Prayer for One’s Country: Anecdotes from the Lives of Reformers

Many of us have heard of John Knox’s prayer, “Give me Scotland, or I die.” John Knox used to be in such agony for the deliverance of his country that he could not sleep. He had a place in his garden where he used to go to pray.  Burk Parson highlights the prayer life of Knox:

John Knox preached and prayed to the end that God would rescue Scotland precisely because he was clinging to Jesus’ promise and prayer to save His people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It should be no surprise to us then that when Knox was near death, he asked his wife to read to him the High Priestly Prayer in John 17 that our Lord Jesus prayed the night before He went to the cross. Knox called this passage “my first anchor.” For indeed, Christ is the captain of our souls and Christ’s prayer is the anchor and only hope of the nations. Therefore, in light of so great an example of God’s power working through one man, let each one of us pray with the same passion for our nation—and all nations—as Knox prayed for Scotland.

One night he and several friends were praying together, and, as they prayed, Knox spoke, declaring that deliverance had come. He explained that he could not tell what had happened, but he felt sure that in some way their prayers had been answered. And the next news informed them that their enemy, Mary Queen of Scotland, was dead.  Was there not reason, therefore, for Mary’s reputed statement, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe”?  This is the view that Knox had on praying to God:

To his commandment, he adds his most undoubted promise in many places: “Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find” (Matt. 7:7). And by the prophet Jeremiah God says, “Ye shall call upon me, and I shall hear you.” “Ye shall seek, and ye shall find me” (Jer. 29:13). And by Isaiah he says, “May the father forget his natural son, or the mother the child of her womb? and although they do, yet shall I not forget such as call upon me” (Isa. 49:15). And hereto the words of Jesus Christ correspond and agree, saying, “If ye, being wicked, can give good gifts to your children, much more my heavenly Father shall give the Holy Ghost to them that ask him” (Luke 11:13). And that we should not think God to be absent, or not to hear us, accuses Moses, saying, “There is no nation that have their gods so adherent, or near unto them as our God, who is present at all our prayers” (Deut. 4:7). Also the psalmist, “Near is the Lord to all that call upon him in verity” (Ps. 145:18). And Christ says, “Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).

Another example of praying for one’s nation is found in the life of Philip Melancthon. At one time during the Lutheran reformation, soon after the conference of Augsburg in 1530, when the Reformer’s cause looked mournful, Melancthon, with Luther and other divines, met to consult about the situation; and, after spending some time in prayer to God, Melancthon was suddenly called out of the room, from which he retired heavily depressed. While absent he saw several elders of the reformed churches with their parishioners and families; and many, young and old, were in prayer for the triumph of their cause. He re-entered the room with a joyous countenance, which astonished Luther, who inquired, “What now has happened to you, Philip, that you are become so cheerful?” “Oh, sirs,” replied Melancthon, “let us not be discouraged, for I have seen our noble protectors, and such as, I will venture to say, will prove invincible against every foe.” “And pray,” returned Luther, thrilling with surprise and pleasure, “who and where are these powerful heroes?” “Oh,” said Melancthon, “they are the wives of our parishioners and their little children, whose prayers I have just witnessed—prayers which I am satisfied our God will hear; for as our Heavenly Father and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has never despised our supplications, we have reason to trust that He will not in the present alarming crisis.” The event proved that Melancthon was not mistaken. God heard their prayers (Cox’s “Life of Melancthon”).  What are some examples of Melancthon’s prayers? Here

1. Almighty, eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of heaven and earth, and man, together with my thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy word and image, and with thy Holy Spirit, have mercy upon us, and forgive us our sins for thy Son’s sake, who thou hast made our Mediator according to thy wonderful counsels, and do thou guide and sanctify us by thy Holy Spirit, which was poured out upon the Apostles. Grant that we may truly know and praise thee throughout all eternity!

2. O Almighty, Eternal God of Truth, . . . I confess and I am deeply sorry that I am sinful and have so often sinned against Thee. I implore Thee to forgive me all my sins, be gracious unto me, and justify me for thy beloved Son’s sake, whom thou didst decree to be our Redeemer. With thy Holy Spirit purify my heart and guide my soul that I may truly know, adore, and be obedient unto Thee, O God of Truth, Eternal Father, Son and Holy Ghost . . .

Almighty, eternal, everliving God of Truth, Maker of heaven and earth, and Creator of men, together with thy eternal beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified for us and raised for death, and with thy Holy Spirit, everliving, pure and true: O God of wisdom and goodness, mercy and justice: O Savior bountiful, righteous, and faithful, through whom life and light are given: Thou hast said, “I do not desire the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live,” and “Call on me in time of trouble, and I will deliver you :” To Thee do I confess myself a miserable sinner, burdened with many iniquities, for I have greatly sinned against thy holy commands, and I am heartily sorry that I have offended thee. For the sake of they dear Son, have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and make me righteous through Jesus Christ, my Lord, thy Son, thy eternal Image and Word, whom though didst send into the world to be for the world a Sacrifice, Mediator, Redeemer, Deliverer and Savior, according to they wondrous wisdom and mercy which is past our understanding. Sanctify me with thy holy, living Spirit of purity and truth that through thy Spirit I may truly know thee as the only God, the omnipotent Creator of heaven and earth and men, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; that I may know thy Holy Spirit of truth and purity, my living Comforter; that I may firmly believe in thee, obey thee, give thanks to thee, reverently fear and call upon thee, and come at last in joy to behold thy face and worship thee forever. In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed. Deliver me through thy righteousness. Turn me, O Lord, unto righteousness and eternal life. Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of Truth!

Mercifully preserve and rule our churches, our country, our schools. Give the blessings of peace and order. Direct and protect our leaders and those in authority; gather unto thyself and forever keep a Christian Church in this land. Purify and united us with thy Holy Spirit that we may be one in thee, truly knowing and calling upon thee through thy Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who tasted death on the cross for us and rose again.

Almighty, eternal Son of God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, though who art the eternal Word and Image of the father, our Mediator and Redeemer, who died for us and rose again, with all my heart I give thee thanks, for thou didst take upon thyself the nature of a man and became my Deliverer, didst suffer physical pain, didst die and arise again. And now though art pleading for me. I beseech thee, look graciously upon me and have mercy, for I am alone and in need. I beseech thee, look graciously upon me and have mercy, for I am alone and in need. Through thy Holy Spirit increase in me the light of faith, help me to overcome my weakness; guide, protect and make me pure. In thee do I put my trust, O Lord; let me never be ashamed.

Source: Godly Prayers, mete to be used in these later times: Collected out of the workes of that godly and reverende Father, Doctor Philip Melanchthon and others (London: 1579). Tr. unknown.

Another anecdote from the life of Melancthon is fitting to show how God answers prayer for the benefit of His people and His cause in the nations. This time is centers on Luther’s prayer for Melancthon. On a certain occasion a message was sent to Luther to inform him that Melancthon was dying.  He at once hastened to his sick bed, and found him presenting the usual premonitory symptoms of death. He mournfully bent over him; and, sobbing, gave utterance to a sorrowful exclamation.  It roused Melancthon from his stupor – he looked into the face of Luther, and said, “O, Luther, is this you? Why don’t you let me depart in peace?” “We can’t spare you yet, Philip,” was the reply. And turning round, he threw himself upon his knees, and wrestled with God for his recovery for upwards of an hour.  He went from his knees to the bed, and took his friend by the hand. Again he said, “Dear Luther, why don’t you let me depart in peace?” “No, no, Philip, we cannot spare you yet,” was the reply. He then ordered some soup, and when pressed to take it he declined, again saying, “Dear Luther, why will you not let me go home and be at rest?” “We cannot spare you yet, Philip,” was the reply. He then added, “Philip, take this soup, or I will excommunicate you.” He took the soup; he commenced to grow better; he soon regained his wonted health, and labored, for years afterwards, in the cause of the Reformation. And when Luther returned home, he said to his wife with joy, “God gave me my brother Melancthon back in direct answer to prayer.” – Sel.

The Principles of the Reformation not the cause of Sects and Heresies by William Cunningham

“The Principles of the Reformation not the cause of Sects and Heresies”


Rev. William Cunningham, D.D.,

Principle and Professor of Divinity and Church History,

New College, Edinburgh.

[From James Aitken Wylie, ed., Tercentenary of the Scottish Reformation. (Edinburgh: John Maclaren, 1860), pp. 108-122.]

There is no more common and favourite allegation of the Papists than that the history of the Reformed Churches in general has fully established the unsound and dangerous character of the principles on which the Reformation was based, and especially of the two great Protestant principles of the right of private judgment, and of the sufficiency, perfection, and exclusive authority of the written Word as the rule of faith, the only available external source from which men’s convictions of truth and duty ought to be derived; and there is no doubt, that in skimming over the history of the Reformed Churches, they can easily enough collect materials which enable them to present a picture that seems at first sight to afford some countenance to the allegation. The topic on which chiefly they delight to dwell, when discussing this subject, is of course the number and variety of the different sects that have sprung up among Protestants, the differences and disputes that have arisen among men who all profess to be exercising the same right of private judgment, and to be following the same standard—the written Word. They are fond of stringing together the names of all the different sects that have sprung up among the Reformed Churches, the most obscure and insignificant as well as the most numerous and influential (often swelling the number by misrepresentation and by fabricating sects from the names of particular individuals, who may have held some peculiar opinions, but who had few or no followers in their singularities), and then representing the prevalence of all these sects as the natural and legitimate result and consequence of the Protestant principles above referred to. This has a plausible appearance to superficial thinkers, and it is not to be wondered at, that it should have a considerable influence on the minds of those who have been trained in the Church of Rome, in prejudicing them against Protestantism, and in preventing anything like a fair and impartial examination of its claims.

