William Tyndale, my hero!
So long as they don't become idols, I think it's a good thing for us to have spiritual heroes; believers, past or present, well known or not, whom we take particular encouragement and inspiration from. One of my greatest heroes is William Tyndale (1494-1536), the man who is rightly known as the ‘father of the English Bible’.
We take it for granted having the Scriptures readily available to us in English but it was illegal in Tyndale's day. Bibles then were all in Latin and a fairly poor translation at that. Tyndale's life work was to make the Scriptures available in English, whatever the personal costs and those were many and constant. Tyndale met with persistent opposition from the authorities, so much so that he was forced into a lonely exile on the Continent. However, nothing would turn him from his life’s work. For as he wrote to a friend: “I realise that it’s impossible to establish people in any truth, except the Scriptures are plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.”
One incident in particular seems to have triggered his lifelong endeavour. In the early 1520s Tyndale became the tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh. Local clergy were often invited to dinner and on one occasion a high up cleric commented: “We are better without God’s laws than we would be without the Pope’s.” This incensed Tyndale, who replied with a sentence that is now part of English history: “I defy the Pope and all his laws if God spare my life, o'er many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”
He went to see the Bishop of London, who had a reputation as a man of learning but rather than becoming his patron, the bishop hindered him at every turn. Why all this opposition from the authorities? Surely they'd want the ploughboy to be able to read the Bible too? Alas not, and the reason was because the Bible was in direct opposition to much of the teaching and practices of the Medieval Church. It was full of Mary worship, saint worship, image worship, relic worship. The sale of indulgences to lessen one’s time in purgatory was common as were masses for the dead and penances. Superstition was rife and essentially the gospel of God’s grace; the free forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ had been replaced by a gospel of works.
The authorities knew that the Bible would expose the false teaching and practise that was prevalent. As John Foxe says in his 'Book of Martyrs': “Tyndale and others at Antwerp were, every year, either translating or writing books against some of the received errors and sending them over to England but his translation of the New Testament gave the greatest wound.” Foxe continues and mentions how Bishop Tunstall amongst others had vast quantities of Tyndale’s New Testament shipped over so that he could burn them.
Thankfully thousands of copies did make it back to England, smuggled through the customs in bales of cloth, sacks of flour and barrels and cases of every kind. Foxe informs us that: “It cannot be spoken what a door of light they opened to the eyes of the English nation.”
One such person who rejoiced in this light was a Norfolk clergyman called Thomas Bilney. He wrote: “It did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that immediately, on discovery of the doctrine of justification by faith, I felt a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch as my bruised bones leaped for joy.”
Eventually Tyndale was arrested. The authorities tried to make him deny that man is saved through faith in Christ alone. But Tyndale stood firm and said he would rather die than deny Christ's word. And so in August 1536 Tyndale was sentenced to death. At the stake he cried out: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” Then, at a given signal, he was strangled and burnt. Wonderfully though his dying prayer was answered, in part at least, as 2 years later, King Henry VIII ordered that an English translation of the Bible, largely based on Tyndale’s work, be placed in every church in the land.
The best way to honour William Tyndale of course is to read the Book for which he suffered and gave his life that we may have it available in English. Read it and contend for the truth contained within it, even if, as in his day, the world and indeed many parts of the visible church may deny it.
With love & joy in Christ,