In the words of the historian J.A. Wylie, in his mammoth History of Protestantism, Huss now “placed the Bible above the authority of Pope or Council, and thus he had entered, without knowing it, the road of Protestantism. But as yet he had no wish to break with the Church of Rome, nor did he dissent from a single dogma of her creed, the one point of divergence to which we have just referred excepted [i.e. he placed the Bible above pope or council]”. Clearly, Huss was still a devout Papist, and was therefore not a true Christian; for one is either a Papist or a true Christian – one cannot be both. On this point far too many Protestant historians and theologians have been greatly mistaken, to the great hurt of the truth, insofar as men may harm its cause in the world. But although Huss was still held in the darkness of Popery, the dawn’s light was slowly beginning to rise on his horizon.
Huss began to study the writings of John Wycliffe, the English Reformer. Wylie writes, “He was far from able at first to concur in the conclusions of the English Reformer. Like a strong light thrown suddenly upon a weak eye, the bold views of Wycliffe, and the sweeping measure of reform which he advocated, alarmed and shocked Huss.” “The Bohemian preacher had appealed to the Bible, but he had not bowed before it with the absolute and unreserved submission of the English pastor. To overturn the [Romish] hierarchy, and replace it with the simple ministry of the Word; to sweep away all the teachings of tradition, and put in their room the doctrines of the New Testament, was a revolution for which… Huss was not prepared.” Again, this shows he was not a true Christian as yet, for a true Christian is a Bible believer, and obeys the Bible alone.
Wylie then adds: “It may be doubted whether, even when he came to stand at the stake, Huss’s views had attained the breadth and clearness of those of Wycliffe.” Indeed they had not; although by that stage, this brave man had indeed found salvation solely by faith in Christ.
As Huss studied Wycliffe’s writings, he gradually began to agree with Wycliffe’s teachings more and more, and passed on what he had learned to his students (for he was made rector of the university of Prague in 1409). This attracted the attention of Rome; and in due course he was condemned by the pope as a heretic. Wylie writes, “Although the Church [i.e. the “Church” of Rome] was seeking to overwhelm him by her thunderbolts, he had not renounced her authority. The Roman Church was still to him the spouse of Christ, and the Pope was the representative and vicar of God. What Huss was warring against was the abuse of authority, not the principle itself.” Huss was still a Papist, albeit an unhappy and troubled one. But he gradually came to adopt the maxim “that God speaking in the Bible, and not the Church speaking through the priesthood, is the one infallible guide of men.” This of course was a most un-Papist doctrine.
Converted, But… His Slow Progress in Understanding Biblical Truth
In time, John Huss was truly converted, by the almighty work of God’s Spirit and the instrumentality of God’s Word. When a Roman Catholic is converted to Christ, he is converted because the Lord opens his eyes to see that he is a sinner, and that only Christ can save him; that salvation is not through the “Church” of Rome or any other, but by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. At the moment of conversion he ceases to be a Roman Catholic, for Rome’s doctrine of salvation is diametrically opposed to the biblical truth, and to receive the latter is to reject the former. However, although he is no longer a Roman Catholic he may still for a time attend the Roman Catholic “Church”, out of ignorance; for the light of divine truth dawns progressively, not all at once. In time any true Christian will cease to attend Roman Catholic services, or to hold to Roman Catholic errors; but this may take some time as his knowledge of the truth increases. This is especially so when a person has no one to teach him, no sound church to go to, no true Christian to instruct him. This was the case with John Huss. All his known world was Roman Catholic; there were no biblical churches meeting openly, with whom he could find fellowship. He had Wycliffe’s writings, but no more. His progress was slow. The Lord delivered him from Romanism the moment he was converted, but the process of taking Romanism out of his mind was a gradual one, as more and more Gospel light shone on his path. Wylie wrote of “the fetters still on [Huss’] arm” which greatly held him back.
He still believed, falsely, that the priesthood was of God; but he now believed that it often erred and was therefore a guide, not the infallible guide. This was not Popish teaching, and it was progress.