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Latimer was one of the great figures and, with his friend Ridley, among the foremost leaders of the Reformation in England. His father, a sturdy yeoman, cultivated a small farm in Leicestershire, but found the means to send his son to school and later to Cambridge. Dates of events connected with Latimer's early life—even that of his birth—are uncertain. We know, however, that at the time of his conversion to Protestantism Latimer had passed the age of thirty. While a student at Cambridge Latimer was most conscientious in observing the minutest rites of his faith and was a devout Catholic. So severe was he on the innovations of the religious reformers that he made an attack on the opinions of Melanchthon the subject of his oration on taking the degree of bachelor of divinity. In Lent of the year 1530 he preached before the King at Windsor and received distinct marks of royal favor. To the bishops, however, his sermons were distasteful. Wolsey, however, granted him license to preach throughout all England, though the Bishop of Ely had prohibited him from preaching in his diocese. Made chaplain to Henry VIII in 1530, he was incited to put forth still greater energies in the cause that lay nearest to his heart: the freer circulation of the Scriptures, and a wider dissemination of religious truths. He had no liking for mere theological discussions, though his opponents were often disconcerted and confused by his ready wit and his keen satire. His sermons were on the practical duties and issues of every-day life. He desired to point out errors and abuses and to correct them, being fully in sympathy with the besetting hardships and temptations in every station of life. He was imprisoned and excommunicated in 1531, but set at liberty by the direct intervention of the King.
In 1535 Latimer was consecrated Bishop of Worcester. His position had in the mean time changed much in his favor, for when Henry in 1534 repudiated the Pope, Latimer became with Cranmer and Cromwell the chief adviser of the King in ecclesiastical matters. Shortly after the accession of Mary, Latimer, together with Ridley, was led to the stake at Oxford in 1555.
It has been truly said that the preaching of Latimer, more than the edicts of Henry, established the principles of the Reformation in the hearts of the English people. In many of his sermons he gives us a truthful picture of the social and political conditions of his time. They are also curious and valuable as a monument of the language of his time. We may fittingly reproduce here the words of a competent critic and acute observer: “The homely terseness of Latimer's style, his abounding humor, rough, cheery, and playful, but irresistible in its simplicity; his avoidance of dogmatic subtleties and noble advocacy of practical righteousness, his bold and open denunciation of the oppression of the powerful, his scathing diatribes against ecclesiastical hypocrisy, the transparent honesty of his zeal tempered by moderation —these are the qualities which not only rendered his influence so paramount in his lifetime, but have transmitted his memory to posterity.” “The Ploughers” is a practical lesson taken from life suitable alike to the daily life of the most humble as well as to the daily life of the most exalted.
LL things which are written are written for our erudition and knowledge." All things that are written in God's book, in the Bible book, in the book of the Holy Scripture, are written to be our doctrine.” I told you in my first sermon, honorable audience, that I purposed to declare unto you two things. The one, what seed should be sown in God's field, in God's plough land; and the other, who should be the sowers. That is to say, what doctrine is to be taught in Christ's church and congregation, and what men should be the teachers and preachers of it. The first part I have told you in the three sermons past, in which I have essayed to set forth my plough, to prove what I could do. And now I shall tell you who be the ploughers; for God's Word is a seed to be sown in God's field—that is, the faithful congregation—and the preacher is the sower. And it is in the Gospel —“Erivit qui seminat seminare semen suum ” [“A sower went out to sow his seed ” (Luke viii. 5)]. He that soweth, the husbandman, the ploughman, went forth to sow his seed; so that the preacher is resembled to a ploughman, as it is in another place—“Nemo admota arato manu, et a tergo respiciens aptus est regno Dei" [“No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke ix. 62)]. No man that putteth his hand to the plough, and looketh back, is apt for the kingdom of God. That is to say, let no preacher be negligent in doing his office. Albeit this is one of the places that hath been racked, as I told you of racking Scriptures. And I have been one of them myself that hath racked it; I cry God mercy for it, and have been one of them that have believed and have expounded it against religious persons that would forsake their order which they had professed, and would go out of their