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Hugh LATIMER was the chief preacher of the English Reformation; and if any single book be taken as giving a picture of the manners, thoughts, and events of that period, it would be his Sermons. He was a man of the humbler class, and never was what would be called a gentleman. The harshness and, at times, coarseness of his style, combined with the force of his illustrations, must have made him a very effective preacher, whether to king or people. Although in name a Bishop, he never exercised any episcopal functions after his resignation of his see in 1539, but remained as a kind of watchdog of the Reformation, attached partly to the Court of Edward VI, partly to the Palace of his friend, Archbishop Cranmer.
His theology was too practical to allow him to mix deeply in the special controversies of the time; and he was a man rather of blunt and courageous honesty than of deep thought or tender feeling. He was burnt with Ridley, at Oxford, in 1555,
My father was a yeoman, and had no lands of his own, only he had a farm of three or four pound by year at the uttermost, and hereupon he tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had walk for a hundred sheep; and my
mother milked thirty kine. He was able, and did find the king a harness, with himself and his horse, while he came to the place that he should receive the king's wages. I can remember that I buckled his harness when he went unto Blackheath field. He kept me to school, or else I had not been able to have preached before the king's majesty now. He married my sisters with five pound, or twenty nobles apiece; so that he brought them up in godliness and fear of God. He kept hospitality for his poor neighbours, and some alms he gave to the poor.
2. Sermon of the Plough. And now I would ask a strange question : who is the most diligentest bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know him who it is; I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the other, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will ye know who it is? I will tell you: it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is never out of his diocess; he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keepeth residence at all times; ye shall never find him out of the way, call for him when you will he is ever at home; the diligentest preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough: no lording nor loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you. And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kind of popery. He is ready as he can be wished for to set forth his plough; to devise as many ways as can be to deface and obscure God's glory. Where the devil is resident, and hath his plough going, there
away with books, and up with candles; away with bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea, at noon-days. Where the devil is resident, that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry; censing, painting of images, candles, psalms, ashes, holy water, and new service of men's inventing; as though man could invent a better way to honour God with than God himself hath appointed. Down with Christ's cross, up with purgatory pickpurse, up with him, the popish purgatory, I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor and impotent; up with decking of images, and gay garnishing of stocks and stones : up with man's traditions and his laws, down with God's traditions and his most holy word. Down with the old honour due to God, and up with the new god's honour. Let all things be done in Latin : there must be nothing but Latin, not so much as Memento, homo, quod cinis es, et in cinerem reverteris : ‘Remember, man, that thou art ashes, and into ashes thou shalt return:' which be the words that the minister speaketh unto the ignorant people, when he giveth them ashes upon Ash-Wednesday; but it must be spoken in Latin: God's word may in no wise be translated into English.
3. Contemplation and Action. We read a pretty story of St. Anthony, who being in the wilderness, led there a very hard and strict life, insomuch as none at that time did the like, to whom came a voice from heaven, saying, Anthony, thou art not so perfect as is a cobbler that dwelleth at Alexandria.' Anthony hearing this, rose up forthwith, and took his staff and travelled till he came to Alexandria, where he found the cobbler. The cobbler was astonished to see so reverend a father come to his house. Then Anthony said unto him, “Come and tell me thy whole conversation, and how thou spendest thy time.' 'Sir,' said the cobbler, 'as for me, good works have I none, for my life is but simple and slender; I am but a poor cobbler; in the morning when I rise, I pray for the whole city wherein I dwell, especially for all such neighbours and poor friends as I have: after, I set me at my labour, where I spend the whole day in getting my living, and I keep me from all falsehood, for I hate nothing so much as I do deceitfulness: wherefore, when I make any man a promise, I keep it, and perform it truly; and thus I spend my time poorly, with my wife and children, whom I teach and instruct, as far as my wit will serve me, to fear and dread God. And this is the sum of my simple life.'