William Hunter was only 19 years of age when he died. He didn’t die of natural causes like sickness and disease. No. William Hunter was burned to death March 27, 1555. Prior to his death, his job as a silk weaver in the city of London, England was taken from him.
Hunter lived in a time when the protestant reformation was bearing significant fruit. Queen Mary of Tudor had assumed the throne and had given the edicts that Roman Catholicism was the state religion and everyone who did not submit was to be put to death.
Both the Church and the local government tried to threaten him and even bribed him. In fact, one civil dignitary offered to make him a “Freeman of the City of London” and even give him £40 and an offer of land…if he would simply renounce his blasphemous beliefs.
What did William Hunter believe that was so dangerous to the Church and State? First, he refused to attend Catholic mass. Even though there had been a standing order that the entire city of London was to attend. Not only his lack of church attendance but he loved to read the Bible. He was in Brentwood Chapel one day and he was caught reading the Bible. He also rejected the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation which is the belief that when you eat of the bread during communion it actually turns into the actual body of Christ and the wine taken at communion turns into the actual blood of Christ. So of course, Hunter knew that the Bible did not teach this so he rejected it, choosing instead to believe and stand for the truth and reliability of God’s Word and the freedom to read it.
William Hunter is considered to be the first Essex martyr of the reign of Mary Tudor. This Queen Mary is known to have had over 280 men burned at the stake for protesting against Roman Catholic teaching.
The site of William Hunter’s death is now known as the Brentwood School, and on the site of his death there is a plaque with the following inscription: “WILLIAM HUNTER. MARTYR. Committed to the Flames March 26th MDLV. Christian Reader, learn from his example to value the privilege of an open Bible. And be careful to maintain it.”
What can we learn from this? We can apply a number of lessons. First of all, it is imperative that believers contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.(Jude 3) It can sometimes be misunderstood that only vocational ministers are the ones to contend…agonize for the faith. But it must be noted that Jude was writing to everyday believers. Secondly, we can take courage, because Jesus Himself has said that “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And finally a third application is the quote itself taken from Hunter’s memorial plaque. “Christian Reader, learn from his example to value the privilege of an open Bible and be careful to maintain it.” Value the Bible for what it is…it is God’s Holy Word for us, it is all He wants us to know for life and godliness is contained therein. Read it…love it…share it!