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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 60. A New Phase in the History of the Reformation.


At Worms, Luther stood on the height of his protest against Rome. The negative part of his work was completed: the tyranny of popery over Western Christendom was broken, the conscience was set free, and the way opened for a reconstruction of the Church on the basis of the New Testament. What he wrote afterwards against Rome was merely a repetition and re-affirmation.

On his return to Wittenberg, he had a more difficult task before him: to effect a positive reformation of faith and discipline, worship and ceremonies. A revolution is merely destructive and emancipative: a reformation is constructive and affirmative; it removes abuses and corruptions, but saves the foundation, and builds on it a new structure.

In this home-work Luther was as conservative and churchly as he had been radical and unchurchly in his war against the foreign foe. The connecting link between the two periods was his faith in Christ and the ever-living word of God, with which he began and ended his public labors.

He now raised his protest against the abuse of liberty in his own camp. A sifting process was necessary. Division and confusion broke out among his friends and followers. Many of them exceeded all bounds of wisdom and moderation; while others, frightened by the excesses, returned to the fold of the mother Church. The German nation itself was split on the question of the old or new religion, and remains, ecclesiastically, divided to this day; but the political unification and reconstruction of the German Empire with a Protestant head, instead of the former Roman-Catholic emperor, may be regarded as a remote result of the Reformation, without which it could never have taken place. And it is a remarkable providence, that this great event of 1870 was preceded by the Vatican Council and the decree of papal infallibility, and followed by the overthrow of the temporal power of the Pope and the political unification of Italy with Rome as the capital.

Before Luther entered upon the new phase in his career, he had a short rest on what he called his "Patmos" (Rev. 1:9), and his "wilderness." It is the most romantic, as his stand at Worms is the most heroic, chapter in his eventful life.


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