael(6), his father was George(7), his father was Lazarus(8), his mother was Elizabeth(9), her father was John(10), his father was Thomas the second(11), his father was Thomas the first(12) his father was Rowland (13).

To be specific, this particular Rowland was none other than Rev. Rowland Taylor, born on October 6, 1510 and burned alive at the stake for heresy, by order of Queen "Bloody" Mary in February 1555. He was the 3rd person of 250 people to be sent to death, by Bloody Mary. He was married to Margaret Tyndale (reported to be the sister of William Tyndale - although not yet confirmed to my satisfaction), ordained by Thomas Cranmer and... he was my 13th great grand-father.

Until today, I knew virtually nothing of Rowland Taylor. I had no idea (although I've read it, and wept, and now will be reading it all over again) he was written of in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and I had no idea so many others have written about him over the last 500 years. There is so much information about him, it's almost overwhelming to decide which source is best, to really get a feel for who this man was, and what he stood for. Through the amazing tool of google however, I have discovered much about him and the more I learn the more questions I have.

What stands out the most to me however, is the account of his death sentence that was so well documented. I could not read these words without tears welling up in my eyes and my throat feeling tight. He lived in a time when the streets of England literally ran red with the blood of the saints. Something none of us in the west, and in our time, know anything about, firsthand.

His last words to his family before he was murdered for his faith in Christ:

"I SAY to my wife and children, the Lord hath given you unto me, and the Lord hath taken us away from one another; blessed be the name of the Lord. I believe them blessed who die in the Lord. God careth for sparrows and for the very hair of our heads. I have ever found him more faithful and favorable than any father or husband. Trust in him, believe in him, love, honor, and obey him, pray to him; for he hath promised to help in every time of need. I go, but do not consider me dead, for I shall never die. I only go before you. I go to the rest of my children, Susan, George, Helen, Robert, and Zachary, and you shall, all of you, in God's good time, follow after, where we shall meet again with joy unspeakable and full of glory. I have bequeathed you to him whose goodness is infinite, and whose power is equal to his goodness. Fear not."

His last words to his friends and contemporaries:

"I say to my friends in Hadley, and all others who have heard me preach, that I leave this world with a quiet conscience with regard to the doctrines I have taught them; for I have taught them these lessons that I gathered from the unerring word of God; and therefore, if an angel from heaven should preach any other doctrine unto you, God's great curse fall on that preacher. Beware, for God's sake, that ye deny not the Saviour, nor decline from the truth of his gospel. For God's sake beware of popery, for though it has the appearance of unity, yet this same unity is vanity and antichristianity, diametrically opposed to the faith and verity that is in Christ Jesus. The Lord grant all men his good and holy Spirit to increase their wisdom, to show them the vanities of time, and give them a relish for true holiness, and the enjoyment of God and the heavenly company, through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator, Advocate righteousness, life, sanctification, and hope. Amen, amen"

How he left our world and entered Glory:

"When within two miles of Hadley, he expressed a desire to walk the rest of the way, and was permitted to dismount: On which he leaped as it were for joy; which the sheriff observing, said, well, Mr. Doctor, how do you do now? Never better, said he, God be praised, I am almost at home, and have only another stile or two to pass, when I shall arrive at my Father's house. Being told he should pass through Hadley, he thanked God that once more before his death he should see his flock, whom he heartily loved, and had truly taught, and prayed the Lord to keep them steadfast to his truth.

The streets of Hadley were lined with men and women, both of town and country; who expressed their feelings in bitter lamentations and prayers, that God would strengthen him, and comfort his soul in the trying hour; to whom he frequently said, as he passed along, I have preached God's word and verity amongst you, and I am now come to testify, before the world, that I believe and adhere to the same, by suffering my body to be burnt to ashes in your presence.

When he was come to Aldam common, the place of his execution, he tore off the hood that covered his face; when it appeared, that the malicious Bonner, when degrading him, had endeavored to disfigure him, by cutting off parts of his fine hair, and by tying other parts of it into knots. He then attempted to speak to the people, but no sooner had he opened his lips, than some one or other thrust his tipstaff into his mouth. He asked leave of the sheriff; but was denied, and put in mind that he had made a promise of silence. It has been said that he was threatened with having his tongue cut out if he would not promise to keep silence. He then put off his clothes to his shirt, and giving them away, cried, with a loud voice, Good people, I have taught you nothing but God's holy word, and those lessons which I have gathered out of God's blessed book, the holy bible: Upon which Holmes, one of the guard, who had behaved cruelly to the Doctor all the way down, struck him on the head with a bludgeon, saying, Is this thy promise of silence, thou heretic.

On finding that he would not be allowed to speak, the doctor kneeled down and prayed; after which he went to the stake and kissed it. He was placed in a pitchbarrel, with his back upright against the stake, where, with his bands clasped together, and his eyes lifted up to heaven, he continued praying. One of the men employed in making the fire threw a faggot at him, which wounded his head till the blood ran down his face, and besmeared his long and venerable beard. Friend, said the doctor, I have harm enough beside, what occasion was there for this! Another hearing him say the psalm miserere in English, said, Knave, speak Latin, or I will make thee. The fire being kindled, he continued in the same position, without moving at all, praying and ejaculating [verbally exclaiming], 'Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus my Savior’s sake, receive my soul'. At last one with a halberd beat out his brains, and his body fell into the fire. Thus died, for the cause of Christ and the rights of conscience, Rowland Taylor, an eminent preacher of righteousness, who cheerfully rejected proffered wealth, power and preferment, from the usurpers of his Master's prerogatives, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy the pleasures of sin; accounting the reproach of Christ, and his persecuted prophets, apostles, and martyrs, infinitely greater riches than the pretended vicar of Christ ever had to bestow. "

Knowing that not only was this my brother in Christ, but my blood relative, makes me feel so very small, so honored, and so proud to stand with him in like faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. To have a bold and courageous faith like that, is nothing short of a most astounding miracle of God.

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