Page images
PDF
EPUB

sion on the Church as distinctive as that of others who figured in the field. He might be regarded as an inactive champion, but his standing still, his silence, when the four winds were in commotion, might have had the effect of working results by far more mighiy, than if he had entered the field, fully accoutered, and carried on an offensive attack. His spirit might have been working silently and invisibly in the Church, when no person knew from whence it came.

The ground chosen by Melancthon, which he doubtless regarded as the safest for the Protestant Church, he had not fully reached until after the death of Luther. The presence of his friend and colleague was no longer at hand to overawe him, and he was left to develop and unfold more freely the principles of the Reformation. During its first phases he was confessedly carried along in the wake of Luther's spirit; as much, however, by the general current as by Luther himself. All the circumstances of the times were such as to render the developments of Protestantism, if not to some extent erroneous, certainly incomplete. It is remarked by Schiller in his history of the Thirty Years War, that Protestantism was brought to express itself in the Augsburg Confession at a period somewhat unfavorable. The times were as yet not fully matured to secure to Protestantism as a whole all the advantages, which it placed in the hands of its adherents, and he attributes much of their divisions and dissensions to this circumstance.' But the first loud explosion had spent its force. Zuingle had died on the field of battle, and Luther has sunk to rest in peace. A second pbasis of the Protestant movement appeared. Calvin was formed at the head of ! the Reformed ranks, directing their interests by his iron-will, whilst Melancthon succeeded Luther in standing and influence, though not without opposition. It was at this period that the spiritual life of Melancihon came to maturity, when he took his position, from which his labors as somewhat peculiar and distinctive, began to tell on the history of the Church down to the present time. Experience and observation on the practical operation of the Protestant principle gave him superior advantages to lay afresh the ground-work of the Reformation, or at least

1

'His language is : The reason of this change (the divided state of Pro testantism) is to be sought precisely in the Augsburg Confession itself. This Confession set a positive boundary to the Protestant faith, before the awakened spirit of investigation was prepared to permit such a boundary to be drawn, and the Protestants unknowingly bartered away a part of the advantages which their revolt from the papacy secured to theme

considerably do modify it. Evidence that he felt some inward call of this character appears pp. 128, 129, of Galle's book, and at an early day Luther himself thought he might be designed to be the forerunner of Philip, for whom as another Elias, he was to prepare the way. We shall now consider the position of Me. lancthon, that we may be able to calculate its force on succeed. ing tinres.

At first it is known that Melancthon coincided with Luther in his views of the Lord's Supper. It soon became apparent, however, that this did not entirely satisfy his clear and keen logic, as appears from the fact that he began to change and modify his language in expressing it. But his change of views did not become so generally known, nor was it perhaps complete, until after the death of Luther, when his spirit began to breathe a freer air. The view of Calvin, which had already begun to find friends, met his approbation, and be readily adopted it in preference to the one which he had previously entertained. The proof of this is carried out in detail by Galle with much impariiality, and precludes the possibility of a doubt of its correctness, or a surmise, that he entertained a view that mediated between that of Luther and Calvin. During his life-time, he never maintained his altered view in any public document, as he was repeatedly and earnestly entreated to do by Calvin ; but abundant evidence of the fact appears in his private letters, and in documents that appeared subsequent to his decease. His friends as well as bis enemies, have reprehended him most unmercifully for his silence, and they are accustomed to attribute his conduct to his timidity, and the shattered state of his nerves. This is slanderous, as well as ungenerous. The timid professor at times afraid of his own shadow, had previously at the call of duty, bearded the lion in his own den, and charity would require us to believe, that in this case, he acted from a sense of duty,—that he regarded silence, under the circumstances, as a more effective weapon than speech, however much he might expose himself to the sneers of the wicked and the rebuke of many of the good.

The position of Melancthon on the Eucharist is important in its bearing on subsequent times, from the fact of the cardinal importance of the doctrine itself in the christian system. As someihing isolated, or separately considered, it is of no more account than many other doctrines of revelation; but it stands in intiinate connection with other controlling and primary truths. It is part and parcel of the christian doctrine of our union with God, a subject, which from an early age taxed the intellect of heathon oriental, and occidental sages, in their painful searches

[ocr errors]

for the truth, and with them became the germinant point of a universe of intellectual creations. In the christian scheme, it has not only thus become germinant; it connects itself further with the doctrine of Christ, the Son of God, our Mediator, and of the Church, a new link in the chain of endless thought, of which the heathen sages knew nothing. Hence our view of the Eucharist will modify our view of religion itself, of Christ, its author, the Trinity and ultimately of the Supreme Being.

