In Loving Memory: Rowland Taylor, a fearless leader of the flock

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ROWLAND TAYLOR…

…was a rector in Hadley in Suffolk, where Mr Thomas Bilney had formerly been a preacher of the word; and in that place only a few of either men or women, were not well learned in the Holy Scriptures, many having read over the whole Bible, and being able to say a great part of Paul’s Epistles by heart.

Here this Dr Taylor preached constantly on Sabbaths, and at other times when he could get the people together. So soon as he was called to this place, he left the family of Dr Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he had formerly lived, and, like a good shepherd, constantly abode with his flock, and gave himself wholly to the study of the Sacred Scriptures, most faithfully endeavoring to fulfil the precept of Christ to Peter, “Lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.” His life also and conversation was very exemplary, and full of holiness; he was meek and humble, yet would stoutly rebuke sin in the greatest. He was very mild, void of all rancor and malice, and forgiving to his enemies. To the poor, blind, lame, sick, bed-rid, or those that had many children, he was a father, causing the parishioners to make good provision for them, besides what of his own bounty he gave them. He brought up his own children in the fear of God, and good learning; and thus he continued, as a good shepherd amongst his flock, feeding, governing, and leading them all the days of King Edward the Sixth.

But, in Queen Mary’s reign, his friends earnestly entreated him to fly, telling him that he could neither expect justice nor favor, but imprisonment and cruel death: to whom he answered, I know my cause to be so good and righteous, and the truth so strung upon my side, that I will, by God’s grace, appear before them, and, to their beards, resist their false doings; for I believe that I shall never be able to do so good service as now, and that I shall never have so glorious a calling, nor so great mercy of God proffered me as I have now; wherefore, pray for me, and I doubt not but God will give me strength, and his Holy Spirit, that all my adversaries shall be ashamed of their doings.  Then said his friends, Mr Doctor, we think it not best so to do; you have sufficiently done your duty, and borne witness to the truth, both in your sermons, and in resisting the Popish priests; therefore, seeing our Savior Christ bids, when we are persecuted in one city, to fly to another; we think that, by flying at this time, you should do best, reserving yourself for better times. O! Said Dr Taylor, I am now old, and have already lived too long to see these terrible and wicked days: you may do as your consciences serve you, but I am resolved not to fly; God shall hereafter raise up teachers, who shall with much more diligence and fruit teach than I have done; for God will not forsake his Church, though for a time he trieth and correcteth us, and that not without just cause.

RowlandTaylorHis friends, seeing his constancy and resolution, with weeping eyes, commended him to God; and so preparing himself, he went immediately to London, and presented himself to Stephen Gardiner, Lord Chancellor of England, who railed upon him, calling him knave, traitor, heretic, asking if “he knew him not?” Etc., to whom he answered, Yea, I know you, and all your greatness; yet you are but a mortal man; and should I be afraid of your lordly looks, why fear ye not God, the Lord of us all? How dare you, for shame, look any Christian in the face, seeing you have forsaken the truth, denied our Savior Christ, and his Word, and done contrary to your own oath and writing?

In prison he spent his time in prayer, reading the Scripture, preaching to the prisoners, and to others that resorted to him; and it pleased God that he found in that prison holy Bradford, whom he began to exhort to faith, strength, and patience, and to persevere constantly unto the end. Mr Bradford hearing this, thanked God who had provided him so comfortable a prison-fellow; and so they both together praised God, and continued in prayer, reading, and exhorting one another: insomuch as Dr

Taylor told his friends, that God had provided graciously for him, to send him to that prison, where he found such an angel of God [Bradford] to be in his company, to comfort him.

He was at different times examined for his faith, and he gave witness a good confession before his adversaries; for which, at last, he was condemned to die. When his sentence was read, he told them, that God, the righteous Judge, would require his blood at their hands; and that the proudest of them all should repent their receiving again of Antichrist, and their tyranny against the flock of Christ. He also thus wrote to his friends: —God be praised, since my condemnation I was never afraid to die; God’s will be done; if I shrink from God’s truth, I am sure of another manner of death than the one his Judge, judge Hale, had prescribed. 

But, God be praised, even from the bottom of my heart, I am unmovably settled upon the rock, nothing doubting, but that my dear God will perform and finish the work he hath begun in me and others. To him be all honor, both now, and ever, through Christ our only Savior, Amen.

When he came within two miles of Hadley, he desired to alight; and, being down, be leaped, and fetched a frisk or two, saying, God be praised, I am now almost at home, and have not past two stiles to go over, and I am even at my Father’s house. At Hadley town’s end, a poor man, with his five children, met him, crying, 0! Dear father and good shepherd, God help and support thee, as thou hast many a time supported me and my poor children. The streets were full of people weeping and bewailing their loss, saying, Ah! Good God! There goes our good shepherd from us, that hath so faithfully taught, so fatherly cared for us, and so godly governed us. Oh, merciful God! What shall we poor scattered lambs do? What shall become of this most wicked world? Good Lord! Strengthen him, and comfort him; to whom he said, I have preached unto you God’s word and truth; and I am now come to seal it with my blood.

Coining to the place of execution, be was not suffered to speak to the people, who much lamented his death; yet he was cheerful, saying, Thanks be to God, I am even at home; and when he had prayed and made himself ready, he went to the stake, and kissed it. The fire being kindled he held up his hands, calling upon God, and saying Merciful Father of Heaven; for Jesus Christ, my Savior’s sake, receive my soul into thy hands, and so stood still without moving, till one with an halbert struck out his brains. He died in 1555.

Taken and adapted from, “HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS RELATING TO REMARKABLE PERIODS SUCCESS OF THE GOSPEL”
Written by, John Gillies