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MERCERSBURG QUARTERLY REVIEW.
ART. I.--QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE CHURCH.
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5. But if the Reformation is the work of God, why then did it result in 80 many divisions ; destroying the unity of the Church, contrary to Scripture ?
This question is a favorite string with fanatical Priests to harp upon. From Catholic pulpits, and through their papers, it is echoed forth, ever and anon, with an air of ridicule and triumph. Nor is it a fruitless hobby among the ignorant masses in the Catholic Church. Even to serious minds in the Protestant communion, it has often become a stumbling-block of considerable magnitude. But this question can certainly be answered satisfactorily. Just as the divisions in the Primitive Church did not grow out of the essence and principle of Christianity itself, so also those divisions occurring at the time of the Reformation, were not the natural and necessary result of its divine principle. They sprang from causes entirely foreign to its own nature and design. The spirit of the age, together with existing circumstances, rendered them unavoidable.
Luther, with his personal peculiarities, labored in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, and Calvin in France, where, in his own field of labor, each one became naturally a centre of attraction and an object of admiration. Although commissioned by one common Master, influenced by one Spirit, and engaged in one noble cause, alike honest and zealous, with one common object in view ;-yet, in many other respects, these great men differed
widely from each other : as in temperament, disposition, talent, ways and means of discovering and communicating the truth, and consequently they differed also in views and ideas. That these personal peculiarities of the Reformers excited preferences among the people to whom they respectively ministered could not be otherwise ; and these preferences formed the basis for subsequent divisions. The Reformers acknowledged Christ as the head and centre of the Church; therefore they were fully conscious also of the unspeakable importance of Christian unity, and endeavored, with all their might, to prevent division. “I pray”-says Luther—"that none may use my name, and call themselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? As the doctrines are not mine, so neither have I been crucified for any one. Therefore let us obliterate all partynames, and call ourselves after Christ, whose doctrines we have." The great Zwingli manifested the yearnings of his soul after Christian union, when with tearful eyes he extended the hand of brotherly love to Luther, at Marburg. Nothing was more foreign from the desire and intention of the Reformers, than to create distinctions and divisions ! But they differed naturally and honestly. And their people, respectively, could not help but form a peculiar attachment to their great benefactor. For they felt enthusiastic in the enjoyment of mental and religious freedom; therefore, they must express their gratitude in tokens of devotion. As long as the Reformers labored separately, so long the existing differences were unknown, and their work went on peaceably; but after their meeting together, they became apparent, and disagreement and opposition commenced.
It may be well to state here briefly the principle points of difference. The Reformers differed very materially in two respects; 1, in their ideas of the elements in the Lord's Supper, and 2, in their views on the doctrine of election. Luther and Zwingli differed about the former, and Zwingli and Calvin about the latter point. The fundamental cause of this remarkable difference must be sought in their training. Luther, who had been trained " under the Law and the Prophets," having passed through the rigid school of a monastery, felt a powerful and scrupulous attachment to the Roman Church and her doctrines. Hence his view of the Lord's Supper was, in the beginning, essentially that of the Catholic Church. For “he asserted freely, that bread and wine are really and essentially changed into the body and blood of Christ, under the consecration of the Priest.” “ And although he disapproved that the Catholic Church deprived her lay-members of the cup, yet he believed with her, that under each form the entire bodily Christ was present and partaken of.” “ As fire penetrates every particle of iron, until both become one ; 80 also the glorified body of Christ penetrates every particle of the consecrated elements, so that both are one. (Draeseke, Ueber den Confessions Unterschied, eine Predigt, 1817. Page 10.) This was Luther's original view, which he modified materially through the influence of Melancthon. But when subsequently a number of fanatical spirits arose, by whom the sacraments were undervalued, Luther returned to his former view, and opposed all who differed from him. “I will rather drink blood with the Pope,” he said on one occasion in reference to the Lord's Supper,—" than drink wine with Zwingli.”
The Swiss Reformer, on the other hand, had been raised in the atmosphere of political freedom, having breathed the pure mountain air of his native country. Hence he was constitutionally different, and, for this reason, unable to appreciate the importance of the old Church and her institutions and doctrines, as Luther did. He took the Holy Scriptures for his platform and guide, and carried on all his reformatory movements according to its principles. On the Lord's Supper Zwingli taught at first : “ Bread and wine are only representations of the body and blood of Christ; only signs of the communion ; only means for our remembrance, and alone through such remembrance are they of signification.”
Calvin was not satisfied with this; neither with Luther's literal and Romish view, nor with Zwingli's means for remembrance. He differed from both and taught: Bread and wine are certainly not changed, but nevertheless the body and blood of the Redeemer is truly partaken of by the communicants ; not bodily with the mouth, but spiritually by faith ; not by all, but by believers only; not by means of the external symbols, but through a supernatural operation of Christ upon the pious soul.” We see from this, that Luther and Zwingli, in their views of the Lord's Supper, moved in opposite directions, whilst that of Calvin constitutes a bond of union between the two.
On the second point of difference, the doctrine of Election, Luther occupied at first high predestinarian ground, because he was a great admirer of Augustine, whose views on this subject he had adopted. Zwingli, with his noble, generous soul, believed and taught : “ That God has designed all men without distinction to become heirs of a blissful immortality; that no one is excluded; that the heavens are open for every one that fears God, even pious and sincere heathen not excepted." This opinion he based upon the following passages of Scripture: 1 Tim. 2: 4, John 3: 17, James 1:13, Acts 10 : 35.
Calvin, who, like Paul, had been changed very suddenly from darkness to light, (God has conquered my soul —he says" through a sudden change,'') looked very naturally upon the total depravity and utter helplessness of man in a different light. Consequently his conception of the justice and grace of God was also far higher. Hence we hear him proclaim :
No, by no means ! According to the eternal purpose of God, there are many, even in the Christian Church, not designed for eternal life; but they are vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction, (Rom. 9: 22,) and as such they cannot enjoy grace, even if they should wish it. Others are born for heaven, and such must yield to the operation of grace, even against their own will. Because God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he hardeneth whom he will.” (Rom. 9: 18.)
Luther's modified view of this doctrine, “ in which he was very unsettled and wavering,” is this: “Grace is extended to all men for conversion. Whoever is elected to be saved, cannot resist the operation of grace, but whoever does not belong to the elect, will resist the influence of grace, and must resist it, because he is wicked by nature."
In these different views of the Reformers, on the subject of the Lord's Supper and election, (not in the doctrines themselves) we have the principle ground work of all those lamentable divisions between them and their followers. And yet, deplorable as this result may seem, we cannot blame them for honestly holding and maintaining their separate opinions; especially since they considered them of vital importance to the life and conduct of a Christian, and in fact to the whole Church. There are matters of minor importance, which contributed much toward separating and keeping apart the two sister Churches of the Reformation, such as customs and usages. “ The Lutherans retained much of the Papal Church, which was calculated to operate upon the senses. Their church edifices were more decorated. They celebrated more festive-days. Their worship possessed greater variety. Their Liturgy contained more prescription and art, even to excess.' With the Reformed people it was different. They abandoned all that appeared superfluous, and aspired after a free, sober simplicity in everything pertaining to the Church. Their zeal in this direction carried them too far in some instances, and hence they could not agree with the Lutherans, who appeared to move in an opposite direction.
But notwithstanding all these differences in theory and practice, the Reformers were one in spirit and aim. The inmost desire of each one was, to establish one united evangelical Reformed Church ; a Church full of spirit and life, the pillar and foundation of truth, according to the Apostle Paul's idea. That they have failed to realize this noble design, must be attributed to the prevailing weakness and perversity of human nature. And with all its faults and imperfections, the Reformation was a grand and holy cause. Hence it prospered under the superintending care of Divine Providence, and has proved a blessing to millions of immortal souls; nay, to the whole world. Catholics may deny this. But is not the Roman Church herself largely indebted to the Reformation and the Protestant Church for her present prosperity? Have not a number of her most prominent men been born and educated