The following essay is an excerpt from The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation by WIlliam Cunningham available as free eBook.
by William Cunningham
It is admitted by all Christians that the church is, in some sense, the organ and the representative of Christ upon earth. This principle, true in itself, is very liable to be abused and perverted. It is perverted grossly in the hands of Romanists, when it is represented as implying that the church, as a visible society, has virtually the same power and authority, the same rights and prerogatives, as its Master in heaven. The general principle about the church, understood in this sense, and combined with the assumption that the church of Christ upon earth is the church which acknowledges the authority of the Bishop of Rome as Christ’s vicar, is the foundation of the papal claims to supremacy and infallibility. The same principle is also employed largely to defend or palliate some of the more offensive consequences of these claims, and some of the more offensive modes of enforcing them. On the ground of this identification of Christ and the church, the opponents of the church come to be regarded as the enemies of Christ, and His vicar is held to be entitled to deal with them, so far as he can, just as Christ may deal with those who continue finally obstinate and impenitent enemies to His cause. In this way Papists come to subordinate everything, in the mode in which they regard and deal with their fellow-men, to the fancied honour and interests of the church, and to look upon the opponents of the church not as their fellow-men, whom they are bound to love, but simply as the enemies of Christ, whom they are entitled to injure. It is deeply ingrained on the minds of Romanists, that those who are beyond the pale of the true church forfeit the ordinary rights of men and members of society; and that, especially when they take an active and prominent part in opposing and injuring the church, they ought to be treated as outlaws or as wild beasts.
It is this identification of the church and its visible head, the Pope, with Christ himself, that produces and accounts for that extraordinary subordination of everything to the interests of the church which is so remarkable a feature of Popery; and that explains the persecutions which Romanists have at all times been quite willing to perpetrate. All this may be regarded as exhibiting the natural and appropriate result of Popish principles, and as, in some sense, rather helping, when viewed in connection with certain tendencies of human nature, to palliate the cruelties which have disgraced the history of the Church of Rome. But there is an abuse of the principle which has been often acted upon by Papists, though not often openly avowed, and which is altogether destitute of any appearance-of excuse; it is that of acting as if it were held that men who oppose and resist the Church of Rome not only forfeit thereby the ordinary rights and privileges of men, of neighbours, and of relatives, but lose all right even to claim that the ordinary rules of integrity and veracity should be observed in regard to them. It has been no uncommon thing for Papists to act as if not only the social and domestic affections, and the duties connected with them, but even the laws of immutable morality, were to be subordinated to the interests of. the church. This is the principle involved in the decision of the Council of Constance, and often acted upon in the Church of Rome, about keeping faith with heretics. That decision was intended to sanction the doctrine that heretics,.the open enemies of the church, have no right to demand the fulfilment of engagements and promises, and that no pledges given to such persons should ever be allowed to stand in the way of any scheme for promoting the church’s objects. These notions exert a constant and abiding influence upon the minds of most Romanists, even of many who would shrink from embodying them in formal propositions. The consummation of what is most discreditable in this matter is to be found in the fact, that some Jesuit writers have openly proclaimed the lawfulness of putting forth deliberate and intentional slanders for the purpose of injuring their enemies, - a fact established by Pascal in the fifteenth of his “Provincial Letters,” and one that ought to be remembered and applied in judging of the reliance to be placed upon the statements of Romish controversialists.
With such views and impressions prevailing among Romanists, it was not to be expected that the Reformers, who did so much damage to the Church of Rome, would be treated with justice or decency. Accordingly, we find that a most extraordinary series of slanders against the character of the leading Reformers, utterly unsupported by evidence, and wholly destitute of truth and plausibility, were invented and propagated by Romish writers. Luther and the other Reformers were charged, in Popish publications, with heinous crimes, of which no evidence was or could be produced; and these accusations, though their falsehood was often exposed, continued long to be repeated in most Popish books. With respect to the more offensive accusations that used to be adduced against the Reformers, a considerable check was given to the general circulation of them, by the thorough exposures of their unquestionable falsehood which were put forth by Bayle in his Dictionary, a work which was extensively read in the literary world. Papists became ashamed to advance, in works intended for general circulation, allegations which Bayle’s Dictionary had prepared the reading public to regard, without hesitation, as deliberate falsehoods, though they continued to repeat them in works intended for circulation among their own people. Scarcely any Romish writers who pretended to anything like respectability, have, for a century and a half, ventured to commit themselves to an explicit assertion of the grosser calumnies which used to be adduced against the Reformers. Some of them, however, have shown a considerable unwillingness to abandon these charges entirely, and like still to mention them as accusations which were at one time adduced, and which men may still believe if they choose.
But while Romanists have now ceased wholly or in a great measure to urge the grosser charges which they used to bring against the Reformers, their general principles and spirit continue unchanged; the outward improvement in their conduct being owning solely to fear or policy, and not to any real advancement in integrity and candour. It is emphatically true of almost all the defenders and champions of Popery, that they fear nothing but a witness and a judge, and do not scruple to misrepresent and slander their enemies, so far as they think they can do this with impunity to themselves and benefit to their cause. They confine themselves now, in a great measure, to charges of a less heinous nature than those which before Bayle’s time they were in the habit of adducing, and to charges which have some appearance at least of evidence to rest upon. But these lighter and more plausible accusations are in general almost as unfounded as the others. Protestants, of course, do not regard the Reformers as either infallible or impeccable. They believe that most of them held views, upon some points, more or less erroneous, and that all of them gave abundant evidence that they were stained with the common infirmities of humanity. But they regard them as men who were specially qualified and raised up by God for the advancement of His own cause, for bringing out the buried truth and reforming the corrupted church, who were guided by God’s word and Spirit to views, in the main accurate, of the leading principles of Christian doctrine, and who, in the habitual tenor of their lives, furnished satisfactory evidence of acting under the influence of real religion and genuine piety. Believing this concerning the Reformers, Protestants feel it to be both their duty and their privilege to defend them from the assaults of adversaries, and especially to refute anything that may seem to militate against the truth of the statement now given, of what they believe as to the general character and position of these illustrious men.
The great general position which Romanists are anxious to establish by all they can collect against the Reformers, from their writings or their lives, from their sayings or their doings, is this, that it is very unlikely that God would employ such men in the accomplishment of any special work for the advancement of His gracious purposes. In dealing with this favourite allegation of Romanists, Protestants assert and undertake to prove the following positions: - 1st That the allegation is irrelevant to the real merits of the controversy between us and the Church of Rome, which can be determined only by the standard of the written word; 2d, that the allegation is untrue, - in other words, that there is nothing about the character of the Reformers as a whole which renders it in the least unlikely that God employed them in His own special gracious work; and 3d, that the general principle on which the allegation is based can be applied in the way of retort, with far greater effect, to the Church of Rome. Protestants, by establishing these three positions, effectually dispose of the Romish allegation. It is with the second of them only that we have at present to do, and even on it we do not mean to enlarge.
Romanists have taken great pains to collect every expression from the writings of the Reformers, and to bring forward every incident in their lives, that may be fitted - especially when they are all presented nakedly and in combination - to produce an unfavourable impression as to their motives and actions. In the prosecution of this work, they are usually quite unscrupulous about the completeness of their quotations and the accuracy of their facts, and in this way they sometimes manage to make out, upon some particular points, what may appear to ignorant or prejudiced readers to be a good case. In dealing with the materials which Papists have collected for depreciating the character of the Reformers, and thus establishing the improbability of God having employed them as His instruments in restoring divine truth, and in reforming the church, there are three steps in the process that ought to be attended to and discriminated, in order to our arriving at a just and fair conclusion: -
1st, We must carefully ascertain the true facts of the case as to any statement or action that may have been ascribed to them or to any one of them; and we will find, in not a few instances, that the allegations found in ordinary Popish works on the subject are inaccurate, defective, or exaggerated, - that the quotation is garbled and mutilated, or may be explained and modified by the context, - or that the action is erroneously or unfairly represented in some of its features or accompanying circumstances.
2d, When the real facts of the case are once ascertained, the next step should be to form a fair and reasonable estimate of what they really involve or imply, taking into account, as justice demands, the natural character and tendencies of the men individually, the circumstances in which they were placed, the influences to which they were subjected, the temptations to which they were exposed, and the general impressions and ordinary standard on such subjects in the age and country in which they lived.
3d, There is a third step necessary in order to form a right estimate of the common Popish charges against the Reformers, and of the soundness of the conclusion which they wish to deduce from them, viz. that we should not confine our attention to their blemishes and infirmities, real or alleged, greater or smaller, but take a general view of their whole character and proceedings, embracing, as far as we have materials, all that they felt, and said, and did, and endeavour in this way to form a fair estimate of what were their predominating desires, motives, and objects, of what it was that they had really at heart, and of what was the standard by a regard to which they strove to regulate their conduct.
A careful application of these obviously just and fair principles will easily dispose of the materials which Papists have so assiduously collected for the purpose of injuring the character of the Reformers, and convince every intelligent and honest inquirer, that there is not one of the leading men among them who has not, with all his errors and infirmities, left' behind him sufficient and satisfactory evidence, so far as men can judge of their fellow-men, that he had been born again of the word of God through the belief of the truth, that he had honestly devoted himself to God’s service, and that in what he did for the cause of the Reformation he was mainly influenced by a desire to promote the glory of God, to advance the prosperity of Christ’s kingdom, and to secure the spiritual welfare of men.
But Romanists are not the only persons who have misrepresented and calumniated the Reformers. Many have sympathized with and abetted the efforts of Romanists to damage the character of the Reformers, who had not the palliation, such as it is, which they can plead of avenging the damage done to their church, and who seem to care nothing about Popery and Protestantism as such. What Dr. M‘Crie said of John Knox holds equally true of the other Reformers, and has been perhaps more fully realized in the case of those of them who exerted a still wider and more commanding influence: -
“The increase of infidelity and indifference to religion in modern times, especially among the learned, has contributed in no small degree to swell the tide of prejudice against our Reformer. Whatever satisfaction persons of this description may express or feel at the reformation from Popery, as the means of emancipating the world from superstition and priestcraft, they naturally despise and dislike men who were inspired with the love of religion, and in whose plans of reform the acquisition of civil liberty, and the advancement of literature, held a subordinate place to the revival of primitive Christianity.”
There has scarcely ever been an infidel or semi-infidel declaimer against bigotry and intolerance, however insignificant, who has not attempted something smart about Calvin burning Servetus.” Both Lord Brougham and Mr. Macaulay have sunk to the level of rounding off a sentence in this way. And Luther, from his peculiar position and history, and from his special weaknesses and infirmities, has furnished very copious materials to so-called Protestant, as well as to Popish, calumniators. A combination of circumstances has had the effect of late years of bringing out, in this country, from different classes of writers, a good deal of matter fitted and intended to damage the character of the Reformers. Those who laboured long to un-Protestantize the English Church before they left it to join the Church of Rome, were of course anxious to depreciate the Reformers; and Newman and Ward, who are now both Romanists, did what they could in this way. Moehler, a Romish divine of learning and ability, whose Symbolism has been much commended and read, has laboured skillfully to excite strong prejudices against the theological views of the Reformers, and has succeeded all the better because of the appearance of candour and moderation which he presents, as compared with the generality of Popish controversialists. Mr. Hallam, in his “History of the Literature of Europe during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” was naturally led to speak of the writings of the Reformers; but having only a very partial acquaintance with their works, and not being able, as he candidly enough admits, to understand much of their theology, he very seriously misrepresents them, and especially Luther. Hallam’s great learning, accuracy, and impartiality upon general and ordinary topics, are universally admitted; but he was very imperfectly acquainted with the writings of the Reformers; and experience seems to afford abundant evidence that men may be candid and impartial on most questions of a historical, political, and literary kind, and yet be strongly prejudiced on religious subjects. This we believe to be the case with Mr. Hallam, while, as might be expected, his depreciatory criticisms upon the Reformers and the Reformation are now triumphantly quoted by Popish controversialists as the concessions of “an eminent Protestant authority.” And, lastly, Sir William Hamilton, whose reputation stands so deservedly high as a philosopher and a man of erudition, has thought proper to go out of his way in order to indulge in some attacks upon the character of the Reformers, first in an article in the Edinburgh Review for 1834, on the Admission of Dissenters to English Universities; and again, in 1843, in a pamphlet on the controversy about the appointment of pastors, which produced in that year the Disruption of the Church of Scotland.
In consequence of these things, the late lamented Archdeacon Hare undertook the defence of Luther in a very elaborate and admirable dissertation, bearing the form of a note to his work on the “Mission of the Comforter,” published in 1846. In this note, marked by the letter W, which extended to above 300 pages, Mr. Hare, with great ability, with admirable scholarship, and a thorough knowledge of the subject, defended Luther from the misrepresentations of Hallam, Newman, Ward, Moeller, and Sir William Hamilton. Soon after, Sir William published his still incomplete edition of the works of Reid, with notes and supplementary dissertations, and subjoined to it an advertisement, dated November 1846, in which he promised to publish soon, and previously to any other work, a production entitled, Contributions towards a True History of Luther and the Lutherans. Part I., containing notice of the Venerable Archdeacon Hare and his Polemic” These “Contributions” have not yet appeared; but in 1852, Sir William gave to the world “Discussions on Philosophy and Literature, Education and University Reform,” in which in republishing the article from the Edinburgh Review containing his original attack upon Luther, he added to it some notes, taking “notice of Archdeacon Hare and his Polemic.” Mr. Hare had been requested by many, who were satisfied and delighted with his defence of the Reformers, to publish his note as a separate work; and accordingly, after the publication, in 1852, of his “Contest with Rome,” which we regard as upon the whole the ablest, and in some respects the most valuable of his works, his time, we believe, was chiefly occupied, amid the interruptions of declining health, in preparing materials for subjoining to his defence of Luther abundant proofs and illustrations, with an exposure of Sir William’s recent notes.
