During the reign of queen Mary, so eager was the search for victims, that not only the leaders of the Protestant cause suffered, but many of the poorest and humblest in the land were brought before the bishops' court and sentenced to be burned.
Rawlins White was a poor fisherman who pursued his humble calling upon the stormy sea which breaks upon the coast of Wales. He had listened many times to the simple teaching of the travelling preachers, who carried the truths of the gospel to the plainer people of England during the reign of Edward VI. He had thus obtained a fair knowledge of the Scriptures, and became himself a preacher to his rough companions.
For a number of years. White continued in this way, until the death of king Edward VI, and the crowning of queen Mary, brought about a change in the religion of England. After this he used to meet secretly with his friends to pray and read the Bible. But spies soon found out the little congregation, and White, as their leader, was arrested on the charge of heresy, taken before the bishop of Llandaff for a hearing, and afterward to prison.
On the day appointed for White's examination, the bishop and his court assembled in the chapel. The prisoner was charged with not only being a heretic himself, but a spreader of heresy among others. The bishop, addressing the prisoner, told him that he had frequently been notified to give over his heretical practices, but had always turned a deaf ear to the warning. The bishop then said that out of kindness they had once more sent for him, to endeavor by mild means to bring him to a sense of his errors. He also assured him that if he would repent of the crimes he had committed against God and the laws of his sovereign, they would show him mercy; but that if, in spite of the royal clemency, he persisted in his heresies, they were determined to punish him with the utmost rigor of the law.
White showed no signs of fear at this stern threat of the bishop and told his lordship that he was a Christian, and held not doctrines contrary to Scripture; if he did, he begged to be convinced of the same out of the Bible itself, which, he said, should always be his guide. After much argument the bishop assured the prisoner that if he would not recant he must be condemned as a heretic. To this White replied that he might proceed as he thought proper, but that he could not justly condemn him as a heretic, as he did not maintain any opinion contrary to the word of God. The bishop then asked all the people present to join with him and pray that it would please God to turn the heretic's heart, and bring him to the knowledge of the true religion.
Accordingly, they all engaged in prayer; this being finished, the bishop asked the prisoner how he found himself disposed in his mind. "The very same as before," replied he.
Then the bishop, finding that White could not be influenced to change his opinions, read the sentence, after which the condemned man was carried to Cardiff, and shut up in a place called Cockmarel, a damp and filthy prison, where he lay till the warrant for his execution came for London.
Upon the day set for his burning. white was brought out of prison, guarded by a company of soldiers. When he saw all these armed men, "Alas!" said he, "what meaneth this? Soldiers are not needed. By God's grace I will not run away. With all my heart I give Him thanks that I am considered worthy to bear all this for His name's sake."
When White had come to where his poor wife and children stood weeping, the sudden sight of the so pierced his heart that the tears trickled down his face. But soon after, as if to reprove this weakness, he struck his breast with his hand, saying these words, "Ah, flesh, movest thou me so! wouldst thou prevail? Well, I tell thee, do what thou canst, thou shalt not have the victory!" By this time he had come near to the place of his sacrifice, and there found a stake ready set up, with some wood to make the fire. Seeing this, he went forward very boldly to the stake, and fell down upon his knees, and rising again, said these words, "Earth unto earth, and dust unto dust; thou art my mother, and unto thee I shall return." Then he went cheerfully, and set his back close to the stake. When he had been there awhile, he said to a friend who stood near (the one who wrote down the account of this scene), "I feel a great fighting between the flesh and the spirit and the flesh would very fain have his way; therefore I pray you, if you see me tempted to save myself from the fire, hold your finger up to me, and I trust I shall remember myself."
As White was thus standing with his back close to the stake, a smith came with a great chain of iron. As the smith put the chain about him, and was making it fast, White said to him, "I pray you, good friend, nail the chain fast; for it may be that the flesh will strive mightily, but may God in His great mercy give me strength and patience to bear the fire." Now, when the smith had fastened the prisoner to the stake, the officers began to lay on more wood, with a little straw and reeds. In this work the poor man at the stake seemed no less interested than the rest; for as far as he could stretch out his hands, he would pluck the straw and reeds, and arrange the about him in places most convenient for his speedy dispatch. He did this with so cheerful a countenance, that all the people were astonished.
When all things were ready, and there was nothing to do but light the fire, there was a stand put up directly opposite the stake, in front of White. On this platform stepped a priest, who began to address the people, who were there in great numbers, it being market-day. As the priest went on with his sermon, and spoke of many things about the authority of the church, White listened with much interest, so that he seemed to forget that death was so near. At last, the priest came to the sacrament of the altar, and then he began to denounce White's opinions, and quoted Scripture to support his doctrine. Hearing this, the man at the stake suddenly started up, and beckoned with his hands to the people, calling out, "come hither, good people, come hither, and hear not the false prophet's teaching!"
Then some that stood by cried out, "Light fire, light fire!" which being done, the straw and reeds flared up with a great and sudden flame. In this the poor man held out his hands, crying with a loud voice, "O Lord, receive my soul! O Lord, receive my spirit!" until he could not open his mouth. At last, the fire burned so hotly, that he was consumed and his body fell over the chain into the fire. Thus died Rawlings White for the truth as he believed it.
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