A Pathway Into the Holy Scripture
By William Tyndale (c. 1494 – 1536)
Tyndale begins his essay with these words: “I marvel greatly, dearly beloved in Christ, that any man would ever contend or speak against having the scripture available in every language, for every man.”. Tyndale defied laws that forbad the unauthorized translation of the scriptures in order to open God's world to England in its mother tongue.
One is hard pressed to find a writer fuller of love and godly meekness, together with biblical insight, than Mr. Tyndale. He gave primacy of place to the word of God and longed for it to be available to all. He called it “the word of our soul’s health”. But eventually his enemies captured Mr. Tyndale, and he was publicly executed. Thus he died for giving us God’s word.
Following is Tyndale’s “Pathway Into the Scripture”, written about 1530. We present this work edited, so modern readers can draw from all its wisdom and sweetness. Tyndale wrote without quotation marks, and none have been inserted here. R. M. Davis, 2006.
The meanings of certain words: The Old Testament, the New Testament, the Evangelion (which we call the gospel), the law, the Promises
Those who are deceived in their faith
Adam and Christ contrasted
Diverse types of ‘righteousness’
• The condition and state of the natural man
• The redeeming work of Christ
• The law and the gospel
• The fruits reveal the tree
• Christ is to be credited for all good fruits
• The place and purposes of good works and spiritual gifts
• Things to keep in mind and memory
by William Tyndale:
I marvel greatly, dearly beloved in Christ, that any man would ever contend or speak against having the scripture available in every language, for every man. For I would have thought no one so blind as to ask why light [the light of the word of God] should be shown to those who walk in darkness—darkness where they cannot but stumble, and where to stumble is the danger of eternal condemnation. Nor would I have thought any man would be so malicious that he would begrudge another so necessary a thing, or so mad as to assert that good is the natural cause of evil, and that darkness proceeds out of light, and that lying is grounded in truth and verity. I would think he would assert the very contrary: that light destroys darkness and truth reproves all manner of lying.
Nevertheless, seeing that it has pleased God to send to our English people (as many as sincerely desire it) the scripture in their mother tongue, but also that there are false teachers and blind leaders in every place, and in order that you not be deceived by any man, I believed it very necessary to prepare this Pathway into the scripture for you. I do it so that you might walk surely and always know the true from the false. And above all I write to put you in remembrance of certain points, namely to well understand what these words mean: the Old Testament, the New Testament, the law, thegospel, Moses, Christ, nature, grace, working, believing, deeds and faith—lest we ascribe to the one that which belongs to the other, and make Christ to be Moses, or the gospel to be the law, or despise grace and rob from faith, or fall from meek learning into idle disputes, brawling, and scolding about words.
The meanings of certain words
The Old Testament is a book in which is written the law of God and the deeds of those who fulfill it, and, also, of those who do not.
The New Testament is a book wherein are contained the promises of God and the deeds of those who believe them, and of those who do not believe them.
Evangelion (which we call the gospel) is a Greek word that signifies good, merry, glad and joyful tidings—tidings that make a man's heart glad and make him sing, dance, and leap for joy. An example is whenDavid had killed Goliath, the giant, and glad tidings went to the Jews that their fearful and cruel enemy was slain and they were delivered out of all danger. For the gladness of this they sang, danced, and were joyful. In like manner the Evangelion of God (which we call the gospel, and the New Testament) is joyful tidings and, as some say, a good message declared by the apostles throughout all the world of Christ, the right David, who has fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and has overcome them. By this all men who were in bondage to sin, wounded with death and overcome by the devil are, without their own merit or deserving, loosed, justified, restored to life and saved. They are brought to liberty, and reconciled to the favor of God, and set at one with Him again. And those who believe these tidings laud, praise and thank God, and are glad and sing and dance for joy.
This Evangelion or gospel (that is to say, such joyful tidings) is called the New Testament because just like a man, when he dies, directs his goods to be dealt and distributed after his death among his named heirs, so Christ before his death commanded and appointed such Evangelion, gospel, or tidings to be declared throughout all the world, to thereby give all his goods to those who repent and believe. His goods are: his life, by which he swallowed up and devoured death; his righteousness, by which he banished sin; and his salvation, by which he overcame eternal condemnation. Now a wretched man (who knows himself to be wrapped in sin and in danger of death and hell) cannot hear anything more joyous than such glad and comforting tidings of Christ, so that he cannot but be glad, and laugh from the very bottom of his heart if he believes these tidings are true.