It is a great loss to theological literature that Mr. Hare’s health and life were not spared to enable him to complete this work. The “Vindication of Luther,” published nearly a year ago, soon after his death, and now lying before us, is merely a revised republication of the note W in the “Mission of the Comforter,” though forming by itself a goodly octavo. All that was available of what he had been preparing for the new edition is the mere references to above eighty notes, which we have no doubt would have contained a treasure of interesting and valuable materials. Sir William’s notes to his Discussions do not contain, or profess to contain, the evidence of his most offensive charges against Luther - charges made nine years before - evidence which he has been repeatedly challenged to produce. With the exception, indeed, of a grand theological display, abounding in blunders, on the doctrine of Assurance, Sir William’s new matter consists chiefly of an attack upon Mr. Hare. Mr. Hare might very easily have repelled and retorted Sir William’s charges against him, without producing any great amount of valuable matter; but, from the number and character of the references which have been preserved and published, there is every likelihood that the notes would have been an enduring monument of his talents and scholarship, and of his many noble and beautiful qualities of character. We, therefore, deeply lament that he w’as not spared to complete this work, while we estimate very highly what he has done, and regard his “Vindication of Luther” as a very valuable contribution to theological literature, and an important service rendered to the cause of that Protestant evangelical truth which Luther was honoured to be the great instrument of reviving.
We believe that on some important points Mr. Hare’s doctrinal views were defective and erroneous; but he had certainly imbibed very thoroughly both the general spirit and the specific theology of Luther. He was firmly established, both theoretically and practically, in Luther’s great article of a standing or a falling church, - the doctrine of justification by faith alone. His cordial appreciation of this great doctrine, and his hearty love and esteem for Luther, whose qualities as a man were in many respects so very different from his own, are among the things which satisfy those who know him only from his writings, that he lived by faith on the Son of God, that he had a claim to the love of all Christ’s people for the truth’s sake that was in him; while he combined, in no ordinary degree, almost all those claims to respect and affection which are inferior only to this one. We are convinced that Mr. Hare’s reputation, like Dr. Arnold’s, will grow and extend after his death; and that even those who differed most widely from some of his doctrinal views, will be more and more persuaded that his early death was, humanly speaking, a serious loss to the cause of Christ.
Mr. Hare’s thorough knowledge of Luther, and cordial affection for him, admirably fitted him for defending the Reformer from the numerous attacks which have recently been made upon him from a variety of quarters. We do not say that all that he has written in vindication of Luther is characterized by strict impartiality and by rigid accuracy. Love may operate in perverting men’s judgments as well as hatred. But still love is the right state of mind to cherish in forming a judgment of our fellow-men, and its presence will pervert the judgment much less widely, and much less injuriously, than the opposite feeling. In regard to many subjects, indeed, it may be said that the prevalence of love in the heart is necessary to forming a sound and accurate judgment; and the character of the Reformers is one of the subjects to which this observation applies. Mr. Hare’s love to Luther has on one or two occasions led him to judge more favourably, or rather less unfavourably, of Luther’s conduct than perhaps a review of the whole circumstances would warrant, and to soften or slur over some of his rash and offensive expressions. But while this may be conceded, it is not the less true that his representation of the character and opinions of Luther is immeasurably more just and accurate than that given by his opponents; and that in his “polemic” with them, he has established a most decided superiority.
There is a great deal about Luther’s character and history to call forth admiration and love; while there is also a good deal about him to afford an excuse to those who, from whatever cause, wether as Papists or on some other ground, are disposed to regard him with opposite feelings. With many high and noble endowments, both from nature and grace, both of head and heart, which in many respects fitted him admirably for the great work to which he was called, and the important services which he rendered to the church and the world, there were some shortcomings and drawbacks both about his understanding and his temperament; the results and manifestations of which have afforded many plausible handles to his enemies, and have occasioned corresponding annoyance and difficulty to his friends.
Luther occupied a position, and exerted an influence in the history of the church, and altogether manifested a character, well fitted to secure for him the admiration of all who are interested in the advancement of Christian truth, or qualified to appreciate what is noble, magnanimous, fearless, and disinterested. We have abundant evidence of his continuing to retain the common infirmities of human nature, aggravated in some respects by the system in which he had been originally educated, by the condition of society in the age and country in which he lived, and the influences to which, after he commenced the work of reformation, he was subjected; but we have also the most satisfactory evidence of his deep piety, of his thorough devotedness to God’s service, of his habitual walking with God, and living by faith in the promises of His word. No one who surveys Luther’s history and writings, and who is capable of forming an estimate of what piety is, can entertain any doubt upon this point.
The leading service which Luther was qualified and enabled to render to the church, in a theological point of view, was the unfolding and establishing the great doctrine of justification, which for many ages had been grossly corrupted and perverted; and bringing the truth upon this subject to bear upon the exposure of many of the abuses, both in theory and practice, that prevailed in the Church of Home. His engrossment, to a large extent, with this great doctrine, combined with the peculiar character of his mind, led him to view almost every topic chiefly, if not exclusively, in its relation to forgiveness and peace of conscience, to grace and merit; and thus fostered a certain tendency to exaggeration and extravagance in his doctrinal statements. Besides this defect in Luther’s theology, giving it something of one-sidedness, he had some features of character which detract from the weight of his statements, and from the deference to which otherwise he might have appeared entitled, and which we feel disposed to accord to such a man as Calvin. He was naturally somewhat prone to indulge in exaggerated and paradoxical statements, to press points too far, and to express them in unnecessarily strong and repulsive terms. And this tendency he sometimes manifests not only in speaking of men and actions, but even in theological discussions. He was not characterized by that exact balance of all the mental powers, by that just and accurate perception of the whole relations and true importance of things, and by that power of carefully and precisely embodying in words just what he himself had deliberately concluded, and nothing more, which, in some men, have so strong a tendency to persuade us to give ourselves up to their guidance, under a sort of intuitive conviction that they will not lead us often or far astray from the paths of truth. In Luther’s works, with a great deal to admire, to interest and impress, we often stumble upon statements which remind us that we must be on our guard, that we must exercise our own judgment, and not follow him blindly wherever he may choose to lead us. The leading defects of his character may be said to be: - 1st, The impetuosity of his temperament, leading often to the use of exaggerated and intemperate language, both in conversation and in writing; though, as has been frequently and truly remarked, very seldom leading him into injudicious or imprudent actions, amid all the difficulties in which he was involved: and 2d, a certain species of presumption or self-confidence, which, putting on the garb of better and higher principles, sometimes made him adhere with great obstinacy to erroneous opinions, shutting his understanding against everything that could be brought forward in opposition to them; and made him indulge sometimes in rather ridiculous boasting. The result of all these qualities was, that he has left many statements of an intemperate and exaggerated description, which have afforded a great handle to his enemies, and which, when collected and set off by being presented in isolation from accompanying statements and circumstances, and in combination with each other, are apt to produce a somewhat uncomfortable impression.
And then consider how this extraordinary man, of so peculiar a mental character and general temperament, was tried and tested. He occupied a very singular position, and was subjected to very peculiar influences. He was tried in a very unusual measure, with almost everything fitted to disturb and pervert, to elevate and to depress, with fears and hopes, with dangers and successes. Let it be further remembered, that of this man, who was so constituted and so circumstanced, there have been preserved and published no fewer than about 2300 letters, many of them private and confidential effusions to his friends; and that a great deal of his ordinary conversation or table talk has been recorded and transmitted to us, without our having any good evidence of its being accurately reported.
It is surely not to be wondered at that it should be easy to produce many rash, extravagant, inconsistent, and indefensible sayings of Luther. And if, notwithstanding the tests to which he has been subjected, he still stands out as unquestionably a man of high religious principle, of thorough and disinterested devotedness to God’s service, and of many noble and elevated qualities, - all which most even of his depredators, except the Popish section of them, will probably concede, - how thoroughly base and despicable is it in any man to be grasping at opportunities of trying to damage his character and influence, by collecting and stringing together (perhaps exaggerating and distorting) his rash and inconsistent, or it may be extravagant and offensive, sentiments and expressions. Papists, of course, are labouring in their proper vocation in trying, per fas aut nefas, to damage Luther’s character. Popish controversialists are ever ready to sacrifice conscience, and every manly and honourable feeling, to the interests of the church; and Tractarians, following in their footsteps, have imbibed a large portion of their spirit.
Of Mr. Hare’s “Vindication of Luther,” about ninety pages are devoted to an exposure of the Tractarian attacks upon him by Newman and Ward, who have since joined the Church of Home; about forty to an exposure of a Popish attack upon him by Moehler; and the remaining 170 pages are occupied with an answer to the assaults of “the great Protestant authorities,” Mr. Hallam and Sir William Hamilton.
Newman had attacked Luther only incidentally, and somewhat cautiously, in his book on “Justification and though he is convicted of several misrepresentations of Luther’s opinions, he is upon the whole let easily off. Newsman had spoken slightingly of Luther, as not being, like Augustine, a father of the church, but merely the founder of a school. This has given occasion to Mr. Hare to indite the following very fine and striking passage: -
“But though Luther was not what was technically termed a father, and could not be so, from the period when, for the good of mankind, it was ordained that he should be born, yet it has pleased God that he, above all other men since the days of the apostles, should, in the truest and highest sense, be a father in Christ’s church, yea, the human father and nourisher of the spiritual life of millions of souls, for generation after generation. Three hundred years have rolled away since he was raised, through Christ’s redeeming grace, from the militant church into the triumphant; and throughout those three hundred years, and still at this day, it has been and is vouchsafed to him, - and so, God willing, shall it be for centuries to come, - that he should feed the children of half Germany with the milk of the gospel by his Catechism; that he should supply the poor and simple, yea, and all classes of his countrymen, with words wherewith to commend their souls to God when they rise from their bed, and when they he down in it; that in his words they should invoke a blessing upon their daily meals, and offer up their thanks for them; that with his stirring hymns they should kindle and pour out their devotion, both in the solemn assembly and in the sanctuary of every family; that by his German words, through the blessed fruit of his labours, they should daily and hourly strengthen and enlighten their hearts, and souls, and minds, with that Book of Life in which God’s mercy and truth have met together, His righteousness and peace have kissed each other, and are treasured up for the edification of mankind unto the end of the world. If this is not to be a father in Christ’s church, I know not what is. Nay, more, his spiritual children are not confined to his own country. The word of truth which he was sent to preach, has sounded from land to land, and was heard in our land also, coming as it did from the home of our forefathers, for the purification of the church, and for the guiding of numberless souls away from a vain confidence in the works of the flesh, to a living trust in their Saviour.”
Mr. Ward’s assaults, originally published in the British Critic, and afterwards collected in his book entitled “Ideal of a Christian Church,” are likewise based chiefly upon Luther’s doctrine of justification, which is grossly misrepresented, in order to afford materials for accusing him of Antinomianism. Mr. Ward is conclusively convicted of gross incompetency and unfairness, nay, of bitter spite. But really the allegation that Luther was an Antinomian is so thoroughly contradicted by the whole tenor of his writings, and by the whole course of his life, and is so utterly destitute of all evidence, except some rash, unbecoming, and exaggerated statements about the law, the real meaning of which is evident enough to every candid inquirer, that we do not think it necessary to dwell upon this topic.
Mr. Hallam’s attack upon Luther rests chiefly upon the same general ground, and is directed to show that he has made statements of an Antinomian tendency. His mode of dealing with this subject has more the appearance of honest ignorance than Mr. Ward’s. He is certainly, as Mr. Hare has proved, and as indeed he himself acknowledges, very imperfectly acquainted with Luther’s works. He is also, from whatever cause, pretty strongly prejudiced against him. He plainly enough indicates that he had been somewhat influenced, in judging of Luther, by the representations of Bossuet; and as this is a topic to which we shall have occasion afterwards to advert, in pointing out Sir William Hamilton’s obligations to the great Popish champion, we quote an interesting passage from this section of the Vindication: -
“An explanation, however, of this, and of much more, seems to be afforded by the first sentences in Mr. Hallam’s remarks on Luther: ‘It would not be just, probably, to give Bossuet credit in every part of that powerful delineation of Luther’s theological tenets, with which he begins the History of the Variations of Protestant Churches. Nothing, perhaps, in polemical eloquence, is so splendid as this chapter. The eagle of Meaux is there truly seen, lordly of form, fierce of eye, terrible in his beak and claws. But he is too determined a partisan to be trusted by those who seek the truth without regard to persons and denominations. His quotations from Luther are short, and in French. I have failed in several attempts to verify the references.’ Mr. Hallam, who here and elsewhere expresses such fervent admiration for Bossuet’s eloquence, says of Luther’s Latin works: ‘Their intemperance, their coarseness, their inelegance, their scurrility, their wild paradoxes that menace the foundations of religious morality, are not compensated, so far at least as my slight acquaintance with them extends, by much strength or acuteness, and still less by any impressive eloquence.’ To me, I own, in the face of this mild verdict, Luther, - if we take the two masses of his writings, those in Latin and those in his own tongue, which display different characters of style, according to the persons and objects they are designed for, in the highest qualities of eloquence, in the faculty of presenting grand truths, moral and spiritual ideas, clearly, vividly, in words which elevate and enlighten men’s minds, and stir their hearts and control their wills, - seems incomparably superior to Bossuet; almost as superior as Shakespeare to Racine, or as Ullswater to the Serpentine. In fact, when turning from one to the other, I have felt at times as if I were passing out of a gorgeous, crowded drawing-room, with its artificial lights and dizzying sounds, to run up a hill at sunrise. The wide and lasting effect which Luther’s writings produced on his own nation and on the world, is the best witness of their power.
