Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Friday, March 16, 2007

Boreham and the Lamplighter

The following is the text of an essay by F W Boreham that appeared in a brochure distributed by the British and Foreign Bible Society [now The Bible Society].


By the Rev. F. W. Boreham, D.D.

How heartily and incredulously Harry Walsh would have laughed if some little bird had whispered in his ear that, in centuries to come, men would speak of William Tindale as a grave and austere scholar, a stern and gloomy reformer, a severe and unbending controversialist! And Humphrey Monmouth would have felt very similarly. For Harry Walsh, a sunny little fellow of six, living at Little Sodbury, and Humphrey Monmouth, an alderman and well-known merchant of the city of London, knew Mr. Tindale as one of the most winsome, one of the most genial and one of the most lovable of men. Their happiest hours were spent in his society. Harry was the elder son of Sir John Walsh, a knight of Gloucestershire, and Mr. Tindale was his private tutor. Here they are, sitting together beside a stile under a giant chestnut tree, surveying from this green and graceful hillside the quaint little hamlet nestling in the hollow! Harry, in all the bravery of his trim velvet suit, with silk stockings and silver buckles, is perched on the top of the stile. His tutor, a young man of thirty, of well-knit frame and thoughtful but pleasant face, with nut-brown hair and deep-set hazel eyes, is seated on the foot-step below him. A little brown squirrel eyes them suspiciously from a branch overhead and a cuckoo is calling from the copse near by. Harry carries an armful of bluebells.

"What wonderful times we are living in" exclaims Mr. Tindale, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. "Why, you and I ought to thank God every day, Harry, that he has sent us into the world just now! Every morning brings news of some fresh wonder!"

It was no exaggeration. The air literally tingled with sensation and romance. The world was being made all over again. The very planet was assuming a fresh shape. It was an age of thrills! One day Bartholomew Diaz gave Africa to the world; the next, Columbus presented it with America, and then Vasco da Gama unveiled India! Continents were springing up like mushrooms! And, whilst Columbus was discovering a new world in the West, Copernicus was discovering a new universe in the skies, and William Caxton was introducing a new age with his printing presses! It was the age, too, of the Renaissance and the Reformation!

"What wonderful times we are living in!" exclaimed Mr. Tindale, partly to himself and partly to his young charge perched on the rustic stile. Harry's golden hours are the hours that he spends rambling across the fields or through the woods in Mr. Tindale's delightful company. For he knows that, as soon as they warm to their stride, his tutor will tell him the latest wonder of which the coach from London had brought word.

He goes to London
All things come to an end, however, as Harry discovers to his sorrow. As long as he lived he always declared that the deepest shadow that darkened his happy boyhood was his tutor's resignation. He never forgot the evening on which Mr. Tindale told him that he must leave Little Sodbury.

The candles having been lit, Mr. Tindale, as is his custom, read to the two boys—Harry and Richard—a few verses from his Greek Testament, translating and commenting as he goes along.

"We must read our favourite verses tonight," he had said, with a smile of singular sweetness in which, however, a suspicion of sadness seemed to linger. The boys know exactly the passage to which he refers. They know how dear to him are the verses that he has taught them, too, to love.
"You are of God, little children," he begins, and reads on till he comes to the words We love Him because He first loved us." Those words, he used to tell the boys, were the pearly gate through which be entered the kingdom.
"I used to think," he said, "that salvation was not for me, since I did not love God; but those precious words showed me that God does not love us because we first loved Him. No, no; we love Him because He first loved us. It makes all the difference!"
The familiar passage having been read once more, Mr. Tindale tells them that he is leaving them. The boys are soon in tears and the tutor's voice is husky.

“But why,” demands Richard, in a passion of childish grief, "why must you go?" He draws them to him and attempts to explain.
“I must go," he says quietly, "because I have found the work that God has sent me into the world to do. You have heard the things that have been said at dinner. Great and wise men, even preachers and prelates of the Church, come to dine with your father and mother, and say things that they could not possibly say if they knew aught of the Scriptures. If learned doctors and eloquent preachers are so ignorant of the Divine Word, is it any wonder that the people are it in darkness? A new day is dawning, the people are reading and thinking , it is time they had the Bible in their own tongue; and so, as I told your father and Doctor Hampton at dinner last night, I have resolved that, if God spare my life, I will cause every ploughboy in England to know the Scriptures better than the priests and prelates know them now; but it cannot be done here. I must go to London, and there, I trust, Bishop Tunstall will counsel and assist me." And so, after taking a sorrowful farewell of the household at Little Sodhury, Mr. Tindale turns his face towards London.