To strengthen such faith, God promised his Evangelion in the Old Testament, through the prophets. As Paul says (Romans 1), he was chosen to preach God's Evangelion, which God had promised before by the prophets in the Scriptures that speak of his Son who was born of the seed of David. In Genesis 3 God says to the serpent, I will put hatred between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; that same seed will tread your head underfoot. Christ is this woman's seed: he it is who has trodden underfoot the devil's head—that is to say sin, death, hell and all the devil’s power. For without this seed [Christ] no man can avoid sin, death, hell and everlasting condemnation.
Again (Genesis 22) God promised Abraham, saying, In your seed all the generations of the earth shall be blessed. Christ is that seed of Abraham, says the Apostle Paul (Galatians 3). He has blessed the entire world through the gospel. For where Christ is not, the curse which fell on Adam as soon as he had sinned remains, so that all men are in bondage under condemnation of sin, death and hell. Against this curse the gospel now blesses all the world, inasmuch as it cries openly to all who acknowledge their sins and repent, saying, Whosoever believes on the seed of Abraham shall beblessed—that is he will be delivered from sin, death and hell, and will from that time continue righteous and saved forever. As Christ himself says in the eleventh chapter of John: He who believes on me shall never die.
The law (says the gospel of John in the first chapter) was given by Moses. But grace and truth were given by Jesus Christ.
The law, whose minister is Moses, was given to bring us into the knowledge of ourselves—that we might thereby feel and perceive who we really are by nature. The law condemns us and all our deeds, and is called by Paul (in 2 Corinthians 3) the ‘ministration of death’. For it kills our consciences and drives us to desperation, inasmuch as it requires of us that which is impossible for our natures to do. It requires of us the deeds of a whole man. It requires perfect love, from the very bottom and ground of the heart, as much in everything we suffer as well as in the things we do. But, says John in the same place, grace and truth is given to us in Christ so that when the law has passed upon us and condemned us to death (which is its nature to do), then in Christ we have grace—that is to say, favor and promises of life, mercy and pardon, freely by the merits of Christ. And in Christ we have verity and truth in that God, for his sake, fulfills all his promises to those who believe. Therefore the Gospel is the ministration of life. Paul calls it, in the afore-mentioned place in 2 Corinthians, the ‘ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness’.
In the gospel, when we believe the promises we receive the spirit of life and are justified, in the blood of Christ, from all things in which the law condemned us. And we receive love for the law, and power to fulfill it, and grow therein daily. Of Christ it is written, in the afore-mentioned John 1, This is he of whose abundance, or fullness, we have all received grace for grace or favor for favor—that is to say, for the favor that God has to his Son Christ, he gives to us his favor and goodwill, and all gifts of his grace, like a father to his sons. Paul affirms this, saying, He loved us in his beloved [that is, in Christ] before the creation of the world. Thus Christ brings the love of God to us, and not our own holy works.
Christ is made Lord over all and is called in scripture God's mercy-stool [or, mercy seat]: therefore whoever flees to Christ can neither hear nor receive from God anything other than mercy.
In the Old Testament are many promises, which are nothing other than the Evangelion, or gospel, to save those who believed them from the vengeance of the law. And in the New Testament there is frequent mention of the law to condemn those who do not believe the promises. Moreover, the law and the gospel may never be considered as if they are separate the one from the other, because the gospel and promises serve only for troubled consciences brought to desperation by the law—which consciences feel the pains of hell and death under the law and are in captivity and bondage to the law. In all my doings I must have the law before me to condemn my imperfectness. For all I do (be I ever so perfect) is yet damnable sin when compared to the law, which requires the ground and bottom of my heart. I must therefore always have the law in my sight so I may be meek in the spirit and give God all the laud and praise, ascribing to him all righteousness and to myself all unrighteousness and sin. I must also have the promises before my eyes so I do not despair—in which promises I see the mercy, favor and good-will of God upon me in the blood of his Son, Christ, who has made satisfaction for my imperfectness and has fulfilled for me that which I could not do myself.
Those who are deceived in their faith
Here you may perceive that two types of people are sorely deceived. First, those who justify themselves with their outward deeds, by abstaining outwardly from that which the law forbids and doing outwardly that which the law commands, are deceived. They compare themselves to open sinners and, as against them, justify themselves and condemn the open sinners. They set a veil on Moses' face and do not see how the law requires love from the bottom of the heart, and only such love fulfills the law. If they did see it, they would not condemn their neighbors. Love hides the multitude of sins, says Peter in his first epistle. For whomever I love from the deep bottom and ground of my heart I do not condemn, nor count his sins, but I suffer his weakness and infirmity like a mother suffers the weakness of her son until he grows up into a perfect man.
