William Tyndale, the shining light among England's Reformers, had his last day of freedom interrupted on, or around, this day, 1535. Among those he had led to Christ was John Rogers, the first English martyr among Mary's purge of the Reformation to burn at Smithfield. Tyndale was active at the fountainhead of the Reformation and he thrilled at the gospel, but having found that people would respond with joy at its electrifying truth he 'perceived how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.'

He devoted himself to producing a translation from Greek into English. But not any English; not the language of the elite - the pungent, lively language of the people. Read his translation of the first few verses of Hebrews and see how well the language stands up:
God in tyme past diversly and many wayes spake vnto the fathers by Prophetes: but in these last dayes he hath spoken vnto vs by his sonne whom he hath made heyre of all thinges: by who also he made the worlde. Which sonne beynge the brightnes of his glory and very ymage of his substance bearinge vp all thinges with the worde of his power hath in his awne person pourged oure synnes and is sitten on the right honde of the maiestie an hye and is more excellent then the angels in as moche as he hath by inheritaunce obteyned an excellenter name then have they.
Apart from the spelling, little improvement has been made in translations since 1526.

Tyndale would spend the next 17 months in custody before his death by strangling and burning, uttering his final recorded words there:
'Lord, open the king of England's eyes.'

Click here to hear and / or read John Piper's excellent biography of Tyndale

William Tyndale A Biography by David Daniell is a highly recommended biography
My dear child,

If you drop a tear or two when you are informed that your aunt C ___ is removed from this world of sin and sorrow-I have no objection; but I do not wish you to shed many, nor is there just cause for it. If we could see her now, she would surely say, "Weep not for me-I am fully happy!" Yes, she knew and loved the Lord; she lived in his faith and godly fear, and died in his peace and favor; and now she is before the glorious throne! She had her share of trials in this life-but they are all over now-she fought the good fight-and the Lord made her more than conqueror. Now she has received the conqueror's crown, and is singing the conqueror's song.

Methinks, as dearly as I love you, I could bear to part with you likewise-if I was sure that the Lord had set his seal of love upon your heart, and thereby marked you for his own. If he has not done this already, I hope he will. If he has not yet taken full possession of your heart, I hope you are sensible that he is standing, as it were, at the door, and knocking, waiting to be gracious to you. The door of the heart is not easily opened. The love of sin, of self, and the world, are so many bolts, which are too strong for us to remove by our own power. Yet he can open it easily, (because all things are easy to him,) and, by a sweet constraint of love, force himself an entrance...

Read the full letter here
"[I]f God would make you greatly useful, He must teach you how to pray! The man who is a great preacher and yet cannot pray, will come to a bad end. A woman who cannot pray and yet is noted for the conducting of Bible classes, has already come to a bad end. If you can be great without prayer, your greatness will be your ruin! If God means to bless you greatly, He will make you pray greatly, as He does David who says in this part of his preparation for coming to his throne, 'I cried unto the Lord with my voice: with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication.'

"If you want men to help you, you may make a very decent follower; but if you want no man, and can stand alone, God being your Helper, you shall be helped to be a leader."

Read full sermon, David's Prayer in the Cave, here
"The fact that our Lord, at His coming, will seek for faith should cause us to think very highly of faith. It is no mere act of the intellect, it is a grace of the Holy Spirit which brings glory to God and produces obedience in the heart. Jesus looks for it because He is the proper object of it...

"He also as the Son of man displayed faith in God.

"I thank God that the prayer meetings of this church are well sustained by praying men and women, but where are the Jacob like wrestlers? I am afraid it cannot even be said of many churches that their prayer meetings are at all what they should be, for among many the gathering for prayer is despised and men say, "It is only a prayer meeting!" As if that were not the very crown and queen of all the assemblies of the church, with the sole exception of that for the breaking of bread. Brethren, I will not judge with severity, but where are those who offer effectual, fervent, much-prevailing prayer? I know that there are many here who do not neglect private and family devotion, and who pray constantly for the prosperity of the Church of Jesus Christ, and for the salvation of souls. But even to you I put the question: If the Son of man were now to come, how many would He find among us that pray with a distinct, vehement, irresistible importunity of faith? In the olden days, there was a John Knox, whose prayers were more terrible to the adversary than whole armies, because he pleaded in faith, but where shall we find a Knox at this hour? Every age of revival has had its men mighty in prayer--where are ours? Where is the Elijah on the top of Carmel who will bring down the rain upon these parched fields? Where is the church that will pray down a Pentecost? I will not decry my brethren in the ministry, nor speak little of deacons and elders, and other distinguished servants of my Lord, but still, my brothers and sisters, taking us all round, how few of us know what it is to pray the heaven-overcoming prayer which is needful for this crisis! How few of us go again, and again, and again to God, with tears, and cries, and heartbreak, pleading as for our own lives for the increase of Zion, and the saving of the ungodly! If the Son of man comes, will He find much of such praying faith among our own churches? Ah me! That I should have to ask such a question, but I do ask it, hanging my head for shame."

