On the Nature and Movement of Human Thought, as Pertaining to Providence, the Reformation, and the Future Missional Church

Taken from, “Luther and Cromwell”
Written by J. T. Headley
With a foreword 

Big Bang Timeline

[Historians aspire to study history by learning history forwards. That is, they seek to read out of the pages of history events as they flow from their source, just as you would trace a drop of water directly from its fountain head and follow its path, tracing each event and turn until it finally reaches the sea. But sometimes we are distracted by those thunderbolts of history which are seemingly thrown by an angry hand, shaking apart the trees and even mountains of civilization, while heaving the earth and humanity in mighty cataclysms. Such was the time of the Reformation.  It may seem to those gazing at this period with bewildered thoughts, especially at those poor souls living in such a beleaguered times, that some gigantic hand has seemingly turned the heavens upside down with an explosion of occurrences and events in an unstoppable and irreversible sequence; and that some blind eye, some malignant force, has seemingly caused almost endless destruction and needless death. But if we look carefully, we see that at the same time, those same events have planted the seeds for new growth and regeneration in the now fertile (desperate) hearts of humanity.  And if a careful observer should take the time and cautiously trace backwards those separate drops of thought and action, he would see that they were ultimately caused at earlier times and from other chains of events.

However, for most of us, we only see the occurrences of history and its effects after the seeds of change have traveled down the river of time, and even then, only where they have been united together by the invisible hands of Providence. But it is at God’s specifically designated nexus points, where, under the building pressure and energy, these various pieces of civilization and thought are finally united together and combust in a titanic reaction for destruction and change. Then, as is ever the process, the paradigms of civilization shifts yet again.

I firmly believe, however, that it is at just such junctures (for it happens over and over), when such events have come together in a signal climax, that the Christian student, by careful examination, might see the hand of God openly at work, turning the pages of history, guiding here, restraining there, and finishing in certain aspects all that which he has begun; for God is certainly in control. But just when one might begin to think that he has finally grasped all of what God has done, is doing, and that he can see where God is leading, –events again lurch forward, –and again, certain grand “truths” must lurch forward also, for they, and the questions they generate, are the goads that God uses to drive mankind onward throughout the course of history. It is with certainty that these great events which have preceded us, though leaving us in their wake, are but examples leading us back to the Savior so that we might follow on with the eyes of faith, looking only unto Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith, who is the giver of the crown of life to all those who have been given the grace to run the race in him. –MWP]

Word Cloud lightThe human race has always been subjected to violent shocks…

…from the commencement of its history until now. Revolution has seemed indispensable to progress, and every step forward which the world has taken, has caused a tremor like the first pulsations of an earthquake. We turn from “revolutions” with a shudder, for the violence and bloodshed that accompany them are revolting to our feelings; but we forget that, constituted as governments and society are, they are necessary.

A higher wisdom, guided by a truer sympathy than ours, has said, “I come not to send peace, but a sword; to set a man at variance against his father,”–Matthew 10:34. The world is full of oppressive systems, whose adherents will not yield without a fierce struggle, and the iron framework of which will not crumble except to heavy blows. Nearly, if not quite all the moral struggles of the race have at length come to a physical adjustment ; for the party weakest in the justice of its cause has generally been the strongest in external force. Hence, when overthrown with argument, it has resorted to the sword. Then comes martyrdom; but with increase of strength to the persecuted, and the co-operators of rulers, resistance has followed, ending in long wars and wasting battles.

Thus did the Reformation under Luther which “began in silence and in weakness” ended in revolutions, violence, and war.

There seems sometimes a vast disparity between causes and the results they accomplish. We behold a poor monk, haggard and wan, praying alone in his cell, with tears and groans; we look again, and he is shaking thrones, and principalities, and powers. Today he is sweeping the convent, and engrossed in the occupations of a menial; tomorrow, confronting kings and awing princes, by the majesty of his bearing. And yet no visible power has passed into his hands; he is a single, solitary man, with nothing to sustain him but truth, and leaning on no arm but that of the invisible God!

