In our previous lectures we have considered from the standpoint of prophecy the great Papal system of Latin Christianity, and it now remains for us to show you, in this closing one, that the same mirror of the future which so fully reflected the coming Roman apostasy reflects as clearly that Reformation movement of the sixteenth century which emancipated from it myriads of mankind.
This could hardly be otherwise. As prophecy traces the entire story of Roman rule, in both its pagan and Papal forms, and carries it on to a point even now future, it would not, of course, pass by unnoticed the most remarkable and noteworthy incident in the later section of history. It could not omit from its anticipative record an episode so distinctly providential as that Protestant exodus, which split western Christendom into two halves, and severed from the communion of Rome Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, and Great Britain.
It might well be omitted from Daniel’s very distant foreview, but scarcely from the latter prophecy of John, when the incipient workings of the apostasy had already commenced. Neither the story of the apostate Church nor that of the true would be complete without it; for it was an episode of stupendous importance to the welfare of hundreds of millions of mankind through nine or ten generations, both to those whom it liberated from the superstitions and tyrannies of Rome, and to those on whom by a counter movement it riveted her fetters more strongly then ever.
What! should the ruin wrought by Romanism be plainly portrayed in advance on the prophetic page, and the revival produced by the Spirit of God and the word of His mouth be left altogether out of view? Should the work of Satan, his corruption and defilement of the professing Church, be reflected in the Divine mirror, and not the work of the glorious Head of the true Church through His faithful witnesses in the restoration to the world of the primitive Christianity it had lost? Never! A true mirror reflects everything alike, and Scripture prophecy anticipates the entire outline of Church history. Just as there were no events in the history of Israel which were not foretold before they came to pass, so in the history of the Church. The Reformation of the sixteenth century, and its glad and glorious results, are as clearly foreshadowed and foretold as the Romanism of the dark ages.
You will naturally inquire, Where and how? Before replying, let me remind you that there are two kinds of prophecy in Scripture the acted, and the spoken or written; the type and the prediction. In the Levitical sacrifices, for instance, we have acted prophecies of the atonement; in Isaiah 53 we have verbal predictions of it. The whole history of the natural Israel is typical of that of the spiritual Israel, or Christian Church. Both are delivered from Egypt, both are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, both are led through a desert, both are sustained by bread from heaven, both journey towards a rest that remains for the people of God. This broad analogy descends in a wonderful way to details. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 shows this, and states that, not only was Israel’s history typical, but that it was divinely ordered that it might be so; in other words, it was intentionally prophetic. “These things,” he says, “happened unto them for ensamples (or types, ?????), and are written for our instruction.” Not only are they recorded for our warning, but they occurred in the providence of God in order that they might foreshadow the experiences of the Christian Church, and that she might learn from them solemn and needed lessons.
The incidents of Jewish history actually happened, that they might be types of Christian history; and Divine foreknowledge is as much exemplified in this correspondence between type and antitype as in that between prediction and fulfillment.
I am to show you this evening, then, two sets of predictions of the Reformation, one acted in Jewish history, the other symbolized in apocalyptic prophecy; the one embodied in the story of the Old Testament, the other in the symbolic predictions of the New.
Before I can do this, you must allow me to remind you with some degree of accuracy what the Reformation was, as to its broad historical characteristics.
It was not the formation of the Church, but its re-formation after its ruin by Romanism. It was not a first beginning, but a second. Pentecost formed the Church; Popery deformed it; Protestantism reformed it. Pentecost occurred in the first century, and is associated with the work of the apostles themselves. The Reformation did not occur till the sixteenth century, and was not completed till the seventeenth, and is associated with such names as Luther and Calvin, Zwingle and Knox, Cranmer and Latimer. The first belongs to ancient history, the last to modern times. A great chronological gap of nearly fifteen hundred years lies between the two. There were the early ages of first love, apostolic zeal, rapid extension, martyr suffering, noble confessions and apologies; followed by other centuries of imperial Christianity, growing corruption, of bitter strife and ambitious rivalries; and these again by a thousand years of Papal domination and ever- deepening moral darkness before the glad light of the Reformation broke over the earth. It is a late episode of Church history, not an early one.