Second, they are also deceived who, without any fear of God, give themselves over to all manner of vices with full consent and full delectation, having no respect to the law of God (under whose vengeance they are locked up in captivity) but saying that God is merciful and Christ died for them—supposing that such dreaming and imagination is the faith so greatly commended in holy scripture. Nay, that is not faith but, rather, a foolish and blind opinion springing from their own corrupt nature. It is not given to them by the Spirit of God but, rather, by the spirit of the devil—whose faith, now-a-days, popish believers1 compare and make equal to the best trust, confidence and belief that a repenting soul can have in the blood of our Savior Jesus. This is to their own confusion and shame, and it declares what they are within. But true faith (as says the apostle Paul) is the gift of God, and is given to sinners after the law has passed upon them and brought their consciences to the edge of desperation and the sorrows of hell.
They that have a right faith consent to the law—that it is righteous and good—and justify God who made the law. And they have delight in the law (notwithstanding that they cannot fulfill it as they desire, because of their weakness). And they abhor whatever the law forbids, although they cannot always avoid it. And their great sorrow is because they cannot fulfill the will of God in the law, and the Spirit that is in them cries to God night and day for strength and help, with tears (as says Paul) that cannot be expressed with the tongue. Of which things the belief of popish adherents, or of their father [the Pope] whom they so magnify for his strong faith, has no experience at all.
The first type of deceived man—that is to say, he who justifies himself with his outward deeds [“works”]—does not inwardly consent to the law, nor have delight in it; yea, he would rather there be no such law. So he does not justify God but hates him as atyrant. Nor does he care for the promises but would rather, in his own strength, be savior of himself. In no way does he glorify God, although he seems outwardly to do so.
The second—that is to say the sensual person—like a voluptuous swine neither fears God in his law nor is thankful to him for the promises and mercy set forth in Christ to all who believe.
The right Christian man consents to the law—that is, that it is righteous—and justifies God in the law in that he affirms that God, who is the author of the law, is righteous and just. He believes the promises of God and justifies God, judging him true, and believing that he will fulfill his promises. With the law he condemns himself and all his deeds and gives all the praise to God. He believes the promises and ascribes all truth to God. Thus in every way he justifies God and praises God.
Adam and Christ contrasted
By nature, through the fall of Adam, we are the children of wrath and heirs of the vengeance of God by birth—yea, and this from our conception. And we have our fellowship with the damned devils, under the power of darkness and rule of Satan, while we are yet in our mother's wombs. And although we do not show forth the fruits of sin as soon as we are born, yet we are full of the natural poison from which all sinful deeds spring. And we cannot help but sin outwardly (be we ever so young) as soon as we are able to act, if occasion be given. For our nature is to do sin, as it is the nature of a serpent to sting. And like a serpent while still young, or even not yet born, is full of poison and later (when the time is come and occasion given) cannot help but bring forth the fruits thereof; and like an adder, a toad or a snake is hated by men not for the evil that it has done, but for the poison that is in it and hurt which it cannot help but do, so are we hated by God for that natural poison which is conceived and born with us before we do any outward evil. And like the evil of a venomous worm does not make it a serpent, but because it is a venomous worm it produces evil and poisons; and as the fruit does not make the tree evil, but because it is an evil tree it produces evil fruit when the season is right: just so our evil deeds do not make us evil. Though ignorance and blindness make us worse and worse, and evil working in us hardens us in evil, yet it is not by these but by nature that we are evil. Therefore by nature we both think and do evil, and by nature are under vengeance under the law, convicted to eternal condemnation by the law. And by nature we are contrary to the will of God in all our will, and in all things we consent to the will of the fiend.
By grace (that is to say, by favor) we are plucked out of Adam, who is the ground of all evil, and grafted into Christ, who is the root of all goodness. In Christ God loved us, his elect and chosen, before the world began. And he reserved us for the knowledge of his Son and of his holy gospel. And when the gospel is preached to us he opens our hearts, and gives us grace to believe, and puts the Spirit of Christ in us. And we then know him as our Father most merciful, and consent to the law and love it inwardly in our heart and desire to fulfill it, and sorrow because we cannot—which desire (sin we of frailty ever so much) is sufficient, until more strength be given us. For the blood of Christ has made satisfaction for the rest. The blood of Christ has obtained for us all things that are of God. Christ is our satisfaction, Redeemer, Deliverer and Savior from vengeance and wrath. Observe and mark in Paul's, Peter's and John's epistles and in the gospel what Christ is to us.
By faith we are saved only in believing the promises. And though faith is never without love and good works, yet our salvation is not imputed to love or good works, but to faith only. For love and works are under the law, and the law requires perfection and the ground and fountain of the heart, and condemns any and all imperfectness. But faith is under the promises, which do not condemn us but give pardon, grace, mercy, favor and whatsoever is contained in the promises.
