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and they will the crown of exceedingly and the country rise
land will afflict
and will afflict
a humble one
they will prosper
shall be called
will be great
will be called and the king
and shall rule
ANSWER TO THE QUESTION, WHAT WAS THE REFORMATION?
Introductory Essay. Some of the causes which united to produce or modify that complicated and wide-spread system of events styled The Reformation of the sixteenth century, were by no means fitted to originate unmixed good : and to their influence it is not hard to trace much evil which is upon us at this day,
Let not an inquiry into the cause of that in the visible church which we lament, be mistaken for a sign that we would seek further cause of evil in man than the corruption of the human soul, ensnared and subdued by the father of lies; or a further cause of any good in man, than the direct interfering agency of the Father of lights. Were it in question, simply, why the good or why the evil exists, the answer must be short, and must carry us in one little step to the limits of our knowledge : but when we inquire, why the good or the evil wears a particular form, we are at once brought to deal with that many-linked chain of history, whose connections the eye of man may follow, and the finger of man may trace to his fellows. Our purpose will be attained by beginning somewhat more than three centuries back, and pursuing onward, from about the time of the Reformation, the influence, direct or indirect, of those events whose combination has determined the present state of the religious public. Of the Reformation, Heaven's best gift to earth during seventeen centuries, we shall speak the less unworthily, and the less weary with a hackneyed topic, and hazard the less the sinking of our minds below that reverent and admiring apprehension of it which the object of this essay makes it so desirable we should sustain, by using the words of one who, of uninspired authors, interposes' least of human obscurity and littleness in exhibiting the great works of God.
“ Amidst those deep and retired thoughts, which with every man christianly instructed ought to be most frequent, of God, and of his miraculous ways and works amongst men, and of our religion, and works to be performed to him; after the story of our Saviour Christ suffering to the lowest bent of weakness in the flesh, and presently triumphing to the highest pitch of glory in the spirit, which drew up his body also, till we in both be united to him in the revelation of his kingdom, I do not know of any thing more worthy to take up the whole passion of pity on the one side and joy on the other, than to consider, first, the foul and sudden corruption, and then, after many a tedious age, the
long-deferred but much more wonderful and happy Reformation of the church in these latter days. Sad it is to think, how that doctrine of the Gospel, planted by teachers divinely inspired, and by them winnowed and sifted from the chaff of overdated ceremonies, and refined to such a spiritual height and temper of purity, and knowledge of the Creator, that the body, with all the circumstances of time and place, were purified by the affections of the regenerate soul, and nothing left impure but sin; faith needing not the weak and fallible office of the senses to be either the ushers or interpreters of heavenly mysteries, save where our Lord himself in his sacraments ordained ;-that such a doctrine should, through the grossness and blindness of her professors, and the fraud of deceivable traditions, drag so downwards, as to backslide one way into the Jewish beggary of old cast rudiments, and stumble forward another way into the newvomited paganism of sensual idolatry, attributing purity or impurity to things indifferent, that they might bring the inward acts of the spirit to the outward and customary eye-service of the body, as if they could make God earthly and fleshly, because they could not make themselves heavenly and spiritual. They began to draw down all the divine intercourse betwixt God and the soul; yea, the very shape of God himself into an exterior and bodily form, urgently pretending a necessity and obligement of joining the body in a formal reverence, and worship circum.. scribed ; they hallowed it, they fumed it, they sprinkled it, they bedecked it, not in robes of pure innocency, but of pure linen, with other deformed and fantastic dresses, in palls and mitres, gold, and gewgaws fetched from Aaron's old wardrobe, or the Flamin's vestry. Then was the priest set to con his motions and his postures, his liturgies and his lurries, till the soul by this means of over-bodying herself, given up justly to fleshly delights, bated her wing apace downward : and finding the ease she had from her visible and sensuous colleage the body, in performance of religious duties, her pinions now broken and flagging, shifted off from herself the labour of high soaring any more, forgot her heavenly flight, and left the dull and droiling carcase to plod on in the old road, and drudging trade of outward conformity. And here out of question, from her perverse conceiting of God and holy things, she had fallen to believe no God at all, had not custom and the worm of conscience nipped her incredulity: hence to all the duties of evangelical grace, instead of the adoptive and cheerful boldness which our new alliance with God requires, came servile and thral-like fear: for in very deed the superstitious man by his good will is an atheist ; but being scared from thence by the pangs and gripes of a boiling conscience, all in a pudder shuffles up to himself such a
VOL. I.-NO, IV.
