The first number of Unio cum Christo considers the theme of Christian witness. Many martyrs have borne witness in their final prayers. The following prayer is remarkable, although it can be discussed whether Thomas Cromwell (not to be confused with the later Oliver) was a martyr or whether he really said this prayer …
The Reformation came to England under Henry VIII, a volatile and tyrannical monarch who made heads roll faster than pin-balls. Thomas Cromwell was his chief minister from 1532 until 1540 and one of England’s most able statesmen ever. Following trumped up charges, he was executed on Tower Hill in London on July 28. Typically, Henry acted in haste and repented at leisure, considering charges against Cromwell to have been spurious.
Cromwell succeeded in having Reformers including Hugh Latimer, Edward Foxe, and Nicholas Shaxton, appointed to the leadership of the Church of England and he provided the funding for the translation known as the Matthew Bible.
The following prayer that Cromwell is reported to have said at the hour of his death is found in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
O Lord Jesus! the only health of all men living, and the everlasting life of those who die in you, I, a wretched sinner, submit myself wholly to your most blessed will; and being sure that what is committed to your mercy cannot perish, I now willingly leave this frail and wicked flesh, in the sure hope that you will restore it to me again at the last day, in the resurrection of the just.
I beseech you, most merciful Lord Jesus Christ! by your grace, make strong my soul against all temptations, and defend me with the shield of your mercy against all the assaults of the devil. I see and acknowledge that there is in myself no hope of salvation, but all my confidence, hope, and trust, is in your most merciful goodness. I have no merits or good works that I may allege before you. Of sins and evil works, alas! I see a great heap. However, through your mercy, I trust to be in the number of them to whom you will not impute their sins; but will take and accept me as righteous and just, and to be the inheritor of everlasting life.
Our merciful Lord! you were born for my sake; you suffered both hunger and thirst for my sake; you taught, prayed, and fasted for my sake; all your holy actions and works you did for my sake; you suffered most grievous pains and torments for my sake: finally, you gave your most precious body and blood to be shed on the cross for my sake.
Now, most merciful Saviour! let all these things profit me, which you did freely for me, having given your very self for me. Let your blood cleanse and wash away the stains and the foulness of my sins. Let your righteousness hide and cover my unrighteousness. Let the merits of your passion and blood-shedding be satisfaction for my sins.
Give me, Lord! your grace, that the faith of my salvation in thy blood may not waver in me, but may ever be firm and constant: that the hope of your mercy and life everlasting may never decay in me: that love wax not cold in me; and finally, that the weakness of my flesh be not overcome with the fear of death.
Grant me, merciful Saviour! that when death has shut up the eyes of my body, the eyes of my soul may still behold and look upon you; and when death has taken away the use of my tongue, my heart may still cry and say, Lord! into your hands I commend my soul; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
This prayer is a reminder to us today that God works through unexpected individuals and in unexpected ways. Who would have thought that the Reformation would come in England in the time of a tyrannical king, through Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell who all seem unlikely contributors to God’s purposes? This reminds us that we should not always rely on what we see and understand about our situations to interpret divine providence. God’s purposes are much greater than our discernment; even in what seems the darkest hour, we can hope against hope because God turns the tables on his enemies at unexpected times and in remarkable ways. Let us pray it be so for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted under tyrannical ideologies in our day.