Are You Committed to a Cause Greater Than Yourself?

This week’s message at church was the last in a series called “The Kingdom,” and today’s sermon focused on “Kingdom Living.” Our pastor of nearly 30 years, Robert Hahn, told us how he came to our church and to his calling as a minister right here in Calvert County, MD, in 1987, as a visitor to a “tent” event before our church building was ever built. He told us he felt the presence of Jesus Christ beside him that chilly October night.

“There, I listened and saw that in the midst of the cynicism, selfishness, self-absorption, and materialism of society, that there were still people in this world who were willing to commit themselves to a cause bigger than themselves. People who were willing to drive a stake into the ground and take a stand, a firm stand, in what they believe. The basis of that commitment that night was rooted in the only concept that made sense to me; those people that night believed that God had placed them into this community at this moment in time to be a part of His eternal plan. And they said that once you become convinced of the idea that God has placed you into a community at a moment in time to be a part of His eternal plan then the only logical next step is to be fully committed to what God has called you to be a part of. And that night, I understood and believed…”

The irony of attending church today, was that when I came home, I decided to pick up the beginnings of a blog post that I started several months back. A draft post that was so dated by now that I had already forgotten where I intended to go with it. Nevertheless, this post was intended to honor an ancient cousin of mine, Rowland Taylor, who was an English Protestant clergyman who was burned at the stake on February 9, 1555 under the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, aka “Bloody Mary,” for what he believed and was committed to.

My lineage to Martyr, Dr. Rowland Taylor, (1510-1555), traces back 16 generations through my paternal great-grandmother, Lottie (Nee Taylor) Chambers (1890-1992). Dr. Rowland Taylor was the son of Susan (Rowland) (pronounced Ro-land), and John Taylor. He was born in Rothbury, Northumberland County, England, on 6 November 1510. During his trial he said he had nine children, five of whom were deceased: Susan, George, Ellen, Robert, Zachary. A son Thomas, born 15 September 1548 was six years old when his father died.

The following excerpt is a chapter from the 1969 book “Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World, published by Moody Press. This book describes the martyrdom of God’s faithful servant, Dr. Rowland Taylor, an ancestor of some Knott County Kentuckians. Foxe’s book was so revered by the Church that it was often chained along side the Holy Scriptures.


“Rowland Taylor was born at the town of Hadleigh, in the county of Suffolk, England, (about 50 miles from London), which was one of the first places in England to accept the reformed faith. After coming of age, and being admitted to the ministry, he began to preach in his native town, and continued to do so during the reign of the young king Edward. Thomas Cranmer, (the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury (1533–56)), was a good judge of men, and loved to reward merit. He took Taylor into his family, and gave into his charge the church of Hadleigh. Here he proved himself a most excellent preacher and a truthful pastor. He became the friend of every person in his parish, and taught many the Scriptures while visiting from house to house. He was not only a preacher of sermons, but practiced what he preached. He was full of pity for the poor, and his charity was bounded only by his means.

In the course of Taylor’s labors he often met with opposition, and even with abuse from those who did not agree with him, but he bore all patiently, saying that in this world we must go through evil as well as good.

After some years passed in this way he married a good woman (Margaret “Margie” Tyndale: 1510-1555), and began to keep house. It was said of him that he never sat down to dinner with his family, without first inquiring whether there was any poor man at his door who needed food. He was also a tender, affectionate husband, and brought up his children in the fear of God, often saying that to lay a deep foundation is the only way to build a good house.

In this excellent manner, Dr. Taylor, as he was now called, continued to fill his place at Hadleigh, as long as king Edward lived; but no sooner was that monarch dead, than the times took a very different aspect.

In obedience to queen Mary’s proclamation, a Romish priest came to Hadleigh to say mass. Two gentlemen of the town named Clarke and Foster, with others of the old faith, aided him in rebuilding the altar, and it was arranged that mass should be said on Palm Sunday. But some who were opposed to this met together in the evening, and pulled down the altar; it was, however, built up again, and a watch was appointed, lest it should be destroyed a second time. On the day following, Clarke and Foster came with an armed guard, bringing with them the priest who was to perform the service of mass. The priest was dressed in his robes for the occasion, and the guard was ordered to protect him if he should be attacked by the people.