But we are to look for the cause of the Reformation out of Luther. That great movement was not a sudden impulse; the war that swept over Europe was born in a deeper sea than Luther’s bosom. Although Rome seemed secure, and her power supreme, the heavens had been for a long time giving indications of an approaching tempest. The world was expecting some great change, and this expectancy grew out of its need. The church had no spirituality, and was worse than dead –it was corrupt. With its observances, and ceremonies, and indulgences, it could not reach the heart and wants of man. The human soul, slowly awaking from its long slumbers, called pleadingly for that Christianity which the Son of God had established. But it could not be found in the church.

The doctrines of grace and justification by faith were scoffed at as ridiculous, and salvation by works was loudly proclaimed, thus bringing back a religion of mere ceremonies “Judaism, under another form, which the world had shaken off at the appearance of Christ.

Added to this, the Romish Church was the den of every vice. The capital and palace of the Pontiff exhibited scenes of debauchery, drunkenness, and irreligion, that made them a byword in the mouths of the people. The same immorality characterized the priesthood every where. It finally became a custom to pay a tax for keeping a mistress; and one bishop declared that eleven thousand priests came to him in one year to pay this tax. The climax to all these absurdities and immoralities was the sale of indulgences, not carried on at Rome, but over the continent, by which a few groats would buy pardon for any crime, even for incest.

Thus, under its own corruptions, was the immense fabric of papacy tottering to its fall. Kings and princes were also in a state of preparation for a change; they began to question the right of the Pope to the vast power he wielded, and which they had so often suffered under; while the burghers and more wealthy citizens,especially of the free cities of Germany, did not hesitate to express their views of the oppressions of the hierarchy. The common people, too, began to see their rights and ask for them.

Thus, in the church and state were found the elements of revolution. The revival of learning, by expanding the human mind, also pushed on the movement. The mysticism of the schoolmen, and the skepticism of the Aristotelians, were not enough to counterbalance the invigorating power of letters.

Civilization had advanced, and knowledge increased, until the whole iron framework of the papal and ecclesiastical system, which had been fitted for a darker age and a more ignorant, slavish race of men, could no longer keep its place. Man had outgrown the narrow limits in which he was confined, and pressed painfully upward against the bars which held him down. A single blow, and every thing would heave and part asunder. Europe did not need to be roused by the advent of a new prophet; it wanted simply relief. The church, the state, the wealthy and the poor –the universal soul asked for relief, and Luther brought it.

To the contemplative mind, how sad is one aspect of the human race! We see the heavens darkened with the smoke of altar-fires ; we behold men prostrating themselves under the statues of idols; women casting their children into the Ganges, suffering self-chastisement and death, cheerfully endured, to solve this single problem of justification, the study of which so well-nigh wrecked Luther for ever. That problem has saddened the soul of man from the commencement of his history till now. The smoke of Abel’s sacrifice, ascending from the borders of Eden, was endeavoring to pierce the sky for its solution. All the ceremonies of the Jewish religion tended to the same end.

The pagan before his idol, and the Christian at a holier shrine, have been asking the same question for ages. Pilgrimages have been made, and tortures and martyrdom endured, to answer it. The spire of every temple and church in the world is now pointing to the heavens as if in answer.

Every bell on the Sabbath day, calling men to the house of prayer, says, Come and hear the solution of this great problem.

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 51. A Psalm of Judgment, as well as a Miserere: The Last Cry of Mercy From the Saints…

Psalm 51

ridley--latimer-1555-grangerThis is a psalm which is the cry for mercy and purity rising from the view of judgment…

…and in this, too, harmonizing with the tone of the “Dies Irae.” that is, “Day of judgment, day of burning,” which adds to its power as it falls from the bosom of distant centuries, like the tones of a cathedral bell, dropping slow and solemn from the tower at midnight.

‘Guilt and shame my soul assailing,
Where shall I find friend availing,
When the righteous man is quailing?’

Psalm 51 is one of the Pauline psalms which delighted Luther, and has had a manifold history, open and secret. It was sung by George Wishart and his friends at the Laird of Ormiston’s, in East Lothian, on the night when he was taken prisoner, to be afterwards burned at St. Andrews. ‘ After supper he held comfortable as regarding his death and the deaths of God’s chosen children, to which he pleasantly said, “Methinks that I desire earnestly to sleep,” and therewith he said, “will we sing a psalm?” and so he appointed the 51st, which was put in Scottish metre (Wedderburn’s Version), and began thus:

“Have mercy on me, God of might,
Of mercy Lord and king ;
For thy mercy is set full right
Above all earthly thing;
Therefore I cry both day and night,
And with my heart shall sing;
To thy mercy with thee will I go.”

