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But what is the meaning of this night which is celebrated up and down the land of Great Britain?
The dark ages
The story really begins in the dark ages of around 500AD to 1500AD. Britain was dominated by the Catholic Church which was obsessed with the protection of its authority.
One of the things it saw as a threat to its authority was the Bible. During most of this period there was only one Bible compilation and translation readily available – it was called the Vulgate which was a Latin translation of the Bible. Only the educated priests could read Latin and so the word of God was not accessible to the everyday man on the street.
In 1382 a teacher at Oxford University called John Wycliff translated the Vulgate into English. Wycliff was a keen advocate of scripture and not the Papacy being the authority to the truth about God. Wycliff’s translation was later banned by the church along with all of Wycliff’s writings. In an attempt some years later to protect its power, after Wycliff had died the church decreed him a heretic. His corpse was exhumed and burned and the ashes cast into the River Swift, which flows through his home town of Lutterworth.
This was not the first time the Church had acted with such aggression to those who wished for common people to read the Bible.
In 1224 Pope Gregory IX sanctioned legislation to put heretics to death. In 1229, a few years later, at the Council of Toulouse the church issued this decree:
“We prohibit also the permitting of the laity to have the books of the Old or New Testament… But we strongly forbid them to have the above mentioned books in the vulgar tongue”
A few years later in 1234 another Church council, the Council of Tarragona decreed:
“No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments in the Romance language, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days after promulgation of this decree, so that they may be burned”
During this time if you were discovered to own a Bible in any language other than Latin you would have been considered a heretic and attracted the condemnation of the Church and the death penalty.
In 1559 – Pope Pius IV placed the Bible on the Church’s “list of forbidden books”.
Even up until the 1800’s this was still a strategy of the Church. In 1824 in the Encyclical UBI PRIMUM of POPE LEO XII we find these words:
“We too exhort you to try every means of keeping your flock from those deadly pastures… Convince them that to allow holy Bibles in the ordinary language, wholesale and without distinction, would on account of human rashness cause more harm than good.”
Just at the right time
It was in the 1500’s that a chain of events unfolded which would begin the steady decline of Papal Authority in England. In 1440 the printing press was invented allowing for documents to be replicated swiftly and in 1522 a compilation of original Bible manuscripts was put together by a priest called Erasmus.
These two events enabled an English scholar by the name of William Tyndale to not only translate the Bible into English but also allow this translation to be replicated and distributed around England. This was done at great risk to Tyndale who was eventually condemned to death by the Church.
Also at this time, over in Germany a priest by the name of Martin Luther had become disillusioned by the authority of the Church. In 1517 he published his famous “Ninety Five Theses” which protested against clerical abuses and corruption. In 1534 he published a German translation of the Bible.
As well as this the British monarch Henry the 8th had become sick of the Pope interfering in his affairs and had separated the English church from the church of Rome.
All of these events began what is now known as the protestant reformation. At the heart of this reformation was the rejection of the Catholic Church and a focus on the Bible as the only source of authority.
King James I
In 1539 King Henry commissioned a man called Myles Coverdale to produce an English translation from the Vulgate known as the “Great Bible”. Unfortunately this translation had many errors within it and was not very accessible for lay people.
Later after Henry 8th other Bible Translations also emerged in protestant England. During the time of Catholic queen Mary the 1st (known as “Bloody Mary” due to her destruction of protestants) many protestants fled to Geneva in Switzerland where they produced the “Geneva Bible” in 1560. This had extensive notes which criticised the clergy and doctrines like the divine rights of kings – it was used by those that became known as puritans.
During the reign of Elizabeth 1st, a protestant Queen, a Bible, known as the ‘Bishops Bible’ was commissioned so that the Church of England clergy had a Bible to use but there were many mistakes in translation.
When King James the 1st came to the throne the country was divided. The puritans were championing the Geneva Bible but the church of England clergy were championing the ‘Bishops Bible’.
In 1604, at Hampton Court Palace James sort to unite both parties by commissioning a new translation of the Bible which they would all find acceptable. It was to be a scholarly work and one which has stood the test of time. This translation became known as the “Authorised Translation” or “The King James” version.
The Gunpowder plot of 1605
All of this worried and concerned the Catholic community still living in England. So much so that a plot to remove King James from the throne was hatched by a man called Robert Catesby.
In 1604 around the time that King James had met to commission the translation of the Bible, Catesby met with Jack Wright, Thomas Percy and Guy Fawkes and shared his idea of a plot to kill the King. These men were all Catholic supporters and were seeking a rebellion against the King.
