Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

SERMON X.

THE NATURE OF THE REFORMATION IN THE 16TH

CENTURY.

REVELATION xvii. 4.

I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of

her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

THIS passage of scripture will be thought a suitable theme for the discussion of a distinct proposition on a very general subject, viz.

The nature of the reformation effected in the sixteenth century.

In the year 1513, the son of Lorenzo de Medici, the Magnificent, the most distinguished family in Florence, was raised to the pontificate, and at his consecration, assumed the name of Leo X. He had been educated for the Church, possessed splendid talents, had acquired all the accomplishments of the age, and was celebrated for classical literature, and for his knowledge in the fine arts. highly polished in his manners, and had been accustomed to the most splendid style of living. He

He was

manifested a disposition liberally to encourage polite literature; but he was fond of pleasure, loose in his religious character, and his belief of the truth of Christianity was, at least, equivocal.

At this period, the doctrines of Wicliffe, in Eng. land; Waldus, Huss, and others, on the continent, had, by the most bloody persecutions, been suppressed ; and if the spirit of these reformers was not wholly subdued, their disciples were holden in derision and contempt. When Leo was placed on the Papal throne, the voice of opposition to his spiritual dominion was not heard. The civil

govo ernments of Europe were the ministers to support the universal supremacy of the Pope, and the whole community was holden in the most abject spiritual thraldoin.

But causes for years had been secretly operating to prepare the human mind for a revolution in the religious establishment of Christendom. Men began to rise from the ignorance and debasement of the dark ages, which succeed the subversion of the Roman empire. Printing had been in use for almost a century. The writings of the first Christian fathers had been printed, and extensively circulated. Many perused them, and not a few were able to compare the state of the primitive Church with that of their own times; and to perceive that great corruptions and abuses had been introduced.The licentiousness of the clergy became notorious, and the impositions of the Church were heavily felt. But Pope Leo, surrounded by his obsequious cardinals, immersed in pleasure, or engrossed with schemes of aggrandizement, perceived none of these signs of the times; but mistook the universal silence for the spirit of tame submission ; and thought that no limit would be put to the means he might adopt to provide a revenue adequate to the accomplishment of all his lofty views.

The Papal treasury had been exhausted by the extravagance of his immediate predecessor. The magnificent cathedral of St. Peter, at Rome, was then in part erected, and a large amount of funds was necessary to complete this structure; and the prodigality, the munificence, and the plans of family aggrandizement of the pontiff himself demanded a still greater amount of ways and means. The im. mense income from all the common resources of the Papal throne, which had almost drained Europe, were found insufficient for his waits, and he had recourse to every measure to fill the treasury, which cunning and cupidity could devise. Among the most corrupt of these measures, was the traffick of indulgences. Leo pushed this trade to its utmost extent. In Germany, he farmed this branch of his revenue to Albert, Elector of Mentz and Arch. bishop of Magdeburg, who employed Tetzel, a bold monk, to preach and vend these indulgences. The monk executed his commission with the greatest effrontery and scandal. He proclaimed the

pardon of all sins, past, present, and to come, to all who would purchase the indulgences of Pope Leo-asserted that these had more efficacy than the meril of Christ--and declared that he had, by their distribution, saved more souls from hell, than the apostle Peter had, by his preaching, converted to Christianity. This was one essential link in the

chain of causes which produced the reformation in Germany, an event the most important and beneficial to the world, that has taken place since the establishment of Christianity. This abuse of every thing sacred—this open violation of all moral obli. gations, roused the indignation of Martin Luther, a man of the most powerful mind and intrepid character.

Luther was a native of Eisleben, in Saxony. He early discovered an inclination for learning, and was publickly educated at the university of Urfurt. By the force of his own mind, he rose above the scholastick and useless modes of instruction common to his age, and taught philosophy and ethicks on rational principles. Devoting himself to the department of theology, he studied the bible with unwearied diligence, in the original languages, and encouraged the cultivation of the like study in others, as the only sure foundation on which a true knowledge of religion could be built; and in life and conversation he was moral and exemplary. “Having passed his probation in the monastery of Urfurt, he took the monastick vows, and was admitted to priest's orders. His profound learning, the purity of his life, and his knowledge of the scriptures were generally known and applauded, and in the year 1508, Frederick, Elector of Saxony, appointed Luther, then only twenty-five years of age, to the professorship of philosophy, and soon after, to that of divinity, in the university of Wittemburg. The duties attached to these offices he discharged with so much ability, and a method so totally different from the usual mechanical and dull forms of lec.

.

turing, that he was crowded with pupils from all quarters ; and he greatly contributed in raising this university to celebrity. Being at Rome, in the execution of an important commision, Luther there had opportunity to examine the manner in which the Church of Rome was governed, and to observe the manners of the clergy. These he censured with severity, and particularly the careless and hasty manner which they adopted in performing divine service. The manner in which they were accustomed to offer up prayers to Almighty God, he declared, excited in his breast sentiments of astonishment and horrour.

The infamous proceedings of the monk Tetzel, in vending indulgences, roused Luther to vigorous efforts in opposition to the intolerable abuses of the agents of the Roman pontiff. This may be considered as the commencement of that revolution in the Christian Church, which humbled the pride, and greatly reduced the power of the Papal Hie. rarchy. In the year 1517, this intrepid apostle of the reformation, with all the energy of his active mind, and all the vehemence of his ardent spirit, from the great Church in Wittemburg, attacked the vile traffick and the vicious lives of those, who were thus deluding their fellow beings in the highest interests of immortality. He brought their doctrines to the test of scripture, and exhorted Christians to seek their salvation by the methods which God had prescribed in the revelation of his will. The fervour and pungency of his appeal to reason and scripture, deeply impressed the minds of

« ZurückWeiter »