cloister, whereas, indeed, it toucheth not monkery, nor maketh anything at all for any such matter. But it is directly spoken of diligent preaching of the Word of God. For preaching of the Gospel is one of God's plough works, and the preacher is one of God's ploughmen. Ye may not be offended with my similitude, in that I compare preaching to the labor and work of ploughing, and the preacher to a ploughman. Ye may not be offended with this my similitude, for I have been slandered of some persons for such things. It hath been said of me—“O Latimer! nay, as for him, I will never believe him while I live, nor never trust him, for he likened our Blessed Lady to a saffron bag,” where, indeed, I never used that similitude. But it was, as I have said unto you before now, according to that which Peter saw before in the spirit of prophecy, and said that there should come afterward men—“Per quos via veritatis maledictis afficeretur” [“By reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of " (2 Peter ii. 2)]. There should come fellows by whom the way of truth should be evil spoken of and slandered. But in case I had used this similitude, it had not been to be reproved, but might have been without reproach. For I might have said thus, as the saffron bag that hath been full of saffron, or hath had saffron in it, doth ever after savour and smell of the sweet saffron that it contained, so our Blessed Lady, who contained and bare Christ in her womb, did ever after resemble the manners and virtues of that precious babe which she bare. And what had our Blessed Lady been the worse for this? or what dishonor was this to our Blessed Lady? But as preachers must be wary and circumspect that they give not any just occasion to be slandered and ill spoken of by the hearers, so must not the auditors be offended without cause. For heaven is in the Gospel likened to a mustard seed. It is compared also to a piece of leaven; and Christ saith that at the last day, He will come like a thief; and what dishonor is this to God? or what derogation is this to heaven? Ye may not then, I say, be offended with my similitude, for because I liken preaching to a ploughman's labor, and a prelate to a ploughman. But now, you will ask me whom I call a prelate. A prelate is that man, whatsoever he be, that hath a flock to be taught of him, whosoever hath any spiritual charge in the faithful congregation, and whosoever he be that hath cure of souls.
* Quecumque scripta sunt ad nostram written for our learning "-Rom. xv. 4). doctrinam scripta sunt (“Whatsoever —Preached at the Shrouds, St. Paul's, things were written aforetime, were January 18, 1549.
And well may the preacher and the ploughman be likened together. First, for their labor of all seasons of the year; for there is no time of the year in which the ploughman hath not some special work to do; as in my country in Leicestershire, the ploughman hath a time to set forth and to assay his plough, and other times for other necessary works to be done. And then they also may be likened together, for the diversity of works and variety of offices that they have to do. For as the ploughman first setteth forth his plough, and then tilleth his land, and breaketh it in furrows, and sometimes ridgeth it up again; and at another time harroweth it, and clotteth it, and sometimes dungeth it, and hedgeth it, diggeth it, and weedeth it, purgeth it, and maketh it clean—so the prelate, the preacher, hath many divers offices to do. He hath first a busy work to bring his parishioners to a right faith, as Paul calleth it, and not to a swearing faith, but to a faith that embraceth Christ, and trusteth to His merits; a lively faith, a justifying faith, a faith that maketh a man righteous without respect of works, as ye have it very well declared and set forth in the homily. He hath then a busy work to bring his flock to a right faith, and then to confirm them in the same faith; now casting them down with the law and with threatenings of God for sin; now ridging them up again with the Gospel, and with the promises of God's favor; now weeding them by telling them their faults, and making them forsake sin; now clotting them, by breaking their stony hearts, and by making them supple-hearted, and making them to have hearts of flesh—that is, soft hearts—and apt for doctrine to enter in; now teaching to know God rightly, and to know their duty to God and their neighbors; now exhorting them when they know their duty, that they do it, and be diligent in it—so that they have a continual work to do. Great is their business, and therefore great should be their hire. They have great labors, and therefore they ought to have good livings, that they may commodiously feed their flock; for the preaching of the Word of God unto the people is called meat—Scripture calleth it meat; not strawberries, that come but once a year, and tarry not long, but are soon gone, but it is meat. It is no dainties. The people must have meat that must be familiar and continual, and daily given unto them to feed upon. Many make a strawberry of it, ministering it but