Obrázky na stránke

truths. It was the voice of the Christian conscience of Germany exclaiming against Imperial and Papal self-will. It was the assertion of Christian liberty-of the fact that right and honour and covenant were not to be trampled upon at the mere dictation of power, and that ‘in matters relating to the honour of God and the salvation of souls every man must stand alone before God and give account of himself.'

This is the true meaning of Protestantism, and all modern Christian liberty—the very liberty in the exercise of which certain members of the Church of England have abused the name—may be said to be the outcome of the Protest taken at Spires and Augsburg by the Evangelical members of the German Empire. The attitude of these Christian princes and others was again only possible in the light of the great struggle which had been maintained during the twelve previous years by one man.

The Diet of Worms and Luther's memorable words there—whatever may have been their exact formalone explain the subsequent diets at Spires and Augsburg. The courage of a single man as he faced on that great occasion (the mailed chivalry of Germany'-a pale and slight figure as yet without any of the brave rotundity of his later years-gave the courage which inspired the famous Protest, and laid the foundation of all Christian and ecclesiastical liberties. It is not to the point to say that, Luther or not, some change for the better must have come to the Church at the time, which was ripe for such change. Ripe enough no doubt the time was, as the evils within the Church were intolerable; but the Councils of Pisa and Constance, and the writings of Erasmus, remain as witnesses of how hopeless all reformation of the Church was from within. There are times when God is in the still small voice, rather than in the storm and the earthquake, but there are other times when abuses can only be shaken by a great and strong wind' and the upheaval of the common ground on which men stand-and the Reformation was a period of this kind. The voice of God uttered itself in Luther, that the mass of lies which had become identified with mediæval Christendom should no longer continue. The voice was heard in many lands, and there were many who arose to help the German monk, and carry forward the great work; but that a reformation became possible in England and Scotland as well as Germany, and that Protestantism after many struggles was able to secure a footing in Europe, was owing in large part, as it has been said, 'to the intense personal conviction and contagious faith of one man Martin Luther.'

2. But Luther not only initiated our modern Christian liberty -he revived the primitive Pauline Gospel. This revival is even more directly and primarily his work. For while Luther was an apostle of Christian liberty, and gave the impulse to it, without which it might not have prevailed, he was not always himself a good example of his own principle. He only partially caught its meaning,

as was the case more or less with all the Reformers. But he was the apostle of the grace of God in all its fulness.

Luther was naturally of deep and serious feeling. He was brought up in a religious home. Hans Luther, his father, was a God-fearing man, who was wont to pray at the bedside of his son, and whose words remained 'stamped on his son's memory. He wished young Martin to be a lawyer, and he went to the University of Erfurt for this purpose ; but the seeds of religion which had been sown in his young heart proved stronger than his father's wishes. He could not rest in the idea of a secular calling. His inward cravings turned him towards a religious life. The story of his finding a Latin Bible in the University Library and poring over it, and finding to his astonishment that it contained more Gospels and Epistles than the Lectionaries--the only medium through which he had hitherto known Scripture and the other stories of his illness and the sudden death of his friend Alexis, which made so profound an impression upon him—all point to his deep religiousness. He became a monk of his own will. It was spiritual distress drove him to the convent, and it was spiritual distress during his novitiate that impelled him to the course of meditation and thought, of prayer and fasting, which ultimately ended for him in peace and light. The consciousness of his sins lay on him as a continual burden. There was no penance and no work of mortification by which he did not try to lighten the burden. "If ever monk could have got to heaven by fasting,' he afterwards said, 'I might have done so.' But it was all of no avail. The terrors of guilt haunted him as a bodily presence, clung to him as a pursuing shadow, so that one day he cried out, as some dire aspect of wrath rose before him, It is not I! it is not Il' At length, however, light came to him by the mouth of Staupitz, the new Vicargeneral of the Augustines, who came to Erfurt on a visit of inspection.

