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