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THE question has often been raised whether, and to what extent, the Reformation was a work of the German spirit. I cannot here go into this complicated problem. But this much seems to me to be certain, that while we cannot, indeed, connect Luther’s momentous religious experiences with-his nationality, the results positive as well as negative with which he invested them display the German—the German man and German history. From the time that the Germans endeavoured to make themselves really at home in the religion handed down to them—this did not take place until the thirteenth century onwards—they were preparing the way for the Reformation. And just as Eastern Christianity is rightly called Greek, and the Christianity of the Middle Ages and of Western Europe is rightly called Roman, so the Christianity of the Reformation may be described as German, in spite of Calvin. For Calvin was Luther’s pupil, and he made his influence most lastingly felt, not among the Latin nations but among the English, the Scotch, and the Dutch. Through the Reformation the Germans 303mark a stage in the history of the Universal Church. No similar statement can be made of the Slays.

The recoil from asceticism, which as an ideal never penetrated the Germans to the same extent as other nations, and the protest against religion as external authority, are to be set down as well to the Pauline Gospel as to the German spirit. Luther’s warmth and heartiness in preaching, and his frankness in polemical utterance, were felt by the German nation to be an opening out of its own soul.

In the previous lecture we touched upon the chief provinces in which Luther raised an emphatic and still effective protest. There is much upon which I could also dwell: for example, upon the opposition which, especially at the commencement of his reforming activity, he offered to the whole terminology of dogmatics, its formulae and doctrinal utterances. To sum up: he protested, because his aim was to restore the Christian religion in its purity, without priests and sacrifices, without external authorities and ordinances, without solemn ceremonies, without all the chains with which the Beyond was to be bound to the Here. In its revising ardour the Reformation went back not only earlier than the eleventh century, not only earlier than the fourth or the second, but to the very beginnings of religion. Nay, without being aware of it, the 304Reformation even modified or entirely put aside forms which existed even in the apostolic age: thus in matters of discipline it abolished fasting; in matters of constitution it abolished bishops and deacons; in matters of doctrine it abolished, among other things, Chiliasm.

But with the change effected by Reformation and Revolution, how does the new creation stand as a whole in regard to the Gospel? We may say that in the four leading points which we emphasised in the previous lecture—inwardness and spirituality, the fundamental thought of the God of grace, His worship in spirit and in truth, and the idea of the Church as a community of faith—the Gospel was in reality re-won. Need I prove this in detail, or are we to be shaken in our conviction because, as is surely the case, a Christian in the sixteenth and in the nineteenth century presents an appearance different from that which a Christian presented in the first? That the inwardness and individualism which the Reformation disengaged accord with the character of the Gospel is certain. Further, Luther’s pronouncement on justification not only reflects in the main, and in spite of certain irreducible differences, Paul’s train of thought, but is also, in point of aim, in exact correspondence with Jesus’ teaching. To know God as one’s Father, to possess a 305God of grace, to find comfort in His grace and providence, to believe in the forgiveness of sins—in both cases that is the point on which everything turns. And in the troubled times of Lutheran orthodoxy a Paul Gerhardt succeeded in giving such grand expression to this fundamental conviction of the Gospel in his hymns, “Is God for me, then let all,” and “Commit thy ways,” as to convince us how truly Protestantism was penetrated with it. Again, that the right worship of God ought to be nothing but the acknowledgment of God in praise and prayer, but that the love of neighbour is also worship, is taken direct from the Gospel and Paul’s corresponding injunctions. Lastly, that the true Church is held together by the Holy Ghost and by faith; that it is a spiritual community of brothers and sisters, is a conviction which is in line with the Gospel, and was most clearly expressed by Paul. In so far as the Reformation restored all this, and also recognised Christ as the only Redeemer, it may in the strictest sense of the word be called evangelical; and in so far as these convictions, crippled and burdened though they may be, retain their ascendency in the Protestant Churches, they have every warrant for being so described.

But what was here achieved had its dark side as well. If we ask what the Reformation cost us, and 306to what extent it made its principles prevail, we shall see this dark side very clearly.

