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Gal. ii. 19. If, among those who regard the Protestant Reformation as a fruit of the Divine Truth and a germ of human improvement, there were the readiness sometimes manifested to observe festivals and anniversaries, we should have hardly seen the last month pass without its sacred pomps. More than three centuries and a quarter since, its thirty-first evening may be considered as opening the first scene in the grand series of actions with which these centuries have been crowded, and of which, as we look forward to the future, we can scarce deem ourselves able to foresee the greater issues. Two singular facts, the one outward and public, the other inward and secret, — the former a course of deeds, the latter a process of experience, — had conspired to bring this event to pass. During the pontificate of Leo the Tenth, the sale or grant of indulgences^ it is well known, had become common
172 THE WORD OF THE REFORMATtO . in Europe. Between the defenders and the opposers of Rome, it is true, there has not been perfect agreement in regard to the efficacy ascribed to these indulgences. In Germany, however, their power to remit certain penalties supposed to be due to sin was certainly set forth in no measured language by Tetzel. The magnificent edifice denomi-
nated St. Peter's, at Rome, is not only monument of the genius which devised it, but assurance of the vast contributions which, among other things, the proclamations of indulgence secured. Whether intended or not by the rulers of the Church, it is probable, to say the least, that there were those, and those not a few, who hoped to escape, through the powers of the Church procured by these contributions, from the dreadful punishments which had been depicted as awaiting them, and to obtain the blessing, where they had feared the curse, of God. At any rate, minds dissatisfied with them have understood them to encourage this groundless hope. So stands it, this potent agency of ecclesiastical wealth and grandeur, during the first quarter of the sixteenth century. The world hears little of indulgences now; to us, they have passed into old history ; with us, they are remembered but with the delusions and follies into which men have always seemed so prone to fall, misled and bewildered ; among us, there may perhaps be those, far from untaught in better things, to whom the very word sounds strange and new. But the world has come to know Luther's story well. His is a name new to none, strange to none.
THE WORD OF THE REFOBMATIO . 178 Loved or bated, acknowledged as herald of dawning truth or rejected as emissary of darkness, he is not forgotten. What is the place, void of influences which have flowed into it through his life ? What the region, at least of Christendom, but is full of his labor? Yet, at the instant Tetzel is enriching the magnificent Popedom from the treasures of Germany, Luther, sorrowing or rejoicing, dwells unknown in his monk's cell, and sometimes
goes out to beg bread. This man deserves some thought. Let us glance at the outline of his earli^ history, Martin Luther was born of peasant parents the 10th of ovember, in the year 1483. Born of parents, let it be added, sincerely pious according to the sentiments of their age, so brought and trained within the bosom of a Church, at once containing in its services the source of salvation, and associating with itself the sacred memories of nearly fifteen centuries. The theology of fear has already gained complete establishment; his parents receive it, and, according to its genuine spirit, educate him in its discipline and its faith. Their own treatment of the boy was severe ; and so too was that which he suffered in the school to which they sent him. The religious susceptibilities of his nature appear to have been early excited, and in a manner corresponding alike to the theology which surrounded him, and to the severity which aided in calling them forth. To bim the whole spiritual sphere was one vast realm of darkness and terror. It might seem likely Hoa^
174 THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . the thought of One who was supposed to have satisfied the justice of God and to have appeased his wrath, should do something to soothe the deep and unceasing disquietude ; but even Jesus Christ appeared to him, not as Saviour, but as angry Judge: he turned pale to hear his very name. Eastern, western, and northern mythologies had contributed their different images of abysmal wrath to complete the catholic ideas of purgatory and hell ; nor is it probable that the tender mind conceived otherwise of the Son of Grod, than as
enthroned in mid heaven, amidst angelic legions, mankind gathered and trembling before him, a portion indeed loved of him and saved, the many with himself doomed and thrust down to those fiery depths. Dante had already emerged as from the night of woe, already repeated the dark characters written on the summit of the infernal gateway; the awful threat to whoever passed within ! *< Through me he goes into the sorrowing dt^, Through me he goes into the eternal sorrow, Through me he goes among the outcast race. — Leave every hope, all ye that enter in." Those dreadful visions, read as fictions now, which we contemplate as stupendous creations of an individual mind, were really but the terrible aggregate of what the nations for ages actually believed veritable realities. The very Judge, over whom no shade of anger should fall, whose soul should be for ever clear and serene as cloudless morning ; the Christ, on whose brow majestic gentleness is for
THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . 175 ever enthroned, from whose eye benignity shines forth, as from a boundless sun, whose hand is uplifted never but to bless ; the same Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem in the feeling of its sins, the foresight of its woes, and wept with the sisters of Lazarus when their brother died, and gave himself, living and dying, freely for us all ; even he, so distorted has the Christian belief become, can be really thought of as unrelenting executioner of merciless vengeance, stern and inexorable as a Grecian Pluto or a Scandinavian giant despot. The sensitive boy, beaten sometimes at home
until the blood flows, beaten continually at school, is thus bereaved of the highest solace. The grave itself is overclouded ; none but the dimmest hope gleams through it. A mightier despotism frowns on him from above ; how shall he bear or escape its everlasting inflictions? In his twenty-second year the sudden death of a friend, either by assassination or by a stroke of lightning, and a thunder storm, in which, as the bolt strikes the ground at his feet, he feels himself compassed with the terror and anguish of death, concentrate and deepen his earlier impressions. Great literary hopes had been rising before him; but these he now casts aside. He forsakes the world, and retires to the convent With other pursuits of his sacred course, he applies himself to theology and the Scriptures. Disquieted still by consciousness of sin, he seeks rest, but does not And it. He performs most dutLfiilly the prescribed works ; but they bring no peace to bis soul. either in repentance, which he doe%
176 THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . not perceive to have completed itself in him, nor in love answering to the Divine Love, to which he is urged by a teacher of wider experience, can he reach the end of his long and weary toil. An old monk repeats to him the familiar words, I believe in the remission of sins. ot, the monk adds, that sin is forgiven to David or to Peter ; the mandate of the Lord is, that we believe, as individual men, that sin is forgiven to ourselves. In this confession, he begins to perceive an alleviation of his terrors. The Epistle to the Romans supplied him afterwards with the elucidation of his new view. The very phrase, righteousness or justice of God, had been hateful to him, from its expression of the justice, as he thought, with which God punishes
sinners. He rests at length in another interpretation, connecting inseparably justice or righteousness with the faith wherein alone the sinner is jus- y tified, forgiven, quickened into new life. This faith, let it be distinctly remembered, is no other than that God does really forgive me, and rescue me, sinfal as I may be, from impending wrath. All is so cleared to his thought by the single principle repeated by the same old monk from Bernard : <' The testimony which the Holy Spirit applies to your heart is this, Thy sins are forgiven thee." Thenceforth those horrid images of the mediaeval hell, with their lightning flashes and their burning bolts, pass off into separation and distance. They are not dissolved, for they still encircle other minds with all their threatenings and all their horrors ; but it is in the far horizon, leaving his sky clear, himself un-
THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . 177 scathed and safe. The gates of Paradise seem open, instead of the portals of the abyss ; and for the despair which had stood near him so long, he rejoices in the hope destined to brighten and guide bis future days. I am not to say now how far this process of Lather's experience and its issues are genuine expressions of true Christianity. I state the fact as it appears in the story, — the fact which gives us, I think, the Luther virtually completed, which infolds, not the secret of one life only, but the essential jurinciple evolved through centuries of churches denominating themselves reformed. The very instant Luther repeats with a confidence grounded on personal conviction, not on baptism or other sacrament, not on tradition or absolution, not on Pope or Churph, I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the
doctrines and rites of the Church may still bang about him as uncast garments, but they are no longer elements and conditions of bis spiritual life. It may be years before he throws them off; but even while he wears them, they belong to the time, not to the man. The shoot may be slow or swift of growth ; but sooner or later it will disengage itself from the shell which covered its seed. The ft>wers of the vernal thought will of themselves swell and bud, they will open their leaves and heathe out their fragrance, above the teguments by which they had been covered and compressed. Bring now these two facts together, the seller of indolgences, the soul rejoicing in the righteousness of Grod by faith. The proclamations of Tetzel are
