This Reformation Day lecture was published in the May 1, 1941 issue of the Standard Bearer and was delivered and penned by Herman Hoeksema, pastor of First PRC, Grand Rapids, MI and professor in the PRC Seminary.
* Lecture delivered on Reformation Day, 1940.
Tonight we celebrate the beginning of the Reformation of the church. We may, indeed, and often do speak simply of the Reformation, and every Christian that has any knowledge of the history of the Church knows that the Reformation of the sixteenth century is meant. Not, indeed, as if it were the only reformation of the Church in history. There have been others. In a sense we may even say that the Church is always, is continually reforming. But the Reformation of the sixteenth century concerns the entire Church in every land and of all the succeeding centuries. And, therefore, when one speaks of the Reformation without further qualification, it is understood that the movement is meant that was begun on the thirty-first of October four hundred and twenty three years ago.
It was on that night, the eve of All Saints Day, that Dr. Martin Luther nailed his famous ninety five theses to the door of the castle-church in Wittenberg, an act that was destined to have far greater consequences than its author even remotely surmised. These theses purposed to be nothing more than a protest against the sale of indulgences as it was conducted in those days. An indulgence, as you know, was a certificate of the forgiveness of sins signed by the pope. The pope, being in need of special funds for the building of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, had conceived of the idea of issuing a large number of these indulgences and offering them for sale to the people. It so happened that a particularly shameless monk, Tetzel by name, conducted this sale in a manner that was especially offensive, in the neighborhood of Wittenberg, where Dr. Martin Luther taught and preached. And learning of the methods of this monk, and hearing of his approach to Wittenberg, Luther’s fiery indignation was aroused, and he expressed this indignation in his ninety five theses, which on that night of the 31st of October, 1517, he nailed to the church-door, that on the (following day all might read and catch the fire of Luther’s indignation. Little did Luther himself realize the full implication of this act. Certain it is that he did not intend a break with the church. Yet such it was. The ninety five theses, which meant to be merely a protest against some of the corrupt practices of the church, was the beginning of the liberation of the church from the bondage of Roman Catholicism. It was in the truest sense of the word a declaration of freedom.
However, one who says this must needs say more. He must define this freedom of the sixteenth century. There are those in our day, who have long departed from the faith of the Reformers, who, nevertheless, claim them as their spiritual ancestors. They deny the Christ the Reformers confessed, they spurn the righteousness in the blood of the cross Luther so earnestly sought and so strongly emphasized ever since he found it; they must have nothing of the authority of the Scriptures which the Reformers held high; yet they also speak of the Reformation as the liberation of the church. They present the matter as if what Luther did on October 31st, 1717, was but the beginning of the movement that found its climax in the declaration of the autonomy of man, of reason. Luther, they say, liberated us from the tyranny and domination of the hierarchical church; modern thought only continued the same movement and also freed us from the tyranny of the book, meaning the Bible. To examine this claim and to expose its falsity we can do no better than to speak to you on: The Reformation and the Bible.
I will try to show you that the Reformation was:
A liberation of the Bible;
A liberation toward the Bible;
A liberation according to the Bible.
I. Not infrequently the Reformation is confused with and placed on a par with what is known as the Renaissance, or the revival of learning and art. And it is a result of this confusion when the Reformation of the sixteenth century is described as the liberation of the human reason from the shackles of all authority. Arthur Kenyon Rogers makes this error in the following paragraph from his “A Student’s History of Philosophy”: “Beyond Italy the Renaissance took on a somewhat different form. In Germany, where it was grafted on a type of mind naturally profounder and more religious, and where the religious life had already been deepened by the mysticism of Eckhart and Tauler and the Brethren of the Common Life, its most characteristic product was the Reformation of Luther; even Humanism in its German form, as typified in Erasmus and Melanchthon, shows strong religious sympathies. But the Reformation is an expression of the same revolt against authority. By its doctrine of justification by faith apart from any external mediation, and by its appeal to immediate Christian experience, it stood for individual freedom as against the pretensions of the Church,” p. 209-10.