Through him,' said Luther, the light of the Gospel first dawned out of the darkness on my heart.' It is well that we should remember this. The mediaval Church, corrupt as it was, still cherished the light, if hidden away in obscure corners or a few hearts. To this intelligent and pious man--touched by the grave and melancholy look of the young monk--Luther unbosomed himself. He explained how vainly he had sought for spiritual peace, that sin was always too strong for him. “I have, myself, Staupitz replied, vowed more than a thousand times to lead a holy life, and as often broken my vows. Strength is not to be found in efforts of self-will, however great. I now trust only in the mercy and grace of God in Christ.'

This was the key-note by which Luther moved the world. It could hardly be more simply or spiritually stated. Divested of all scholastic definition, it was nothing else than the reassertion of the old spiritual fact set forth by Christ Himself and by St. Paul, that




the only real help for the soul is in God. Every soul stands in immediate responsible relation to God, and all spiritual strength and peace come straight out of Him. Church and priest, sacrament and penance, are useful ministers in the Divine life, but nothing more. Moral efforts point to a righteousness which they fail to secure. They indicate a capacity-an upward aspiration—but they cannot lay hold of the reality. All deeper religious experience proved to the Apostle that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done, or may do, that we are saved, but by the mercy of God—the free touch of the Divine grace forgiving us, releasing us from the bonds of sin, lifting us out of the deep pit and miry clay, from which no efforts of our own can ever lift us, and setting us in the light of a love which is ours just because we are sinners and in ourselves helpless. “It is just your sins that make you an object of salvation, Staupitz said to Luther.

Luther had tried scholasticism, or the theological teaching of his time, and he had tried monkery, and found both wanting. So far from bringing God near to him, they had hidden God from him, and left him miserable in his weakness and sinfulness. A sinner thirsting for righteousness, he found himself fed on 'sentences.' Craving for peace, he found only mortification. But the assurance that God loved him, that he was forgiven--that righteousness was not of himself but of God, given to him in Christ-brought him relief and peace. "Straightway he felt as if he were born again, and as if the door of paradise were thrown wide open.

It is always to be remembered how much Luther, like St. Paul, apprehended his new creed in a polemical form as opposed to the · Aristotelic' or Church principle—that a man becomes just by doing just acts.' No, bis experience said-and he himself taught in one of the earliest vindications of his favourite doctrineWe must first be just, and then we shall do just actions. Righteousness is truly from within and not from without. It springs out of God in the soul, reconciling the soul to Himself, and not out of any outward fact whatever.' Peace only came to him when he realised in this absolute manner the fulness of Divine forgiveness in Christ.

This is the essential meaning of what is called the doctrine of justification by faith-a doctrine which had not been utterly lost in the Church, else Luther could never have heard of it from Staupitz nor any others, but which had sunk out of the general Church consciousness, and which therefore needed once more to be revivified, and placed in the forefront of Christian thought. For if it is a truth at all, this is its place. No, other truth can compare with it. In answer to the old cry, 'What must I do to be saved ?' the voice of Luther was heard as no voice had been heard for many a generation. “No priest can save you, no masses or indulgences can help you. But God has saved you. He Himself, and no mediatory saints, no holy mother of God even, but God Himself, the Divine Son, has

[ocr errors]

redeemed you.' 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. This was the living force which seized the great heart of the German people, and spread mightily through Europe. Brushing by the faltering and unsteady steps of Humanism, this faith in a Divine righteousness near to every soul made itself once more a joyful way among the nations, and spread with it a new life of righteousness.

