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1182 [1182]

K. Henry. 8. Letters of Thomas Bilney, to Tonstall Byshop of London.

MarginaliaThe first conuersion of Maister Bilney, by reading the new Testamēt set out by Erasmus.I bought it, euē by the prouidence of God, as I do now well vnderstand and perceyue: And at the first readyng, as I remember, I chaunced vpon this sentence of S. Paul (O most swete & comfortable sentence to my soule) in his first Epistle to Timothy and first chapter: 

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The sentence that matters here is; 'Sed tandem de Iesu audiebam, nimirum tum, cum nouum Testamentum primum ad Erasmo aederetur'. It must be noted that Bilney did not use the word 'conuersio' to refer to the exhilarating effect that his reading had upon him.

It is a true saying and worthy of all ē to be embraced, that Christ Iesus came into the world to saue sinners, of whom I am the chiefe & principall. This one sentence, through Gods instruction, and inwarde workyng, whiche I did not then perceiue, did so exhilerate my hart, beyng before wounded with the gilte of my sinnes, and beyng almost in dispayre, that immediatly, I felt a meruelous comforte and quietnes, in so much, that my brused bones leapt for ioye. MarginaliaPsal. 50.

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MarginaliaAll the trauailes of men without Christ, are but an hastie running out of the right way.After this, the Scripture began to be more pleasaunt vnto me thē the hony or the hony combe: wherein I learned, that all my trauailes, all my fastyng and watchyng, all the redemption of Masses and pardons, beyng done without trust in Christ, whiche onely saueth his people frō their sinnes: these (I say) I learned to be nothing els but euē (as S. Augustin sayth) a hasty & swift runnyng out of the right way, or els much lyke to þe vesture made of figge leaues, wherwithall Adam & Eue went about in vayne, to couer their priuities, and could neuer before obteyne quietnes and rest, vntill they beleued in the promise of God, that Christ the seede of the woman, should treade vpon the serpentes head: Neither could I be releued or eased of the sharpe stinges and bytynges of my sinnes, before that I was taught of God that lesson, whiche Christ speaketh of, in the thyrd chapter of Iohn: MarginaliaM. Bilney looking vp to the Brasen Serpent.
Iohn. 3. 

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For the association of the crucified Christ with the brazen serpent of Moses (from Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-15), see Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: a Life (New Haven, 1996), pp. 118-120. Bilney's essential dependence upon the sacrifice of Christ in his theology may help to explain his attack on idolatry at the church of St Magnus the Martyr (which was always an important City church, as it stood on the north end of London Bridge), where the parishioners were gilding their new rood. Bilney argued there that just as Ezechias destroyed the brazen serpent that Moses had made, so too should kings and princes in the present day destroy and burn the images of saints that were set up in churches and other places. See Gregory Walker, 'Saint or schemer?: the 1527 heresy trial of Thomas Bilney reconsidered', Journal of Ecclesiastical History, vol. 40 (1989), pp. 219-38.

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Euen as Moyses exalted the serpent in the desert, so shall the sonne of man bee exalted, that all whiche beleue on hym should not perish, but haue lyfe euerlastyng.

