Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, one of the first reformers of the Church of England, and the most popular preacher of his age, was born at Thurcaston in Leicestershire, about 1490. He was educated at Cambridge, where he came under the influence of Bilney, and embraced the reformed faith when about thirty years of age.
In 1530 he was appointed chaplain to Henry VIII, and was afterwards presented by the King to the living of West Kingston in Wiltshire. In 1535 he was appointed Bishop of Worcester; but in consequence of the Six Articles being carried in Parliament he resigned his bishopric in July 1539 and retired into the country. Soon after, he was arrested and sent to the tower, and lay there for six years.
During the short reign of Edward VI he again preached and became highly popular at Court. On the accession of Queen Mary, Latimer was again imprisoned, and in 1555, in company with Ridley, he was tried for heresy and delivered over to the secular arm to be burned at the stake. The two Reformers were executed at oxford, on the 16th of October 1555.
The extract given below is from a sermon well known to all lovers of English literature as the Sermon of the Plough. On the whole, perhaps, it is the best specimen we possess of Latimer's style of preaching - a bold and earnest style, often rising to real eloquence, and well adapted to the audience addressed. It was preached at St. Paul's Cross on 29th January 1548.
The most diligent Bishop in all England.
'And now I would ask a strange question. Who is the most diligent bishop and prelate in all England, that passes all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know him, who it is. I know him well. But now I think I see you listing and harkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the other, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will ye know who it is? I will tell you. It is the Devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other, he is never out of his diocese, he is never from his cure, ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish, he keepeth residence at all times, ye shall never find him out of the way. Call for him when you will, he is ever at home, the diligentest preacher in all the Realm; he is ever at his plough, nor lording, nor loitering can hinder him, he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him Idle, I warrant you.
'And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kind of popetrie, he is ready as can be wished for to set forth his plough, to devise as many ways as can be, to deface and obscure God's glory. Where the Devil is resident and hath his plough going: there away with books, and up with candles; away with Bibles and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel and up with the light of candles, yea, at noonday.
'Where the Devil is resident, that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry, censing, painting of images, candles, palms, ashes, holy water, and new service of men's inventing, as though man could invent a better way to honour God with than God himself hath appointed. Down with Christ's cross, up with purgatory pick purse, up with him; the popish purgatory I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor, and impotent, up with decking of images and gay garnishing of stocks and stones, up with man's tradition and his laws, down with God's tradition and His most holy Word. Down with the old honour due to God, and up with the new God's honour.
'Let all things be done in Latin. There must be nothing but Latin, not so much as Memento homo quod cinis es, et in cinerem reuerteris - Remember man, that thou art ashes, and into ashes thou shalt return - which be the words that the minister speaketh to the ignorant people when he giveth them ashes upon Ash Wednesday, but it must be spoken in Latin. God's word may, in no wise, be translated into English. Oh, that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockel and darnel. And this is the devilish ploughing, the which worketh to have things in Latin, and hindereth the fruitful edification.
'But here some man will say to me, what, sir, are ye so privy of the devil's counsel that ye know all this to be true? Truly I know him too well, and have obeyed him a little too much in condescending to some follies. And I know him as other men do, yea, that he is ever occupied and ever busy in following his plough. I know by Saint Peter, which saith of him, Sicul leo rugiens circuit querens quem deuoret - He goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I would have this text well viewed and examined, every word of it. Circuit, he goeth about in every corner of his diocese. He goeth on visitation day. He leaveth no place of his cure unvisited. He walketh round about from place to place and ceaseth not. Sicue leo, as a lion, that is, strongly, boldly, and proudly, straightly, and fiercely, with haute looks, with his proud countenances, with his stately braggings. Rugiens, roaring, for he letteth not slip any occasion to speak or to roar out when he seeth his time. Querens, he goeth about seeking and not sleeping, as our bishops do, but he seeketh diligently all corners, whereas he may have his prey; he roveth abroad in every place of his diocese, he standeth not still, he is never at rest, but ever in hand with his plough that it may go forward.
'But there was never such a preacher in England as he is. Who is able to tell his diligent preaching? which every day and every hour laboureth to sow cockel and darnel, that he may bring out of form and out of estimation and room, the institution of the Lord's Supper and Christ's Cross. for there he lost his right.'