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

Plain men and theologians alike


all this made it impossible to find in the Bible a means of communion with God. Between the God Who had revealed Himself there and man, the mediaeval theologian, perhaps unconsciously at first, had placed what he called the "Church," but what really was the opinions of accredited theologians confirmed by decisions of Councils or Popes. The "Church" had barred the way of access to the mind and heart of God in the Scriptures by interposing its authoritative method of interpretation between the believer and the Bible, as it had interposed the priesthood between the sinner and the redeeming Saviour.

Just as the Reformers had opposed their personal experience of pardon won by throwing themselves on the mercy of God revealed in Christ to the intervention of the Church between them and God, so they controverted this idea of the Scriptures by the personal experience of what the Bible had been to them. They had felt and known that the personal God, Who had made them and redeemed them, was speaking to them in this Book, and was there making manifest familiarly His power and His willingness to save. The speech was sometimes obscure, but they read on and lighted on other passages which were plainer, and they made the easier explain the more difficult. The "common" man perhaps could not understand it all, nor fit all the sayings of Scripture into a connected whole of intellectual truth; but all, plain men and theologians alike, could hear their Father's voice,

learn their Redeemer's purpose, and have faith in their Lord's promises. It was a good thing to put text to text and build a system of Protestant divinity to which their intellects could assent; but it was not essential. Saving faith was not intellectual assent at all. It was simple trust--the trust of a child--in their Father's promises, which were Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus. The one essential thing was to hear and obey the personal God speaking to them as He had spoken all down through the ages to His people, promising His salvation now in direct words, now in pictures of His dealings with a favoured man or a chosen people. No detail of life was dead history; for it helped to fill the picture of communion between God and His people. The picture was itself a promise that what had been in the past would be renewed in their own experience of fellowship with a gracious God, if only they had the same faith which these saints of the Old and New Testaments enjoyed.

With these thoughts burning in their hearts, the Bible could not be to the Reformers what it had been to the mediaeval theologians. God was speaking to them in it as a man speaks to his fellows. The simple historical sense was the important one in the great majority of passages. The Scripture was more than a storehouse of doctrines and moral rules. It was over and above the record and picture of the blessed experience which God's saints have had in fellowship with their covenant God since the first revelation of the Promise. So they made haste to translate the Bible into all languages in order to place it in the hands of every man, and said that the "common man" with the Bible in his hands (with God speaking to him) could know more about the way of salvation than Pope or Councils without the Scriptures.

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