Diverse types of ‘righteousness’
Blind reason imagines many types of righteousness. There is the righteousness of works (as I said before), where the heart is absent and does not feel how the law is spiritual and cannot be fulfilled except from the bottom of the heart. We see this in the just administration of all manner of laws, and the observing of them, for a worldly purpose and for our own profit, and not from love to our neighbor without all other consideration and moral virtues, wherein philosophers put their felicity and blessedness. All these are nothing in the sight of God in respect of the life to come. There is also the justifying of ceremonies, which some dream up themselves and others copy, saying in their blind reason that since holy persons did thus and thus, if I do so likewise, I will please God. But they have no word of God that approves. The Jews seek righteousness in their ceremonies, which God gave to them not to justify but to describe and paint [foreshadow] Christ to them—which Jews, Paul says, have affection to God, but not after knowledge, for they go about to establish their own justice and are not obedient to the justice or righteousness that comes from God, which is the forgiveness of sin in Christ's blood to all who repent and believe. It is truly the case that unless a man casts away his own imagination and reason, he cannot perceive God nor understand the virtue and power of the blood of Christ.
There is a full righteousness, when the law is fulfilled from the ground of the heart. This neither Peter nor Paul had perfectly in this life, but sighed after it. They were so far forth blessed in Christ that they hungered and thirsted after it. Paul had this thirst; he consented to the law of God and that it ought so to be, but he found another lust in his members, one contrary to the desire of his mind, which hindered him. Therefore he cried out, saying, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?—thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!
The righteousness that is of value before God is to believe the promises of God, after the law has confounded the conscience—as when the temporal law condemns the thief or murderer and brings him to execution, so he sees nothing before him but present death, and then come good tidings—such as a charter from the king that delivers him. Likewise, when God's law has brought the sinner into knowledge of himself and has confounded his conscience and opened to him the wrath and vengeance of God, then come good tidings. The Evangelion shows to him the promises of God in Christ, and how Christ has purchased pardon for him, has satisfied the law for him and has appeased the wrath of God. And the poor sinner believes, lauds and thanks God through Christ, and breaks out into exceeding inward joy and gladness in that he has escaped so great a wrath, so heavy a vengeance, and so fearful and so everlasting a death. And from then on he is hungry and thirsty for more righteousness so he might fulfill the law. And he mourns continually, commending his weakness unto God in the blood of our Savior, Christ Jesus.
Following you will see, comprehensively and plainly set out, the order and practice of everything said above.
The condition and state of the natural man
The fall of Adam has made us heirs of the vengeance and wrath of God, and heirs of eternal condemnation. And it has brought us into captivity and bondage under the devil, and the devil is our lord and our ruler, our head, our governor, our prince—yea, and our god. And our will is locked and knit faster to the will of the devil than a hundred thousand chains could bind a man to a post. We consent to the devil's will with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our might, power, strength, will and desires, such that the law and will of the devil is written in our hearts as well as in our members. And we run headlong after the devil with full zeal and the whole swing of all the power we have, like a stone cast up into the air comes down naturally by itself with all the violence and swing of its own weight.
With what poison and deadly and venomous hate does a man hate his enemy! With how great a malice of mind do we inwardly slay and murder. With what violence and rage—yea and with what fervent lust—do we commit adultery, fornication and similar uncleanness. With what pleasure and delight, inwardly, does a glutton serve his belly. With what diligence do we deceive. How busily we seek the things of this world. Whatever we do, think, or imagine, is abominable in the sight of God. For we can refer nothing unto the honor of God; nor are his law or will written in our members or in our hearts; nor is there any more power in us to follow the will of God than there is in a stone to ascend upward by itself. And besides that we are, as it were, asleep in such deep blindness that we cannot see or feel what misery, thralldom and wretchedness we are in until Moses comes and awakens us and declares the law.
When we hear the law truly preached—how we ought, from the very bottom of our hearts, to love and honor God with all our strength and might, because he created us and heaven and earth for our sakes, and made us lord thereof; and how we ought to love our neighbors (yea, our enemies) as ourselves, inwardly, from the ground of the heart, because God has made them after the likeness of his own image2 , and how we ought to do whatsoever God bids and abstain from whatsoever God forbids, with all love and meekness, with a fervent and a burning lust from the center of the heart—then the conscience begins to rage against the law and against God. No sea under ever so great a tempest is as unquiet! For it is not possible for a natural man to consent to the law—that it is good, or that God is good, who made the law—because it is contrary to his nature. It condemns him and all that he can do, and does not show him where to obtain help. Nor does the law preach any mercy, but only sets man at variance with God (as Paul witnesses in Romans 4) and provokes him and stirs him to rail on God and to call him a cruel tyrant. For it is not possible for a man, until he is born again, to think God is righteous to make him of so poisonous a nature either for his own pleasure or for the sin of another man, or to give him a law that is impossible for him to perform or consent to, his mind, reason and will being so fast glued—yea, nailed and chained—to the will of the devil. Nor can any creature loose these bonds, but only the blood of Christ.