We get nothing from history without paying for it, and for a violent movement we have to pay double. What did the Reformation cost us? I will not speak of the fact that the unity of Western civilisation was destroyed, since it was, after all, only over a part of Western Europe that the Reformation prevailed, for the freedom and many-sided character of the resulting development brought us a greater gain. But the necessity of establishing the new Churches as State-Churches was attended by serious disadvantages. The system of an ecclesiastical state is, of course, worse, and its adherents have truly no cause to praise it in contrast with the State-Churches. But still the latter—which are not solely the outcome of the breach with ecclesiastical authority, but were already prepared for in the fifteenth century—have been the cause of much stunted growth. They have weakened the feeling of responsibility, and diminished the activity, of the evangelical communities; and, in addition, they have aroused the not unfounded suspicion that the Church is an institution set up by the state; and accordingly to be adjusted to the state. Much has happened, indeed, in the last few decades to check that suspicion by the greater independence which the Churches have obtained; but further progress in 307this direction is necessary, especially in regard to the freedom of individual communities. The connexion with the state must not be violently severed, for the Churches have derived much advantage from it; but steps must be taken to further the development upon which we have entered. If this results in multifarious organisations in the Church, it will do no harm; on the contrary, it will remind us, in a forcible way, that these forms are all arbitrary.

Further, Protestantism was forced by its opposition to Catholicism to lay exclusive emphasis on the inward character of religion, and upon “faith alone”; but to formulate one doctrine in sharp opposition to another is always a dangerous process. The man in the street is not sorry to hear that “good works” are unnecessary, nay, that they constitute a danger to the soul. Although Luther is not responsible for the convenient misunderstanding that ensued, the inevitable result was that in the reformed Churches in Germany from the very start there were accusations of moral laxity and a want of serious purpose in the sanctification of life. The saying, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” was unwarrantably thrust into the background. Not until the Pietistic movement arose was its central importance once more recognised. Up till then the pendulum of the conduct of life took a suspicious swing in the contrary direction, out of opposition to 308the Catholic “justification by works.” But religion is not only a state of the heart; it is a deed as well; it is faith active in love and in the sanctification of life. This is a truth with which evangelical Christians must become much better acquainted, if they are not to be put to shame.

There is another point closely connected with what I have just mentioned. The Reformation abolished monasticism, and was bound to abolish it. It rightly affirmed that to take a vow of lifelong asceticism was a piece of presumption; and it rightly considered that any worldly vocation, conscientiously followed, in the sight of God was equal to, nay, was better than, being a monk. But something now happened which Luther neither foresaw nor desired: “monasticism,” of the kind that is conceivable and necessary in the evangelical sense of the word, disappeared altogether. But every community stands in need of personalities living exclusively for its ends. The Church, for instance, needs volunteers who will abandon every other pursuit, renounce “the world,” and devote themselves entirely to the service of their neighbour; not because such a vocation is “a higher one,” but because it is a necessary one, and because no Church can live without also giving rise to this desire. But in the evangelical Churches the desire has been checked by the decided attitude which they 309have been compelled to adopt towards Catholicism. It is a high price that we have paid; nor can the price be reduced by considering, on the other hand, how much simple and unaffected religious fervour has been kindled in home and family life. We may rejoice, however, that in the past century a beginning has been made in the direction of recouping this loss. In the institution of deaconesses and many cognate phenomena the evangelical Churches are getting back what they once ejected through their inability to recognise it in the form which it then took. But it must undergo a much ampler and more varied development.

