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

The clergy differed from the laity simply in this


justify;">The first part of

the treatise shows that everything which a Christian man has goes back in the end to his faith; if he has this he has all; if he has it not, nothing else suffices him. In the same way the second part shows that everything that a Christian man does must come from his faith. It may be necessary to fast and keep the body under; it will be necessary to make use of all the ceremonies of divine service which have been found effectual for the spiritual education of man. The thing to remember is that these are not good works in themselves in the sense of making a man good; they are all rather the signs of his faith, and are to be done with joy, because they are done to the God to whom faith unites us. So ecclesiastical ceremonies, or what may be called the machinery of Church life, are valuable, and indeed indispensable to the life of the soul, provided only they are regarded in the proper way and kept in their proper place; but they may become harmful and most destructive of the true religious life if they are considered in any other light than that of means to an end. "We do not condemn works," says Luther, "nay we attach the highest value to them. We only condemn that opinion of works which regards them as constituting true righteousness." They are, he explains, like the scaffolding of a building, eminently useful so long as they assist the builder; harmful if they obstruct; and at the best of temporary value. They are destructive to the spiritual life when they come between the soul
and God. It follows, therefore, that if through human corruption and neglect of the plain precepts of the word of God these ecclesiastical usages hinder instead of aid the true growth of the soul, they ought to be changed or done away with; and the fact that the soul of man, in the last resort, needs absolutely nothing but the word of God dwelling within it, gives men courage and tranquillity in demanding their reformation.

In the same way fellow-men are not to be allowed to come between God and the human soul; and there is no need that they should. So far as spiritual position and privileges go, the laity are on the very same level as the clergy, for laity and clergy alike have immediate access to God through faith, and both are obliged to do what lies in them to further the advance of the kingdom of God among their fellow-men. All believing laymen "are worthy to appear before God, to pray for others, to teach each other mutually the things that are of God ... and as our heavenly Father has freely helped us in Christ, so we ought freely to help our neighbours by our body and our works, and each should become to the other a sort of Christ, so that we may be mutually Christs, and that the same Christ may be in all of us; that we may be truly Christians." Luther asserted that men and women living their lives in the family, in the workshop, in the civic world, held their position there, not by a kind of indirect permission wrung from God out of His compassion for human frailties, but by as direct a vocation as called a man to what by mistake had been deemed the only "religious life." The difference between clergy and laity did not consist in the supposed fact that the former were a spiritual order of a superior rank in the religious life, while the latter belonged to a lower condition. The clergy differed from the laity simply in this, that they had been selected to perform certain definite duties; but the function did not make him who performed it a holier man intrinsically. If the clergy misused their position and did not do the work they were set apart to perform, there was no reason why they should not be compelled by the laity to amend their ways. Even in the celebration of the holiest rites there was no distinction between clergy and laity save that to prevent disorder the former presided over the rites in which all engaged. At the Eucharist


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