Not only had the Reformation to pay a high price; it was also incapable of perceiving all the conclusions to which its new ideas led, and of giving them pure effect. It is not that the work which it did was not absolutely valid and permanent in every particular— how could that be, and who could desire it to have been so? No! it remained stationary in its development even at the point at which, to judge by the earnest foundation that was laid at the start, higher things might have been expected. Various causes combined to produce this result. From the year
1526 onwards national Churches had to be founded at headlong speed on evangelical lines; they were forced to be “rounded and complete” at a time when much was still in a state of flux. Then, again, a mistrust of the left wing, of the “enthusiasts,” induced the Churches to offer an energetic resistance to tendencies which they could have accompanied for a good bit of their way. Luther’s unwillingness to have anything to do with them, nay, the manner in which he became suspicious of his own ideas when they coincided with those of the “enthusiasts,” was bitterly avenged and came home to the evangelical Churches in the Age of Enlightenment. Even at the risk of being reckoned among Luther’s detractors, we must go further. This genius had a faith as robust as Paul’s, and thereby an immense power over the minds and hearts of men; but he was not abreast of the knowledge accessible even in his own time. The naive age had gone by; it was an age of deep feeling, of progress, an age in which religion could not avoid contact with all the powers of mind. In this age it was his destiny to be forced to be not only a reformer but also an intellectual and spiritual leader and teacher. The way of looking at the world and at history he had to plan afresh for generations; for there was no one there to help him, and to no one else would people listen. But he had not all the resources of clear knowledge at his command. Lastly, he was always anxious to go back to the original, to the Gospel itself, and, so far as it was possible to do it by intuition and inward experience, he did it; moreover, he made some admirable studies in history, and in many places broke victoriously through the serried lines of the traditional dogmas. But any trustworthy knowledge of the history of those dogmas was as yet an impossibility, and still less was any historical acquaintance with the New Testament and primitive Christianity attainable. It is marvellous how in spite of all this Luther possessed so much power of penetration and sound judgment. We have only to look at his introductions to the books of the New Testament, or at his treatise on “Churches and Councils.” But there were countless problems of which he did not even know, to say nothing of being able to solve them; and so it was that he had no means of distinguishing between kernel and husk, between what was original and what was of alien growth. How can we be surprised, then, if in its doctrine, and in the view which it took of history, the Reformation was far from being a finished product; and that, where it perceived no problems, confusion in its own ideas was inevitable? It could not, like Pallas Athene, spring complete from Jupiter’s head; as doctrine it could do no more than mark a beginning, and it had to reckon on future development. But by being rapidly formed into national Churches it came near to itself cutting short its further development for all time.