It is, however, no difficult matter to perceive and expose the futility of all this, when it is seriously and deliberately propounded as an argument. The case stands thus. The Papists allege that the two great Protestant principles, of the right of private judgment and of the exclusive authority of the written Word, are unsound and dangerous; and the chief proof which they adduce of this position, that on which they most delight to dwell, and that which alone possesses any plausibility, is, that the history of the Reformed Churches shows, that the maintenance and application of these principles lead to injurious consequences, as is evidenced by the multitude of sects which hold opposite opinions upon many points—a state of things of course involving the prevalence of a large amount of error or opposition to God’s revealed truth. In dealing with this allegation, it is proper in the first place to direct attention to the real nature and import of the main position, and to the standard by which its truth or falsehood ought to be determined. The main position is, that the Protestant principles of the right of private judgment and of the exclusive authority of the written Word are false; and the evidence adduced in support of this assertion is that the practical tendency and results of them are injurious. Now we object to proceeding so hastily to a consideration of alleged practical tendencies and results, and founding so much upon these, without first examining whether the truth or falsehood of the principles themselves may not be ascertained more directly and immediately, by an investigation of evidence directly and properly applicable to this point. Men are very inadequate to judge fully and certainly of the tendencies of things, and very apt to fall into mistakes in estimating the relations of cause and effect in complicated questions; and therefore it is the right and safe course, when we are called upon to determine upon the truth or soundness of a principle, to examine, first, the evidence, if there be any, that bears directly upon the question of its truth and soundness, before we venture to involve ourselves in the uncertainties of an examination of all its tendencies and results. The truth and soundness of the principle itself is the main point, and this, when once ascertained, settles the whole question. A false and unsound principle has, of course, an injurious tendency, and will certainly produce injurious results; and its falsehood or unsoundness may often be confirmed and rendered more palpable by a practical exhibition of these. A true and sound principle, on the other hand, can never have any injurious tendency, or be in itself the proper cause or source, though it may be made the occasion, of injurious results; and the injurious results ascribed to it either stand in no relation to it whatever, or else are to be regarded as exhibiting only the abuse or perversion of the principle, and not its natural and legitimate application. If the direct investigation or the truth of falsehood of the principle propounded, on its own proper merits and evidence, be attended with much difficulty, and the fair result, after all, seem to be involved in some uncertainty, then our examination of its alleged tendency and consequences may be more reasonably allowed to have some weight in affecting the conclusion; though in general, and in all ordinary cases, the right and safe course is to begin with examining and making up our minds, if possible, on the direct and appropriate evidence, and then applying the ascertained truth or falsehood of the principle itself for enabling us to thread our way through the often complicated mass of alleged tendencies or results, and especially to distinguish accurately between what are natural and legitimate consequences, and what are merely abuses or perversions. These observations are of universal application. They are, I think, of some practical importance in controversial discussion; and they admit of being very obviously applied to the subject before us.

Let it be considered, in the first place, whether or not the Protestant principles, of the right of private judgment and the exclusive authority of the written Word, as the rule of faith, are in themselves true and sound, and if their truth and soundness can be clearly established, then let it be maintained upon this basis, as of itself sufficient, that the evils which may have arisen in connection with the application of them, are not to be traced to these principles as their proper sources or causes, but are to be regarded as perversions or misapplications of them, as exhibiting only the abuse of the principles, and not their natural and legitimate application. Now, there need be no hesitation in asserting that the Protestant principles of the right of private judgment and the exclusive authority of the written Word, can be incontrovertibly established, on their own proper evidence, as true and sound, and that nothing can be adduced against them that has any measure even of plausibility, except their alleged tendency and consequences. I do not mean to enter upon anything like a discussion of those topics, but it may be proper to state briefly their true nature and grounds, as this will be sufficient to show something of the conclusive character of the evidence on which their truth and soundness rest, and at the same time, to illustrate the futility of assigning to these principles any proper tendency to produce, or any causal efficacy in producing, the evil consequences which Papists commonly ascribe to them.

The Protestant principle of the right of private judgment does certainly not imply, as Papists commonly represent it, that men have a right to form any opinions they please, or that they are at liberty to gratify their own caprice and mere inclination in adopting their religious profession. There is nothing whatever in the Protestant principle upon this point, which is in the least inconsistent with the maintenance of these great truths, that men are responsible to God for all the opinions they form on religious subjects, that they bear guilt by the adoption of erroneous opinions, that therefore they are bound to conduct all their inquiries into divine things under a deep sense of their being responsible, not only for the application of the right means to reach that truth, but for actually reaching a right result, and that they are bound to employ all suitable means to attain a clear and certain knowledge of the truth, with perfect impartiality, with unwearied diligence, and unshrinking perseverance. All these positions are true in themselves, and of great practical importance. They are perfectly consistent with the Protestant principle of the right of private judgment, and they have been maintained by all true Protestants, and indeed, by all but infidel or semi-infidel rationalists. It is chiefly by insinuating that the Protestant principle of private judgment involves or produces a denial of these great truths, that Papists contrive to excite a prejudice against it, as if it were something very much akin to, or rather identical with, the infidel notion, that men are not responsible for their opinions, but may adopt any opinions upon religious subjects they please, without guilt and without danger. Now, not only does the Protestant principle afford no countenance to the infidel one, but, on the contrary, there is no ground on which men’s responsibility for the soundness of their opinions can be firmly based, or so clearly brought out, as in connection with the Protestant principle of the right of private judgment.

This Protestant principle may be viewed either negatively or positively. Viewed negatively, it is just a denial of the right of any man, or body of men, to dictate to me or to any other man, what we are to believe or to practice in religious matters, so as to impose upon us an obligation to believe and to practice as they have prescribed, and just because they have so prescribed. And surely this denial is abundantly warranted, for it is manifest that such a right to dictate or prescribe can be rationally based only upon the infallibility of the party claiming it, or at least on his ability to answer for us, and to bear us scatheless, at the tribunal of Him to whom we are responsible; and the claims which Papists put forth to such an infallibility and power, on behalf of councils, Popes, and other ecclesiastical authorities, rest upon no foundation whatever, and are scarcely worthy of a serious answer. There is no man or body of men upon earth who can put forth a claim to a right to dictate or prescribe to others, which has any real plausibility to rest upon.  All such claims, therefore, may be openly and unhesitatingly denied; and to deny all such claims is just virtually to assert, that each man must ultimately judge for himself upon his own responsibility—in the diligent and careful use, indeed, of all the available means of forming a right judgment, but certainly without receiving the doctrine of any man or body of men as of itself conclusive in determining what he ought to believe or to do. Now, this negation of all right to dictate or prescribe to others with conclusive authority, is just in substance the Protestant principle of the right of private judgment; and it is not absolutely necessary that any one, in maintaining that principle, should do more in argument than establish this negation.

The principle, however, may be warrantably and safely regarded in a somewhat more positive aspect. If no man or body of men has the right to prescribe to me what I shall believe in religious matters, so that I can righteously and innocently follow his dictation, then the consequence is unavoidable, that I must form my opinion for myself—that I have a right to do so—and am under an obligation to do so—that it is my duty and my privilege to be “fully persuaded in my own mind,” and to receive nothing as true unless and until I am myself satisfied, through some competent and legitimate medium of probation or standard of reference, that it is true.  Now, this is all that is involved in the Protestant principle of the right of private judgment; as thus explained, it is clearly and incontrovertibly true; and it stands perfectly clear of all connection, real or apparent, with those infidel or semi-infidel principles with which Papists labour to confound it. It is indeed, only when this right, and the corresponding duty—a right, which viewed in relation to the unfounded claims and pretensions of other men, and a duty, when viewed in relation to men’s allegiance to God and the promotion of their own best interests—are duly recognised and acted upon, that men can have any adequate sense of their responsibility for the formation of right opinions, or will be likely to use due care and diligence in the use of the right means for the attaining of truth; and nothing is more certain, and more fully established by experience, than the tendency of Popery to eradicate from men’s breasts a sense of personal responsibility, and to lead them to devolve this responsibility upon others, who have never produced any evidence of their ability to discharge it.

The general substance of these observations applies equally to the other great Protestant principle to which I have referred—viz., the exclusive authority of the written Word, as the only standard of faith. The truth and soundness of this principle can also be clearly and conclusively established—so clearly and conclusively, indeed, that no apparent injurious tendency, and no alleged injurious consequences, should in the least shake our convictions on this point. It, too, as well as the former, may be regarded both in a negative and in a positive aspect. Viewed negatively, it is just a denial that there is any other source than the written Word, from which the mind and will of God on matters of religion can be fully and certainly learned. In this aspect, its truth is to be established by examining and disposing of the claims of other pretenders to anything like co-ordinate authority in determining our faith—such as antiquity, tradition, the consent of the Fathers, the authority of the Church, or the decrees of Popes and Councils. This examination is not attended with any great difficulty. The claims of all these pretenders can be disposed of, and disposed of triumphantly, and the practical result is that we are fully warranted in maintaining as a principle conclusively established, that there is no other external source but the written Word, from which we can learn with accuracy and certainty the mind and will of God.

The principle, in the more positive form, is just the assertion of what Protestants have been accustomed to call the sufficiency of the written Word in point of fullness and clearness, and its perfection or completeness as a rule of faith. This may be regarded as a fair deduction from the principle in its negative form, for if the Bible be the written Word of God, and there be no other external source from which we can accurately and certainly learn the mind and will of God, then it follows that the written Word must have been intended to be the only rule and standard of our faith, and must have been fitted by its author of the accomplishment of this object; and these are positions moreover which we can prove to be asserted by the Bible with regard to itself. The Protestant principle of the exclusive authority of the written Word no more implies, as Papists commonly assert, that men may put any interpretation they please upon the statements of Scripture, than the principle of the right of private judgment implies, that they may adopt generally any opinions they please. All deference to mere inclination or caprice is excluded. The true and real meaning of the statements of Scripture as they stand there is to be ascertained. All means naturally fitted as means to contribute to the attainment of this end, are to be employed under a deep sense of responsibility, with perfect impartiality and with unwearied diligence, and God by the promise of His Spirit has made provision that men, in the due use of these means, shall attain to a correct knowledge of his revealed will, and shall not fall into error, except through their own faults; and it is only when these views are recognised and acted upon, that men can be expected to be duly solicitous about the adoption of all the means, though the use of which they may attain a correct knowledge of the meaning of Scripture, and be animated in their investigation of it by a due sense of their responsibility.

