December 27, 2017

Tyndale's Only Surviving Letter

Stephen Nichols
Tyndale's Only Surviving Letter


There are many surviving books of William Tyndale. Of course, the most famous one is the Tyndale Bible. But in terms of material from his own hand, only a single letter survives. It is in Latin, and it was written while Tyndale was a prisoner at Vilvoorde Castle in Belgium, about six miles north of Brussels. The castle was built in 1374, and it had a lot of cold and dingy dungeons. This will shed some light on this letter. Let’s read it in full.

I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me. Therefore, I entreat your Lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during the winter, you will request the Procurer to be kind enough to send me from my goods, which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh [inflammation in the nose or throat], which is considerably increased in the cell.

A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin; also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also, with him, leggings of thicker cloth, for putting on above; he has also warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a candle in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.

But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer that he would kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided it is always consistent with the salvation of your soul.

But if any other resolutions have been come to concerning me, before the close of the winter, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.

William Tyndale

Just as Paul did in 2 Timothy, Tyndale asked for his cloak and for his books. Tyndale would spend his last days in the castle at Vilvoorde. He would be led from the castle and martyred on Friday, October 6, 1536. The accounts of Tyndale’s martyrdom say that he was calm, and in fact he said, “I call God to record that I have never altered, against the voice of my conscience, one syllable of His Word. Nor would do this day, if all the pleasure, honours, and riches of the earth might be given me.”

Tyndale faithfully served God throughout his life. He sacrificed much of his life as he was literally on the run as an outlaw trying to translate the Word of God into English so that his countrymen could have the Word of God in their native tongue. Even up until his death, he was faithful to his God.

It is very obvious, too, what Tyndale was thinking about. As he was led to his martyrdom, his final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” There was no bitterness. He was not angry; he was not trying to get out of the charge. Instead, he was praying for what he had been working for all of his life: that the king—this was Henry VIII—would recognize the truth and would recognize the light of the gospel and that God would somehow work and open Henry’s eyes so that he would see the gospel and the gospel could be preached abroad in his home nation of England.