“I should not have touched on this point unless it were plain that Mr. Hallam’s judgment on Luther had been greatly swayed by the ‘Histoire des Variations.’ It is somewhat strange to begin one’s account of a man with saying, that ‘it would not be just, probably, to give credit in every part" to what a determined, able, and not very scrupulous enemy says of him, writing with the express purpose of detecting all possible evil in him and his cause. In truth, what could well be less just than this supererogatory candour? In no court of law would such an invective be attended to, except so far as it was borne out by the evidence adduced. Mr. Hallam says he had failed in several attempts to verify the references. If he had succeeded, he would probably have found that the passages cited are mostly misrepresented. How far the misrepresentation is wilful, I do not take upon myself to pronounce. Bossuet’s mind was so uncongenial to Luther’s, so artificial, so narrow, sharing in the national incapacity for seeing anything except through a French eye-glass; his conception of Faith, as I have had occasion to remark elsewhere, was so meagre, so alien from Luther’s; and the shackles imposed upon him by his church so disqualified him for judging fairly of its great enemy, - that we need not be surprised at any amount of misunderstanding in him when he came forward as an advocate in such a cause. Still, however fiercely the ‘eagle of Meaux’ may have desired to use his beak and claws, he might as well have pecked and clawed at Mount Ararat as at him whom God was pleased to endow with a mountain of strength, when He ordained that he should rise for the support of the church out of the flood of darkness and corruption.
“Here, as the assertion I have made concerning Bossuet’s misrepresentations should not be made unsupported by proofs, I will cite two or three examples, showing how the quotations from Luther, which in his pages seem very reprehensible, become innocent when viewed along with the context in their original home. Nor shall these examples be culled out from the six books employed in the attack on Luther. They shall be taken from the first sections of that attack; thus they will better illustrate the manner in which it is carried on.”
This is followed up by what is certainly very conclusive proof that both Bossuet and Mr. Hallam have put forth some gross misrepresentations of Luther’s sentiments.
Mr. Hallam and Mr. Ward are about equally incompetent to form a correct estimate of Luther’s theological views; but Mr. Hallam is much the more fair and honest of the two. Mr. Ward labours to collect evidence from all quarters against Luther, and Mr. Hare gives the following summary of the results of his researches: -
“The evidence which Mr. Ward’s learning has collected in this matter, is a quotation taken from the English translation of ‘Au din’s Life of Luther;’ two quotations from the English translation of ‘Moehler’s Symbolic;’ a quotation from an article of his own in the British Critic, which appears there to have been borrowed from the French translation of Moehler; and certain extracts from an article in the Edinburgh Review, and from a pamphlet on the recent schism in the Church of Scotland. Verily, a formidable array of witnesses, picked out with a due recognition of the judicial maxim, that second-hand testimony is to be rejected! To one point, however, they do bear conclusive testimony, which is confirmed by all the rest of the volume, namely, to Mr. Ward’s utter incompetency for pronouncing an opinion on any question relating to the German Reformation.” The quotations from Audin are not of much importance; but Mr. Hare subjects to a thorough scrutiny the materials which Ward has borrowed from Moehler and Sir William Hamilton; and the investigation of these things forms the most important portion of his Vindication. Moehler’s Symbolism has been so much praised of late, having been even pronounced to be the most formidable attack on Protestantism since the time of Bossuet, that it may be interesting to our readers to know something of the general character of this work, and of the answers it has called forth. On these points Mr. Hare writes as follows: -
“Here, - as Moehler’s work has been translated into English, as it has been much bepraised by our Romanizers, and has evidently exercised a great deal of influence among them, and as it is well calculated to foster most delusive prejudices against the Reformation, and in favour of the Church of Rome, in readers prepared by visions about the glories of the middle ages, and who are ready to regard the Protestant churches as outcasts from the pale of Christianity, because, through whatever cause, they have adopted a different form of government, - let me be allowed to remark, that, able as the Symbolik certainly is, considering the cause it has to maintain, and plausible as it must needs seem to such as have nothing more than a superficial acquaintance with the topics which it discusses, still, in addition to the errors already spoken of, its value in the service of truth is destroyed by two pervading fallacies. In the first place, while the author’s professed object, as is intimated by his title, is to compare the Protestant Symbolical Books with those of the Romish church, in order to ascertain and examine the doctrinal antitheses between them, he soon finds out that if he confines himself to these deliberate dogmatical expressions of doctrine he shall not be able to make out a case; therefore he scrapes together all sorts of passages, not merely out of professedly dogmatical treatises, - which, under certain restrictions, would be allowable, - but out of occasional pamphlets, out of sermons, out of private letters, nay, even out of Luther’s ‘Table Talk,’ to kindle and fan an odium which he cannot otherwise excite. Yet it is plain that such a procedure can only mislead and dupe the reader with regard to the great subject-matter of the controversy; which is not, whether such and such individual Protestants may not at times have written extravagantly or unadvisedly, but is instituted to determine the relative value of the body of truth set forth by each church in the solemn confession of its faith. Strange too it may seem, that the thought of the ‘Lettres Provinciales’ did not come across him, and warn him of the tremendous retribution he might provoke. Moreover, after he has thus craftily shifted the whole ground of the contrast, so that, while it is nominally between the symbolical declarations of doctrine recognized by the opposite churches, in lieu of the Protestant symbolical declarations, he is continually slipping in whatever errors he can pick up in the most trivial writings of the Reformers, and these too not seldom aggravated by gross misrepresentations, - even this does not content him: a like trick must be played with the other scale. As the one side is degraded below the reality, the other is exalted above it. The fallacy spoken of above, in p. 32, runs through the whole book. The opposition of the Reformers is represented as having been directed not against the gross corruptions and errors which prevailed when they began the conflict, but against the modified exposition of Romish doctrine, drawn up with such singular adroitness at the semi-reformation of Trent: nay, even this is often refined and spiritualized by the interpolation of views belonging to the theology and philosophy of the nineteenth century. Hence it is not to be wondered at that Moehler’s work should impose on such readers as do not see through these fallacies, but suppose his representations of the opposite parties to be correct.
“Yet its influence ought to have been exploded long ago. For never in the history of controversies was there a completer victory than that gained by the champions of Protestant truth who replied to it. Indeed, the attack, instead of being injurious, was eminently beneficial to the German Protestants. It led them to examine the foundations of their strength, - to bring out the divine armour of truth stored up in the writings of the Reformers. Among the answers which. Moehler called forth, some, which are highly spoken of, - for instance, Hengstenberg’s and Marheineke’s, - I have not seen; but the two that I have read are triumphant. That by Nitzsch is a masterly assertion and vindication of the great Protestant principles which Moehler assailed, and its calm and dignified tone and spirit, its philosophic power and deep Christian wisdom, render it one of the noblest among polemical works. Baur, on the other hand, takes up his Herculean club and smashes Moehler’s book to atoms. Immeasurably superior to his adversary, through his vast learning and wonderful dialectic power, he pursues him through sophism after sophism, unravels fallacy after fallacy, and strips off mis-statement after mis-statement, till he leaves him at last in a condition of pitiable nakedness and forlornness. In several of Baur’s other works, the Hegelian predominates over the Christian, to the great disparagement and sacrifice of Christian truth; and his criticism has of late years become extravagantly destructive; even in his answer to Moehler, his philosophy at times is too obtrusive. But his vindication of the doctrines of the Reformation, and his exposure of the Tridentine fallacies, as well as of Moehler’s, is complete.”
Moehler has produced and given prominence to what is certainly the worst and most offensive passage that has yet been found in Luther; and Mr. Hare has carefully considered it, and conclusively defended it, - not certainly from the charge of great rashness, extravagance, and offensiveness, in point of phraseology, but from that which the words, taken by themselves, seem at first view to suggest, viz. of embodying a deliberate exhortation to the practice of immorality. As this will probably continue for some time to be a favourite topic of invective with Romanists and Romanizers, it is proper that we should give some general idea of the point, while we must refer to the Vindication for particulars. The passage from Luther, as given in the English translation of Moehler’s Symbolism, is this: “Sin lustily (pecca fortiter), but be yet more lusty in faith, and rejoice in Christ, who is the conqueror of sin, of death, and of the world. Sin we must, so long as we remain here. It suffices, that through the riches of the glory of God, we know the Lamb which taketh away the sins of the world. From Him no sin will sever us, though a million times in a day we should fornicate or commit murder.” The question here naturally occurs, To whom was this startling statement addressed? And it is no unimportant point in Luther’s defence, that these words form part of a letter addressed to Melancthon in 1521, when Luther was living in concealment in the Wartburg. Mr. Hare refers to this topic in this way: -
“Verily it does seem here as though hell were casting up its spray into heaven. Still, after our ample experience of the manner in which words may be misrepresented, and after the thousand thousand proofs afforded by Luther’s writings and life that he did know something of the gospel, we will not be disheartened. At all events, we will try to make out what these awful words can mean, - to whom they can have been said, - for what purpose. Were they said to Simon de Montfort when he marched against the Albigenses? or to Alva when he entered on his government in the Netherlands? or to Louis XIV. when he revoked the Edict of Nantes? or to poor Mary when she mounted the throne after the death of her brother Edward? Were they a dram administered to Charles IX. and to Catherine of Medicis on the eve of St Bartholomew? or a billet doux sent to Charles II. during the progress of his conversion? or were they a motto written up in the halls of the Inquisition? or can it be that Luther was once engaged in a friendly correspondence with Munzer? or with Alexander VI.? No; but to Melancthon, of all men that ever lived! Not to Munzer; not to Alexander VI.; not to Leo X.; not to Clement VII.; but to Melancthon! A strange person, truly, to choose as the confidant of such a doctrine, - as the recipient of such an exhortation! The tempter, against whom Luther so often battled, must for once have gained complete possession of him, and turned him into an instrument for destroying the soul of his younger friend.”
Mr. Hare then proceeds to show, from a careful consideration of the circumstances in which, and the objects for which, the letter was written, and from an accurate analysis of the train of thought that runs through it, how it was that Luther came to use such words, without, of course, having had the remotest intention of teaching that sin was a light matter, or encouraging Melancthon to commit it. We must refer to the Vindication for the details of all this, but we will quote the concluding passage: -
“Now in the passage of Luther which we are considering, the real offensiveness lies in the monstrous exaggeration of the language. The indignation bestowed upon him might, indeed, have been bestowed most deservedly upon the truly atrocious and blasphemous proposition whereby the venders of indulgences, whom he assailed, tried to lure purchasers for their trumpery, - Venias papales tantas esse, ut solvere possint hominem, etiamsi quis per impossibile Dei Genitricem violasset. Such a proposition is indeed an abomination in the sight of God and man; yet this doctrine, which Mr. Ward might well call too bad for the devils, the flagitious hierarchy encouraged; or at least they would not repress and condemn their emissaries for proclaiming it, even when called upon and earnestly implored to do so. Luther’s proposition, on the other hand, is fundamentally true; his words render it probable that he was thinking of David’s crimes; the addition of millies millies, as everybody acquainted with his writings will recognise at once, is a mere Lutheranism. Most readers will remember his answer to Spalatin, with regard to the advice of his friends, who would have dissuaded him from venturing to Worms, that even if there were as many devils in Worms as there were tiles on the house-tops, still he would go thither. So, again, in his grand letter to the Elector from the Wartburg, when he declares his resolution of returning to Wittenberg, he says he will not be withheld by fear of Duke George. This I know full well of myself if affairs at Leipsic were in the same case as now at Wittenberg, I would ride thither even though (your Electoral Grace must forgive my foolish speech) it were to rain pure Duke Georges for nine days, and each one of them were nine times more furious than this. These instances are notorious; a multitude of similar ones might be cited from Luther’s writings, especially from those belonging to this critical period of his life, when all his powers were stretched beyond themselves by the stress of the conflict. To our nicer ears such expressions may seem in bad taste. Be it so. When a Titan is walking about among the pigmies, the earth seems to rock beneath his tread. Mount Blanc would be out of keeping in Regent’s Park; and what would be the outcry if it were to toss its head and shake off an avalanche or two? Such, however, is the dulness of the elementary powers, they have not apprehended the distinction between force and violence. In like manner, when the adamantine bondage in which men’s hearts, and souls, and minds had been held for centuries, was to be burst, it was almost inevitable that the power which was to burst this should not measure its movements by the rules of polished life. Erasmus did so; Melancthon did so: but a thousand Erasmuses would never have effected the Reformation; nor would a thousand Melancthons, without Luther to go before him and to animate him.”
We now proceed to consider Sir William Hamilton’s attacks upon Luther and the other Reformers. These Mr., Hare has exposed fully and with severity - great, but not greater than they deserve. Sir William entered upon the work of assailing the character of the Reformers spontaneously and without call. In an article in the Edinburgh Review for 1834, on the Admission of Dissenters to English Universities, he laid hold of an excuse for making the averment, “That there is hardly an obnoxious doctrine to be found among the modern Lutherans (the Rationalists) which has not its warrant and example in the writings of Luther himself;” and proceeded to establish this position by what he calls a “hasty anthology of some of Luther’s opinions, and in his own words, literally translated He then gives quotations from Luther, under the three heads of speculative theology, practical theology, and biblical criticism. Under the first head, his quotations consist only of four short passages upon the one subject of the procedure of God in regard to sin and sinners. Under the second, he merely gives some extracts from a single document, setting forth the grounds on which Luther and Melancthon gave their consent to the Landgrave of Hesse marrying a second wife, while, at the same time, he continued to live with the first. He has thus brought forward only one topic under the head of speculative theology, and only one topic under the head of practical theology. And on neither of these two topics can it be said that the modern Lutherans follow the “warrant and example in the writings of Luther himself,” though it was professedly to establish this that Sir William collected his “hasty anthology.” Nine years afterwards, - at the era of the disruption of the Church of Scotland, - Sir William published a pamphlet on the election of pastors, entitled, “Be not Schismatics, be not Martyrs by Mistake; a Demonstration that the principle of non-intrusion, so far from being fundamental in the Church of Scotland, is subversive of the fundamental principles of that and every other Presbyterian Church Establishment.” In this pamphlet he again, without any provocation, assailed the character of the Reformers, though this had nothing more to do with the election of pastors than with the admission of Dissenters into English universities. In this pamphlet, indeed, he retracted the charge which, nine years before, in the Edinburgh Review, he had brought against the Reformers in connection with the Landgrave’s second marriage, that they were guilty in that affair of a “skulking compromise of all professed principle.” But he retracted this charge only to substitute another in its room, - viz. that they approved of polygamy as good and lawful, nay, that they wished to have polygamy sanctioned by the civil law, and did something, though unsuccessfully, in order to bring about this result. And to this new form of the charge under the head of practical theology, he added the offensive allegation, that Luther publicly preached in recommendation of incontinence, adultery, and incest. As some of these charges against Luther had not been broached before by any of his opponents, it will be proper to give the very terms in which they were, for the first time, promulgated to the world, by Sir William Hamilton, at Edinburgh, in the year of grace 1843: -
“Look, then, to the great author and the great guide of the great religious revolution itself - to Luther and Melancthon; even they, great and good as they both were, would, had they been permitted by the wisdom of the world to carry their theological speculations into practice, have introduced a state of things which every Christian of every denomination will now confess, would not only have turned the Reformation into a curse, but have subverted all that is most sacred by moral and religious law.