178 THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . contradicted by the experiences of Lather. The hostile elements can scarce meet but in conflict A faithful son of the Church, confident that the Church will sustain his doctrine, who would have shrunk from the excommunication which afterwards he despised and retorted, Luther, as obedient Catholic, goes out to expose errors, such he deems them, subversive of the faith and the hope of Chiistianity. A holy festival is approaching at Wittemberg. Its church is filled with relics, set forth in gold and silver and' precious stones. Crowds aie pressing into the city. Whoever comes to the church that day, so we are told, has assurance of plenary indulgence. One great heart is moved by the falsehood. The evening before the 1st of ovember, fifteen hundred and seventeen years succeeding the birth of Christ, the deed is done. Luther attaches to the door of the church into which the multitudes should press on the morrow
a series of declarations, ninety-five in number, invalidating the very hope which draws these swarms of men together. Repentance, not a pa^ ticular penance, but the general course of life ; f(»giveness, not absolution from the Pope, but grant of the Supreme Father, declared and confirmed by the Pope ; charity, or beneficence, better than all penance or indulgence ; the sin of those who laud indulgences ; these are some of the maxims by which, little as they thought then, simple as we think them now, Christendom is destined so soon to be shaken and rent in sunder. « It is better,** such his emphatic conclusion, " through much trib-
THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . 179 ulation to enter into the kingdom of heaven, than to gain a carnal security by the consolations of a false peace." What followed this fervent deed of the young monk, now lacking a few days of thirty-four years, I am not to describe. either he, nor any of the multitudes gathered at that feast of All-Saints, even /suspected. It was one of those great deeds, not done as great, not looking great to the eye, but done simply and looking small, on which the mightiest moments hang. That was an evening such as seldom can be recalled in the courses of the tges. There is one greater, which the heart of man will never forget. Of neither will the results e?er cease : if the former reveals the Lord in his divine tenderness, the latter restores his memory from illusions which had gathered over it, and leads OS in undimmed faith to the Father. The first, perhaps the best, fruit of the movement thus imparting its electric power to the nations, is
indeed precisely this. It brings all men on one common ground, without anything intermediate, before the Infinite Presence. Pppe, priest, and Church, indulgences and sacraments, all are swept away from the sky, so that the soul of each is alone with the Highest one may condemn, none can acquit; let men pronounce the divine judgments if they will, it is now brought into palpable apprehension, that ttds is all they are able to do : they may pronounce, perhaps truly, perhaps falsely, but they can never communicate. Power resides only in the present Qod.
180 THE WORD OF THE BEFORMATIO . The second great idea contained in this movement, not slightly related to the former, regards what is usually set forth as its central doctrine, Justification by Faith. I am far from thinking that the new opinions on this subject were wholly right, still farther from admitting that the expressions through which they conveyed themselves to the world, were true to the meaning itself of the spirit which they sought to draw forth. Excuse me, should I seem for a while abstruse in the few remarks illustrating this grand point. The Catholic, that is, the whole, Church to this time appears to have accounted justification essentially one with the regeneration and sanctification of man, the communication from the Lord of an inherent justice or righteousness, in virtue of which he becomes really righteous, instead of being merely pronounced such by reason of another's righteousness imputed to him. But this justice, righteousness, holiness, it seems to have been believed, according to the decree promulgated afterward by the Coun-
cil of Trent, was not only nourished and aided, but conferred, moreover, by what were denominated the sacraments ; — a sacrament being in fact, according to its definition, a thing subject to the senses, which from God's institution has the power both of signifying and of working out sanctity and justice. Thus baptism confers purity; the eucharist presents and imparts divine life. The idea of justification, Luther seems to me to have narrowed and lowered, when he limited it to the remission of the penalty or the imputation of meriti
THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . 181 as well as to have introduced a kindred error, when, excluding all virtue from it, he restricted its condition to faith alone. Yet, after such abatements, tiiere was an advance made by him, I verily believe, even in his mistaken article of a standing or a foiling church. His voice summoned men to something deeper, more inward, more vital, than a justification which, if verbally true, had become superficial, outward, dead. The spirit which moved him was wiser than he could interpret or fully understand. Through his cruder utterances, through words, sometimes erroneous, often rash, the spirit breathed ; and mankind awoke, as by sound of trumpet, to the perception of a new day rising upon them, to the hope of a truer life and of nobler works which it should call into being. As at this distance we can, let us interpret the voice, not of the person, but of the spirit : — " Sons of men, be not deceived. R is not holiness, it is not true justice, it is not real and living righteousness, which ye receive in these sacraments of your corrupted and heathenish church. Dieam not that the baptism of the priest will make fou pure. There is a deeper purity ye need, in which is your life ; only from communion with the
Lord can ye derive it. Dream not that the divine life comes to you with the consecrated bread ; it descends from the open heavens, its sources are within ; no sacrament, nothing but the immediate nesence, answering to the filial prayer, can impart ii Away with this vain confidence in a priesthood, false in its pretences, impotent to confer any heavenly gift ! Penances ! let them give place to 16
182 THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . life-long repentance and obedience. o such outside works can make you just; justice proceeds from holier depths. These are dead works ; let them alone. This ecclesiastical Christianity simply revives the Pharisaic Judaism. It is faith, inner and living faith, separate from such a body of death, by which ye must be justified ; else ye are not justified at all. Faith alone ! Yet not alone, much less dead ; for it is instinct with the vital breath of God, and grows for ever upward, bearing immortal fruit of the spirit." The Reformer may have said and done stranger things than he really did: it hinders not, that the Beformation means this. Human misinterpretations may have divorced charity from faith ; the Holy Spirit unites them in everlasting marriage. Luther may have made towns and fields of Germany ring with the cry, Faith alone ; England may have echoed it through her island-realm, and borne it over western waters to a new continent ; myriads of churches may have taken it to their hearts for centuries : if a dogmatic error, it contains a vital truth. It is another prophetic utterance ; another Prepare ye the way of the Lord! another Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Substance for shadow ; life for
show ; spirit for ritual ; power for form ; the living soul for the decorated corpse. So the human word is always one thing, the divine meaning another ! The opinions of the reformers, the dogmas of the Church, the volumes in which Luther's ardent soul engraved its fiery characters, the variations of Protestants and immobilities of Catholics, the
THE WORD OP THE REFORMATIO . 183 wars of tongue and pen and sword which they have roused, the masses of words and deeds which these centuries have piled up in growing accumulation, these all may pass with the racking clouds, but the cloudless sky stands in undisturbed repose ; with the rolling waves, but the deep sea reaches into depths of silentness ; with the fading flowers and sere leaves of autumn, but the serene nature lives on, the richer for every growth, nay, for every decay ; with man himself for ever changing, dying at last, but, gathering within himself all the powers of his life, he moves quietly forward to the fulfilment of his destiny. The islands may sink, or be taken up as a little thing ; but God is. If from these movements of the past, these circulations of the spiritual orbs in the expanse above us, I have been able to draw some tones, however faint, of the spheral music ; if from the story of one single evening, now fallen into the deepening lapse of centuries, I have brought any assurance of that in it which never declines, over which millenniums roll, but it stands ; if, above all, we bear hence with us strains drawing our souls into the heavenly procession, then also shall this lowlier hour pass not away without leaving its benediction. Then to us death is abolished, and life opens an infinite paradise. Outward symbols and forms are transparent; the
glory shines through them for ever. Old things disappear ; the oldest and the youngest are become new with the dew of perpetual youth. Through the disciplines by which they teach us, we become dead to the law, whether Hebrew or Catholic^
184 THE WORD OF THE REFORMATIO . ancient or modern ; not as sunken below the spirit which it embosoms, but as raised above the thraldom of its rules and forms ; not as anarchic and lawless, but as quickened by divine sympathies into harmony with the spirit of life, in whose virtue we too live unto God.
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