One Catholic scholar was so exasperated by talking to Tyndale that he blurted out, oh, we would be better without God's law than the Pope's. Tyndale replied, I defy the Pope and all his laws, and if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that drives the plow to know the scriptures better than you do. That was no idle boast by this fine young linguist. And Tyndale then set about his life's work of translating the Bible from its original Greek and Hebrew into English. I have a shelf filled with Bibles at home, and perhaps you do too, not to mention my smartphone that can give me instant access to faithful Bible teaching.
But for the English-speaking world, this was not always the case. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thanks for joining us today on Renewing Your Mind. Getting to know church history for the Christian is really getting to know our family history, and that's what we'll be doing all week as Dr. Michael Reeves introduces us to some significant figures from the English Reformation. To stay with us as we meet William Tyndale, the father of the English Bible. Welcome, everyone, to this teaching series on the English Reformation and the Puritans.
My hope is that this will bring great glory to God and great joy to you as we look at this. Now, we're going to be doing two things, really, through this series. We're going to be getting to know, getting to appreciate, getting inside the skin and head of some great Christian thinkers, men like William Tyndale, Richard Sibbes, Thomas S. Goodwin, and particularly John Owen. And we're going to be giving particular time to John Owen because we'll be making acquaintances of a few of these great men.
But I thought I wanted to not leave without making good friends with one of them, at least. So, we're going to spend a good bit of time with John Owen. He's key, and I want to get to know one of them really well. So, we're going to get to know the men, and we're going to get to know their family, and we're going to get to know the men, and we're going to get to know their thoughts. And that's really where we're going to spend the bulk of our time, getting to know these Puritan men. But we're also going to get to know the history that surrounds them. I want to get to know their context, what it was that they were fighting against, what it was they were fighting against. And through seeing the history, we'll get to see God's extraordinary providential arrangement of kings, queens, scholars, great movements of countries.
So, we're going to see some great men, and we're going to get to know their historical context. Now, just one little question before we get going. Why the English Reformation and not the British Reformation? Englishmen being fussy? Well, no, it's that for the bulk of our period, for a good half of it at least, we'll look at Scotland briefly, but Scotland and England were separate nations. They were quite distinct. They were separate kingdoms. And quite simply, Scotland has a very different story. It had a very different Reformation.
It's a different story for another time. Now, as we start out looking at the English Reformation, we need to know, of course, that the English Reformation was part of a bigger story. It was a part of the continental Reformation.
It was feeling the effects of what was already going on elsewhere. And so, before we come across the channel into England itself, there's a little bit we need to know about the Reformation itself. And particularly, there are two men you need to know about, two men with two stories before we come to England. First man is Erasmus, Erasmus of Rotterdam. Now, Erasmus was almost certainly the greatest scholar of his day.
This is the early 1500s we're talking about now. And in 1516, Erasmus produced an edition of the Greek New Testament using the very best text that were available to him in the day. It was a brilliant scholarly achievement, making the text of the Greek New Testament available in a way it simply hadn't been before. And here was the perhaps revolutionary part. Next to that well-edited Greek text, he put alongside it not the church's official Latin Vulgate version of the Bible.
He put his own Latin translation of the Greek text. Now, the reason he did this is he thought simply some more Bible study is going to be good for Christians. It will encourage a little bit of healthy moral reform.
It won't cause a revolution, surely. He certainly thought it would cause no harm to Rome whatsoever. He even dedicated it to the Pope. And the Pope gratefully sent him a letter of thanks and commended it.
A little too soon, it would seem. For when Erasmus' New Testament was differed from the official church's Vulgate Latin version of the Bible, it could have theological implications. So, for instance, Matthew 4.17, the Vulgate version of the Bible would be translated as Jesus saying, do penance, which sounds like do some sacramental act.
Go to your priest who will tell you to do some act of penance by which you can deal with your sin. Erasmus rendered it as be penitent and later changed it to change your mind. Now, if Erasmus was right, and that was the accurate reading of the text, then Jesus wasn't instigating some external sacrament of penance. Jesus was telling people to change their minds and turn away from sin. But more than that verse, that was disagreeing with Rome. Rome's official version had been saying, no, Jesus is saying do penance. But if Rome is wrong on that verse, what else might she be wrong on?
And what sort of spiritual authority is she if she can get things so wrong? Completely unintentionally, Erasmus' New Testament was a ticking bomb. That's the first story. The story of the Bible is a story we'll see unfold in England as the extraordinary power of God's Word is displayed there. The second story before we cross the English Channel is the story of one of the men who then read Erasmus' New Testament.