Read full sermon here
Wilberforce's life was turned around in his early twenties reading The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge with his recently converted friend Isaac Milner. Wilberforce recognised that his new found joy in Christ could not be a simple add-on to a standard political career. He agonised over what he might do in service of Christ: should he leave politics and enter the ministry..?

He resolved to visit a man who had a reputation for graciousness and truth: John Newton, the former slave trader and now rector of St Mary Woolnoth (pictured above, right). Young Wilberforce poured out his heart to old Newton, who listened, and whose heart warmed to the sincere, articulate and troubled young man. He advised Wilberforce to stay in politics and to use his platform there.

William Wilberforce went on the devote his life to the service of God in Parliament, making eleven attempts at an abolition of slavery. He won his final battle, the abolition of slavery, in July 1833, in the last week of his life.
This first treatise of William Tyndale to be published was one of the first Reformation texts to come out in English. It was written within ten years of Luther's tower experience, when that Reformer said that he

"...began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open."

...and it is alive with the great exchange at the heart of the Reformation: the free gift of the righteousness of Christ given to sinners who put their faith in a Saviour who, in love, has given himself for their offensive sins.

A conspicuous theme is Tyndale's strong Pauline and Luther-ly insistence that the Law, rather than being a help, brings condemnation:

"For in the faith which we have in Christ and in God's promises find we mercy, life, favor, and peace. In the law we find death, damnation, and wrath; moreover, the curse and vengeance of God upon us. And it (that is to say, the law) is called of Paul 'the ministration of death and damnation.' In the law we are proved to be the enemies of God, and that we hate him."

Again and again the radical difference with the intuitive religion that the Reformers were combatting is seen in this contradistinction, and the explosive moment of the sixteenth century, whose reverberations echo into our own, are seen with clarity.

Faith comes before works, or as he says, "the fruit maketh not the tree good, but the tree the fruit":

"If thou wilt therefore be at peace with God, and love him, thou must turn to the promises of God, and to the gospel, which is called of Paul, in the place before rehearsed to the Corinthians, the ministration of righteousness, and of the Spirit. For faith bringeth pardon and forgiveness freely purchased by Christ's blood, and bringeth also the Spirit; the Spirit looseth the bonds of the devil, and setteth us at liberty. For 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,' saith Paul in the same place to the Corinthians: that is to say, there the heart is free, and hath power to love the will of God; and there the heart mourneth that he cannot love enough."

...And that faith is not some consolation prize, for it has as its subject the blood of the Son of God:

"Also remember, that his Son's blood is stronger than all the sins and wickedness of the whole world; and therewith quiet thyself, and thereunto commit thyself, and bless thyself in all temptation"

Subsequently the believer is changed, becoming fruitful:

"Whosoever heareth the word and believeth it, the same is thereby righteous; and thereby is given him the Spirit of God, which leadeth him unto all that is the will of God; and is loosed from the captivity and bondage of the devil; and his heart is free to love God, and hath lust to do the will of God."

Nor is this because the believing man is immediately fully sanctified, but

"The Spirit of God accompanieth faith, and bringeth with her light, wherewith a man beholdeth himself in the law of God, and seeth his miserable bondage and captivity, and humbleth himself, and abhorreth himself: she bringeth God's promises of all good things in Christ. God worketh with his word, and in his word: and when his word is preached, faith rooteth herself in the hearts of the elect; and as faith entereth, and the word of God is believed, the power of God looseth the heart from the captivity and bondage under sin, and knitteth and coupleth him to God and to the will of God; altereth him, changeth him clean, fashioneth, and forgeth him anew; giveth him power to love, and to do that which before was impossible for him either to love or do; and turneth him unto a new nature, so that he loveth that which he before hated, and hateth that which he before loved; and is clean altered, and changed, and contrary disposed; and is knit and coupled fast to God's will, and naturally bringeth forth good works, that is to say, that which God commandeth to do, and not things of his own imagination."

This is a rich, important text that powerfully illuminates the variables and the excitement at the heart of the Reformation. The key elements are seen to be the very emphases in which the church has rejoiced ever since. In this 500th anniversary when we are being told that the Reformation was a contentious political movement between irrelevant ecclesiastics, read a text by a multilingual, articulate thinker whose contribution to the movement changed the world, and who, within ten years would pay for it with his own life.

