It was so called because Rogers’ pen name, “Thomas Matthew,” appears on the title page. It is thought to stand for the apostles Thomas and Matthew (Mat. 10:3).
Christopher Anderson, in Annals of the English Bible, says that it was Bible translator William Tyndale who influenced Rogers to examine the Scriptures, which led to his conversion to Christ and his rejection of Roman Catholicism.
Cambridge educated, Rogers moved to Antwerp in 1534, while Tyndale was there, to become a chaplain to the English merchantmen. He arrived the year before Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned.
In 1547, Rogers returned to England. King Henry VIII had died, and his son Edward VI, who was sympathetic to the Reformation, was on the throne.
For the Matthew’s Bible, Rogers used the Tyndale New Testament and those portions of the Old Testament that Tyndale had completed (Genesis to 2 Chronicles, plus Jonah). For the rest of the Old Testament he revised the Coverdale Bible. In some places, such as the opening chapters of Job, he made a fresh translation.
The Matthew’s Bible was intended for serious study. It had a collection of biblical passages constituting “An Exhortation to the Study of the Holy Scripture.” The initials “J.R.” appearing at the end indicate that this was his work. The Matthew’s had a summary of Bible doctrine adapted from Jacques Lefevre’s French Bible of 1534. It had an alphabetic concordance to Bible subjects, translated from Robert Olivetan’s French Bible of 1535. And it had more than 2,000 marginal explanatory notes and many cross-references.
On February 4, 1555, John Rogers gave his life for his testimony for God’s Word and the perfect sufficiency of Christ’s atonement when he was burned at the stake at Smithfield in London.
He was the first martyr under the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine, whom he divorced to marry Anne Boleyn. Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne after Mary and ruled for 44 years during the famous Elizabethan Age, was Henry’s daughter by Anne.
Rogers was imprisoned in the infamous Newgate in January 1554, not long after Mary ascended the throne.
He had a large family: at the time of his death he had ten children, including a nursing infant. His wife was a German woman named Adriance de Weyden. “She is sometimes called Prat, which is the English form of the same name, both meaning meadow” (Alexander McClure, The Translators Revived).
Rogers’ simple request that his wife be allowed to visit him before his death was cruelly denied by the Roman authorities.
Mrs. Rogers brought the children to the execution “to strengthen him against the ordeal.”
Not allowed even to stop and bid his family farewell, he walked calmly to the stake, repeating the 51st Psalm.
Offered a pardon if he would recant, he refused.
“An immense crowd lined the street, and filled every available spot in Smithfield. Up to that day men could not tell how English Reformers would behave in the face of death, and could hardly believe that Prebendaries and Dignitaries would actually give their bodies to be burned for their religion. But when they saw John Rogers, the first martyr, walking steadily and unflinchingly into a fiery grave, the enthusiasm of the crowd knew no bounds. They rent the air with thunders of applause. Even Noailles, the French Ambassador, wrote home a description of the scene, and said that Rogers went to death ‘as if he was walking to his wedding.’ By God’s great mercy he died with comparative ease” (J.C. Ryle, Why Were Our Reformers Burned?).
Rogers was the first of almost 300 burned to death during Mary’s reign. Many others died in prison.
While in prison, Rogers wrote some advice to his children, which was reprinted in the New England Primer, America’s first educational reader. Following is an excerpt:
Give ear my children to my words Whom God hath dearly bought,
Lay up his laws within your heart, and print them in your thoughts.
I leave you here a little book for you to look upon,
That you may see your father's face when he is dead and gone:
Who for the hope of heavenly things, While he did here remain,
Gave over all his golden years to prison and to pain.
Where I, among my iron bands, inclosed in the dark,
Not many days before my death, I did compose this work:
And for example to your youth, to whom I wish all good,
I send you here God's perfect truth, and seal it with my blood. ...
Abhor that arrant whore of ROME, and all her blasphemies,
And drink not of her cursed cup, obey not her decrees.
Give honor to your mother dear, remember well her pain,
And recompence her in her age, with the like love again. ...
Beware of foul and filthy lust, let such things have no place,
Keep clean your vessels in the LORD, that he may you embrace.
Ye are the temples of the LORD, for you are dearly bought,
And they that do defile the same, shall surely come to nought.
Be never proud by any means, build not your house too high,
But always have before your eyes, that you are born to die. ...
Seek first, I say, the living GOD, and always him adore,
And then be sure that he will bless, your basket and your store.
And I beseech Almighty GOD, replenish you with grace,
That I may meet you in the heavens, and see you face to face. ...
Though here my body be adjudg'd in flaming fire to fry,
My soul I trust, will straight ascend to live with GOD on high.
What though this carcase smart awhile what though this life decay,
My soul I hope will be with GOD, and live with him for aye.
I know I am a sinner born, from the original,
And that I do deserve to die by my fore-father's fall:
But by our SAVIOUR'S precious blood, which on the cross was spilt,
Who freely offer'd up his life, to save our souls from guilt;
I hope redemption I shall have, and all who in him trust,
When I shall see him face to face, and live among the just.
Why then should I fear death's grim look since CHRIST for me did die,
For King and Caesar, rich and poor, the force of death must try.
When I am chained to the stake,
and fagots girt me round,
Then pray the LORD my soul in heaven may be with glory crown'd.
Come welcome death the end of fears, I am prepar'd to die:
Those earthly flames will send my soul up to the Lord on high.
Farewell my children to the world, where you must yet remain;
The LORD of hosts be your defence, 'till we do meet again.
Farewell my true and loving wife, my children and my friends,
I hope in heaven to fee you a11, when all things have their end.
If you go on to serve the LORD, as you have now begun,
You shall walk safely all your days, until your life be done.
GOD grant you so to end your days, as he shall think it best,
That I may meet you in the heavens, where I do hope to rest.
Rogers’ widow returned to Germany with her fatherless flock. It is probable that at least two of his sons became prominent Protestant leaders in England and America.
“Daniel Rogers, probably the eldest child, lived to be Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. Richard Rogers, the famous Puritan minister of Weathersfield, was, in all probability, another son of the martyr; and if so, then the numerous families in New England which trace their descent from Richard, are descended from the illustrious Bible Translator and Protomartyr” (Alexander McClure, The Translators Revived).
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