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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Luther proclaimed his discovery


The

faith which makes us throw ourselves upon God is no mood of mere mystical abandonment. It is our very life, as Luther was never tired of saying. It is God within us, and wells forth in all kinds of activities.

"It is a living, busy, active, powerful thing, faith; it is impossible for it not to do us good continually. It never asks whether good works are to be done; it has done them before there is time to ask the question, and it is always doing them."(394)

Christianity is therefore an interwoven tissue of promises and prayers of faith. On the one side there is the Father, revealing Himself, sending down to us His promises which are yea and amen in Christ Jesus; and on the other side there are the hearts of men ascending in faith to God, receiving, accepting, and resting on the promises of God, and on God who always gives Himself in His promises.

This is what came to Luther and ended his long and terrible struggle. He is unwearied in describing it. The descriptions are very varied, so far as external form and expression go,--now texts from the Psalms, the Prophets, or the New Testament most aptly quoted; now phrases borrowed from the picturesque language of the mediaeval mystics; now sentences of striking, even rugged, originality; sometimes propositions taken from the mediaeval scholastic. But whatever the words, the meaning is always the same.

justify;">This conception of what is meant by Christianity is the religious soul of the Reformation. It contains within it all the distinctively religious principles which inspired it. It can scarcely be called a dogma. It is an experience, and the phrases which set it forth are the descriptions of an experience which a human soul has gone through. The thing itself is beyond exact definition--as all deep experiences are. It must be felt and gone through to be known. The Reformation started from this personal experience of the believing Christian, which it declared to be the one elemental fact in Christianity which could never be proved by argument and could never be dissolved away by speculation. It proclaimed the great truth, which had been universally neglected throughout the whole period of mediaeval theology by everyone except the Mystics, that in order to know God man must be in living touch with God Himself. Therein lay its originality and its power. Luther rediscovered religion when he declared that the truly Christian man must cling directly and with a living faith to the God Who speaks to him in Christ, saying, "I am thy salvation." The earlier Reformers never forgot this. Luther proclaimed his discovery, he never attempted to prove it by argument; it was something self-evident--seen and known when experienced.

This is always the way with great religious pioneers and leaders. They have all had the prophetic gift of spiritual vision, and the magnetic speech to proclaim what they have seen, felt, and known. They have all had, in a far-off way, the insight and manner of Jesus.

When our Lord appeared among men claiming to be more than a wise man or a prophet, declaring that He was the Messiah, the Son of Man and the Son of God, when He announced that all men had need of Him, and that He alone could save and redeem, He set forth His claims in a manner unique among founders of religions. He made them calmly and as a matter of course. He never explained elaborately why He assumed the titles He took. He never reasoned about His position as the only Saviour. He simply announced it, letting the conviction of the truth steal almost insensibly into the minds and hearts of His followers as they saw His deeds and heard His words. He assumed that they must interpret His death in one way only. This was always His manner. It was not His way to explain mysteries our curiosity would fain penetrate. He quietly took for granted many things we would like to argue about. His sayings came from One who lived in perpetual communion with the Unseen Father, and He uttered them quietly and assuredly, confident that they carried with them their own self-evidencing power.


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