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

In describing the authoritative character of Scripture


The

change of view which separated the Reformers from mediaeval theologians almost amounted to a rediscovery of Scripture; and it was effected by their conception of faith. Saving faith was for them _personal trust_ in a _personal Saviour_ Who had manifested in His life and work the Fatherly mercy of God. This was not a mere theological definition; it was a description of an experience which they knew that they had lived. It made them see that the word of God was a personal and not a dogmatic revelation; that the real meaning in it was that God Himself was there behind every word of it,--not an abstract truth, but a personal Father. On the one side, on the divine, there was God pouring out His whole heart and revealing the inmost treasures of His righteousness and love in Christ the Incarnate Word; on the other side, on the human, there was the believing soul looking straight through all works and all symbols and all words to Christ Himself, united to Him by faith in the closest personal union. Such a blessed experience--the feeling of direct fellowship between the believer and God Incarnate, of a communion such as exists between two loving human souls, brought about by the twofold stream of God's personal word coming down, and man's personal faith going up to God--could not fail to give an entirely new conception of Scripture. The mediaeval Church looked on the Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture as a Teacher sent from God; and revelation was for them above all things an imparting
of speculative truth. To the Reformers the chief function of Scripture was to bring Jesus Christ near us; and as Jesus always fills the full sphere of God to them, the chief end of Scripture is to bring God near _me_. It is the direct message of God's love to _me_,--not doctrine, but promise (for apart from promise, as Luther said unweariedly, faith does not exist); not display of God's thoughts, but of God Himself as _my_ God. This manifestation of God, which is recorded for us in the Scriptures, took place in an historical process coming to its fullest and highest in the incarnation and historical work of Christ, and the record of the manifestation has been framed so as to include everything necessary to enable us to understand the declaration of God's will in its historical context and in its historical manifestation. "Let no pious Christian," says Luther, "stumble at the simple word and story that meet him so often in Scripture." These are never the dead histories of the mediaeval theologian,--events which have simply taken place and concern men no more. They tell how God dealt with His faithful people in ages past, and they are promises of how He will act towards us now. "Abraham's history is precious," he says, "because it is filled so full of God's Word, with which all that befell him is so adorned and so fair, and because God goes everywhere before him with His Word, promising, commanding, comforting, warning, that we may verily see that Abraham was God's special trusty friend. Let us mirror ourselves, then, in this holy father Abraham, who walks not in gold and velvet, but girded, crowned, and clothed with divine light, that is, with God's Word." The simplest Bible stories, even geographical and architectural details, may and do give us the sidelights necessary to complete the manifestation of God to His people.

The question now arises, Where and in what are we to recognise the infallibility and authoritative character of Scripture? It is manifest that the ideas attaching to these words must change with the changed conception of the essential character of that Scripture to which they belong. Nor can the question be discussed apart from the Reformation idea of saving faith; for the two thoughts of Scripture and saving faith always correspond. In mediaeval theology they are always primarily intellectual and prepositional; in Reformation thinking, they are always in the first instance experimental and personal. In describing the authoritative character of Scripture, the Reformers always insisted that its recognition was awakened in believers by that operation which they called the witness of the Holy Spirit (_Testimonium Spiritus Sancti_). Just as God Himself makes us know and feel the sense of pardon in an inward experience by a faith which is His own work, so they believed that by an operation of the same Spirit, believers were enabled to recognise that God Himself is speaking to us authoritatively in and through the words of Scripture.


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