It would be difficult to find a paragraph more crowded with errors than the one I just read. It presents the Reformation as a form of the Renaissance, which it certainly was not. It even declares that in Germany the Reformation was a product of the Renaissance, which it could not possibly be, even as light cannot be the product of darkness, grace of nature, faith of reason. Without further limitation it declares that the Reformation was an expression of the same revolt against authority as the Renaissance, which it certainly was not; in fact, with far more justice it may be said that the Reformation was a return to true obedience and subjection to authority. Nor is it true, that the Reformation made an appeal to Christian experience, least of all the experience of the individual freedom as against the pretensions of the Church, even this individual freedom may not be interpreted as the autonomy of the human mind and reason. The writer of that paragraph may, from his own viewpoint, have understood the Renaissance, he utterly failed to see the significance of the Reformation.
What, then, was the nature of the liberating movement of the Reformation? My first answer to this question is, that it liberated the Bible itself. You may, perhaps, remark that this is a somewhat strange expression. You object, perhaps, that the Word of God it always free and that it is quite impossible to put it in bondage. And this is true, of course, if you mean by the Word of God, the almighty and efficacious Word God Himself speaks. That Word is irresistible and certainly is never bound. And it did its work all through the ages, even in the darkest of periods. It was the cause of those separate movements that prepared the Reformation, connected with the names of John Huss, John Knox, the Waldenses and Albigenses, and to an extent Savonarola in Italy, and the Brethren of the Common Life in the Netherlands. It also prepared the Reformation in the soul of Luther, before it finally broke forth into a blazing fire on that memorable eve of All Saints Day in 1517. But what cannot be done to the Word of God as God Himself speaks it, certainly may be and often is done to the Word of God as we possess it in written form, in the Bible. It can be put into bondage. And this was actually done as it still is done by the Roman Catholic Church. It was from this bondage that the Reformation liberated the Bible.
In two respects the Bible was put into bondage by the Romish Church before the Reformation. First of all, it was buried under a pile of tradition, by which the Holy Scriptures were gradually being replaced. Doctrines and institutions of men were placed on a par with the Word of God. By this accumulation of tradition we are referring to the teachings of the fathers, the decrees of the ecclesiastical councils, and the official declarations of the Pope in matters concerning faith and walk. These were considered to be of equal authority with the Scriptures themselves. They were appealed to as the end of all argument. And it can readily be surmised that gradually they occupied a place of more importance and greater authority than that of the Bible. It must ever be so. Even with us, who theoretically hold that the Bible is the last and only court of appeal, and that all human doctrines and institutions and declarations, even the confessions themselves must be judged by it, it proves to be extremely difficult to revise or recant a declaration by the Church, once the Church has spoken. Witness the three errors of 1924. But how easy, then, it must be for tradition to gain the first place and the greater authority, when once it is admitted that it stands on a par with the Scriptures! Doctrines and practices of men took the place of the Bible; the latter was relegated to oblivion; its direct testimony was withheld and suppressed; and the Church, i.e. the Church Institute, i.e. the clergy culminating in the infallible Pope, became the final court of appeal! The authority of the Word of God had been subjected to the authority of the Word of Man!
As a necessary corollary to this first instance of putting the Bible into bondage, the Church also declared that she only, the Holy Mother Church, had the authority and the power to interpret the Holy Scriptures, and that all the individual members of the Church on earth were obligated to abide by that interpretation, to receive it as infallible, and never to believe or to teach anything repugnant to that interpretation by the Church. Free exegesis of Holy Writ was thereby strictly forbidden. Always one who would interpret the Bible, were he ever so able and learned, was bound to inquire, first of all, what was the explanation of a certain passage offered by the Church, and by it his own was bound beforehand. The result was, too, that the Bible was withheld from the laity. The Church, and by the Church Roman Catholicism ever means the clergy, the priest, the Pope, alone has the promise of being guided by the Spirit into all the truth. It is, therefore, dangerous for the common member of the Church as an organism to have the Bible in his possession, to read it and to study it for himself. Many passages are hard for him to understand, and without the guidance and authority of the holy Mother Church, he will readily distort them to his own destruction. Hence, it is better for him to come into contact with the Bible, not directly, but indirectly, that is, only through the interpretation of the Church, in whose infallible guidance he must have implicit faith.
