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The Magisterial Reformation - Post Tenebras Lux - Out of Darkness Light

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An English Scholar having great skill in translation.

WILLIAM TYNDALE, the subject of the present memoir, was born on the border of Wales, some short time prior to 1500. He was of Magdalanehall, in Oxford, where he distinguished himself, not merely by his literary acquisitions, but also and especially by his zealous attachment to the doctrines of the reformation, which were now spreading through many places in England. Here he applied himself to the study of the scriptures with uncommon assiduity, not as a mere scholar, but as a sinner deeply interested in the truths they unfold; and, anxious to communicate to others the blessings he had received, he took much pains to instruct a number of his fellow students in the knowledge of the truth by his private lectures.

Having taken his degrees, he removed to Cambridge, and from thence, after a short stay, went to live with Mr. Welch, a gentleman of Gloucestershire, in the capacity of a tutor to his children. While in this situation, he had several occasional disputes with abbots and doctors who visited the family, sometimes about learned men, at other times concerning the scriptures. Mr. and Mr. s Welch, after returning from a visit one evening, where several of those dignitaries had been descanting largely on some topics of divinity, they attacked Mr. Tyndale with the whole force of the arguments they had heard from the ecclesiastics; all which he overturned by ready and pertinent ‘quotations from scripture. Upon which Mr. s Welch, who was a very sensible woman, broke out in a rapturous exclamation, What! says she, there was Dr., who can afford to spend an hundred pounds; Dr., who can spend two hundred; and Dr., who can as easily spend three; and is it reasonable, think ye, that your single assertion should supercede the united opinions of three such respectable and dignified clergymen. Mr. Tyndale made no reply, and in future was more . reserve on these topics.

At this time he was translating a book of Erasmus, entitled Enchiridion militis Christiane, which, when finished, he presented to Mr. and Mr. s Welch; who, after perusing it, seemed so far convinced in the truth of Tyndale’s arguments, that the visits of the ecclesiastics were coolly received, and soon after discontinued. This anecdote, though it may appear too trivial for a work of this nature, will be excused for the important consequences it produced. The neighboring clergy to a man were incensed against Mr. Tyndale, on account of his arguments, and had him accused of many heresies to the bishop’s chancellor, before whom he was cited to appear; but nothing having been proved against him, after railing at him for some time, and abusing him, he was dismissed.

On his way home he called on an old friend of his, who had at one time been a bishop’s chancellor, to him he opened his mind with regard to the rising opinions, and consulted him on many passages of scripture. Before they parted, the doctor said, are you not aware that the pope is the very antichrist spoken of in scripture ? Be careful, however, of what you say, for if it be known that this is your opinion, it will cost you your life. I have been an officer of his, added he, but have given it up, and I renounce him and all his works.

Some time after, having fallen in company with a certain divine, remarkable for his learning and the acuteness of his disputations, a controversy ensued, and having driven the doctor to his dernier resort, he blasphemously cried out, We had better want the laws of God than those of the pope. Tyndale, fired with zeal and indignation at the unclerical expression, replied, I defy the pope and all his laws; and if it please God to spare me a few years, I will cause a ploughboy to know more of the scriptures than the pope himself and the greater part of his agents. All these circumstances roused the resentment of the priesthood against Tyndale to that degree, that he was forced to leave his native land, and seek that security among strangers which was denied him in his own country.

In the mean time, recollecting the praise that Erasmus had bestowed on the learning of Tonstal, bishop of London, and hoping he might be willing to afford him protection, he applied to this celebrated literarian; but this not being the path which providence had marked out for Tyndale, the bishop excused himself, that his house was full, that he had already more than he could accommodate; advising him to look out in the city, where he could scarcely fail in procuring employment.

