Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr
The Lord be with you
Today is the anniversary of the day Robert Barnes was burned at the stake (1540), in England, for his Lutheran beliefs. Barnes was a devoted disciple of Martin Luther and considered to be among the first Lutheran martyrs. Born in 1495, Barnes became the prior of the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, England. He was apparently one of the Cambridge men who gathered at the White Horse Tavern for Bible-reading and theological discussion in the early 1530s. Converted to Lutheran teaching, he shared his insights with many English scholars through writings and personal contacts. During a time of exile to Germany, he became friends with Luther and later wrote a Latin summary of the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession titled Sententiae. Concerning this book, Stephen Vaughan wrote to Thomas Cromwell: “Look well upon Dr Barnes’ book. It is such a piece of work as I have not yet seen any like it. I think he shall seal it with his blood.” Upon his return to England, Barnes shared his Lutheran doctrines and views in person with King Henry VIII and initially had a positive reception. In 1529, Barnes was named royal chaplain. The changing political and ecclesiastical climate in his native England, however, claimed him as a victim; He was burned at the stake in Smithfield. Five others were also executed, two of them like Barnes and three by hanging. His final confession of faith was published by Luther, who called his friend Barnes “our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest … this holy martyr, St. Robert Barnes.”
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs included the martyrdom of Barnes and his final words. It reads:
“I am come hither,” said Dr. Barnes, “to be burned as an heretic, and now hearken to my faith.
“I believe in the blessed Trinity, three Persons and one God, that created the world, and that this blessed Trinity sent down the second person, Jesus Christ, into the womb of the Virgin Mary. I believe that he was conceived by the-Holy Ghost, and took flesh of her, and that he suffered hunger, thirst, cold, and other passions of our body, sin excepted, according to the saying of St. Peter, ‘He was made in all things like to his brethren, yet without sin.’ And I believe that this his death and passion was the sufficient ransom for sin. And I believe that through his death he overcame sin, death, and hell, and that there is none other satisfaction unto the Father, but this his death and passion only; and that no work of man did deserve anything of God, but his passion only as touching our justification, for I know the best work that ever I performed is impure and imperfect.” And with this he cast abroad his hands, and desired God to forgive him his trespasses:—“Wherefore I beseech thee, O Lord, not to enter into judgment with me, according to the saying of the prophet David. Wherefore, I trust in no good work that ever I did, but only in the death of Christ. I do not doubt but through him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. But imagine not that I speak against good works, for they are to be done, and verily they that do them not shall never come into the kingdom of God. We must do them, because they are commanded us of God, to show and set forth our profession, not to deserve or merit, for that is only by the death of Christ.”
He then desired all men to forgive him and to pray for him.
Prayer: Almighty God, heavenly Father, You gave courage to Your servant Robert Barnes to give up his life for confessing the true faith during the Reformation. May we continue steadfast in our confession of the apostolic faith and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Other appropriate prayers:
• For those who live in lands where being a Christian can cost them their lives
• For the Church, that we may hold to the apostolic faith in all situations
• For governments, that they may allow the Gospel freedom in their lands
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert