The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4

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Chapter 10—Later Reformers

While Luther was opening a closed Bible to the people of Germany, Tyndale was impelled by the Spirit of God to do the same for England. He was a diligent student of the Scriptures, and fearlessly preached his convictions of truth, urging that all doctrines be brought to the test of God's word. His zeal could not but excite opposition from the papists. A learned Catholic doctor who engaged in controversy with him exclaimed, “It were better for us to be without God's law than without the pope's.” Tyndale replied, “I defy the pope and all his laws; and if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do.” 4SP 170.1

The purpose which he had begun to cherish, of giving to the people the New-Testament Scriptures in their own language, was now confirmed, and he immediately applied himself to the work. Driven from his home by persecution, he went to London, and there for a time pursued his labors undisturbed. But again the violence of the papists forced him to flee. All England seemed closed against him, and he resolved to seek shelter in Germany. Here he began the printing of the English New Testament. Twice the work was stopped; but when forbidden to print in one city, he went to another. At last he made his way to Worms, where, a few years before, Luther had defended the gospel before the Diet. In that ancient city were many friends of the Reformation, and Tyndale there prosecuted his work without further hindrance. Three thousand copies of the New Testament were soon finished, and another edition followed in the same year. 4SP 170.2

With great earnestness and perseverance he continued his labors. Notwithstanding the English authorities had guarded their ports with the strictest vigilance, the word of God was in various ways secretly conveyed to London, and thence circulated throughout the country. The papists attempted to suppress the truth, but in vain. The bishop of Durham at one time bought of a bookseller who was a friend of Tyndale, his whole stock of Bibles, for the purpose of destroying them, supposing that this would greatly hinder the work. But, on the contrary, the money thus furnished, purchased material for a new and better edition, which, but for this, could not have been published. When Tyndale was afterward made a prisoner, his liberty was offered him on condition that he would reveal the names of those who had helped him meet the expense of printing his Bibles. He replied that the bishop of Durham had done more than any other person; for by paying a large price for the books left on hand, he had enabled him to go on with good courage. 4SP 171.1

Tyndale was betrayed into the hands of his enemies, and at one time suffered imprisonment for many months. He finally witnessed for his faith by a martyr's death; but the weapons which he prepared have enabled other soldiers to do battle through all the centuries even to our time. 4SP 171.2

In Scotland the gospel found a champion in the person of John Knox. This true-hearted reformer feared not the face of man. The fires of martyrdom, blazing around him, served only to quicken his zeal to greater intensity. With the tyrant's ax held menacingly over his head, he stood his ground, striking sturdy blows on the right hand and on the left, to demolish idolatry. Thus he kept to his purpose, praying and fighting the battles of the Lord, until Scotland was free. 4SP 172.1

In England, Latimer maintained from the pulpit that the Bible ought to be read in the language of the people. “The Author of Holy Scripture,” said he, “is God himself, and this Scripture partakes of the might and eternity of its Author. There is neither king nor emperor that is not bound to obey it. Let us beware of those by-paths of human tradition, full of stones, brambles, and uprooted trees. Let us follow the straight road of the word. It does not concern us what the Fathers have done, but rather what they ought to have done.” 4SP 172.2

Barnes and Frith, the faithful friends of Tyndale, arose to defend the truth. The Ridleys and Cranmer followed. These leaders in the English Reformation were men of learning, and most of them had been highly esteemed for zeal or piety in the Romish communion. Their opposition to the papacy was the result of their knowledge of the errors of the holy see. Their acquaintance with the mysteries of Babylon, gave greater power to their testimonies against her. 4SP 172.3

“Do you know,” said Latimer, “who is the most diligent bishop in England? I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. I will tell you. It is the devil. He is never out of his diocese; you shall never find him idle. Call for him when you will, he is ever at home, he is ever at the plow. You shall never find him remiss, I warrant you. Where the devil is resident, there away with books, and up with candles; away with Bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of wax tapers, yea, at noonday; down with Christ's cross, up with the purgatory pick-purse; away with clothing the naked, the poor, the impotent; up with the decking of images and the gay garnishing of stones and stocks; down with God and his most holy word; up with traditions, human councils, and a blinded pope. Oh that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel!” 4SP 173.1

The grand principle maintained by Tyndale, Frith, Latimer, and the Ridleys, was the divine authority and sufficiency of the Sacred Scriptures. They rejected the assumed authority of popes, councils, Fathers, and kings to rule the conscience in matters of religious faith. The Bible was their standard, and to this they brought all doctrines and all claims. 4SP 173.2

Faith in God and his word sustained these holy men as they yielded up their lives at the stake. “Be of good comfort,” exclaimed Latimer to his fellow-martyr as the flames were about to silence their voices, “we shall this day light such a candle in England as, I trust, by God's grace shall never be put out.” 4SP 173.3

The Church of England, following in the steps of Rome, persecuted dissenters from the established faith. In the seventeenth century thousands of godly pastors were expelled from their positions. The people were forbidden, on pain of heavy fines, imprisonment, and banishment, to attend any religious meetings except such as were sanctioned by the church. Those faithful souls who could not refrain from gathering to worship God, were compelled to meet in dark alleys, in obscure garrets, and at some seasons in the woods at midnight. In the sheltering depths of the forest, a temple of God's own building, those scattered and persecuted children of the Lord assembled to pour out their souls in prayer and praise. But despite all their precautions, many suffered for their faith. The jails were crowded. Families were broken up. Many were banished to foreign lands. Yet God was with his people, and persecution could not prevail to silence their testimony. Many were driven across the ocean to America, and here laid the foundations of civil and religious liberty which have been the bulwark and glory of our country. 4SP 174.1

As in apostolic days, the persecution turned out rather to the furtherance of the gospel. In a loathsome dungeon crowded with profligates and felons, John Bunyan breathed the very atmosphere of Heaven, and there he wrote his wonderful allegory of the pilgrim's journey from the land of destruction to the celestial city. For two hundred years that voice from Bedford jail has spoken with thrilling power to the hearts of men. Bunyan's “Pilgrim's Progress” and “Grace Abounding to the Chief Sinners,” have guided many feet into the path of life. 4SP 174.2

Baxter, Flavel, Alleine, and other men of talent, education, and deep Christian experience, stood up in valiant defense of “the faith once delivered to the saints.” The work accomplished by these men, proscribed and outlawed by the rulers of this world, can never perish. Flavel's “Fountain of Life” and “Method of Grace” have taught thousands how to commit the keeping of their souls to Christ. Baxter's “Reformed Pastor” has proved a blessing to many who desire a revival of the work of God, and his “Saints’ Everlasting Rest” has done its work in leading souls to the “rest that remaineth for the people of God.” 4SP 175.1

A hundred years later, in a day of great spiritual darkness, Whitefield and the Wesleys appeared as light-bearers for God. Under the rule of the established church, the people of England had lapsed into a state of religious declension hardly to be distinguished from heathenism. Natural religion was the favorite study of the clergy, and included most of their theology. The higher classes sneered at piety, and prided themselves on being above what they called its fanaticism. The lower classes were grossly ignorant, and abandoned to vice, while the church had no courage or faith to any longer support the downfallen cause of truth. 4SP 175.2

Whitefield and the Wesleys were prepared for their work by long and sharp personal convictions of their own lost condition; and that they might be able to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ, they were subjected to the fiery ordeal of scorn, derision, and persecution, both in the university and as they were entering the ministry. They and a few others who sympathized with them were contemptuously called Methodists by their ungodly fellow-students,—a name which is at the present time regarded as honorable by one of the largest denominations in England and America. 4SP 175.3

They were members of the Church of England, and were strongly attached to her forms of worship; but the Lord had presented before them in his word a higher standard. The Holy Spirit urged them to preach Christ and him crucified. The power of the Highest attended their labors. Thousands were convicted and truly converted. It was necessary that these sheep be protected from ravening wolves. Wesley had no thought of forming a new denomination, but he organized them under what was called the Methodist Connection. 4SP 176.1

Mysterious and trying was the opposition which these preachers encountered from the established church; yet God, in his wisdom, had overruled events to cause the reform to begin where it did. Had it come wholly from without, it would not have penetrated where it was so much needed. As the revival preachers were churchmen, and labored within the pale of the church wherever they could find opportunity, the truth had an entrance where the doors would otherwise have remained closed. Some of the clergy were roused from their moral stupor, and became zealous preachers in their own parishes. The churches that had been petrified by formalism were quickened into life. 4SP 176.2

Men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ. The differences between Whitefield and the Wesleys threatened at one time to create alienation; but as they learned meekness in the school of Christ, mutual forbearance and charity reconciled them. They had no time to dispute, while error and iniquity were teeming everywhere, and sinners were going down to ruin. They labored and prayed together, and their friendship was strengthened as they sowed the gospel seed in the same fields. 4SP 176.3

The servants of God trod a rugged path. Men of influence and learning employed their powers against them. After a time many of the clergy manifested determined hostility, and the doors of the churches were closed against a pure faith and those who proclaimed it. The course of the clergy in denouncing them from the pulpit, aroused the elements of darkness, ignorance, and iniquity. Again and again did John Wesley escape death by a miracle of God's mercy. When the rage of the mob was excited against him, and there seemed no way of escape, an angel in human form came to his side, the mob fell back, and the servant of Christ passed in safety from the place of danger. 4SP 177.1

The Methodists of those early days—people as well as preachers—endured ridicule and persecution, alike from church-members and from the openly irreligious who were inflamed by their misrepresentations. They were arraigned before courts of justice—such only in name, for justice had no place in the courts of that time. Often they suffered violence from their persecutors. Mobs went from house to house, destroying furniture and goods, plundering whatever they chose, and brutally abusing men, women, and children. In some instances, public notices were posted, calling upon those who desired to assist in breaking the windows and robbing the houses of the Methodists to assemble at a given time and place. These open violations of all law, human and divine, were allowed to pass without a reprimand. A systematic persecution was carried on against a people whose only fault was that of seeking to turn the feet of sinners from the path of destruction to the path of holiness. 4SP 177.2

Said John Wesley, referring to the charges against himself and his associates: “Some allege that the doctrines of these men are false, erroneous, and enthusiastic; that they are new and unheard-of till of late; that they are Quakerism, fanaticism, popery. This whole pretense has been already cut up by the roots, it having been shown at large that every branch of this doctrine is the plain doctrine of Scripture interpreted by our own church. Therefore it cannot be false or erroneous, provided the Scripture be true.” “Others allege that their doctrines are too strict; they make the way to Heaven too narrow; and this is in truth the original objection, as it was almost the only one for some time, and is secretly at the bottom of a thousand more which appear in various forms. But do they make the way to Heaven any narrower than our Lord and his apostles made it? Is their doctrine stricter than that of the Bible? Consider only a few plain texts: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.’ [Luke 10:27.] ‘Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of Judgment.’ [Matthew 12:36.] ‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.’ [1 Corinthians 10:31.] 4SP 178.1

“If their doctrine is stricter than this, they are to blame; but you know in your conscience it is not. And who can be one jot less strict without corrupting the word of God? Can any steward of the mysteries of God be found faithful if he change any part of that sacred deposition?—No; he can abate nothing; he can soften nothing; he is constrained to declare to all men, I may not bring down the Scriptures to your taste. You must come up to it, or perish forever. The popular cry is, The uncharitableness of these men! Uncharitable, are they? In what respect? Do they not feed the hungry and clothe the naked? No; that is not the thing; they are not wanting in this, but they are so uncharitable in judging; they think none can be saved but those who are of their own way.” 4SP 179.1

How similar are the arguments urged against those who present the truths of God's word applicable to this time. 4SP 179.2

Among the reformers of the church an honorable place should be given to those who stood in vindication of a truth generally ignored, even by Protestants,—those who maintained the validity of the fourth commandment, and the obligation of the Bible Sabbath. When the Reformation swept back the darkness that had rested down on all Christendom, Sabbath-keepers were brought to light in many lands. No class of Christians have been treated with greater injustice by popular historians than have those who honored the Sabbath. They have been stigmatized as semi-Judaizers, or denounced as superstitious and fanatical. The arguments which they presented from the Scriptures in support of their faith were met as such arguments are still met, with the cry, The Fathers, the Fathers! ancient tradition, the authority of the church! 4SP 179.3

Luther and his co-laborers accomplished a noble work for God; but, coming as they did from the Roman Church, having themselves believed and advocated her doctrines, it was not to be expected that they would discern all these errors. It was their work to break the fetters of Rome, and to give the Bible to the world; yet there were important truths which they failed to discover, and grave errors which they did not renounce. Most of them continued to observe the Sunday with other papal festivals. They did not, indeed, regard it as possessing divine authority, but believed that it should be observed as a generally accepted day of worship. 4SP 180.1

There were some among them, however, who honored the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. Such was the belief and practice of Carlstadt, and there were others who united with him. John Frith, who aided Tyndale in the translation of the Scriptures, and who was martyred for his faith, thus states his views respecting the Sabbath: “The Jews have the word of God for their Saturday, since it is the seventh day, and they were commanded to keep the seventh day solemn. And we have not the word of God for us, but rather against us; for we keep not the seventh day, as the Jews do, but the first, which is not commanded by God's law.” 4SP 180.2

A hundred years later, John Trask acknowledged the obligation of the true Sabbath, and employed voice and pen in its defense. He was soon called to account by the persecuting power of the Church of England. He declared the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a guide for religious faith, and maintained that civil authorities should not control the conscience in matters which concern salvation. He was brought for trial before the infamous tribunal of the Star Chamber, where a long discussion was held respecting the Sabbath. Trask would not depart from the injunctions and commandments of God to obey the commandments of men. He was therefore condemned, and sentenced to be set upon the pillory, and thence to be publicly whipped to the fleet, there to remain a prisoner. This cruel sentence was executed, and after a time his spirit was broken. He endured his sufferings in the prison for one year, and then recanted. Oh that he had suffered on, and won a martyr's crown! 4SP 181.1

The wife of Trask was also a Sabbath-keeper. She was declared, even by her enemies, to be a woman endowed with many virtues worthy the imitation of all Christians. She was a school-teacher of acknowledged excellence, and was noted for her carefulness in dealing with the poor. “This,” said her enemies, “she professed to do out of conscience, as believing she must one day come to be judged for all things done in the flesh. Therefore she resolved to go by the safest rule, rather against than for her private interest.” Yet it was declared that she possessed a spirit of strange, unparalleled obstinacy in adhering to her own opinions, which spoiled her. In truth, she chose to obey the word of God in preference to the traditions of men. At last this noble woman was seized and thrust into prison. The charge brought against her was that she taught only five days in the week, and rested on Saturday, it being known that she did it in obedience to the fourth commandment. She was accused of no crime; the motive of her act was the sole ground of complaint. 4SP 181.2

She was often visited by her persecutors, who employed their most wily arguments to induce her to renounce her faith. In reply, she begged them to show from the Scriptures that she was in error, and urged that if Sunday were really a holy day, the fact must be stated in the word of God. But in vain she asked for Bible testimony. She was exhorted to smother her convictions, and believe what the church declared to be right. 4SP 182.1

She refused to purchase liberty by renouncing the truth. The promises of God sustained her faith: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried.” “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” [Revelation 2:10.] For nearly sixteen years this feeble woman remained a prisoner, in privation and great suffering. The book of God alone can testify what she endured during those weary years. Faithfully she witnessed for the truth; her patience and fortitude failed not until she was released by death. 4SP 182.2

Her name was cast out as evil on earth, but it is honored in the heavenly records. She was registered among the number who have been hunted, maligned, cast out, imprisoned, martyred; “of whom the world was not worthy.” “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” [Malachi 3:17.] 4SP 182.3

God has, in his providence, preserved the history of a few of those who suffered for their obedience to the fourth commandment; but there were many, of whom the world knows nothing, who for the same truth endured persecution and martyrdom. Those who oppressed these followers of Christ called themselves Protestants; but they abjured the fundamental principle of Protestantism,—the Bible and the Bible only as the rule of faith and practice. The testimony of the Scriptures they thrust from them with disdain. This spirit still lives, and it will increase more and more as we near the close of time. Those who honor the Bible Sabbath are even now pronounced willful and stubborn by a large share of the Christian world, and the time is not far distant when the spirit of persecution will be manifested against them. 4SP 183.1

