William Tyndale was a special instrument appointed by the Lord as God’s pick-axe to shake the inward roots and foundation of the pope’s proud churchdom. The prince of darkness, with his impious imps, had a special malice against him, leaving no way unsought to craftily entrap him, falsely betray him, and maliciously spill his life.
He was born about the borders of Wales and brought up in the University of Oxford, where he, by long continuance, increased in the knowledge of languages and liberal arts. He especially applied himself to the knowledge of the Scriptures to which his mind was singularly addicted. There he privately read to certain students and fellows of Magdalen College, instructing them in the knowledge and truth of the Scriptures. His manners and conversation being correspondent to the same, were such that all that knew him reputed him to be a man of most virtuous disposition and of life unspotted.
Leaving the University of Oxford, Tyndale proceeded to the University of Cambridge until he had further ripened in the knowledge of God’s Word. Quitting his formal education, he resorted to one Master Welch, a knight of Gloucestershire, and was there schoolmaster to his children and in good favor with his master. As this gentleman frequently had guests at his table, there resorted to him many times sundry abbots, deans, archdeacons, doctors, and great beneficed men; who together with Master Tyndale sitting at the same table, did use many times to enter communication and talk of learned men, such as Luther and Erasmus; also of divers other controversies and questions upon the Scripture.
Then Master Tyndale, as he was learned and well practiced in God’s matters, spared not to show unto them simply and plainly his judgment, and when they at any time did vary from Tyndale in opinions, he would show them in the Book and lay plainly before them the open and manifest places of the Scriptures to confute their errors and confirm his sayings. And thus they continued for a certain season, reasoning and contending together at various times, until at length they waxed weary and bare a secret grudge in their hearts against him.
As this grew on, the priests of the country clustering together began to grudge and storm against Tyndale, railing against him in alehouses and other places, affirming that his sayings were heresy; and accused him secretly to the chancellor and others of the bishop’s officers.
The malice of the priests increasing still more and more against Tyndale, they never ceased barking and rating at him and laid many things sorely to his charge, saying that he was a heretic. Being so molested and vexed, he was constrained to leave that country and to seek another place.
Master Tyndale, with the good will of his master, departed and soon came up to London and there preached a while, as he had done in the country.
William Tyndale remained in London almost a year, living a simple life and studying day and night. He noted the contrast between the manner of life encouraged in the Scriptures and the demeanor of the preachers, how they boasted themselves and set up their authority; beholding also the pomp of the prelates and other things which he greatly disliked him. And as it was greatly upon his heart to translate the New Testament, he began to understand that not only was there no room in the bishop’s house for him to begin his work, but also that there was no place to do it in all England.
Therefore, having by God’s providence some aid ministered unto him by Humphrey Mummuth and certain other good men, he took his leave of the realm and departed into Germany. The good man, being inflamed with a tender care and zeal of his country, refused no travail or diligence to reduce his brethren and countrymen of England to the same taste and understanding of God’s holy Word and truth which the Lord had given to him. Whereupon, considering in his mind and conferring also with John Frith, Tyndale thought there was no better way to introduce such understanding than if the Scripture was turned into the vulgar speech so that the poor people might read and see the simple plain Word of God.
Master Tyndale considered this only, or most chiefly, to be the cause of all mischief in the church, that the Scriptures of God were hidden from the people’s eyes. For so long the abominable doings and idolatries maintained by the pharisaical clergy could not be espied because they had achieved that either the Bible should not be read at all, or if it were, they would darken the right sense with the mist of their sophistry and so entangle those who rebuked or despised their abominations. Wresting the Scripture unto their own purpose, contrary unto the meaning of the text, they would so delude the unlearned lay people that though those felt in their hearts that what they were hearing was false, they were unable to untangle their subtle riddles.
For these and such other considerations this good man was stirred up of God to translate the Scripture into his mother tongue for the profit of the simple people of his country; first setting in hand with the New Testament, which came forth in print about A.D. 1525. Cuthbert Tonstal, bishop of London, with Sir Thomas More, being sore aggrieved, conspired how to destroy that false erroneous translation, as they called it. They bought up as many copies as they could acquire and had them burned publicly. However, this evil endeavor provided Tyndale and his benefactors with the means to order the printing of even more copies of the Tyndale’s New Testament, which were shipped off to England and hungrily devoured by the masses.
After that, Master Tyndale took in hand to translate the Old Testament, finishing the five books of Moses with sundry most learned and godly prologues most worthy to be read and read again by all good Christians. These books being sent over into England, it cannot be spoken what a door of light they opened to the eyes of the whole English nation, which before were shut up in darkness.
The godly books of Tyndale, especially the New Testament of his translation, after that they began to come into men’s hands and to spread abroad, wrought great and singular profit to the godly; but the ungodly (envying and disdaining that the people should be anything wiser than they and, fearing lest by the shining beams of truth, their works of darkness should be discerned) began to stir with no small ado.
The bishops and prelates never rested until they had brought the king to their consent; by reason whereof, a proclamation in all haste was devised and set forth under public authority, that the Testament of Tyndale’s translation was prohibited—which was about A.D. 1537. And not content herewith they proceeded further how to entangle him in their nets and to bereave him of his life, which they brought to pass through treachery and betrayal.
Master Tyndale was seized at Antwerp and remanded to prison. Such was the power of his doctrine and the sincerity of his life, that during the time of his imprisonment (which endured a year and a half), he converted, it is said, his keeper, the keeper’s daughter, and others of his household.
At last, after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree, made in the assembly at Augsburg. Brought forth to the place of execution, he was tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire, at the town of Vilvorde, A.D. 1536; crying at the stake with a fervent zeal and a loud voice, “Lord! open the king of England’s eyes.”
As touching his translation of the New Testament, because his enemies did so much carp at it, pretending it to be full of heresies, he wrote to John Frith as follows: “I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honor, pleasure, or riches, might be given me.”