The Protestant principles, then, of the right of private judgment, and of the exclusive authority of the written Word, as the only source from which the mind and will of God can be accurately and certainly learned, are clearly and conclusively established—so clearly and conclusively established upon their own direct and appropriate evidence, that we are fully warranted in refusing to enter into an investigation of their alleged tendency and results, for the purpose of ascertaining from this source whether they are true and sound or not. If the Papists could produce direct evidence of their falsehood and unsoundness that was possessed of plausibility, so as to leave the controversy upon this point doubtful, they might have some fair ground for challenging us to a discussion upon their alleged tendency and consequences. But when the direct evidence of their truth is so satisfactory, and when all that has been adduced on the other side is so weak and frivolous, we are entitled to take our stand upon their proved truth and soundness, and to maintain as a position necessarily involved in this, that any injurious consequences which have been ascribed to their operations, are not their natural and legitimate results, but arise from the perversion or misapplication of them. But though we are fully entitled, upon the grounds which have been explained, to dispose in this way of the common Popish allegation as to the conclusion deducible from the history of the Reformed Churches, and though it is important that we should ever remember, that in all discussions of this sort, with whomsoever conducted, the primary question is, are the principles themselves true and sound, or are they not?—yet we do not need to shrink from a direct investigation of the tendency and results of the principles under consideration, and we can at least easily show, that nothing can be proved to have resulted from them, which in right reason should lead us to entertain any doubt either of their being true and sound, or of their being safe and salutary; or, in other words, the evils which have been ascribed to their operation, cannot be shown to be their natural and legitimate consequences, but rather can be shown to be traceable to other principles which may have been held by some Protestants along with them, but with which they have no natural or necessary connection. If men calling themselves, or called by others, Protestants, probably upon no other or better ground than merely that they were not Papists, have openly professed, or have acted as if they believed, that it was of little or no importance what opinions they held upon religious subjects, provided they were sincere; or if they have allowed their opinions to be formed merely by the outward circumstances in which they were placed, or the influences to which they were subjected, without being at the pains to ascertain what was the right standard, and to follow it steadily and faithfully; or if they have sought fame and distinction by indulging in paradoxes, or by propounding what they expected to excite the surprise, and perhaps to shock the feelings of others; or if they have in any measure regulated their professed opinions by a regard to personal and selfish objects, or by mere whim and caprice—assuredly in these cases the Protestant principle of the right and duty of private judgment was not responsible for the errors into which they fell. They were not applying this principle in a right and legitimate way, but were abusing or perverting it under the sway of sinful principles and motives, which they cherished and indulged in place of mortifying and subduing. These sinful motives, these corrupt influences, were the true and real sources of the evils and the errors, and not the true and sound principle which these views led them to misapply and pervert.

In like manner it is very easy to point out, in surveying the history of the Church, mistakes, errors, and sins in the mode in which the Scriptures have been read and applied; and these ought to be regarded as the true sources or causes of the errors into which men have fallen in the interpretation of the Bible, and not the true and sound general principle, that the written Word is the only authentic standard of faith and practice. Independently of those directly sinful motives and influences to which we adverted under the former head, as perverting men in the exercise of the right or the discharge of the duty of private judgment, and which have also operated largely in the perversion of the interpretation of Scripture, it has been very common for men, while professing to be searching into the meaning of the Word of God, to bring their own preconceived notions and fancies to the Scriptures, and to labour to procure for them some countenance from that quarter, instead of really drawing their opinions from Scripture by an impartial and conscientious investigation of the meaning and import of its statements. It has been no uncommon thing for men to engage in the work of interpreting Scripture in a light and frivolous or in a merely controversial, spirit, without any adequate sense of their obligation to investigate carefully its true meaning, and it submit implicitly to its authority. Many have entered upon this work while they had erroneous and defective notions of the principles by which it ought to be conducted, and while they are very scantily furnished with those resources and appliances, which are manifestly useful, if not indispensable, as means to aid and assist in the interpretation of such a book as the Bible is. Many have professed to interpret the Bible without any sense of the necessity of the promised agency of the Spirit to guide them into all truth, a principle true in itself, and always maintained by the Reformers and by all their genuine followers, as a necessary part of their whole doctrine in regard to the rule of faith; and being involved in ignorance or error upon this important point, they have failed to plead the promise of the Spirit, to realise their dependence upon his agency, and to seek his guidance; and on this account, or from this cause, they have fallen into great and dangerous error.

These things are the true causes, the legitimate and satisfactory explanations, of a large portion of the errors which have been broached by men who professed to be acting upon the Protestant principle of using the Bible as the only standard of faith. They are not involved in that principle, or fairly and naturally deducible from it. They are not exhibitions of its legitimate application; on the contrary, they are abuses and perversions for which the principle itself is in no way responsible. They are to be traced not to the natural and legitimate operation of the principle, but to a failure to follow it out fully and fairly, or to the operation of errors and perverting influences which have no natural or necessary connection with it, but which being de facto combined with it in the same persons, have been the real causes of the evils which are unwarrantably ascribed to it.

Even, when we cannot distinctly and specifically trace the errors into which men have fallen in the interpretation of the Bible, to these or to any other abuses or misapplications of the Protestant principle—to these or to any similar errors or perverting influences which have de facto accompanied its application, we are still entitled to maintain the general position, that this principle, rightly used and applied, is not the proper cause or source of error in the interpretation of Scripture, inasmuch as we might contend, that in an strict and proper sense the principle is then only rightly used and applied when the true and real meaning of the Scripture is correctly brought out. The principle, viewed in its tendency and practical bearing, and laying out of view its established truth and soundness, cannot be shown to involve or to bring into operation any source or cause of error, or to exert any influence directly or indirectly in producing it. It simply asserts, that the truth of God is accurately and certainly set forth in the statements of Scripture and nowhere else, and on this ground directs men to go to the Bible, and to labour in the use of all appropriate means to ascertain its meaning, assuring them at the same time, that by the right use of the right means they will attain this end, and will not fail of it except through their own fault. There the principle stops, its influence and application go no further.

These two great questions, what is the only authentic source of the knowledge of divine things; and 2nd, what are the true and correct views of divine things derived from this source? are perfectly distinct from each other, and should never be intermingled or confounded together. Men may be agreed in regard to the first, who differ widely in regard to the second. Each of these questions should be answered and disposed of upon its own proper grounds. If a man, who agrees with me upon the first question, differs from me upon the second, that is surely no reason why I should renounce the principle of the exclusive authority of Scripture as the only rule of faith—a principle which we hold in common, but only a reason why I should attempt to convince him, in the use of all legitimate and appropriate means, that he has made a wrong use, or application of the principle, and that from some cause or other he has mistaken the true meaning and import of Scripture statements. It is true that I have no right to dictate or prescribe authoritatively to him what he is to receive as the true and real meaning of Scripture, any more than he has to dictate or prescribe to me; but the want of any such right to dictate is in no way inconsistent with the doctrines, that the Bible is the only standard of faith, that all its statements are true, that these statements have a certain definite meaning, and that that meaning may be ascertained. It may be true, that I cannot lay my hand upon the motives or influences which have led him astray in the interpretation of Scripture, but such motives or influences may have been in operation, though the Searcher of hearts may have reserved the judgment of them to his own tribunal. Experience, indeed, proves that it is no easy matter to convince men, that the views which they may have formed of the meaning of Scripture are erroneous, and may suggest the apprehension, that controversies and errors upon religious subjects are not likely to be soon brought to an end, without some special enlightening and sanctifying influence from on high; but this only proves, that it was not the plan of God’s wisdom so to fashion and form His Word, or so to regulate in other respects the communication of his gifts and benefits, as to secure that all men who have the Bible in their hands, and who profess to be searching into its meaning, should be preserved from all error, and guided into all truth, while it affords no presumption, that he has established any other means, or made any more effectual provision for securing this end, and while it is important to observe that the provisions for effecting this, which the Church of Rome ascribes to the all-wise God, besides being wholly unsanctioned by Him, have in point of fact just as much failed in accomplishing it as the Bible, regarded and treated in the way in which Protestant principle represents it.

The great Protestant principles, then, of the right and duty of private judgment, and of the exclusive authority of the written Word, are undoubtedly true and sound in themselves, liable to no objection that is possessed of plausibility; and therefore they cannot be the direct and proper causes of schisms and heresies. Much error, indeed, has been taught by many who professed to hold and to act upon these principles; but it is easy to show that they are not responsible for the errors which have been ascribed to them, and that the errors are really traceable to the abuse or perversion of them.  These considerations should convince us of the utter futility of the common Popish allegation, professedly founded upon a survey of the history of the Reformed Church, viz., that these principles are the true causes or sources of the errors and heresies which have sprung up and still exist; and while they should warn us of the numerous and varied sources of error to which we are exposed in the investigation of divine things, and in the interpretation of the sacred Scriptures, and constrain us to be most diligent and faithful in the use of all the means by which these dangers may be averted, and the whole truth of God may be secure and held fast, they should just lead us to cleave more closely to the written Word, to take it as the only light unto our feet, to study it under a deeper sense of our responsibility for ascertaining its true meaning, and especially to abound more in prayer, that God would give us His Spirit to preserve us from all error, and to guide us into all truth.

But while it is easy enough to show, as a mere matter of logic or dialectics, that the Popish argument which we have been considering is destitute of all real weight, and that the only fair result of an impartial examination of the whole subject, must be to confirm us in our conviction of the certain truth of the great principles of the Reformation, and to impress us at the same time with a deeper sense of our responsibility for applying them rightly, so as to bring out a true and accurate result, yet it should not be forgotten, that practically, and in point of fact, the schisms and heresies which have sprung up among Protestants have done a great deal to injure the cause of the Reformation, and to strengthen the hold of the Church of Rome on the minds of her votaries. The Romanists are well aware of the practical influence of this consideration, and take care to turn it to good account. One of the most eminent Popish controversialists of the present day—M. Malou, formerly Professor of Theology in Louvain, and now Bishop of Bruges—goes so far as to say, that the reason why the ecclesiastical authorities think it safe to allow the Romanists a much greater indulgence in regard to reading the sacred Scriptures, in Great Britain and the United States than in Popish countries, is, because the contentions and divisions among Protestants more than neutralise any mischief which the reading of the Scriptures might produce, and prove a powerful and permanent preservative against error.1 There may be some bluster and insincerity in this allegation. But the fact that such an allegation was openly made, is well fitted to impress, and to fix our attention upon one great source of Protestant weakness and Popish strength. It is well fitted, not only to remind us of the responsibility connected with the formation of all our opinions upon religious subjects, but also to constrain us to have it for a great object of desire, and prayer, and effort—first, that all who profess to take God’s Word as their rule and standard should, as far as possible, be of one mind and of one heart; and second, where this cannot in the meantime be accomplished, that the unity of mind and heart—the oneness both in judgment and in affection, which really does exist among all true Protestants, and especially upon the most essential topics bearing upon the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” should be openly and consistently proclaimed, should be publicly and palpably exhibited, and should, so far as may be practicable, be embodied in united and strenuous efforts in opposing the great adversary, and in advancing the cause and the kingdom of their one common Lord and Master.


1 La Lecture de la Sainte Bible on langue Vulgaire, par J. B. Malou, Louvain, 1846. Tom. i. p. 69; tom. ii. p. 277.

Jean-Henri Merle D’Aubigne on the Principles of the Reformation –Part Two: The Material Principle

Such is the formal principle of Christianity; let us come now to its material principle, that is to say, to the body, the very substance of religion. We have announced it in these terms:


“Ye are saved by grace, through faith,” says the Scripture, “and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8).

