The Reformers of the Sixteenth Century -- By: Edward Ulback

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 092:367 (Jul 1935)
Article: The Reformers of the Sixteenth Century
Author: Edward Ulback


The Reformers of the Sixteenth Century

Edward Ulback

Member of the Archaeological Institute of America

In all epochs of transition and reform, we must expect to meet with much that is inconsistent. During violent reactions from past errors, men find it difficult to keep from excess, and moderation seldom comes till the victory is achieved.

There is usually a mixture of folly and evil in most movements, however praiseworthy in themselves, which makes what is good too often an offence to feeble minds, “who want human actions and characters to be riddled through the sieve of their own ideas before they can accord their admiration or sympathy.” Yet God’s heroes are not man’s heroes; nor would they satisfy the modern demand for ideal men, whose dogmas are to be exact in every iota, whose feelings are to be refined to maudlin effeminacy, and whose actions are always to be irreproachably graceful. Not moulded on such a conventional type were stormy Luther and rude John Bunyan-men who stemmed the torrent of this world’s errors, like rough boulders cast into the bed of the foaming stream, not hewn by mortal hands, but torn in convulsive throes from their foundations in the mountains.

It may be very satisfactory for the amiable amongst us to suppose that the characters of Christian men are always to be universally esteemed, but “the blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men,” and a careful study of the history of the past may cure us of Pelagian heresy.

To understand the inconsistencies and errors in the lives of such men as Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, Erasmus, Thomas More, or Cranmer, we must endeavor to form a clear idea of the confusion and tumult of the times in which they lived. Let us remember, that in the earlier years of the sixteenth century, Europe had been devastated by war, and decimated by the plague. After the discoveries of Columbus, the minds of many were intoxicated with the love of novelty and adventure. Science and philosophy, which had been so long confined to dungeons and cloisters, were ready once more to spread their treasure before the inquiring eyes of men. The Renaissance, with its handmaid, printing, was reviving the classical wisdom of antiquity. The false Aristotle was dethroned in favor of the real. The Neo-Platonist made way for the true Plato, and new thoughts were suggested to the minds of the most ignorant, which violently clashed with the opinions of the Middle Ages. And while the Renaissance was unlocking the libraries of antiquity, the Reformation carried men back to the scenes of primitive Christianity. Ignorance and pedantry had hitherto been impervious to all advances; but the Refo...

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