1996-05-07 - John Fryth: A Historical Witness
John Fryth had been one of the most brilliant people at the University of Cambridge. Many said it would hardly be possible to find his equal in learning. While he is unknown today, John Fryth is one of the many who furthered the cause of Christ and ended his earthly labors by laying down his life. John Fox in his Book of Martyrs says Fryth, "had so profited in all kind of learning and knowledge, that there was scarcely his equal amongst his companions. He had such godliness of life joined with his doctrine, that it was hard to judge in which he was more commendable."
There is an interesting story concerning Fryth. Toward the end of his life he was brought to trial for his views on the Lord's Supper and various other opinions. The two men that were charged with transporting him to the place of trial devised for him a way of escape and told him of the plan. He responded, "If you were both to leave me here and go to Croydon, declaring to the bishops you had lost me, I should follow after as fast as I could, and bring them the news that I had found and brought Fryth again."
The two men again tried to convince Fryth to flee and he would not. His second response quieted them, "If I should run away, I should run from my God; if I should flee, I should flee from the testimony I am bound to bear to his Holy Word, and I should deserve a thousand hells. I most heartily thank you both for your good will towards me, but I beseech you to bring me where I was appointed to be brought, for else I will go thither all alone.
Fryth had a true understanding of what freedom means. He was not able to hold the doctrines he believed true and be a free man as far as the state was concerned. He could, however, give up his earthly freedom and maintain his freedom in Christ. Fryth wished for both, but if he could only have one then Christ must reign free in his heart.
He was brought to trial and found guilty of "heresies". The punishment given him was to be "not too extreme, nor yet the gentleness too much mitigated". He was joined in his cell by Andrew Hewet. Fryth asked him for what crime he was sent to prison. "The Bishops" Hewet said, "asked me what I thought of the sacrament and I answered, I think as Fryth does. Then one of them smiled and the Bishop of London said, "Why Fryth is a heretic, and already condemned to be burnt, and if you do not retract your opinion you shall be burnt with him". "Very well", I answered, "I am content". So they sent me here to be burnt with you." On July 4, 1533, they were both attached to posts and burned at Smithfield.
John Fryth is important because he gave up what we often call freedom, namely freedom to live, in order to gain the freedom that lives eternally. We must say with Fryth, that freedom is no freedom if it is not in Christ. John Fryth was given the option of a life of freedom if he would only deny the Holy Scripture. He rather chose to seek the eternal freedom found in Christ. He understood both the importance and limits that Christian freedom allows. What was said of him by Cranmer's Chaplin can be said of many upon whom the fires of the Reformation were kindled, "He did not only love the gospel, he lived it also." May this be said of us as well.
Soli Deo Gloria,