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not straining at gnats, but at camels. An unmitigated creed` drove him into an unmeasured abomination of it; the personal corruption of the Roman catholic priest of those times, tempted him to question his official authority; his abuse of what was lawfully his own, to dispute his abstract right of it: but though in all this he might be mistaken, he was not mercenary; and whatever his opinions were, however untenable, he was true to them in life and in death, forfeiting for the sake of them his property, his liberty, and his peace, and often in the end sealing them with his blood. But, after all, the great glory of the Lollard was this, that he gave to the people the pure word of God. The work whereby Wickliffe hastened the Reformation, was his translation of the Scriptures into his own mother-tongue. Apart from this, his labours, as valuable as they were, might not be thought of unmixed value. Herein he had the sure promise of God pledged to his success. "For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be, saith the Lord, that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."* Void it did not return. Hitherto the Scriptures were little known. Cadmon, it is true, had paraphrased in verse detached portions of them in the seventh century. Bede, it has been before observed, had translated the Gospel of St. John. Translations of all the Gospels into Anglo-Saxon had been made between the reigns of Alfred and Harold. Elfric produced versions of many books of the Old Testament, as well as of the New; but, meanwhile the invasion of the Danes threw the kingdom into a frightful
* Isaiah, lv. 10, 11.
DESIRE FOR THE SCRIPTURES.
state of anarchy, and long kept it so disturbed. Then the Norman conquest succeeding again broke its spirit and changed its language; so that the word of God had become precious in the days of Wickliffe. The Anglo-Saxon which still continued to be the staple of the dialect of England, was by this time saturated with Norman words (no great number having been adopted into it since; and whilst Chaucer was labouring to fix the English tongue (its winged words) on principles of taste, amongst the courtiers and nobles, Wickliffe, perhaps even a more perfect master of it still, was establishing it yet more permanently, by knitting up in it the immortal hopes of the people at large, and stamping it in a complete translation of the Bible, with "holiness to the Lord." At this day his version can scarcely be called obsolete. I speak of the New Testament, for the Old has never yet been printed; a reproach both upon the divines and the philologists of England, which, we trust, will speedily be removed. At this day, it might be read in our churches without the necessity of many even verbal alterations; and on comparing it with the authorised version of King James, it will be found that the latter was hammered on Wickliffe's anvil. By this great and good work the pleasure of the Most High prospered in his hand. An eager appetite for Scriptural knowledge was excited among the people, which they would make any sacrifice and risk any danger to gratify. Entire copies of the Bible, when they could only be multiplied by means of amanuenses, were too costly to be within the reach of very many readers; but those who could not procure the "volume of the Book," would give a load of hay for a few favourite chapters, and many such scraps were consumed upon the persons of the martyrs at the stake.* They would hide the forbidden treasure under the floors of
* Ecc. Biog. i. 290; where Fox and others attest these things.
their houses, and put their lives in peril, rather than forego the book they desired; they would sit up all night, their doors being shut for fear of surprise, reading or hearing others read the word of God; they would bury themselves in the woods, and there converse with it in solitude; they would tend their herds in the fields, and still steal an hour for drinking in the good tidings of great joy:-thus was the angel come down to trouble the water, and there was only wanted some providential crisis to put the nation into it, that it might be made whole.
LUTHER. ERASMUS.-SIR T. MORE.-NEW TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE.-DEMAND FOR IT,
SUCH was the condition of England in the fifteenth century: the minds of men generally alienated from the church of Rome by reason of its corruption; their religious knowledge improved, and improving daily, by the wider diffusion of the Scriptures in the mother-tongue, to which the art of printing now so effectually contributed; and a sect, neither few in numbers, nor wanting in activity or courage, in the heart of the kingdom, ready to profit by any occasion which might offer of opening the eyes of their countrymen. Providence, having now sufficiently prepared the world for the reception of such a character, raised up a great reformer, whose labours, though immediately confined to Germany, still made themselves felt throughout Europe, and more especially in this island.
Martin Luther, the son of a working miner in Saxony, was born at Isleben on the 10th of November, 1483, a day much to be remembered. He was a man for the times; qualified by the force of his character for giving them a wrench. In his early years he took on himself the vows of an Augustin monk, and, to use his own words, was a "most mad Papist." Various circumstances concurred to disabuse him of his bigotry; they have been severally advanced with more or less emphasis according to the respective views of the writers who have treated this subject-the secular historian tracing his conversion to secondary causes, the devout, ascribing it wholly to the grace of God. Both may be right; it was probably the effect of accident, of reflection, and of
time, God working by means of such instruments. At the age of three and twenty the business of his monastery carried him to Rome. He saw there more than was expedient. He was surprised to find, on near inspection, that the image which he had been taught to believe fallen from Jupiter, wore many appearances of having been made by the craftsman. He was too sincere himself not to feel disgust at the symptoms of hollow faith which forced themselves upon his notice in the capital of Christendom and he returned to Saxony from his mission "with thoughts arising in his heart." He betook himself to the study of the Scriptures, with Erasmus for his help; with whose system of interpretation, however, he does not seem to have been entirely satisfied. He felt an increasing dislike of the schoolmen and soon entertained a suspicion, which, by degrees, ripened into a conviction, of the truth of that doctrine which proved afterwards the burden of his preaching-justification by faith in Christ only.* Tetzel a Dominican monk, was commissioned by the pope (Leo X.,) who wished to recruit his
* Nevertheless Luther is careful to maintain good works as the fruits of faith, though not as the meritorious cause of salvation. "Having so taught of faith in Christ," says he "we now teach touching good works also. Seeing that by faith thou hast apprehended Christ, by whom thou art justified, go now, love God and thy neighbours; pray to God, give him thanks; preach him, praise him, confess him; be good to thy neighbour, help him, do thy duty by him. These are truly good works, flowing as they do from that faith and joy conceived in the heart by reason of our forgiveness of sins through Christ." -Comment. on the Galatians, ii. 16. And again," After that Christ has been apprehended by faith, and that I am become dead to the law, justified from sin, freed from death, the devil, and hell, through Christ, I do good works, I love God, I give him thanks, I exercise charity towards my neighbour. But this charity, and the works consequent upon it, neither inform my faith, nor adorn it; but my faith informs and adorns my charity. This is my theology; these my paradoxes."—ii. 18.