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

Over against an infallible Church


These views led Luther and the Reformers to represent faith as not merely the receptive organ for the reception and appropriation of justification through Christ, but, and in addition, as the active instrument in all Christian life and work--faith is our life; while the mediaeval theologians never attained this view of faith.

(4) The Reformer believes that the act of faith in his justification through Christ is the basis of the believer's assurance of his pardon and salvation in spite of the painful and abiding sense of sin; while the mediaeval theologian held that the divine sentence of acquittal which restored a sinner to a state of grace resulted from the joint action of the priest and the penitent in the Sacrament of Penance, and had to be repeated intermittently.

? 4. Holy Scripture.

All the Reformers of the sixteenth century, whether Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin, believed that in the Scriptures God spoke to them in the same way as He had done in earlier days to His prophets and Apostles. They believed that if the common people had the Scriptures in a language which they could understand, they could hear God speaking to them directly, and could go to Him for comfort, warning, or instruction; and their description of what they meant by the Holy Scriptures is simply another way of saying that all believers can have access to the very presence

of God. The Scriptures were therefore for them a personal rather than a dogmatic revelation. They record the experience of a fellowship with God enjoyed by His saints in past ages, which may still be shared in by the faithful. In Bible history as the Reformers conceived it, we hear two voices--the voice of God speaking love to man, and the voice of the renewed man answering in faith to God. This communion is no dead thing belonging to a bygone past; it may be shared here and now.

But the Reformation conception of Scripture is continually stated in such a way as to deprive it of the eminently religious aspect that it had for men of the sixteenth century. It is continually said that the Reformers placed the Bible, an infallible Book, over-against an infallible Church; and transferred the _same kind_ of infallibility which had been supposed to belong to the Church to this book. In mediaeval times, men accepted the decisions of Popes and Councils as the last decisive utterance on all matters of controversy in doctrine and morals; at the Reformation, the Reformers, it is said, placed the Bible where these Popes and Councils had been, and declared that the last and final appeal was to be made to its pages. This mode of stating the question has found its most concise expression in the saying of Chillingworth, that "the Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants." It is quite true that the Reformers did set the authority of the Scriptures over against that of Popes and Councils, and that Luther declared that "the common man," "miller's maid," or "boy of nine" with the Bible knew more about divine truth than the Pope without the Bible; but this is not the whole truth, and is therefore misleading. For Romanists and Protestants do not mean the same thing by _Scripture_, nor do they mean the same thing by _Infallibility_, and their different use of the words is a most important part of the Reformation conception of Scripture.

This difference in the meaning of _Scripture_ is partly external and partly internal; and the latter is the more important of the two.

The _Scriptures_ to which the Romanist appeals include the Apocryphal Books of the Old Testament; and the _Scriptures_ which are authoritative are not the books of the Old and New Testament in the original tongues, but a translation into Latin known as the Vulgate of Pope Sixtus V. They are therefore a book to a large extent different from the one to which Protestants appeal.

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