The following is an excerpt from Book of Martyrs by Reverend John Fox, published in 1831 by William W. Reed & Co. in New York. This rare volume is owned by James Noah Rogers of Fillmore, Utah and has come down to him from his grandfather Theodore Rogers. While on a mission to Ohio, Theodore was given the book by his uncle, a brother of Noah Rogers.
The queen (Queen Mary) in the second year of her reign…had recourse to fire, fagot and the stake in order to convert her heretical subjects to the true Catholic faith.
Mr. John Rogers, the aged minister of St. Sepulchre’s church, Snow Hill, London, was the proto-martyr; he was the first sacrifice, strictly speaking, offered up in this reign of popery, and led the way for those sufferers, whose blood has been the foundation, honour, and glory of the Church of England.
This Mr. Rogers had been some time chaplain to the English factory at Antwerp. There he became acquainted with Mr. Tindal, and assisted him in his translation of the New Testament. There were several other worthy Protestants there at that time, most of whom had been driven out of England, on account of the persecutions for the six articles in the latter end of the reign of Henry VIII. Mr. Rogers, knowing that marriage was lawful, and even enjoined in the scripture, entered into that state with a virtuous woman, and soon after set out for Saxony, in consequence of an invitation to that effect.
When Edward ascended the throne of England, Mr. Rogers returned to his native country, and was promoted by Bishop Ridley to a prebendary of St. Paul’s. He was also appointed reader of the divinity lecture in that cathedral, and vicar of Sr. Sepulchre’s.
In this situation he continued some years; and as Queen Mary was returning from the tower, where she had been imbibing Gardner’s pernicious counsels, Mr. Rogers was preaching at St. Paul’s Cross. He inveighed so much against popery, expatiated on the many virtues of the late King Edward, and exhorted the people to abide in the Protestant religion.
For this sermon he was summoned before the council; but he vindicated himself so well, that he was dismissed.
This lenity shown by the council was rather displeasing to the queen; and Mr. Rogers’ zeal against popery being equal to his knowledge and integrity, he was considered as a person who would prevent the re-establishment of popery.
For this reason it was, that he was summoned a second time before the council, and although there were many papists among the members, yet such was the respect almost universally felt for Mr. Rogers, that he was again dismissed, but was commanded not to go out of his own house. This order he complied with, although he might have made his escape if he would. He knew he could have had a living in Germany, and he had a wife and ten children; but all these things did not move him; he did not court death, but met it with fortitude when it came.
He remained confined in his own house several weeks, till Bonner, bishop of London, procured an order to have him committed to Newgate, where he was lodged among thieves and murderers.
He was afterwards brought a third time before the council, where Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, presided. It was not with any view of showing lenity to the prisoner; it was not with a view of convincing him of error, supposing him to be guilt of any; it was not to recall him to the Romish church that he was brought there; no, his destruction was designed, and he was singled out to be an example to all those who should refuse to comply with Romish idolatry.
When brought before the chancellor and council, he freely acknowledged, that he had been fully convinced, in his own mind, that the pope was antichrist, and that his religion was contrary to the gospel.
He made a most elaborate defense, which however did not avail him in the minds of his persecutors. He showed them, that the statute upon which he was prosecuted had never legally passed and even if it had, it was in all respects contrary to the word of God: for whatever emoluments might have been bestowed upon the clergy from time to time, they had no right to persecute those who differed from them in sentiment.
After he had been examined several times before the council, which was a mere mockery of justice, he was turned over to Bonner, bishop of London, who caused him to go through a second mock examination; and, at last declared him to be an obstinate heretic. A certificate of this was, in the ordinary course, sent into chancery and a writ was issued for the burning of Mr. Rogers in Smithfield. This sentence did not in the least frighten our martyr, who by faith in the blood of Christ, was ready to go through with his attachment to the truth without paying any regard to the malice of his enemies.
On the 4th of February, 1555, Mr. Rogers was taken out of Newgate, to be led to the place of execution, when the sheriff asked him if he would recant his opinions? To this he answered, “That what he had preached he would seal with his blood.” “Then,” said the sheriff, “thou art a heretic.” To which Mr. Rogers answered, “That will be known when we meet at the judgment seat of Christ.”
As they were taking him to Smithfield, his wife and eleven children went to take their last farewell of a tender husband, and an indulgent parent. The sheriffs, however, would not permit them to speak to him; so unfeeling is bigotry, so merciless is superstition! When he was chained to the stake, he declared that God would in his own good time vindicate the truth of what he had taught, and appear in favour of the Protestant religion. Fire was set to the pile, and he was consumed to ashes.
He was a very pious and humane man, and his being singled out as the first victim of superstitious cruelty, can only entitle him to a higher crown of glory in heaven.