The redeeming work of Christ
This is the captivity and bondage from which Christ delivered us, redeemed us, and loosed us. His blood, his death, his patience in suffering rebukes and wrongs, his prayers and fasting, his meekness and fulfilling of the uttermost point of the law: all this appeased the wrath of God. And it brought the favor of God to us again, and obtained for us the love of God as the love of a Father—and a merciful Father at that, who will consider our infirmities and weakness and give us his Spirit again (which was taken away in the fall of Adam), and who will rule, govern and strengthen us and break the bonds of Satan in which we were so straitly bound.
When Christ is preached in this way, and the promises rehearsed which are contained in the psalms, prophets, and divers places in the five books of Moses—which preaching is called the ‘gospel’ or glad tidings—then the hearts of those who are elect and chosen begin to grow soft, and to melt at the bounteous mercy of God and the kindness shown in Christ. For when the Evangelion is preached the Spirit of God enters into those whom God has ordained and appointed to eternal life and opens their inward eyes, and works belief in them. When the woeful consciences feel and taste how sweet a thing the bitter death of Christ is and how merciful and loving God is through Christ's purchasing and merits, they begin to in response, and to agree that the law of God is good and ought so to be, and that the God who made it is righteous. And they desire to fulfill the law, even as a sick man desires to be whole, and hunger and thirst after more righteousness and after more strength to fulfill the law more perfectly. And in all that they do, or omit and leave undone, they seek God's honor and his will with meekness, always judging the imperfection of their deeds as measured against the law.
Now Christ stands us in double stead and serves us in two ways. First, he is our Redeemer, Deliverer, Reconciler, Mediator, Intercessor, Advocate, Attorney, Solicitor, our Hope, Comfort, Shield, Protection, Defender, Strength, Health, Satisfaction and Salvation. His blood, his death, and all that he ever did, is ours. And Christ himself, with all that he is or can do, is ours. His blood shedding, and all that he did, does me as good service as if I myself had done it. And God (as great as he is), with all that he has, is mine through Christ and his redeeming work, in the same way that a husband belongs to his wife.
Secondarily, after we have been overcome with love and kindness and now seek to do the will of God (which is a Christian man's nature), then we have Christ as an example to copy, as Christ himself says in John: I have given you an example. And in another gospel book he says: He that will be great among you shall be your servant and minister, as the Son of man came to minister and not to be ministered unto. And Paul says, Copy Christ! And Peter says, Christ died for you, and left you an example, to follow in his steps. Therefore, whatever faith has received from God through Christ's blood and deserving, the same must be given out in love—every whit—and bestowed upon our neighbors for their profit—yea, even if they are our enemies. By faith we receive from God, and by love we give out again. And this must we do freely after the example of Christ, without any other consideration except our neighbor's welfare alone. And we must not look for reward in earth or in heaven based on our merit, or deserving for our deeds, as friars preach (although we know good deeds are rewarded both in this life and in the life to come). But out of pure love we must bestow ourselves all that we have, and all that we are able, even on our enemies, to bring them to God—considering nothing but their welfare, as Christ did ours.
Christ did not do his deeds to obtain heaven thereby. That would be madness, for heaven was his already. He was heir thereof and it was his by inheritance. But he did his deeds freely for our sakes, considering nothing but our welfare and to bring the favor of God to us again, and to bring us to God. No natural son who is his father's heir does his father's will because he wants to be heir, for he is already so by birth; his father gave him heirship when he was born, and is more loathe that the son should be without it than the son himself has mind to be. Rather, it is from pure love that the son does what he does. Ask him why he does it and he answers, My father asked me to; it is my father's will; it pleases my father. Bondservants work for hire, but children for love. For their father, with all he has, is theirs already.
And so a Christian man freely does all that he does, considering only the will of God and his neighbor’s well being. If I live chaste, it is not to obtain heaven thereby, for then I would do wrong to the blood of Christ. Christ's blood has already obtained that for me: Christ's merits have made me heir of heaven; he is both the door and the way to it. Nor is it that I look for a higher place in heaven than they who live in wedlock will have, or than a whore of the brothel district (if she repents)—for such would be the pride of Lucifer. But I do so freely to wait on the Evangelion, and to avoid the trouble of the world and occasions that might pluck me from the gospel, and to serve my brother with it as well, even as one hand helps another, or one member another, because one feels another's grief and the pain of the one is the pain of the other.
