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

When they appealed to Scripture


However

important this external difference may be, it is nothing in comparison with the internal difference; and yet the latter is continually forgotten by Protestants as well as by Roman Catholics in their arguments.

To understand it, one must remember that every mediaeval theologian declared that the whole doctrinal system of his Church was based upon the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The Reformers did nothing unusual, nothing which was in opposition to the common practice of the mediaeval Church in which they had been born, educated, and lived, when they appealed to Scripture. Luther made his appeal with the same serene unconsciousness that anyone could gainsay him, as he did when he set the believer's spiritual experience of the fact that he rested on Christ alone for salvation against the proposal to sell pardon for money. His opponents never attempted to challenge his right to make this appeal to Scripture--at least at first. They made the same appeal themselves; they believed that they were able to meet Scripture with Scripture. They were confident that the authority appealed to--Scripture--would decide against Luther. It soon became apparent, however, that Luther had an unexpectedly firmer grasp of Scripture than they had. This did not mean that he had a better memory for texts. It was seen that Luther somehow was able to look at and use Scripture as one transparent whole; while they looked on it as a collection of fragmentary texts.

This gave him and other Reformers a skill in the use of Scripture which their opponents began to feel that they were deficient in. They felt that if they were to meet their opponents on equal terms they too must recognise a unity in Scripture. They did so by creating an external and arbitrary unity by means of the dogmatic tradition of the mediaeval Church. Hence the decree of the Council of Trent, which manufactured an artificial unity for Scripture by placing the dogmatic tradition of the Church alongside Scripture as an equal source of authority. The reason why the Reformers found a natural unity in the Bible, and why the Romanists had to construct an artificial one, lay, as we shall see, in their different conceptions of what was meant by saving faith.

Mediaeval theologians looked at the Bible as a sort of spiritual law-book, a storehouse of divinely communicated knowledge of doctrinal truths and rules for moral conduct--and nothing more.

The Reformers saw in it a new home for a new life within which they could have intimate fellowship with God Himself--not merely knowledge about God, but actual communion with Him.

There is one great difficulty attending the mediaeval conception of the Scriptures, that it does not seem applicable to a large part of them. There is abundant material provided for the construction of doctrines and moral rules; but that is only a portion of what is contained in the Scriptures. The Bible contains long lists of genealogies, chapters which contain little else than a description of


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