Read the full text here

"'I go willingly; I must be bound, for sin has bound you; sin has bound your hands, sin has hampered and crippled you, and made you prisoners. You are the bond-slaves of Satan, and I must be bound to set you free.' O beloved, learn the lesson well. Sin always enslaves you. Free thought, free love, free living, in the highest sense, are to be found alone in the service of God; sin brings no freedom, it binds."

Read the full sermon here
On May 3, Spurgeon was baptized in the River Lark not far from Isleham in Cambridgeshire.

Spurgeon said that after he had taken a few steps into the river and "noted the people on the ferry-boat, and in boats, and on either shore, I felt as if Heaven, and earth, and hell, might all gaze upon me, for I was not ashamed, there and then, to own myself a follower of the Lamb."
Like so many of the heroes of London's church history, Lord Shaftesbury wasn't just a public figure who went to church on Sundays. He believed that "Social reforms, so necessary, so indispensable, require as much of God's grace as a change of heart."

On John Bunyan's tomb at Bunhill Fields, a short walk from our Visitor Centre at Christian Heritage London, is written:
"Restored by public subscription under the presidency of the right honourable the Earl of Shaftesbury, May 1862"
It's a striking illustration of the change that the free gospel of God's grace has brought about in London: neither man is famous for the way that he changed the gospel. Each is famous for having been changed by the gospel.

"[I]t is the Judge himself who in holy love assumed the role of innocent victim, for in and through the person of his Son he himself bore the penalty that he himself inflicted. As Dale put it, "The mysterious unity of the Father and the Son rendered it possible for God at once to endure and to inflict penal suffering." There is neither harsh injustice nor unprincipled love nor Christological heresy in that; there is only unfathomable mercy. For in order to save us in such a way as to satisfy himself, God through Christ substituted himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy...

"We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ that does not have at its center the principle of "satisfaction through substitution," indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution. The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one that tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honor or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father, nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator. Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The theological words satisfaction and substitution need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstance be given up. The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us."

John Stott, The Cross of Christ, IVP, p.159.
...and so begins the Heidelberg Disputation, held in 1518 on this day: that most explosively Luther-ly list of gospel doctrines and implications! You can tell just from reading these short sentences how the massive offence of the gospel as rediscovered in the Reformation truly turned the world upside down!

Each electrifying sentence is backed up with scripture, truly illustrating the radically dynamic potency of a movement which had moved authority back from men and their traditions to the word of God.

The Heidelberg Disputation
Brother Martin Luther, Master of Sacred Theology, will preside, and Brother Leonhard Beyer, Master of Arts and Philosophy, will defend the following theses before the Augustinians of this renowned city of Heidelberg in the customary place, on April 26th 1518.

Theological Theses
Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, "Do not rely on your own insight" (Prov. 3:5), we humbly present to the judgment of all those who wish to be here these theological paradoxes, so that it may become clear whether they have been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ, and also from St. Augustine, his most trustworthy interpreter.

1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
2. Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
3. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
4. Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.
5. The works of men are thus not mortal sins (we speak of works which are apparently good), as though they were crimes.
6. The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.
7. The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.
8. By so much more are the works of man mortal sins when they are done without fear and in unadulterated, evil self-security.
9. To say that works without Christ are dead, but not mortal, appears to constitute a perilous surrender of the fear of God.
10. Indeed, it is very difficult to see how a work can be dead and at the same time not a harmful and mortal sin.
11. Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.
12. In the sight of God sins are then truly venial when they are feared by men to be mortal.
13. Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.
14. Free will, after the fall, has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can always do evil in an active capacity.
15. Nor could free will remain in a state of innocence, much less do good, in an active capacity, but only in its passive capacity.
16. The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.
17. Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.
18. It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.
19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the "invisible" things of God as though they were clearly "perceptible in those things which have actually happened" (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25),
20. he deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.
23. The "law brings the wrath" of God (Rom. 4:15), kills, reviles, accuses, judges, and condemns everything that is not in Christ.
24. Yet that wisdom is not of itself evil, nor is the law to be evaded; but without the theology of the cross man misuses the best in the worst manner.
25. He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
26. The law says, "do this", and it is never done. Grace says, "believe in this", and everything is already done.
27. Actually one should call the work of Christ an acting work (operans) and our work an accomplished work (operatum), and thus an accomplished work pleasing to God by the grace of the acting work.
28. The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.

Click here to see the full text including scriptural defences.