God and such a worship as is most agreeable to remedy his fear; which fear of his, as is also his hope, fixed only upon the flesh, renders likewise the whole faculty of his apprehension carnal; and all the inward acts of worship, issuing from the native strength of the soul, run out lavishly to the upper skin, and there harden into a crust of formality. Hence men came to scan the Scriptures by the letter, and in the covenant of our redemption magnified the external signs more than the quickening power of the Spirit: and yet looking on them through their own guiltiness with a servile fear, and finding as little comfort, or rather terror from them again, they knew not how to hide their slavish approach to God's behests, by them not understood nor worthily received, but by cloking their servile crouching to all religious presentments, sometimes lawful, sometimes idolatrous, under the name of humility, and terming the piebald frippery and ostentation of ceremonies decency..... But, to dwell no longer in characterizing the depravities of the church, and how they sprung, and how they took increase ; when I recall to mind at last, after so many dark ages, wherein the huge overshadowing train of error had almost swept all the stars out of the firmament of the church, how the bright and blissful Reformation (by Divine power) struck through the black and settled night of ignorance and antichristian tyranny; methinks a sovereign and reviving joy must needs rush into the bosom of him that reads or hears, and the sweet odour of the returning Gospel imbathe his soul with the fragrancy of heaven. Then was the sacred Bible sought out of the dusty corners, where profane falsehood and neglect had thrown it; the schools opened ; divine and human learning raked out of the embers of forgotten tongues; the princes and cities trooping apace to the new erected banner of salvation ; the martyrs with the unresistible might of weakness shaking the powers of darkness, and scorning the fiery rage of the old red dragon.”--Milton on Reformation in England. pp. 1–4.
Thus far Milton : and justly does he represent the change as too far-spread, and deep and sudden, to be sufficiently accounted for by reference to the solitary workings of any individual mind, though that mind were Martin Luther's: and yet, the more we consider the concurrent causes of that great revolution the stronger will become our conviction, that, among the agents of Providence in producing it, to Luther posterity has not assigned too high a place. The Papacy was, before and during his time, exposed from other quarters to much strenuous opposition and fierce assault, but chiefly of such a nature that their entire success would rather have precluded than effected the Reformation. Such was the condition of the church, that it was morally impossible that she should escape blame and scorn and hatred, from the virtuous and the satirical and the oppressed. What was wanting then? Not malcontents, not critics; but a competitor, and a rival standard. Rome ruled and wrought, by an evil principle indeed, but still a principle speciously venerable, and of undefined power over the mind of Europe, the unity and sovereignty of the church, and her own right to utter the voice of the church's authority. No nibbling argumentation against individual dogmas, no exposal of crimes --nay, more, no mere refutation of her claims, which should not substitute in her place something positive and energetic, something mighty to build up as well as to pull down, to impel as well as to arrest-could divide with her the sway of Christian Europe. This rival standard some humble men had raised in obscure corners: some had found it too weighty for their arms ; some had had it wrested from them, to wave over their death fires and to fall again : God at length gave Luther to unfurl and plant it on the high places of the European world.
Circumstances, however, which never could have produced a Reformation, had much influence over its success, and even over its character and consequences. A prodigious accumulation of argument and invective and sarcasm, against the Church of Rome, had been formed in the literature, sacred and secular, of the times preceding Luther's. But, then, we must remember how strong an embankment prevented any effusion of this on the common scene of history. Even down to the time of Erasmus, literary men were widely and decidedly separated from the mass of people, even of their own rank. In the busy scenes of common life they scarcely appeared, but as unconcerned and unnoticed spectators. They spoke a language unintelligible to the multitude, and that of the multitude was to them unintelligible. Living with their eye turned full on the past, destined to influence posterity by the results of their converse with the spirits of antiquity, their thoughts and occupations were far away from those of the great majority, who are always engaged with the present, and immediate future, and were thus peculiarly incapable of great extension of their views on either side. They stood, among them, but not of them in a shroud of thoughts that were not their thoughts. There is an imposing grandeur in this entire consecration to a lofty and elevating employment. It seems as though these men were resolved on restoring literature and religion to the inhabitants of Europe, without condescending to ask their concurrence, or make them aware of the design. Many of the greatest of them, Erasmus for instance, were scarcely capable of conversing in their native or in any living tongue.
While this isolation from the world was to a great degree