Evangelical Christianity not only seeks complete salvation in Christ, but seeks it in Christ only, thus excluding, as a cause of salvation, all works of his own, all merit, all co-operation of man or of the Church. There is nothing, absolutely nothing upon which we can build the hope of our salvation, but the free and unmerited grace of God, which is given to us in Christ, and communicated by faith.

Now, this second great foundation of Evangelical Christianity is likewise overthrown by the modern Ecclesiastical Catholicism.

The famous 9th Tract, which I hold in my hand at this moment, seeks to explain in a papistical sense the Confession of Faith of the Church of England.

The 11th Article of this Confession says: “That we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine.”

This is the commentary of the new school of Oxford: “In adhering to the doctrine that faith alone justifies, we do not at all exclude the doctrine that works also justify. If it were said that works justify in the same sense in which it is said that faith alone justifies, there would be a contradiction in terms. But faith alone, in one sense, justifies us, and in another, good works justify us: this is all that is here maintained Christ alone, in one sense, justifies; faith also justifies in its proper sense; and so works, whether moral or ceremonial, may justify us in their respective sense.”

“There are,” says the British Critic,”some Catholic truths which are imprinted on the surface of the Scripture rather than developed in its profound meaning; such is the doctrine of justification by works.” “The preaching of justification by Faith,” says another divine of this school, “ought to be addressed to Pagans by the propagators of Christian knowledge; its promoters ought to preach to baptized persons justification by works.” Works, yes; but justification by them, never!

Justification is not, according to these divines, that judicial act by which God, for the sake of the expiatory death of Christ, declares that He treats us as righteous; it is confounded by them, as well as by Rome, with the work of the Holy Spirit.

“Justification,” says, again, the chief of these doctors, “is a progressive work;, it must be the work of the Holy Spirit, and not of Christ. The distinction between deliverance from the guilt of sin and deliverance from sin itself is not scriptural” (Newman on Justification).

The British Critic calls the system of justification by grace through faith “radically and fundamentally monstrous, immoral,heretical,and anti-Christian.” “The custom which has prevailed,” say, again, these divines, “of advancing, on all occasions, the doctrine of Justification explicitly and mainly, is evidently and entirely opposed to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures” (Tract 80). And they condemn those who make “Justification to consist in the act by which the soul rests upon the merits of Christ only” (Newman on Justification).

I know that the doctors of Oxford pretend to have found here a middle term between the Evangelical doctrine and the Romish doctrine. “It is not,” say they, “Sanctification which justifies us, but the presence of God in us, from which this Sanctification flows. Our Justification is the possession of this presence.” But the doctrine of Oxford is at bottom the same with that of Rome. The Bible speaks to us of two great works of Christ: Christ For Us, and Christ In Us. Which of these two works is that which justifies us? The Church of Christ answers, The former. Rome and Oxford answer, The latter. When this is said all is said.

And these doctors do not conceal it. They inform us that it is the system against which they stand up. They declare to us that it is against the idea that, when the sinner “has by faith laid hold of the saving merits of Christ, his sins are blotted out, covered, and can not reappear; his guilt has been abolished, so that he has only to render thanks to Christ, who has delivered him from his transgressions.” “My lord,” says Dr. Pusey to the Bishop of Oxford, “it is against this system that I have spoken.” Stop! Do not tear to pieces this good news, which alone has been, and will be in all ages, the consolation of the sinner!

Gentlemen, if the effect of the first principle of this new school would be to deprive the Church of all light, that of this second principle would be to deprive it of all salvation. “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. 0 foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth: received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 2:21; 3:2, 3).

Men the most eminent for piety have felt that it is the very source of the Christian life, the foundation of the Church, which is here attacked: “There is reason,” says the excellent Bishop of Winchester, who, as well as several other bishops, and particularly those of Chester and Calcutta, has denounced these errors, in a charge addressed to his clergy, “there is reason to fear that the distinctive principles of our Church would be endangered, if men should envelop in a cloud the great doctrine which sets forth the way in which we are accounted righteous before God; if men doubt that the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith is fundamental; if, instead of the sacrifice of Christ, the pure and only cause for which we are graciously received, men establish a certain inherent disposition of sanctification, and thus confound the work of the Spirit within with the work of Christ without.”

The school of Oxford pretends, with Rome and the Council of Trent, “That justification is the indwelling in us of God the Father and of the incarnate Word, by the Holy Spirit, and that the two acts distinguished from each other by the Bible and our theologians form only one” (Letter of Dr. Pusey to the Bishop of Oxford). What then?

1. God remits to the sinner the penalty of sin; He absolves him; He pardons him. 2. He delivers him from sin itself; He renews him; He sanctifies him.

Are not these two different things?

Would not the pardon of sin on the part of God be just nothing at all? Would it not be simply an image of sanctification? Or should we say that the pardon which is granted to faith, and which produces in the heart the sentiment of reconciliation, of adoption, and of peace, is something too external to be taken into account?

“The Lutheran system,” says the British Critic, “is immoral, because it distinguishes between these two works.” Without doubt, it does distinguish between them, but it does not separate them. “See wherefore we are justified,” says Melanchthon, in the Apology for the Confession of Augsburg; “it is in order that, being righteous, we should do good, and begin to obey the law of God; see here why it is that we are regenerated and receive the Holy Spirit: it is that the new life may have new works and new dispositions.” How many times has the Reformation declared that justifying faith is not an historical, dead, vain knowledge, but a living action, an act of willing and receiving, a work of the Holy Spirit, the true worship of God, obedience toward God in the most important of all moments! Yes, it is a living, efficacious faith which justifies; and these words, efficacious faith, which are found in all our Confessions of Faith, are there for the purpose of declaring that faith alone serves as a cause in the work of justification, that it alone justifies, but that precisely because of this it does not rest alone, that is to say, without its appropriate operations and its fruits.

Such is the grand difference between us and the Oxford School. We believe in sanctification through justification, and the Oxford School believes in justification through sanctification. With us, justification is the cause and sanctification is the effect. With these doctors, on the contrary, sanctification is the cause, and justification the effect. And these are not things indifferent, and vain distinctions; they are the sic and the non, the yes and the no. While our creed establishes in all their rights these two works, the creed of Oxford compromises and annihilates them both. Justification exists no more, if it depend on man’s sanctification, and not on the grace of God; for “The heavens,” says the Scripture, “are not clean in His sight” (Job 15:15), and “His eyes are too pure to behold iniquity” (Hab. 1:13), but, on the other hand, sanctification itself can not be accomplished; for how could you expect the effect to be produced when you begin by taking away the cause 1 “Herein is love,” says St. John, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us; we love Him because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19, 20). If I might use a vulgar expression, I should say that Oxford puts the cart before the horse, in placing sanctification before justification. In this way neither the cart nor the horse will advance. In order that the work should go is necessary that that which draws should be placed before that which is drawn. There is not a system more contrary to true sanctification than that; and, to employ the language of the British Critic, there is not, consequently, a system more monstrous and immoral. What! shall your justification depend, not upon the work which Christ accomplished on the cross, but upon that which is accomplished in your hearts! Is it not to Christ, to His grace, that you ought to look in order to be justified, but to yourselves, to the righteousness which is in you, to your spiritual gifts ! . . .

From this result two great evils.

Either you will deceive yourselves, in believing that there is a work in you sufficiently good to justify you before God; and then you will be inflated with pride, that pride which the Scriptures say “goeth before a fall:” or you will not deceive yourselves; you will see, as the Savior says, that you are poor, and wretched, and blind, and naked; and then you will fall into despair. The heights of pride and the depths of despair; such are the alternatives which the doctrine of Oxford and of Rome bequeaths to us.

The Christian doctrine, on the contrary, places man in perfect humility, for it is Another who justifies him; and yet it gives him abundant peace, for his justification—a fruit of the “righteousness of God”*—is complete, assured, eternal.

Jean-Henri Merle D’Aubigne on the Principles of the Reformation –Part One: The Formal Principle

There are things essential and things unessential in it [True Christianity]; but it is only of that which constitutes its essence, of that which is its principle, that I would here speak.

There are three principles which form its essence: the first is what we may call its formal principle, because it is the means by which this system is formed or constituted; the second is what may be called the material principle, because it is the very doctrine which constitutes this religious system; the third I call the personal, or moral principle, because it concerns the application of Christianity to the soul of each individual.

The formal principle of Christianity is expressed in few words:


That is to say, the Christian receives the knowledge of the truth only by the word of God, and admits of no other source of religious knowledge.

The material principle of Christianity is expressed with equal brevity:


That is to say, the Christian receives salvation only by the grace of Christ, and recognizes no other meritorious cause of eternal life.

The personal principle of Christianity may be expressed in the most simple terms:


That is to say, there must be in each soul that is saved a moral and individual work of regeneration wrought by the Spirit of God, and not by the simple concurrence of the Church,* and the magic influence of certain ceremonies.

Gentlemen, recall constantly to your minds these three simple truths:

  • The Word of God Only;
  • The Grace of Christ Only;
  • The Work of the Spirit Only;

and they will truly be “a lamp to your feet and a light to your paths.”

These are the three great beacons which the Holy Spirit has erected in the Church. Their effulgence should spread from one end of the world to the other. So long as they shine, the Church walks in the light; as soon as they shall become extinct, or even obscured, darkness, like that of Egypt, will settle upon Christendom.

But, gentlemen, it is precisely these three fundamental principles of evangelical Christianity which are attacked and overthrown by the new system of Ecclesiastical Catholicism. It is not to some minor point, to some doctrine of secondary importance, that attention is directed at Oxford; it is to that which constitutes the very essence of Christianity and of the Reformation, to those truths which are so important that, as Luther said, ” With them the Church stands, and without them the Church falls.” Let us consider them.


The formal principle of evangelical Christianity is this:


He who would know and possess the truth, in order to be saved, ought to study that revelation of God which is contained in the sacred Scriptures, and to reject every thing which is a mere human addition, every thing which, as the work of man, may be justly suspected of being impressed with a deplorable mixture of error. There is one only source at which the Christian quenches his thirst; it is that stream, clear, limpid, perfectly pure, which flows from the throne of God. He turns away from every other fountain which flows parallel with it, or which would fain mingle itself with it; for he knows that on account of the source whence these streams issue, they all contain troubled, unwholesome, perhaps deadly waters.

The sole, the ancient, the eternal stream, is God; the new, ephemeral, failing stream, is Man; and we will quench our thirst but in God alone. God is, in our view, so full of sovereign majesty, that we would regard as an outrage, and even as impiety, the attempt to put any thing by the side of His word.

