February 27, 1896
WHEN the Jews sent priests and Levites to inquire of John the Baptist, “Who art thou?” he replied, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” 546 He was, in so far as he attracted the notice of men, the personification of the voice of God.
The same may be said of the great reformers who have lived in other ages of the world. They have stood out form amidst the multitudes of their day, as salient figures in a conflict between God’s word and the word of man; yet not as being themselves the cynosures of the public gaze, but as color bearers, holding high the standard of eternal truth—the word of the living God.
So it was with John Wycliffe, the first of the great reformers of modern times. Our illustration presents him standing before a convocation of Catholic prelates at Oxford. The scene is one characteristic of his whole experience as a reformer. He was never long free from the presence of the champions of popish dogmas and traditions. They opposed him with the word of man in its most exalted form,—the decrees of councils, the traditions of “the fathers,” and the bulls of “infallible” popes; and he replied to them with “Thus saith the Lord.” Sometimes surrounded by friends, but never leaning upon human support, he faced the foes of freedom and divine truth without flinching, and in his work was revealed again the truth of the prophet’s utterance, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, . . but the word of our God shall stand forever.” 547
The life of Wycliffe as a reformer is but a record of the battles of the word of God with religious error in the form of the traditions and commandments of men, and of its triumphs over them. Wycliffe himself well knew that the conflict waged by them was not with him. When some monks came one day to enjoy the sight of the reformer lying ill upon what seemed his death-bed, and to predict to him the speedy downfall of his work, he raised himself upon his couch, and piercing them with his gaze, replied, “With what do you think you are contending? with a feeble old man, tottering upon the brink of the grave? No; but with truth—truth, which is mightier than you, and will one day vanquish you!” The monks withdrew discomfited.
The opposing forces of truth and error are still ranged against each other to-day; for the contest is not yet ended. To-day the same power that opposed Wycliffe stands glorying in its might, trusting even that all the world will yet bow in worship at its feet. It is holding forth the word of the mortal being whom it has pronounced “infallible,” with the commandments and traditions of men, as superseding the precepts of God. Nor does it flatter itself without reason, in human judgment, for all the world is looking upon it in wonder and admiration; all nations are working to confirm its decrees. In particular, that power is the Papacy; but in general, it is any earthly power, papal or Protestant, which clings to the evil principle of trust in the word of man.
The issue is joined to-day for a decisive combat. God’s Word declares, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work.” On the other hand, the word of man—traditions church precept, and the civil “law”—declares the first day to be the Sabbath. The first-day sabbath is Rome’s heralded token of the supremacy of her word in spiritual things; and in anticipation of her long-awaited triumph, she says in her heart, “I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” 548  She is stretching forth her hand to seize again her long-lost supremacy on earth. But in the heavens a mandate has gone forth, “It is time for thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void thy law.”
The dramatic scenes of Wycliffe’s time are to be reënacted. The champions of divine truth are again to stand before kings and rulers; the word of the Infinite is again to be seen towering in divine majesty above the precepts of mortal man. The triumphs of truth in every age culminate here. We have reached the climax of the great controversy. Over the issue of which day is the Sabbath—which of the signs of two opposing spiritual powers is to be given the honor of men—the battle will be fought to its conclusion. On the one hand stands the Sabbath of the Lord, the seventh day,—the sign of the Godhead of Him whose word has creative power; and on the other hand is the man-made sabbath—Sunday—the sign of that opposing power which has set its word above the word of the most High, claiming the right to change the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first. On that side and under that banner will stand all who, whether Catholic or Protestant in name, have given real or apparent assent to this change. In many places this assent is now called for by the civil law; but the word of the Creator upholds a different institution, and demands allegiance to it. Shall we choose Scripture? or tradition?—the word of God? or the word of man? The choice will determine our position in the conflict, and our final destiny.