Mr. Tyndale remained in London for almost another year; but anxious to translate the New Testament into English, as, in Ins opinion, and that of his dear friend John Frith, the most effectual method of removing the darkness and ignorance of the people; but judging it could not be safely effected in England, by the kind assistance of Mr. Henry Monmouth and others, he retired to Germany, where he labored on the work, and finished it in 1527. With respect to the translation, he says, in a letter to John Frith, “I call God to witness, against that day when we must all appear before our Lord Jesus, to give an account of our various transactions, that I have not altered a single syllable of God’s word; nor would I now, though all that this world contains of pleasure, honor, or wealth, were held out as my reward.” This was the first translation of the New Testament into modern English, the language, by this time, being much improved. He then began with the Old Testament, and translated the five books of Moses, prefixing excellent discourses to each book, as he had done to those of the New Testament. Cranmer’s bible, or, as it was called, the great bible, was Tyndale’s merely revised and corrected, omitting the introductory discourses and tables, and adding marginal references and a summary of contents.

On his first leaving England he went to Saxony, where he had much conversation with Luther, and other learned Germans; afterwards, returning to the Netherlands, he fixed his residence at Antwerp, at that period a very populous and flourishing city.

Having finished his translation of the books of Moses, he set sail for Hamburgh, with the intention .of putting them to the press; but being shipwrecked on the coast of Holland, all his books and manuscripts were lost. He took his passage, however, in another vessel for Hamburgh, where he met with Mr. Coverdale, who assisted him in again translating the five books of Moses. This was in the year 1529. His translation having gone through the press, he sent part of the impression to England, where his translation of the New Testament had made a considerable noise, as well as it had done in Germany. The priests everywhere cried it down, and charged it with a thousand heresies; boldly asserting, that the translating of the bible into English was a foolish attempt, and one that could never be realized; and if it could, it was both unlawful and inexpedient to put a translation of the scriptures into the hands of the laity. Nor did they rest, till, by their importunity, they had procured a proclamation, prohibiting the people from purchasing or perusing any English translation of the scriptures. This proclamation was issued in 1527, in which, as well as by the public prohibition of the bishops, a number of other treatises, which had been written by Luther and other reformers, were also prohibited and condemned. But all this noise and stir amongst the clergy only served to call up additional purchasers for the work. In this state of danger to the Roman church, and anxiety amongst her zealous partisans, when every head was at work to contrive some expedient to arrest the progress of reformation, the bishop of London hit on an artifice, which he flattered himself would effectually answer the purpose, by stopping the circulation of Tyndale’s English New Testaments; a scheme which, in his judgment, would be not only more effectual, but likewise attended with less noise, as well as by a considerable saving of expense, this was, to buy up the whole impression at once. With this view, and full of these hopes, his lordship employed a Mr. Packington, then residing at Antwerp, in this delicate business; assuring him, at the same time, that whatever might be the cost, he would have them all burned at Paul’s cross. In consequence of this engagement, Packington, who was a secret friend to the reformation, entered into an engagement with Tyndale, by which the bishop had the books, and Packington abundant praise for his dexterity; but Tyndale had all the money.: This enabled our reformer to publish at once a more correct and much larger edition, so that, as Mr. Fox expresses it, “They came over to England thick and threefold.” This disappointment filled his lordship with equal rage and astonishment, nor could he comprehend by what means his policy had been overreached, till some time after, that one Constantine, who had been apprehended by Sir Thomas More, divulged the laughable secret. The bishop at last perceiving, that Tyndale was a man of very superior abilities, and capable of seriously injuring their craft by his publications, resolved, as they could neither draw him into their party, nor otherwise silence him, to have him put out of the way. To effect this cruel purpose, one Philips was dispatched to Antwerp, where, having hypocritically insinuated himself into his company and confidence, under the pretext of friendship, delivered him into the hands of his enemies.

The simple and unsuspecting Tyndale was accordingly carried a prisoner to the castle of Tilford, about eighteen miles from Antwerp; where, notwithstanding that the English merchants did every thing in their power to procure his enlargement, and that letters from lord Cromwell and others from England urged the same request, the activity and dexterity with which Philips executed his sanguinary commission, brought him before a tribunal, where he received the sentence of death.

