The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Reformation Born of a Twofold Discovery

I. The Secret of the Reformers’ Unprecedented Defiance

Like a glorious sunrise after a dismal night, the sixteenth-century Reformation era ushered in an epoch o£ increasing light, hope, liberty, truth, and progress. Europe began to awake from her long slumber of superstition. The light of the gospel penetrated into many nations, and the teachings of the early church reappeared under the Reformers. The seed of civil and religious liberty was sown, and the printing press and the revival of learning accelerated the movement. Columbus had struck out across the western seas and opened a new world to view, considering himself, under the profound conviction of God’s guiding, to be an instrument of fulfilling prophecy. Rome, on her seven hills, was shaken, and lost a good portion of her dominions. Protestant nations came into being. A new era began—a turning point in the history of mankind. PFF2 241.1


This Protestant movement, initiated by Luther, split western Christendom into two halves—finally severing Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, and Scotland from the communion of Rome, and seriously affecting other countries like France and Austria. Yet during the period of the Counter Reformation much Protestant territory was lost again, and Rome riveted her fetters more strongly than ever upon her own adherents. PFF2 241.2

Inseparably Tied to His Preaching of Christ, Was Luther’s Exposure of the Identity of Antichrist as the Great Roman Apostasy. Upon Great Congregations and Before Simple Private Audiences He Pressed the Basic Issue of the Conflict Between Christ and Antichrist
Page 241

The Reformation was not the tardy formation of the true church, but rather its reformation. It has been aptly said that Pentecost formed it, the Papacy deformed it, and now Protestantism reformed it. The church had become frightfully deformed, and needed to be thoroughly reformed. It had departed from the faith, and desperately needed to be brought back. A restoration of apostolic Christianity was imperative. The Papacy had subverted both the truth of God and the liberties of man. Christ had been eclipsed, and the provisions of salvation grossly perverted. The papal priest had been substituted for the Saviour of sinners, and the mystery of iniquity for the mystery of godliness. God raised up the Reformation to do a work of protest, exposure, condemnation, and deliverance. It took courageous men to face the most powerful ecclesiastical organization that had ever been developed. And such a deliverance came into being under the lead of Luther. PFF2 243.1


Luther’s break with Rome was a spectacle equaling, if not surpassing, in moral sublimity any other scene unfolded in the Christian Era. Evangelicals of the Waldensian type—and remnants of the Bohemians, Taborites, Spirituals, and Lollards—rejoiced in the bold stand. Melanchthon, Carlstadt, Amsdorf, Jonas, Cellarius, and others took similar steps. Many who secretly had held similar views became avowed evangelicals. Again it was evident that nothing in this old world is more powerful than a prophetic truth whose time has come. It has impelling force and power within it. Thus it was with the Reformation, which was really born of a twofold discovery—first, the rediscovery of Christ and His salvation; and second, the discovery of the identity of Antichrist and his subversions. PFF2 243.2

This fact is of epochal importance. Luther discovered “Christ and His salvation” before 1517. And before 1520 he had discovered the identity of “Antichrist and his damnation.” The entire Reformation rested on this twofold testimony. The reformers were unanimous in its acceptance. And it was this interpretation of prophecy that lent emphasis to their reformatory action. It led them to protest against Rome with extraordinary strength and undaunted courage. It nerved them to resist to the utmost the claims of the apostate church. It sustained them at the martyrs’ stake. Verily, this was the rallying point and the battle cry that made the Reformation unconquerable. PFF2 243.3

Thus it was that the Reformation, founded on the recovered Bible and extended by Bible preaching, emancipated the minds of men from bondage. It gave impetus to the arts and sciences, to enterprise and culture, and to freedom and liberty. It was hailed as a glad deliverance by all who came under its influence. But the aroused wrath of the Papacy soon brought long and cruel persecutions. PFF2 244.1


The principles of the Reformation were all contained within the complete Latin Bible that Luther discovered in the university library of Erfurt. Staupitz later gave him a copy for his own, and from his refuge in the Wartburg, Luther gave to the world his priceless German translation. He felt that only the Bible, which had liberated him, could liberate the people. Thus it came to be printed and scattered like the leaves of autumn. In vain did Rome kindle her fires and burn copies of the Book. This only increased the demand. Finding it impossible to suppress Luther’s translation, papal theologians were constrained, erelong, to print a rival translation of their own. By simple reference to Scripture, Protestantism’s newly recovered doctrines had been justified. PFF2 244.2

Translation of the Bible into the vernacular was necessary, because it was available only in an obsolete language, for Latin was read only by the educated few-a situation which was not so much the case with the Greek and Armenian churches. In fact, the Catholic ritual was so much identified with the Latin that the abandonment of this language and the use of the vernacular became the symbol of the return to the primitive gospel. It was like taking away the veil that covered an age-old treasure. So the Reformation became pre-eminently the Age of the Book. The Scriptures were again made supreme in the Reformer ranks, with traditionism crowded into the background, and the Bible translated into various tongues of Europe. PFF2 244.3


Along with this restoration of the Bible came the inevitable revival in prophetic interpretation. Literally hundreds of volumes or tractates were written in the contest of Protestant and Catholic pens regarding the charge that the Papacy was the predicted Antichrist, with its allotted time fast expiring. It was the profound conviction springing from the great outline prophecies, and the inescapable conclusion that the Papacy was the predicted Antichrist, that impelled separation and gave courage to battle the great apostasy. PFF2 245.1

The prophecies concerning the Antichrist soon became the center of controversy, as the Reformers pointed the incriminating finger of prophecy, saying, Thou art the Man of Sin! Rome was declared to be the Babylon of the Apocalypse, and the papal pontiffs, in their succession, the predicted Man of Sin. Separation from the Church of Rome and its pontifical head therefore came to be regarded as a sacred, bounden duty. Christians were urged to obey the command, “Come out of her, My people.” To them, this separation was separation not from Christ and His church but from Antichrist. This was the basic principle upon which the Reformers prosecuted their work from the beginning. It was this that animated and made them invincible. This helps to explain their courage in the face of the uniform papal oppressions, triumphs, and subjugations of the past. PFF2 245.2

Thus the voices of the Waldenses, Wyclifites, and Hussites, which had almost died away in Christendom, protesting against the Papacy as the Beast and Rome as the Apocalyptic Babylon, were revived in unparalleled power after the temporary suspension. Vain was the authoritative prohibition by the Fifth Lateran Council, in 1516, against writing or preaching on the subject of Antichrist. In Germany, Switzerland, England, France, Denmark, and Sweden, the concept of the Papacy as Antichrist was increasingly received as a self-evident and fundamental truth by the founders of the various Protestant churches, and was therefore a prophetic warrant and sufficient justification for the epochal act of separation. PFF2 245.3