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CH A P. I.
THE REFORMATION UNDER THE CONDUCT
HE fixteenth century opened with a prospect
of all others the most gloomy, in the eyes of every true Christian. Corruption both in doctrine and in practice had exceeded all bounds; and the general face of Europe, though the name of Christ was every where professed, presented nothing that was properly Evangelical. Great efforts indeed had been made to emancipate the Church from the “ powers of darkness ;” and in consequence many individual souls had been conducted into the path of salvation. Still nothing like a general reforination had taken place in any part of Europe. For it must be confessed, that the labors of Claudius of Turin, of the Waldensian Barbs, of Wickliff, and of Huss, had not been fufficiently directed against the predominant corruptions in doctrine, though the practical abuses of the popedoin had been opposed with ingenuous freedom and disinterested courage. The external branches only,
rather than the bitter root itself, which supported all the evils of false religion, being attacked,
no pernranent or extensive change had ensued. The Waldenses were too feeble to moleft the popedom; and the Hussites, divided among themselves, and worn out by a long series of contentions, were reduced to filence. Among both were found persons of undoubted godliness, but they appeared incapable of making effectual impressions on the kingdom of antichrist. The Roman. pontiffs were still the uncontrouled patrons of impiety: neither the scandalous crimes of Alexander VI., nor the military ferocity of Julius II.,-pontiffs whose actions it is impertinent to the plan of this history to detail, seem to have leffened the dominion of the court of Rome, or to have opened the eyes of men so as to induce them to make a sober investigation of the nature of true religion,
But not many years after the commencement of this century, the world beheld an attempt to restore the light of the gospel, more evangelically judicious, more simply founded on the word of God, and more ably and more successfully conducted than any which had ever been seen since the days of Augustine. Martin Luther, whom Divine Providence raised up for this purpose, was evidently the instrument rather than the agent of this reformation. He was led from step to step, by a series of circumstances, far beyond his original intentions ; and in a manner, which might evince the excellency of the power to be of God and not of man*. Even the reformations, which took place in several other parts of Europe, besides Germany, the scene of Luther's transactions, were in a great measure derived from the light, which he was enabled to diffuse among mankind. And as the peculiar excellency of the revival of godliness now before us lay in this, that it was conversant in fundamentals of doctrine, rather than in correction of mere abuses of practice, hence the history of Lutheranism recommends itself in an especial manner to the study of every theologian.
lay * 2 Cor. iv. 7.
That I may be able to furnish the reader with a clear and satisfactory view of this important part of ecclesiastical bistory, I shall particularly avail myself of the labors of the learned Seckendorf, who published a latin translation of Maimbourg's * hiftory, and who, in a diffusive comment, often corrected and refuted it, and at the same time supplied from the very best materials whatever might be wanted to illustrate the progress of Lutheranism. The authentic documents derived from the archives of the royal house of Saxe Gotha, and the original papers of Luther, Melancthon, and other reformers are largely quoted by this author. He adverts also continually to the opposite accounts of the Romish writers. In fine, he seems to have examined all the best sources of information on this subject, and to have placed before his readers, whatever might be needful to inform their judgments. I follow Seckendorf therefore as my principal guide, yet not exclusively; I also make use of father Paul, of Du Pin, of Sleidan, Thuanus, &c. &c. The merely modern writers, who too commonly treat these inte. resting matters in a superficial manner, content with elegance of stile, and an indulgence to the popular taste, afford little service towards the execution of my plan.
In a manuscript history, extending from the year 1524 to 1541, composed by Frederic Myconius, a very able coadjutor of Luther and Melanćthon, the author describes the state of religion in the begin
ning • Louis Maimbourg, a learned Jefuit, wrote celebrated his tories of Calvinism, Lutheranism, Arianism, &c. &c.
ning of this century in striking terms. “The passion and satisfaction of Christ, were treated as a bare history, like the Odyssey of Homer : Concerning faith, by which the righteousness of the Redeemer and eternal life are apprehended, there was the deepest filence: Christ was described as a severe judge, ready to condemn all who were* destitute of the intercession of saints and of pontifical intereft. In the room of Christ, were substituted as saviours and interceffors, the Virgin Mary, like a Pagan Diana, and other faints, who from time to time had been created by the popes. Nor were men, it seems, entitled to the benefit of their prayers except they deserved it of them by their works. What sort of works was necessary for this end was diftinctly explained; not the works prescribed in the decalogue, and enjoined on all mankind, but fuch as enriched the priests and monks. Those, who died neglecting these, were consigned to hell, or at least to purgatory, till they were redeemed from it by a satisfaction made either by themselves or by their proxies. The frequent pronunciation of the Lord's prayer and the falutation of the Virgin, and the recitations of the canonical hours, conftantly engaged those who undertook to be religious. An incredible mass of ceremonious observances was every where visible; while grofs wickedness was practised, under the encouragement of indulgences, by which the guilt of the crimes was easily expiated. The preaching of the word was the leatt part of the episcopal function : rites and processions employed the bilhops perpetually, when engaged in religious exercises. The number of clergy was enormous, and their lives were noft scandalous. I speak of those whom I have known in the town of Gothen, &c.” If we add to this the testimony of Pellica
nus, • Seckendorf, Vol. I. p. 4:
nus, another of Luther's followers, “ that a Greek Teftament could not be procured at any price in all Germany*,” what can be wanting to complete the picture of that darkness in which men lived, and in what did the Christian nations differ from Pagans, except in the name? It
proper to mention, that even the university of Paris, the first of all the famous schools of learning, could not furnish a single person capable of supporting a controversy against Luther on the foundation of Scripture. And scarcely any Christian doctor in the beginning of this century had a critical knowledge of the word of God. The reader may find it useful to be detained a little longer in contemplating the situation of the Christian world at the time of Luther's appearance. The obfervations I have to offer for this purpose shall be arranged under four diftinct heads; and they will, I trust, assist us in demonstrating the importance of the reformation, and fully evince that the difference between popery and protestantism is not merely verbal,
1. The popish do&rine of indulgences was then in the highest reputation. We shall be in no danger of misrepresenting this doctrine, if we state it according to the ideas of one of the ablest champions of poperyf. The church, he tells us, imposes painful works or sufferings on offenders; which, being discharged or undergone with humility, are called satisfactions; and when regarding the fervor of the penitents or other good works, she remits some part of the talk, this is called “an indulgence.” For he pretends that the infinite satisfaction of Christ may be applied in two ways, either by entire remission, without the reservation of any punishment, or by the
changing • Page 132: Id.
+ Boffuet bishop of Meaux, in an exposition of the doctrine of the Catholic church in matters of controversy.