Reformation and Revival -- By: Harold J. Ockenga

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 104:415 (Jul 1947)
Article: Reformation and Revival
Author: Harold J. Ockenga


Reformation and Revival

Harold J. Ockenga

(Continued from the April-June Number, 1947)

Four hundred and thirty years ago on October 31st Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg. On an August day in 1933 I stood before the reinforced oak door of that modified Gothic Church and in imagination was transported back to the mellow October day when the 34-year-old German peasant, trained in the finest of universities, ordained to the priesthood, quickened by the Holy Spirit and standing on the Word of God, took issue with the monopolistic, authoritarian, hierarchical Church on the subject of selling the forgiveness of sins for money.

The scene gave no promise or warning of the storm it was destined to cause. “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” The sturdy priest strode up to the door, spread his stocky frame, held the paper in place and with four short sure blows nailed it fast. Then after a moment’s pause to scan its contents for a final time, gathered his loose robes about him and turned away toward the Augustinian monastery.

The leaves rustled as he passed, whispering of his boldness and courage, a whisper which in fourteen days swelled to an excited hurricane which stirred millions of hearts with hope, as leaflets more numerous than the fallen leaves fluttered from the printing presses and were carried into taverns, universities, homes, churches and monasteries by the wind of universal interest. The man who symbolized the convictions of the age was found—an Augustinian monk dared to talk back to Rome. Rome which crowned and deposed emperors,

laid nations under interdict, exercised the tortures of the inquisition, and whose little finger was stronger than any prince’s right arm—Rome was challenged.

That the young monk did not anticipate the violence and destruction with which the storm would rage is very obvious. Had one asked him, “Doctor Luther, what purpose will these theses serve?”, he no doubt would have answered: “To enlighten the masses of German Christians in the Word of God so that they will turn to Christ for forgiveness of sins and not trust this superstition of Johann Tetzel.” Froude says: “It required no great intellect to understand that a Pope’s pardon, which you could buy for five shillings, could not really get a soul out of Purgatory. It required a quality much rarer than intellect to look such a doctrine in the face—sanctioned as it was by the credulity of the ages, and backed by the pomp and pageantry of earthly power—and say to it openly: You are a lie!” Who was the man able to do this?

I have v...

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