During what was to be his final months John Wycliffe received a summons to present himself before the pope. We can only wonder at the amusement this would have caused in his household and church. He probably would have taken the opportunity if his health had not been so bad, for he had recently suffered his first stroke. Nevertheless he was fully aware that if he had gone to see the pope, he would not have been allowed to return to England. In writing his apologies to the pontiff he states, “I am always glad to explain my faith to anyone, and above all to the Bishop of Rome, for I take it for granted that if he were orthodox he will confirm it. If it were erroneous he will correct it. I assume too, that as chief Vicar of Christ upon earth, the Bishop of Rome is of all moral men most bound to the law of Christ’s gospel. Now, Christ, during His life upon earth, was of all men the poorest, casting from Him all worldly authority. I deduce from these premises as a simple counsel of my own that the pope should surrender all temporal authority to civil power and advise his clergy to do the same.” Then he finished his reply with, “I’m sorry that I cannot come, but the Lord Jesus Christ has further work for me to do for Him here.” We can assume that Pope Urban VI must have hit the ceiling of St. Peter’s when he received Wycliffe’s rather sarcastic letter.
Though the reformer was very close to death, his body being weak, yet his spirit was growing stronger. Not being a person who easily gave up, he was determined to be about the Lord’s business until the very end. As he stood before his congregation in Lutterworth on Sunday 29th December 1384 administering the Lord’s Table, Wycliffe, without warning, fell to the ground paralysed by another stroke. Attendants placed him in a chair and carried him out of the church to the rectory. Two days later, on Tuesday 31st December, John Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation, was dead. He died a free man, still administering the Lord’s Table as parish priest of Lutterworth.
John Wycliffe never imagined for one moment that he would be allowed to die without the fires of Rome upon his flesh. He had advised his preachers, “Why do you talk about seeking the crown of martyrdom afar? Preach the gospel of Christ to haughty prelates, and martyrdom will not fail you. What! I should live and be silent? Never! Let the blow fall, I await its coming.”
We can suppose that the Roman Catholic hierarchy rejoiced over the death of Wycliffe. Their enemy, was dead. Yet Rome would not leave the matter there. Though the reformer’s spirit was in the Heavenly Bliss he loved to speak about, his body had to face a further ordeal at the hands of the clergy. On 9th December 1427 the pope ordered that John Wycliffe’s body be “dug up and cast out of consecrated ground.” His body was exhumed from the grave in Lutterworth graveyard, burned, and the ashes thrown into the River Swift that ran nearby. All this was a vain attempt to silence Wycliffe’s voice even beyond the grave. They used it as a signal to his followers, that they should expect the same treatment if they continued with this heresy. The teachings of Wycliffe and his influence could not be silenced, but actually grew and prepared the way for the 16th century Reformation. The word of Hebrews 11:4 can be applied to Wycliffe, “He being dead yet speaketh.” Rome thought she had removed all traces of the reformer when his ashes were thrown into the river, but that did not silence the reformer’s voice or influence (please see Appendix 2 for the extent of Wycliffe’s influence), for it has been suggested that his ashes were carried by the Swift to the Avon, and by Avon to the Severn, and by the Severn to the Ocean, and were a symbol of the Truth of God for which he had fearlessly contended in his life, and which has ever since gone out to the four corners of the world. In 1837 a memorial plague was placed within Lutterworth Parish Church. The inscription reads:
“Sacred to the memory of John Wycliffe the earliest champion of ecclesiastical reformation in England. He was born in Yorkshire in the year 1324. In the year 1375 he was presented to the rectory of Lutterworth: where he died on the 31st December 1384. At Oxford he acquired not only the renown of a consummate schoolman, but the far more glorious title of The Evangelic Doctor. His whole life was one of impetuous struggle against corruption and encroachments of the Papal Court, and the impostures of its devoted auxiliaries, the mendicant fraternities. His labours in the cause of Scriptural truth were crowned by one immortal achievement, his translation of the Bible into the English tongue. His mighty work grew on him, indeed, the bitter hatred of all who were making merchandize of popular credulity and ignorance: but he found an abundant reward in the blessing of his countrymen, of every rank and age, to whom he unfolded the words of eternal life. His mortal remains were interred near this spot; but they were not allowed to rest in peace: after a lapse of many years, his bones were dragged from the grave, and consigned to the flames, and his ashes were cast into the waters of the adjoining stream.”
Wycliffe had been a preacher of righteousness just as Noah was in the days leading up to the Flood. No one could fault his life or his testimony, for he lived what he preached. His death was earth’s loss but Heaven’s gain, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
A dying star (supernova) explodes with brilliant light, so the radiance emitted by it is one hundred million times brighter than the sun. The life and death of The Morning Star of the Reformation illuminated England, and eventually the whole world, with the glorious gospel of Christ.