“Among other points of papal discipline, the zeal of Luther was roused against ecclesiastical celibacy and monastic vows; and whither did it carry him? Not content to reason against the institution within natural limits and on legitimate grounds, his fervour led him to deny explicitly, and in every relation, the existence of chastity, as a physical impossibility, - led him publicly to preach (and who ever preached with the energy of Luther!) incontinence, adultery, incest even, as not only allowable, but, if practised under the prudential regulations which he himself lays down, unobjectionable, and even praiseworthy. The epidemic spread, - a fearful dissolution of manners throughout the sphere of the Reformer’s influence was, for a season, the natural result. The ardour of the boisterous Luther infected, among others, even the ascetic and timorous Melancthon. Polygamy awaited only the permission of the civil ruler to be promulgated as an article of the Reformation; and had this permission not been significantly refused (whilst, at the same time, the epidemic in Wittenberg was homeopathically alleviated, at least, by the similar but more violent access in Munster), it would not have been the fault of the fathers of the Reformation if Christian liberty has remained less ample than Mohammedan licence. As it was, polygamy was never abandoned by either Luther or Melancthon as a religious speculation: both, in more than a single instance, accorded the formal sanction of their authority to its practice, - by those who were above the law; and had the civil prudence of the imprudent Henry VIII. not restrained him, sensual despot as he was, from carrying their spontaneous counsel into effect, a plurality of wives might now have been a privilege as religiously contended for in England as in Turkey.”
“I do not found merely or principally upon passages known to Bossuet, Bayle, etc., and through them to persons of ordinary information. These, I admit, would not justify all I have asserted in regard to the character of the doctrine preached by Luther.
“I do not found my statement of the general opinion of Luther and Melancthon in favour of polygamy on their special allowance of a second wife to Philip the Magnanimous, or on any expressions contained in their Consilium on that occasion. On the contrary, that Consilium, and the circumstances under which it was given, may be, indeed always have been, adduced to show that in the case of the Landgrave they made a sacrifice of eternal principle to temporary expedience. The reverse of this I am able to prove, in a chronological series of testimonies by them to the religious legality of polygamy as a general institution, consecutively downwards from their earliest commentaries on the Scriptures and other purely abstract treatises. So far, therefore, was there from being any disgraceful compromise of principle in the sanction accorded by them to the bigamy of the Landgrave of Hesse, that they only, in that case, carried their speculative doctrine (held, by the way, also by Milton) into practice; although the prudence they had by that time acquired rendered them, on worldly grounds, averse from their sanction being made publicly known. I am the more anxious to correct this general mistake touching the motives of these illustrious men, because I was myself, on a former occasion, led to join in the injustice.”!
It was in these circumstances, and with such a case before him, that Mr. Hare prepared and published in 1846 his elaborate and most valuable Note in defence of Luther in the second volume of the “Mission of the Comforter,” and revised it for republication in a separate form previously to his death in 1855, notwithstanding Sir William’s threat of an answer in 1846, and his attempt at self-defence, or rather at retaliation, in the notes to his “Discussions,” published in 1852. When a man in Sir William’s position comes forward ultroneously, and without call adduces such charges as these against Luther and his fellow-reformers, he must lay his account with his allegations being narrowly scrutinized, and his evidence, if he produce any, being carefully sifted. Sir William’s acknowledged eminence as a philosopher and a man of erudition, gives a certain influence to anything he may choose to -dyer, and makes it the more necessary that such statements as those we have quoted from him should be scrutinized with care, and, if found erroneous, exposed with all plainness.
The facts, that Sir William brought forward such charges, couched in such a tone and spirit, first in an article in the Edinburgh Review, on the Admission of Dissenters to English Universities, and then again, nine years after, in a pamphlet on non-intrusion, or the election of pastors, indicate very plainly a certain animus with respect to the men so assailed: which is not disproved by his calling Luther and Melancthon “great and good men and by his assuring us that, a so far from disliking Luther, we admire him with all his aberrations (for he never paltered with the truth), not only as one of the ablest, but as one of the best of men.” On the same page where this profession occurs, Sir William has made the following statements about the Reformer, - statements, it should be noticed, published for the first time in 1852: - “Luther was betrayed into corresponding extravagances by an assurance of his personal inspiration; of which, indeed, he was no less confident than of his ability to perform miracles. He disclaimed the pope, he spurned the church, but, varying in almost all else, he never doubted of his own infallibility. The man who made these statements knows, and every man who has ever read anything concerning Luther knows, that in 1545, the year before his death, the great Reformer wrote a preface to a collected edition of his works, which began with these words: - “1 have long and earnestly resisted those who wished my books, or rather the confusions of my lucubrations, to be published; both because I was unwilling that the labours of the ancients should be covered up by my novelties, and the reader hindered from reading them, and because now7, by God’s grace, there are many methodical books, among which the Commonplaces of Philip excel, by which the theologian and the bishop may be beautifully formed, especially since the sacred Scriptures may now be had in almost every language; while my books, as the want of method in the events occasioned and necessitated, are, indeed, but a rude and indigested chaos, which it is not easy now even for myself to bring into order. Induced by these considerations, I wished all my books to be buried in perpetual oblivion, that there might be room for better ones.” This preface also contains the following statements: - “But, before all things, I beseech the pious reader, and I beseech him for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, that he would read these productions with judgment, nay, with much compassion;” “I narrate these things, excellent reader, for this reason, that, if you are about to read my little works, you may remember that I have been one of those who, as Augustine writes of himself, have made progress by writing and teaching, and that I am not one of those who from nothing suddenly become great, though they have done, or tried, or experienced nothing, but with one glance at Scripture exhaust its whole spirit.” Sir William knows that in the same year, 1545, Melancthon, with Luther’s consent, published a collection of the “Disputations or Propositions,” put forth and discussed by him in the theological school at Wittenberg, from 1519 to 1545; and that Luther wrote a preface to them, which began with these words: - "I permit these ‘Disputations or Propositions’ of mine, handled from the beginning of my cause in opposition to the papacy and the kingdom of the Sophists, to be published, chiefly in order that the greatness of the cause, and the success therein divinely granted to me, may not exalt me. For in these is clearly shown my ignominy, - that is, my weakness and ignorance, which led me at first to try the matter with the greatest fear and trembling.”
Sir William knows, and even “persons of ordinary information” know, that innumerable statements, similar in substance and spirit to what have been quoted from these two prefaces, are found in Luther’s writings; and yet, knowing all this, he ventures to assert, that Luther had “an assurance of his personal inspiration,” and "never doubted of his own infallibility.” Every one knows, that on some occasions Luther showed a dogged obstinacy in maintaining errors, and an unwarranted confidence that they were truths, and that he occasionally talked about himself in a style that somewhat resembled presumptuous, self-complacent boasting. Sir William, we dare say, could easily produce a copious anthology of this sort. But this would be no sufficient proof of the truth of the charge, that Luther “was assured of his personal inspiration,” and “never doubted of his own infallibility,” even though it were not contradicted by the passages we have quoted, and by many others of similar import. These passages conclusively disprove the charge, unless, indeed, it be alleged that they were altogether hypocritical, and expressed feelings which Luther never entertained; and no human being but a thorough-bred Papist could be base enough to believe this.'"
The adduction of this baseless charge against Luther, and the adduction of it for the first time in 1852, six years after Mr. Hare had exposed the charges of 1834 and 1843, must satisfy every intelligent man, that Sir William’s statements about the character of the Reformer are entitled to no weight or deference, and ought to be received with the strongest suspicion.
Sir William has turned over a good many books, and picked up a good deal of information of a miscellaneous and superficial, though often recondite, description, upon some theological subjects, and evidently thinks that he is entitled to treat with contempt all the existing professional cultivators of theological literature. The eminence he has reached in his own department, the confidence with which he dogmatizes on theological and ecclesiastical topics, and the real extent of his knowledge regarding them, though it is much less than he claims credit for, are fitted to give weight to his statements with a certain class of the community; while, at the same time, as we are persuaded, and think we can prove, he has gone astray in almost all the instances in which he has meddled with that class of subjects. Sir William resembles Bayle in many respects, - in the vigour and versatility of his intellect, in the variety and extent of his erudition, and in his propensity to deal with ecclesiastical questions; but he is greatly inferior to that famous sceptic in real love for historical accuracy, in patient and deliberate investigation of the materials of proof, and, above all, in that sound judgment, strong sense, and practical sagacity, which, in dealing with historical evidence, are far more valuable than metaphysical depth or subtilty. Sir William has some of Bayle’s bad qualities, without his good ones; and this furnishes an explanation of the position which we do not hesitate to lay down, viz. that in all the leading instances in which he has taken up theological or ecclesiastical questions, he has exhibited not only blundering and inaccuracy, but a state of mind and feeling offensive to the real friends of truth and righteousness. We think the time has come when this position should be openly and explicitly laid down and pressed upon public notice, in order to prevent the mischief which the influence of Sir William’s name is fitted to do, in matters in which no deference whatever is due to him, and which no man must be permitted to misrepresent; and we willingly avail ourselves of the assistance of Mr. Hare’s admirable Vindication, in order to establish this, so far as concerns his offensive attack upon Luther and his fellow-reformers.
We have already mentioned that Sir William’s original attack upon Luther, published in the Edinburgh Review for 1834, and repeated in the “Discussions” in 1852, consisted chiefly of an ascription to him of erroneous and dangerous opinions: - lst, On speculative theology; 2d, On practical theology; and 3d, On biblical criticism; - and that he promised to give Luther’s opinions “in his own words literally translated,” thereby professing to have himself translated Luther’s words from a personal examination of the original. The whole of what he produces as a specimen of Luther’s speculative theology, consists of four short sentences, amounting in all to eight lines, and bears upon the one point of the purposes and procedure of God in regard to sin and sinners. Now Mr. Hare has proved that these eight lines, given originally in the Review without any references, and as if they were one continuous extract, are made up of four scraps from different parts of the treatise, “De Servo Arbitrio;” and that they were taken' not from the original, but from Bossuet’s “History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches,” where they are given with some deviations from the original that are fitted to make them rather more offensive. Mr. Hare’s proof that Sir William’s extracts had, been taken mediately or immediately from Bossuet was so perfectly conclusive, that it could not possibly be answered or evaded, and Sir William was under the necessity of having recourse either to confession or to silence. He chose the former and more honourable alternative; though to a man of his peculiar temperament such a confession must have been very painful and mortifying, especially as in the interval between the commission of the offence and Mr. Hare’s public exposure of it, he had disclaimed founding “upon passages known to Bossuet, Bayle, etc., and through them to persons of ordinary information.” As confession is not an exercise in which Sir William often indulges, and as our readers, who are probably more familiar with his boastings, may be anxious to see how he performs it, we give it in his own words: -
“In regard to the testimonies from Luther under this first head, but under this alone, I must make a confession. There are few things to which I feel a greater repugnance than relying upon quotations at second-hand. Now those under this head were not taken immediately from Luther’s treatise, ‘De Servo Arbitrio,’ in which they are all contained. I had indeed more than once read that remarkable work, and once attentively, marking, as is my wont, the more important passages; but at the time of writing this article, my copy was out of immediate reach, and the press being urgent, I had no leisure for a reperusal. In these circumstances, finding that the extracts from it in Theoduls Gasimahl corresponded, so far as they went, with those also given by Bossuet, and as, from my own recollection (and the testimony, I think, of Werdermann), they fairly represented Luther’s doctrine; I literally translated the passages, even in their order, as given by Von Stark (and in Dr Kentsinger’s French version). Stark, I indeed now conjecture, had Bossuet in his eye. I deem it right to make this avowal, and to acknowledge that I did what 1 account wrong. But, again, I have no hesitation in now, after full examination, deliberately saying, that I do not think these extracts, whether by Bossuet, or by Stark and Bossuet, to be unfairly selected, to be unfaithfully translated, to be garbled, or to misrepresent in any way Luther’s doctrine; in particular his opinions touching the divine predestination and the human will.”