In the seventeenth century there were several Sabbatarian churches in England, while there were hundreds of Sabbath-keepers scattered throughout the country. Through their labors this truth was planted in America at an early date. Less than half a century after the landing of the pilgrims at Plymouth, the Sabbath-keepers of London sent one of their number to raise the standard of Sabbath reform in the new world. This missionary held that the ten commandments as they were delivered from Mount Sinai are moral and immutable, and that it was the antichristian power which thought to change times and laws, that had changed the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day. In Newport, R. I., several church-members embraced these views, yet continued for some years in the church with which they had previously been connected. Finally there arose difficulty between the Sabbatarians and the Sunday observers, and the former were compelled to withdraw from the church, that they might peaceably keep God's holy day. Soon after, they entered into an organization, thus forming the first Sabbath- keeping church in America. These Sabbath-keepers had flattered themselves that they could obey the fourth commandment and yet remain connected with Sunday observers. It was a blessing to them and to after-generations that such a union could not exist; for had it continued, it would eventually have caused the light of God's holy Sabbath to go out in darkness. 4SP 183.2

Some years later, a church was formed in New Jersey. A zealous observer of Sunday, having reproved a person for laboring on that day, was asked for his authority from the Scriptures. On searching for this he found, instead, the divine command for keeping the seventh day, and he began at once to observe it. Through his labors a Sabbatarian church was raised up. 4SP 184.1

From that time the work gradually extended, until thousands began the observance of the Sabbath. Among the Seventh-day Baptists of this country have been men eminent for talent, learning, and piety. They have accomplished a great and good work as they have stood for two hundred years in defense of the ancient Sabbath. 4SP 184.2

In the present century few have taken a nobler stand for this truth than was taken by Eld. J. W. Morton, whose labors and writings in favor of the Sabbath have led many to its observance. He was sent as a missionary to Hayti by the Reformed Presbyterians. Sabbatarian publications fell into his hands, and after giving the subject a careful examination, he became satisfied that the fourth commandment requires the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. Without waiting to consider his own interests, he immediately determined to obey God. He returned home, made known his faith, was tried for heresy, and expelled from the Reformed Presbyterian Church without being allowed to present the reasons for his position. 4SP 185.1

The course of the Presbyterian synod in condemning Eld. Morton without granting him a hearing, is an evidence of the spirit of intolerance which still exists, even among those claiming to be Protestant reformers. The infinite God, whose throne is in the heavens, condescends to address his people, “Come now, and let us reason together;” [Isaiah 1:18.] but frail, erring men proudly refuse to reason with their brethren. They stand ready to censure one who accepts any light which they have not received—as though God had pledged himself to give no more light to any one than he had given to them. This is the course pursued by opposers of the truth in every age. They forget the declaration of the Scriptures, “Light is sown for the righteous.” [Psalm 97:11.] “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” [Proverbs 4:18.] It is a sad thing when a people claiming to be reformers cease to reform. 4SP 185.2

If professed Christians would but carefully and prayerfully compare their views with the Scriptures, laying aside all pride of opinion and desire for the supremacy, a flood of light would be shed upon the churches now wandering in the darkness of error. As fast as his people can bear it, the Lord reveals to them their errors in doctrine and their defects of character. From age to age he has raised up men and qualified them to do a special work needed in their time. But to none of these did he commit all the light which was to be given to the world. Wisdom does not die with them. It was not the will of God that the work of reform should cease with the going out of Luther's life; it was not his will that at the death of the Wesleys the Christian faith should become stereotyped. The work of reform is progressive. Go forward, is the command of our great Leader,—forward unto victory. 4SP 186.1

We shall not be accepted and honored of God in doing the same work that our fathers did. We do not occupy the position which they occupied in the unfolding of truth. In order to be accepted and honored as they were, we must improve the light which shines upon us, as they improved that which shone upon them; we must do as they would have done, had they lived in our day. Luther and the Wesleys were reformers in their time. It is our duty to continue the work of reform. If we neglect to heed the light, it will become darkness; and the degree of darkness will be proportionate to the light rejected. 4SP 186.2

The prophet of God declares that in the last days knowledge shall be increased. There are new truths to be revealed to the humble seeker. The teachings of God's word are to be freed from the errors and superstition with which they have been encumbered. Doctrines that are not sanctioned by the Scriptures have been widely taught, and many have honestly accepted them; but when the truth is revealed, it becomes the duty of every one to accept it. Those who allow worldly interests, desire for popularity, or pride of opinion, to separate them from the truth, must render an account to God for their neglect. 4SP 186.3