Such were the views and practices of the Romish Church with respect to the Bible. That this is no mere Protestant opinion, but the actual stand of the Roman Catholic Church even today, may be gathered from the declarations of its councils and Popes. Shortly after the Reformation has become an accomplished fact the famous Council of Trent began its sessions, which were continued over a number of years. In its session of April 8, 1546 that body of Roman Catholic divines declared that: “seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions, which, received from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand: the Synod following the example of the orthodox fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament—seeing that one God is the author of both—as also the said traditions, as well those pertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.” It goes on to enumerate the books that are considered canonical, including in them also the apocryphal books, and it declares at the same time, that only the Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate shall be held as authentic; and it threatens with the curse all that refuse to receive as sacred and canonical this Vulgate edition of the Bible, together with all the traditions of the Church. Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, II, 81, 82. And it continues: “Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it decrees, that no one relying on his own skill, shall,—in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine,—wresting the sacred Scripture by his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which Holy mother Church,—whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scripture,—hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never intended to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established”, ibidem, 83. We could quote more, but this is sufficient to establish the truth of our contention, that the Bible was subjected to and held in bondage by human presumption of authority.
From this human bondage of the Bible the Reformation liberated the Word of God by declaring and insisting upon two truths. In the first place it announced the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. By this doctrine the Reformers did not intend to despise tradition. They well understood that also the Church of the past was led by the Holy Spirit, and they were far from that undenominationalism and “open Bible Churchism” of today, that would pretend to act as if our generation were the first that approached Holy Scripture and interpreted it. But they certainly did emphasize that no other word than the pure Word of the Gospel was necessary unto salvation for any man. They rejected tradition as being of the same value and authority as the Bible. Clearly this is already annunciated in the Formula Concordiae, which declared in Art. I: “We believe, confess, and teach that the only rule and norm, according to which all dogmas and all doctrines ought to be esteemed and judged, is no other whatever than the prophetic and apostolic writings both of the Old and of the New Testament, as it is written (Ps. 119:105): ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’ And St. Paul saith (Gal. 1:18): ‘Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed.’”
“But other writings, whether of the fathers or of the moderns, with whatever name they come, are in no wise to be equaled to the Holy Scriptures, but are all to be esteemed inferior to them, so that they be not otherwise received than in the rank of witnesses, to show what doctrine was taught after the Apostles’ times also, and in what parts of the world that more sound doctrine of the Prophets and the Apostles has been [preserved,” Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, III, 93, 94.
Clearly this is also expressed in the “Ten Conclusions of Berne,” which in its second article declares: (translated from the German) “The Church of Christ makes no laws and precepts outside of the Word of God; whence it follows that all institutions of men, called Church-ordinances, cannot bind us except in so far as they are founded in and commanded by the Word of God,” Schaff, III, 209. And in the First Helvetic Confession we read (Art. I): “The Holy, divine, biblical Scripture, which is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and proclaimed to the world by the Prophets and Apostles, is the very oldest, most perfect and most exalted doctrine, and it alone comprehends all that is conducive to the true knowledge, love and glory of God, to real and true piety, and to a pious, honorable and godly walk of life”. And in the second article it declares that the Holy Scriptures shall not be interpreted in any other way than in its own light. It further declares in Art. Ill that we will esteem those holy fathers, that did not deviate from this sound rule of interpreting Scripture, not only as true interpreters, but also as chosen instruments of God through whom God spoke and worked. And in the fourth article of this confession all other teachings and institutions of men, leading us away from the living God, are declared to be vain and powerless, be they ever so beautiful and attractive, respected and venerable with age. And this is emphasized also in our own Netherland or Belgic Confession of Faith, which devotes an entire article to the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, as follows (Art. VII): “We believe that these Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for anyone, though an Apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures; nay though it were an angel from heaven, as the Apostle Paul saith. For since it is forbidden to add unto or to take away any thing from the Word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither may we compare any writings of men, though ever so holy, with those divine Scriptures; nor ought we to compare custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times or persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the Apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God; likewise, If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house”.
