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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 5. The Genius and Aim of the Reformation.


Is. Aug. Dorner: On the formal, and the material Principle of the Reformation. Two essays, first published in 1841 and 1857, and reprinted in his Gesammelte Schriften, Berlin, 1883, p. 48–187. Also his History of Protestant Theology, Engl. trans. 1871, 2 vols.

Phil. Schaff: The Principle of Protestantism, Chambersburg, Penn., 1845 (German and English); Protestantism and Romanism, and the Principles of the Reformation, two essays in his "Christ and Christianity," N. York, 1885. p. 124–134. Also Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I. 203–219.

Dan. Schenkel: Das Princip des Protestantimus. Schaffhausen, 1852 (92 pages). This is the concluding section of his larger work, Das Wesen des Protestantismus, in 3 vols.

K. F. A. Kahnis: Ueber die Principien des Protestatismus. Leipzig, 1865. Also his Zeugniss von den Grundwahrheiten des Protestantismus gegen Dr. Hengstenberg. Leipzig, 1862.

Charles Beard: The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century in its relation to Modern Thought and Knowledge. Hibbert Lectures for 1883. London, 1883. A Unitarian view, written with ample learning and in excellent spirit.

Henry Wace and C. A. Buchheim: First Principles of the Reformation, or the 95 Theses and three Primary Works of Dr. M. Luther. London, 1885.

The literature on the difference between Lutheran and Reformed or Calvinistic Protestantism is given in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, l. 211.


The spirit and aim of evangelical Protestantism is best expressed by Paul in his anti-Judaistic Epistle to the Galatians: "For freedom did Christ set us free; stand fast, therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage." Christian freedom is so inestimable a blessing that no amount of abuse can justify a relapse into a state of spiritual despotism and slavery. But only those who have enjoyed it, can properly appreciate it.

The Reformation was at first a purely religious movement, and furnishes a striking illustration of the all-pervading power of religion in history. It started from the question: What must a man do to be saved? How shall a sinner be justified before God, and attain peace of his troubled conscience? The Reformers were supremely concerned for the salvation of the soul, for the glory of Christ and the triumph of his gospel. They thought much more of the future world than of the present, and made all political, national, and literary interests subordinate and subservient to religion.77    What Dr. Baur, the critical Tübingen historian, says of Luther, is equally applicable to all the other Reformers: "Dass für Luther die Reformation zur eigensten Sache seines Herzens geworden war, dass er sie in ihrem reinsten religiösen Interesse auffasste, getrennt von allen ihr fremdartigen blos äusserlichen Motiven, dass es ihm um nichts anderes zu thun war, alsum die Sache des Evangeliums und seinerseligmachenden Kraft, wie er sie an sich selbst in seinem innern Kampf um die Gewissheit der Sündenvergebung erfahren hatte, diess ist es, was ihn zum Reformator machte."Gesch. der Christl. Kirche, vol. IV. 5 (ed. by his son, 1863). Froude says of Luther: "He revived and maintained the spirit of piety and reverence in which, and by which alone, real progress is possible."Luther, Preface, p. vi.

Yet they were not monks, but live men in a live age, not pessimists, but optimists, men of action as well as of thought, earnest, vigorous, hopeful men, free from selfish motives and aims, full of faith and the Holy Ghost, equal to any who had preceded them since the days of the Apostles. From the centre of religion they have influenced every department of human life and activity, and given a powerful impulse to political and civil liberty, to progress in theology, philosophy, science, and literature.

The Reformation removed the obstructions which the papal church had interposed between Christ and the believer. It opened the door to direct union with him , as the only Mediator between God and man, and made his gospel accessible to every reader without the permission of a priest. It was a return to first principles, and for this very reason also a great advance. It was a revival of primitive Christianity, and at the same time a deeper apprehension and application of it than had been known before.

There are three fundamental principles of the Reformation: the supremacy of the Scriptures over tradition, the supremacy of faith over works, and the supremacy of the Christian people over an exclusive priesthood. The first may be called the objective, the second the subjective, the third the social or ecclesiastical principle.88    German writers distinguish usually two principles of the Reformation, the authority of the Scriptures, and justification by faith, and call the first the formal principle (or Erkenntnissprincip, principium cognoscendi), the second the material principle (principium essendi); the third they omit, except Kahnis, who finds a third principle in the idea of the invisible church, and calls this the Kirchenprincip. The Lutheran Church gives to the doctrine of justification by faith the first place; and the Formula of Concord calls it "articulus praecipuus in tota doctrina Christiana." But the Reformed confessions give the first place to the doctrine of the normative authority of Scripture, from which alone all articles of faith are to be derived, and they substitute for the doctrine of justification by faith the ulterior and wider doctrine of election and salvation by free grace through faith. The difference is characteristic, but does not affect the essential agreement.

They resolve themselves into the one principle of evangelical freedom, or freedom in Christ. The ultimate aim of evangelical Protestantism is to bring every man into living union with Christ as the only and all-sufficient Lord and Saviour from sin and death.



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