Whatever is done to the least of us (whether it be good or bad) is done to Christ, and whatever is done to my brother (if I be a Christian man) is done to me. Nor does my brother's pain grieve me less than my own: nor do I rejoice less at his well-being than at my own if I love him as well and as much as myself, as the law commands me. If it were not so, how is it Paul says, Let him who rejoices, rejoice in the Lord—that is to say, in Christ who is Lord over all creatures? If my merits obtained heaven for me, or a higher place there, then I would have something in which to rejoice besides the Lord.
The law and the gospel
Here you see the nature of the law and the nature of the Evangelion: how the law is the key that binds, condemns and sentences all men, and the Evangelion is the key that looses them again. The law goes before and the Evangelion follows. When a preacher preaches the law he binds all consciences, and when he preaches the gospel he looses them again. These two salves (I mean the law and the gospel) are used by God and by his preacher to heal and cure sinners.
The law drives out the disease and makes it appear. It is a sharp salve and a fretting corrosive, and kills the dead flesh. It looses and draws the sores out by the roots with all corruption. It withdraws from a man the trust and confidence that he has in himself and in his own works, merits, deservings and ceremonies, and robs him of all his righteousness, and makes him poor. It kills him, sends him down to hell, and brings him to utter desperation. It prepares the way of the Lord, as it is written of John the Baptist. For it is not possible that Christ should come to a man as long as he trusts in himself or in any worldly thing, or has any righteousness of his own, or riches of holy works.
The fruits reveal the tree
Then comes the Evangelion, a more gentle pastor, which supples and assuages the wounds of the conscience and brings health. It brings the Spirit of God, which looses the bonds of Satan and joins us to God and his will, through strong faith and fervent love, with bonds too strong for the devil, the world or any creature to loose. And the poor and wretched sinner feels such great mercy, love and kindness in God that he is sure in himself that it is not possible that God would forsake him, or withdraw his mercy and love from him. He boldly cries out with Paul, saying, Who shall separate us from the love whereby God loves us? That is to say, What could make me believe that God does not love me? Could tribulation? anguish? persecution? Could hunger? nakedness? Could the sword? Nay, I am sure that not death, nor life, nor angel, nor rule nor power, nor present things nor things to come, nor high nor low, nor any creature, is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In all such tribulations a Christian believer perceives that God is his Father and loves him or her, even as he loved Christ when he shed his blood on the cross.
Finally, like when I was earlier bound to the devil and his will and wrought all manner of evil and wickedness—not for hell's sake, which is the reward of sin, but I did evil because I was heir of hell by birth and in bondage to the devil (for I could not do otherwise: to do sin was my nature)—even so now, since I am coupled to God by Christ's blood, I do good—not for heaven's sake, although it is the reward of well doing, but freely because I am heir of heaven by grace and Christ's purchasing and have the Spirit of God (for so is my nature, as a good tree brings forth good fruit and an evil tree brings forth evil fruit). By the fruits you will know what the tree is.
A man's deeds declare what he is within, but make him neither good nor bad (although, after we are created anew by the Spirit and doctrine of Christ, we wax always more perfect by working and doing according to the doctrine, and not with blind works of our own imagining). We must first be evil before we do evil, like a serpent is first poisonous, before it poisons. We must also be good before we do good, as the fire must be first hot before it heats another thing. Take an example: As the blind and deaf people healed in the gospel accounts could not see or hear until Christ had given them sight and hearing, and those sick could not do the deeds of a whole man until Christ had given them health, so no man can do good in his soul until Christ has loosed him out of the bonds of Satan and given him what he needs to do good—yea, and has first poured into him that same good thing which he later sheds forth upon others.
Christ is to be credited for all good fruits
Whatever is our own, is sin. Whatever is above is Christ's gift, purchase, doing and working. He bought it dearly, with his blood, from his Father—yea, with his most bitter death—and gave his life for it. Whatever good thing is in us has been given to us freely, without our deserving or merits, for Christ's blood's sake. That we desire to follow the will of God is the gift of Christ's blood. That we now hate the devil's will (to which we were locked so fast and which we could only love) is also the gift of Christ's blood: to him belong the praise and honor of our good deeds, and not to us.
The place and purposes of good works and spiritual gifts
Our deeds serve us in three ways.
