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Church of England Magazine.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1823.
MEMOIRS OF THE REFORMERS.
It is usual with historians and philosophers of a certain class, to speak of the Reformation as an event which necessarily followed the progress of knowledge. They consider, that the introduction of a purer kind of philosophy, an acquaintance with classical literature, and increased commercial intercourse among the different states of Europe, would have such an effect on the public mind, as to produce important revolutions in the opinions and habits of mankind, and such a change in respect to religious sentiments as was seen to issue in the separation of so large a portion of Christendom from the see of Rome. So great an authority as Dugald Stewart remarks: "The Protestant religion, which followed immediately after, was itself one of the natural consequences of the revival of letters, and of the invention of printing."
But, with every possible sentiment of respect for authors, whose claims to form our notions and regulate our judgments have been long and deservedly recognised, it would appear, that, on topics of religion, the custom of generalization, and a too liberal mode of calculation, have betrayed them into statements which require to be qualified. Unless they can show, that purity of faith and soundness of theological
views have borne a considerable proportion to the increase of scientific attainment, we must hesitate
to admit their conclusions. But is it not notorious, that individuals and communities have augmented their stock of philosophic lore, and made vast additions to their moral and political knowledge, and yet have remained at a distance from reformed truth and religious illumination? Nor will it answer the purpose of such theorists to reply, that many of these individuals, or a great number of the members of these communities, have evinced the improved state of their intellect by scepticism and infidelity. For we should observe again, that the parallelism of philosophic and religious knowledge is still unproved. Such instances, indeed, only serve to show the near relationship between superstition and infidelity; an approximation which no man, who knows the deceitfulness of the human heart, can doubt for an instant.
Whence, then, arise these erroneous statements on this important subject? From an imperfect view of the character of the Reformation itself; from a false estimate of the principles and motives of those master minds who were the honoured instruments of effectuating so wide and lasting a change. The Reformation was not so much a political, as a religious event. Its
supporters and advocates were not so much actuated by the operation of outward circumstance, as the force of inward conviction. It was the work of religious principle. An increased acquaintance with science and even Biblical literature, did not lead some men farther than an exposure of the palpable vices of the clergy, and the disgusting frauds of the monks. They still retained their belief of the papal supremacy, the visible presence, the seven sacraments, &c. But others were enlightened from above: they were men of humbler heart, and read the Scriptures with desire to be made wiser, and prayer to be made better. They found, indeed, their minds invigorated by an accession of science; they felt that learning was a powerful handmaid to religion; but they were aware, that mere knowledge puffeth up, while celestial charity edifieth. In defence of a more scriptural system than generally prevailed, they stood prepared to live or die.
Eminent scholars undoubtedly there were, who exposed many of the absurdities of Popery; and valiant chiefs who, from political reasons, drew their swords in defence of Protestantism; but without sanctified knowledge, and spiritual weapons, the great revolution would never have taken place. Without some potent internal principle, the man who renounced Popery one day, would have been in danger of recantation the next, influenced either by fear or by attachment; but he who steadily and piously inquired after truth, who was led to suspect the strength of prejudice and the force of habit, and brought all his learning and information to bear on the grand question of his personal salvation, became the benefactor of his country and the friend of his species. Such was the exalted character of the Reformer of Pomerania.
John Bugenhagen was born on the 24th of June 1485, at Wollin,
near the mouth of the Oder. His father, who was of senatorial rank, having taken care that he should be instructed in the principles of religion, and taught him also the rudiments of grammar and music, provided for his further education by entering him a member of the college of Griefswald, lying on the coast of the Baltic, about sixty miles westward of Wollin. Here he applied with so much success to the study of language and liberal art, that at twenty years of age was qualified to open a school at Treptow, a small town on the Mecklenburgh border, where his method of instruction soon became the theme of approbation in the neighbourhood on account of its superiority. But it was his chief honour, that he had paid assiduous attention to the religious improvement of his scholars, whom he never failed to assemble for prayer and reading of the Scriptures, and whom he desired to instruct and govern with the feelings and motives of a genuine Christian.
He was much attached to the writings of Jerome and Augustine, which led his mind to serious reflection; but meeting with the Satires of Erasmus, in which the hypocrisy of the monks, and the heathenish adoration of images, were well exposed, he was struck with the iniquity of formal worship and idolatrous service. He considered that it was written, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;" and again, "Ye shall walk in my precepts, and do them:" he saw that God required the homage of the heart, and devotion of the life, and became more earnest than ever in the religious instruction of the pupils. He expounded to them the Gospel of St. Matthew, the two Epistles to Timothy, and the Psalms, adding the explanation of the catechism, the creed, and the ten commandments. His lectures were so excellent, and his mode of teaching
so agreeable, that the principal townsmen, the clergy, and the more devout of the monks themselves, used to attend at the school in considerable numbers.
At length, his friends requested him to increase his sphere of usefulness by taking holy orders, and he was admitted into the Lutheran presbytery. He soon became a popular preacher, and being held in high respect by persons of all ranks, both for learning and piety, his company was eagerly sought after; and such intervals as he could spare from academic engagement and private meditation, were occupied in conversation with different visitors or applicants, on subjects of an ecclesiastical, theological, and political nature. The nobles reported his extraordinary attainments to their prince Bogislaus. At that time an account of the genealogy and exploits of the dukes of Pomerania was much desired, especially by Spalatinus, who was employed in drawing up a chronicle of Saxony at Wittenberg, where Barnim, second son of Bogislaus, was pursuing his studies. At the command of his sovereign, therefore, he undertook the work, and examined the old records in the colleges and monasteries, while others searched the ducal archives. Two years were necessarily consumed in this literary undertaking: but the author had the gratification of knowing that it became a standard book at court, where it was highly valued for accuracy of information and purity of style.
The talents, however, of this pious divine and able scholar were given for other purposes. In the year 1520, he was one day invited, with some other friends, to dine with Otho Slutovius, a leading burgess and inspector of the church. This gentleman produced Luther's work on the "Babylonish Captivity," which had been recently transmitted to him by a friend from Leipsic, and handed it over to Bu
genhagen, begging him to read it aloud for the amusement of the company, who would naturally be anxious to hear something of the contents of a book, which had attracted so large a share of the public attention. After perusing a few pages he declared," Many heretics have troubled and disquieted the church since our Lord's time, but the author of this book is one of the very worst." He then pointed out several passages which were directly contrary to the received doctrine. He took it, however, home with him, and read it again and again with great attention, pondering over its chief positions, and in the course of a few days made an ingenuous confession to his colleagues, "I have only this to say: all the world is blind and in Cimmerian darkness, and this man alone sees the truth!"
Never was an instance of more complete victory over the power of prejudice. Fully convinced of the justice of the reasoning adopted by the Saxon professor, he lost no time in endeavouring to bring over all his friends to the same sentiments, and succeeded with the major part; among whom, the Abbot of Belbuch, with several clergymen and monks, publicly testified against the deceits of the Papacy, and zealously exhorted their hearers to renounce the superstitions and abuses of human tradition, while they trusted to the merits of Christ alone for acceptance and salvation. He collected the other writings of Luther, and by diligent perusal learned the difference between the Law and the Gospel, with the true nature of justification by faith; and discovered the similarity of opinion between Luther and Augustine.
He now discoursed with such copiousness and fluency on the príncipal doctrines of Protestantism, that great effects followed his faithful ministration, while he himself became more and more established in evangelical religion. En+ raged at the success of the new