In this chapter
(614)........... God’s wonderful dealings
(614-616)... Even Great Men Err
(616-617)... Care Necessary in the Beginning of the Reformation
(617)........... Old Dogmas Retained
(617-619)... Luther’s Preface to Revelation and James
(619-620)... Third of Fourth Commandment?
(620-621)... Commandment Changed--“Thou shalt keep Holy the Festival”
(621-622)... Who Alone Sanctifies the Day?
(623)........... Theory and Practise Clash
(623-625)... The Threefold Division of the Decalogue
(626-629)... Contradictions of the Reformers
630)........... If the Law is Binding the Seventh Day must Be Kept
(630-631)... Both Sabbath Sunday Destroyed
GOD’S WONDERFUL DEALINGS
The Reformation of the sixteenth century was the greatest even since the days of the apostles.. The way in which God constantly deals with his church calls forth the admiration of the heavenly host. In spite of the growing apostasy, the gospel extended. Though chained to the wall, the Bible freed captives everywhere. At the height of the papal assumption , a multitude of martyrs sealed their witness with their own blood. Amid the darkness of the Middle Ages, the light of truth never went out, and Christ ever abode with his flock.
EVEN GREAT MEN ERR
The prominent Reformers had been devoted sons of Rome. In the narrow cell of the monastery, a monk, struggling to obtain righteousness by works, was blessed by obtaining a revelation of the free pardon of boundless grace. Because he loved his church, he published his ninety-five theses against indulgences, declaring, however, in theses 71: “He who speaks against the truth of apostolical pardon, let him be anathema.” Although he himself had seen the corruptions of Rome, yet his confidence in the Pope finds expression in these words in the fiftieth thesis: “Christians should be taught that, if the Pope were acquainted with the exactions of pardon, he would prefer that the Basilica of St. Peter should be burned to ashes, rather that that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.”
This illustrates the mysterious influence which the Roman Church exercises over its subjects, and which divine power alone can break. Papal bulls of excommunication hurled against its own loyal members, served as the final means to open their eyes to the fulfilment of apocalyptic Babylon in the papal Roman system. Divine providence overruled their timidity; the reform refused within the confines of the Roman Church, had to be wrought without her pale.
The power accompanying the Reformation was divine, but the instruments were human. Luther’s faith a Worms and his obstinacy at Marburg; Zwingli conquering with the Bible and falling with the sword; Calvin converting Geneva but burning Servetus; Luther claiming verbal inspiration, and yet denouncing James as an epistle of straw; a Reformer adding the word “alone” to Rom. 3:28, but dropping the fourth commandment; a reformation declining secular aid in its darkest hour, but forming an alliance with it in secure times; a church protesting against being persecuted, while herself a persecutor; a reformation claiming the Bible as the only rule of faith, but at the same time putting the new wine into old bottles,--all this testifies to the truthfulness of Ps. 62:9, which is rendered thus by Luther:
The God of eternity has time; the long-suffering One, bearing with the apostasy for many centuries, could also forbear for a few centuries before he brought about a full reformation.
“That men recently led out of the thickest darkness into light, should not at once discern and distinguish all objects, as they do who have long been in the light, is not at all strange.” 1
CARE NECESSARY IN THE BEGINNING OF THE REFORMATION
When the final rupture with Rome came, the commanding position of the papacy made it incumbent on the Reformers to move with great caution. Ranke points out their danger:--
“How then would it have been possible to assail it [the Papacy] without a universal shock; to question it without endangering the whole fabric of civilization?” 2
Ranke says of Luther, whom he calls the most conservative Reformer:--
“He deviated from tradition only as far as he felt himself constrained to do so by the words of Christ. To go in search of novelties, or to overthrow anything established that was not utterly irreconcilable with Scripture, were thoughts which his soul knew not. He would have maintained the whole structure of the Latin Church, had it no been disfigured by modern additions, foreign to its origin design, and contrary to the genuine sense of the gospel. “ “He was so profoundly attached to the traditions of the church that it was not without the most violent inward storms that he emancipated himself from accidental and groundless additions.” 3
Neander’s remarks are full of meaning:--
“The spirit of the Reformation. . .did not attain quite at the beginning to clear self-consciousness. So it happened that in an unobserved way many errors passed over from the old canon law into the new church practise.” 4