Dr. Taylor was sitting in his house when he heard the church bell begin to ring. He went out to learn the cause, and seeing a crowd around the church tried to enter, but was at first unable to open the door. At last, getting in by another way he found an armed guard drawn up around the chancel and a priest at the altar saying mass. Dr. Taylor at once cried out against this, and called the priest an idolator, who replied by calling Dr. Taylor a traitor for disobeying the queen’s proclamation. Dr. Taylor said he was no traitor, but a minister of the gospel, commanded to teach the people; and then ordered the priest to retire, as one who came there to poison the minds of the People with false doctrine. Foster, who was the principal supporter of the priest, also called Dr. Taylor a traitor, and violently dragged him out of the church; although Mrs. Taylor, on her knees, begged that he might be released.

Foster and Clarke next brought accusation of heresy against Dr. Taylor to chancellor Stephen Gardiner, who sent a messenger, commanding him to appear to answer the charge.

When Dr. Taylor’s friends heard this, they were much alarmed, as justice was not to be expected from the party then in power, and they advised the accused minister to go abroad to save his life. But this he would not do; saying that it was more honorable to suffer for the cause of truth, than to flee from the wrath of wicked men. “God,” said he, “will either protect me from suffering, or he will enable me to bear it.” He said, also, “That he believed his dying for the truth would be of more service to the cause than dying from the persecutions of his enemies.”

When his friends saw that they could not persuade him, they took leave of him with tears. He then set out for London, accompanied by a servant, named John Hull, who had been a considerable time in his family. This faithful servant also advised his master to make his escape, but to no purpose.

Gardiner, when he saw Taylor, according to his usual custom assailed him with abuse, calling him “knave, traitor, heretic,” with many other hard names; all of which Taylor heard patiently, and at last said to him, “My lord, I am neither traitor nor heretic, but a true subject and a faithful Christian man, and am come, according to your command, to know what is the reason that your lordship hath sent to me.”

Then said the bishop, “Art thou come, thou villain? How darest thou look me in the face, for shame? Knowest thou not who I am?”

Dr. Taylor then answered the bishop boldly, saying he knew he was the persecutor of God’s people. He also put Gardiner in mind of the oath he had taken at the beginning of King Edward’s reign, to oppose the papal supremacy; but Gardiner answered that the oath had been forced from him, so that he was not obliged to abide by it. After some further questioning Taylor was committed to prison.

While in prison, Dr. Taylor spent the greater part of his time in prayer, in reading the Scriptures, and in teaching the poor prisoners who were confined with him in that dismal place. The prison to which Dr. Taylor was sent was called the King’s Bench. Here he met a good man named John Bradford, whose companionship cheered him much. After Dr. Taylor had been some time in prison, he was ordered to appear at Bow church, in Cheapside, to answer to the dean concerning his marriage. When he was brought before this officer, he defended marriage in such a masterly manner, that the dean did not venture, as was his custom in such cases, to pronounce a divorce, but only deprived him of his pastorate. He was then sent back to prison, and kept there about a year and a half; after which he was brought out to be examined again before the chancellor.

Being charged with heresy by the chancellor, and the other bishops who were present, Dr. Taylor admitted that he was opposed to the practices of the church of Rome, and that be would hold to his faith until the last, believing it consistent with the doctrines laid down by Christ and his apostles. The consequences of such a free and open declaration of faith can readily be imagined. The chancellor at once pronounced the prisoner guilty of heresy, and sentenced him to be first degraded and then burned. He was hurried to a prison in London–in Southwark-called the Clink, where he remained till night, when he was sent to another prison, called the  Wood Street Compter Prison. After he had been there seven days, Banner, bishop of London, with others, came and degraded him from the priesthood.

The night after Taylor was degraded, his wife, with his son Thomas, and John Hull, the serving-man, came to see him; and the keeper kindly permitted them to go into his cell and sup with him. Then was a great difference between the keeper of the bishop’s prison and the keeper of the Compter Prison. The bishop’s keepers were always hard and cruel, like their master; but the keepers of the royal prisons, for the most part, showed as much kindness as they dared to those condemned for their religion.

After supper, the doctor walked two or three times across the room; and then, turning to his sea, he said, “My dear son, may God bless thee, and give thee his Holy Spirit, to be a true servant of Christ; to hear his word, and constantly to stand by the truth all thy life long; and, my son, see that thou flee from all sin and wicked living; be virtuous; attend closely to the Bible, and pray to God sincerely. In all things that come to pass, see that thou be obedient to thy mother; love her and serve her; be ruled and directed by her now in thy youth, and follow her good counsel in all things. When thou hast become a man, and if God bless thee with means, love and cherish the poor people, and make it thy chief aim to be rich in alms. When thy mother is old provide for her according to thy abilities, and see that she want for nothing; then will God bless thee, and give thee a long and prosperous life upon earth.”