But this is what the authors of the novelties of Oxford are doing. “The Scriptures,” say they, in the Tracts for the Times, “are evidently not, according to the principles of the Church of England, the Rule of Faith. The doctrine, or message of the Gospel, is but indirectly presented in the Scriptures, and in an obscure and concealed manner” (Tract 85). “Catholic tradition,” says one of the two principal chiefs of this school” (Newman, Lecture on Romanism), is a divine informer in religious things; it is the unwritten word. These two things (the Bible and the Catholic traditions) together form a united Rule of Faith. Catholic tradition is a divine source of knowledge in all things relating to faith. The Scriptures are only the document of ultimate appeal; Catholic tradition is the authoritative teacher.”

“Tradition is infallible,” says another divine (Keble’s Sermons), “the unwritten word of God, of necessity, demands of us the , same respect which His written word does, and precisely for the same reason, because it is His word.” “We demand that the whole of the Catholic traditions should be taught,” says a third (Palmer’s Aids to Reflection).

“Such, gentlemen, is one of the most pestiferous errors which can be disseminated in the Church.

Whence have Rome and Oxford derived it? Certainly the respect which we entertain for the incontestable learning of these divines shall not prevent our saying that this error can come from no other source than the natural aversion of the heart of fallen man for every thing that the Scriptures teach. It can be nothing else than a depraved will which leads man to put the sacred Scriptures aside. Men first abandon the fountain of living waters, and then hew for themselves, here and there, cisterns which will hold no water. This is a truth which the history of every Church teaches in its successive falls and errors, as well as that of every soul in particular. The theologians of Oxford only follow in the way of all flesh.

Behold, then, gentlemen, two established authorities by the side of each other: the Bible, and tradition. We do not hesitate as to what we have to do.

“To The Law  And To The Testimony,” we cry with the prophet; “if they speak not according to His word, it is because there is no light in them: and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness” (Isaiah 8:20, 22).

We reject tradition, as it is a species of rationalism which introduces, for a rule in Christian doctrine, not the human reason of the present time, but the human reason of times past. We declare, with the churches of the Reformation in their symbolical writings (confessions of faith), that ” the Sacred Scriptures are the only judge, the only rule of faith; that it is to them, as to a touchstone, that all dogmas ought to be brought-; that it is by them that the question should be decided, whether they are pious or impious, true or false!”  (Formula of Agreement).

Without doubt there was originally an oral tradition which was pure; it was the instructions given by the apostles themselves, before the sacred writings of the New Testament existed. However, even then the apostle and the evangelist, Peter and Barnabas (Gal. 2:13), could not walk uprightly, and consequently stumbled in their words. The divinely inspired Scriptures alone are infallible: the word of the Lord endureth forever.

But, however pure oral instruction may have been at the time that the apostles quitted the earth, that tradition was necessarily exposed in this world of sin to be gradually defaced, polluted, and corrupted. It is for this cause that the Evangelical Church honors and adores, with gratitude and humility, the gracious good pleasure of the Savior, in virtue of which that pure, primitive type, that first, apostolic tradition, in all its purity, has been rendered permanent by being written, by the Spirit of God Himself, in our sacred books, for all coming time. And now it finds in those writings, as we have just heard, the divine touchstone which it employs for the purpose of trying all the traditions of men.

Nor does it establish concurrently, as do the doctors of Oxford and the Council of Trent, the tradition which is written and the tradition which is oral; but it decidedly renders the latter subordinate to the former, because one can not be sure that this oral tradition is only and truly the Apostolical Tradition, such as it was in its primitive purity.

The knowledge of true Christianity, says the Protestant Church, flows only from one source, namely, from the Holy Scriptures, or, if you will, from the apostolic tradition, such as we find it contained in the writings of the New Testament.

The Apostles of Jesus Christ—Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, James—perform their functions in the Church to-day; no one has the need nor the power to take their place. They perform their functions at Jerusalem, at Geneva, at Corinth, at Berlin, at Paris; they bear testimony in Oxford and in Rome itself. They preach, even to the ends of the world, the remission of sins and conversion of the soul in the name of the Savior; they announce the resurrection of the Crucified to every creature; they loose and they retain sins; they lay the foundation of the house of God, and they build it; they teach the missionaries and the ministers of the Gospel; they regulate the order of the Church, and preside in synods which would be Christian. They do all this by the written word which they have left us; or, rather, Christ, Christ Himself, does it by that word, since it is the word of Christ, rather than the word of Paul, of Peter, or of James. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations: lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

Without doubt, as to the number of their words, the apostles spoke more than they wrote; but as to the substance, they said nothing more than what they have left us in their divine books. And if they had, in substance, taught otherwise, or more explicitly than they did by their writings, no one could at this day be able to report to us, with assurance, even one syllable of these instructions. If God did not choose to preserve them in His Bible, no one could come to His aid, and do what God Himself would not wish to do, and what He would not have done. If, in the writings, of more or less doubtful authenticity, of the companions of the apostles, or of those fathers who are called apostolical, one should find any doctrine of the apostles, it would be necessary, first of all, to put it to the test, in comparing it with the certain instructions of the apostles, that is, with the canon of the Scriptures.

So much for the tradition of the apostles. Let us pass on from the times when they lived to those which succeeded. Let us come to the tradition of the divines of the first centuries. That tradition is, without doubt, of great value to us; but by the very fact of its being Presbyterian, Episcopal, or Synodical, it is no longer apostolical. And let us suppose (what is not true) that it does not contradict itself; and let us suppose that one father does not overthrow what another father has established (as is often the case, and Abelard has proved it in his famous work entitled the Sic et Non, whose recent publication we owe to the care of a French philosopher –(O. Inidites d’Abelard, published by M. Victor Cousin, Paris, 1836. The introduction to this work-, upon the History of Scholastic Philosophy in France, is a master-piece). ; let us suppose, for a moment, that one might reduce this tradition of the Fathers of the Church to a harmony similar to that which the apostolical tradition presents, the canon which might be obtained thus could in no manner be placed on an equality with the canon of the apostles (Nitzsch, Protestantische Theses).

Without doubt, we acknowledge that the declarations of Christian divines merit our attention, if it be the Holy Spirit which speaks in them, that Spirit which is ever living and ever acting in the Church. But we will not, we absolutely will not allow ourselves to be bound by that which, in this tradition and in these divines, is only the work of man. And how shall we distinguish that which is of God from that which is of men, if not by the Holy Scriptures? “It remains,” says St. Augustine, “that I judge myself according to this only Master, from whose judgment I desire not to escape” (Retract, in Prol.). The declarations of the doctors of the Church are only the testimonies of the faith which these eminent men had in the doctrines of the Scriptures. They show how these divines received these doctrines ; they may, without doubt, be instructive and edifying for us; but there is no authority in them which binds us. All the divines, Greek, Latin, French, Swiss, German, English, American, placed in the presence of the word of God, are only disciples who are receiving instruction. Men of primitive days and men of modern times, we are all alike scholars in that divine school; and in the chair of instruction around which we are humbly assembled, nothing appears, nothing exalts itself, but the infallible word of God. I perceive in that vast auditory Calvin, Luther, Cranmer, Augustine, Chrysostom, Athanasius, Cyprian, by the side of our contemporaries. We are not “disciples of Cyprian and Ignatius,” as the doctors of Oxford (Newman on Romanism), call themselves, but of Jesus Christ. “We do not despise the writings of the fathers,” we say, with Calvin, “but in making use of them we remember always that ‘all things are ours” (1 Cor., 3:22), that they ought to serve, not govern us, and that ‘we, we are Christ’s’ (1 Cor. 3:23) whom in all things, and without exception, it behooves us to obey” (Institutes of the Christian Religion).

This the divines of the first centuries are themselves the first to say. They claim for themselves no authority, and only wish that the word which has taught them may teach us also. “Now that I am old,” says Augustine, in his Retractions, “I do not expect not to be mistaken in word, or to be perfect in word; how much less when, being young, I commenced writing?” (Retractions). “Beware,” says he again, “of submitting to my writings, as if they were canonical Scriptures” (In Prol. de Trinitate). “Do not esteem as canonical Scriptures the works of Catholic and justly honored men,” says he elsewhere. “It is allowable for us, without impeaching the honor which is due to them, to reject those things in their writings, should we find such in them, which are contrary to the Truth. I regard the writings of others as I would have others regard mine” (Ad Fortuuatianum). “All that has been said since the times of the apostles ought to be disregarded,” says Jerome, ” and can possess no authority. However holy, however learned a man may be, who comes after the apostles, let him have no authority” (In Psalm lxxxvi).

“Neither antiquity nor custom,” says the Confession of the Reformed Church of France,” ought to be arrayed in opposition to the Holy Scriptures; on the contrary, all things ought to be examined, regulated, and reformed according to them.”

And the Confession of the English Church even says, the doctors of Oxford to the contrary notwithstanding: “The Holy Scriptures contain all that is necessary to salvation, so that all that is not found in them, all that can not be proved by them, can not be required of any one as an article of faith or as necessary to salvation.” Thus the Evangelical divines of our times give the hand to the reformers, the reformers to the fathers, the fathers to the apostles; and thus, forming, as it were, a golden chain, the whole Church, of all ages and of all people, sings as with one voice to the God of Truth, that hymn of one of our greatest poets.”

“Speak Thou unto my heart; and let no sage’s word,
No teacher Thee beside, explain to me Thy law;
Let every soul before Thy holy presence, Lord!
Bow down in silent awe,
And let Thy voice be heard!”

What, then, is tradition? It is the testimony of history.

There is a historical testimony for the facts of Christian history, as well as for those of any other history. We admit that testimony; only we would discuss it and examine it, as we would all other testimony. The heresy of Rome and of Oxford—and it is that which distinguishes them from us—consists in the fact that they attribute the same infallibility to this testimony as to Scripture itself.

Although we receive the testimony of History as far as it is true, as, for example, when it relates to the collection of the writings of the apostles: it by no means results from this that we should receive this testimony on subjects which are false, as, for instance, on the adoration of Mary, or the celibacy of the priests.

The Bible is the faith, holy, authoritative, and truly ancient, of the child of God; human tradition springs from the love of novelties, and is the faith of ignorance, of superstition, and of a credulous puerility.

How deplorable, yet instructive, to see the doctors of a Church, which is called to the glorious liberty of the children of God, and which reposes only on God and His word, place themselves under the bondage of human ordinances! And how loudly does that example cry to us, ” Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).

All those errors which we are combating come from a misunderstanding of truths. We, too, believe in the attributes of the Church of which they speak so much; but we believe in them according to the meaning which God attaches to it, and our opponents believe in them according to that which men attach to it.