Not only had the Reformation to pay a high price; it was also incapable of perceiving all the conclusions to which its new ideas led, and of giving them pure effect. It is not that the work which it did was not absolutely valid and permanent in every particular—how could that be, and who could desire it to have been so? No! it remained stationary in its development even at the point at which, to judge by the earnest foundation that was laid at the start, higher things might have been expected. Various causes combined to produce this result. From the year 1526 onwards national Churches had to be founded at headlong speed on evangelical lines; they were forced to be “rounded and complete” at a time when much was still in a state of 310flux. Then again, a mistrust of the left wing, of the “enthusiasts,” induced the Churches to offer an energetic resistance to tendencies which they could have accompanied for a good bit of their way. Luther’s unwillingness to have anything to do with them, nay, the manner in which he became suspicious of his own ideas when they coincided with those of the “enthusiasts,” was bitterly avenged and came home to the evangelical Churches in the Age of Enlightenment. Even at the risk of being reckoned among Luther’s detractors, we must go further. This genius had a faith as robust as Paul’s, and thereby an immense power over the minds and hearts of men; but he was not abreast of the knowledge accessible even in his own time. The naïve age had gone by; it was an age of deep feeling, of progress, an age in which religion could not avoid contact with all the powers of mind. In this age it was his destiny to be forced to be not only a reformer but also an intellectual and spiritual leader and teacher. The way of looking at the world and at history he had to plan afresh for generations; for there was no one there to help him, and to no one else would people listen. But he had not all the resources of clear knowledge at his command. Lastly, he was always anxious to go back to the original, to the Gospel itself, and, so far as it was possible to do it by intuition and inward experience, he did it; 311moreover, he made some admirable studies in history, and in many places broke victoriously through the serried lines of the traditional dogmas. But any trustworthy knowledge of the history of those dogmas was as yet an impossibility, and still less was any historical acquaintance with the New Testament and primitive Christianity attainable. It is marvellous how, in spite of all this, Luther possessed so much power of penetration and sound judgment. We have only to look at his introductions to the books of the New Testament, or at his treatise on “Churches and Councils.” But there were countless problems of which he did not even know, to say nothing of being able to solve them; and so it was that he had no means of distinguishing between kernel and husk, between what was original and what was of alien growth. How can we be surprised, then, if in its doctrine, and in the view which it took of history, the Reformation was far from being a finished product; and that, where it perceived no problems, confusion in its own ideas was inevitable? It could not, like Pallas Athene, spring complete from Jupiter’s head; as doctrine it could do no more than mark a beginning, and it had to reckon on future development. But by being rapidly formed into national Churches it came near to itself cutting short its further development for all time.

As regards the confusion and the checks which it 312brought upon itself, we must content ourselves with referring to a few leading points. Firstly, Luther would admit nothing but the Gospel, nothing but what frees and binds the consciences of men, what everyone, down to the man-servant and the maidservant, can understand. But then he not only took the old dogmas of the Trinity and the two natures as part of the Gospel—he was not in a position to examine them historically—and even framed new ones, but he was absolutely incapable of making any sound distinction between “doctrine” and Gospel; in this respect falling far behind Paul. The necessary result was that intellectualism was still in the ascendant; that a scholastic doctrine was again set up as necessary to salvation; and that two classes of Christians once more arose: those who understand the doctrine, and the minors who are dependent on the others’ understanding of it.

Secondly, Luther was convinced that that alone is the “Word of God” whereby a man is inwardly born anew—the message of the free grace of God in Christ. At the highest levels to which he attained in his life he was free from every sort of bondage to the letter. What a capacity he had for distinguishing between law and Gospel, between Old and New Testament, nay, for distinguishing in the New Testament itself! All that he would recognise was the kernel of the matter, clearly revealed as it is in 313these books, and proving its power by its effect on the soul. But he did not make a clean sweep. In cases where he had found the letter important, he demanded submission to the “it is written”; and he demanded it peremptorily, without recollecting that, where other sayings of the Scriptures were concerned, he himself had declared the “it is written” to be of no binding force.

Thirdly, grace is the forgiveness of sins, and therefore the assurance of possessing a God of grace, and life, and salvation. How often Luther repeated this, always with the addition that what was efficacious here was the Word—that union of the soul with God in the trust and childlike reverence which God’s Word inspires; it was a personal relation which was here involved. But the same man allowed himself to be inveigled into the most painful controversies about the means of grace, about communion and infant baptism. These were struggles in which he ran the risk of again exchanging his high conception of grace for the Catholic conception, as well as of sacrificing the fundamental idea that it is a purely spiritual possession that is in question, and that, compared with Word and faith, all else is of no importance. What he here bequeathed to his Church has become a legacy of woe.

