In 1530 Martin Luther wrote the following to his friend Jerome Weller for his fight of faith against the evil one.
Whenever this temptation of melancholy comes to you, beware not to dispute with the devil nor allow yourself to dwell on these lethal thoughts, for so doing is nothing less than giving place to the devil and so falling. Try as hard as you can to despise these thoughts sent by Satan. In this sort of temptation and battle, contempt is the easiest road to victory; laugh your enemy to scorn and ask to whom you are talking. By all means flee solitude, for he lies in wait most for those alone. This devil is conquered by despising and mocking him, not by resisting and arguing. Therefore, Jerome, joke and play games with my wife and others, in which way you will drive out your diabolic thoughts and take courage.
Be strong and cheerful and cast out those monstrous thoughts. Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men, or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you, “Do not drink,” answer him, “I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” One must always do what Satan forbids. What other cause do you think that I have for drinking so much strong drink, talking so freely and making merry so often, except that I wish to mock and harass the devil who is wont to mock and harass me. Would that I could contrive some great sin to spite the devil, that he might understand that I would not even then acknowledge it and that I was conscious of no sin whatever. We, whom the devil thus seeks to annoy, should remove the whole Decalogue from our hearts and minds.
Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’
What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that Thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with Thy perfect pleasure. I confess to Thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving Thy creature and Thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised! Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in Thy sight.’
A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works….
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all His angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all His creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.”
–Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 158– 59.
Everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want anyone else to do the same today. When you go to the…gardens you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering about loose in the street? You tell me that would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.
So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are sort of a bear-pit or iron cage for him, but such a man today is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if can think of one. Yet imagine that in those ages past, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and their (friends) had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great (racket), and get ourselves in disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake things will have grown better.”
Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on. Note what we owe them, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers.
It is today as it was in the Reformer’s days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it.
Look you sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today.
… Stand fast, my beloved, in the name of God! I, your brother in Christ, entreat you to abide in the truth. Quit yourselves like men, be strong. The Lord sustain you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
In Geneva, Switzerland, near the church where John Calvin taught on a daily basis, there is a city park. The park contains a memorial to the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, a football field long wall adorned with statues of Calvin, John Knox, and other Reformers. Chiseled into the stone around these men is the Latin motto: Post Tenebras Lux, “After darkness, Light.”
The “darkness” refers to the spiritual darkness during the late Middle Ages, a time period also known in history as the Dark Ages. Darkness keeps men from seeing reality. Reality is there, just as the furniture is still in a room when the lights are off, it just isn’t seen. Throughout the Dark Ages there was an eclipsing of God, a hiding of the truth of the gospel that had an impact on virtually every part of society.
What was the spiritual condition of pre-reformation Europe? People were ignorant about God. They didn’t know what His Word said, largely due to the fact that they didn’t have their own copies of the Bible to read in their languages. People adopted their beliefs (more like superstitions) second-hand rather than from Scripture. Perhaps the darkest point of all was that doctrine of justification by faith alone, and therefore any hope of true salvation, was all but extinguished.
First generation reformers like William Tyndale and Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli realized that the cause of corruption in the Church was its corrupt teaching, and until the doctrine of the Church was corrected, the abuses would continue. We don’t get fussy because their are problems in the church; there are always problems. We get fussy when we can’t see God.
The Reformation recovered “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), restoring the light of the truth and shining bright the Word of God. Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Reformation returned the focus to Jesus Christ. “After darkness, light.”
This is where any reformation today must start as well–good theology centered on Christ. As the Reformation gained momentum it clarified itself with a fresh set of convictions about the faith, the Pillars of the Reformation, the Five Solas:
Sola Scriptura – Scripture is the only inerrant authority
Sola Fide – Faith is the only way to be reconciled to God
Sola Gratia – Grace is the only way we can come to God
Solus Christus – Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior
Soli Deo Gloria – God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of all things
God used men such as Tyndale in England and Luther in Germany and Calvin in Switzerland and Knox in Scotland to bring truth to light. We know that these men weren’t perfect. We don’t want to follow men instead of following Christ, but we do want to follow men as they followed Christ. We stand on their shoulders; we stand downstream from their influence. We dress like them and fight with foam swords to rejoice in Christ’s culture changing work through the gospel. Remembering the Reformation isn’t merely a counter-cultural act, it may change our culture today as we are faithful to the light.
The main reality of every square inch of the universe, of every second of every minute in history, of every word in every text in Scripture is God. Wherever God is present, He’s King. And wherever the King is, He’s to be worshipped. The point of the Reformation was to display and polish and shout and write about and love “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The Reformation was one of the greatest corporate works of the Holy Spirit in all of church history. We are right to remember it. We are right to celebrate God’s work and the light He shined among His people. It was more than just a stop to abuses, it was a renewed vision of God Himself. We need the light of His Word to blaze and burn among us today as it did in the 16th century–post tenebras lux–after darkness, light.
I finished preaching through the Reformation solas again and wanted to put together a list of recommended resources for further study, similar to the online Edwards resources list I posted after this past Snow Retreat. Unlike that list, however, I’ve also included some books that are not available to read online.