Law and Gospel in the Words of William Tyndale

January 31, 2019

William Tyndale had a robust understanding of the law in the Christian’s life. The law can in no way save but was intended to awaken the sinner to his need for a Savior. Yet, the law is good, and genuine salvation requires a heart-change that produces an affection for God’s law. We fail frequently in this life, yet we remain secure by the righteousness of Christ granted to us.1

Seek the Law and the Gospel

While Tyndale’s New Testament took England by storm, he continued to translate in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1530, he published his translation of the books of Moses. In the prologue of this volume, he exhorted his reader to distinguish the law from the gospel, and recognize that one leads to the other.

Seek therefore in the Scriptures, as you are reading them, first the law, what God commands us to do; and secondly, the promises, what God promises us again, namely in Christ Jesus our Lord.2

Note the difference between the law and the gospel. The one asks and requires; the other pardons and forgives. The one threatens; the other promises all good things to them that place their trust in Christ alone.3

The Law Before the Gospel

Tyndale believed that it was essential to not only grasp the content of the law and the gospel, but to understand that the law precedes the gospel because it leads the sinful heart to Christ.

Here you see the nature of the law and the nature of the gospel; how the law is the key that binds and damns all men, and the gospel is the key that releases them again. The law goes before, and the gospel follows.4

All is not gospel that is written in the gospel book. For if there were no law, you could not know what the gospel meant; just as you could not see pardon and grace, except the law rebuked you, and declared to you your sin, misdeed, and trespass.5

The Spirit must first come and wake him out of his sleep with the thunder of the law, and terrify him, and show him his miserable state and wretchedness; and make him abhor and hate himself, and to desire help; and then comfort him again with the pleasant rain of the gospel…. Then, when he believes the promises, as God was merciful to promise, so is He true to fulfill them; and will give him the Spirit and strength, both to love the will of God, and to work thereafter.6

When a preacher preaches the law, he binds all consciences; and when he preaches the gospel, he releases them again.7

The Law

In response to the teachings and traditions of the church during his day, Tyndale emphasized that the law could not save, but rather it condemned. Yet even its condemnation drove penitent hearts to Christ.

The law is the utterer of sin.8

The law sets one not in union with God, but causes wrath.9

The law makes no man to love the law, nor to do or commit less sin; but creates more lust and increases sin. For I cannot but hate the law, inasmuch as I find no power to do it; and it nevertheless condemns me, because I do it not.10

The law was given to utter sin, death, damnation, and curse, and to drive us to Christ.11

The law, truly understood, is those fiery serpents that stung the children of Israel with present death. But Christ is the brazen serpent; on whom whosoever, being stung with the conscience of sin, looks with a sure faith, is healed immediately of that stinging, and saved from the pains and sorrows of hell.12

The Gospel

When set in the light of the law, the gospel has a brilliance which, in Tyndale’s words, makes the forgiven heart “sing, dance, and leap for joy.”

The gospel is life, mercy, and forgiveness freely given, and altogether a healing compress.13

The gospel signifies glad news, and is nothing but the promises of good things.14

Evangelion (which we call the gospel) is a Greek word; and signifies good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that makes a man’s heart glad, and makes him sing, dance, and leap for joy.15

The gospel is glad tidings of mercy and grace, and that our corrupt nature shall be healed again for Christ’s sake and for the merits of His deserving alone.16

A Final Exhortation

As we leave Tyndale, let us remember his exhortation that the law is not the way that leads to heaven by our own effort. No, the law leads to Christ – who is the door which leads to heaven by faith in His righteousness. And so, let us apply the law to grieve our hearts, and the gospel to rejoice in Christ.

Always apply the law to your deeds, whether or not you find desire in your heart to fulfill the law; and so will you no doubt repent, and feel in yourself a certain sorrow, pain, and grief in your heart, because you cannot with full desire do the deeds of the law. Apply the gospel, that is to say the promises, for the merit of Christ, and to the mercy of God and his truth, and so you will not despair; but will feel God as a kind and merciful Father.17


NOTES

1 The author has updated Tyndale’s English; when substantial changes were necessary, the original quotation is provided in the note for reference.

2 William Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures, ed. H. Walter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 399. “Seek therefore in the scripture as thou readest it, first the law, what God commandeth us to do; and secondarily, the promises, which God promiseth us again, namely in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

3 Ibid., 389. “Note the difference of the law and of the gospel. The one asketh and requireth, the other pardoneth and forgiveth. The one threateneth, the other promiseth all good things to them that set their trust in Christ only.”

4 Ibid., 21. “Here see ye the nature of the law and the nature of the Evangelion: how the law is the key that bindeth and damneth all men and the Evangelion is the key that looseth them again. The law goeth before and the Evangelion followeth.”

5 Ibid., 389. “All is not gospel that is written in the gospel-book: for if the law were away, thou couldest not know what the gospel meant; even as thou couldest not see pardon and grace, except the law rebuked thee, and declared unto thee thy sin, misdeed, and trespass.”

6 Ibid., 498. “The Spirit must first come, and wake him out of his sleep with the thunder of the law, and fear him, and shew him his miserable estate and wretchedness; and make him abhor and hate himself, and to desire help; and then comfort him again with the pleasant rain of the gospel, that is to say, with the sweet promises of God in Christ, and stir up faith in him to believe the promises. Then, when he believeth the promises, as God was merciful to promise, so is he true to fulfil them, and will give him the Spirit and strength, both to love the will of God, and to work thereafter.”

7 Ibid., 21. “When a preacher preacheth the law he bindeth all consciences, and when he preaches the gospel he looseth them again.”

8 Ibid., 416.

9 Ibid., 4. “The law setteth not at one with God, but causeth wrath.”

10 Ibid., 4. “The law maketh no man to love the law, or less to do or commit sin; but gendereth more lust, and increaseth sin. For I cannot but hate the law, inasmuch as I find no power to do it; and it nevertheless condemneth me, because I do it not.”

11 Ibid., 416. “That is, the law was given to utter sin, death, damnation, and curse, and to drive us unto Christ.”

12 Ibid., 4. “The law, truly understood, is those fiery serpents that stung the children of Israel with present death. But Christ is the brasen serpent; on whom whosoever, being stung with conscience of sin, looketh with a sure faith, is healed immediately of that stinging, and saved from the pains and sorrows of hell.”

13 Ibid., 306. “The gospel is life, mercy, and forgiveness freely, and altogether an healing plaister.”

14 Ibid., 389. “The gospel signifieth glad tidings, and is nothing but the promises of good things.”

15 Ibid., 8. “Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word; and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy.”

16 Ibid., 476. “The Gospel is glad tidings of mercy and grace, and that our corrupt nature shall be healed again for Christ’s sake and for the merits of His deservings only.”

17 Ibid., 390. “Apply alway the law to thy deeds, whether thou find lust in thine heart to the law-ward; and so shalt thou no doubt repent, and feel in thyself a certain sorrow, pain, and grief to thine heart, because thou canst not with full lust do the deeds of the law. Apply the gospel, that is to say the promises, unto the deserving of Christ, and to the mercy of God and his truth, and so shalt thou not despair; but shalt feel God as a kind and merciful father.”


Aaron Shryock avatar
Aaron Shryock is the Director of the Tyndale Center for Bible Translation at The Master's Seminary. He is passionate about raising awareness of the tremendous needs in Bible translation.

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