William Tyndale was committed to the biblical teaching of the sovereign election of God. He believed God acted before time began, in eternal love, in choosing a people whom He would save. God set His heart upon a people, elected out of the mass of fallen humanity, to be His own possession. This election of man was not based upon any foreseen choice within man. Rather, it was entirely by the free exercise of God’s will:
[Predestination] and salvation are clean taken out of our hands, and put in the hands of God only . . . for we are so weak and so uncertain, that if it stood in us, there would of a truth be no man saved; the devil, no doubt, would deceive us.
Tyndale was clear that God set His affections upon His elect in eternity past. He stated that God sovereignly chose to love them with a saving love. Tyndale also said that God chose to love His elect for His own glory and for their good: “God is ever fatherly minded toward the elect members of His church. He loved them, before the world began, in Christ.”
The end of all things shall be unto His glory and the profit of the elect.
Tyndale understood it was God who first chose His elect, not sinners who first chose Him, and that God made this distinguishing choice in eternity past. This is to say, all saving grace is traced back to this sovereign choice of God unto salvation:
God chose them [the elect] first, and they not God. In Christ God chose us, and elected us before the beginning of the world, created us anew by the word of the gospel, and put His Spirit in us, for because that we should do good works.
Divine election is unto salvation, not to be explained away as merely to service. The divine choice determines those chosen would be no longer in Adam, but in Christ. Tyndale taught that election is unto eternal life:
By grace (that is to say, by favor) we are plucked out of Adam, the ground of all evil, and grafted in Christ, the root of all goodness. You are chosen for Christ’s sake to the inheritance of eternal life.
Tyndale explained that sovereign election leads to the personal knowledge of Christ in the gospel. The elect are chosen by God to know Christ: “In Christ God loved us, His elect and chosen, before the world began, and reserved us unto the knowledge of his Son and of His holy gospel.”
Tyndale believed not all who attend church are numbered among the elect. Only those chosen by God make up the true church. He explained:
There shall be in the church a fleshly seed of Abraham and a spiritual; a Cain and an Abel; an Ishmael and an Isaac; an Esau and a Jacob; as I have said, a worker and a believer; a great multitude of them that be called, and a small flock of them that be elect and chosen.
While many contend that election is a dangerous doctrine to be feared and withheld from people, Tyndale held the complete opposite. He believed this divine truth emboldens the preacher because it ensures the ultimate success of his preaching ministry. No matter how hardened man’s heart may be, Tyndale insisted, sovereign election guarantees the reception of the gospel: “When Christ is . . . preached . . . the hearts of them which are elect and chosen, begin to wax soft and melt at the bounteous mercy of God.”
In summary, Tyndale believed that sovereign election exalts God as worthy of all honor. This truth sets God apart from man and above him. God is not subject to man’s wisdom or will. This truth of unconditional election exalts God as the supreme ruler over man:
Why does God open one man’s eyes and not another’s? Paul (Rom. 9) forbids to ask why; for it is too deep for man’s capacity. God we see is honoured thereby, and His mercy set out and the more seen in the vessels of mercy. But the popish can suffer God to have no secret, hid to Himself. They have searched to come to the bottom of His bottomless wisdom: and because they cannot attain to that secret, and be too proud to let it alone, and to grant themselves ignorant, with the apostle, that knew no other than God’s glory in the elect; they go and set up free-will with the heathen philosophers, and say that a man’s free-will is the cause why God chooses one and not another, contrary unto all the Scripture.
Tyndale affirmed that sovereign election glorifies God, humbles man, initiates salvation, and honors Scripture. This doctrine gave Tyndale great confidence in all his endeavors as he was reliant upon God for all things.
This article is part of The Daring Mission of William Tyndale collection.