Humphrey is one of the great unsung heroes of the faith – a man to whom we are indebted, even if we have never heard of him.
Humphrey Monmouth lived in the sixteenth century. He was not a renowned theologian. He was a wealthy merchant who had made a fortune in the cloth business. But as a wealthy businessman, he played as significant a part in the Reformation as any of the more famous theologians and preachers. Everybody knows of Martin Luther and John Calvin – but you might be forgiven for asking… “Humphrey who?”
Humphrey Monmouth’s invaluable contribution arose out of his relationship with William Tyndale. Tyndale’s name has gone down in the history books as the father of the English Bible. He pioneered the translation of the Scriptures into English from their original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Tyndale was martyred for his efforts in 1536. But his work still lives on: ninety percent of his words passed on into the later King James Version of the Bible.
The “establishment” of the time was bent on keeping the Bible from the common people. The Scriptures were considered ‘dangerous’ in the hands of the unlearned; they were only to be read by the priests. To that end, it was highly convenient to keep them in Latin. Some argued that such protectiveness avoided the possibility of heresy as unlearned men read their own interpretations into the text of the Bible. Others, like the Duke of Norfolk, were more honest about their opposition to the Bible. He said, “I never read the Scripture, nor never will read it. It was merry in England afore the new learning came up; yea, I would all things were as hath been in time past.”
At least he was honest, I guess.
The Bible has an uncanny way of challenging our lifestyles and beliefs! The Duke of Norfolk was clearly happy as he was.
But such arguments carried no weight with Tyndale. In one particularly heated debate with an antagonistic cleric, Tyndale concluded by vowing: “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” And that became his life’s mission: to translate the Bible so that everybody would be able to read and understand for themselves. His translation has become famous, and his influence in propagating the truth and freedom of the Reformation in the English speaking world is inestimable.
So where does Humphrey Monmouth fit into the story? We often neglect the full spectrum of contributions that go into every spiritual endeavour. The preacher gains the recognition, but the kingdom is advanced through a far more diverse combination of giftings. We would not have had Tyndale’s English Bible if it were not for Humphrey Monmouth.
When Tyndale embarked on his mission, he needed more than textbooks and inspiration. He needed food and clothing and a place to stay; he needed an income to survive. This is where we meet Humphrey. The wealthy businessman gave young Tyndale room and board and financial support as the young man laboured intensely in his translation of the New Testament for six months. (A bit like the Shumanite woman in scripture.) As pressures mounted, Tyndale fled to Europe to continue his work. But still he would not have been able to fulfill his mission without Humphrey Monmouth.
In England, Monmouth had introduced Tyndale to a secret society of London merchants called ‘The Christian Brethren.’ This clandestine group was financing and importing Christian literature to advance the cause of the Reformation in England. It was an underground movement in a hostile environment.
Tyndale’s personal financial support came out of this group – as did the investment which enabled him to print his Bibles. By the time he went to print, he was out of the country, but still the merchants backed him. In fact, his Bibles were smuggled into England in the bundles of cloth that were the basis of Humphrey Monmouth’s wealth. Brother Andrew was not God’s first smuggler! The Bibles would never have been translated, printed, or distributed without our unsung hero’s involvement.
The kingdom mandate requires preachers to preach if the message of the Bible is to extend into all the world. But it also requires businessmen and others to faithfully serve God in their work. Monmouth’s contribution was no less spiritual and no less vital than that of Tyndale. This remains true today. There is a far broader scope for involvement in the purposes of the kingdom than many churches realize. The preachers have their place – but the true task of church leadership is to equip the saints (theologically) for works of service. The Humphrey Monmouths of this world must be equipped and encouraged to do the important works that God has prepared for them.
God is still enabling key men to gain wealth in order to finance the purposes of the kingdom.
It is a great irony that Monmouth made his fortune trading in the fabric which clothed the rich in London’s high society. Members of the influential establishment who were resisting the spread of the Scriptures were actually financing the distribution of the Bible without knowing it. Every garment they bought, made out of Humphrey Monmouth’s cloth, paid for another Bible! Even as they hunted Tyndale to imprison him, they were providing – out of their clothing budget – for his daily bread.
I love the fact that God can bring great purpose from seemingly insignificant people or insignificant circumstances.
Reflect today how you might feel “unsung” or unvalued in your ministry. Know that God sees every act of purposeful love, every kind thought, gesture or action. He treasures you. The Bible says that your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.