A Word for Church Leaders On This Day in History


Tomorrow is the John Stott USA memorial service at College Church in Wheaton. Tim Keller will preach, Christopher Wright will preside, and Michael Card and Sara Groves will lead music. Personally, I expect the highlight to be the testimonies of John Stott’s life by his friends.

One day afterward, on Saturday November 12, we will commemorate the death of another great Reformer. Like Stott, he made an indelible mark upon England and the world, bequeathing to his generation the deposit of gospel faith for which men and women of the sixteenth century staked their lives. The year of his death was 1562 and his name was Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562)492px-Pietro_Vermigli_by_Hans_Asper[1]

Peter Martyr had been invited to England by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1547, and with Cranmer laid doctrinal groundwork for evangelical Anglicanism. In 1548, Peter Martyr was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, a post from which he expounded the gospel of grace with passion and courage. After Queen Mary’s ascension, he was forced to leave the country. Peter Martyr taught theology in Strassburg and then in Zurich, where he eventually died (Contrary to what you would naturally think, Vermigli wasn’t actually martyred. Rather, his name came from a certain martyr whom his parents admired).

A disciple, colleague, and confidant, Josiah Simler (1530-1576) presented Peter Martyr’s eulogy and with the following words he concluded. I can’t help but read Simler’s encouragement and exhortation as applicable to those of us who wish to learn from the legacy of John Stott. May God grant us the spiritual fortitude to do so.

If we can gather from the things we often heard from him while he was alive what would be his intention after death, there is nothing you can do that would be more holy before God and more acceptable to him that to keep firmly the doctrine you heard from him pure and undefiled. You listeners, especially you younger ones, whose eyes are dazzled by the glory of his name, hasten in the same footsteps to the goal which we admire him for attaining. Gain for yourselves the same achievements of learning and erudition by long nights, hard work, zeal, diligence, and assiduity. Link to you studies religion, godliness, faith, modesty, temperance, and the other virtues in which he excelled. If I have not included all of them in my oration, still you have known them. Embrace them in your heart. Never allow such a splendid example for imitation to depart from your eyes and your heart. Since the death of famous men outstanding in virtue is dangerous not only because of their loss but also because of the good of the whole commonwealth, I humbly pray to you, eternal and heavenly Father, that you protect your church from such portent. I beseech you to look down upon your little flock and govern it as you have promised and defend it against wolves. Give her not hirelings but faithful shepherds, who lead your sheep to wholesome pastures and to springs of living water and lay down their lives for the sheep if that is needed. Best of Fathers, grant also to us, if not another [Peter] Martyr (seeing that we can hardly dare to ask that), at least a teacher who has been inspired by your Spirit and who comes as closely as possible to his incomparable learning and to his divine immortal virtues. Do you, my listeners, humbly beseech with fervent prayers from God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ that for which I am praying both now at the end of this oration and later without ceasing. Amen.1



1. Josiah Simler. Life, Letters, and Sermons, vol. 5, The Peter Martyr Library, ed. and trans. John Patrick Donnelly, S.J. (Kirksville, MO.: Truman State University Press, 1999), 62.

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