On this day (July 22) 1575 two men were carried from England’s Newgate prison to Smithfield where they were tied to stakes and burned to death. One was a husband with a wife and nine children and the other was married but as yet without a family. Their crime was nothing more than believing and sharing the truth of God – Baptist doctrine. This was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
When laying the cornerstone of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, C.H. Spurgeon told the crowd of witnesses, “We [Baptists] did not commence our existence at the Reformation; we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came out of the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves… Our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a season, have always had honest and holy adherents. [We have been] persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect.” Persecuted by Catholics and Protestants.
About the middle of the 16th century John Calvin began to have some influence in the religious affairs of England. As well as promoting the Reformation, he urged the persecution of the Anabaptists. In a letter to Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s Father, he wrote “it is far better that two or three (Anabaptists] be burn than thousands perish in hell.” And in a letter to Lord Protector Somerset he wrote, “These [Anabaptsts] altogether deserve to be well punished by the sword, seeing that they do conspire against God, who had set [Henry] in his royal seat.”
Under these conditions, we are not surprised to hear of the martyrdom of Anne Askew (1546), Joan of Kent (1549), Joan Boucher (1550), and then the two brethren previously mentioned.
I can’t attest to the accuracy of his illustration, but Spurgeon once spoke of a group of people trudging wearily along the road toward London. They were stopped by a constable and asked where they were going. They responded by saying they were on the their way to Smithfield. When asked the purpose of their journey, one replied, “We are going to see our pastor burned that we might learn how to die for Jesus Christ.”