The recoil from asceticism, which as an ideal never penetrated the Germans to the same extent as other nations, and the protest against religion as external authority, are to be set down as well to the Pauline Gospel as to the German spirit. Luther’s warmth and heartiness in preaching, and his frankness in polemical utterance, were felt by the German nation to be an opening out of its own soul.
In the previous lecture we touched upon the chief provinces in which Luther raised an emphatic and still effective protest. There is much upon which I could also dwell: for example, upon the opposition which, especially at the commencement of his reforming activity, he offered to the whole terminology of dogmatics, its formulae and doctrinal utterances. To sum up: he protested, because his aim was to restore the Christian religion in its purity, without priests and sacrifices, without external authorities and ordinances, without solemn ceremonies, without all the chains with which the Beyond was to be bound to the Here. In its revising ardour the Reformation went back not only earlier than the eleventh century, not only earlier than the fourth or the second, but to the very beginnings of religion. Nay, without being aware of it, the Reformation even modified or entirely put aside forms which existed even in the apostolic age: thus in matters of discipline it abolished fasting; in matters of constitution it abolished bishops and deacons; in matters of doctrine it abolished, among other things, Chiliasm.
But with the change effected by Reformation and Revolution, how does the new creation stand as a whole in regard to the Gospel? We may say that in the four leading points which we emphasised in the previous lecture—inwardness and spirituality, the fundamental thought of the God of grace, His worship in spirit and in truth, and the idea of the Church as a community of faith—the Gospel was in reality re-won. Need I prove this in detail, or are we to be shaken in our conviction because, as is surely the case, a Christian in the sixteenth and in the nineteenth century presents an appearance different from that which a Christian presented in the first? That the inwardness and individualism which the Reformation disengaged accord with the character of the Gospel is certain. Further, Luther’s pronouncement on justification not only reflects in the main, and in spite of certain irreducible differences, Paul’s train of thought, but is also in point of aim in exact correspondence with Jesus’ teaching. To know God as one’s Father, to possess a God of grace, to find comfort in His grace and providence, to believe in the forgiveness of sins—in both cases that is the point on which everything turns. And in the troubled times of Lutheran orthodoxy a Paul Gerhardt succeeded in giving such grand expression to this fundamental conviction of the Gospel in his hymns, “Is God for me, then let all,” and “Commit thy ways,” as to convince us how truly Protestantism was penetrated with it. Again, that the right worship of God ought to be nothing but the acknowledgment of God in praise and prayer, but that the love of neighbour is also worship, is taken direct from the Gospel and Paul’s corresponding injunctions. Lastly, that the true Church is held together by the Holy Ghost and by faith; that it is a spiritual community of brothers and sisters, is a conviction which is in line with the Gospel, and was most clearly expressed by Paul. In so far as the Reformation restored all this, and also recognised Christ as the only Redeemer, it may in the strictest sense of the word be called evangelical; and in so far as these convictions, crippled and burdened though they may be, retain their ascendency in the Protestant Churches, they have every warrant for being so described.