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BRILLIANT RAYS OF HOPE
In the different countries of Europe men were moved by the Spirit of God to search for the truth as for hid treasures. They were willing to accept the light at any cost to themselves. Though they did not see all things clearly, they were enabled to perceive many long-buried truths. As Heaven-sent messengers they went forth, rending asunder the chains of error and superstition.
In fourteenth century England John Wycliffe was the herald of reform. In the Word of God he saw the plan of salvation revealed and Christ set forth as the only advocate for man. He demanded that the Bible be restored to the people and that its authority be again established in the church. But the greatest work of his life was the translation of the Scriptures into the English language. The appearance of the Scriptures brought dismay to the authorities of the church. There was at this time no law in England prohibiting the Bible, for it had never before been published in the language of the people. Such laws were afterward enacted and rigorously enforced.
After his death, his followers, known as Wycliffites and Lollards, scattered to other lands, carrying the knowledge of the gospel.
Foremost among those who were called to lead the church from darkness into the light of a purer faith stood Martin Luther. He firmly declared that Christians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures. Precious was the message which he bore to the eager crowds. The glad tidings of a Savior's love, the assurance of pardon and peace through His atoning blood, rejoiced their hearts and inspired within them an immortal hope.
He set before the people the offensive character of sin, and taught them that it is impossible for man, by his own works, to lessen its guilt or evade its punishment Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ can save the sinner. The grace of Christ cannot be purchased it is a free gift.
He also performed a most important service for his countrymen by translating the New Testament into the German language. This translation was received with great joy by all who loved the truth.
Rome summoned all her authority to prevent the circulation of the Scriptures. The more she condemned and prohibited the Bible, the greater was the anxiety of the people to know what it really taught. Thousands of believers sealed their faith with their blood, and yet the work went on. Persecution served only to extend the truth.
The Reformation did not, as many suppose, end with Luther. It is to be continued to the close of this world's history. Luther had a great work to do in reflecting to others the light which God had permitted to shine upon him; yet he did not receive all the light which was to be given to the world.
In England the establishment of Protestantism as the national religion diminished, but did not wholly stop, persecution. The supremacy of the pope was rejected, but in his place the monarch was enthroned as the head of the church. Though the horrible cruelties which Rome employed against heresy were resorted to but rarely by Protestant rulers, yet the right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience was not acknowledged. All were required to accept the doctrines and observe the forms of worship prescribed by the established church. Dissenters suffered persecution, to a greater or less extent, for hundreds of years.
The English Reformers, while renouncing the doctrines of Romanism, had retained many of its forms.
Many earnest Christians desired to return to the purity and simplicity which characterized the primitive church. But the church, being supported by the civil authority, would permit no dissent, and unauthorized assemblies for religious worship were prohibited, under penalty of imprisonment, exile, and death.
When first constrained to separate from the English Church, the Puritans joined themselves together by a solemn covenant, as the Lord's free people, “to walk together in all His ways made known or to be made known to them.” -J. Brown, The Pilgrim Fathers, page 74.Here was the true spirit of reform, the vital principle of Protestantism. It was with this purpose that the Pilgrims departed to find a home in the New World.
Yet the freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others.
Eleven years after the planting of the first colony, Roger Williams came to the New World. He saw-what so few in his time had yet seen-that this freedom was the inalienable right of all, whatever might be their creed.
Roger Williams was respected as a faithful minister, a man of unbending integrity and true benevolence; yet his steadfast demand for religious liberty could not be tolerated. He was sentenced to banishment from the colonies, and finally, to avoid arrest, he was forced to flee, amid the cold and storms of winter, into the unbroken forest. Making his way at last, after months of wandering, to the shores of Narragansett Bay, he there laid the foundation of the first state of modern times that in the fullest sense recognized the right of religious freedom, His little state, Rhode Island, became the asylum of the oppressed. and it increased and prospered until its foundation principles-civil and religious liberty-became the corner stones of the American Republic.
A hundred years later, in a day of great spiritual darkness, the Wesleys appeared as light bearers for God. Under the rule of the established church the people of England had lapsed into a state of religious declension hardly to he distinguished from heathenism. The great doctrine of justification by faith, so clearly taught by Luther, had been almost wholly lost sight of.
Wesley and his associates were led to see that true religion is seated in the heart. and that God's law extends to the thoughts as well as to the words and actions. The Methodists of those early days -people as well as preachers-endured ridicule and persecution, alike from church members and from the openly irreligious.
In some instances, public notices were posted, calling upon those who desired to assist in breaking the windows and robbing the houses of the Methodists, to assemble at a given time and place. These open violations of both human and divine law were allowed to pass without a reprimand. A systematic persecution was carried on against a people whose only fault was that of seeking to turn the feet of sinners from the path of destruction to the path of holiness.
The Protestant churches failed to press forward in the path of reform. Religion again degenerated into formalism; and errors and superstitions which would have been cast aside had the church continued to walk in the light of God's word, were retained and cherished. Thus the spirit inspired by the Reformation gradually died out, until there was need of reform in the Protestant churches almost as great as in the Roman Church in the time of Luther.
Men neglected to search the Scriptures, and consequently continued to accept false interpretations, and to cherish doctrines which had no foundation in the Bible. Thus were degraded the principles for which the Reformers had done and suffered so much.
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Created: 11/12/02 Updated: 5/21/04