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ity retained its divine character, even in the midst of human degradation. Like some mighty river, whose bed is lost beneath the surface of the earth, whilst in reality the same quantity of water glides through its invisible channel ; so also the life of our Redeemer, with its streams of salvation, flowed along uninterruptedly, beneath the external rubbish of the Papal Church. Its presence and power manifested itself continually in various ways. The voice of Reformers was heard in various directions, and many earnest attempts were made, from time to time, to free the Church from existing abuses; to give free course to the influence of divine truth, and to set the captive soul of man at liberty. The struggle was hard and long; because the spirit of the world had riveted the chains of bondage so firmly, that without divine assistance of a special character, this bondage could not be cast off. But God, in his wise Providence, raised up men in due season, who, like Moses of old, should lead the captives into a land of promise ; the land of gospel freedom. This took place in the days of the great ChurchReformation, in the sixteenth century. The true life of Christianity, purified by the streams of gospel truth, rushed forth again, like a subterranean river, from under the gigantic abominations of a corrupted Papacy !
THE REFORMATION. Its cause-origin and instruments_separation from the old Church--justification
division. 1. What caused the Reformation ?
The extreme abuses of Popery excited great and powerful dissatisfaction in the old Church, which at first confined to single individuals and congregations, spread rapidly at last, and called forth a mighty reaction. Voices of earnest warning had often been heard in the bosom of the Church; but she heeded them not. On the contrary, she persisted in her downward course. Pious watchmen upon her broken walls, who performed their sacred duty faithfully, in sounding the trumpet of alarm, were cruelly burned to death; because she did not want to be disturbed in her sinful tranquility and repose. At times she could not resist the conviction of guilt, and was forced to acknowledge the absolute necessity of a reform. Pope Julius II, was required by the cardinals to promise, and swear solemly, that within two years he would call together a council for the reformation of the Church. But the Papacy had lost the moral courage to undertake the work herself, and felt convinced also that a radical reformation must prove her own destruction. Hence she offered no consolation to the anxious longing for deliverance, which became more general from year to year. But whilst the Papacy refused and resisted, the Spirit of God continued his work of enlightening among the people. This wretched, helpless state of the Papacy, and the growing consciousness of the people, in regard to their spiritual wants, on the one hand, and the awakening and animating influence of the Holy Spirit on the other, must be considered the twofold cause of the Reformation. The Lord's people were in bondage ; they felt their oppression, and he brought them deliverance.
2. But how did the Reformation originate ?
The wide-spread and deep-rooted dissatisfaction of the people in the sixteenth century, culminated in a few individuals : Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. God, in bis wise Providence, had prepared them to discover the truth as it is in Christ; and with this heavenly torch they examined into the nature and condition of the Church. By degrees the great evils of Popery, its disgusting diseases, its ever increasing imposition and oppression became apparent to them, and they felt convinced that the removal of these evils required a radical reformation. Influenced by the Spirit of God, and animated with zeal for the cause of Christ, these men came forward boldly, giving utterance to the crying wants of the people, and exposing fearlessly the shameful abuses and intolerable errors of the Papacy. Thus the great work of the Reformation commenced, not beyond the Church, but in her own bosom, and the chosen instruments, through whom it was to be accomplished, were some of her own legitimate sons.
It is remarkable that the Reformation commenced simulta
neously in three different parts of the old country; in Germany, Switzerland and France, whilst the Reformers themselves were ignorant of each other. It is very common among Lutherans to claim priority in this respect, namely, that the Lutheran Church is older than the Reformed ; but this is a mistake. In 1506, Zwingli commenced already to preach the pure Gospel. “ We have no right," he said at that time, “to twist and construe the sense of Scripture according to our own pleasure," referring to the doctrines of the Church. “ We must seek the thoughts of God in his own word.” And in 1516, his solemn declaration “ Christ is our only treasure," was working among the great mass of the people like a leaven, and had wrought already a wonderful change. The great success, attendant upon the labors of the Reformers, is an overwhelming proof of the extensive and painful dissatisfaction with the old system. No sooner had they raised the standard of truth, than hundreds and thousands flocked around them; all eager to drink in knowledge from the pure fountain, and ready to join in a conflict with the powers of darkness. The eruption was at once unexpected and mighty ; it shook the hierarchy to its centre and made the Pope tremble on his throne. But he and his allies, having so long closed their eyes against the crying wants of the people, now stopped their ears against the mighty voice of truth, and would not listen, though it spoke in tones of thunder! Instead of yielding, they resisted, and arrayed themselves in hostile opposition to the good cause. They were smitten with blindness, like Pharaoh, in order to arouse the people of God more fully to complete their deliverance. It made the Reformers feel indignant, and incited them to redoubled activity in their divine mission.