Yes, there is one holy Catholic Church, but it is, as the apostle says,” The general assembly and Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). Unity as well as holiness appertains to the invisible Church. It behooves us, without doubt, to pray that the visible Church should advance daily in the possession of these heavenly attributes; but neither rigorous unity nor universal holiness is a perfection essential to its existence, or a sine qua non. To say that the visible Church must absolutely be composed of saints only, is the error of the Donatists and fanatics of all ages. So, also, to say that the visible Church must of necessity be externally one, is the corresponding error of Rome, of Oxford, and of formalists of all times. Let us guard against preferring the external hierarchy, which consists in certain human forms, to that internal hierarchy which is the kingdom of God itself. Let us not suffer the form, which passes away, to determine the essence of the Church; but let us, on the contrary, make the essence of the Church, to wit, the Christian life—which emanates from the word and Spirit of God—change and renew the form. The form has killed the substance —here is the whole history of the Papacy and of false Catholicism. The substance vivifies the form—here is the whole history of Evangelical Christianity, and of the true Catholic Church of Jesus Christ.

Yes, I admit it; the Church is the judge of controversies —judex controversiarum. But what is the Church? It is not the clergy; it is not the councils; still less is it the pope. It is the Christian people; it is the faithful. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21), is said to the children of God, and not to some assembly, or to a certain bishop; and it is they who are constituted, on the part of God, judges of controversies. If animals have the instinct which leads them not to eat that which is injurious to them, we can not do less than allow to the Christian this instinct, or, rather, this intelligence, which emanates from the virtue of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian (the word of God declares it) is called upon to reject “every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (1 John 4:1-5). And this is what is essentially meant when it is said that the Church is the judge of controversies!

Yes, I believe and confess that there is an authority in the Church, and that without that authority the Church can not stand. But where is it to be found? Is it with him, whoever he may be, who has the external consecration, whether he possess theological gifts or not, whether he has received grace and justification or not? Rome herself does not yet pretend that orders save and sanctify. Must, then, the children of God go, in many cases, to ask a decision in things relating to faith of the children of this world? What! a bishop, from the momtnt he is seated in his chair, although he may be, perhaps, destitute of science, destitute of the Spirit of God, and although he may, perhaps, have the world and hell in his heart, as had Borgia and so many other bishops, shall he have authority in the assembly of the saints, and do his lips possess always the wisdom and the truth necessary for the Church? No, gentlemen, the idea of a knowledge of God, true, but at the same time destitute of holiness, is a gross supernaturalism. “Sanctify them through the truth,” says Jesus (John 17:17).There is an authority in the Church, but that authority is wholly in the word of God. It is not a man, nor a minister, nor a bishop, descended from Gregory, from Chrysostom, from Augustine, or from Irenaeus, who has authority over the soul. . It is not with a power so contemptible as that which comes from those men, that we, the ministers of God, go forth into the world. It is elsewhere than in that episcopal succession, that we seek that which gives authority to our ministry, and validity to our sacraments.

Rejecting these deplorable innovations, we appeal from them to the ancient, sovereign, and divine authority of the word of the Lord. The question which we ask of the man who would inform himself concerning eternal things, is that which we receive from Jesus Himself: “What is written in the Law, and how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26). What we say to rebellious spirits is what Abraham said from heaven to the rich man: “You have Moses and the prophets, hear them” (Luke 16:29).

That which we ask of all, is to imitate the Bereans, who “searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).”We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). even the most excellent of men.

Behold the true authority, the true hierarchy, the true polity. The churches which are made by men possess human authority—this is natural; but the Church of God possesses the authority of God, and she will not receive it from others.

The Word of God the Only Rule of Faith and Practice by William Cunningham

When men are in some measure impressed with the nature and importance of the end for which they have been made, and when they see that this end respects matters which do not come under the cognisance of their senses and observation, that it has reference mainly to God and to eternity, they will naturally inquire whether any certain rule of standard exists which, when rightly used, and faithfully followed, may guide them to the attainment of this end. Writings possessed of such a character, proceeding from such a source, and resting on such an authority, it must, of course, be most important for us to know, that we may be enabled rightly to apply them for our direction. There are many who profess to regard the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing a revelation of God’s will, and of course us being so far a rule to guide us in matters connected with our highest interests, who yet deny that they constitute the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God. There are other rules which they would exalt to a co-ordinate place with the Word of God.

(1) The adherents of the Church of Rome add to the Old Testament the apocryphal books, as if they too were inspired. They also believe that oral tradition has conveyed to us truths taught, and observances enjoined, by Christ and His apostles, which are not mentioned in the sacred Scriptures.

(2) Those who call themselves rational Christians, practically take their own reason as the chief, if not the only, rule to guide them in matters connected with God and eternity; because, while they may profess to admit that the Scriptures are the Word of God, they practically set up their own reason not only as the instrument of interpreting Scripture, but as entitled to judge of the truth of its doctrines, and to determine what statements of Scripture may be received as true, and what as being irrational and incomprehensible, must be explained away, or virtually denied. There are two general observations deserving of attention, as affording strong presumption against the pretensions which have been put forth.

1. If the Bible be the Word of God, we have no need of any other rule. The Bible is able to make men wise unto salvation.

2. The attempts which have been made to set up other rules as co-ordinate with the Word of God, have generally had the effect of superceding practically the sacred Scriptures; and this constitutes a fair and legitimate presumption against them.

I. THE APOCRYPHAL BOOKS are certain writings composed in the interval between the time of Malachi and our Saviour’s appearance in the flesh. They were not written in the Hebrew language, like the books of the Old Testament Scriptures, and exist only in Greek. The Jewish Church never acknowledged them as inspired; and when the apostle says (Rom. 3:2), “that unto the Jews were committed the oracles of God,” he seems to intimate, not merely that the possession of the sacred oracles was conferred on them as a privilege, but that the custody and preservation of them was imposed upon them as a duty, so that they being, as it were, the authorised depositories of the oracles of God, their testimony as to their authenticity is to be regarded as essentially important, if not of itself absolutely conclusive. The authority of these books was not in any instance acknowledged, directly or by implication, by our Saviour or His apostles, while they plainly acknowledged the authority of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, the three classes into which the Jews usually distributed the canonical Scriptures. There is not a vestige of evidence that these books were composed by men who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, or that their authors were regarded in that light by any of their contemporaries. There are not a few statements in these books which, by no skill and learning, can be reconciled with each other, and which, therefore, cannot have proceeded from one and the same Spirit of truth.

II. The Church of Rome further professes to receive and venerate APOSTOLICAL TRADITIONS with equal piety and reverence as the written Word. In support of the authority of tradition, Papists commonly refer to the injunction of the apostle (2 Thess. 2:15), “to hold fast the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word, or by his epistle.” Of course, it was the duty of the Thessalonians to hold fast all that they had been taught by the apostle, whether orally or by writing. And our answer to Papists, when they urge from this passage the authority of tradition, is just this, that if the Church of Rome will put us in the same situation with regard to her pretended traditions as the Thessalonians were in regard to the traditions to which the apostle refers; i.e., if she will give us as good evidence as the Thessalonians had that these traditions really came from an apostle, and were delivered by him as public instruction to the Churches, we will implicitly submit to them, but not otherwise.

III. Let us now advert to the claims which some who call them selves rational Christians put forth in behalf of HUMAN REASON, to be received along with the Word of God as a rule of faith and practice. Men are certainly bound to exercise their reason most fully upon a matter so momentous as the end for which they were made. It is by their reason alone that they come into contact with truth, so as to discover, to apprehend, and to establish it. When the Bible is pressed upon their attention, as containing a revelation from God, they are bound to bring their whole faculties to bear upon the examination of the evidence on which its claim to that character rests, and to come to a clear and decided determination upon that point. If they come to the conclusion that the Bible does contain a revelation from God, then they are further bound to use their reason in discovering the meaning and import of its statements, and in ascertaining from them what is the standard of belief and practice which they ought to follow. And here in right reason the province of reason ends. There can be no more satisfactory reason for believing any doctrine, no more conclusive evidence that it is true, than the fact that God has revealed it. This is a position to which the reason of every rational man assents, and it plainly supersedes the mere unaided efforts of our own reason upon any point on which God has made known to us His will. Men have no right to regard their own reason as the measure or standard of truth, or to suppose that they are capable of discovering much, by its unaided efforts, in regard to an infinite God and an invisible world.

A Word to the Young

A Word to the Young

“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9).


This is an obvious word here to the young person. Now, is this the advice of man to his son, as we often find in the poetic books? Or, is this the reflection of an old man upon his own youth, as some have surmised?  We cannot tell, and it makes little difference to the way we should approach it, seeing that it is someone who has experience and wisdom that the young need. But it is even more than that! It is God speaking through their experience and wisdom to the young. We must always remember that, when assertions are made like this, God is speaking transcendent truth to us.

Now, why the young man? Well, let me provide two answers to that. First, youth is often entrenched in pride. When this pride is coupled with inexperience, the person is in peril.  Henry Scougal rightly said, “Youth is a time of life wherein we have too much pride to be governed by others, and too little wisdom to govern ourselves.”  We must not lean to our own understanding, but we are to acknowledge Him.  Speaking to young men, J. C. Ryle says,

[Pride] comes from not knowing yourself and the world. The older you grow, and the more you see, the less reason you will find for being proud. Ignorance and inexperience are the pedestal of pride; once the pedestal is removed – pride will soon come down.

Second, youth is a time that largely settles the character of a person. Proverbs 20:11 states, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” Charles Bridges notes, “Generally the discerning eye will mark something in the budding of the young tree, by which the tree in maturity may be known. The child will tell what the man will be.” Likewise, J. C. Ryle notes,

Experience tells me that people’s hearts are seldom changed if they are not changed when young. Seldom indeed are men converted when they are old. Habits have deep roots. Once sin is allowed to settle in your heart, it will not be turned out at your bidding. Custom becomes second nature, and its chains are not easily broken.

Well, having underscored the importance of youth and its need to take heed, we have to ask what this text say to the youth. Let me, first, draw your attention to the fact that this is a question and answer; it is a catechism, if we may say that. Next, let me remark about the question. The word “wherewithal” means “by what means.”  How is it possible for a young man to cleanse his ways? Here is the question of how a young person may be saved from the pollution from his own heart, escape the temptations about him, and lead a pure life before the Lord.  Such a question, though seldom thought of by the young person, is a right question to ask. Albert Barnes states, “There can be no more important inquiry for one just entering on the journey of life.” If you are a young person here, I hope that you are asking such a question. God would direct you to this question. Do you agree with God that is an important matter for you to consider?

