The evils which then afflicted Christendom, viz., superstition, infidelity, ignorance, vain speculation, and corruption of manners—all natural fruits of the human heart—were not new upon the earth. Often had they figured in the history of states. In the East, especially, various religions which had had their day of glory, but had become enervated, had been attacked by them, and, yielding to the assault, had fallen under it, never again to rise. Is Christianity to experience the same fate? Will she be destroyed like these ancient popular religions? Will the blow which gave them death be strong enough to deprive her of life? Is there nothing that can save her? Will those hostile powers that now oppress her, and which have already overthrown so many other forms of worship, be able to seat themselves without opposition on the ruins of the Church of Jesus Christ?
No! There is in Christianity what there was not in any of those popular religions. It does not, like them, present certain abstract ideas, interwoven with traditions and fables, destined to fall, sooner or later, under the attacks of human reason. It contains pure truth, founded on facts capable of standing the scrutiny of every upright and enlightened mind. Christianity does not aim merely at exciting certain vague religious sentiments, which, when they have once lost their charm, cannot be again revived. Its end is to satisfy, and it, in fact, does satisfy, all the religious wants of human nature, whatever the degree of refinement to which it may have attained. It is not the work of man, whose labours fade and are effaced; it is the work of God, who sustains what he creates; and the pledge of its duration is the promise of its divine Head.
It is impossible that human nature can ever rise so high as to look down on Christianity, or if, for a time, human nature do think herself able to dispense with it, it soon appears with renewed youth and life, as alone fit for curing souls. Degenerate nations then return with new ardour to those ancient, simple, and powerful truths, which, in the hour of their infatuation, they had turned from with disdain.
Christianity, in fact, displayed in the sixteenth century the same regenerating power which it had exerted in the first. After fifteen centuries the same truths produced the same results. In the days of the Reformation, as in those of Paul and Peter, the Gospel, with invincible force, overthrew the mightiest obstacles. Its sovereign power was manifested from north to south among nations differing most widely from each other in manners, character, and intellectual development. Then, as in the days of Stephen and James, it lighted up the fire of enthusiasm and devotedness in nations which seemed almost extinguished, and exalted them even to the height of martyrdom.
How was this revival of the Church and of the world accomplished?
The observer might then have seen the operation of two laws by which God governs the world at all times.
First, as He has ages to act in, he begins his preparations leisurely, and long before the event which He designs to accomplish.
Then, when the time is come, he produces the greatest results by the smallest means. It is thus he acts in nature and in history. When he wishes an immense tree to grow, he deposits a little grain in the earth; and, when he wishes to renew his Church, he employs the humblest instrument to accomplish what emperors and all the learned and eminent in the Church were unable to perform.
From History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, Volume 1
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