OLD DOGMAS RETAINED
Dr. Harnack attests”--
“And yet the Reformers allowed the old dogma to remain; nay, they did not even submit it to revision.” “Luther never contended against strong theories and doctrines as such, but only against such wrong theories and doctrines as manifestly did serious injury to the purity of the gospel, and to its comforting pwer.”5
LUTHER’S PREFACE TO REVELATION AND JAMES
Among the contradictions of the Reformers, we cite as one of the most glaring, Luther’s attitude to the Scriptures. He taught:
On the strength of this touchstone, he, in his preface to the New Testament, discriminates freely between chief and less important books, changes their traditional order, and passes unfavourable judgment on James, Hebrews, and the Revelation. As to the last mentioned book, he writes in this preface (A.D. 1522):--
"About this book of the Revelation of John...there is lacking more than one thing in this book, so that I cannot regard it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. Moreover the writer seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly-indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important--and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep…My mind cannot reconcile itself to this book. That Christ is neither taught nor known in it, is reason enough not to think highly of it: " (Luther, Preface to the Revelation of St. John, 1522). 6
In his preface, written in A.D. 1532, Luther modifies his unwarranted conclusion, for this book calls Christ the alpha and the omega of all, and shows how in him the mystery of the gospel will be finished. But how even great men can err, is still clearer seen from his preface to James:--
Therefore the epistle of James is a real straw epistle in comparison to these (ie the epistles of John and Paul) for there is no evangelical ring in it.”
But his James drives only to the law and its works, and so unnecessarily throws one into the other that I think it must have been some good, pious man who took some passages from the disciples or the apostles, and thus threw them together on paper,” “He calls the law a law of liberty, although Paul calls it a law of bondage, wrath, death and sin.”
To sum up: He desired to check those who rested in faith without works, but was too weak in spirit, understanding and words to handle this matter, and so distorts the Scriptures; and, resisting Paul and all the other scriptures, he tries by driving with the law to thereby accomplish what the apostles accomplished by provoking to love. Therefore I will not have it in my Bible, and will not number it among the authentic chief books….” 7
Even Lutheran theologians have long since seen that Luther, from his “one-sided standpoint, did not know how to appreciate the aim and peculiarity of this epistle,” and they have shown how it agrees with the doctrine of justification found in Paul’s writings. 8 Paul speaks of justification, but James, presupposing this, shows how those who have been justified by faith give evidences of it by their observance of the divine law. Consequently, James was not “too weak in spirit, understanding, and words,” but Luther himself was.
A noted historian thus rightly judges this great man;--
“A principle of faith apprehended with passionate one-sidedness led him to contention and rebellion. But when he had drawn form it its conclusions and removed the opposite dogmas and institutions of the church, the power of tradition claimed again her right over the soul of the theologian. Anything that did not openly contradict the plain Word of God, ie his doctrine of justification, might remain.” 9
Luther’s biographer, Dr. Sears, remarks:--
“Luther was so zealous to maintain the doctrine of justification by faith that he was prepared even to claim question the authority of some portions of Scripture which seemed to him no to be reconcilable with it. To the epistle of James, especially, his expressions indicated the strongest repugnance. 10
THIRD OR FOURTH COMMANDMENT?
How much Luther was attached to tradition is seen from his enumeration of the ten commandments. Although the primitive church reckons as fourth the Sabbath commandment, Luther adheres to Augustine reckoning and calls it the third commandment.
Pastor J. Geffken comments on the Lutheran enumeration as follows:--
The Reformed Church, acting with greater freedom in this respect, has reverted to the original division, which is also found in the Oriental church, and in the catechism of the Waldenses.
COMMANDMENT CHANGED TO: “THOU SHALT KEEP HOLY THE FESTIVAL”
But the strangeness of Luther’s position becomes still more apparent if we consider the Sabbath command itself. Not only did he abbreviate this commandment, but he actually changed it, using the word “Feiertag” instead of “Sabbat”.