The second part is the answer. It is the vital part of this. It is one thing to ask the question, even as some pagan writers of old did, but it is another to have a right answer, a certain answer that comes from the revelation of God. The word “thereto” is not in the original. The Hebrew is, “To keep according to thy word;” or, “in keeping according to thy word.” Various options have be offered on how to interpret this, but I believe that the translations we have in English have captured it well. The meaning clearly is this: if he governs himself according to the law of God, he will be on the path of purity.  Now, how does the Word of God direct the young person? Let me draw out three ways. First, let us consider

The Word Reveals the Need of Purity

We must begin with this solemn fact. There is something called original sin, and it is this that we must take into consideration. Too many young people have too much confidence in themselves, and they fail to even regard how they are sinners. As such, they do think rightly; they do not feel rightly; and they do not act rightly. At times, they get a glimpse of their condition, when they do something wrong, but very few ever come to the profound understanding that foolishness – sinfulness –is bound up in the heart. They may look upon the fruit of sinful acts with remorse, but they seldom come to realize that the tree that produced the fruit is the real problem.  The real problem is the fountain.

There is one part of the Word that helps the young person here. It is the Law.  The Law reveals our nature. Paul says, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7). Again, he says, “For by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). We might think that our actions, thoughts, and feelings are right until they are compared to a standard. When placed before the standard of God’s Holy Law, we find that we are sinners and that our hopes or finding the hope of our being accepted by God on the basis of being good works dashed.  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).  Martin Luther speaks of this:

Now when a man has learned through the commandments to recognize his helplessness and is distressed about how he might satisfy the law—since the law must be fulfilled so that not a jot or tittle shall be lost, otherwise man will be condemned without hope—then, being truly humbled and reduced to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself nothing whereby he may be justified and saved. Here the second part of Scripture comes to our aid, namely, the promises of God which declare the glory of God, saying, “If you wish to fulfill the law and not covet, as the law demands, come, believe in Christ in whom grace, righteousness, peace, liberty, and all things are promised you. If you believe, you shall have all things; if you do not believe, you shall lack all things.”

For this reason let us take notice of this second part of Scripture by considering,

The Word Reveals the Source of Purity

Not only does the Word show the young man, as well as all others, that he needs purity, but it shows him that there is purity in Christ. Paul put it like this, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

While you and I are destitute of purity on our own, the Gospel points us to the righteousness that is found in Christ. It tells that there is hope only in Christ. If the young man or woman feels the Law’s sting, then there is real hope. D. L. Moody once said, “The law stops every man’s mouth. God will have a man humble himself down on his face before Him, with not a word to say for himself. Then God will speak to him, when he owns that he is a sinner, and gets rid of all his own righteousness.” A. W. Pink said,

The Gospel contemplates every descendant of Adam as a fallen, polluted, hell-deserving and helpless sinner. The grace which the Gospel publishes is his only hope. All stand before God convicted as transgressors of His holy law, as guilty and condemned criminals, who are not merely awaiting sentence, but the execution of sentence already passed upon them (John 3:18; Rom. 3:19). To complain against the partiality of grace is suicidal. If the sinner insists upon bare justice, then the Lake of Fire must be his eternal portion. His only hope lies in bowing to the sentence which Divine justice has passed upon him, owning the absolute righteousness of it, casting himself on the mercy of God, and stretching forth empty hands to avail himself of the grace of God now made known to him in the Gospel.

This part of the Word of God becomes precious to the young person who has found that he or she has no purity, no righteousness. Can there be any wonder why it is called the Good News?  It is wonderful, marvelous news. Yet, no one ever sees it this way until he first sees the bad news.

But young person, let me say something to you of great importance. Be careful that you don’t try to mix your own goodness with the work of Christ.  The person who ignores the Word will try to establish His own righteousness, even though it is just a small part.  But the person who lives according to the Word will see that there is only one hope for him. Martin Luther said:

In short, Paul sets the one who works and the one who does not work alongside each other, leaving no room for anyone between them; and he asserts that righteousness is not reckoned to the former, but that it is reckoned to the latter provided he has faith. There is no way of escape for free choice here, no chance for it to get away with its endeavoring and striving. It must be classed either with the one who works or with the one who does not work. If it is classed with the former, so you are told here, it does not have any righteousness reckoned to it, whereas if it is classed with the latter—the one who does not work but has faith in God—then it does have righteousness reckoned to it.

There is one more way in which the Word works the young man. Let us lastly consider,

The Word Reveals the Path of Purity

After being saved through the instrumentality of the Word of God, we see the Law in another light. We do not see it as the means of finding acceptance with God. But we do see it as the means of showing how we may show our gratitude to Him who has loved us dearly. If you and I love Him, we will keep His commandments as an act of love to Him who has forgiven us and accepted us for Christ’s sake.

The Law and Grace are no enemies.  They always work hand in hand, either to draw us from the Gospel and to live from the Gospel. We are not forgiven that we may do what we wish.  As J. I. Packer said, “We are to order our lives by the light of His law, not our guesses about His plan.”  Jerry Bridges is right when he says, “Love provides the motive for obeying the commands of the law, but the law provides specific direction for exercising love.”  I love how Sinclair Fergusson explains our relationship to the Law:

So what is the place of the Law in the life of the Christian?  Simply this: We are no longer under the Law to be condemned by it, we are now “in-lawed” to it because of our betrothal to Christ!  He has written the Law, and love for it, into our hearts!

Now, the whole Bible is to guide us. It equips us unto every good work. It reveals how the young person shall keep clear of sin, avoid loose company, and rid himself of the wicked pleasures and practices of this enslaving world. The Word not only shows how we may be justified in Christ, but it explains the path of godliness and sanctification.  It is a light unto our path. James Harrington Evans is right when he said,

There is an especial necessity for this ‘Take heed,’ because of the proneness of a young man to thoughtlessness, carelessness, presumption, self confidence. There is an especial necessity for ‘taking heed, ‘because of the difficulty of the way. ‘Look well to thy goings’; it is a narrow path. ‘Look well to thy goings’; it is a new path. ‘Look well to thy goings’; it is a slippery path. ‘Look well to thy goings’; it is an eventful path.”


Now, let me ask every young man and young lady here a question. Do you take heed according to God’s Word?  Are you profiting from it?  Do you know by personal experience anything about it as a guide to show a sinner how he is to be cleansed from his sins by the blood of Christ, justified by His righteousness, and be to be made clean through His word? Have you come to a decided knowledge of how and by whom the work of sanctification is wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God through means of the Word? Do you not only see but rest upon the fact that the Word is the rule of a man’s walk and conduct? In other words, do you personally find the Word of God to be profitable? Or are you still leaning to your own understanding?

And may I speak to you parents, even the whole church, too? I hope that you can answer that you have and are profiting from the Word of God. I am assuming that you have because of previous testimony to that fact. I will ask you to think about this passage in another way. As an older person, I assume that you see rightly that the season of youth is peculiarly dangerous and important.  I hope that you realize that the hopes of the church and of society, for a succession of useful members, are placed upon the rising generation. Every one of us ought, therefore, to contribute all that is in his power to preserve young persons from the fatal effects of their own head-strong passions, of an ensnaring world, and of seducing world.

What part can you play in this? Three central ways! First, you and I should pray for them. The temptations that they face are strong, and the passions within them are often even stronger. Let us pray that each of our children will be converted. But let us not stop there. Let us pray that each of our children will be kept. Second, and I speak to parents primarily, instruct them in that Word, which is able to make them wise unto salvation from an early age and equip them unto every good work.  Third, and here I speak to all of us, let us set before them an example of those who cleanse their ways according to the Word of God. Let us do all that we can to convince of the desirableness of having their way made and preserved pure from the pollution of sin. But let us not merely do it with the Law; may we also do so with the charms of the Savior, the joy of holiness, and the peace that comes from it.

Three Ecclesiastical Sins that Obscure the Gospel


We live in a day wherein there is much discussion about or effort for unity among Evangelicals. But in the process of this, three ecclesiastical sins are often committed. And they are not small issues. They involve the Gospel itself, though this often either ignored or downplayed.

The Sin of Disconnecting Secondary Doctrine to the Fundamental Doctrines Obscures the Gospel

Let me begin here; there is the downplaying of ‘secondary’ issues. Usually this is along the lines of stressing the fundamental agreement and true bond in the essential doctrines that we have.  There is a great truth here, but there is also a lion crouching, seeking to have its desire upon us. This search for unity is fraught with difficulties, but the one that I wish to focus upon is the minimization of secondary issues to the point of looking upon them as almost useless. In the past, many have noted the danger connected with this. For example, Hoenecke writes (Ev.Luth. Dogmatik., I, 457):

That the Church has never reached a perfect, but only a fundamental unity of doctrine and faith, is a shame upon the Christians, for this defect has its cause nowhere else but in the flesh of the Christians. Yet the fact of the defect cannot involve its right to existence, and from the disgraceful fact that the Church has always attained merely a fundamental unity of faith the principle is not to be deduced that she should not go beyond that stage. We shall indeed, therefore, bear those who err from weakness; but their error may not demand recognition as an authorized position, as an open question, but it may be recognized only as something that militates against the Scripture, which may indeed not disrupt Christian fellowship at once, but certainly at the time when it demands recognition, although it has received a thorough repudiation from the Scripture and clearly finds itself unable to advance any argument for its existence.

An in another place Hoenecke states (IV, 223): “It is to be kept in mind that the concepts ‘fundamental’ and ‘non-fundamental’ have reference to salvation and not to church fellowship. We do not maintain that a person who does not believe this article (of the Antichrist) cannot be saved, but we deny him the fellowship of the Lutheran Church.” Likewise Krauth, in his The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, strongly asserts,

We protest, therefore, alike against the basis which does not propose the fundamental doctrine of the Gospel as essential to unity, and the basis which, professing to accept the Gospel fundamentals as its constituent element, is, in any degree whatever dubious or evasive as to what subjects of the Gospel-teaching are fundamental, or which, pretending to define them, throws among non-fundamentals what the Word of God and the judgment of His Church have fixed as articles of faith. On such a point there should be no evasion. Divine Truth is the end of the Church; it is also her means. She lives for it; and she lives by it. What the Evangelical Lutheran Church regards as fundamental to Gospel doctrine, that is, what her existence, her history, her Confessions declare or justly imply to be her articles of faith, these ought to be accepted as such by all honorable men who bear her name. (p. 183).

Later in the same chapter, Krauth writes:

When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages in its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few and weak; let us alone, we shall not disturb the faith of others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in for this time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the Church. Truth and error are two coordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their repudiation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it. (p. 195 f.).