Fourthly, the counter-Church which, as was inevitable, rapidly arose in opposition to the Roman 314Church, and, under the pressure which that Church exercised, perceived, not without reason, that its truth and its title lay in the re-establishment of the Gospel. But whilst the counter-Church privily identified the sum and substance of its doctrine with the Gospel, the thought also stole in surreptitiously: We-that is to say, the particular Churches which had now sprung up—are the true Church. Luther, of course, was never able to forget that the true Church was the sacred community of the faithful; but still he had no clear ideas as to the relation between it and the visible new Church which had now arisen, and subsequent generations settled down more and more into the sad misunderstanding: We are the true Church because we have the rightdoctrine.” This misunderstanding, besides giving rise to evil results in self-infatuation and intolerance, still further strengthened that mischievous distinction between theologians and clergy on the one side, and the laity on the other, on which we have already dwelt. Not, perhaps, in theory, but certainly in practice, a double form of Christianity arose, just as in Catholicism; and in spite of the efforts of the Pietistic movement it still remains with us to-day. The theologian and the clergyman must defend the whole doctrine, and be orthodox: for the layman it suffices if he adheres to certain leading points and refrains from attacking 315the orthodox creed. A very well-known man, as I have been lately told, expressed the wish that a certain inconvenient theologian would go over to the philosophical faculty; “for then,” he said, “instead of an unbelieving theologian we should have a believing philosopher.” Here we have the logical outcome of the contention that in the evangelical Churches, too, doctrine is something laid down for all time, and that in spite of being generally binding it is a matter of so much difficulty that the laity need not be expected to defend it. But if we persist on this path, and other confusions become worse confounded and take firmer root, there is a risk of Protestantism becoming a sorry double of Catholicism. I say a sorry double, because there. are two things which Protestantism will never obtain, namely, a pope and monastic priests. Neither the letter of the Bible nor any belief embodied in creeds can ever produce the unconditional authority which Catholics possess in the Pope; and Protestantism cannot now return to the monastic priest. It retains .its national Churches and its married clergy, neither of which looks very stately by the side of Catholicism, if competition with Catholicism is what the evangelical Churches desire.

Gentlemen, Protestantism is not yet, thank God, in such a bad way that the imperfections and confusions in which it began have got the upper hand 316and entirely stunted or stifled its true character. Even those among us who are convinced that the Reformation in the sixteenth century is something that is over and done with are by no means ready to abandon the momentous ideas on which it was based, and there is a large field in which all earnest evangelical Christians are in complete unanimity. But if those who think that the Reformation is done with cannot see that its continuance in the sense of a pure understanding of God’s Word is a question of life and death for Protestantism—its continuance has already borne abundant fruit in associations like the Evangelical Union—let them at least promote the liberty for which Luther fought in his best days: “Let the minds of men rush one against another and strike; if some are meanwhile led astray—well! that is what we must expect in war; where there is battle and slaughter, some must fall and be wounded, but whoso fights honestly will receive the crown.”

The reason why the catholicising of the Protestant Churches—I do not mean that they are becoming papal; I mean that they are becoming Churches of ordinance, doctrine, and ceremony—is so burning a question is that three powerful forces are working together to further this development. First there is the indifference of the masses. The tendency of all indifference is to put religion on the same plane 317not only with authority and tradition, but also with priests, hierarchies, and the cult of ceremonies. It puts religion there, and then goes on to complain of the external character and stationary condition of religion, and of the “pretensions” of the clergy; nay, it is capable, apparently, at one and the same moment, of mingling those complaints with abuse, of contemptuously jeering at every active expression of religious feeling, and doing homage to every kind of ceremony. This kind of indifference has no understanding whatever for evangelical Christianity, instinctively tries to suppress it, and praises Catholicism at its expense. The second of the forces to be taken into consideration is what I may call “natural religion.” Those who live by fear and hope; whose chief endeavour is to find some authority in matters of religion; who are eager to be rid of their own responsibility and want to be reassured; who are looking for some “adjunct” to life, whether in its solemn hours or in its worst distress, some aesthetic transfiguration, or some violent form of assistance till time itself assists—all these people are also, without being aware of it, putting religion on the Catholic plane; they want “something that they can lean upon,” and a good deal else, too—all kinds of things to stir them up and help them; but they do not want the Christianity of the Gospel. But the Christianity of the Gospel 318in yielding to such demands becomes Catholic Christianity. The third force I mention unwillingly, and yet I cannot pass it over in silence; it is the State. We must not blame the state for setting chief store by the conservative influence which religion and the Churches exercise, and the subsidiary effects which they produce in respect of reverence, obedience, and public order. But this is just the reason why the state exercises pressure in this direction, protects all the elements of stability in the Churches, and seeks to keep them from every inner movement that would call their unity and their “public utility” in question; nay, it has tried often enough to approximate the Church to the police, and employ it as a means of maintaining order in the state. We can pardon this—let the state take the means of power wherever it can find them; but the Church must not allow itself to be made into a pliant instrument; for, side by side with all the desolating consequences to its vocation and prestige, it would thereby become an outward institution in which public order is of greater consequence than the spirit, form more important than matter, and obedience of higher value than truth.

