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Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

First Principles of the Reformation

by Martin Luther


1 It is a pleasure to be able to refer for this passage to the first volume of the new Critical Edition of Luther's works, just published in Germany, page 613, line 21. This magnificent edition, prepared under the patronage of the German Emperor, is the best of all contributions to the present Commemoration. It must supersede all other editions, and it ought to find a place in all considerable libraries in England. A translation of the passage in question will be found in the Bampton Lectures of the present writer, p. 186.

'Letters, edited by Dc Wettc, i. p. 19.

What it proclaimed was that, if men would but believe it, they could at any moment grasp God's forgiveness, and live henceforth in the assured happiness of His personal favour and love. Of this blessing His promise was the only possible warrant, and like all other promises, it could only be accepted by Faith. Every man is invited to believe it, since it is offered to all for Christ's sake; but by the nature of the case, none can enjoy it who do not believe it.

The ground, however, on which this promise was based affords another striking illustration of the way in which Luther's teaching was connected with that of the Middle Age. Together with that V^^PH!!^^"'"11 ^ divinej^j^git"

and of human sin just mentioned, the awful vision of our —1 » ■ ii ■ ii - .—_—

Lord's suffering-s_and of His atonement overshadowed the whole thought of those times. St. Anselm, in the Cur Deus Homo, had aroused deeper meditation on this subject than had before been bestowed upon it; and in this, as in other matters, he is the type of the grand school of thought which he founded. As in his mind, so throughout the Middle Age, in proportion to the apprehension of the terrible nature of the Divine justice, is the prominence given to the sacrificial means for averting the Divine wrath. The innumerable Masses of the later Middle Ages were so many confessions of the deep-felt need of atonement; and formal as they ultimately became, they were in intention so many cries for forgiveness from the terrorBtruck consciences of sinful men and women. Luther was a true child of the Church in his deep apprehension of the same need, and it was precisely because he realised it with exceptional truth and depth that he was forced to seek some djeeper_satisfaciion Jhan the offering of Masses could afford. He reasserted the truth that the need had been met and answered_flnHP fTM~ o11 tLe Sn^r1^0 TM\ fTl Q Cross; and by proclaiming the sufficiency of that one eternal offering he swept away all the "Sacrifices of Masses," while at the same time he "provided"TKe answer to the craving to which they testified. The doctrine of the Atonement, as asserted at the Reformation, is the true answer to that cry of the human conscience which the Church of the preceding age had vainly endeavoured to satisfy. The Sacrament, of which the Mass was I a perversion, was thus restored to its true character ofi a pledge and an instrument of blessings bestowed by God, instead of a propitiatory offering on the part of men. The Cross of Christ, the favourite symbol of the medieval Church, was thus held aloft by the llefornier in still deeper reality, as the central symbol of the Church's message, and as the one adequate ground for the faith to which he called men.

Now the view of the Christian life involved in this principle of Justification by Faith found its most complete and beautiful expression in the Treatise "On Christian Liberty," translated in this volume; and a brief notice of the teaching of that treatise will best serve to explain the connection between Luther's cardinal doctrine and the other principles which he asserted. As is explained at the close of the introductory letter to Leo X. (p. 101), he designed it as a kind of peaceoffering to the Pope, and as a declaration of the sole objects he had at heart, and to which he desired to devote his life. "It is a small matter," he says, "if you look to its bulk, but unless I mistake, it is a summary of the Christian life in small compass, if you apprehend its meaning." In fact, it presents the most complete view of Luther's theology, alike in its principles and in its practice, almost entirely disembarrassed of the controversial elements by which, under the inevitable pressure of circumstances, his other works, and especially those of a later date, were disturbed. Perhaps the only part of his works to compare with it in this respect is the precious collection of his House-postills, or Exposition of the Gospels for the Sundays of the Christian Year. They were delivered within his domestic circle, and recorded by two of his pupils, and though but imperfectly reported, they are treasures of Evangelical exposition, exhibiting in a rare degree the exquisitely childlike character of the Reformer's faith, and marked by all the simplicity and the poetry of feeling by which his mind was distinguished. It is by such" works as these, and not simply by his controversial treatises or commentaries, that Luther must be judged, if we wish either to understand his inner character, or to comprehend the vast personal influence he exerted. But in its essence, the Gospel which he preached, the substance of what he had learned from the temptations, the prayers, the meditations—tentationes, orationes, meditationes—of his life as a monk, is sufficiently embodied in the short Treatise on Christian Liberty.

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