Let us all agree with Luther (St. Louis Ed., 20, 1781), who said: “The Holy Ghost (who speaks in all words of Scripture) does not permit Himself to be parted or divided, that He should permit one point to be taught or believed as true, and the other as false.”

But as  mentioned there is often a neglect over the area of the gospel’s relationship to this. All doctrines are related to on another. And often in the pursuit of purity on the basis of the fundamentals, we fail to remember this. Some of the ‘secondary’ issues of today touch  upon the gospel.  For example, the issue of worship. Many use worship as a means to attract the unsaved, making the entire service something comfortable. In many ways, the  church is seeking to entice the unsaved by it worship that is very accommodating to the unregenerate.

Does this have a bearing upon the Gospel? I would submit that it vitally related to the gospel in three  ways. First, it obscures the instrumentality of the transforming Gospel –the nature of saving faith. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Calvin explains the appropriateness of Paul’s inspired assertion,

 For the word of the Lord constrains us by its majesty, as if by a violent impulse, to yield obedience to it. Human wisdom, on the other hand, has her allurements, by which she insinuates herself and her blandishments, as it were, by which she may conciliate for herself the affections of her hearers.

Second, it often obscures the foundation of the Gospel –the amazing, sovereign grace of God. Worship services are too often turned into tools for evangelism. As such, much of what occurs in some of our Evangelical churches is based upon a wrong view of man. They are called “seekers,” as if men seek God in their own ability through the contrivances of man. The Scriptures are clear that none seek after God.  This is no small issue, for the Gospel is at stake. Michael Horton is correct, when he critically evaluates this:

Entire denominations that were committed confessionally to the doctrine of justification [by grace alone through faith alone] have ended up adopting, in actual practice, a Pelagian message. When evangelicals deny human depravity and inability, affirm that human beings cooperate in their own conversion by the use of their free will, and view salvation as a project of moral improvement (especially when that affirms a notion of entire sanctification), they are further afield from the gospel than Rome has ever been.

Third, its obscures the outcome of the gospel–holiness. The grace of God teaches to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts. But this is often made dim by the practice of the modern worship of the church. In the effort to be culturally relevant, the worship of the church has been a great means of bringing in worldliness. The entire atmosphere exudes worldliness, with all of its lights, etc. Rather than picturing the worship that resembles heaven, where the thrice holy God is central, man and his likes are central.

Now, I have chosen one secondary issue of our day, which is often separated from the fundamental doctrines,  as an example of how it obscures the Gospel. But this may be applied to others, too. Baptism, the church, social justice are other examples that could easily be discussed in this relationship.

The Sin of Permitting Heresy Obscures the Gospel

Next, there is the failure to deal with those who maintain fellowship with heretics. This is one of the central disagreements that exists among Evangelicals. The most obvious example of this in modern times is the fellowship with Romanism. With greater frequency, we are seeing entire denominations, not to mention specific para-church ministries, associations, and people, making overtures to Romanism, saying that they are our brethren.Rome, however, is not a church, for it officially denies the gospel. The late Dr. Gerstner correctly informs us: “It was not until the Council of Trent (1545-1563) that justification was officially confirmed as a process based on human merit derived through divine grace. This was the article in Session VI, Canon 7 of the Council of Trent which led the Roman Catholic Church away from the orthodox teaching on justification.”  R. C. Sproul highlights the importance of this:

The Catholic Church understood in the 16th century, and Trent and Rome placed its unambiguous anathema on the Protestant doctrine of “Justification by faith alone” and has never, in any magisterial sense removed that anathema. The Roman Catholic Church condemns “sola fide! (L.)” Now if, please understand this, if “sola fide (L.)” is the gospel, then the Roman Catholic Church has condemned the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, nobody who went to the Council of Trent, as a delegate, went there with the intention of condemning the gospel.

The theologians of Rome really believed that they were defending the gospel and that the Protestants had in fact committed apostasy. And I admire the Church, the Roman communion of the 16th century for at least understanding what apparently people don’t understand today, and that is what is at stake here. That they understood that somebody is under the anathema of God! And we can be as nice, and as pleasant, and as gentle, and as loving, and as charitable, and tolerant as we can possibly be, but it’s not going to change that folks. Somebody is preaching a different gospel!
And when Rome condemned the Protestant declaration of “Justification by faith alone” I believe, Rome, when placing the anathema on “sola fide (L.),” placed the anathema of God upon themselves. I agree with his [John MacArthur] assessment, that the institution [Roman Catholic Church] is apostate!

Therefore, calling these people brethren is to obscure the gospel. It says that a false gospel is something that can make Christians, when only the truth gospel begets men unto a living hope. It is only the Gospel of Paul that is the salvation unto salvation. One of the central question that faces the church is over the nature of being a Christian. And unless this is asserted in a biblical and authoritative way, the Gospel itself is at stake.  And such a question must not be something that is clinically considered; it is a matter than demands our entire being.

There are other people who are prepared to argue and discuss and even change their opinion, but they do not do anything about it. The evangelical, however, is a man who acts on his convictions. There would never have been Protestantism if this were not true. (Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical? The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992, p. 53).

But heresy is not merely something that takes places in doctrine, but it is also manifested by action. Actions can be so sinful that the very gospel is brought into question. For example, when we say that a person can be a homosexual and a Christian, saying that this is a third way, we have obscured the Gospel because the Gospel says that such people cannot be Christians. They shall not enter the kingdom of God. Any message that says otherwise brings the transforming Gospel of God into obscurity.

This does not merely concern the idea that person who claims to be Christian that does this. Rather, this speaks of a church that officially says that you can be a Christian and a homosexual. And homosexuality is not the only thing. When we allow people to continue in sin, we are not simply bringing reproach upon the name of God and His church, but we are implicitly denying something that God has said to be impossible. God says that such people are unconverted, but we say that we know better. What blasphemy, and what a distortion of God’s word. Again, the central question is this, “How is a Christian?” In answering this, we are saying something about the Gospel itself.

The Sin of Schism Obscures the Gospel

Finally, I would have to say that we can go in the opposite direction to the other extreme by separating from true Christians. An example of this is Peter’s hypocrisy in Galatians. Peter’s sin was false separation. He separated himself from the Gentiles on the basis of indifferent things, such as food and ceremonial regulations of the Jews. In this, Paul was not only concerned about the unity of the churches, but he was concerned about the Gospel itself. His words are that “they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:4). I believe the any act of schism obscures the gospel in one or two ways.

But before giving those two ways, I think that a working definition of schism is in order. As Lloyd-Jones said, “Schism is a very great sin, it is a very serious matter. Nobody should be guilty of the sin of schism, and it is very vital therefore that we should be clear in our minds as to what exactly it is.”  I think that John Owen’s work is the most outstanding work on this. He defines it in this way:

The schism, then, here described by the apostle, and blamed by him, consists in causeless differences and contentions amongst the members of a particular church, contrary to that exercise of love, prudence, and forbearance, which are required of them to be exercised amongst themselves, and towards one another.

There are times when divisions are not schismatic. In fact, they may be required because heresy. But we are speaking of needless and causeless differences and contentions. Obviously, people will disagree with one another of what is causeless. This assumes a certain unity. Owen outlines the fourfold nature of true unity:

“First, that unity which is recommended unto us in the Gospel is spiritual.

“Secondly, unto this foundation of Gospel unity among believers, for and unto the due improvement of it, there is required a unity of faith” —(It is a spiritual union; secondly, it is a unity of faith)—“or of the belief and profession of the same divine truth; for as there is one Lord, so also there is one faith and one baptism unto believers.”

“Thirdly, there is a unity of love.”

“Fourthly, the Lord Christ, by His kingly authority, hath instituted orders for rule, and ordinances for worship, Matthew 28:19–20; Ephesians 4:8–13 to be observed in all His churches.”

Owen then goes on to outline the nature of the breach of this unity that constitutes the nature of schism. Now, schism is different from the biblical command of separation, as Owen states,

What may regularly, on the other hand, be deduced from the commands given to ‘turn away from them who have only a form of godliness,’ 2 Timothy 3:5; to ‘withdraw from them that walk disorderly,’ 2 Thessalonians 3:6; not to bear nor endure in communion men of corrupt principles and wicked lives, Revelation 2:14; but positively to separate from an apostate church, Revelation 18:4; that in all things we may worship Christ according to His mind and appointment; that is the force of these commands.

Schism is when we allow division over issues that should not divide us. It is primarily a matter of love, pride, and carnal policies and postures. It is placing one’s own views over the conscience of another, demanding them to bow, when there is nothing in Scripture that suggests such a restriction, as Owen points out:

Herein, therefore, lies the fundamental cause of our divisions; which will not be healed until it be removed and taken out of the way. Leave believers or professors of the Gospel unto their duty in seeking after evangelical unity in the use of other means instituted and blessed unto that end—impose nothing on their consciences or practice under that name, which indeed belongs not thereunto; and although, upon the reasons and causes afterward to be mentioned, there may for a season remain some divisions among them, yet there will be a way of healing continually ready for them, and agreed upon by them as such.

Now, having briefly considered the true nature of unity and the character of schism, we must say that schism within the church obscures the gospel in two ways. First, schism obscures the Gospel by twisting the definition of a Christian. It says that if you do not do what I believe is right, then you are not a Christian, or you are not right with the Lord. When we say these things, we are saying that the person has misunderstood the Gospel. This is what Paul was saying about Peter’s actions. His schismatic behavior made it look like that the Gentile churches did not have the true gospel, that they were not worthy of the right hand of fellowship, and that they were some how inferior to the Jew.

Second, schism obscures the Gospel by limiting its witness. Repeatedly, we are told that the unity of the church is a means of promoting the Gospel. John 13, 14, and 17 speak of this.  Speaking of this, Francis Schaeffer wrote,

In John 13 the point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here (in John 17:21) Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.

 Because of our significant and righteous battles over the Gospel, we have often moved so far into the opposite direction that we are undermining the Gospel’s witness. Thomas Manton said, “Divisions in the church always breed atheism in the world.” Thomas Watson said, “There is but one God, and they that serve Him should be one. There is nothing that would render the true religion more lovely, or make more proselytes to it, than to see the professors of it tied together with the heart-strings of love.”


These are muddy waters, but they are necessary to navigate.  The Evangelical church must seek to reform itself from these three ways that it is presently obscuring the Gospel. When the Gospel is so obscure, then we have ceased to be what we were called out to be. We are endanger of being un-churched by the Lord. Again, let us hear the advice of John Owen here:

And when any society or combination of men (whatever hitherto it hath been esteemed) is not capable of such a reduction [to the primitive church] and renovation [to the teaching of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel], I suppose I shall not provoke any wise and sober person if I profess I cannot look on such a society as a church of Christ. . . .