Since the full development of the great apostasy, foretold by the Prophets and Apostles, numerous attempts at reformation have been made. Three centuries, carrying with them the destinies of countless millions, have passed into eternity since the Lutheran effort to dethrone the “Man of Sin.” In this period many great changes took place in our world. Nations composing the western half of the Roman Empire greatly benefited by adjustments and no person acquainted with either political or ecclesiastical history can reasonably doubt man is now better. Time, that great arbiter of human action, the great revealer of secrets, has long decided that all the reformers of the Papacy were public benefactors in all the states/countries in which they were welcomed. The Protestant Reformation has proved to have been one of the most splendid eras in the history of the world, and must long be regarded as one of the most enlightening interpositions in the behalf of the human race.
We Americans owe our national privileges and our civil liberties to the Protestant Reformers. They achieved not only an imperishable fame for themselves, but a rich legacy for their posterity. When we contrast the present state of these United States with Spanish America, and the condition of the English nation with that of Spain, Portugal, and Italy, we begin to appreciate how much we are indebted to this faithful intelligence evidenced by Martin Luther and his heroic associates which began the reformation in 1519. Mr. Luther restored the Bible to the world A.D. 1534, and boldly defended its claims against the impious and arrogant pretensions of the haughty and tyrannical ‘See of Rome.’ In a moving debate in defense of his life, Luther declared the now famous words: “Here I stand, I will not move, so help me God!” Unfortunately, at his death, there was no Joshua to lead the people, who rallied under the banners of the Bible, out of the wilderness in which religion, and the spirit of reformation that he had flamed, to the “promised land of the New Covenant.” His “back to the Bible” was soon quenched by rival political interests. A secret lust for power and ecclesiastical supremacy was seen in the bosoms of Protestant churches. The “new” movement was gradually assimilated back to the old. Creeds, manuals, synods, and synods soon shackled the minds of men, and the spirit of reformation gradually forsook the Protestant church. They became just the second act of error that had followed the Papacy.
Calvin, renewed the speculative theology of St. Augustine, and Geneva in a few years became the Alexandria of modern Europe. The Spirit of Christ was soon merged into political burnings of heretics; the honorable debate in the arena of ideas was lost. Still, however, in all these collisions much light was elicited; and had it not been for these extremes, it is problematical whether the wounds upon the “Man of Sin” would have been as incurable as it has since proved itself to be. With Calvin’s staunch, unflinching demeanor, his followers, the Presbyterians, gained great foot holes in the minds of the seeking, intelligent that for the first time actually had a copy of the Word of God in their own languages and in their own houses of worship!
Reformation became the order of the day; and this, assuredly, was a great matter, however it may have been managed. It was a revolution, and revolutions seldom move backward. The example that Luther set was of more value than all the achievements of Charles V., or the literary and moral labors of his distinguished contemporary, the erudite Erasmus. The long-seeking freedom in the political arena found its new home in the new denominations that were springing up all over Europe. Some came into being without even confirmed beliefs. The Baptist (Separatists) for example existed 80 years, from their inception in 1603 A.D., before they ever decided on the mode of baptism they would have in their churches. First called Anabaptist, the other sect were called Pedobaptist. Neither sect had the power to enforce their definition of baptism, which the Holy Spirit had already decided some 1600 years earlier. Penances and works of faith drove Luther and Calvin to their “faith only” doctrines, not the Bible!