Sir William’s defence, in substance, is, that he, or rather Bossuet, had not really misrepresented Luther; and that the statements as they stand in the original are as strong and startling as in Bossuet’s French or in his own English. This of course has nothing to do with the matter, in so far as it involves a question of scholar-like acting. But as, in this aspect of the affair, Sir William has frankly confessed that he acted wrong, we shall say nothing more about it. We cannot, however, concede that Bossuet and Sir William have correctly exhibited Luther’s actual statements. Mr. Hare has proved their incorrectness, though perhaps he has somewhat overrated the magnitude of the differences in point of substance between the original and the translations. There is only one of the four scraps to which Sir William in his defence refers specifically or with any detail; and a brief notice of what he says about it. will prove that even in what he says “now, after full examination, deliberately,” he has not reached complete accuracy. The second of the four sentences given in the Review, - and given as if it were part of one and the same passage along with the other three, this of itself being fitted to convey an unfair impression, even though the whole had been correctly translated, - is in these words: “All things take place by the eternal and invariable will of God, who blasts and shatters in pieces the freedom of the will;” and he now,"after full examination,” gives it in his “Discussions,” in the same words, except that he substitutes “which” for “who.” Bossuet’s French - Sir William’s original - is this: “Que sa prescience et la providence divine fait que toutes choses arrivent par une immuable, eternelle, et inevitable volonte de Dieu, qui foudroie et met en pieces tout le libre arbitre.” Sir William’s remark upon this passage is as follows: “I must not, however, here forget to acknowledge an error, or rather an inadvertence of mine, which has afforded a ground for Mr. Hare to make, as usual, a futile charge against Bossuet. In the second of the above extracts, not having Luther’s original before me, I had referred the relative pronoun to i God,’ whereas it should have been to ‘the will of God.’ In the versions of Stark and Bossuet it is ambiguous, and I applied it wrongly.”J Now it is not true, as Sir William here asserts, that it was his error or inadvertence in translating Bossuet’s “qui” by “who,” while it might equally mean “which,” that led Mr. Hare to charge Bossuet with misrepresenting Luther’s meaning. Mr. Hare has said nothing suggesting or implying this, and he has made statements plainly precluding it. But the strange thing is, that while Sir William’s statement necessarily implies that in Luther’s original there is a relative pronoun, on the right application and translation of which the sense somewhat depends, the fact is, that no such relative pronoun exists except' in Bossuet; that Sir William has not yet, “after full examination,” fulfilled his promise to give us “Luther’s opinions in his own words literally translated;” and that the difference between what Luther said and what Sir William continues to ascribe to him is not wholly unimportant. The original passage in Luther consists of two sentences as follow: “Est itaque et hoc in primis necessarium et salutare Christiano nosse, quod Deus nihil prsescit contingenter, sed quod omnia incommutabili et seterna, infallibilique voluntate et prsevidet et proponit et facit. Hoc fulmine sternitur et conteritur penitus liberum arbitrium. Ideo qui liberum arbitrium volunt assertum, debent hoc fulmen vel negare, vel dissimulare, aut alia ratione a se abiffere.”
Now there is no relative pronoun here, to connect the crushing of the free-will either with the Deus or the voluntas, as Bossuet and Sir William represent it. Sir William originally ascribed it to the Deus; he now ascribes it to the voluntas: whereas Luther ascribes it to neither; but breaks off from them into a new sentence, and ascribes it to hoc fulmen. What this fulmen was must be ascertained from the general scope of the passage; and when this is taken into account, it becomes perfectly manifest that the crushing of free-will is ascribed neither to the Deus nor to the voluntas, strictly speaking, but to the great truth or fact, that God certainly foresees and governs all things. Even if this difference were more insignificant than it is, this would be no excuse for giving so garbled an extract from Luther, and so incorrect a translation of his words. Bossuet did not promise to translate literally, and yet he has given Luther’s words more fully and correctly than Sir William, who did. Bossuet has acted unfairly, indeed, in overleaping the barrier of the sentence, in extinguishing the fulmen, and in ascribing the crushing of the free-will directly to the voluntas, if not to the Deus. Sir William adopts this inaccuracy from him, and he continues to adhere to it even 66 after full examination” of the original; while he also perpetrates the additional unfairness of leaving out the first part of the sentence, by the introduction of a portion of which even Bossuet indicated, that it was the foreknowledge and providence of God about which Luther was here discoursing.
This is a very curious specimen of blundering. But its importance, we admit, lies chiefly in its bearing upon Sir William, and the question of the reliance to be placed upon the accuracy of his statements. That rash and exaggerated sentiments and expressions may be produced from Luther’s writings upon a variety of subjects, is quite well known, and no intelligent Protestant would think of disputing this. That statements of this sort are to be found in his treatise “De Servo Arbitrio,” in reference to the decrees and providence of God, has always been abundantly notorious. That some of the statements quoted by Bossuet and Sir William do, even as they stand in the original, express Calvinistic doctrines in an unnecessarily and unwarrantably harsh and offensive form, we do not hesitate to admit. Indeed, it is a very remarkable fact, that not only the rash and impetuous Luther, but also the cautious and timid Melancthon, did, in their earlier works, make more unwarrantable and startling statements about the decrees and the agency of God, in their bearing upon men’s actions, than Calvin ever uttered. When the Lutherans, in the next generation, abandoned the Calvinism of their master, they were very much at a loss what to make of his treatise “De Servo Arbitrio,” which, in its natural and obvious meaning, seemed to be the production of one who, as was said of Beza, was Calvino Calvinior. The most devoted admirers of the Megalander, as they usually called him, admitted, of course, that there are some rash and exaggerated statements in the work. But that is very little to their purpose; for Calvinists, too, admit the truth of this, and contend that, even abstracting everything that might rank under this head, the treatise plainly and explicitly asserts the fundamental principles of the Calvinistic system of theology. In the year 1664, Sebastian Schmidt, an eminent Lutheran divine, and professor of theology at Strasburg, published an edition of Luther “De Servo Arbitrio,” copiously provided with annotations, “quibus,” as is set forth in the title-page, “B. Vir ab accusatione, quasi absolutum Calvinianorum, vel durius, aliquod Dei decretum in libro ipso statuerit, prsecipue vindicatur.” The annotations, of course, are utterly unsuccessful in effecting the object to which they are directed, viz. proving that Luther did not, in this work, teach Calvinistic doctrines. No amount of straining or perversion is adequate to effect that. Schmidt’s annotations resemble very much a Socinian commentary upon the beginning of John’s Gospel; and it is rather a curious coincidence, that those scraps which Sir William has paraded are duly provided by Schmidt with annotations, intended to show, not that they present Calvinism in a harsh and offensive form, but that they do not go so far as to teach Calvinism at all.
The compelling Sir William to confess publicly, that, in giving a view of Luther’s opinions on speculative theology, he had got his whole materials at second-hand, was an offence not to be forgiven; and accordingly he brings out, in connection with this topic, an assault, or rather a series of assaults, upon the Archdeacon, evidently intended to be murderous. This great philosopher, when he engages in theological controversy, exhibits odium plusquam theologicum. Our readers, we are sure, will not wonder at any little severity we have exhibited in dealing with him, when they read the following choice specimens of invective, culled from a few pages of the notes to the “Discussions.” “Mr. Hare’s observations under this head of speculative theology exhibit significant specimens of inconsistency, bad faith, and exquisite error. I shall adduce instances of each. But his baseless abuse - that I shall overpass.” “He is only a one-sided advocate, an advocate from personal predilection and antipathies; and even as such, his arguments are weak as they are wordy.” “Lord Bacon says of some one, i has only two small wants; he wants knowledge and he wants love.’ But with the Archdeacon, we cannot well restrict his wants to two; for he lacks logic besides learning and love; and a fourth - withal a worse defect - is to be added, but a defect which it is always painful to be forced to specify.” “Mr. Hare is not the champion for Luther; and if he be effectually counselled, the farrago will not again see the light” (this refers to Mr. Hare’s intimated purpose to republish Note W, - a purpose accomplished in the volume now lying before us), “for it is simply a verbose conglomeration of what I shall refrain from characterizing; the author making more mistakes or misrepresentations than the note - however confessedly prolix and garrulous - exhibits paragraphs. But the Archdeacon of Lewes neither learns nor listens. He is not content to enjoy his ecclesiastical good fortune in humility and silent thankfulness. He will stand forward; he will challenge admiration; he will display his learning; he will play the polemic; and thus exposes to scorn not merely himself,” but also, as Sir William goes on to assert, with some detail, the church of which he was a dignitary. Now what is the cause, and what the ground of this violent outbreak, of this alarming exhibition of a philosopher in a fury? The cause of it is simply this, that Mr. Hare has laid before the public conclusive proof that much, we do not say all, of what Sir William has here alleged against his antagonist, is true O O O j of himself. And the ground of it is nothing more than this, that Mr. Hare’s work, when carefully scrutinized, exhibits a few instances of the oversights, errors, and partialities, which may be pointed out, more or less, in nineteen-twentieths of the most respectable controversial works that ever were produced, and in which Sir William’s polemic specially superabounds. No man with a sound head and a sound heart can read Sir William’s onslaught on Mr. Hare, of which we have given some specimens, without seeing that the charges are grossly exaggerated, and have really no solid foundation to rest on. We would not go so far as to allege that all that Sir William charges upon Mr. Hare is true of himself; but we have no hesitation in saying, that any one who might choose to allege this, could, without difficulty, produce a much more plausible piece of pleading in support of his allegation than Sir William has done. This is so manifestly the true state of the case, that we do not think it necessary to go into detail to defend Mr. Hare against an assault which was evidently intended to destroy him, but which, from its very recklessness, has proved perfectly powerless.
It was very natural that Sir William should take under his protection Bossuet, to whom, in common with “persons of ordinary information,” he had been indebted for his specimen of Luther’s speculative theology; and, accordingly, he says of him, “In this note I have spoken of Bossuet, signifying my reliance upon the accuracy of his quotations; and I am as fully convinced of his learning and veracity as of his genius.” As Mr. Hare had adduced satisfactory evidence of Bossuet’s unscrupulous unfairness, Sir William could scarcely do less than guarantee his veracity: and he could do this the more easily, as, in all probability, he never had carefully investigated the subject. But the truth is, that Bossuet’s character for veracity was conclusively settled, in the estimation of all intelligent and competent judges, before the publication of his “History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches,” by the tremendous exposures made of him by Dr Wake, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, in his “Exposition of the Doctrine of the Church of England,” and his two Defences of it. We have no doubt that in these works, which have been republished in Bishop Gibson’s “Preservative against Popery,” Wake has conclusively convicted Bossuet of deliberate lying, in repeated instances; and these not bearing merely on the primary subject of controversy between them, viz. the original publication of Bossuet’s “Exposition of the Doctrine of the Catholic Church,” but also on several other topics unconnected with it. And in regard to the “History of the Variations,” though it is characterized by extraordinary skill and dexterity, and is indeed in all respects one of the most plausible and effective pieces of special pleading ever produced, and though it generally avoids gross and palpable falsehoods, yet it too has, we think, been proved to be utterly destitute of fairness and candour. We think it scarcely possible for any man to read with care and discrimination, Basnage’s “Histoire de la Religion des Eglises Reformees,” without being satisfied of the truth of this statement. ‘Papists still boast of his “History of the Variations” as unanswerable. We believe that it has been most thoroughly answered by Basnage, in so far as it is argumentative, that everything like argument in it has been completely demolished, and that its author has been sadly exposed; while we cannot but admit, that even when everything needful to satisfy the understanding has been provided, the admirable skill and adroitness of the advocate of error has not only made the best of a bad cause, but may probably have left some painful doubts and uncertainties upon the minds of a considerable class of readers.
The argument of Bossuet’s work lies within a very narrow compass. It is this. Variations in doctrine afford an evidence of error; Protestants have from the first been constantly varying in the doctrines they professed to hold: and, therefore, their views are erroneous. In opposition to this, it has been proved - 1st, That the maxim about variations proving errors is not true, or is only partially true, in the sense in which alone it can serve Bossuet’s purpose in argument; 2d, That some of the variations which he ascribes to Protestants are produced, and that many more are greatly swelled in importance and magnitude, by his own misrepresentations; and 3d, That the argument, in so far as it has any weight, may be retorted with far greater force upon the Church of Rome. These positions have been proved by Basnage in the most satisfactory and conclusive manner; so that, so far as argument is concerned, the book has been thoroughly demolished. But Bossuet’s great art throughout the whole work is, that he has contrived to bring in, in the most skilful and dexterous way, a great deal that is fitted to damage the characters of the Reformers, and thus to leave an uncomfortable impression upon men’s minds, even when his argument, properly so called, is seen to be wholly untenable. Bossuet’s want of integrity, so far as this work is concerned, is exhibited chiefly in producing and magnifying variations, by misrepresenting the views of the Reformers and other Protestants; and we think it scarcely possible for any one to read Basnage carefully, without being convinced, that it was only policy that restrained him from practising the grosser and more palpable frauds in which most Popish controversialists' indulge, and that with admirable skill he has systematically carried his misrepresentations just as far as he thought, upon the whole, to be safe or expedient.
