THERE WERE NO DENOMINATIONS. No Baptist. No pentecostal. No Presbyterians. Other than a few renegade bands (Lollards among them), there was only the Greek East (Orthodox) and the Roman West (Catholic). Reform was still young, taking its first steps, and Christianity was a generation or two removed from its powerful lean toward tribalism. The Christianity Tyndale knew at the nativity of reform was undiluted, untamed, naked, without the spoil of religion or the endless pretensions and legal restraints that strangle it, that drain it of life. Luther was on another part of the continent reinventing it, writing its first congregational hymns.
Remember too, William Tyndale was an outlaw. His great book was outlaw. His thoughts were outlaw. It is a terrible liberty to endure, but it illuminated him, heightened his senses, most particularly his higher ones. I have yet to read as clear and unpolluted an account of the gospel or to look into its heart with as much light as warmth, and with a noticeably sweet absence of condemnation. But as lovely as it may be to our ear, and certainly to his, the text below was considered suspect, novel, even heretical.
Tyndale remains vibrant, current, as flush as May.
Perhaps anticipating his own death, the continuing presence it keeps, he addresses the text as if to an enemy, someone who has or wishes to injure him. Yet his tone is conversational, gracious, even warm. His words flow with extraordinary love and charity, with the sweetest graces of his art. With Tyndale, it is always something you hear, that we have been tuned to hear, familiar and well cultivated as it is in us.
Take the four minutes or so this reading will ask of you and put away all other thoughts. You may read along if you wish, though I would suggest listening a first time without the distraction of print. These words are less than a decade from being 500 years old, and not one of them has aged, lost its power, its perspicuity (look it up), its weight, generosity, warmth, dimension, or sincerity, that is, its beauty. I envy his liberty—naked, invisible, tender. His words are fat with possibility, with something genuine. I love him for that. I hear him. Lean in as you listen. The few archaisms of his English are harmless, and too remote in our cultural memory to register the slightest ping. May they add a charm of age.
Tyndale was very, very alive when he wrote this.
WHY I LOVE YOU
Christ is the cause why I love you, why I am ready to do the uttermost of my power for you, and why I pray for you. And as long as the cause abides, so long lasts the effect: even as it is always day so long as the sun shines. Do therefore the worst you can unto me, take away my goods, take away my good name; yet as long as Christ remains in my heart, so long I love you not a whit less, and so long are you as dear unto me as mine own soul, and so long am I ready to do you good for your evil, and so long I pray for you with all my heart: for Christ desires it of me, and has deserved it of me.
Your unkindness compared unto his kindness is nothing at all; yea, it is swallowed up as a little smoke of a mighty wind, and is no more seen or thought upon. Moreover, that evil which you did to me, I receive not of your hand, but of the hand of God, and as God’s scourge to teach me patience, and to nurture me: and therefore have no cause to be angry with you, more than the child has to be angry with his father’s rod; or a sick man with a sour or bitter medicine that heals him, or a prisoner with his fetters, or he that is punished lawfully with the officer that punishes him. Thus is Christ all, and the whole cause why I love you. And to all can nothing be added.
Let love interpret the law: that you understand this to be the final end of the law,
and the whole cause why the law was given: even to bring you to the knowledge of God, how he has done all things for you, that you might love him again with all your heart and your neighbor for his sake as yourself and as Christ loved you.
Love makes all things common; every man is the other’s debtor, and every man is bound to minister to his neighbor, and to supply his neighbor’s lack of that wherewith God has endowed him. If your brother or neighbor therefore has need, and you have the means to help him and yet show not mercy, but withdraw your hands from him, then you rob him of his own, and are a thief.
Every Christian man to another is Christ himself: and your neighbor’s need has as good a right in your goods as has Christ himself. And look, what you owe to Christ you owe to your neighbor’s need: to your neighbor you owe your heart, yourself, and all that you have and can do. The love that springs out of Christ excludes no man, neither puts difference between one and another. In Christ, we are all of one degree, without respect of persons.
In Christ there is neither French nor English; but the Frenchman is the Englishman’s own self, and the English the Frenchman’s own self. In Christ there is neither father nor son, neither master nor servant, neither husband nor wife, neither king nor subject: but the father is the son’s self, and the son the father’s own self; and the king is the subject’s own self, and the subject is the king’s own self; and so forth. I am thou thyself, and thou art I myself, and can be no nearer of kin. We are all the sons of God, all Christ’s servants bought with his blood; and every man to the other Christ his own self.
I love you not now because you are my father, and hast done so much for me;
or my mother, and hast borne me, but because of the great love that Christ has shown me. I serve you, not because you are my master, or my king, for hope of reward, or fear of pain, but for the love of Christ; for the children of faith are under no law, but are free. The Spirit of Christ has written the living law of love in their hearts; which drives them to work of their own accord freely and willingly, for the great love’s sake only which they see in Christ, and therefore need they no law to compel them. Christ is all in all things to them that believe, and the cause of all love.
If we be in Christ we work for no worldly purpose, but of love.
THE OBEDIENCE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN, 1528
TYNDALE OLD TESTAMENT, “Prologue Showing the Use of the Scripture,” 1531
THE PARABLE OF THE WICKED MAMMON, 1528