The Single-minded Devotion of Tyndale

Upon reading a chapter on the life and theology of William Tyndale from Theology of the ReformersI was reminded convincingly that the only life worth living is a life devoted solely to the kingdom of God (Matt 6:33). Soren Kierkegaard wrote “purity of heart is to will one thing”, and Tyndale willed one thing – to translate scripture into English. He had no family or home, and lived as a sojourner throughout his life. He survived on the generosity of a few friends. Gifted linguistically and having mastered seven languages. he had a burning desire to translate Scripture. His life was “lived as a project”.

When the life of Tyndale is compared to that of Erasmus, another scholar of his time who had a similar desire to see common-folk have access to the Bible, one can observe a stark difference. The difference lay in Tyndale’s “magnificient obsession and compelling passion of his life.” While Erasmus saw it as a “master’s cheerful wish”, for Tyndale it was the “disciple’s militant statement of purpose.” Driven by this purpose, his life was marked with defamation, shipwreck, betrayal, imprisonment and martyrdom.

His single-mindedness stemmed from his view of Scripture. He knew that changing the world meant having people encounter the living God of Scripture. The Bible is living, active, and able to regenerate hearts. The Holy Spirit doesn’t merely produce “feeling faith” but a faith that is “a lively thing, mighty in working, valiant and strong, ever doing, ever fruitful.” He spoke of Scripture as medicine:

It is not enough therefore to read and talk of it only, but we must also desire God day and night instantly to open our eyes, and to make us understand and feel wherefore the Scripture was given, that we may apply the medicine of Scripture, every man to his own sores, unless that we intend to be idle disputers, and brawlers about vain words, ever gnawing upon the bitter bark without and never attaining unto the sweet pith within and persecuting one another for defending of lewd imaginations and fantasies of our own invention.

His high view of Scripture was accompanied by a healthy understanding of the functioning of God’s law in the life of Christian. He saw the lifelong love of God’s law flowing from the “ever working” gift of faith, terminating in service to one’s neighbour. More importantly, he lived out his view, as can be seen from a glimpse of a week in the Tyndale’s shoes:

On Sundays he could be found in one of the largest rooms in the house reading a portion of the Scripture, no doubt from his own translation. These readings would have included expositions of the text and pastoral applications as well. He repeated this exercise after dinner, “so fruitfully, sweetly, and gently” that he brought heavenly comfort to his listeners. On Mondays he would visit the English refugees who had come to Antwerp. On Saturdays he would walk around the city, looking into “every corner and hole” for those especially destitute — the elderly, women, children, the outcast. He gave liberally from the means he had to help those in need. He maintained a study in Merchants House and on all other days gave himself “wholly to his book.”

He was faithful to God until the very end, being single-mindedly committed to the one great passion of his life. The passion for which he was martyred on May 21, 1935.

In the word’s of T.S.Eliot:

A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom.

May God give each Christian this kind of single-mindedness in life!

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