We have really no pleasure in making such statements about Bossuet, who, in spite of his want of integrity in matters in which the interests of his church were concerned, was not only possessed of splendid mental endowments, but even of something like a certain elevation and nobility of general character. Integrity in matters in which the interests and reputation of the church are concerned, it is hopeless to expect of almost any Popish controversialist. Arnauld and Nicole, the famous Jansenists, were the two other great contemporary champions of Popery; and they have certainly furnished far better evidence that they were really men of religious and moral principle than can be produced in favour of Bossuet. And yet we have great doubts whether they held fast their integrity. We greatly admire all these men, though we do not put them in the same category; and while we would not pervert or explain away any matters of fact as to what they said or did, we feel strongly disposed to palliate their aberrations, by laying a portion of the responsibility upon the demoralizing and conscience-searing system to the influence of which they were subjected. It always deepens our indignation against the Man of Sin, the Mystery of Iniquity, when our attention is called to anything which reminds us that that system reduced a man so noble in many respects as Bossuet was, to such artifices, and imperilled, at least, the integrity of such men as Arnauld and Nicole. We dismiss this subject with the following admirable remarks of Mr. Hare on the famous “History of the Variations,” which we believe to be just and sound: -
“Indeed, if anything were surprising among the numberless παγαλογα of literature, one should marvel at the inordinate reputation which the ‘Histoire des Variations’ has acquired, not merely with the members of a church glad to make the most of any prop for a rotten cause, but among Protestants of learning and discernment. One main source of its celebrity may he in that spirit of detraction which exercises such a baneful power in all classes of mankind, ever since Cain slew his brother on account of his righteousness; in the eagerness with which all listen to evil-speaking and slander, finding little diminution of their pleasure though it be strongly seasoned with lying; in that want of sympathy with heroic and enthusiastic spirits which is so prevalent among men of the world, and the great body of men of letters, and their consequent satisfaction at seeing what towers beyond their ken cast down to the ground. Able as the ‘Histoire des Variations’ doubtless is, if regarded as the statement and pleading of an unprincipled and unscrupulous advocate, it is anything but a great work. For no work can be great unless it be written with a paramount love of truth. This is the moral element of all genius, and without it the finest talents are worth little more than a conjuror’s sleight-of-hand. Bossuet, in this book, never seems even to have set himself the problem of speaking the truth, as a thing to be desired and aimed at. He pretends to seat himself in the chair of judgment, but without a thought of doing justice to the persons he summons before him. He does not examine to ascertain whether they are guilty or not. His mind is made up beforehand that they are guilty; and his only care is to scrape together whatever may seem to prove this, that he may have a specious plea for condemning them. Never once, I believe, from the first page to the last, did he try heartily to make out what the real fact was. He is determined to say all possible evil of the Reformers; to show that they went wrong at every step, in every deed, in every word, in every thought; to prove that they are all darkness, with scarcely a gleam of light. Hence his representation of Luther is no more like him than an image made up of the black lines in a spectrum would be like the sun. Bossuet picks out all the bad he can find, and leaves out all the good. But as even this procedure would poorly serve his purpose, the main part of his picture consists of sentences torn from their context; which, by some forcible wrench, some process of garbling, by being deprived of certain limiting or counterbalancing clauses, by being made positive instead of hypothetical, or through some of the other tricks of which we have seen such sad instances in these pages, are rendered very offensive. With regard to the Landgrave’s marriage, his treatment of Luther is more like the ferocity of a tiger, tearing his prey limb from limb, and gloating over it before he devours it, than the spirit which becomes a Christian bishop.”
This leads us to advert to Sir William’s charges against Luther under the head of practical theology. We have already mentioned that the only materials originally produced under this head were extracts from the document in which Luther, Melancthon, and some other divines of that period, gave their permission or consent to the Landgrave of Hesse marrying a second wife while his first wife continued to live with him. This story is, of course, a great favourite with Popish controversialists. It is an especial favourite with Sir William. He produced it in the Edinburgh Review in 1834; and again, a second time, nine years later, in his pamphlet in favour of the intrusion of ministers, though he now changed materially the nature of the accusation which, in connection with this matter, he adduced against the Reformers. In the notes to the original article, as republished in the “Discussions” in 1852, he has not brought forward much additional matter, so far as Luther and Melancthon are concerned; the chief fruits of his continued researches into this apparently congenial subject being, that he is at last able to boast - whether truly or not we do not know - that he is now acquainted, he believes, with all the publications relative to this story, and that he has collected a considerable quantity of additional matter (certainly unknown before to “persons of ordinary information”), in order to blacken the character of Melander and Lening, two Protestant ministers who signed the document about the marriage along with Luther and Melancthon, and who might, without any detriment to the public, have been left in the obscurity from which Sir William’s extraordinary information has dragged them.
It is unpleasant to have to discuss such a subject as this, and it is not easy to see what benefit the public can derive from the discussion of it; but if Sir William Hamilton persists in dwelling upon it, and in pressing it upon public attention, and if he is resolved to employ it for unjustly damaging the character of the Reformers, he thereby imposes upon others a necessity of dealing with it, instead of leaving it wholly in his hands, and allowing him to use it for purposes which many believe to be unjust and injurious. Sir William may probably allege that he is merely bringing out what is true, and that all truth ought to be proclaimed and made known. We do not admit that all that he has put forth upon this subject is true; and if it were we would still take the liberty of regarding it as not creditable to any man to manifest a special anxiety to press such truths upon public attention without any apparent call to do so, and to labour to bring them out in their most offensive and aggravated form. Circumstances may occur in which anything that is really true may be brought out and proclaimed without impropriety by parties concerned in, or called to meddle with it; but it is not the less true that we are entitled to judge of men by the selection they make of the topics which they seem most anxious to press upon our notice. Sir William, no doubt, will claim to himself the credit of having been influenced in all he has done in this matter by pure love of truth; but we think we can venture to assure him, that his character would have stood much higher this day in the estimation of honourable men, if he had never meddled with the second marriage of the Landgrave of Hesse, and had left it to be handled by Romanists and Romanizers. We do not mean to go into details upon this painful subject. We can merely suggest a few hints, as to what ought to be thought of this affair, and of Sir William’s mode of dealing with it.
Luther’s conduct in this matter has not been approved of by Protestants, but, on the contrary, has been given up as indefensible. They have differed somewhat in the severity of their censures, and in the grounds on which they rest their condemnation of his conduct, but they have not undertaken to vindicate it. Basnage, in his reply to Bousset’s “History of the Variations,” at once admits that Luther’s Conduct was wrong; and so does Seckendorff, in his great work, “De Lutheranismo.” This undoubtedly is the right and honest course to pursue in the matter; though it is no doubt quite fair to see that the case is fully and correctly stated, and not exaggerated or perverted. Mr. Hare has successfully exposed several unfair and malicious misrepresentations of Bossuet in his commentaries upon this subject; and has also pointed out the unfairness of the selection of the passages by Sir William from the principal document connected with this affair. Upon this last point he says: -
“When we compare them with the whole body from which they are torn, they who admire ingenuity, in whatsoever cause it may be displayed, will be struck with the dexterity shown in garbling the opinion of the divines, so as to render it as offensive as possible. The main part of it, wherein they perform their duty of spiritual advisers honestly and faithfully, telling the Landgrave of the evils likely to arise from his conduct, and of the divine wrath which he was provoking by his sinful life, is wholly left out; so that it seems as if they had had no thought of their pastoral responsibility, but readily consented to do just what the Landgrave wished, and were solely deterred by fear of the shame it might bring on themselves and on their cause.”
The proper antidote to this unfairness of Sir William’s, is to give the document in full. This Mr. Hare has done, and to his pages we must refer for it. Mr. Hare has brought out fully the leading features of this transaction, and has suggested almost everything that could be said in palliation of the conduct of the Reformers in this matter. He goes rather farther than we are prepared to do in palliation of what they did. We cannot but admit that his love for Luther has somewhat perverted his judgment, - has made him judge rather too favourably. At the same time he has proved conclusively, that there were some material palliations of their conduct; and has shown that it involves gross ignorance or injustice to judge of the bare facts of the case by the notions and feelings of our own age and country, without taking into account the views that prevailed on such subjects in the sixteenth century, and the way in which they were then often discussed. This is of itself sufficient to establish the injustice and unfairness of the course which Sir William has pursued in the matter. But let us briefly advert to his more formal charges, based upon this transaction. Originally he accused them of the “skulking compromise of all professed principle;” meaning, of course, that in giving their consent to the Landgrave’s bigamy, they sanctioned what they knew to be sinful, under the influence of selfish and secular motives, connected with the general interests of the Reformed cause, to which the good-will and the support of the Landgrave were very important. This is the view usually given of the transaction by Popish controversialists. But Sir William, in his pamphlet in favour of intrusion, withdraws this charge, and substitutes another in its room; alleging that they approved of polygamy as lawful and warrantable, and, of course, acted in the matter in accordance with their own convictions, - their anxiety for the concealment of the marriage arising, on this second theory, not from the belief that it was sinful, but merely from prudential considerations to avoid scandal. He adheres to this latter view in his “Discussions.” According to the former view of the matter, the conduct of the Reformers in consenting to the Landgrave’s second marriage was a sin, being produced by the operation of sinful motives, and tending directly to bring about the commission of sin. According to the latter view, it was an error of opinion, or what, from its heinous and offensive character, might be called a heresy. But though the charge, as originally put, involved a sin, and in its second form was merely an error, most people in modern times will probably regard it as being quite as damaging to the character of Luther and Melancthon to have inculcated the lawfulness of polygamy, as to have been tempted, upon a particular occasion, to have given consent to the doing of what was sinful.
Mr. Hare concurs in the general idea involved in Sir William’s second deliverance upon the subject, viz. that the conduct of the Reformers is to be regarded rather as an error than as a sin, though he reaches that conclusion by a different course, and maintains the incorrectness of several of Sir William’s positions, especially of his leading one, which ascribes to Luther and Melancthon a belief in the lawfulness of polygamy under the Christian dispensation. The leading features in his view of the case are exhibited in the following quotations: -
“When we examine the whole opinion connectedly, we are compelled to reject the excuse which Sir W. Hamilton so kindly proposes, in order to rescue Luther from the fangs of the Edinburgh Reviewer. For, from first to last, it is plain that the licence, which the divines declare themselves unable to condemn, is meant by them to be regarded as a dispensation, and not as authorizing or sanctioning polygamy; and this is the main reason why they are so earnest in requiring that the second marriage, if entered upon, should be kept secret, lest it should be looked upon as the introduction of a general practice. Polygamy, as a general practice, they altogether condemn; because they conceive that our Lord’s words in the passage referred to re-establish the primary, paradisiacal institution of monogamy. At the same time, while they see that polygamy, though contrary to the original institution, is sanctioned in the Old Testament, both by the practice of the patriarchs and by the express recognition of it in the book of Deuteronomy, they do not find any passage in the New Testament directly and absolutely forbidding it. Here we should bear in mind what their rule, especially Luther’s, was. When the word of God seemed to him clear and express, then everything else was to bow to it: heaven and earth might pass away, but no tittle of what God had said. On the other hand, where no express Scripture could be produced, he held that all human laws and ordinances, and everything enjoined by man’s understanding on considerations of expediency, however wide that expediency might be, is so far flexible and variable, that it may be made to bend to imperious circumstances in particular cases.
“Thus the document itself forces us to decline Sir W. Hamilton’s plea, that Luther was merely giving his sanction in a single instance to that which he desired at heart to establish generally, the patriarchal practice of polygamy.”
Then follows a careful investigation of Luther’s general views on the subject of polygamy, as indicated in his writings, and of his presumed concurrence in the suggestion which Melancthon made to Henry VIII. of England, that it would be less objectionable to take a second wife than to divorce his first; after which he states thus the ground on which he thinks Luther acted in sanctioning the Landgrave’s second marriage: -
“But though we must reject the plea that the advice given to the Landgrave is an instance of the predilection which the Reformers, on principle, entertained for polygamy, the evidence adduced abundantly proves, that, in sanctioning a dispensation in what appeared to them a case of pressing need, they were not acting inconsistently, but in thorough consistency with the principles which they had avowed for years before. To us, indeed, the notion of such a dispensation will still be very, offensive; but we must beware, as I have already remarked, of transferring the moral views and feelings of our age to Luther’s. The canon law admitted the necessity of dispensations, which, in matrimonial cases, were especially numerous. One of the main objects of the scholastic casuistry was to determine under what limitations they are admissible, as may be seen in our own authors on this branch of practical theology, such as Taylor; and the great importance of casuistry is beginning to be recognized anew by recent writers on ethics. The ignorant prater may cry, that Luther ought to have thrown all such things overboard, along with the other rubbish of Romanism. But it was never Luther’s wont to throw things overboard in a lump. His calling, he felt, was to preach Christ crucified for the sins of mankind, - Christ, of whose righteousness we become partakers by faith. Whatever in the institutions and practices of the church was compatible with the exercise of this ministry, he did not assail unless it was flagrantly immoral. The sale of dispensations, the multiplication of cases for dispensations, in order to gain money by the sale of them, he regarded as criminal; and the abolition of such dispensations, where they have been abolished, the reprobation they he under, are owing, in no small measure, to him. But the idea of law which manifested itself to him, convinced him that positive laws can only partially express the requirements of the supreme law of love, for the sake of which they must at times bend; and when he consulted his one infallible authority, he found that his heavenly Master’s chief outward conflict during His earthly ministry, was to assert the supremacy of the law of love, which the Pharisees were continually infringing, while they stickled pertinaciously for the slightest positive enactment.”
He sums up the matter in this way: -
“Such, then, is the amount of Luther’s sin, or rather error - for sin I dare not call it - in this affair, in which the voice of the world, ever ready to believe evil of great and good men, has so severely condemned him, without investigation of the facts; although the motives imputed to him are wholly repugnant to those which governed his conduct through life. He did not compromise any professed principle, as the reviewer accuses him of doing: he did not inculcate polygamy, as the pamphleteer charges him with doing. But inasmuch as he could not discover any direct, absolute prohibition of polygamy in the New Testament, while it was practised by the patriarchs and recognized by the law, he did not deem himself warranted in condemning it absolutely, when there appeared, in special cases, to be a strong necessity, either with a view to some great national object, or for the relief of a troubled conscience. Here it behoves us to bear in mind, on the one hand, what importance Luther attached, as all his writings witness, to this high ministerial office of relieving troubled consciences; and it may mitigate our condemnation of his error, - which, after all, was an error on the right side, its purpose being to substitute a hallowed union for unhallowed licence, - if we remember that Gerson had said openly, a century before, expressing the common opinion of his age, that it was better for a priest to be guilty of fornication than to marry. Such was the moral degradation of the church under the Egyptian bondage of ordinances, that even so wise and good a man could deem it expedient to sacrifice the sacred principles of right and purity, the sense of duty, and the peace of the soul, for the sake of upholding the arbitrary enactment of a tyrannical hierarchy. Indeed, the clamour which has been raised against Luther for this one act by the Romish polemics, is perhaps, among all cases of the beam crying out against the mote, the grossest and the most hypocritical.