“This is the only command where Luther has directly changed the divine word of the Bible, for in the first he simply omitted something. 12
Following in the footsteps of the Roman Church, Luther make the commandment read, “Thou shalt keep holy the Festival”. Pastor Rische makes the following just criticism:--
“The command concerning ‘ceremonies’ he has stricken out; he has also more than once associated image worship and Sabbath together in one group, and now he strikes out the first, and changes the other: this proves that this command in this form is binding on Christians.” “Why does he not omit it as the other? Why does he not change it into ‘Thou shalt keep holy all days’? No, ‘Thou shalt keep holy the festival! And that is taught in church and school, year in and year out, and all who learn it are to notice by this that God has neither commanded to keep a definite holy day, nor that this alone is to be sanctified. It remains a fact that the Reformers were not in a position to formulate a Sunday conception which would answer alike the substance of the gospel and of the world. 13
That John Knox also believed that the Sabbath command was striken out is seen from the original confession of faith which he drew up for the Presbyterian Church of Scotland I A.D. 1560.
in that document he states the duties of the first table of the law as follows:
“To have one God, to worship and honor him; to call upon him in all our troubles; to reverence his holy name; to hear his word; to believe the same; to communicate with his holy sacraments, are the works of the first table.” 14
The reformed section on the Continent followed the same course in the Heidelberg catechism, drawn up by Urinus (A.D. 1563). The question, “what does God enjoin in this fourth command?” The answer:
“God desires, first, that the ministry of preaching and of schools be preserved, and that I especially come diligently to the church of God on the holy day, to study the Word of God, to partake of the holy sacrament, to call upon the Lord publicly, and to give Christian alms. Furthermore, that I rest all days of my life from my evil works, let the Lord work in me by his Spirit, and thus commence the eternal Sabbath in this life.” 15
WHO ALONE SANCTIFIES THE DAY?
One more point is worthy of special notice. The Word of God lays great stress on the fact that God, by resting on the seventh day, set apart, or sanctified, this day as a rest day for man. Israel of old understood that bodily rest from their own manual labours was a chief requirement, that they might thus gain time for the spiritual rest of God. The Gnostics and the church Fathers turned the tables by laying great stress on the spiritual, to the neglect of the bodily, rest. The Roman catechism, losing sight of the fact that God, and not man, makes the seventh day holy, declares that the day “is holy because on it, in a special manner, men should practise holiness and religion.” The Reformers followed their example. As Luther simply taught “Thou shalt keep holy the festival,” the very idea of bodily rest because God made a definite day of the week holy by his own rest, was entirely lost sight of.
On the other hand, the idea, already prevalent because of the many man-made holidays, that man’ s worship could make the day holy, only received further confirmation. Starting from this wrong premise, the Reformers openly declared that any day of the week, yea, that any time of the day, devoted to worship answered the requirement, “Thou shalt keep holy the festival.” That Sunday was observed in harmony with this loose idea, Dr. Hessey illustrates from Queen Elizabeth’s injunctions (A.D. 1558-1603). In one of these, Sunday is classed with other holy days, and it is expressly stated that “if for any scrupulosity or grudge of conscience some should superstitiously abstain from working on these days, they shall grievously offend.” Dr Hessey adds” “In fact, labour was almost enjoined after common prayer.” 16
THEORY AND PRACTISE CLASH
That theory and practise soon began to clash, “Hauck-Herzog’s Realencyclopaedia” admits:--
THE THREEFOLD DIVISION OF THE DECALOGUE
In view of the fact that the fourth commandment is a part of the Decalogue, the attitude of the Reformers to the ten commandments as a whole is of vital importance. Melanchthon makes the following distinction:--
Concerning Christina Liberty --The ceremonies and the civil ordinances were transient institutions, appointed for a definte time. But this law, which is called the ten commandments or the moral law, is the eternal, unchangeable wisdom and righteousness of God;. . .therefore, it can not be blotted out.”18
This “old and common division,” supported by the Word of God, is found in the leading Protestant and catholic confession. 19 Luther confirms this by referring Matt. 5:17-19 only to the Decalogue:--
Although the Reformers thus acknowledge the ten commandments to be the moral and eternal law of God, and adduce it as such in their catechisms, they declare it to be only profitable as a teacher, and not binding as a law. Luther expresses this very emphatically:--
“The words of Scripture prove clearly to us that the ten commandments do not affect us; for God has not brought us out of Egypt; it was only the Jews. We are willing to take Moses as a teacher, but not as our lawgiver, except when he agrees with the laws of nature.”
“We do not read Moses because he concerns us, -- because we have to obey him, -- but because he agrees with the laws of nature, and has expressed this law better than the heathen ever could. In this way, then, the ten commandments are a mirror of our life, in which we may see our defects”. 21
Calvin expresses the same thought in more cautious language:--
“The law in regard to the faithful has the force of an exhortation, not to bind their conscience with a curse, but by its frequent admonitions to arouse their indolence and improve their imperfections”
“With respect to doctrine, we must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law; for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must therefore be as unchangeable as the justice of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform. With respect of ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully established.”
