Editor’s Note: Below is a transcript of a message, posted to YouTube on January 7, from president of the Adventist Church, Ted N.C. Wilson. Elder Wilson will release a new video each week. You can see past messages here.
Hello, friends. Today in our time together I would like to share a story with you about a young man named William Hunter. William was only 19 years old when he was chained to a wooden stake and burned alive. His crime? Reading the Bible.
Two decades earlier, Tyndale’s Bible—the first Bible to be printed in the English language, had been smuggled into England from Germany, where Oxford scholar William Tyndale had fled to complete his important work of translating the Bible into the language of the people.
It seems that William Hunter’s parents were familiar with the Tyndale Bible, because they were knowledgeable with many of its important passages and they raised their son William to honor God and His Word.
By the time William was apprenticed to a silk weaver in London, he was aware that, contrary to the claims of the Roman Catholic Church, the wafer used during the Mass did not turn into the actual body of Christ. Consequently, when a royal edict went throughout the City of London requiring everyone to attend the weekly Mass, William refused. Because of this, he lost his job and returned to his parents’ home in Brentwood, approximately 25 miles (40 km.) northeast of London.
William longed to read more from God’s Word, so he sometimes slipped into the old medieval Brentwood chapel where he quietly read from the “Great Bible” that was chained there. One day, Atwell, the servant of the Bishop, caught William reading the forbidden book.
“Why are you meddling with the Bible?” demanded Atwell.
“I read it for my comfort,” the teen replied meekly.
“If you do not stop, you and many other heretics will broil for your opinions!” Atwell retorted.
Soon, Atwell’s threat became reality. On Sabbath, March 26, 1555, William Hunter was burned at the stake because he loved God’s Word and refused to relinquish the truths he had found in the Bible.
During the Reformation, the eyes of thousands were opened as the Bible was, for the first time ever, made available to the people in their mother tongues—many times at the cost of great suffering to those brave enough to translate the Bible from the Greek and Hebrew text into the common languages, making the Scriptures accessible to everyone. And throughout the centuries, the bright light shining from God’s Word has continued to lead His faithful followers along the pathway of truth.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, from its beginning, found its direction, its purpose, and its very foundation in the Word of God. Shining through the darkness of the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844, the early believers turned to their Bibles in comfort and hope, prayerfully searching the Scriptures to find the truth. Carefully, they re-read the passages in Daniel regarding the cleansing of the sanctuary and discovered that the error was not in the Scriptures, but in placing their own misunderstanding upon the text. By comparing Scripture with Scripture, they learned that “the sanctuary” spoken of in Daniel 8:14 was not the earth, as they had supposed, but in heaven.
As they continued to be led by God’s Word, they discovered more Bible truths and the small group of believers grew rapidly. By taking the Protestant principles of accepting the plain reading of the text and allowing the Bible to interpret itself, most of our foundational truths—the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the sanctuary and the investigative judgment—were established by the time the Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially organized in 1863. Of course, there was more to learn, and as time went on, Seventh-day Adventists continued to discover other important truths such as our health message, the importance of Christian education, and our mission to reach the world.
Each new discovery, however, was always measured against the Biblical test found in Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
Today, we continue to base our faith and beliefs on the timeless Word of God. The Bible, which has been faithfully preserved and sealed with the blood of martyrs, transcends time and culture. It is God’s living Word, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can find the answers for which we are seeking.
“We must set our hearts to know what is truth,” wrote Ellen White in Patriarchs and Prophets. “All the lessons which God has caused to be placed on record in His word are for our warning and instruction. They are given to save us from deception. Their neglect will result in ruin to ourselves” (p. 55).
More than 450 years ago, young William Hunter, and many others, sealed their belief in God and His Word with their lives. Today, we know a storm is coming. Now is the time to build upon the firm foundation of God’s Word. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them,” said Jesus, “I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24,25, NKJV).
Let’s pray together. Father in Heaven thank you for the marvelous gift and advantage of having the written Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy, to instruct us and to provide us with an understanding as to how we should live. Thank you so much for the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who came to this earth as a baby, lived the perfect life, died for each of us, rose and is interceding for us in the most Holy Place in the Heavenly Sanctuary, preparing to return to take us home. Thank you for Truth that comes from the very throne room of God. Thank you for the written Word of God and may we cherish it, may we understand it and may we believe it and then may we walk in it, all through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus' name we ask, Amen!