Then turning to his wife, Taylor said, “My dear wife, I need not tell thee to continue steadfast in the faith. I have tried to be unto thee a faithful yokefellow; and so hast thou been to me; for the which I doubt not, my dear, but God will reward thee. Now the time is come that I am to be taken away, and thou wilt be freed from the wedlock bond: therefore I will give thee my counsel, what I think best for thee. Thou art yet a young and comely woman, and therefore, it may be proper for thee to marry again; for, doubtless, thou wilt not be able thyself, alone, to support our dear children, nor be out of trouble till thou art married. Therefore, should providence bring to thee some good, honest man, willing to support the poor children, marry him, and live in the Fear of God.”

Having said these words, Taylor prayed with his family; and then he gave his wife an English prayer-book of the time of king Edward VI; and to his son Thomas he gave a Latin book, containing writings of the early Christian fathers, telling of the courage and constancy of the ancient martyrs.

The next day, as early as two o’clock in the morning, the sheriff of London, and his officers, came to the prison to get Taylor and take him to Hadleigh, to be burned. Now his wife had heard that they would take him away, so she watched all night in St. Botolph’s church porch, near by, having with her two children, the one named Elizabeth, thirteen years of age (who, being an orphan without father or mother, Taylor had brought up through charity from three years old), and the other named Mary, his own daughter.

Now, when the sheriff and his company came by St. Botolph’s church, Elizabeth cried out, saying, “0 my dear father! Mother, mother, look! there is my father being led away!” Then his wife called, “Rowland, Rowland, where art thou?” for it was a very dark morning, so that the one could hardly see the other. Taylor answered, “Dear wife, I am here,” and stopped. The sheriffs men would have forced him to go on; but the sheriff said, “Stay a little, masters, I pray you, and let him speak to his wife;” and so they stayed.

Then she came to him, and he took his daughter Mary in his arms; and he, his wife, and Elizabeth kneeled down, and said the Lord’s prayer. At this sad sight the sheriff wept apace, and so did others of the company. After they had prayed, he rose up and kissed his wife, and took her by the hand, and said, “Farewell, my dear wife; be of good comfort, for I am quiet in my conscience. God shall find a father for my children.” And then he kissed his daughter Mary, and said, “God bless thee, and make thee his servant;” and kissing Elizabeth, he said, “God bless thee. I pray you all stand strong and steadfast to Christ and his word.” Then his wife said, “God be with thee, dear Rowland; I will meet thee at Hadleigh.”

And so he was led forth to the inn called the Woolpack, and his wife followed him. As soon as they came there, he was put into a chamber, where he was kept with four yeomen of the guard and the sheriff’s men. As soon as he was come into the chamber, he fell down on his knees and prayed. The sheriff then, seeing Taylor’s wife there, would not let her speak any more with her husband, but gently desired her to go to his house and take it as her own, and promised her that her husband should lack nothing, and sent two officers to conduct her there. But she wished rather to go to her mother’s; so the officers led her there, and charged her mother to keep her till they came again.

Dr. Taylor remained at the Woolpack inn until eleven in the forenoon, when the sheriff of Essex came to receive him, and they set out together on horseback. As they came out of the gate of the inn, John Hull, the faithful servant, was there waiting, having with him Taylor’s son Thomas; John lifted up the boy that he might see his father, and then set him on the horn before him. The prisoner, taking off his hat, said, “Good people, this is my son.” He then lifted up his eyes towards heaven, and prayed for the boy, laying his hand upon his head, and blessing him. After this he gave him back to John Hull, whom he shook by the hand, and said, “Thou hast been the most faithful servant a man ever had.”

When they came to Brentwood, the prisoner was greeted by his friends who saw him pass by; so they put on him a closed hood, having two holes for his eyes, and one for his mouth, to breathe out. They did this so that no man should know him or speak to him. Yet, all the way, Taylor was as joyful as if he had been going to take possession of an estate instead of to die a dreadful death. At Chelmsford, they were met by the sheriff of Suffolk, who was to take him into that county to be executed. At supper, the sheriff of Essex very earnestly persuaded the prisoner to return to the Romish religion, and said, ” Good master doctor, we are right sorry for you: God has given you great learning and wisdom, wherefore you have been in great favor in times past with the rulers of this realm. Besides this, you be a man of goodly person, in your best strength, and by nature likely to live many years, and without doubt you should in times to come be in as good reputation as ever you were, or rather better. For you are well beloved of all men, as well for your virtues as for your learning, and it were a great pity you should cast yourself away willingly, and so come to such a painful and shameful death. You would do much better to recant your opinions, and return to the church of Rome, acknowledge the pope to be the supreme head of the church, and reconcile yourself to him. You may do well yet, if you will; and doubtless may find favor at the queen’s hands.” But Taylor firmly refused to listen to their entreaties, so that the sheriff and his company were amazed at his constancy.