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As soone as (according to the measure of grace geuen vnto me of God) I began to tast & sauour of this heauēly lesson, whiche no man can teache but onely God, whiche reueled the same vnto Peter: I desired the Lord to encrease my fayth: and at last, I desired nothing more, then that I beyng so comforted by hym, might be strengthened by hys holy spirite and grace from aboue, MarginaliaThe waies of the lord, be mercy and truth.that I might teache the wicked his wayes, whiche are mercy and truth, and that the wicked might be conuerted vnto him by me, whiche sometyme was also wicked. Whiche thyng, whilest that with all my power, I did endeuour before my Lord Cardinall and your fatherhoode, Christ was blasphemed in me (and this is my onely comfort in these my afflictions) whom with my whole power I do teache and set forth, being made for vs by God hys father, our wysedome, righteousnes, sanctification, & redemption, and finally, our satisfaction. Marginalia1. Cor. 1. Who was made sinne for vs (that is to say, a sacrifice for sinne) that we through hym, shoulde bee made the righteousnes of God. Marginalia2. Cor. 5.Who became accursed for vs, to redeeme vs from the curse of the lawe: MarginaliaGal. 2.Who also came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentaunce. MarginaliaMath. 9.The rightuous (I say) which falsely Iudge and thinke them selues so to bee (for all men haue sinned, and lacke the glorye of God, wherby he freely forgeueth sinnes vnto all beleuers, through the redemption whiche is in Christ Iesu) MarginaliaRom. 3. because that all mankynd was greuously wounded in hym, whiche fell amongest theeues betwene Hierusalem and Ierico. MarginaliaThe sūme of all M. Bilneys teaching.And therfore, withall my whole power, I teache that all men should firste acknowledge their sinnes and condempne them, and afterward hunger and thirste for that rightuousnes, wherof S. Paule speaketh: The rightuousnes of God by faith in Iesu Christ, is vppon all them whiche beleue in him, for there is no difference: all haue sinned, and lacke the glorie of God, and are iustified frely throughe hys grace, by the redemption whiche is in Iesus Christ. MarginaliaRom. 3. The whiche, who soeuer doth hunger or thirst for, without doubt, they shall at the lēgth, so be satisfied, that they shal not hunger and thyrst for euer.

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MarginaliaA differēce betwene mans righteousnes, & the righteousnes of God.But forsomuch as this hunger and thyrst was wont to bee quenched with the fulnes of mans rightuousnes, which is wrought through the fayth of our own electe & chosen woorkes, as pilgrimages, bying of pardons, offeryng of candels, elect and chosen fastes, and oftentymes supersticions, MarginaliaVoluntary deuotions spoke agaynst.
Deut. 4. 12.
and finally all kynde of voluntary deuotions (as they call them) agaynst the whiche Gods worde speaketh plainly in the fourth of Deut. and in the xij. saying: Thou shalte not do that whiche semeth good vnto thy selfe, but that whiche I commaunde thee for to do, that do thou, neither addyng to, neither diminishing any thyng from it: therefore (I say) oftentymes I haue spoken of those workes, not condemnyng them (as God I take to my witnes) but reprouyng their abuse, makyng the lawfull vse of them manifest, euen vnto children, exhortyng all men, not so to cleaue vnto them, that they beyng satisfied therewith, should loth or waxe wery of Christ, as many do. In whom I byd your fatherhode most prosperously well to fare.

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And this is the whole summe. If you will appointe me to dilate more at large the thynges here touched, I will not refuse to do it, so that you will graunt me time: For to do it out of hand, I am not able for the weakenes of my body, beyng ready alwayes, if I haue erred in any thyng, to be better instructed.

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¶ An other letter or epistle of M. Bilney, to Cuthbert Tonstall Byshop of London.

MarginaliaAn other letter of Maister Bilney.ALbeit I do not remember, reuerent father in Christ, whether I haue either spoken or written, that the Gospell hath not bene syncerely preached now of long tyme, which your Lordship seemeth to haue gathered, either by some Momes and sinister hearers of my Sermons MarginaliaMalchus hearing of Sermons.(who lyke Malchus hauyng their ryght eare cut of, onely bring their left eare to sermons) or ells by some wordes or writinges of mine, which haue rashely passed me, rather then vpon any euill entent: yet forsomuch as in thys behalfe, your Reuerence doth cōmaund me, and that of a good minde, I trust (for how can I thinke in Tonstall any craft or doublenes to dwell:) I will brieflye declare vnto you, what I haue learned of God through Christ, in the Scriptures, and how that the Doctours euen of great name and renoume, haue not taught the same of late in their sermons, referring or rather submitting all thynges vnto your fatherly iudgement, which is more quicke and sharpe, then that it cā by any meanes be blinded, and so syncere, that it will not in any poynt seeke sclaunder or discorde. MarginaliaNotes and differences betwene the true & false church.Therfore I do confesse that I haue often bene afrayde, that Christ hath not bene purely preached now a long tyme. For who hath bene now a long season offended through hym? Who hath now thys many yeares, suffred any persecution for the Gospells sake? Where is the sworde which he came to send vpon the earth? And finally, where are the rest of the syncere and vncorrupt fruites of the Gospell? which, because we haue not a longe tyme seene, is it not to be feared, that the tree which bringeth forth those fruites, hath now a long tyme, bene wanting in our region or countrey? much lesse is it to be beleued, that it hath bene nourished amongest vs. 

