Justification by grace alone through faith alone was the key truth that started the Reformation in the early sixteenth century. The main name that stands out is Martin Luther.
Other people were significant but Luther and his actions started the whole movement going.
In those days the religious life of the nation was completely different to what we would understand today.
There was great darkness over Europe. People were afraid of demons, hobgoblins, and the like. People were ruled by the Catholic Church from Rome, and local priests were to be feared. The people of the day had no means of learning as they had no access to books, or even a mindset to discover and investigate new ideas. They were told what they were required to believe.
There was a practice going around at that time known as indulgences. This was an edict from the Pope himself. He authorised the production of letters of authority from priests to sell indulgences to the people. The people were told that if they gave money buying these indulgences, they would keep a loved one out of purgatory.
Martin Luther was stirred by the wickedness of the religious powers and what they were practising. He went to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on 31st October 1517 and posted up his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the castle. This would be equivalent to posting a lecture on the town notice board. He was soon summoned to the religious authorities in their council and asked to recant – i.e. to say he had acted erroneously. He asked to sleep on the matter overnight and give his reply in the morning.
He returned in the morning to make his famous statement: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen”.
Luther’s stand against the power of the Papacy had an incredible consequence. His stand triggered a great move of God through many nations in Europe.
The resulting move coincided with the emergence of the printing press, his words and preaching rapidly being communicated to the masses. For the first time for generations men and women had the opportunity of discovering God for themselves. This came in part from people having access to the Bible for the first time, through men like Tyndale and others. Tyndale’s Bible was written in English, not Latin. The Bible then was available for anyone who could read and not seen as a book only for the priests.
A result of Luther’s understand was his teaching on the sanctity of marriage, love in the family and Biblical instruction for all in the household.
The Reformation also saw the beginnings of science, moving away from fanciful ideas to assessments on fact and truth.
The emergence of art is another cultural consequence of the Reformation as men began to understand that we have all been created in the image of God and art is one way of expressing that value.
It bears repeating however that all these secondary consequences of the Reformation draw their origins from the great Biblical truth, foundational to our Christian experience – justification by grace alone, through faith alone.
Many years later John Wesley was very low in spirits. He had tried to evangelise, unsuccessfully, and had had his experience of God questioned as he witnessed the lives of some Moravian believers travelling with him, all of them passing through a tremendous storm. The Moravians exhibited all the peace, faith and security in God that he lacked.
Let him describe in his own words his experience of what happened to him on the 24th May 1738:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation: and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.”
Justification by grace alone through faith alone was one of the foundational truths that John Wesley preached.