Imágenes de páginas

common to the theological writers,and to the revivers and students of general literature, there are circumstances peculiar to each well worthy of our attention. There was produced in the very bosom of the Romish church, before Luther's day, much solid and profound theology; but to few-few indeed—was this accessible: to very few would it have been at all intelligible, had it been open to the world : and those who understood it, found spiritual and ecclesiastical questions treated so abstractly, with such subtilty of reasoning, with so little reference to existing circumstances, that, while to the people these books were then absolute nullities, to the authors themselves, and to their speculative readers, the application of their principles to abuses in the Church of Rome was usually unthought of and unknown; and the upholders of the Papacy must have regarded these abstruse investigations as in general very harmless exercises of ingenuity. During their authors' life-time, such was usually the neglect works of Christian divinity met with, from those who would otherwise have learned from them, or been incensed by them. But, to borrow again the words of the poet, “ These books were not absolutely dead things, but the precious lifeblood of master-spirits, embalmed and treasured to a life beyond life.” Permanent principle asserted has ultimately more effect than any thing bound down to seasons and circumstances. The number of readers and thinkers increased. The reference of great doctrines to existing practices gradually wrought itself out to the sight of thoughtful men. And, finally, the press broke open the prison-houses of these living powers, and sent them among the people, or the immediate teachers of the people.

It was quite in another manner that the cultivators of polite letters prepared the way for the Reformation; and the good they effected was much more copiously intermingled with evil. When the first great names in modern literature appeared, barbarism and ignorance were so much the character of the church, and so abominable and idolatrous was classical learning regarded to be, that their engaging in those pursuits was at once setting themselves in contrast, even in their own minds, with the clergy, and with existing Christendom in general. Combine this feeling, so to speak, of voluntary outlawry, with the fascinating and dignified Paganism which their favourite authors exhibited, in opposition to the mean and stupid and ungainly form of Christianity, so called, around them. Add their haughty and lonely consciousness of a rare and a great superiority, of a solitary tasting the sweet waters of this sealed fountain, and the irritation and concentration of this pride from the contemptuous rejection of its claims by the very unskilled herd which they despised : add their access to the Scriptures, shared by so few, and used by them less for personal instruction than

for the detection of the falsehoods and nonsense vended as revealed truth by the pretenders to theology: and it will seem far from wonderful that their writings should abound with keen sarcasm, and copious invective, and ingenious reasoning, against a clergy they so much contemned, and a religious system inseparable

in their minds from the clergy. Thus the belleslettres of Europe early became an armoury of the sharpest weapons of offence against Rome. In the works of Dante and Petrarch, and of our own Chaucer, in the fourteenth century, and of Mantuan in the next, the example was set to men of letters of treating the Papacy as we have described, and that boldly, because publication could scarcely be said to exist, and their influence was too little feared to be resisted with much severity. But the stream widened as it flowed. Authors multiplied, and readers increased still faster; and in the time of Erasmus there was a large body of literary men feeling, in regard to the established religion, as we have described. Still they were men who had no direct communication with the people, and were little anxious to extend their views among the profane vulgar, as they thought them: they were ready to recant or to explain; they were even willing, many of them, to serve and defend the system they despised in their hearts; and for its principles most of them had nothing to substitute but want of principle. For these reasons they were tolerated ; and at the very time of the Reformation, when the popes began to add literature to their other luxuries, we find the papal throne encompassed by secretaries, bishops, and cardinals too accomplished and cultivated to be good Catholics, but too philosophical to alarm the church, or peril themselves, by any direct confronting of the ecclesiastical authority; nay, or to hesitate strenuously promoting its interests. In short, the men of letters were usually without any fixed religious belief, or any considerable personal concern in the matter : many of them, while they despised the Papacy, identified her with Christianity; and thus the school we have described were the fathers of modern infidelity. Still, at the time of the Reformation printing had given literature the first-fruits, not inconsiderable, of its general influence; and that influence was so far favourable to the Reformers, that it was hostile to their antagonists.

But, besides these speculative theologians, and these shrewd satirists, the Roman hierarchy had practical and active assailants to contend with, and daily became more and more obnoxious to assault. The character of the three popes whose reigns opened the century of the Reformation (of whom the first was a mixture of the brute and the devil; the second, a turbulent and intractable seeker of quarrels ; the third, a lazy drain upon the people's wealth, that he mghtexemplify and maintain the luxurious indolence of the clergy); the corresponding voluptuous tyranny of the subaltern rulers of the church; the like dissoluteness of some monastic orders (as the Benedictines); the rustic brutality and mean superstition and detected cheats of others (as the Dominicans); the exposure of the ignorance of the latter class, by their filling the place of teachers of religion, and even of science, at a time when knowledge began to be diffused ;-all made the long-growing murmurs against ecclesiastical corruption swell out into a general and earnest clamour for reform; which the insults of the popes and clergy led more than one crowned head not only to enjoin, but to enforce,by some decisive measures towards a change in the church. degraded and polluted by the praises of political liberals and worldly-minded religionists hailing him as their founder, and the patron-saint of modern free inquiry, which is self-dependence in pursuing truth; and of modern liberty, which is self-exaltation in all things. Men of illumination! keep your patriots and philosophers to yourselves, and welcome ; but, for Luther, claim not a hair of his head : he is a spiritual man, and nothing but a spiritual man. Reason he had in a lofty measure; but that is not quite enough to prove your consanguinity to him. Imagination and passion to the heroic pitch, learning beyond most men of his age; eloquence that rushes bold and loud as a deepchanneled mountain-torrent amid the rough and rugged vigour of his thoughts: but these make not the man: these are but a medium fitted to transmit with no perverting hues that Divine light within, which forms his true character, and his true value to Europe and the world. It is painful to hear it said that the assertion of the people's right to read the Scriptures was Luther's great achievement, or of their right to judge for themselves. Hume and Voltaire, Paine and Taylor, assert the right of the people to read what they please-yes, and to think what they please-in a far stronger sense than Luther maintained it: and will Christian doctors tell us that the Great Protestant's great work was a thing which could as well have been effected by an earlier introduction on the stage of such purifiers of doctrine as these? No; Luther, taught by God, proclaimed the true Christian doctrine, for whose truth he appealed to God's word : and this was to do more than to send us to a book, of whose intrinsic efficacy to convert it is enough to say, that there are myriads of copies now circulated throughout the world, and the world remains what it is. One living man with the Spirit dwelling in him and speaking by him, who exercises faith and prayer for his fellow-men, is more to a country than thousands of Bibles. I do not mean Bibles left shut, but thousands of Bibles pored on and ransacked for proofs of doctrine, are less than one living man, with the Spirit of wisdom and love, of faith of prayer. What, then, was Luther's great work? Our answer is brief : He preached Christ, and denounced Antichrist.