The plan was to use Gunpowder to blow up Parliament as it opened, killing the king, his family and much of the Protestant aristocracy of England. This would stop the Bible being translated into English and also mean that a Catholic could be put on the throne.
In the December of 1604 they bought a house next to Parliament. They apparently tried digging underground towards Parliament but were too slow.
In March 1605, the tenancy of a cellar under Parliament became vacant and the conspirators purchased this making out it was a “wood store”. They moved in Gunpowder and covered it with firewood.
The plot discovered
By this time 13 people were now involved in the plot. It is unknown who, but one of the conspirators was very concerned about a Catholic sympathiser, Lord Monteagle, being present in Parliament at the time when it was to open on November 5th.
So on October 26th 1605 a letter was sent to this Catholic sympathiser, Lord Monteagle. This is what it said:
“My Lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation. Therefore I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some escape, to shift your attendance at this parliament. For God and man have concurred to punish the wickedness of this time and think not slightly of this advertisement but retire yourself into your country where you may espy of the event in safety. For though there be no appearance of any stir yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them. This counsel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm for the danger is passed as soon as you have burned the letter and I hope God will give you the grace to make good use of it to whose holy protection I commend you.”
Unfortunately for the plotters, Lord Monteagle did not burn the letter. Instead he took the letter to the authorities and to the King. This led to a thorough investigation of the buildings the night before parliament was to open and the discovery of Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators being found in the cellar with matches alongside 30 barrels of gunpowder that were to be used to kill the king.
The plot was discovered and the conspiracy exposed.
So since those times, on November the 5th, the failed Catholic plot to overthrow of the Protestant King James is still marked – but now by a culture completely detached from the original meaning of the event.
Gunpowder treason and plot
The following poem has been handed down through time, elements of which are still reiterated even today. It sums up how the Protestants felt about the events that unfolded on that fateful day in 1605:
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!”
We obviously do not condone the violence shown by the Protestants, nor do we believe that they went far enough in their reformation to rid themselves of man made doctrines, superstitions and traditions. However the implications of the rescuing of king James all those years ago did have a profound impact on the history of the world in relation to the Bible for which we should all be profoundly thankful to God for.
In 1611, 6 years after the gunpowder plot, the King James Version of the Bible was completed and it had a huge impact. It led to a knowledge of the Bible and a common protestant culture being spread throughout the British Empire. During the latter 18th and early 19th centuries it enabled an affinity to be developed between Britain and Jews which led to British support for Zionism and a homeland for the Jews in Israel.
From a Christadelphian perspective, the translation of the Bible into English allowed for the scriptures to be accessible to John Thomas who rediscovered the truth using only the authority of the Bible. It led to the community growing based on access to the word of God in the common language.
In 1884, Christadelphian Robert Roberts published a book called “Christendom Astray From the Bible”. Commenting on the reformation he had this to say:
“… though it was a “glorious reformation”, in the sense of liberating the human intellect from priestly thraldom, and establishing individual liberty in the discussion and discernment of religious truth, it was a very Partial Reformation, so far as doctrinal rectification was concerned…”
The King James 1611 translation then, although not allowing the majority of those claiming to be Christian to discover the truth, has allowed men and women to unshackle themselves from apostate corruption of God’s message – and it has allowed a few, here and there to return to the truth of the gospel. It has exposed the doctrines of the church for what they really are – based on human pride and motivated by human power, disguised under the cloak of being Christ-like. As we read through the prophet Isaiah:
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20
The return of Jesus Christ
So that is the story of the meaning of bonfire night. For most though the fireworks, introduced to represent the explosives that were never used by the plotters are now just pretty sparks let off with a bang. The bonfires upon which effigies of the Pope and the conspirators were placed have now become simply a token of warmth and merriment.
The real and true meaning of the events of November the 5th are mostly now lost on a self obsessed and Godless generation.
However this will soon change. We know that Jesus Christ will return to the earth. An event which will happen soon as current events reported recently in the Bible in the News have shown. When that day is finally here we know that Christ will set up God’s Kingdom on the earth and reign from Jerusalem.
We are told in Psalm 72 that:
“The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” Psalm 72:10-11
In Isaiah we are told that in that day:
“…for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”
The time when the nation of Britain therefore will be educated to understand the truth of Gods plan and purpose under the rulership of Jesus Christ will soon become a reality.
At the end of Psalm 72, the Psalm concludes:
“Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.” Psalm 72:18-19
This has been Matt Davies joining you for another Bible in the News. Join us again next week God willing.
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!”
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