The idea of the Church, connected with the doctrine of the Eucharist, as the communion of saints, was a controlling element in the spiritual life of Melancthon. The mere ideal with him did not suffice; he loved the real as its product, and required that this last should appear to prove the existence of the first. He knew well what the Church ought to be, but when he found her still in the land of bondage, he loved her notwithstanding. None of the Reformers looked with so much yearning affection upon the Catholic Church, and appeared to be so reluctant to disbelieve in its revivification as he. In this regard he has been censured, and it may be with justice, as having carried his charity 100 far. His error was inevitable in a person of a meditative turn of mind, who holds communion with the saints of the past as well as with those of the present. His failure to see the mere round of empty forms, that had taken the place of the living church, disclosed a heart felt love for the Holy Catholic Church. Affection ever clings to the forms of the lovely deceased, where “beauty lingers," with the hope, though a vain one, that life may again return. The genuineness of his love is indicated by its extending much farther in a contrary direction. Extra Lutheran Protestantism enjoyed it far more freely than the papists. Without compromising with error, he could recognize the lovely form of the Lamb's bride in Switzerland and France, where Luther could see nought but desolation and death. The authority of the Church in matters of faith and practice was felt more powerfully, perhaps, in his case, than with the rest of the Reformers. The eloquent words of Luther respecting the impiety of departing from the universal voice of the Church is often quoted and admired. The frequent appeals of Melancthon to venerable antiquity are more so, when we find them exemplified by a constant regard for the thing itself. He began to waver in his view of the Eucharist, when he discovered that oral manducation, was not taught by the earlier teachers of the Church. He then instituted a new examination of the fathers of the Church, and we may suppose with much and painful anxiety. There can be no doubt if consubstantiation could have beon sustained by the authority of the Church, his troubled spirit would have found repose : none would have been more unyielding than he in its defence, nor resisted more firmly than he the Sacramentarians. But the result obliged him to change preconceived views, to differ from old and tried friends, and to subject himself to the charge of fraternizing with his opponents. The great intellect of the sixteenth century, with his hand on the Bible, bowed to the voice of the fathers, addressing him from a distant, dim antiquity. Instead of detracting from his greatness, this ought to be regarded as a feat of moral heroism of the highest character.

The more mature views of Melancthon on Free Will, Predestination, and Grace, are faithfully given by Galle, as also the process through which his mind passed in reaching them. At first, he in common with Luther, occupied as high ground on the subject of predestination, at least inferentially, as did Calvin subsequently. How far Luther modified his views on this subject, no sufficient evidence has as yet been advanced to show. It is said in his latter years, he approved of Melancthon's modifications, though up to the ninth year before his death, he asserted that he delighted most in reading his book, de servo arbitrio, written against Erasmus,-equal to high Calvinism, and wished to regard it in connection with his Catechisms, as the only books, with which he wished his name to be identified to posterity. The evidences of Melancthon's variations, showing his independence of Luther, are more numerous, and to the point. He not only retreated from the dizzy position, he once occupied to the Augustinian view, but is represented as having gone still further, as evidenced in the Synergistic controversy, in which he attempted to resist the antinomian tendency of the times. He was never regarded as being chargeable with Pelagianism, but constantly insisted upon the necessity of divine grace in order to salvation, and maintained the impotency of man to effect his own regeneration. He nevertheless attributed a certain degree of freedom to the human will, with the view of satisfying those parts of Scripture, that seem to require it, and extended the call of mercy to men generally. By degrees he threw the subject of Predestination in a manner aside, as transcending the human intellect, and ministering questions of strife, rather than edification. How he attempted to reconcile all the truths, that gather around the everlasting question of human freedom, if he made any attempt at all, does not appear. He prepared no metaphysical system in which these questions were answered, and his views so far as they go to form a system, appear in his practical

works and controversies. His real service to the world consists not so much in any system, which he may have established, as his moderation in granting all the facts in the case, some of which are at times denied by the Calvinistic party, others by their opponents, the Arminians. The Heidelberg Catechism, to which we shall have occasion to advert as modified by his influence, would no doubt have met with his approbation, as a truthful view of the questions referred to. In this form of sound words, the truths, which gave rise to the Calvinistic system are preserved, whilst those, which justified the rise of modern Arminianism are not discarded. It thus presents the only safe platform for the progress of Theology in the direction adverted to.

It could hardly be expected that a religious character so well rounded, and giving so little occasion for Shibboleths as that of Melancthon, should meet with any very deep sympathy in its favor during the sixteenth century. That was a period, when ties that had bound men together for a thousand years snapped asunder as at the touch of fire; then unity and catholicity were thrown more and more into the shade, and the hand that should attempt to bring them into the light, met with stern rebuke. Least of all could it be expected that this should be the case in Saxon-Germany. It required the “thunder-words” of Luther to move that mass of rocky, robust human nature. It was not the evening zephyr, laden with balmy odors from the spirit-land, that could revive that parched soil; it required the bolts of heaven to discharge their contents, to awaken the drooping principles of life. Still Melancthon was not without his adherents during his life-time and subsequently, at Wittemberg and else. where. The Philippists and Crypto-calvinists were numerous, and seemed to be in a fair way of carrying everything before them, but the hand of persecution demolished the influence, and Providence ordered that they in patience and silence should await their time.

Along the banks of the Rhine, in a country watered by the Neckar, Melancthon's native land, there resided a numerous population, possessed of genuine German character, except as it was softened by proximity to France, and rendered more susceptible of wholesome influence from abroad. Into this section of country the doctrines of Calvin had made considerable progress, but not under so objectionable a form as in Holland and Scotland. They were modified by the gemuethlichkeit of Germany, and reverence for the Augsburg Confession, or rather, as we may say, by the Melancthonian tendency of the times. Frederick, the Pious, the Palatine Elector, abolished the Lutheran faith,

a

a

« PreviousContinue »