“Nor should we forget what difficulties have in all ages compassed the settlement of special matrimonial cases. They may perhaps be less now in England than in other countries, notwithstanding the grievous scandals which attend them even here; and there is always a prejudice inclining men to suppose that their own condition is the normal one for the whole human race: but if we compare the laws of marriage which prevail in the various branches of Christendom, and know anything of their moral effects as manifested in family life, we shall perceive how hard it is to lay down any one inviolable rule. What the obscurity and uncertainty of the law was in Luther’s time, we may estimate from the conflicting answers which were returned to the questions mooted with reference to Henry VIII.’s divorce. On the other hand, we should try to realize what the Bible was to Luther, - the source of all wisdom, the treasure-house of all truth, the primordial code of all law, the store-room from which, with the help of the Spirit, he was to bring forth every needful weapon to fight against and to overcome the world and the devil, - how, if the Bible had been put in the one scale, and all the books of all the great thinkers of the heathen and Christian world had been piled up in the other, they would not have availed, in his judgment, to sway the balance so much as a hair’s-breadth. It was not much the practice of his age - least of all was it Luther’s - to estimate the lawfulness and propriety of an act by reference to its general consequences. He did, indeed, bethink himself of the evil that would ensue, if the dispensation were regarded as a precedent, and therefore did he insist on its being kept secret: but he did not duly consider how impossible it was that such a step, taken by a man of so impetuous a character, should be kept secret; nor how terrible the evils would be if every pastor were to deem himself authorized to give similar counsel; nor how perilous it is to take the covering of secrecy for any acts, except such as are sanctioned by the laws of God and man, while the moral feeling of society throws a veil over them.”
Since it is necessary to discuss such painful and delicate topics, in consequence of Sir William’s offensive conduct in forcing them upon public attention, we prefer employing the words of another to our own. We are very thankful to Mr. Hare for vindicating Luther so well, and we shrink from enlarging upon the subject. But justice demands one or two observations.
Sir William alleges that Luther maintained the lawfulness, or, as he says, “the religions legality,” of polygamy, even under the Christian dispensation; and he has been threatening the world for nearly thirteen years with the publication of what he calls “an articulate manifestation,” “a chronological series of testimonies,” in support of this charge. There is nothing new, certainly, in this allegation. It was brought forward by Bellarmine,| who has been followed in this by the generality of Popish controversialists. It has also been adduced by the defenders of polygamy, that they might have some respectable countenance to their abominations, as may be seen in the famous, or rather infamous, “Polygamia Triumphatrix” of Lyser. We do not suppose that Sir William’s “articulate manifestation,” if it ever see the light, will contain anything but what has been known and discussed before. There is, indeed, some difficulty in ascertaining precisely and certainly what Luther’s views were on some points connected with polygamy. There is some confusion and inconsistency in his statements. At one time he certainly drew somewhat wide and incautious inferences from the practice of the patriarchs in this respect, extending to polygamy what our Saviour said of divorce, that, under the old economy, God permitted it because of the hardness of men’s hearts. But he seems at length to have become quite settled in the conviction, that under the Christian dispensation polygamy was forbidden by the authority of our Saviour; and if so, Sir William’s allegation that “polygamy was never abandoned by Luther as a religious speculation” is unfounded.
But it must be noticed and remembered that Sir William has gone farther than this, and asserted that Luther and Melancthon wished polygamy to be sanctioned by the civil authorities, and did something, though unsuccessfully, directed to bring about this result. All this is fairly implied in the language he has employed; and this involves a new charge, one which, so far as we know and remember, has not before been advanced against them either by Papists or polygamists. This point specially needs to be proved; and when Sir William produces his “articulate manifestation,” this special discovery of his own must be duly commended and established, by an exhibition of the proof which has eluded the researches of all previous depreciators of the Reformers.
We are not quite satisfied, as we have hinted, with some of the grounds on which Mr. Hare has based his vindication of Luther in this matter. We do not see that anything short of Sir William’s position, that Luther believed in “the religious legality” of polygamy, is altogether adequate to take his conduct out of the category of a sin, and to invest it with the character of an error. We believe that the transaction involved both an error in judgment and a sin in conduct, the error, indeed, somewhat palliating the sin. Luther and Melancthon held, as Mr. Hare has shown, that this was a matter on which dispensations might sometimes be granted for special reasons, on extraordinary emergencies. And this belief may be said, in a sense, to have palliated their conduct, by bringing the subject of a dispensation before them as what might be lawfully entertained. But even if this opinion had been true, instead of being erroneous, the question would still remain, whether or not this was a case for a dispensation to marry a second wife; and, at this point, we fear it must be admitted that the element of direct and palpable sinfulness comes in. Even supposing that dispensations may be lawful in some cases of this sort, there seems to be no fair ground for holding that the Landgrave’s was a case warranting a dispensation; and what is specially pertinent to the point in hand, there is no sufficient ground to believe that Luther and Melancthon really believed it to be a case warranting a dispensation. We cannot but conclude, from a deliberate survey of the whole case, that Luther and Melancthon were substantially satisfied that the Landgrave, in marrying a second wife, was guilty of sin; and that, therefore, in giving their consent to his doing this, they were themselves sinning. It was a solitary offence, with much to palliate it on a variety of grounds, but still it was a sin, committed under the influence of temptation; and as such it ought to be condemned.
It is an interesting and instructing circumstance, that one spot, in some respects similar, stains the character of John Knox; and we could not possibly find words that would, in our judgment, describe Luther’s conduct in this matter more correctly than those in which Dr M‘Crie has described a transaction in the life of our own Reformer: -
“In one solitary instance, the anxiety which he felt for the preservation of the great cause in which he was so deeply interested, betrayed him into an advice, which was not more inconsistent with the laws of strict morality, than it was contrary to the stern uprightness and undisguised sincerity which characterized the rest of his conduct.”
The third head of Sir William’s original attack upon Luther was Biblical Criticism; and under this head he collected, chiefly from the “Table Talk” some rash and offensive statements ascribed to Luther, in which he is represented as speaking disparagingly of some of the books of Scripture. Mr. Hare has here again convicted Sir William of several blunders, and one of them Sir William has been constrained to confess in the notes to his “Discussions.” But this topic is not worth dwelling upon. To collect and parade an “anthology” of rash and exaggerated statements from Luther, and especially to take materials for doing this from the “Table Talk,” is about as unfair an occupation as can well be conceived; and if Sir William had confined himself to this, we would not have thought it worth while to have given him any disturbance, beyond denouncing his conduct in the terms it deserved. .
But it must not be forgotten that there is one other very gross and heinous charge which Sir William has brought against Luther, a charge never, so far as we know, adduced before, and of which, though it was fabricated by himself, and published to the world nearly thirteen years ago, he has not yet attempted to produce any evidence. It is stated and disposed of by Mr. Hare in the following brief extract: -
“The other charges, that Luther ‘publicly preached incontinence, adultery, incest even, as not only allowable, but, if practised under the prudential regulations which he himself lays down, unobjectionable and even praiseworthy,’ cannot be refuted in the same summary manner. I might cite a number of passages against incontinence from his writings: I might show that he often expressed a wish that adultery were punished capitally. But I will not waste words upon such accusations, proceeding from a witness whose testimony has been proved again and again to be utterly worthless. When a dear friend, whose faith and righteousness have been approved during a long life, under many severe trials, is said to have committed unheard-of enormities, without any specification of when, where, how, or what, one is fully warranted in replying that the assertions cannot possibly be true. Therefore I will merely defy Sir W. Hamilton to bring forward evidence in support of these atrocious charges. Should he attempt to do so, and adduce any passages beyond those which have been satisfactorily explained by Harless in the seventh volume of his Journal, I shall deem myself bound to use my best endeavours to set them on a right footing. At the same time, let me remark, that I trust he will not have the assurance to quote certain sayings, which explicitly refer solely to cases of impotence, as substantiating his allegations. Should he shrink from this test, finding that he cannot stand it, what can a generous, nay, what can an honest man do in his place, but come forward with an open recantation, and a humble acknowledgment of the wrong he has done to one of the noblest pillars of Christianity, one of the greatest benefactors of mankind?”
Sir William has certainly brought himself under very peculiar obligations, to prove, if he can, his own special charges against Luther, viz. that he wished to have polygamy sanctioned by the civil authorities, and that he recommended, under certain restrictions, incontinence, adultery, and incest. And these, after all, are the most important points involved in this controversy, whether as affecting the character of Luther or Sir William Hamilton. If Sir William cannot conclusively establish these charges, there are no words too strong to characterize his conduct in adducing them. And yet we do not suppose that his friends will advise him to attempt to establish his accusations. He is sure to fail in the attempt. We do not pretend to possess a very thorough acquaintance with Luther’s writings; but, from what we do know of his works and of his character, we are very confident that these odious charges cannot be established; while we are well aware that, if the attempt is made, this will involve the bringing forward of a great deal of matter most unsuitable to be made the subject of public discussion. Sir William, indeed, has placed himself in such a situation that he can neither speak nor be silent without justly incurring discredit and reproach. He has been much better employed since 1843 than in defending his extraordinary pamphlet of that year. He has since that time rendered most important services to the world in the highest departments of philosophical speculation. He has yet much to do in developing and promulgating his philosophical views; and we trust he will be spared to do this. We are not in the least afraid of him. We have perfect confidence in the goodness of our cause, and in the imprudence of our opponent. We have exposed, with all plainness, his attack upon the character of the Reformers, undeterred by the warning which the very peculiar complexion of his assault upon Archdeacon Hare seems fitted and intended to convey; and we have done so because we believed this to be the discharge of an important public duty. But we would rather avoid incurring, unnecessarily, the responsibility of calling him out again on theological and ecclesiastical questions; because we are very certain that this is a field where he can gain no credit to himself and confer no real benefit on his fellow-men, and where he might exhaust time and strength that may be employed more honourably for himself, and more beneficially for the world.
We have been, of necessity, so much engrossed with the weaknesses and infirmities of Luther, - with the defects of his character, - that it would be an act of injustice to him if we were to conclude without reminding our readers of his strong claims to our esteem and affection as a man, and of the invaluable services which he was made the instrument of rendering to the church and the world. The first of these points is beautifully touched upon by Mr. Hare, in the conclusion of his “Vindication:” -
“To some readers it may seem that I have spoken with exaggerated admiration of Luther. No man ever lived whose whole heart, and soul, and life, have been laid bare as his have been to the eyes of mankind. Open as the sky, bold and fearless as the storm, he gave utterance to all his feelings, all his thoughts: he knew nothing of reserve: and the impression he produced on his hearers and friends was such, that they were anxious to treasure up every word that dropped from his pen or from his lips. No man, therefore, has ever been exposed to so severe a trial: perhaps no man was ever placed in such difficult circumstances, or assailed by such manifold temptations. And how has he come out of the trial? Through the power of faith, under the guardian care of his heavenly Master, he was enabled to stand through life; and still he stands, and will continue to stand, firmly rooted in the love of all who really know him. A writer quoted by Harless has well said, ‘I have continually been more and more edified, elevated, and strengthened by this man of steel, this sterling soul, in whom certain features of the Christian character are manifested in their fullest perfection. His image, I confess, was for some years obscured before my eyes. I fixed them exclusively on the ebullitions of his powerful nature, unsubdued as yet by the Spirit of the Lord. But when, on a renewed study of his works, the holy faith and energy of his thoroughly German character, the truth of his whole being, his wonderful childlikeness and simplicity, revealed themselves to my sight in their glory; then I could not but turn to him with entire, pure love, and exclaim, His weaknesses are only so great, because Ms virtues are so great."”f These are the feelings which every rightly constituted and adequately informed mind will cherish towards Luther as a man; and the services which he was enabled to render to the church and the world were such as to entitle him to be ever regarded with the profoundest admiration and gratitude. His great leading service, in so far as the highest of all interests are concerned, was the entire destruction of the doctrine of human merit, and the thorough establishment of the great scriptural truth of a purely gratuitous justification through faith alone as the means or instrument of uniting men to Jesus Christ, and of applying to them all that He did and suffered in their room; together with the vigorous and unshrinking application of these great principles to the exposure of all the mass of erroneous doctrines and of unauthorized and sinful practices, by which the Church of Home had been leading men, formally or virtually, theoretically or practically, to pervert the gospel of the grace of God, and to build their hopes for eternity upon a false foundation. Under this general description may be comprehended, more or less directly, most of the theology which the writings of Luther contain. This was the work which God raised him up and qualified him to achieve; and a more important work, one more fraught with glory to God and benefit to man, was probably never committed to any one who had not been endowed with the gift of supernatural inspiration. Luther’s previous training and experience before he appeared publicly as a Reformer, were manifestly fitted and intended to lead him to understand practically the true way of a sinner’s acceptance and deliverance from guilt and bondage; for, after being awakened to some sense of divine things, and of his own relation to God, he went long about to establish his own righteousness, before he was brought into the glorious liberty of God’s children. This was evidently the best preparation for the work to which he was destined. He had tried all other methods of obtaining deliverance and peace, with the utmost earnestness, and in circumstances in many respects favourable. He had been driven from every refuge of lies, and shut up to an absolute submission to the righteousness of God, - the righteousness which is of God by faith. He had been compelled, and he had been enabled, to fight his way through all the formidable obstacles which the current doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome interposed to men’s rightly discerning and appreciating their true condition as helpless sinners, and the scriptural method of their deliverance, and was thus eminently fitted for opening up to the miserable victims of Romish delusion, the danger to which they were exposed, and the only sure way in which deliverance and enlargement were to be obtained. This object he zealously and faithfully prosecuted during the remainder of his life, keeping it principally in view in his exposition of divine truth, and in his interpretation of the word of God.