And further. When it did take place, its results were very partial. It has affected but a portion of apostate Christendom. It has not brought back to the faith of Christ Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, or Belgium. The reformed nations may be the mightiest, the wealthiest, and the most progressive; but they constitute only a fraction of Roman Christendom. The greater part of it remains involved still in the Papal apostasy.
Moreover Protestantism priceless as have been the benefits it has conferred on those who have joined its ranks is yet very far from being a perfect recovery of primitive Christianity. It has risen out of the gross ignorance and superstition of mediaeval Romanism; it has altogether abandoned the idolatry of image worship, virgin worship, saint worship, and the adoration of the priest-made wafer deity of the Latin mass; it has recovered a purer faith and a simpler ritual, and secured for the Church a measure of liberty and independence; above all, it has circulated the Scriptures in the vulgar tongues of the nations of Christendom, and has adopted as its motto, “The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible”: but it has never completely purified itself from Romish doctrine and practice, it has never regained complete independence of secular domination, it has never got clear of union with the world. It has rejected the claim of the Church to rule the State, it has not as clearly refused the pretension of the State to rule the Church; it has suffered worldly ambition, priestcraft, simony, and abuses of many kinds; and it has developed two strong tendencies, one to a return to the Romish apostasy, and the other to rationalism and infidelity. The true spiritual Church of Christ is still, even in Protestant lands, but a small part of the professing Church.
I want you clearly to bear in mind from the outset then, first, that, in point of time, Protestantism is a late or modern movement; secondly, that it is, in point of sphere, a limited one; and thirdly, that it is, in point of character, a very imperfect return to primitive Christianity.
One more introductory remark before I pass on. May we not safely conclude that Protestantism will last till the end of the age and the second advent of Christ? The reformed Churches will never be darkened by a universal apostasy, as was the early Church. The innumerable millions of Bibles read and studied all over the world, the countless human minds enlightened by their contents, and human hearts regenerated by their revelation of God in Christ, and linked by faith and love and eternal life to the Savior, forbid the fear that the recovered gospel will ever again be lost to the world. The chronology of the Papacy shows us that the coming of the Lord is at hand; and hence we may rest assured that the Reformation is, not only a late incident in Church history, but that it is the last great movement. The next will be the final change from the militant to the triumphant condition of the Church, when the fourth empire shall pass away, and be succeeded by the kingdom of the Son of man and of the saints. We have entered on that phase of Church history which will exist at the second advent; nothing remains unfulfilled of the predictions concerning Romanism, except her sudden destruction at the end of this age.
As regards the history of the Reformation, I want you to remember that it took place in stages during a period extending over about half a century. Its commencement is reckoned from the year when Luther published his theses against indulgences, A.D. 1517; and its close, in Germany at least, may be placed in A.D. 1555, when the celebrated Peace of Augsburg confirmed the Protestants of Germany in all their rights and possessions, and recognized their complete national and ecclesiastical independence of the popes. The close of the anti-Reformation Council of Trent and the full establishment of the Protestant Church in England were in A.D. 1563, forty-six years from the initial date of the Reformation. The struggle to maintain the position gained, in face of the murderous Papal reaction, which dates from the Council of Trent, occupied a much longer period, and was not over even at the Peace of Westphalia, at the end of the thirty years’ religious war, in A.D. 1648, when a basis was laid for the settlement of the long struggle in Central Europe.
It extended however in France and England still further, nearly up to the close of the seventeenth century, when it was finally settled in favor of Popery in France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and in favor of Protestantism in England by the glorious Revolution, which placed William of Orange on the throne, and passed the act of succession excluding Popish monarchs for the future. Not without so severe and long-continued a struggle did the reformed religion establish itself, even in the countries where it did take root, nor did Protestantism cease to resist, even in the countries where it was ultimately crushed.