“Let us therefore learn to maintain inviolable this sacred tie between the law and the gospel which many improperly attempt to break. For it constitutes not a little to confirm the authorities of the gospel, when we learn that it is nothing else than a ‘fulfilment of the law;’ so that both, with one consent, declare God to be their author." 22
While they condemned the “new law” of scholasticism, they virtually (by repudiating the Decalogue as a law and only accepting it as a profitable teacher) arrived at the same results, and differed less from the Roman Catholics than from the Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The harsh statements of Luther against the Decalogue are quite largely due to the pressure of the existing circumstances. As Antinominanism arose, rejecting the use of th Decalogue entirely, the Reformers were forced to take a more guarded attitude. When a Mr. Jobst (A.D. 1541 showed Luther some propositions to the effect that, since the law does not justify man, it ought not to be preached, the latter exclaimed:--
“What! Shall our own people, while we ourselves are yet alive, propound such things as these? “He who destroys the doctrine of the law, destroys at the same time political and social order. If you eject the law from the church, there will no longer be any sin recognized as such in the world; for the gospel only defines and punishes sin by reference to the law. If heretofore I in my discourses spoke and wrote so harshly against the law, it was because the Christian church was overwhelmed with superstitions under which Christ was altogether hidden and buried; and I am anxious to rescue pious and God-fearing souls from the tyranny of the conscience; but as the law itself, I never rejected it.” 23
In a letter against the Antinomians he wrote:--
“I wonder exceedingly how it came to be imputed to me that I should reject the law of tem commandments. . .Can it be imaginable hta there should be any sin wehre there is no law? Whoever abrogates the law, must o necessity abrogate sin also.” 24
CONTRADICTIONS OF THE REFORMERS
Some of the contradictory positions of the Reformers in their attitude toward the Decalogue and the Sabbath, will best reveal that they had not fully grasped the true relation between the law and the gospel, and the Decalogue and the Sabbath:--
1. They made the clearest distinction between the moral and the ceremonial law, the eternal and the transient, and then by asserting that a part of the moral law was also ceremonial, they themselves tore down this very distinction they had made. This appears most plainly in Luther’s writings “Against the Celestial Prophets“,: in which he contends with Carlstadt and others who took the position that the ten commandments were still wholly in force as a law, containing nothing ceremonial. Luther, closely pressed, thus tears down the distinction:
“I know quite well that there is made a common ancient distinction; but this is because a proper understanding is lacking; for all other precepts in the whole of Moses ensue from and hang on the ten commandment. . .therefore it is untrue that there be no ceremonies or civil laws in the ten commandment. They are all contained therein, hang on them, and belong to them. And, in order to show this, God himself has placed in them two ceremonies, in the plainest terms, namely the images and the Sabbath.” 25
2. They affirmed that the Sabbath, as far as concerns the time and manner of its observance, was given only to the Jews; but at the same time they admitted that this time and observance had existed in paradise, before the fall of man.
Melanchthon attests this:--
Likewise Luther’s comments on Gen. 2:3
Finally Calvin wrote about the Sabbath, commenting on the same text:--
Was Adam a Jew? Or was he the head of the whole family? Were there transient outward ceremonies ordained in paradise, from which Christ had to free us? Were there shadows pointing to redemption before the fall of man? The natural conclusions, --
3. The Sabbath rests not on a ceremonial law, but on a natural law. In this, Luther contradicts himself. Against Carlstadt he asserted that the Decalogue binds only as far as it rests on a natural law, but he immediately afterward contradicts himself, as pastor Rische thus points out:
4. But if the Sabbath commandment is based on natural law, yea, if Sabbath observance originated in paradise before the fall, it certainly enjoys equal rights with all the other precepts; and instead of its being a ceremony or a shadow, it remains forever like the others. To this Luther himself testifies in his comment on Matt. 5:17-19, stating that this passage does not refer to circumcision, to the law of Moses, or to the sanctuary, but to the ten precepts. But then not a jot or tittle of the Decalogue is to pass away, much less would it be possible for a whole precept to be set aside; and Luther contradicts his own exposition when he tries to prove from Colossians 2, Galatians 4, and even from Isaiah 66, that the Sabbath, being a shadow, had ceased.
If it was true that Paul was removing the Sabbath command, then he would have done exactly that which Christ had warned against in Matt. 5:17-19. That Augustine and the church Fathers led Luther astray in this matter, is seen in the free use he makes of them in explaining Galatians 4.
