“The Power of the Reformation” American Sentinel 11, 10, pp. 73, 74.

March 5, 1896

THE weapons of Christian “warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” 560

When the gospel commission was given, eighteen hundred years ago, to a handful of despised Jews, Rome ruled the world; and it was a capital offense to introduce into that empire any new religion.

The gospel commission challenged, therefore, the authority of the Cesars. It said: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” 561 Rome said: “Whoever introduces new religions, … shall, if belonmging to the higher rank, be banished; if to the lower, punished with death.” 562

But Christ said, “Go;” and his followers obeyed. He organized no army to accompany them; he provided no safe-conduct bearing the seal of the empire; he simply said: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” 563 It was the word of God against the powers of earth; and that word which “is quick [living], and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” 564 “went forth conquering, and to conquer.” 565

As the powers of earth had persecuted the Master, so they also persecuted his servants. As foretold by the Saviour, the world hated them even as it hated him. The authority of Rome, wielding fire and sword, was repeatedly invoked against the gospel and those who proclaimed it; but its progress was irresistible. The more Rome oppressed the truth the more it spread. “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.”

At last “Christianity” ascended the throne of the Cesars and swayed the scepter of the world; but it was no longer the Christianity of Christ. His weapons “are not carnal, but mighty through God.” But now the Church relinquished “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” 566 and seized a material sword. She had exchanged the power of God for the power of the State, and in so doing had apostasized from Christ.

From century to century a worldly church, living in adulterous union with the kings of the earth, lending herself to their ambitions and receiving in return such power as they had to give, sank deeper and deeper into the slough to spiritual darkness; until at the close of the fifteenth century she made merchandize of the grace of God and waxed rich from the sale of indulgencies, issuing licenses to sin and granting “pardon” for money! Notwithstanding Peter’s rebuke to Simon, the sorcerer, 567 the gift of God was offered in exchange for filthy lucre.

And then came the Reformation. It was not a schism in the Roman Catholic Church; it was not a revolt against the pope of Rome; it was not primarily even an effort to attain to purity of doctrine: it was a return to the simplicity of the gospel, the acceptance of “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” 568

Martin Luther’s soul, panting after God even as the “hart panteth after the water brooks,” 569 failing to find him in penances, discerned him in the still small voice which whispers, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” 570 That moment the Reformation began in his own heart, and the story of his experience welling up to his lips and flowing from his tongue proved to be to other thirsty souls the same gospel message given by the apostles fifteen centuries before, and the same divine power was in it.

As depicted in our illustration, the wrath of evil men was stirred, but God overruled it for his glory. The divine word was fulfilled: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” 571 The clenched fist might be thrust forth, but it touched not the devoted preacher of the gospel of justification by faith; the half-drawn sword clung, as it were, to the scabbard; the hand that grasped the murderous knife seemed [74] palsied by the power of the word of God; the divine promise, “Lo, I am with you always,” was fulfilled, and all the authority of Leo X., backed up by the power of Charles V., was not sufficient to cope with the simple word of salvation spoken by Luther and his co-workers.

“Our first object,” said the Reformer, “must be to win men’s hearts; and for that purpose we must preach the gospel. To-day the word will fall into one heart, to-morrow into another, and it will operate in such a manner that each one will withdraw from the mass and abandon it. God does more by his word alone than you and I and all the world by our united strength. God lays hold upon the heart, and when the heart is taken, all is won.” 572

“I will preach, discuss, and write; but I will constrain none, for faith is a voluntary act. See what I have done! I stood up against the pope, indulgences, and papists, but without violence or tumult. I put forward God’s word; I preached and wrote—this was all I did. And yet while I was asleep, or seated familiarly at table with Amsdorff and Melancthon, … the word that I had preached overthrew popery, so that neither prince nor emperor has done it so much harm. And yet I did nothing: the Word alone did all. If I had wished to appeal to force, the whole of Germany would perhaps have been deluged with blood. But what would have been the result? Ruin and desolation both to body and soul. I therefore kept quiet, and left the word to run through the world alone. Do you know what the devil thinks when he sees men resort to violence to propagate the gospel through the world? Seated with folded arms behind the fire of hell, Satan says, with malignant looks and frightful grin: ‘Ah! how wise these madmen are to play my game!’ But when he sees the word running and contending alone on the field of battle, then he is troubled, and his knees knock together; he shudders and faints with fear.” 573

But having attained popularity some of the Reformers, like the bishops of the early church, forget the true source of power and fell. “The Reformation,” says D’Aubigne, “was accomplished in the name of a spiritual principle. It had proclaimed for its teacher the Word of God; for salvation, faith; for king, Jesus Christ; for arms, the Holy Ghost: and had by these very means rejected all worldly elements. Rome had been established by the law of a carnal commandment; the Reformation, by the power of an endless life.

“If there is any doctrine that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion, it is its spirituality. A heavenly life brought down to man—such is its work; thus the opposition of the spirit of the gospel to the spirit of the world, was the great fact which signalized the entrance of Christianity among the nations. But what its Founder had separated, had soon come together again; the Church had fallen into the arms of the world, and by this criminal union it had been reduced to the deplorable condition in which we find it at the era of the Reformation.

“Thus one of the greatest tasks of the sixteenth century was to restore the spiritual element to its rights. The gospel of the Reformers had nothing to do with the world and with politics. While the Roman hierarchy had become a matter of diplomacy and a court intrigue, the Reformation was destined to exercise no other influence over princes and people than that which proceeds from the gospel of peace.

“If the Reformation, having attained a certain point, became untrue to its nature, began to parley and temporize with the world, and thus ceased to follow up the spiritual principle that it had so loudly proclaimed, it was faithless to God and to itself.

“Henceforward its decline was at hand.

“It is impossible for a society to prosper if it be unfaithful to the principles it lays down. Having abandoned what constituted its life, it can find naught but death.

“It was God’s will that this great truth should be inscribed on the very threshold of the temple he was then raising in the world; and a striking contrast was to make this truth stand gloriously prominent.

“One portion of the reform was to seek the alliance of the world, and in this alliance find a destruction fill of desolation.

“Another portion, looking up to God, was haughtily to reject the arm of the flesh, and by this very act of faith secure a noble victory.

“If three centuries have gone astray, it is because they were unable to comprehend so holy and so solemn a lesson.” 574

It was not to be expected that, emerging from the darkness of Romanism, the Reformers would step at once into the full light of the gospel of Jesus Christ; but the world had a right to expect that they and those who should come after them would go on unto perfection.

The protest of the German princes was the declaration of independence that made possible our own American declaration of God-given, inalienable rights; and cherished and practiced as it might have been, it would have proved under God an emancipation proclamation to a world enslaved by ecclesiasticism.

But after more than three and a half centuries what do we see?—Religion and religious institutions established by law everywhere, and the papacy fast recovering her lost prestige. Nearly all of Europe has religious establishments supported by taxation. Even in France the priests are stipendiaries of the State. While in our own land the Sunday institution, the “test of all religion,” 575 is enforced upon all by civil statute, and a powerful lobby is demanding of Congress, under threat of political boycott, the enactment of additional measures of religious legislation. Sad as is the fact, three centuries, yea, nearly four centuries, have gone astray “because they were unable to comprehend so holy and so solemn a lesson” as the gospel commission and the protest of the German princes; and because they knew not “the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” 576 [74]

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