And over against the Roman Catholic view that the Scriptures can only be interpreted by the Holy Mother Church, the Reformation proclaimed the principle of the perspicuity of Scripture. The Word of God is clear to all. It must be interpreted, not in the light of an officially established interpretation, but in its own light. Exegesis must be free. Not even dogmatics, not even the confessions of the Church may dominate exegesis. And the Bible is sufficiently clear to be given to and interpreted by all believers. No, indeed, the Reformers did not favor the view that every individual Christian must interpret the Bible apart from the Church of the present and of the past. They had a clear conception of the Church and of the calling of the Church to preach and preserve the Word of God. The individual believer cannot with impunity disregard his organic relationship to the Church. But the fact remains, that the interpretation of the Bible cannot be the privilege of a distinct class, even though they be the officebearers of the Church, but must be granted to every believer. The Church must not speak instead of the Bible, but must merely be instrumental in letting the Bible speak for itself. Hence, the Bible was translated into the language of the people, so that all might have access to its treasures. The Reformation conceived as a liberating movement, first of all liberated the Bible from Roman Catholic shackles!
II. The foregoing already suggests that the Reformation at the same time was a liberation toward the Bible. By this I mean to express the idea, that the Reformation meant to be a movement to subject all men and the whole man to the authority of the Scriptures. The very fact that they liberated the Scriptures from the shackles of human oppression, clearly shows this. Why did the Reformers consider it so important so paramount that the Bible should be permitted to speak for itself to the hearts and consciences of men? Only because they regarded the Scriptures as being the Word of God, and, therefore, as being the final court of appeal, as having absolute authority, to which man must subject himself.
It is here that the Reformation principally differs from modernism, and stands diametrically opposed to it. I have already mentioned that even the moderns of today claim to be sons of the Reformation. They see in Martin Luther the herald of liberty, in whose steps they follow; they evaluate the Reformation as a great liberating movement, the work of which they, the moderns have carried on and still do carry forward. They look upon the Reformation as but another phase of the Renaissance. Both aimed at liberty. Both freed man from bondage, the latter in the sphere of science and art, the former in the sphere of religion. But they are mistaken, and the error they make is a very fundamental one. It is this: while the modernist declares the autonomy of Man, the Reformation insisted on the authority of Holy Scripture. The modern philosopher, scientist, preacher, will have nothing of authority. Man is the measure of all things. Freedom of thought means to him absolute independence of the human mind. But the Reformation insisted: “Das Wort sollen sie stehen lassen!” The Holy Scriptures were the sole criterion and source of our knowledge of God and salvation. It bound man’s mind and conscience to the Book!
This (philosophy of the autonomy of man, which makes man the measure of all things, which makes him the creator of his own world, the creator ultimately of his own God, received its most modern form in the preceding century, but is, nevertheless, very old. Always it found its adherents and prophets, that proclaimed it in some form or other. Principally it really dates back to the time when the devil subverted the Word of God into the lie: “Ye shall be like God.” It reveals itself in three different, more or less clearly distinct forms, according as it declares the autonomy of the human mind, the reason of man; the autonomy of the human feeling, experience; or the autonomy of the human will or conscience. In the first form it is known as Rationalism; in its second appearance it is Mysticism; in its third manifestation it is Moralism.
Rationalism is the philosophy that seeks the source and principle, the norm and criterion of all knowledge and truth in the human mind. Reason is supreme. And it is independent. It may not be bound by any objective authority. It is its own authority. It will know only that which can and does arise in the mind of man. Whatever is contrary to reason, and whatever is beyond or above its scope of comprehension, it denies. It will have nothing to do with revelation. Its attitude to the Holy Scriptures is that of a superior. It does not submit but rule. It does not listen but judge. And whatever cannot stand before the bar of Reason in the Bible must needs be rejected. And as human reason is needs limited to the things that are seen and heard, and the Word of God deals with things which eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard, neither have arisen in the heart of man, it stands to reason that Rationalism is essentially and ends up in Agnosticism, which is Atheism. It is the philosophy of the fool, that saith in his heart: “there is no God.” Needless to say that the liberation of the Reformation has nothing in common with this licentiousness of Rationalism.
