Christ is Lord over all ; and every Christian is heir annexed with Christ, and therefore Lord of all ; and every one Lord of whatsoever another hath. If thy brother or neighbour therefore need, and thou have to help him, and yet shewest not mercy, but withdrawest thy hands from him, then rob best thou him of his own, and art a thief. A Christian man hath Christ’s spirit. Now is Christ a merciful thing: if, therefore, thou be not merciful, after the example of Christ, then hast thou not his Spirit. If thou have not Christ’s Spirit, then art thou none of his, (Rom. viii.) nor hast any part with him. Moreover, though thou shew mercy unto thy neighbour, yet if thou do it not with such burning love as Christ did unto thee, so must thou knowledge thy sin, and desire mercy in Christ. A Christian man hath nought to rejoice in, as concerning his deeds. His rejoicing is that Christ died for him, and that he is washed in Christ’s blood. Of his deeds rejoiceth he not, neither counteth his merits, neither giveth pardons of them, neither seeketh an higher place in heaven of them, neither maketh himself a saviour of other men through his good works : but giveth all honour to God, and in his greatest deeds of mercy, knowledgeth himself a sinner unfeignedly, and is abundantly content with that place that is prepared for him of Christ ; and his good deeds are to him a sign only that Christ’s Spirit is in him, and he in Christ, ’ and, through Christ, elect to eternal life.
The order of love or charity which some dream, the gospel of Christ knoweth not of, that a man should begin at himself, and serve himself first, and then descend, I wot net by what steps. Love seeketh not her own profit, ( 1 Cor. xiii.) but maketh a man to forget himself, and to turn his profit to another man, as Christ sought not himself, or his own profit, but ours. This term, myself, is not in the gospel ; neither yet father, mother, sister, brother, kinsman, that one should be preferred in love above another. But Christ is all in all things. Every Christian man to another is Christ himself ; and thy neighbour’s need hath as good right in thy goods as hath Christ himself, which is heir and Lord over all. And look, what thou owest to Christ, that thou owest to thy neighbour’s need : to thy neighbour owest thou thine heart, thyself, and all that thou bast and canst do. The love that springeth out of Christ excludeth no man, neither putteth difference between one and another. In Christ we are all of one degree, without respect of persons. Notwithstanding, though a Christian man’s heart be open to all men, and receiveth all men, yet, because that his ability of goods extendeth not so far, this provision is made, — that every man shall care for his own household, as father and mother, and thine elders that have bolpen thee, wife, children, and servants. If thou shouldest not care and provide for thine household, then were thou an infidel, seeing thou hast taken on thee so to do and forasmuch as that is thy part committed to thee of the congregation. When thou hast done thy duty to thine household, and yet hast further abundance of the blessing of God, that owest thou to the poor that cannot labour, or would labour and can get no work, and are destitute of friends; to the poor, I mean, which thou knowest, to them of thine own parish. For that provision ought to be had in the congregation, that every parish care for their poor.
If thy neighbours which thou knowest be served, and thou yet have superfluity, and hearest necessity to be among the brethren a thousand miles of, to them art thou debtor. Yea, to the very infidels we be debtors, if they need, as far forth as we maintain them not against Christ, or to blaspheme Christ. Thus is every man that needeth thy help, thy father, mother, sister and brother in Christ ; even as every man that doth the will of the father, is father, mother, sister and brother unto Christ.
Moreover if any be an infidel and a false Christian, and forsake his household, his wife, children, and such as cannot help themselves, then art thou bound and thou have wherewith even as much as to thine own household. And they have as good right in thy goods as thou thyself: and if thou withdraw mercy from them, and hast wherewith to help them, then art thou a thief. If thou shew mercy, so doest thou thy duty, and art a faithful minister in the household of Christ, and of Christ shalt thou have thy reward and thanks. If the whole world were thine, yet hath every brother his right in thy goods, and is heir with thee, as we are all heirs with Christ. Moreover the rich and they that have wisdom with them must see the poor set a work, that as many as are able may feed themselves with the labour of their own hands, according to die Scripture and commandment of God.
William Tyndale, “The Parable of Wicked Mammon,” Tyndale W & Frith J The Works Of The English And Scottish Reformers Vol 2 1828
William Tyndale was martyred in 1536 for his translating the Bible into English. Tyndale’s paragraphs here offer a wonderful refresher course in Christian social concern, from how it relates to our faith, to whom the concern should extend.
While I was searching for various troublesome words, I was surprised by this passage. Tyndale wasn’t so much worried about what infidels would do to us, but that we should not exclude them from our list of those we are willing to help. I remember discussions I’d had with Lutheran pastors years ago about whether or not the list of those types of persons in distress that Matthew 25:31-46 talks about would extend to nonbelievers. Tyndale says we are debtors to infidels! I also remember about that time hearing about how some Muslim houses of worship were being vandalized in the US, I remember asking if perhaps a Christian congregation should show the love of Christ by offering to help rebuild the mosques destroyed in hate. One of the people on our social concerns committee strongly objected, perhaps she was showing some of the wisdom of Tyndale’s phrase of “as far forth as we maintain them not against Christ.” You probably wouldn’t want to re-print their religious materials, for example.
Tyndale’s first paragraphs above show exactly how giving, not giving, play into the spiritual issues of sin and salvation. We are not to view it as something that brings us merits or rewards or a higher place in heaven, not a means for rejoicing. It is only a sign of the inward Spirit of Christ in us. Our withholding of aid is properly understood as an issue of sin, one that requires our seeking of forgiveness. Even giving without the proper spirit of love is a sin according to Tyndale.
Tyndale also gives a long list of exactly to whom our giving should commence. We have a duty to immediate family, and extended family. But for any excess, the neighbor’s need has equal right as any need of Christ himself. We give to the poor who cannot work, who cannot work and has no friends, to those a thousand miles away, and even to infidels. I would not say that this mandates anything in particular about any government program, but these guidelines fly in the face of all the resentment of various kinds of needs and aid provided by even private charity I hear so much of today.
PRAYER: Thank you for the witness of William Tyndale, and that we are able to read the bible in English. We thank you for these words from Tyndale. Let us take them in, mull them over, and help us to see any wisdom as to how good deeds relate to our salvation. Enable us to resist all the temptations to limit our charity to this our that group. Let us even today pray for infidels, not only for the ones of different religions a thousand miles away, that they may know your love, but also for the ones Tyndale says are made by their reluctance to be charitable. AMEN.