Pursuant to the sentence of the court, Tyndale was brought to the stake, and while they were binding him, he cried out, with an audible and fervent voice, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” He was first strangled by the hangman, and afterwards burned near Tilford castle, in the year 1536. ‘ And thus the man, whom Fox has, with the utmost propriety, styled the Apostle of England, rested from his labors, having fought a good fight; and by finishing his course in a faithful adherence to the truth, loft the powers of this world, particularly tyrannical oppressors and persecutors, an additional demonstration, that the mind of man is not subject to their capricious or selfish control, but scorning the narrow limits of their diminutive jurisdiction, can break through their barriers, and, only subject to the laws of reason and conviction, triumphantly rebel.

Mr. Tyndale was a man of seraphic piety, indefatigable study,” and extraordinary learning. So careless was he about the wealth of this World, that lie declared, before he went to Germany, that he would cheerfully consent to live, in any county of England, oh an allowance of ten pounds a year, and oblige himself to take no more, if he might only have authority to instruct children, and preach the gospel of Christ. His eminent talents and extensive knowledge, united with a fervent zeal and a confirmed steadfastness of faith, richly qualified him for the labors of a reformer. During the time of his imprisonment, which lasted eighteen months, such was the blessing of God on his faithful preaching, that he was the means of converting his jailor and his daughter, besides several others of his household. Even the procurer general, or emperor’s attorney, publicly said concerning him, that he was homo doctus, plus, et bonus, a learned, pious, and good man. Bishop Bale says, that “for knowledge, purity of doctrine, and holiness of life, Tyndale ought to be esteemed the next English reformer to Wickliff. His picture is said to represent him with a bible in his hand, and this rendered thus:

That light o’er all thy darkness, Homo,

With triumph might arise; An exile freely I become,

Freely a sacrifice.

His works, beside the translation of the scriptures, were all published in one general volume, and are as follows :

1. A Christian’s Obedience—2. The Unrighteous Mammon —3. The Practice of the Papists—4. Commentaries on the Seventh Chapter of St. Matthew—5. A Discourse of the Last Will and Testament—6. An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogues—7. The Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper against More—8. Of the Sacrament of the Altar—9. Of the Sacramental Signs—10. A Footpath leading to the Scriptures—11. Three letters to John Frith.

The remains of such men, when these are few, are on that account the more desirable, we shall therefore insert said letters, as they have been preserved by Mr. Fox, whose works are too voluminous to be in the possession, or even within the purchase, of many serious people.


“THE grace and peace of God our Father, and of Jesus Christ our Lord, be with you, Amen. Dearly beloved brother John, I have heard say, how the hypocrites, now that they have overcome that great business which letted them, or at the least way have brought it to a stay, return to their old nature again. The will of God be fulfilled, and that which he hath ordained to be ere the world was made, that come, and his glory reign over all,

“Dearly beloved, however the matter be, commit yourself wholly and only unto your most loving Father, and most kind Lord; fear not men that threat, nor trust men that speak fair: But trust him that is true of promise, and able to make his word good. Your cause is Christ’s gospel, a light that must be fed with the blood of faith. The lamp must be dressed and snuffed daily, and that oil poured in every evening and morning, that the light go not out. Though we be sinners, yet is the cause right. If when we be buffeted for well doing, we suffer patiently and endure, that is acceptable with God. For to that end we are called. For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps, who did no sin. Hereby have we perceived love, that he laid down his life for us; therefore we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him. Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

“Dearly beloved, be of good courage, and comfort your soul with the hope of this high reward, and bear the image of Christ in your mortal body, that it may at his coming be made like to his immortal body; and follow the example of all your other dear brethren, which chose to suffer in hope of a better resurrection. Keep your conscience pure and undefiled, and say against that nothing. Stick at necessary things, and remember the blasphemies of the enemies of Christ, saying, they find none but who will abjure rather than suffer the extremity. Moreover, the death of them that come again after they have once denied, though it be accepted with God, and all that believe, yet it is not glorious: For the hypocrites say, he must needs die, denying helpeth not. But might it have holpen, they would have denied five hundred times; but seeing it would not help them, therefore of pure pride and mere malice together, they spake with their mouths what their conscience knoweth false. If you give yourself, cast yourself, yield yourself, commit yourself wholly and only to your loving Father, then shall his power be in you and make you strong, and that so strong, that you shall feel no pain, which should be to another present death: And his Spirit shall speak in you, and teach you what to answer, according to his promise: He shall set out his truth by you wonderfully, and work for you above all that your heart can imagine; yea, and you are not yet dead, though the hypocrites all, with all that they can make, have sworn your death. Una solus metis nullam sperare salutem; To look for no man’s help, bringeth the help of God to them that seem to be overcome in the eyes of the hypocrites: Yea, it shall make God to carry you through thick and thin for his truth’s sake, in spite of all the enemies of his truth. There falleth not a hair till his hour be come; and when his hour is come, necessity carrieth us hence, though we be not willing. But if we be willing, then have we a reward and thank,