You've probably guessed it. We're talking about the volcanic monk Martin Luther in North Germany. Now, when Erasmus had written his Greek New Testament, he hadn't really found himself challenged by its message. Luther was deeply challenged by it. And Luther began to see a disconnect between what Rome was teaching and what he was seeing there in this text of the New Testament.
And his doubts began to grow. And over the following months, Luther became increasingly clear that as Rome was disagreeing with what he was seeing there in the New Testament, well, if Rome held that the pope's word was an authority above scripture, then when there's a disagreement, Rome will always win because the pope's word will always trump God's Word. And if that is the case, said Luther, the reign of the Antichrist there is sealed, and it is no longer the Church of God, but the synagogue of Satan. More than all this doubt about what was proper authority was the message that Luther saw in the New Testament. Now, this wasn't obvious at all to Luther, and he struggled and struggled to see what the apostle Paul meant by the gospel. He was very unclear, very unsure what Paul meant by phrases like justification and the righteousness of God. And where he was coming from was this.
Where he was coming from was this. See, Luther thought he already knew what justification meant. See, he'd grown up with the understanding that justification was easily explained by one text in Romans, Romans 5, chapter 5, which says, God has poured his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit he's given us. It's not a verse about justification.
It's a beautiful verse. But that was Luther's understanding of justification, that God, by his Holy Spirit, pours his love into our hearts, therefore making us in ourselves more and more loving, more and more righteous, more and more just. And that is how God just-ifies us, he thought. The question was, well, if that's how God justifies us, making us more and more just in ourselves, and therefore worthy of entering heaven, Luther was beginning to wonder, am I that sort of person who's been justified enough to be worthy of meriting heaven? And then there were verses like Romans 1 17 that simply didn't fit with what Luther understood.
And here's how he put it. Looking at that verse, which says the righteous will live by faith, he said, though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience, and I could not believe that God was placated by my satisfaction. Thus, I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, Romans 1 17, ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed as it is written, he who through faith is righteous shall live. And I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous live by a gift. And I began to understand that the righteousness live by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning, the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, a passive righteousness by which the merciful God justifies us by faith.
Here I felt I was altogether born again, and had entered paradise through open gates. In other words, Luther's understanding of God and salvation had radically shifted. Justification he now saw was not a process of God making us more and more righteous or just or loving in ourselves.
Justification is a divine declaration that the sinner is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. And Luther was transformed by this. He was overwhelmed now with the desire to share this message. A message that had many components to it, but there were two essential parts. He wanted to share one, that the Bible stands above Pope and church and all. And two, that justification is a divine declaration that sinners clothed through the righteousness of Christ are saved, not by anything in themselves, but purely by the grace of God. And in 1520, that was the message that was beginning to rock all of Europe.
A message that was going to upset a message that was going to upset the religion that was there. Now let's cross the English channel. That was what was going on in Europe.
Now in England, things are always a little different. Things are done a little differently in England, but just as it had been in Germany with Luther, it was Erasmus' New Testament that started it all in Britain. Before long, a young priest called Thomas Bilney read Erasmus' New Testament, and he came across these words, words that were completely fresh to him. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. What wonderful words to come across for the first time. Now, previously, Bilney had despaired of his sins, but with these words, he said immediately, I seemed unto myself inwardly to feel a marvelous comfort and quietness in so much as my bruised bones leaped for joy. And after this, the scriptures came to me to be more pleasant than the honey or the honeycomb, wherein I learned that all my works, all my fasting, my watching, all the redemption of masses, pardons being done without truth in Christ, who alone saves his people from their sins, all these things I say I learned to be nothing but a running out of the right way, or much like the garments of fig leaves that Adam and Eve went about in vain to cover themselves, and they couldn't obtain quietness and rest until they believed in the promise of God that Christ, the seed of the woman, would tread upon the serpent's head. Something striking to notice as we look at this story, I think, is how unorchestrated it is.
There isn't one human ringleader pulling it all together. Bill Nee had not read Luther. He just read the New Testament and come to the same conclusions. And for the next few years, until he was burned for his preaching in 1531, Bill Nee was instrumental in bringing a number of others to the Reformation. At the same time as Bill Nee was preaching now, a number of Luther's books started flooding into the country, and they were welcomed by quite a few people. Because some 150 years earlier, John Wycliffe, who was an Oxford academic and preacher, who's known later as a morning star of the Reformation, foreholding many reformational beliefs so long before it happened, he'd got many followers still in England who was known as Lollards. And these Lollards welcomed the ability to read the Bible, and they welcomed Luther's teaching.
So there was a receptive audience ready and waiting in England. But by the time this had happened, Luther had been condemned by the Pope. And so his books were burned in Oxford, Cambridge, and London.
