Eternity itself alone will reveal the debt that the Church of Christ owes to those individual men and women who, seeing the low condition that religion had sunk to in their day, resolved before the Lord to give their lives for the glory of the gospel. Not least among this band was the gentle, yet determined William Tyndale whose work of translating the Holy Scriptures into the language of the people of England caused the river of evangelical Christianity to burst its banks and overflow until, as it was later said, there was “a face of Godliness upon the whole nation.” Tyndale’s famous resolve was made in the home of one John Walsh of Little Sodbury Hall in the Cotswolds. Appalled at the abysmal ignorance of spiritual things, even among the religious leaders of his times, William Tyndale’s voice one evening echoed through the rooms of the old Manor House: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more scriptures than thou dost.” This resolve came on the back of a conviction that had already begun to form in his heart and mind. “I have perceived by experience,” he told a friend,“ that it is impossible to establish common people in any truth unless the Scriptures be laid clearly before them in their mother tongue.” So began the work that was finally to cost William Tyndale his devoted life.
These few words are not intended to give any kind of an outline of that life, but simply to draw our hearts out in appreciation to the God of our salvation who was pleased to raise up such a one in His good and appointed time to lay the foundations of an open Bible for our land today. Tyndale enjoyed the reception that many have experienced who sought only the good of the Lord’s church and the prosperity of Zion, and he was hounded from pillar to post, complete with manuscripts and a few printed pages of his New Testament in the English language. The bloodhounds of the Bishop of London were constantly on his trail, and though he had little care for his own safety he was more than anxious for the precious work that he had already carried out on the Word of God. “I perceived,” he wrote again – and note how he was always “perceiving”; would to God we had spiritual perceivers in these days in which we live – “I perceived,” he wrote, “that not only in ‘My Lord of London’s place, but in all England, there was no room for attempting a translation of the Scriptures.” Accordingly, in the year 1524, Tyndale set sail for Europe complete with his two years of work and a hope of peace and safety to give England a true rendering of the Word of Life.
But the devil has two ploys with regards to the word of God; he will either corrupt it by sowing his imitation “tares” amongst it, or else, he will labour to “snatch it away,” as our Lord told us in that other parable. Being very much the “angel of light” in our day, he is busy sowing the corrupt with the good seed, but in Tyndale’s age, the devil was very much “the roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” Europe, therefore, proved to be only slightly better than England for Tyndale’s work and again, we find him having to constantly fly from danger to preserve his labours. “When they shall persecute you in one city, flee ye into another,” might well be the motto text of William Tyndale’s work, but in spite of all the persecution that work did flourish and abound to God’s praise and, whatever way we look at it today, we are eternal debtors to it.
The debt that we owe to Tyndale and his like is perhaps nowhere better set before us than in one of his very last letters which he wrote from his prison at Vilvorde, six miles north of the city of Brussels. Remember the stature of the man; remember his gentle and gentlemanly background; remember the intellectual power and capabilities of the writer now imprisoned that we might have an open Bible in our day: “I beg your lordship,” he writes to one of his friends, “that if I am to remain here through the winter, you will request the commissary to have the kindness to send me, from the goods of mine which he has, a warmer cap; for I suffer greatly from cold in the head, and am affected by perpetual catarrh, which is much increased in this cell. A warmer coat also, for this which I have is very thin. A piece of cloth, too, to patch my leggings. My over coat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out … and I ask to be allowed to have a lamp in the evenings; it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark.” And then, there comes what must be one of the most self-less sentences recorded anywhere in the history of Christ’s church: “But most of all,” he writes, “I beg and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the commissary, that he will kindly permit me to have the Hebrew bible, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew dictionary, that I pass the time in that study.” A few patches for his trousers, if possible; a warmer coat and cap, if possible; “But most of all,” he says, the books, that he might continue his work and fulfil his resolve.
Among other names, the Scripures are referred to as:
The Word of God – the Mind of God – the Glory of God
The Gospel of God – the Councils of God, – the Charge of God
The Breath of God – the Mouth of God – the Oath of God
The Oracles of God – the Paths of God – the Wisdom of God
Why should we not then desire them? For, although they are also called a “narrow way,” nevertheless, they are “the perfect way”.