First they assure us that we are heirs of everlasting life and that the Spirit of God, which is the deposit thereof, is in us—in that our hearts consent to the law of God and we have power in our members to do it, though imperfectly. Secondarily, we tame the flesh therewith and kill the sin that still remains in us; and thereby we grow daily more and more perfect in the Spirit—ensuring lusts do not choke the word of God sown in us, nor quench the gifts and working of the Spirit, and that we do not lose the Spirit again. And thirdly, we do our duty to our neighbors therewith and help them in their need, to our own comfort also, and draw all men to honor and praise God.
Whoever excels in the gifts of grace should consider that they are given to him as much to do his brother service as for himself, and as much for the love God has for the weak as for him to whom God has given such gifts. And whoever withdraws anything he has from his neighbor’s need robs his neighbor and is a thief. And he that is proud of the gifts of God and by reason of them thinks himself better than his feeble neighbor and does not rather (as the truth is) acknowledge himself to be, by reason of them, a servant to his poor neighbor, has Lucifer's spirit in him and not Christ's.
Things to keep in mind and memory
These things are important to know:
- First, the law, and that it is natural righteousness and equity.
- That we have but one God to put our hope and trust in, and we are to love him with all the heart, all the soul, and all our might and power.
- We are not to move heart nor hand but at his commandment, because he first created us from nothing, and heaven and earth for our sakes. And afterwards, when we had marred ourselves through sin, he forgave us and created us again in the blood of his beloved Son.
- That we are to hold the name of our one God in fear and reverence, and that we are not to dishonor his name in swearing by it about light trifles or vanities, or call it to record for the confirming of wickedness or falsehood or anything that is to the dishonor of God—which is the breaking of his laws or doing what tends to hurt our neighbor.
- And inasmuch as he is our Lord and God and we are his double possession, by creation and redemption, and therefore we ought not (as I said) to move heart or hand without his commandment, it is right to have needful holy days to come together. These times are to learn his will—both the law which he will have us ruled by, and also the promises of mercy upon which he will have us place our trust; and to give thanks together to God for his mercy; and to commit our infirmities to him through our Savior Jesus; and to reconcile ourselves to him and to each other, if anything has come between brother and brother that requires it. And only for such purposes, and such as visiting the sick and needy and redressing peace and unity, were the holy days ordained, and to this extent they are to be kept holy from all manner of work that may be conveniently let go for the time, until these be done and no further; but then lawfully to work.
- And that it is right to obey father and mother, boss, judge, prince and king and all the ordinances of the world, bodily and spiritual, by which God rules us and ministers freely his benefits to us all; and that we love them [father, mother, boss, etc.] for the benefits we receive by them, and fear them for the power they have over us to punish us if we trespass against the law and good order. Yet the worldly powers or rulers are to be obeyed only so far as their commandments do not contend against the commandment of God, and no further. Therefore we must have God's commandments always in our hearts. And by the higher law we must interpret the inferior, so that we obey nothing against the belief of one God, or against the faith, hope and trust that is in him only, or against the love of God whereby we do or leave undone all things for his sake; and further so we do nothing under any man's commandment that is against the reverence of the name of God, to make it despised or less feared and followed; and that we obey nothing to the hindrance of the knowledge of the blessed doctrine of God, whose servant the holy day is.
Notwithstanding, even though the rulers which God has set over us command us against God, or do us open wrong and oppress us with cruel tyranny, yet because they stand in God's stead, we may not avenge ourselves except by the process and order of God's law and laws of man made by the authority of God's law—which are also God's law, ever by an higher power—leaving vengeance to God and, in the meantime, suffering until the hour has come.
- And on the other side, to know that a man ought to love his neighbor as equally and fully as he loves himself, because his neighbor (be he ever so simple) is equally created by God and as fully redeemed by the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. Out of this commandment of love spring these: kill not thy neighbor; defile not his wife; bear no false witness against him; and finally, not only do not do these things in deed, but do not covet in your heart his house, his wife, his man-servant, maid-servant, ox, ass, or whatsoever is his; so that these laws pertaining unto our neighbor are not fulfilled in the sight of God, except with love. He who does not love his neighbor does not keep the commandment not to defile his neighbor 's wife even though he never touches her or sees her or thinks about her; for the commandment is, even though your neighbor 's wife be ever so beautiful, and you have an exceptional opportunity given to you, and she consents or perhaps seduces you (as Potiphar's wife did Joseph), yet see that you love your neighbor so well that for very love you cannot find in your heart to do such wickedness.
