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What the Reformation Really Means
 
by
 
William Wileman
 

 

WHAT the Reformation really means is simply Re-formation: that is, the decay and removal of a previous system of unreal and false religion to make room for that which is real and true.  The word itself is used once in Scripture (Hebrews ix. 10), where it is stated that the rites and ceremonies of the old covenant were "imposed on them until the time of re-formation."  The new covenant, therefore, has superseded the old.  All believers are priests unto God, and are privileged to draw near in full assurance of faith, without the interposition of any human "priest" or mediator.

 

In order to make this very clear and plain, I am going to make a quotation from an authoritative Roman Catholic source.  There is now being published a [Roman] "Catholic Encyclopaedia," to be completed in fifteen volumes.  The third volume bears date 1908.  Each article in this work has the signature of some writer of eminence in the Roman Church.  The three volumes thus far issued bear the imprimatur of Archbishop JOHN M. FINLAY, of New York.  The three quotations I shall make are taken from two articles, on Calvin and on Calvinism, each signed by Canon "William Barry," of Leamington.  Writing first on John Calvin, Canon Barry says (page 195): "This man, undoubtedly the greatest of Protestant divines, and perhaps, after St. Augustine, the most perseveringly followed by his disciples of any Western writer on theology, was born at Noyon.  . . . Luther's eloquence made him popular by its force, humour, rudeness, and vulgar style.  Calvin spoke to the learned at all times, even when preaching before multitudes.  His manner is classical; he reasons on system ; he  has little humour; instead of striking with a cudgel he uses the weapons of a deadly logic and persuades by a teacher's authority, not by a demagogue's calling of names.  He gives articulate expression to the principles which Luther had stormily thrown out upon the world in his vehement pamphleteering; and the Institutes, as they were left by their author, have remained ever since the standard of orthodox Protestant belief in all the churches known as Reformed."

 

I now quote from the same writer on Calvinism (page 198): "To the modern world, however, Calvin stands peculiarly for the Reformation ; his doctrine is supposed to contain the essence of the gospel; and multitudes who reject Christianity mean merely the creed of Geneva.

 

"Why does this happen?  Because, we answer, Calvin gave himself out as following closely in the steps of St. Paul and St. Augustine.  The Catholic teaching at Trent he judged to be semi-Pelagian, a stigma which his disciples fix especially on Jesuit schools, above all, on Molina.  Hence the curious situation arises, that, while the Catholic consent of the East and West finds little or no acknowledgment as an historical fact among assailants of religion, the views which a single Reformer enunciated are taken as though representing the New Testament.  In other words, a highly refined individual system, not traceable as a whole to any previous age, supplants the public teaching of centuries.  Calvin, who hated scholasticism, comes before us, as Luther had already done, in the shape of a scholastic.  His 'pure doctrine' is gained by appealing, not to tradition, the 'deposit' of faith, but to argument in abstract terms exercised upon Scripture.  He is neither a critic nor a historian.  He takes the Bible as something given; and he manipulates the Apostles' Creed in accordance with his own ideas.  The Institutes are not a history of dogma, but a treatise, only not to be called an essay because of its peremptory tone.

 

"Calvin annihilates the entire space, with all its developments, which lies between the death of St. John and the sixteenth century.  He does indeed quote St. Augustine, but he leaves out all that Catholic foundation on which the Doctor of Grace built.

 

"One sweeping consequence of the Reformation is yet to be noticed.  As it denied the merit of good works even in the regenerate, all those Catholic beliefs and ordinances which implied a Communion of Saints actively helping each other by prayer and self-sacrifice were flung aside.  Thus Purgatory, Masses for the dead, invocation of the blessed in heaven, and their intercession for us, are scouted by Calvin as 'Satan's devices.'  A single argument gets rid of them all: do they not make void the Cross of Christ our only Redeemer?"

 

We have here, from a Roman Catholic pen, a very plain and lucid view of the vital difference between the two religions, - man's and God's.

 

"He takes the Bible as something given."  Blessed be its heavenly Author and Explainer, we do take the infallible Word as given by God to every humble learner.  And we say of all teaching that is not consonant with its pages of light and grace, let it be "swept away," let it be "flung aside," let it be "scouted" as unworthy of our regard.

 

As to the "merit of good works, even in the regenerate," those who really are regenerate are the most able to form an opinion.  Taught by the Spirit who inspired the Word, we say of our best works, and of our worst works, let them be "swept away," let them be "flung aside," let them be "scouted" altogether.  The only merits we desire to know are those of our Redeemer, the Friend of sinners.

 

With regard to purgatory, we do indeed bridge over the entire interval between the death of John and the twentieth century, and we go back to the Word of God.  In that Book we seek in vain for the remotest semblance of anything like the purgatory taught by the Church of Rome.  We therefore consider the error worthy to be "swept away," to be "flung aside," and to be ''scouted," with heart, and soul, and strength.  Jesus has "by Himself purged our sins" (Hebrews i. 3) by washing us "in His own blood" (Revelation i. 4), "having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews ix. 12).  This is a sweet purgatory to a sinner taught of God: he needs and knows no other.

 

Masses for the dead; invocation of so-called saints; and their intercession for sinners on earth: what are these but denials of the finished work of Jesus?  We can but pity the poor deluded and mistaken souls that hide under these "refuges of lies," and build upon such fatal quicksands.

 

We heartily and earnestly invite such to read the Word for themselves, in the hope that, taught by the Spirit of God, they also will be enabled to "sweep away," to "fling aside," and to "scout" these delusions.

 

"A single argument gets rid of them all: do they not make void the Cross of Christ, our only Redeemer?"  I cannot but marvel that a Roman Catholic pen should write a sentence so eminently Scriptural.  Indeed a single argument is all that is needed: the Cross of Christ.  There, and in His empty tomb, is the death of all human merit, all condemnation, all curse; the payment of all penalty; the justification of the ungodly; the pardon of the vilest sinner who by a Divinely-wrought faith believes in Jesus.  And this is what is meant by the Reformation.  Taught by Luther, by Calvin, by Wycliffe, by Zwingle, by Knox, by Farel; by our Reformers and martyrs; and by an army of God-anointed teachers "from the death of John to this twentieth century," – this is the grand single argument that "sweeps away " all that makes void the Word of God.  And if "a single argument gets rid of them all," then let us acknowledge that we need no other.  Let us take our stand with – not merely John Calvin, nor merely Augustine, but with one who bore in his body the "branding-marks of the Lord Jesus" (Galatians vi. 14-17), and say with him: "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

 

 

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