By the late Rev. Neil MacIntyre *
Extracted from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, Volume 9 (1904-5), and edited.
(Continued from last month)
Part 3 – The Invention of Printing, and Tyndale’s Bible
TIME rolled on, and many changes were taking place, but one event, which has almost transformed the world, calls for brief allusion here that is, the invention of printing. It is difficult to determine the origin of the art of printing. It is supposed that the Chinese practised it centuries before it was introduce into England and Scotland. It was introduced into England by William Caxton in the year 1476, and into Scotland about 1507. This invention undoubtedly caused a great change in all departments of literature, but we refer to it here only so far as it was a means of the more extensive circulation of the Bible.
Having briefly viewed the first chief translators of the Bible, we pass by others such as Erasmus, a great scholar but rather moderate Reformer, and we come to notice one of the greatest men England ever saw, namely, William Tyndale. Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire, in 1484 [now thought by many to be 1494]. He went to study at Oxford at a young age, and it was there he began to see the errors of the Church of Rome. Little is known of his conversion, but it is supposed to have taken place under one John Colet, who at that time was lecturing on the Epistles of Paul in Oxford.
In 1521 he went as tutor and chaplain to Sir John Walsh of Little Sodbury in the Cotswolds. When in this home he had frequent altercations with the priests, who were excessively annoyed at Tyndale’s constant appeal to the Greek Scriptures. Lady Walsh, who was much under the influence of the priests, though often convinced by Tyndale’s reasoning about the errors of the Church of Rome, would say to him that she could hardly believe him rather than the priests when they were so learned? To meet this argument Tyndale translated a book which Erasmus wrote against the errors of the Church of Rome. This book was the means of bringing Lady Walsh to embrace Tyndale’s views.
Although Tyndale had spoken and written much against Popery he still remained in the Roman Catholic Church, but the immoral character of the priests and their opposition to him for defending the Word of God made him think of separating himself from it. With these thoughts in his mind he went to see Bishop Latimer, to whom he opened his mind freely. The Bishop replied, “Do you not know that the Pope is the antichrist spoken of in the Scriptures? But beware; your opinions will cost you your life if they are made known.”
It was under the influence of these thoughts that Tyndale was moved to translate the New Testament into English, so that the common people might study it for themselves. He was determined to bring about what he said years before to the priests, who told him that it was better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s, “If God spares me, ere many years I will cause that a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of God’s word than thou dost.”
In order that he might devote himself to his great life-work, he went to London. There he hoped to find the quietness and leisure necessary for accomplishing his enormous task. He was received by Humphrey Monmouth, a rich London merchant, who gave him an allowance of £10 a year a considerable sum in those days. For this offence Monmouth was shortly afterwards committed to the Tower, but after a short detention he was liberated. At his trial he said of Tyndale: “He conducted himself as a good priest; he studied most part of the day and night at his books.”
Tyndale soon discovered that the quietness and leisure which he sought was not to be found in London, and if his desire was to be accomplished he must leave his native land and go abroad. In 1524 he sailed for Hamburg, in Germany, never to set his foot on English soil again. From Hamburg he went to Cologne, and was having his New Testament in English printed there when the authorities of the city issued orders that it must be stopped. He was thus compelled to leave and go to Worms, where he found a printer to finish his work.
It is believed that there were printed about 3000 copies of octavo size and about 3000 quarto size. Of all these copies there are only two [now three] in existence. Of the octavo there are two copies, one in St. Paul’s Cathedral, the other in the Baptist College, Bristol.1 Of the quarto there is only a fragment to be found, which is kept in the British Museum [but is now in the British Library], and is esteemed one of its chief treasures. The existence of this quarto was at one time denied, but in the last century a London bookseller, in examining a book he had in his shop, found that a fragment of Tyndale’s quarto New Testament was bound in it. This fragment has 31 leaves, and finishes abruptly with the words “Friend, how camest thou in hitherward?”
It was a matter of great concern to Tyndale as to how he could get his Testament introduced to England, but certain merchants who were friendly to him helped him in this. They had the books packed in bales of goods and in sacks of corn, and thus packed they reached the shores of England safely, and soon were circulated throughout the land. The ecclesiastical authorities were immediately on their track, but no power on earth was able to hinder the glorious work begun. Tunstal, the Bishop of London, was very anxious to buy up all the Testaments printed in order to burn them. A certain merchant of the name of Packington, who was very favourable to Tyndale and was also in the Bishop’s good graces, hearing that the Bishop was anxious to get the books, said to him, “My Lord, if it be your pleasure to pay for the book, I will then assure you that you shall have all the books that are printed and yet unsold.” “Gentle Mr. Packington,” said the Bishop, “do your diligence, and with all my heart I will pay for them whatsoever they cost you.” So forward went the bargain, and, as one writer said, “the Bishop had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money”. Tyndale himself said, “I shall get money enough to bring me out of debt, and the whole world will cry out against the burning of God’s word, and the overplus of the money will help me to reprint the same, and I trust the second will be much better than the first.” With the money thus obtained from the Bishop, aided by Monmouth’s yearly donation, Tyndale diligently set about preparing a new edition of the Testament, which, when ready, soon found its way into England.
In 1534 Tyndale removed to Antwerp, where he proceeded to translate the Old Testament from the Hebrew. In Antwerp he found a quiet home in the house of Thomas Poyntz, an English merchant. His residence with Poyntz not only provided Tyndale with the comforts of a home, but added considerably to his personal safety. It was one of the privileges of the citizens of Antwerp that none could be arrested merely on suspicion or could be imprisoned for more than three days without trial, and the same privilege was extended to the English merchant resident amongst them. Here, therefore, Tyndale was considered quite safe from his persecutors.
At this time, however, a subtle plot was devised against him by men whose plans were so skilfully laid that it was scarcely possible for them to fail of success. Three priests Gabriel, Donne, and Henry Philips were employed in England to betray him. Philips, who was the most cunning of the three, succeeded in getting acquainted with Tyndale, and so friendly did they become that Tyndale placed great confidence in him. After spending some time in his company, Philips invited him to go out with him beyond the boundaries of the town, where he had officers waiting, who apprehended him and carried him off a prisoner to the castle of Vilvorde. There he lay for 136 days.
When at last Tyndale was brought to trial the charges made against him were these: (1) that he maintained that faith alone justifies; (2) that he maintained that to believe in the forgiveness of sin and to embrace the mercy offered in the Gospel was enough for salvation; (3) that he averred that human traditions cannot bind the conscience except where their neglect might cause scandal; (4) that he denied the freedom of the will; (5) that he denied there is any purgatory; (6) that he affirmed that neither the Virgin nor the saints should be invoked by us; (7) that he asserted that neither the Virgin nor the saints pray for us in their own person. There were many things brought against him, but the chief heresy for which he was condemned was that he maintained that man was justified by faith.
He was sentenced to death, and on 6th October, 1536, he was led out to be strangled, his dead body being afterwards burned. When about to die he cried with fervent zeal and a loud voice “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Such was the martyrdom of the noble William Tyndale. The memory of the godly learned man, who gave to England its first printed English Bible, will be held in everlasting remembrance.
* See the January issue for a biographical note about the Rev Neil MacIntyre.
1.The copy in Bristol Baptist College was recently sold to the British Library for one million pounds. In 1996, a third copy, in excellent condition, was discovered in Germany and is now in the Wbergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart.