Tyndale Flees Cologne

Clutching the worn satchel against his chest William Tyndale scanned the crowd gathered on the dock. He searched every face with a weary suspicion that belied his seemingly calm demeanor. Beside him, Rove fidgeting nervously, quietly shifting from foot to foot in agitation.

“When does the boat arrive?” he breathed in a restless murmur

“Not long now” Tyndale murmured back, his eyes shifting from the crowds to the waters of the Rhine.

“You said it would take us up the river?” Rove’s gaze followed Tyndale’s expectantly

“Yes” Tyndale nodded “We will go upriver…perhaps as far as Worms”

At that moment the boat appeared in the distance and the milling crowd gathered up their scattered belongings and surged towards the mouth of the dock as one man. Tyndale clung tightly to his satchel and allowed himself to be carried forward. Nervously he cast another glance around him.

Had they followed him?

His mind ticked back to the panic that had nearly swallowed him whole just a short while ago. He had stood watching the presses at Quentel and Bryckman as they deftly churned out page after page of neatly set type. Holding the thick paper in his hand and examining the words, his heart had given a little jolt of pure joy.

He was seeing the greatest longings of his heart come to fruition. It was a thrilling moment. He held in his hand sheet after sheet of the Bible, translated into English. It was a moment he had dreamed of for so long.

As he was savoring the undiluted bliss of the moment he heard brisk footsteps advancing behind him. Turning he saw Bryckman, one of the owners of the press and his face broke into a huge smile.

“The type is perfect” he began jubilantly but Bryckman cut him off hastily “All has been discovered William” his voice was thick with disappointment.

William’s own face began to slowly crumple “What do you mean?” he asked in confusion. “I have just had word” Bryckman’s mouth twisted in sympathy as he took in William’s expression “the Senate has ordered that the printing of the Bible into English be stopped and that all copies be seized immediately. They are sending officers here to confiscate everything as we speak”

“What?’ William shook his head in disbelief “how is that possible…I…I took every precaution to make sure that we weren’t discovered…I…we were careful…were we not careful Bryckman?”

“It is Bishop Cochlaeus William, he followed you here and he has made it his personal mission to find you and destroy your work”

As the full weight of the situation began to sink in William’s mind snapped into action. Grabbing handfuls of the printed manuscript he quickly and carefully stuffed it into his satchel. Then turning to Bryckman he said in a low, strained voice “I am leaving”

Bryckman nodded quickly and stepped out of the way. He didn’t bother to ask where Tyndale was going. It didn’t matter. What mattered now is that he managed to escape with the work still in his possession.

Hurriedly Tyndale wound his way through the busy streets of Cologne, managing to gather his assistant William Rove on the way. Together they hurried to the boat dock on the Rhine. They would take passage on the first ship sailing upriver.

Now sitting on the vessel as it churned its way through the murky water Tyndale rubbed his eyes wearily. They were gritty and stinging. His mind began to buckle under the weight of what had just transpired. It had taken him a lot to get to where he was.

Unto The Ends Of The Earth

His vision to translate the Bible had started off innocuously enough; while trading arguments with sanctimonious friars over the dinner table at Sodbury hall. It was there that he had passionately declared “If God spares my life I will before many years have passed cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the scriptures than the priests do.” He had meant that oath with every fiber of his being.

Shortly after he had left Sodbury hall for London, hopeful of gaining the support of the Bishop of London in his endeavor. He needed a sponsor and surely the good Bishop would see the value of what he proposed. He sat anxiously in the parlor waiting for the Bishop to come down and meet him. After a round of perfunctory greetings, he had shared his vision with the Bishop, unable to hide the excitement that bubbled beneath the surface. After listening to him the Bishop had paused and then coldly answered “I am afraid Master Tyndale that my house is already full”

Numb with shock he had stood to leave. Outside, jostled along with the crowd in the busy London streets he had cried out to God for a solution. Where could he go? What should he do? God had led him to Humphrey Monmouth, a merchant. Monmouth not only opened his home to Tyndale but had also promised to sponsor the entire undertaking. Excitedly William plunged into his work with the help of his friend John Frtyh.

But the excitement was short lived. The inquisition swept through London like a wildfire, it’s hot breath rasping against the necks of all those who secretly and silently embraced Protestantism. Every single man and woman who was in possession of the writings of Martin Luther was hunted down and burned.

Grabbing his handwritten manuscript Tyndale fled. There was no room for him in the house of the Bishop of London and even less room for him in all of England. He skipped through Europe from one small town to another. Always poor. Always hungry. Always tired but always focused.

He wrote day and night under the dim and dappled glow of copious candles that burned low through the night. Sunrise and sunset passed by unnoticed as he holed himself up in dank and dinghy lodgings, scraping by on scraps of money that Monmouth managed to send to him.

He froze his way through winter and sweltered his way through summer but the thought of what his work would accomplish for the salvation of England spurred him on.

Now he had hit another roadblock and God had preserved him yet again. He had much to be thankful for. He was alive and the manuscript was safe.

They got off the boat in Worms. The little town that had been made famous by Dr. Luther. There Tyndale quietly finished his work and printed off 1500 copies of the Bible translated into English with the help of Peter Schaefer. He had it smuggled across the border into England and into the waiting hands of Humphrey Monmouth who then proceeded to covertly distribute it throughout the land.

Over the next few years, the roadblocks abounded thick and fast, yet Tyndale’s faith did not fail. At last, betrayed by his friends in Antwerp, he stood with a noose slung around his neck and the wood laid at his feet. As the darkly auspicious moment of his martyrdom approached he raised his eyes to heaven with a parting prayer “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes” he pleaded fervently.

Two years later, by the command of King Henry VIII, a Bible was placed in every church in the land for the free use of the common man. Today every English copy of the Bible you hold in your hand is a testament to the determination and self-sacrificing effort of William Tyndale.

He obeyed the command of his Master regardless of the cost and by the power of the Spirit, his ministry reached unto the ends of the earth.

Further Reading

  • Wylie, J.A. (1878) – The History of Protestantism
  • White, E.G. (1888) – The Great Controversy