The next day they went on to Hadleigh. When they had come near to the town there waited, in the road, a poor man with five small children; who, when he saw Dr. Taylor, held up his hands, and cried out, “0 dear friend and good pastor, Dr. Taylor, God help thee, as thou hast many a time helped me and my poor children!” The sheriff and others that led Taylor were astonished at this; and the sheriff rebuked the poor man for crying out so. But soon the streets of Hadleigh were filled on both sides of the way with men and women, who waited to see their good pastor; and when they beheld him led to death, they cried one to another, “Ah! there goes our good friend, who so faithfully hath taught us, so fatherly hath cared for us, and so kindly hath governed us. Good Lord, strengthen him, and comfort him!”

At last, coming to Aldham common, the place where Taylor was to suffer, he asked, “What place is this, and why are so many people gathered here?” It was answered, “It is Aldham common, the place where you must burn; and the people are come to look upon you.” Taylor replied, “Thanks to God, I am near home!” Then he alighted from his horse, and with both his hands rent the hood, which had been put on him to prevent his being known, from his head. He then stood a little apart from the guards, and looked about him.

When the people saw his familiar face and long white beard, they burst out weeping, and cried, “God save thee, good Dr. Taylor!” Then he would have spoken to the people, but as soon as he opened his mouth to speak, one of the guards thrust the end of a staff into his mouth, and prevented his uttering a word.

Then Taylor asked of the sheriff permission to speak; but the sheriff refused, and bade him remember his promise to the council. “Well,” replied Taylor, “a promise must be kept.” What promise he referred to is unknown; but the common saying was, that after he and others were condemned, the council sent for them, and threatened they would cut their tongues out of their heads, unless they would promise that at their burning they would keep silence, and not speak to the people. Wherefore they, desiring to have the use of their tongues for the little time they might live, promised that they would remain silent when brought to the stake.

When Taylor saw that he could not speak, he sat down, and seeing a man, long at enmity with him, named Soyce, he called him, and said, “Soyce, I pray thee come and pull off my boots, and take them for your labor. Thou hast long looked for them, now take them.” Then he stood up and took off his clothes to his shirt, and gave them away. This being done, he said with a loud voice, “Good people, I have taught you nothing but God’s holy word, and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s blessed book, the Bible; and I am come hither this day to confirm it with my blood.” No sooner had he spoken these words, than Homes, yeoman of the guard, who had abused the prisoner very cruelly all the way, gave him a great stroke upon the head with a staff and said, “Is that the keeping of thy promise, thou heretic?” Seeing they would not permit him to speak, Taylor kneeled down and prayed, and a poor woman that was among the people came close and prayed with him; but they thrust her away, and threatened to tread her down with horses. In spite of this, she would not go away, but remained and prayed with him. When he had prayed, he went to the stake, and set himself into a pitch-barrel, which they had prepared for him to stand in, and so stood with his back upright against the stake, with his hands folded together, and his eyes toward heaven.

The faggots were then brought, and the fire kindled. One man standing near cruelly cast a piece of wood out of the fire at him, which struck him upon the head, and broke his face, so that the blood ran down. Then said Taylor, “0 friend, I have hurt enough; what needed that?”

Sir John Shelton standing by, as Taylor was speaking and saying the fifty-first psalm, “Have mercy upon us,” struck him on the lips; “Ye knave,” said he, “speak in Latin, or I will make thee.” Taylor, holding up both his hands, called upon God, and said, “Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus sake, receive my soul into thy hands!” So he stood still in the fire, without either crying or moving, with his hands folded together, till at last, Soyce, with a halberd, struck him on the head, and he fell down into the fire…”

Thus, this ancient cousin of mine, of whom I am very proud to be a descendent, did exactly what our Pastor Robert referred to in his sermon this weekend. Rowland Taylor willingly and literally tied to a burning stake in the ground took his stand, his utmost and final stand, for  commitment to and his belief in Jesus Christ Our Lord and everlasting life as a gift from God!



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