- And even so, he who trusts in anything except God and his Son Jesus Christ keeps no commandment at all in the sight of God. For he that has trust in any creature, whether in heaven or in earth, except God and his Son Jesus, can see no reason to love God with all his heart &c., nor to abstain from dishonoring his name, nor to keep the holy day for the love of his doctrine, nor to obey lovingly the rulers of this world; nor any reason to love his neighbor as himself or abstain from hurting him if and when he may get some profit by him while keeping himself safe. And likewise, I may obey no worldly power against the law to love my neighbor as myself, if to do anything at any man's commandment would be to the hurt of my neighbor who has not deserved it, even if he is a Turk [of a Muslim tribe, generally fierce and marauding].
- And to know how contrary this law is to our nature, and understand that it is condemnation not to have this law written in our hearts even though we never commit the forbidden deeds; and how there is no other way to be saved from this condemnation than through repentance toward the law and faith in Christ's blood, which are the very inward baptism of our souls. Of these, the washing and the dipping of our bodies in the water are the outward sign.
The outward plunging of the body under water signifies that we repent inwardly, and that we profess to fight against sin and lusts and to kill them every day more and more with the help of God and with our diligence in following the doctrine of Christ and the leading of his Spirit. It also signifies that we believe ourselves to be washed from the natural condemnation in which we are born and from all the wrath of the law and from all the infirmities and weaknesses that yet remain in us after we have consented to the law and yielded ourselves to be students thereof. And we believe ourselves to be washed from all the imperfectness of all our deeds done with cold love, and from all actual sins which chance upon us while we try to do differently and fight against them, hoping to sin no more.
Thus repentance and faith begin at our baptism and when we first profess the laws of God. They continue unto our life’s end, and grow as we grow in the Spirit: for the more perfect we are, the greater is our repentance and the stronger our faith. And thus, as the Spirit and doctrine on God's part and repentance and faith on our part, beget us anew in Christ, they also make us grow ever more perfect and save us unto the end; and never leave us until all sin be put off and we are clean purified and full formed and fashioned after the similitude and likeness of the perfection of our Savior Jesus, whose gift all is.
- And finally, to know that whatsoever good thing is in us, it is the gift of grace and therefore not a result of our deserving the same—although many things are given by God which otherwise would not be, through our diligence in working his laws and chastising our bodies, praying for them and believing his promises; still, our working does not mean we deserve these gifts any more than the diligence of a merchant in seeking a good ship brings the goods safely to land, although such diligence does now and then assist. But when we believe in God and then do all we can in our strength, and do not test him, then he is true to his promise to help us. And he will perform alone when our strength is past.
To know these things, I say, is to have all the scripture unlocked and opened before you, so that if you will go in and read, you cannot but understand. And to be ignorant in these things is to have all the scripture locked up, so that the more you read it, the blinder you are and the more contrariety you find in it, and the more tangled you become in it, to be unable to find the way through it. For if you have a gloss in one place, in another place it will not serve. And therefore because we are never taught the profession of our baptism we remain always unlearned—as much the spiritual leaders for all their great clergy and high learning (so-called) as the lay people.
And now, because the lay and unlearned people are taught these first principles of our profession, they read the scripture and understand and delight in it. And our great pillars of the holy church, who have nailed a veil of false glosses on Moses’ face to corrupt the true understanding of his law, cannot come in. And therefore they bark and say the scripture makes heretics. And it is not possible for them to understand the scripture in English because they do not understand it in Latin. And from pure malice, because they cannot have their way, they slay their brethren for their faith in our Savior—and thereby show forth their bloody wolfish tyranny and what they are within, and whose disciples they are.
Herewith, reader, be committed unto the grace of our Savior Jesus, to whom, and to God our Father through him, be praise forever and forever. Amen.
By William Tyndale, c. 1530
1 The same teachings are widespread today. Many suppose that God is a God of love only, and never a God of wrath. They are good enough, they say, and God would never require more of them than they are already giving, for that would be too harsh. They see no serious problem with their lack of love for His commands (and consequent adulteries, fornications and deceptions), or their lack of love for His word, or their irreverent friends whose company they prefer to that of the saints, etc. They imagine faith in God’s love to be a righteous faith, without concern for God’s law. They decry those who seek to be obedient as “legalists” who do not understand the mercy of God. Ed.
2 Here has been removed the following: “and they are his sons as well as we, and Christ has bought them with his blood and made them heirs of everlasting life as well as us”, because the editor does not understand the implication that all are made heirs of everlasting life in this context, which does not accord with other writings of Tyndale. Was there an error in the text (We copied this from “Selected Writings of Tyndale”, a Carcanet Press edition.) Was Tyndale considering the issue of the sufficiency of the atonement? Was he referring to love for brethren, although the context would not indicate this? Or? A similar hint occurs later, which has been left in the essay: “a man ought to love his neighbor as equally and fully as he loves himself, because his neighbor (be he ever so simple) is equally created by God and as fully redeemed by the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ”.