In the face of these three so different forces, what we have to do is to maintain Christian earnestness and liberty as presented in the Gospel. Theology alone is unavailing; what is wanted is firmness 319of Christian character. The evangelical Churches will be pushed into the background if they do not make a stand. It was out of such free creations as the Pauline communities were that the Catholic Church once arose. Who can guarantee that those Churches, too, will not become “Catholic” which had their origin in “the liberty of a Christian man”?

That, however, would not involve the destruction of the Gospel: so much, at least, history proves. It would be still traceable, like a red thread in the centre of the web, and somewhere or other it would emerge afresh, and free itself from its entangling connexions. Even in the outwardly decorated but inwardly decayed temples of the Greek and Roman Churches it has not been effaced. “Venture onwards! deep down in a vault you will still find the altar and its sacred, ever-burning lamp!” This Gospel, associated as it was with the speculative ideas and the mystery-worship of the Greeks, yet did not perish in them; united with the Roman Empire, it held its own even in this fusion, nay, out of it gave birth to the Reformation. Its dogmatic doctrines, its ordinances of public worship, have changed; nay, what is much more, it has been embraced by the simplest and purest minds and by the greatest thinkers; it endeared itself to a St. Francis and to a Newton. It has outlived all the changing 320philosophies of the world; it has cast off like a garment forms and ideas which were once sacred; it has participated in the entire progress of civilisation; it has become spiritualised, and in the course of history it has learnt how to make a surer application of its ethical principles. In its original earnestness and in the consolation which it offers, it has come home to thousands in all ages; and in all ages, too, it has thrown off all its encumbrances, and broken down all barriers. If we were right in saying that the Gospel is the knowledge and recognition of God as the Father, the certainty of redemption, humility and joy in God, energy and brotherly love; if it is essential to this religion that the founder must not be forgotten over his message, nor the message over the founder, history shows us that the Gospel has, in point of fact, remained in force, struggling again and again to the surface.

You will perhaps have felt that I have not entered into present questions, the relation, namely, of the Gospel to our present intellectual condition, our whole knowledge of the world, and our task therein. But to do this with any success in regard to the actual situation of affairs would require longer than a few fleeting hours. As regards the kernel of the matter, however, I have said all that is needful, for no new phase in the history of the 321Christian religion has occurred since the Reformation. Our knowledge of the world has undergone enormous changes—every century since the Reformation marks an advance, the most important being those in the last two; but, looked at from a religious and ethical point of view, the forces and principles of the Reformation have not been outrun or rendered obsolete. We need only grasp them in their purity and courageously apply them, modern ideas will not put any new difficulties in their way. The real difficulties in the way of the religion of the Gospel remain the old ones. In face of them we can “prove” nothing, for our proofs are only variations of our convictions. But the course which history has taken has surely opened up a wide province, in which the Christian sense of brotherhood must give practical proof of itself quite otherwise than it knew how, or was able, to do in the early centuries—I mean the social province. Here a tremendous task confronts us, and in the measure in which we accomplish it shall we be able to answer with a better heart the deepest of all questions—the question of the meaning of life.

Gentlemen, it is religion, the love of God and neighbour, which gives life a meaning; knowledge cannot do it. Let me, if you please, speak of my own experience, as one who for thirty years has 322taken an earnest interest in these things. Pure knowledge is a glorious thing, and woe to the man who holds it light or blunts his sense for it! But to the question, Whence, whither, and to what purpose? it gives an answer to-day as little as it did two or three thousand years ago. It does, indeed, instruct us in facts; it detects inconsistencies; it links phenomena; it corrects the deceptions of sense and idea. But where and how the curve of the world and the curve of our own life begin,—that curve of which it shows us only a section, and whither this curve leads, knowledge does not tell us. But if with a steady will we affirm the forces and the standards which on the summits of our inner life shine out as our highest good, nay, as our real self; if we are earnest and courageous enough to accept them as the great Reality and direct our lives by them; and if we then look at the course of mankind’s history, follow its upward development, and search, in strenuous and patient service, for the communion of minds in it, we shall not faint in weariness and despair, but become certain of God, of the God whom Jesus Christ called his Father, and who is also our Father.


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