All, however, that was aimed at,” in the words of an accurate historian," was to set limits to the overgrown power of the pontiffs, to reform the corrupt manners of the clergy, and to prevent the frauds that were too commonly practised by that order of men ; to dispel the ignorance and correct the errors of the blinded multitude; and to deliver them from the heavy and insupportable burdens that were imposed upon them under religious pretexts."-In

these days came the Spirit of the Lord upon Martin Luther. Distinguished from the teachers of rejected truth who preceded him by a wonderful concurrence of circumstances, acquirements, and natural powers, he was much more distinguished by what must be traced to a far higher source than


of these. The vast scale on which God transacted all spiritual operations in his soul, the intensely personal character of his religion, gave to his doctrine a glow of reality, and an impassioned tone of thorough experience, which it could have derived from nothing else. It is little to say of this mighty man, that he had sought for that which might calm the conscience, trembling under God's eye, as one seeks for hid treasure: he had groped for it as a drowning man casts abroad his desperate grasp for a support. His fear and his remorse had been agony, and his hope just enough to keep alive the most vehement energy of pursuit: he had been stumbling among the suffocating darkness and frantic terrors of the valley of the shadow of death ; when, as he himself represents it, the discovery of the doctrine of justification by faith unfolded to him the gates of

paradise. This it is that Luther should derive his title from. He opposed the pope; but it was to make room for Christ the Saviour he would thrust him aside. He opened the Scriptures to the people ; but it was that they might read of free grace, really free--not the grace of our times, which is free on certain undefinable and inscrutable conditions. It was that they might join in the new song which God had put in his own mouth, that he cared for their reading the Bible. He asserted his freedom and the people's What freedom ? to act and to suffer as the servants, and the members and the property of their Redeemer. - He is

[ocr errors]

Luther was a man of faith, and doubtless God blessed his efforts, and the great shaking and dismemberment of the Papacy which he consummated, to the multiplying of believers all over Europe. Our present inquiry, however, leads us rather to follow the progressive workings of evil than of good; and it is

easy to see that the evils which now encompass us had their origin at least as far back as the period of which we speak. Some strength, it must be owned, they gained from the character of Luther himself. Such bold resistance to existing authorities could scarcely by any means be exhibited, and taught the people, without shaking their reverence for authority itself, and stimulating the independence and self-sufficiency of man's nature. But Luther's temper and manner of conducting the warfare added not a little to this its unavoidable tendency. To use the language of a wise and learned admirer of the Reformer, “ he was actuated by an almost superstitious hatred of superstition, and a turbulent prejudice against prejudices :" and, again, he speaks of Luther's angry aversion to those in high places, whom he regarded as the oppressors of their rightful equals.” The contemptuousness of his demeanour towards Henry VIII. is well known; and in his “ Circular Letter to the Princes on occasion of the Peasants' War, his language is very inflammatory, and his doctrine borders very nearly on the holy right of insurrection.” Now, along with this, consider of how very worldly and un hallowed sort were many of the influences which we have already described as falling into the channel of the Reformation, and mingling in the general tide of opposition to Popery. Consider how soon the question was mixed up, in the native country of Luther, with that of political liberty : consider how much easier it is at all times to pull down than to build up, and to teach men evil than good. Reflect on the pride excited by appeal to the private judgments of the people against ancient venerated usage, against kings and emperors, cardinals and popes and councils : think how many would exult in bursting all old bonds on mental independence, how few would exchange them for the “light yoke” and the "easy burden:" think how naturally, in such cases, newly acquired familiarity with the formerly forbidden sanctity of Scripture must have passed into irreverence; and contempt for old opinions into levity and wildness in excogitating and circulating new : remember, that the world, less familiar than we are with false alarms of great discovery, and with the vast range of plausible falsehoods, furnished honest and earnest converts in abundance to any new absurdity; that this weakened the cause of the one true faith, perpetuated the habit of hasty innovation, tarnished the honour of the Book from which all alike quoted for defence and refutation. Combine these causes in our mind, and then we shall admit how obvious was the result :-a spirit of self-sufficiency in judgment, and of contempt for authority, was diffused far more widely than the positive principles which the Reformers would have substituted for those they impugned. Before a century had elapsed, there was civil war in Germany, civil war in France, civil war in Holland, civil war in Scotland, civil war in England; and in Scotland, in Holland, in Germany, in France, Popery was avowedly identified with the cause of oppressive despotism, and Protestantism with that of popular independence. Now we make no question whether liberty be a good thing;

« AnteriorContinuar »