“Fear not the threatening, therefore, neither be overcome of sweet words; with which twain the hypocrites shall assail you. Neither let the persuasions of worldly wisdom bear rule in your heart, no, though they be your friends that counsel ypu. Let Bilney be” a warning to you, let not their vizor beguile your eyes. Let not your body faint. He that endureth to. the end shall be saved. If the pain be above your strength, remember, ‘ Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will give it you.’ And pray to your Father in that name, and he shall cease your , pain, or shorten it. The Lord of peace, of hope, and of faith, be with you, Amen.


“Two have suffered in Antwerp, in die sanctce crusis, unto the great glory of the gospel; four at Rysels, in Flanders; and at Luke hath there one at least suffered, and all the same day. At Roan, in France, they persecute. And at Paris are five doctors taken for the gospel. See, you are not alone; be cheerful, and remember that among the hardhearted in England, there is a number reserved by grace: For whose sakes, if need be, you must be ready to suffer. Sir, if you may write, how short soever it be, forget it not, that we may know how it goeth with you, for our heart’s ease. The Lord be yet again with you, with all his plenteousness, and fill you that you flow over, Amen.

“If when you have read this, you can send it to Adrian; do, I pray you, that he may know how that our heart is with you.

“George Joy, at Candlemas, being at Barrow, printed two leaves of Genesis in a great form, and sent one copy to the king, and another to the new queen, with a letter to N. to deliver them; and to purchase license, that he might so go through all the bible. Out of this is sprung the noise of the new bible; and out of that is the great seeking for English books at all printers and bookbinders in Antwerp, and for an English priest that should print.

“This chanced the ninth day of May.

“Sir, your wife is well content with the will of God, and would not, for her sake, have the glory of God hindered.


“The grace of our Saviour Jesus, his patience, meekness, humbleness, circumspection, and wisdom, be with your heart, Amen.

“DEARLY beloved brother, mine heart’s desire in our Saviour Jesus is, that you arm yourself with patience, and be cool, sober, wise, and circumspect, and that you keep you a low by the ground, avoiding high questions, that pass the common capacity. But expound the law truly, and open the veil of Moses to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin and damnable; and then, as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of Him, and then shall your preaching be with power, and not as the doctrine of the hypocrites; and the Spirit of God shall work with you, and all consciences shall bear record unto you, and feel that it is so. And all doctrine that casteth a mist on those two, to shadow and hide them, I mean the law of God and mercy of Christ, that resist you with all your power. Sacraments without signification refuse. If they put significations to them, receive them, if you see it may help, though it be not necessary.

“Of the presence of Christ’s body in the sacrament, meddle as. little as you can, that there appear no division among us. Barnes will he hot against you. The Saxons be sore on the affirmative; whether constant or obstinate, I remit it to God. Philip Melancthon is said to be with the French king. There be in Antwerp that say, they saw him come into Paris with an hundred and fifty horses, and that they spake with him. If the Frenchmen receive the word of God, he will plant the affirmative in them. George Joy would have put forth a treatise of that matter, but I have stopt him as yet: What he will do, if he get money, I wot not. I believe he would make many rear sons little serving to that purpose: My mind is, that nothing be put forth till we hear how you shall have sped, I would have the right use preached, and the presence to be an indifferent thing, till the matter might be reasoned in peace at leisure of both parties. If you be required, shew the phrases of the scripture, and let them talk what they will. For as to believe that God is everywhere, hurteth no man that worshippeth him nowhere but within the heart, in spirit and verity: Even so to believe, that the body of Christ is everywhere (though it cannot be proved) hurteth no man, that worshippeth him nowhere save in the faith of his gospel. You perceive my mind: Howbeit, if God shew you otherwise, it is free for you to do as he moveth you.