As to the various aspects of this great Reformation movement, you must distinguish especially between three.
1. It was first and mainly, as we have said, a return from gross and long-continued apostasy to primitive Christianity; it was a revival of spiritual religion in the hearts of men. As at the first promulgation of the gospel in Europe the pagan people “turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven,” so in the sixteenth century. Men turned once more from the idols of Papal instead of pagan Rome which they had been worshipping, and they turned to GOD. They turned from the doctrines of demons to the gospel of Christ; they began once more to rejoice in the belief that Jesus had delivered them from the wrath to come; they received the doctrines proclaimed by the reformers not as the word of men, but as it was in truth, the word of God. It worked in them effectually, so that they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and all the other sufferings which came upon them from their enemies, and from them sounded out everywhere the word of the Lord. They received the word in much affliction, but in the joy of the Holy Ghost, and in power and assurance. The Reformers were like the apostles, holy, self-denying, Bible-loving, hard-working preachers of the gospel. In its first and primary aspect the Reformation was a spiritual work. Its germ was the work of the Holy Ghost in the soul of Luther, convincing him of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, leading him to repentance and to belief of the gospel of God’s grace, and convincing him that salvation was “not of works.” It was what we should in these days call a spiritual revival, traceable to the sovereign grace of God in the first place, and to the republication of His Word in the second.
2. But the Reformation did more than produce a spiritual revival. As a matter of history, it gave also to the world a new ecclesiastical system. It established reformed Churches in separation from the Church of Rome, national Churches, with secular monarchs in some cases at their head. This was the case in England, where Henry VIII made himself head of the Church in these lands. Whether this was for evil or for good we must not here consider, but simply note the fact that the Reformation movement built up a new outward organization of an ecclesiastical character, with new articles and rubrics, new ceremonies and practices, and a new fountain head of authority. This new organization was not only distinct from, but antagonistic to Romanism, and because of its being so was called Protestant. It has grown with enormous rapidity during the last three centuries, and has already attained proportions not far short of those of the ancient and apostate Church against which it protests. It is characterized by the circulation of the Bible, and the reference to it as to a standard of all controversies; by the recognition that ministers of Christ should not be “sacrificing priests” but gospel preachers, preachers of the word, heralds of the great salvation; and by an acknowledgment of the right of private judgment in the interpretation of Scripture.
3. And lastly, the Reformation produced Protestant kingdoms nations which severed all the links that bound them to Rome, and asserted their own absolute independence of the popes.
In a word, the movement was one of renovation and liberation, which spread in successive and everwidening circles, from the individual to the Church, and from the Church to the nation. It was one founded on a recovered Bible, extended by a renewal of the long-disused practice of preaching, and issuing in the largely improved but still imperfect state of things which we see around us this day. It emancipated the minds of men from long and bitter bondage; it gave an impetus to arts and sciences, to enterprise and culture, to freedom and liberty. It was naturally hailed as a glad deliverance by all who came under its influence; but it brought upon them long struggles and cruel sufferings under the terrible and mighty Roman wild beast. The world reeled under the fierceness of his wrath on the escape of so many of his victims, his thunderous roar rent the air, his mad passion caused the blood of saints to flow in torrents, his cruel claws dragged thousands into his dens of torture in dark Inquisition dungeons; and so horrible was the sacrifice of human life resulting from his rage, that the world turned on him at last and bade him be still; bound, and beat him into silence, drew his claws and his teeth, deprived him of dominion and the power to do further damage, and left him feeble and defenseless, albeit as fierce as ever.
We stated just now that this great Reformation movement was doubly foretold in the Bible. It is foreshadowed in the typical history of Israel in the Old Testament, and its story forms one act of the prophetic drama of the Apocalypse in the New.