5. Last, but by no means least, the Reformers, while laying stress on justification by faith alone,” did not perceive that the power of God offered in the gospel, and the Holy Sprit in the heart, enable the believer to attain to full sanctification in this life, by keeping god’s commandments through faith.
The following from Heidelberg Catechism, is ample proof:--
IF THE LAW IS BINDING THE SEVENTH DAY MUST BE KEPT
Though the Reformers did not recognize the obligation of the Decalogue and the permanency of the Sabbath commandment, still they saw that if these were yet binding, the seventh day, or Saturday, would still have to be observed. Luther confirms this in the following words:--
So Luther recognizes the Seventh-day Sabbath but appeals to tradition as the certain sign that God’s Sabbath command does not concern us in the least?
Still more positive is the language of John Frith, an English Reformer burned at Smithfield, July 4, 1533:--
BOTH SABBATH AND SUNDAY DESTROYED
The result of our investigation is as follows: The Reformers rejected the “new law” of the schoolmen, and the false application of the Sabbath commandment to Sunday. But, biased by Roman legalism, they failed as much in perceiving the right relation of the Decalogue and Sabbath to the gospel, as they did in appreciating the relationship of the epistle of James to the epistle of Romans.
However, they did admit that if the Sabbath precept were still binding , they would be in duty bound to keep Saturday. Sunday was retained by them as a merely human ordinance. Divesting the fourth commandment of its binding claims upon Christians , and stripping Sunday of its false claims to the Sabbath commandment, they left no real or imaginary foundation for either, as Mosheim fittingly acknowledges:--
“They [the Reformers] destroyed also the Sunday of the Christians with the Sabbath of the Jews, and left it no more than the name of an ancient and useful human ordinance, which might be retained for the good of ignorant people, as an example of Christian liberty,.” 33
1. Mosheim Eccl. Hist., cent. 16, sec. 3, pt. 2 chap. I par. 45, p. 350 Return>
2. “History o the Reformation,” London, 1845, vol, 2. 3. P. 4 Return>
3. Id. Vol. 3, b5, pp. 94,95 Return>
4. Harnack’s “History of Dogma,” 7, 27 Return>
5. Id., 7, 25, 175 Return>
6. Erlang, Augs., 63, pp. 169,170 Return>
7. Id., 156-158 Return>
8. Daechsel’s Bibelwerk, 7, 966 Return>
9. Cornelius, Gesh. Des muenst. Aufruhrs, 2, 6. Return>
10. “Life of Luther,” larger edition, pp. 400, 401 Return>
11. Ueber die verschiedene Eintelilung des Dekalogs, Hamburg, 1838, p. 22 Return>
12. Hilfsbuechlein, Berlin, 1838, p. 30 Return>
13. Sonntagsruhe, p. 80 Return>
14. Quoted in Hessey’s Bampton Lectures, p. 200 Return>
15. Neimeyer’s Confessiones, pp. 417, 418 Return>
16. Bampton Lectures, p. 200 Return>
17. Realencyclopaedie, Vol, 18, p. 524, article, “Sonntagsfeire” Return>
18. Loci theological Return>
19. Helvetian Conf. Art. 12; Westminster Conf. Chap. 19,sec. 2, 3; Catholic Theologia Dogmatico-Moralis, Natali Alexandro, 1771, 8, 101 Return>
20. Wider die Sabbather, Wittenberg, 1538, 4 Return>
21. Latin Works, 3, 68, Jena, 1603 Return>
22. Calvin, Commentary of Matt. 5:17 and Luke 15: 17 Return>
23. Cox I, 388Return>
24. Erlang Augs. 32,p, 4, “Wider dieAntinomer,” 1539. Return>
25. Erlang, Augs., 29. 151, “Wider die himmlishen Propheten,” 1525 Return>
26. Loci Thologici; vom dritten Gebot Return>
27. Erlang. Augs., 33, 67 Return>
28 Cox. I, 403 Return>
29. Sonntagsruhe, p. 73 Return>
30. Niemeyer’s Confessiones, pp. 420, 421 Return>
31. Erlang, Augs 36, p. 92 Return>
32. Frith’s works, p. 69 quoted by Hessey, p. 198 Return>
33. Sittenlhre, b. 5 p. 442 Return>
34. Geshichte des Sonntages, p. 48 Return>
35. German Reformation, 1 pp. 7,8 Return>