” I guessed long ago, that God would send a dazing into the head of the spirituality, to catch themselves in their own subtlety, and trust it is come to pass. And now me thinketh I smell a counsel to be taken, little for their profits in time to come. But you must understand, that it is not of a pure heart and for love of the truth, but to avenge themselves, and to eat the whore’s flesh, and to suck the marrow of her bones. Wherefore cleave fast to the rock of the help of God, and commit the end of all things unto him: And if God shall call you, that you may then use the wisdom of the worldly, as far as you perceive the glory of God may come thereof, refuse it not; and ever among thrust in, that the scripture may be in the mother tongue, and learning set up in the universities. But if ought be required contrary to the glory of God, and his Christ, then stand fast, and commit yourself to God, and be not overcome of men’s persuasions; which haply shall say, We see no other way to bring in the truth.

“Brother, beloved in my heart, there liveth not in whom I have so good hope and trust, and in whom my heart rejoiceth, and my soul comforteth herself, as in you; not the thousand part so much for your learning, and what other gifts else you have, as because you will creep a-low by the ground, and walk in those things that the conscience may feel, and not in the imaginations of the brain: In fear, and not in boldness: In open necessary things, and not to pronounce or define of hid secrets, or things that neither help nor hinder, whether it be so or no; in unity, and not in seditious opinions: Insomuch that if you be sure you know, yet in things that may abide leisure you will defer, or say (till other agree with you) Methinks the text requireth the sense or understanding. Yea, and if you be sure that your part be good, and another hold the contrary, yet if it be a thing that maketh no matter, you will laugh and let it pass, and refer the thing to other men, and stick you stiffly and stubbornly in earnest and necessary things. And I trust you be persuaded even so of me: For I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, to give a reckoning of our doings, that I never altered one syllable of God’s word against my conscience, nor would this day, if all that is in the earth, whether it b6 pleasure, honor, or riches, might be given Moreover, I take God to record to my conscience, that I desire of God to myself in this world, no more than that without which I cannot keep his laws.

“Finally, if there were in me any gift that could help at hand, and aid you if need required, I promise you I would not be far off, and commit the end to God. My soul is not faint, though my body be weary. But God hath made me evil favored in this world, and without grace in the sight of men, speechless and rude, dull and slow witted; your part shall be to supply what lacketh in me: Remembering, that as lowliness of heart shall make you high with God, even so meekness of words shall make you sink into the hearts of men. Nature giveth age authority; but meekness is the glory of youth, and giveth them honor. Abundance of love maketh me exceed in babbling.

“Sir, as concerning purgatory, and many other things, if you be demanded, you may say, if you err, the spirituality hath so led you, and that they have taught you to believe as you do. For they preached you all such things out of God’s word, and alleged a thousand texts, by reason of which texts you believed as they taught you, but now you find them lyers, and that the texts mean no such things, and therefore you can believe them no longer, but are as you were before they taught you, and believe no such thing: Howbeit yon are ready to believe, if they have any other way to prove it; for without proof you cannot believe them, when you have found them with so many lyes, etc. If you perceive wherein we may help, either in being still or doing somewhat, let us have word, and I will do mine uttermost.

“My lord of London hath a servant called John Tisen, with a red beard, and a blackreddish head, and was once my scholar; he was seen in Antwerp, but came not among the Englishmen: Whether he is gone ambassador secret, I wot not.

“The mighty God of Jacob be with you, to supplant his enemies, and give you the favor of Joseph, and the wisdom and the spirit of Stephen be with your heart, and with your mouth, and teach your lips what they shall say, and how to answer to all things. He is our God, if we despair in ourselves, and trust in him: And his is the glory. Amen.

January, 1533. WILLIAM TYNDALE

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