The doctrine of justification, notwithstanding the peculiarly full, formal, and elaborate exposition which the Apostle Paul was guided by the Spirit to make of it, became very soon involved in obscurity and error; and though some, no doubt, in every age - apparently decreasing, however, in number, in every succeeding century - were practically, and in fact, led by God’s grace to rest for their own salvation upon the one foundation laid in Zion, yet it is, to say the least, somewhat doubtful whether, after the age of the men who had held personal intercourse with the apostles (from none of whom have we anything like detailed expositions of Christian doctrine), any man can be produced who has given, or who could have given, a perfectly correct exposition of the whole of Paul’s doctrine upon this vitally important subject. Confusion and error upon this point continued to increase and extend, - even Augustine giving the weight of his deservedly high authority to views defective and erroneous regarding it, - until, by the admirable skill with which the doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome were adapted to foster and satisfy those notions upon this subject to which depraved men are naturally disposed, all scriptural views of the method of justification had, for many centuries before the Reformation, disappeared from the world; and while there was still a vague, unmeaning, and inoperative acknowledgment of Christ as a Saviour, the great body of His professed followers were practically and in reality relying upon their own works and merits, and upon the works and merits of other sinful creatures like themselves, for the salvation of their souls.
This was the condition in which Luther found the professing church in regard to theology and religion. He was guided, by the work of the divine Spirit upon his own understanding and heart, through the word, to appreciate aright men’s utter helplessness and inability to do anything to merit or deserve the forgiveness of their sins and the enjoyment of God’s favour; to see that salvation and all its blessings are purchased for men by Christ, and are freely imparted to them individually by God’s grace through the instrumentality of faith; and to feel that the practical reception of these doctrines is the only sure provision for producing holiness of heart, and peace and joy in believing. And his life was mainly devoted to the exposition of these fundamental principles of Christian truth, and the application and enforcement of them in opposition to all the corruptions and abuses, theoretical and practical, of the Church of Rome. He was enabled to bring out his views on these subjects so clearly and convincingly, and to establish them so firmly upon the basis of scriptural authority, that in substance they were adopted by all the other Reformers, embodied in the confessions of all the Reformed churches, including the Church of England, and that they were always held with peculiar clearness and steadiness in the Lutheran Church, until the rationalism of last century swept away all regard to the authority of God’s word, and all right conceptions of men’s actual relation to God and the gospel method of salvation. There is little else in Luther’s theological works than what may be said to be involved, more or less directly, in the exposition and application of these great truths; but there is all this set forth with much clearness and vigour, and applied with much energy and success. He scarcely seems ever to have proposed it to himself as an object to open up the whole system of scriptural truth in its connection and details, and to unfold it in its various aspects. Human merit and ability on the one hand, and on the other full and purely gratuitous justification, as indispensably necessary for men, and actually provided and offered by God through Christ, are at once the points from which he ever starts, and the centres around which he ever moves: and by thoroughly establishing the one upon the ruins of the other, he has thrown a flood of light upon the most fundamental articles of Christian truth, and upon the interpretation of the most important portions of the word of God.
Luther can scarcely be said to have investigated with much care, or to have discussed with much success, any department of divine truth, which was not more or less directly connected with these fundamental points; but then, both from the nature of the case and the forms which the corruption of the divine method of justification had assumed in the Church of Home, the exposition and application of these topics led him to traverse a much wider field of divine truth than might at first sight be supposed. Still, as he certainly did not possess the comprehensive far-reaching intellect of Calvin, he views most topics only in their bearings on a sinner’s acceptance, without always taking in all the different aspects in which they are presented to us in Scripture. It may be worth while to illustrate this by an example.
Luther, especially during the earlier part of his career (and the same holds true, in some measure, of his immediate followers), in treating of the worship of God, and the load of ceremonies with which the Church of Home had encumbered and disfigured it, manifests an inadequate sense of the sinfulness of idolatry, viewed simply as such, or as a direct offence against God, and scarcely any sense of the sinfulness of man’s introducing rites and ceremonies into the worship of God, simply upon the ground that God had not authorized or required them. He seems to think that the great evil of the Romish rites and ceremonies - even those which, upon scriptural principles, should be chiefly and primarily denounced as idolatrous, and therefore directly and immediately involving a sin against God, independently of all other considerations and consequences - lay in the notion of merit that was conjoined with them, - in the idea which the church inculcated, that through these rites and ceremonies men were either meriting God’s favour, or at least securing for themselves an interest in the merits of other creatures. No doubt this view might be justly regarded as being the crowning iniquity of the Popish system, that which most directly and immediately brought it to bear injuriously upon the salvation of men. But Luther seems to have seen little evil in these rites and ceremonies, except for the opinion of their meritoriousness, inculcated along with their observance; and would probably have been little disposed to object to them had they not been formally and explicitly represented by the church in this light, which, of course, brought them into collision with the Scripture doctrine of justification. But this view, though true, so far as it went, and very important, did not go to the root of the matter; and it was assigned to Zwingli, and still more fully to Calvin, to bring out the guilt of idolatry, as directly and immediately, in every instance, a sin against God, irrespective of all other consequences, - and to establish further the important principle, that God has given sufficiently clear indications in His word, that it is His will that no rites and ceremonies are to be introduced into His worship, except those which He himself has sanctioned, - a principle which might have been commended to Luther’s approbation, if not by its direct and appropriate scriptural evidence, though that is clear enough, at least through an appeal to experience, which clearly proves, that whenever unauthorized rites and ceremonies are introduced into the worship of God, there is a strong and never-failing tendency in men to regard the observance of them as meritorious in God’s sight.
So far as concerns the exposition of those fundamental truths, on which he chiefly dwelt, the main grounds on which, with some show of reason, he has been charged with exaggerated and paradoxical statements, are his indiscriminate abuse of the Law, his seeming to deny that it has any legitimate bearing upon regenerate men, and to deny also that there is anything really good or holy, even in believers. The way in which Luther sometimes speaks of the Law, especially in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, is certainly unbecoming and indecent; but it is plain enough, from a fair and impartial survey of his whole doctrine upon this subject, that he really meant nothing more in substance than to shut it out, as Paul does, from all direct share in the justification of a sinner, and to illustrate its utter unfitness to serve the purposes of those who are seeking justification by deeds of Law. Some of his incautious statements about the relation of believers to the Law, gave rise afterwards to a controversy, in the Lutheran Church, which was settled at length, along with many of those other internal disputes, in the Formula Concordiae, in 1588, under the title, “De tertio usu Legisbut Luther certainly never really gave any countenance to Antinomian principles, and strenuously inculcated the necessity and obligation of holiness of heart and life. And his declarations about the non-existence of anything truly good or holy in regenerate persons, though somewhat strongly and incautiously expressed, did not really mean more than what we all believe to be a great scriptural truth, viz. that the best actions of believers are stained with such imperfection and sin, that they can have nothing justifying, and nothing properly and intrinsically meritorious, about them.
But the great error of Luther, that which gives the most unfavourable impression of his character and mental structure, and which, in its influence, most extensively injured his usefulness and obstructed the cause of the Reformation, was his obstinate adherence to the unintelligible absurdity, commonly called Con substantiation, - the real presence, not of Christ but of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, or the co-existence, in some way, of the real flesh and blood of Christ, in, with, or under, in, cum, or sub, the bread and wine in the Eucharist. This was a real remnant of Popery, to which, after throwing off almost everything in the doctrine of the Papists upon this subject that makes it valuable to them and offensive to us, viz. transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of the one into that of the other, as implying the annihilation of the substance of the bread and wine, - the sacrifice of the Mass, - and the adoration of the host founded on this transubstantiation, he adhered with an obstinacy and intolerance most discreditable and most injurious to the Reformed cause. This was the chief subject of controversy among the Reformers in the earlier period of their labours. The controversy upon this point occupied a great deal of time and attention that might have been much better employed in opposing the common enemy; it produced at length an entire separation and much alienation of feeling among them; it thus led to other disputes and contentions, and tended at last to fix down the Lutheran Church in a much wider deviation from the scriptural orthodoxy of Calvin upon other points than Luther himself could have consistently approved of, or than, without this separation or alienation, would probably have been exhibited. The chief responsibility of controversies, and of all the evils that flow from them, lies upon those who take the wrong side on the merits of the points in dispute, because, if they had taken the right side of the question, as they ought to have done, there would have been no controversy. And in this Sacramentarian Controversy, as it was called, Luther certainly appeared to as little advantage in the moral character of the spirit which he manifested, as in the soundness of the doctrine which he maintained.
Papists have been accustomed to dwell with great complacency on the changes which took place in Luther’s views during several years after he published his thesis upon Indulgences; and on this ground to taunt him with his inconsistencies, and to taunt Protestants with being blind followers of the blind. Audin says, “What is the Lutheran doctrine? Is it faith minus indulgences, as in 1518; faith minus the priesthood, as in 1519; faith minus the sacraments of orders and extreme unction, as in 1520; faith with only two sacraments, as in 1521; or faith minus the mass and the worship of the saints, as in 1522?” So. far as the charges here referred to affect Luther himself, they merely indicate the gradual progress of an honest mind, following the guidance of the Spirit and word of God from darkness to light; and as to Protestants, even those of them who are commonly called Lutherans from their adopting the leading views of divine truth, in which Luther soon settled, they do not affect them at all. But these men seemed determined to make Luther a pope, whether he himself, and those who have adopted his leading principles solely because they believed them to be sanctioned by Scripture, will or not. They are so prepossessed with the duty of receiving their own opinions implicitly from the mouth of a fellow-sinner, that they seem to be incapable of conceiving of such a thing as other men deriving theirs from the word of God, and believing only what they are persuaded is sanctioned by its statements. Protestants do not regard Luther as a pope: they ascribe to him no infallibility, they receive no doctrine because he taught it; and as to Luther himself, he always fully confessed, that when he first raised his voice against indulgences, he was little better than a blind Papist; that he was involved in great ignorance and error; that he had yet a great deal to learn, and that he learned slowly and gradually. He retracted his errors fully and frankly whenever he was convinced of them, and during the whole progress of his views, gave the most satisfactory evidence of thorough integrity and love of truth. And it should further be noticed, that before he appeared publicly as a Reformer, he had already adopted, in substance, upon the testimony of God’s word, all those fundamental principles in regard to the natural condition of man, and the way of his acceptance and deliverance, which he continued to hold through life; and that the changes which his opinions underwent after that period, arose mainly, as is evident from even Audin’s statement, from his gaining progressively a deeper insight into the mystery of Popish iniquity, from the expansive influence of the vital principles of Christian truth which God had implanted in his heart, in throwing off, one after another, the foul incrustations in which Popery wraps men’s spirits, and from his applying fully and fearlessly the touchstone of the word of God, and of the great doctrine of a free justification purchased by Christ and imparted through the faith that unites with Him, to all the fearful mass of corruptions by which the Romish system has perverted the principles of God’s oracles and the gospel of His grace. Luther’s opinions seem to have become settled within five or six years after the publication of his thesis; and we do not find any evidence, that after that period they received any material modification.
It may be proper to allude in conclusion to a question which has been much discussed in subsequent times, viz. whether Luther held the peculiar opinions on doctrinal points which are usually associated with the name of Calvin. When Luther’s followers, in a subsequent generation, openly deviated from scriptural orthodoxy on these points, they set themselves to prove that Luther had never held Calvinistic principles; and for several succeeding generations, Lutheran authors, in general, indulged in the most bitter and malignant vituperation of Calvin and his doctrines, more even than that which generally prevailed among writers of the Church of England during last century. But we have no hesitation in saying, that it can be established beyond all reasonable question, that Luther held the doctrines which are commonly regarded as most peculiarly Calvinistic, though he was never led to explain and apply, to illustrate and defend, some of them so fully as Calvin did. We need go no further in proof of this, than to his famous work, “De Servo Arbitrio,” published in 1525, in reply to Erasmus, in which he has unequivocally asserted the most peculiar and generally obnoxious tenets of Calvinism, in respect to God’s sovereign agency in pre-ordaining all things; in conferring, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, all spiritual blessings; and in thus determining, according to His own good pleasure, the eternal destinies of men; and has asserted them with an unshrinking boldness, and, we might say, with a rashness and offensiveness of statement which can certainly not be paralleled in the works of Calvin himself. There is no ground for alleging that Luther ever retracted the sentiments contained in this work. Indeed, at a much later period of his life, in 1537, he expressly declared that of all his works, his treatise, “De Servo Arbitrio,” and his larger “Catechism,” were the only ones which he now regarded as written with due care and accuracy. The Lutherans are therefore obliged to attempt to explain away the strong statements of this very valuable work, and to extract out of them their manifestly Calvinistic sense, under the cover of admitting, that the work does contain some rash and incautious declarations; and in perusing some of their attempts of this sort, one is often reminded, by the boldness of their perversions, of a Socinian commentary upon the first chapter of John’s Gospel. It has also been asserted, that in his Commentary upon Genesis, the last work he published, he substantially though not formally retracted any peculiarly Calvinistic principles which he might previously have taught. But there is no good ground for this allegation; for, upon a fair examination of the passages in the commentary, it appears plain, that they do not contain, even in substance, any retractation of his former views, but merely cautions to guard against the abuse of them, - against their being applied in an erroneous and injurious way; while it is certain that cautions to the same effect, as full and strong, and in every respect as judicious and practical, abound in the writings of Calvin himself. It is highly creditable to Luther, that while he was not led to dwell at much length upon the illustration and defence of some of the doctrines which are commonly reckoned Calvinistic peculiarities, he yet had the sagacity to see, that without including in his system these peculiar doctrines, it was impossible to maintain and to expound fully and consistently the sovereign agency of God in the salvation of sinners, or to give to the Sovereign Ruler and Disposer of all things the place which He claims to himself.