The darkest times are ripest for revival. John Foxe observed: “What time there seemed to be no spark of pure doctrine remaining, Wycliffe, by God’s providence, sprang up, through whom the Lord would waken the world.” John Wycliffe was a brilliant professor at Oxford whose logic and popularity made him England’s leading theologian. But to the horror of the church—and long before Luther—Wycliffe denounced the arrogance, power, and wealth of the Catholic clergy, rejecting the infallibility of pope and council. Taking the Bible as the only source of truth, he proclaimed the gospel of justification by grace through faith. Wycliffe wasn’t the first to criticize the papacy, but he was among the first to attack the doctrines that undergirded papal theology. For that reason, he’s called “the Morning Star of the Reformation.”
Church authorities counterattacked: It hath been intimated that one John Wycliffe, professor of divinity, hath gone to such a pitch of detestable folly, that he feareth not to teach and preach, or rather to vomit out of the filthy dungeon of his breast, certain erroneous and false propositions and conclusions. … But Wycliffe enjoyed support from the people. When the archbishop of London prohibited his preaching, Wycliffe spent his time preparing the first English translation of the Bible.
The strain of his public battles aged Wycliffe, and in his sixtieth year, on the last Sunday of 1384, presiding over the Lord’s Supper, he was struck with paralysis and fell to the ground. His friends carried him to bed where he died on December 31, 1384. Forty-one years later, still hated by his enemies, his bones were exhumed, burned, and thrown into the river. As an ancient biographer wrote, “They burnt his bones to ashes and cast them into the Swift, a neighboring brook running hard by. Thus the brook conveyed his ashes into the Avon, the Avon into the Severn, the Severn into the narrow seas and they into the main ocean. And so the ashes of Wycliffe are symbolic of his doctrine, which is now spread throughout the world.”