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

We can see how he laboured at it from 1512 to 1517


style="text-align: justify;">? 2. The universal Priesthood of Believers.

Luther's religious experience, that he, a sinner, received forgiveness by simply throwing himself on God revealed in Christ Jesus the Saviour, came to him as an astounding revelation which was almost too great to be put into words. He tried to express it in varying ways, all of which he felt too utterly inadequate to describe it. We can see how he laboured at it from 1512 to 1517. It lay hidden in his discourse to the assembly of clergy in the episcopal palace at Ziesar (June 5th, 1512), when he declared that all reform must begin in the hearts of individual men. We can see it growing more and more articulate in his annotations, notes, and heads of lectures on the Psalms, delivered in the years 1513-1516, struggling to free itself from the phrases of the Scholastic Theology which could not really express it. His private letters, in which he was less hampered by the phraseology which he still believed appropriate to theology, are full of happier expressions.(396) _Justificatio_ is _vivificatio_, and means to redeem from sins without any merit in the person redeemed; it takes place when sin is not imputed, but the penitents are reputed righteous. Grace is the pity (_misericordia_) of God; it manifests itself in the remission of sins; it is the truth of God seen in the fulfilment of His promises in the historical work of Christ; Jesus Christ Himself is grace, is the way, is

life and salvation. Faith is trust in the truth of God as manifested in the life and work of Jesus Christ; it is to believe in God; it is a knowledge of the Cross of Christ; it is to understand that the Son of God became incarnate, was crucified, and raised again for our salvation. The three central thoughts--_justification_, _grace_, _faith_--expressed in these inadequate phrases, are always looked upon and used to regulate that estimate of ourselves which forms the basis of piety. It is needless to trace the growing adequacy of the description. Luther at last found words to say that the central thought in Christianity is that the believer in possession of faith, which is itself the gift of God, is able to throw himself on God in Christ Who is his salvation and Who has mirrored Himself for us in Christ Jesus. He had trod the weary round that Augustine had gone before him; he had tried _to help himself_ in every possible way; he had found that with all his striving he could do nothing. Then, strange and mysterious as it was, the discovery had not brought despair, but rejoicing and comfort; for since there was no help whatever in man, his soul had been forced to find _all_--not part, but all--help in God. When he was able to express his experience he could say that the faith which throws itself on God, which is God's own gift, is the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. It was no adherence to doctrines more or less clearly comprehended; it was no act of initiation to be followed by a nearer approach to God and a larger measure of His grace; it was the power which gives life, certainty, peace, continuous self-surrender to God as the Father, and which transforms and renews the whole man. It was the life of the soul; it was Christianity within the believer--as Jesus Christ and His work is Christianity outside the believer.


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