Mysticism also declares the autonomy of Man and finds the source of all knowledge and truth in the subject, but in distinction from Rationalism it makes feeling or experience the court of final appeal, whether it be the experience of the individual or of the Church. It declares that the letter, meaning the Bible, is dead, it is the Spirit that quickeneth. It has a wrong conception of the relation between the Word and the Spirit. It denies that God has once spoken His Word, that His Word of revelation is perfect and complete, and that now the Spirit does, indeed, speak and can only make that Word quick and powerful like a two-edged sword, but that He never speaks another Word than that which is revealed in the Bible. It also elevates the authority of Man above that of Scripture, denies, in fact, the authority of Holy Writ. And since also the feeling or experience of Man is limited to the things that can and do arise in the heart of Man, and the Word of God deals with those things that can never have their origin there, Mysticism like Rationalism terminates in the morass of Skepticism and Agnosticism. And again we say, that the Reformation of the sixteenth century stands diametrically opposed to modern Mysticism.
The last form this philosophy of the autonomy of Man assumes, we said, is Moralism. It also denies the authority of the Bible, and makes the sense of moral obligation, the conscience, the moral judgment the source of all knowledge and truth, the measure of all true religion. All men have an eradicable sense of obligation, the consciousness of a must. From this sense Moralism attempts to conclude that there must be a God who causes this sense of obligation, who says to all men: “Thou shalt.” But from this consciousness they also derive the contents of their religion and worship of God. Man’s morality is the source and criterion of all truth and goodness. The objective criterion of the Scriptures is denied. Only as a moral code or textbook can certain parts of Holy Writ, especially the Sermon on the Mount, be useful. Like Rationalism and Mysticism also Moralism declares the absolute autonomy of Man. And again, it is easy to see that modern Moralism (falsely claims any affinity with the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
For, over against all these philosophies the Reformation loudly and clearly and very insistently proclaims the absolute authority of the Holy Scriptures. That the Bible is the Word of God, and that, therefore, the whole Church and every individual believer must unconditionally submit to the authority of Scripture, of the written Word, is the formal principle of the Reformation. It did not proclaim the freedom of Man from the Bible, but his liberty to subject himself to the authority of the Bible only. That was the clear-cut truth the Reformers preached and which they never tired of reiterating. That was the strength of the Reformation. That was the ground of its unshakable conviction, even as it is the cause of the lack of conviction in our miserable age and of the modern church that they refuse to acknowledge the authority of Holy Writ! Many a passage from the official creeds of the churches of the Reformation I might quote in support of this statement, but I will limit myself to the following from the French Confession of Faith, Art. V: “We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives its authority from Him alone, and not from men. And inasmuch as it is the rule of all truth, containing all the rule of truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation, it is not lawful for men, nor even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority, whether of antiquity, or custom, or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils, or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these Holy Scriptures, but, on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated, and reformed according to them.” This was the formal principle of the reformation, and this principle we must maintain if we would be sons of that Reformation and perpetuate the liberty it inaugurated!
III. And thus I naturally approach my last point. For, the liberation of the Bible was accomplished, in order to restore the liberty toward the Bible, the liberty that consists in submitting to the sole authority of Holy Scripture; and this last liberation is necessary in order to make us truly free. There is no other liberty than that which is through the Word of God, and we have no other Word of God than that which we now possess in the Bible.
For what is true freedom? It cannot possibly be the same as human autonomy and absolute independence. It cannot be the state in which man is his own law, creates his own world, makes his own God, is the criterion of all things. It is not the condition in which man thinks as he wills, wills as he desires, acts as he pleases, without being limited and determined by any objective norm or standard. For man is not his own maker, but he is and remains a creature. He is not above, but under the law in the good sense of that word. And true liberty for him consists in this that with all his inner being and outward action, with mind and will and all his desires and powers he is in harmony with God. To please to do the will of God and to be able to do it,—that is liberty in the highest sense, nay, in the only true sense of the word.
But man has not this freedom. He is, on the contrary, in bondage. For he sinned and he is a sinner. He is in the bondage of condemnation, for he is guilty and is held under the sentence of death, and he knows it. He has no peace, because he is not a free man. And he is in bondage under the dominion of sin, a slave of the devil. He will not, and he cannot, and he cannot will to will and to do the will of God. Nor can he ever liberate himself from the shackles of his bondage. For he can neither atone for his sin, nor deliver himself from corruption. All his life he is in the fear of death; and there is no way out!