Now, burning and banning books only ever seems to make them more popular. And so it was. So it was. And Luther and books began to be smuggled in in even greater numbers through seaside ports like Ipswich on the East Coast, fueling the spread of a network of underground Lutheran groups. In Cambridge, one group of dons or professors were known to meet in a tavern called the White Horse Inn, where all the beer and Luther talk made it look so much like Luther's hometown of Wittenberg that people called it Little Germany. That was all over the east side of England. That was all over the east side of England and pretty unconnected over the rural west side of England.
Little Sodbury in Gloucestershire, to be precise. A brilliant young linguist called William Tyndale was starting to cause ructions with his employer, Sir John Walsh. Now, young Tyndale, he was just employed to be a tutor to Sir John's children. But Tyndale had been reading Erasmus' New Testament quite a bit, and his dinner table conversation could put even the strongest Catholic stomachs off their food. Now, listen to the vim with which Tyndale would put it. He said, Evangelion, that we call the gospel, is a Greek word, and it signifies good, merry, glad, joyful tidings that make a man's heart glad, make him sing, dance, leap for joy. Now, quite simply, nobody else talked like that. But Tyndale had come to see that God freely declares sinners to be righteous, and that was a doctrine of comfort and joy, comfort and joy that he, a failing sinner, was perfectly loved by God, clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ himself.
That gave him a dazzling confidence. One Catholic scholar was so exasperated by talking to Tyndale that he blurted out, oh, we would be better without God's law than the Pope's. Tyndale replied, I defy the Pope and all his laws, and if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that drives the plow to know the scriptures better than you do. That was no idle boast by this fine young linguist. And Tyndale then set about his life's work of translating the Bible from its original Latin and Greek, not going through the church's Latin, but going from the original Greek and Hebrew into English.
That was almost impossible to be able to do in England at the time. And so he sailed for Germany, and he made his way to Worms, you write Worms as Worms. This is the place where five years earlier, Luther had famously made his Here I Stand speech before the emperor. And right there in that historic location, Tyndale, five years after Luther, Tyndale published his complete New Testament in English. Now, for 100 years, 100 years or so, the followers of John Wycliffe had produced and read translations of the New Testament in English. But here was the difference. Those translations of the New Testament, they were handwritten, so they couldn't be reproduced very easily at all.
They couldn't be distributed fast. And they were not great translations based on the Latin. And so they came with all the theological problems of the church's Latin Vulgate version. And so there was a radical difference between what Tyndale was doing and what was already available. Tyndale would have a version of the Bible in English that would say, be penitent instead of do penance. It would have those theological differences in place. And Tyndale's New Testament could be printed off and would be printed off by the thousand and smuggled then into England in bales of cloth.
And soon this New Testament would be accompanied by his Parable of the Wicked Mammon, which was his defense of justification by faith alone. Even more importantly, Tyndale's New Testament was a gem of a translation. It was accurate.
It was beautifully written. It was a page turner, none of which impressed the English bishops. To them, Tyndale's translation was plain dangerous.
And all copies that could be found would be burned along with their owners. And the bishops were right. Tyndale's Bible was dangerous.
Do penance in the Vulgate was now be penitent or repent in Tyndale's version. Priest was now simply senior. That didn't sound like an intermediary between a man and God.
That's just a senior Christian. Church was congregation. Confess was merely acknowledge. Charity was now love in Tyndale's version. And this pulled the biblical carpet right out from the church's claims. How to be saved, what being a Christian meant, looked completely different in place of all formal external sacramentalism was a call for a change of heart to be born again.
Now it's worth slowing down to grasp this because this was a monumental change, a call not just for right behavior and right ritual, but for a change of heart. Well, eventually the wrath of the church caught up with Tyndale, but not before he'd managed to translate a good portion of the Old Testament as well. And some 16,000 copies of his Bible made their way into England. That was a huge number. When the population of England was only about 2.5 million and most of that population was illiterate, 16,000 was a massive bestseller. But in 1535, he was caught.
And the following October, he was officially strangled and burned near Brussels. Before that happened, he uttered the immortal last words, Lord, open the King of England's eyes. And how God answered that prayer, we'll see in our next lecture. His complete series is 12 messages on two DVDs. We'll also give you digital access to both the audio and the video of the series and access to the digital study guide so that you can explore this period of church history with your family or perhaps with a small group. So make your donations a day by visiting renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800 435 4343. Tomorrow we'll meet a very powerful king who was on a mission to have an heir and the way that God used him to advance the cause of the reformation. So look forward to you joining us tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. you
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