But the truth was not new. No. Neither was it new in the time of St. Paul, who tells us that “ Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. But how far the truth had become obscured, we have evidence not only in Luther's difficulties in finding it, but in all the best and most devout books of the period -the Imitatio Christi, for example, and the Theologia Germanica, which was so great a favourite with Luther. Beautiful as both these books are, the former having, next to the Bible probably, touched more souls than any other book in the world, we have only to look into them to see that, with all their sweetness and strength, the old Pauline truth of justification by faith alone' is not among their chief notes. One side of the truth they sufficiently apprehend --the soul's immediacy to the Divine. But the other side-that the sum of righteousness is in Christ and in Christ alone, that nothing can be added to His perfect work, lies comparatively out of sight. It is the faith of the mystic and the cloister that both books set before us, rather than the faith of St. Paul and the primitive Church--the faith that overcame the world. Now it was the specially Divine side of the same truth that Luther realised in his own experience, and of which he made himself the new apostle. The absoluteness of Divine righteousness in Christ for every soul—this was his theme, even as it was St. Paul's; and to place anything whatever alongside of this righteousness was to preach another Gospel. He had taken the whole substance and spirit of the Epistle to the Galatians into his very heart, and just as St. Paul's spiritual life flashed into indignation at the idea of circumcision, or any element of the Jewish system, being made a condition of salvation along with Christ, so the mind of Luther kindled into a divine rage at the same thought; and sometimes, in his rage against the law in the matter of justification, he speaks wildly, as the wisest man is apt to speak wildly in a tempest of thought.

This is the secret-and there is no other secret-in the often-quoted exaggerations of Luther in reference to the doctrine of justification by faith--the 'Esto peccator, et pecca fortiter ' sentence, and other unguarded expressions, of which men who know little else about him have made so much. Because Luther felt deeply the power of human sin—the weakness and coarseness of man in his ordinary life-he has been supposed to have made little of sanctification and the consecrating influence of the Church. But the inference is unwarranted. For who, save St. Paul, has ever felt more the body of this death,' and craved to be delivered from it. It was his very craving for sanctification that drove him onwards to the doctrine of grace. But abundance of grace was never for a moment in his own life an excuse for sin. It is impossible to read his prayers and his letters without recognising how he felt, from the very assurance of faith, the necessity of an always fuller self-consecration. The ideal of holiness springs always more brightly from the root of grace in his heart. This is the true interpretation of his teaching, however unadvisedly he may sometimes speak or write of 'good works' when put in the place of Christ. He could say that “in the matter of justification ’ he would hold no terms with the law, yet in itself the law was to him, as to St. Paul, holy and just and good. I do not defend many of his expressions. Minds that do not read them in the light of true devotional experience will find in them a suggestion of license, even of immorality. But his harsh and occasionally coarse logic was in the main the bad vesture of scholasticism in which he had been trained. His faults of argument, his over-defining, his drawing too many distinctions, and placing things against one another which in reality are merely different sides of the same thing ; all this was the product of the mediæval system which he inherited, and which, unhappily, Protestantism was once more destined to resuscitate, to its own detriment and moral injury. It was not as a Protestant that he yielded to such extravagances; they are no genuine outcome of Protestantism, but rather the rags and tatters of mediæval logic, from which the mind even of our modern churches is by no means yet thoroughly cleansed.3

3. But Luther not only restored life to the Church by his doctrine of grace, he restored the true idea of the Church itself. Mediavalism had inverted the nature of the Church. It had converted it into a vast hierarchy of power emanating from Rome, an ecclesiastical system of bishops and priests and monks that kept the keys of heaven and hell, and in and through whom alone all spiritual blessing was conveyed. The sale of indulgences, flagrant as it was, was merely the outcome of this perverted idea of the Church as a corporation having the disposal of human souls at his command. Once materialise spiritual privilege, and make the forgiveness of sins depend upon anything but the free grace of God, and there is no degradation of Divine truth that may not be reached. If the Divine can be communicated by any mere external form, and the hierarchy be the sole judge of this form, then why not by indulgences as well as anything else? The material accident once substituted for the spiritual reality becomes rapidly degraded till it finds its last and summary expression in money; money being always the brief and representative expression of all mere external work.

Luther soon perceived that his opposition to the Papacy did not 3 See Luther Vindicated, by Charles Hastings Collette. Quaritch, London, 1884.

« PredošláPokračovať »