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Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr

Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr
July 30

The Lord be with you

Today, we remember and thank God for His servant Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr.

Robert Barnes was an Englishman and by conviction a Lutheran. He was born in 1495 in Norfolk and educated at Cambridge. He joined the Augustinian friars where he came to hear and know of another famous Augustinian Eremite: Martin Luther. Barnes was soon made a doctor of theology and became the prior for the Cambridge convent. In 1525, he preached a homily that historians regard as the first Reformation message publicly proclaimed from the pulpit in England. He was detained for this and charged with teaching heresy. He providentially escaped his imprisonment and crossed the channel to Antwerp.

Once on the continent, he made his way to Wittenberg and became a personal acquaintance of Martin Luther and a dinner guest in his home. Barnes would not stay in the relative safety of Germany. He determined to return to England in 1531 and hoped to convince his beloved king of the truth of the Reformation Gospel. At first, matters looked hopeful. He rose to government office and was sent back to Europe to possibly secure the blessing of Luther and other Lutheran theologians for his king’s desire to divorce and remarry. This, of course, was a failure, and Henry VIII quickly soured on Lutheran theology when it would not serve his personal ends.

Traditionalist forces in England that opposed Barnes’s avowed Lutheran teaching and preaching resulted in Barnes being imprisoned and finally burned at the stake on July 30, 1540. The martyr’s love for his king showed to the very end. His final prayer was, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

Luther wrote upon hearing of Barnes’s martyrdom, “This Dr. Robert Barnes we certainly knew, and it is a particular joy for me to hear that our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest has been so graciously called by God to pour out his blood and to become a holy martyr for the sake of His dear Son. … Hope betrayed him. For he always hoped his king would become good in the end. Let us praise and thank God! This is a blessed time for the elect saints of Christ, and an unfortunate time for the devil, for blasphemers and enemies, and it is going to get worse. Amen.”

Barnes was but one of six men who were executed upon this day. Luther gladly published Barnes’s Confession of Faith and wrote the dedicatory preface. For those Lutherans who live in English-speaking lands, Robert Barnes is a particularly beloved herald of God’s Word whom neither torture nor fear could dissuade from proclaiming the joyous truth of the saving Gospel.

Prayer: Almighty God, heavenly Father, you gave courage in 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 suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Weedon, William Celebrating the Saints 132-133

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