3. The Reformers did not act the part of bigoted fanatics, or selfish, overbearing sectarians; which is a noble trait in their character. They were not actuated by a spirit of indifference to the existing institutions of the Church ; nor did they at once tear themselves loose from her communion, like many wouldbe reformers of later date. They began, not with breaking down, but to reform and build up by the faithful preaching of
positive truth. Opposition and protestation on their part, began only when the merits of the Redeemer were offered for sale by reckless priests; and after the Pope had excommunicated and hurled his anathemas against them. And where is there an awakened soul in all Christianity, that could look with silence upon such monstrous abominations! Gladly would the Reformers have remained in the old Church, if she had only permitted them to preach the gospel to her children in its original purity. The unity of the Church was dear to their hearts. Even the Papacy itself was long held in deep reverence by them ; only its corruptions they could not tolerate. And to save the old system from utter desolation, it was absolutely necessary to disclose the mantle of sanctified hypocrisy, and lay bare its accumulated unrighteousness. Light will naturally dispel the shades of darkness, and bring concealed objects into view. The Lord in his wise Providence, had raised up the Reformers to be great and shining lights; they understood their calling and performed their sacred duty faithfully. We rejoice in their heroism and feel grateful for their noble deeds. Through their instrumentality, the Father of light caused the sun of righteousness to cast his life-giving rays again freely into every oppressed soul that longed for deliver
4. But, notwithstanding all this, the question has been raised: Whether the Reformation can be justified ? The Papal Church, as is well known, always has and ever will, condemn the whole movement as wrong and diabolical, as long as she holds on to her doctrine of the Church; and this she can never give up without causing the whole institution to crumble to pieces. But even Protestants have been troubled with this question, and not a few have abandoned the cause of Protestantism in despair. Perhaps they directed their attention more to the external organism of the Church, to her wonderful system and admirable uniformity, than to the essence and spirit of Christianity; or a sickly scrupulosity about the apparent distracted condition of the Protestant Church ; or both these reasons together, may have caused them to embrace Catholicism. We do, however, not see any reason for doubt on this subject. For the principle of reform is deeply lodged in the soul of man. The voice of conscience, in conformity with the teachings of Scripture, whispers distinctly, “ you must repent and reform your life," whenever a person has gone astray. And this is the case with both saints and sinners, as long as they are exposed to the influences of a sinful world, and subject to the weaknesses of human nature. We all stand in need continually, of reformation in thought, word and action. The mother teaches this to her disobedient child; the wife to her faithless husband; the sister to her erring brother, and one friend to another, all the world over. And what is necessary for individuals, can never be dispensed with in society, nor in the visible Church. History proves this beyond a doubt. From the age of the apostles down to the present day, a single congregation, as well as the whole Church, has always been liable to fall into error and commit grievous mistakes. And whenever this has been the case, a reformation was necessary. But never was there a period in all the annals of history, when a radical reformation had become so absolutely necessary, as in the beginning of the sixteenth century. Whoever refuses to acknowledge this, must wilfully close his eyes against overwhelming facts! No honest Christian, whether Catholic or Protestant, having made himself acquainted with the state of the Church at that time, will for a moment doubt the absolute necessity and justice of the great Church Reformation. And because the Roman Church refused to commence the great work, therefore it devolved upon a few individuals, who were qualified for the task, such men as we fully know the Reformers to have been. This is nothing singular! When Israel sighed and trembled beneath the yoke of Egyptian bondage, God did not leave it to his people in general to deliver themselves; but he raised up his servant Moses to set them free again. Also from the Babylonian captivity they were rescued through the instrumentality of single prophets. The allwise Ruler of the universe has always accomplished great wonders and miracles by small and insignificant means.