He becomes an Exile
But London receives him with a scowl. He soon discovers that he has poked his hand into a hornet's nest. On his first appearance at the palace, the Bishop gives him the cold shoulder; and, when he persists in his overtures, he is threatened with all the thunderbolts that the Church can hurl. By every ship that glides up the Thames, the writings of Martin Luther are being surreptitiously imported into England, and men are being hurried to prison and to death for reading them. The disappointed young tutor never dreams that, in centuries to come, his statue will hold a place of honour on the Victoria Embankment, and that, at its unveiling, princes and peers will bare their heads in reverence to his illustrious memory

And yet, while Church and State frown upon his project and eye him with suspicion, those who come into intimate touch with him are captivated by his charm. From his old employer at Little Sodbury he brings letters of introduction to some of the merchant princes of the metropolis, and in their homes he soon becomes a loved and honoured guest. With Alderman Humphrey Monmouth he stayed for more than six months. On week days he worked quietly at his translation. "But," as an old chronicler says, "when Sunday came, then went he to some merchant's house or other, whither came many other merchants, and unto them would he read some one parcel of Scripture, the which proceeded so sweetly, gently and fruitfully from him that it was a heavenly comfort to the audience to hear him read the Scriptures. He particularly loved the writings of St. John." Harry and Richard Walsh must have smiled knowingly if that last sentence ever came under their notice: "He particularly loved the writings of St. John." They would see again the glowing face of their old tutor and hear him repeat with rapture the words: We love Him because He first loved us.

Two things, however, are now clear. The first is that the people of England are hungry for the Word of God in their mother tongue; the second is that it is out of the question to attempt such a publication in London. This being so, he must brace himself for another painful wrench. Tearing himself from the homes in which so many delightful hours have been spent, he sets sail for the Continent.

He Translates the Scriptures into English
And on the Continent he knows of at least one kindred spirit. Martin Luther is hard at work translating the Scriptures. "Would to God," Luther cried, "that this book were in every language and in every home!" Mr. Tindale decides to hasten to Wittenberg and talk things over with the man who was shaking the very foundations of Europe. It is a pity that we have no classical painting of their historic meeting.

Luther and Tindale! The German Bible of today is the most enduring and most glorious monument to Martin Luther; the English Bible of today is the most enduring and most glorious monument to William Tindale! And here, in 1524, we see the two men spending a few memorable days together!

The rest of the story is well known. We have all chuckled over the way in which Tindale outwitted his old antagonist, the Bishop of London. The New Testament in English is at last complete. But how is it to reach England? The ports are closed against it! The book is contraband! Yet, in crates and casks and cases, in boxes and barrels and bales, in rolls of cloth and sacks of flour and bundles of merchandise, the Testaments come pouring into the country!

“Very well!" retorts the Bishop, "if we cannot ban the books, we'll buy the books and burn them!" He does so, only to discover, as soon as the flames of his famous fire have died down, that, in buying them, he has provided Tindale with the wherewithal to print a larger and better edition!

We have all experienced the thrill of this brave adventurous career. He was harassed; he was excommunicated; he was driven from pillar to post; he was hunted from country to country; he was shipwrecked he was betrayed; he was imprisoned; he was tortured; and, at last, he was sentenced to a shameful death.

And we have all felt the pathos of that last letter of his. He is still in the prime of life; but he is worn out and decrepit. Lying in his damp cell at Vilvorde, awaiting the stroke that is to emancipate his soul for ever, he reminds his friends that the date of his execution has not been fixed and that winter is coming on. "Bring me," he begs, "a warmer cap, something to patch my leggings, a woollen shirt, and, above all, my Hebrew Bible!"
"Above all, my Bible!

The words are eminently characteristic. He lived for the Bible; he died for the Bible; and he mounted the scaffold, and, looking forward into the future, he saw the time when the Bible would be read in every city, town and village throughout the land.

Tindale died a martyr's death on 6th October, 1536, and at the four hundredth anniversary of his passing we do well to honour his glorious memory.

No. 686 June 1938

Source: This essay is a slight adaptation of F. W. Boreham's ‘William Tyndale’s Text’, A Temple of Topaz (London: The Epworth Press, 1928), 262-272. [Tyndale is the spelling used in this essay while the brochure uses Tindale].

Image on pamphlet: The Manor House, Little Sodbury, where Tindale was tutor.

Thanks to Michael Dalton for sending me a copy of this pamphlet.