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In this section, Foxe used Bilney as his point of reference against the papal supremacy to answer Nicholas Sander, The rocke of the Churche wherein the primacy of S. Peter and of his successours the Bishops of Rome is proued out of Gods worde (Louvain: John Fowler, 1567, STC 21692). Sander had the audacity to dedicate his book to Archbishop Matthew Parker, and he attacked Thomas Cranmer's memory from the perspective of one who was in Oxford at the time of the archbishop's incarceration and burning there: 'And a little before his death, for a few hours of temporall life' Cranmer `sold his poore faith twise a day.' (sig. ****5r). The rocke of the Churche was one of several works that Sander wrote to attack Bishop John Jewel of Salisbury, following the `challenge sermons' that Jewel delivered at Paul's Cross and at Queen Elizabeth I's court starting in 1559. John Day inaugurated Jewel's controversy into print in 1560 when he issued The Trve Copies of the letters between the reuerend father in God Iohn Bisshop of Sarum and D. Cole, vpon occasion of a Sermon that the said Bishop preached before the Quenes Maiestie, and hir moste honorable Counsel. 1560 (STC 14613), fols. 4B-5A. Jewel invited English theologians to consider doctrinal matters that were crucial to the Reformation, and important again following Elizabeth's accession. He asked whether it could be established in ancient times that scripture, the early Councils or the writings of the ancient Fathers of the Church had taught that the Bishop of Rome was the head of the universal Church; whether the Bible might be read by the laity, and if in the sacrament after the words of Consecration whether the substance of bread and wine 'departeth awaye'. The resulting hard-hitting controversies involved not only Sander, but also Henry Cole and Thomas Harding.

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Haue we not seene all thinges quiet and peaceable a longe tyme? But what sayth the Church? My griefe most bitter, is turned to peace. &c. MarginaliaEsay. 38.But the malignant church sayth: Peace, peace, and there is no peace: MarginaliaIere. 6. 8.but onely that wherof it is written: When the mightye armed mā keepeth hys gates, he possesseth all things in quiet. MarginaliaLuke. 11.But whē he seeth, that he shall be vāquished of a stronger then he him self is, he spoyleth & destroyeth all thinges. What now a dayes beginneth agayne to bee attempted, I dare not say. God graunt vs grace, that we do not refuse and reiecte (if it be Christ) hym that commeth vnto vs, lest that we doe feele that terrible iudgement agaynst vs: because (sayth he) they haue not receaued the loue of truth, that they myght bee saued: therefore God will send vpon them the blindnes of errour, that they shall geue credite vnto lyes. Marginalia2. Theß. 1.
Notes and argumentes prouing, that it is not the true words of God, which hath bene preached in the popes church.
O terrible sentence (Which God knoweth whether a great nūber haue not alreadye incurred) that all they myght be iudged, which haue not geuen credite vnto the truth, but consented vnto iniquitie. The tyme shall come (sayth he) when that they will not suffer the true doctrine to bee preached. And what shall we then saye of that learning, which hath now so longe tyme reigned and triumphed, so that no man hath once opened his mouth agaynst it? Shall we thinke it sound doctrine? Truely iniquitie did neuer more abound, nor charitie was neuer so colde. And what should we say to be the cause therof? hath the cause ben for lacke of preaching agaynst the vices of men, and exhorting to charitie? That can not bee, for many learned and great clarkes sufficientlye can witnes to the contrarye. And yet all these notwithstanding, we see the life and manners of men do greatly degenerate from true Christianitie, and seeme to crye out in deede, that it is fulfilled in vs, which God in tymes paste threatned by hys Prophet Amos, saying: MarginaliaAmos. 8.Beholde, the day shall come (sayth the Lorde) that I will send hunger vppon the earth, not hun-

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