Martin Luther was conscious, painfully conscious of this bondage of condemnation and sin. And he understood that only in righteousness could there be liberty, the liberty for which his soul yearned. Hence, it became the supreme question of his life: how can a man be righteous with God? And as he sought an answer to that urgent question, the Church confronted him. And as a faithful son of the holy mother Church he recognized her, and anxiously turned to her for an answer to his question: how can a man be justified before God? And the church answered: you can obtain forgiveness and righteousness by way of confession to a priest; and Luther did so, but found no peace. The church answered: you can obtain righteousness by doing the good works prescribed by the church; Luther did so, but his question still remained. The church said: seek righteousness in the way of self-denial and self-chastisement; and Luther tells us that he tormented himself to death to make peace with God, but in vain. The church advised that he should make pilgrimages to Rome, and Luther went to the Papal city, only to find bitter disappointment. The church offered indulgences to bring peace to his troubled soul, but it was of no avail. And he tells us that although in those days he tormented himself, he found nothing but unrest and darkness.
The evangelical preaching of the town preacher at Erfurt had first brought him to a consciousness of sin and sent him in quest of righteousness and peace. That same preacher had boldly exhorted his readers to read the Bible. And Luther had gone in search of a Bible, but found none. For the Bible was an unknown quantity in those days, not only with the laity but with the clergy as well. And those that should have been preachers of the Word of God were deceivers, mockers, extortioners, lazily drifting along on the current of ecclesiastical tradition. The Bible was not to be found, and the question in Luther’s soul became more urgent all the time, especially when a dangerous illness attacked him, and when a friend of his was struck by lightning at his side. It was the desire to find an answer to his question that induced him to abandon the study of law and to seek peace within the walls of the convent in Erfurt. There he found his answer, though he did not at once recognize it. And the answer came to him from an old Bible, which he found in the convent, locked to a chain and buried under the dust of years. From that volume of Scripture the wonderful words came to him and remained lodged in his soul: “The just shall live by faith!”
It was, however, not until later that the full significance of these words dawned upon him. In fact, only on his return from his visit to the seat of Roman hierarchy did the words strike him in their full force, and were they applied to his heart as an answer to his anxious question. In Rome he had been amazed and shocked by the corruption of the church as it was represented by the higher clergy. Thoroughly dissatisfied, and pondering all the time upon his spiritual problem, the old words rushed back into his consciousness, now, however, with all their peace affording power: “The just shall live by faith.” Luther had found peace through the Bible as the Word of God, applied by the Spirit unto his heart; and, though at the moment he knew it not, God had prepared him at the same time for the work He had to do for him: to liberate the Bible from the bondage of the Church, in order that the Church might be called to return to the Bible, and through the Bible find liberty!
Another way to liberty there is not. For only if the Son shall make us free, we shall be free indeed. His cross and resurrection are the power to cut the shackles of our condemnation; by His Spirit He makes us free from the dominion of sin. And this liberty is not only proclaimed to us in the Gospel, but given unto us through that Gospel. The assurance that our sins are forgiven, and that we are righteous before God, set at liberty, cannot rest on anything less than the Word of God Himself. And that Word God by the Spirit of Christ speaks to us through the Word. To sweep away the hierarchical powers that would deprive the Church and the individual believer of that liberty which we have in Christ through the Word,—this is the great significance of the Reformation!
Let us learn the lesson. Let us be Reformed, indeed, but Protestant Reformed always, always zealously defending and jealously watching over the formal principle of the Reformation. Always the danger is lurking that the word of man, be it in the form of ecclesiastical declarations, creeds and confessions, private opinions and false doctrines, interposes itself between the Word of God and our faith. This may never be! Confessions are good and they are necessary. But never may they be more than means to bring to us and to (preserve for us the Word of God. And always must they be tested by and judged in the light of the Word of God as we possess it in the Holy Scriptures. Then, and only then, shall we preserve the precious heritage God again bestowed upon His Church in the world through the Reformation of the sixteenth century: the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free!