Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Reformation: A Revival of Religion

The study of the Protestant Reformation has been one of my loves since I attended the Criswell College many years ago. Yesterday, I completed reading "The Reformation: A Handbook" by T. M. Lindsay, first published in 1882, and found the work quite interesting and informative. In his closing chapters, Lindsay discusses the principles of the Reformation. One of his paragraphs grabbed my attention and I thought I would share it on this blog.

The church which ought to have shown the way into God's presence seemed to surround the inner shrine of his sanctuary with a triple wall of defence which prevented entrance. When a man or woman felt sorrow for sin, the church told them to go, not to God, but to a man, often of immoral life, and confess their sins to him because he was a priest. When they wished to hear the comforting words of pardon spoken, it was not from God, but from man, that the assurance came. God's grace to help to holy living and dying was given, they were told, through a series of sacraments which fenced man's life round. He was born again in baptism; he came of age in the church in confirmation; his marriage was cleansed from the sin of lust in the sacrament of matrimony; penance brought back his spiritual life slain by deadly sin; the sacrament of the Lord's Supper fed him year by year, and deathbed grace was imparted in extreme unction. These were not the signs and promises of the free grace of God under whose wide canopy, as under that of heaven, man lives his spiritual life. They were the jealously guarded doors from out of which grudgingly, and commonly not without fees, the church and the priests dispensed the free grace of God.

In that same chapter, Lindsay describes how the medieval church developed into the entity which prevented man's way to God. His discussion centered on Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand), Francis of Assisi, the Mystics, and, finally, ended with Luther. Here is two of his summary paragraphs:

All down the stream of pious medieval life men and women had been yearning to get near God, but their yearning came out in different questions, and in each succeeding revival probed deeper. Gregory asked, How can I be separate from the world? Francis said, How can I be like Christ? The Mystics sighed, How can I have inward fellowship with God? Luther asked, How can I have the sense of pardon, and know that God has forgiven me my sin? ...

The Reformation revival of religion has this question of heart religion always before it, and always answers it in the same way. Men get pardon from God by going to God directly for it, trusting in his promise to pardon. God's free pardoning grace revealed in the Person and work of Christ, and man's trust in this promised grace, are the two poles between which the religious life of the Reformation always vibrates. God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, has promised to pardon his people's sin. The sinner trusts this promise. That is the simple religious aspect of the Reformation movement. All men who, having felt the need of pardon, and having perfect trust in the promise of pardon that God has given in Christ Jesus, go to him, and, casting aside all thought of themselves or of what they can do, simply rest on that promise and leave all to God, have the pardon and the sense of it.

Amen and Praise the Lord!

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