For a long period in the Middle Ages, and after the Reformation, it was the “Miserere,” the last cry for mercy, sung, or heard, by those who were about to step into the presence of the judgment seat.

When it was read to Henry V. of England on his death-bed, the closing words, ‘Build thou the walls of Jerusalem,” seemed to fall on the ear of the dying man as a reproach, for he had cherished a vow, and he murmured, ‘If I had finished the war in France, and established peace, I would have gone to Palestine to rescue the Holy City from the Saracens.”

It was read to Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley, when they were executed together, Aug. 22, 1553, read to her in Latin, and repeated by her in English. It was read also at Norfolk’s execution a few years later. It was the last prayer of Oecolampadius, who had his sickness aggravated and his death hastened by the untimely end of his friend Zwingli in 1531. He called the ministers of the churches round him, exhorted them to fidelity and purity of doctrine, prayed earnestly in the words of David in the 51st Psalm, and soon after died.

It would be too long to tell of all the Protestants in France who made it their death song, during that long agony in which it is difficult to say whether we wonder most at the cruelty of the persecutors or the constancy of the sufferers. Pierre Milet was one of the earliest burned, in 1550, on the Place Maubert, Paris, with the refinements of cruelty common at the time; and more than 200 years after, March 27, 1752, Francis Benezet met his death, both of them with this psalm on their lips.

There is a remarkable similarity in the manner of death of the French and Scottish martyrs, arising from the frequent intercourse between the Churches in the early days of the Reformation, and from their common devotion to the book of Psalms.

One of the most interesting of these is that of Thomas Forret, who suffered martyrdom on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh, nearly a quarter of a century before the Reformation gained firm footing in the land. He was of a family that had owned the estate of Forret in Fife from the time of William the Lion, and was Canon of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth. A volume of Augustine led him to the Bible, and there he found salvation through Christ alone. When the people came to have pardon for money, he would say, ‘I am bound to speak the truth to you. There is no pardon for our sins that can come to us from Pope or any other, but only by the blood of Christ.” This, and the abundance of his work in preaching,brought him before the Bishop of Dunkeld and the Abbot of St. Colm’s, who urged him to keep silence. ‘You are a friend to my body,’ he replied,’but not to my soul. Before I deny a word I have spoken, you shall see this body of mine blow away with the wind in ashes.’

The account of his death has been preserved by his faithful servant, Andrew Kirkie. When he was brought to the stake on the Castle Hill, he cried first in Latin and then in English,’ God be merciful to me, a sinner; ‘then, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’ and ended with the Miserere, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness.’

Verse 7. Probably the northernmost grave on the surface of the earth is one made for a member of the expedition of Sir George Nares to the Arctic Sea, in the ship Alert. It is near Cape Beechy, on the brow of a hill covered with snow, and commanding a view of crowded masses of ice which stretch away into the mysterious Northern Ocean, where, hung like a lamp over the door of the unknown, shines the polar star. A large stone covers the dead, and, on a copper tablet at the head, the words are engraved,

‘Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’

Verse 18. The first presbytery of the Irish Presbyterian Church was constituted by immigrants from Scotland, in Carrickfergus,June 10, 1642. There were five ministers and as many elders. The sermon was from Psalm 51:18, 

‘Do good in thy good
pleasure unto Zion;
build thou the walls of Jerusalem.’

Two hundred years afterwards, in 1842, every minister of the Church preached from this same text. There were then above five hundred.


Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”
Edited for thought and sense.

Just a bit of History… Psalm 3

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain.
I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.
–Psalm 3:3-6

800px-IMG_WilliamBedell0537This was the text from which Bishop William Bedell preached to his fellow-prisoners in the time of the Irish rebellion in 1642, when he and the Protestants of the district were shut up in hold, and in danger of death at any moment. He was one of the best bishops who ever lived in Ireland, and, had his example been generally followed, the Reformation would have made much greater progress in the country. He learned the Irish language, had the Bible translated into it, was assiduous in Christian work, and filled with the spirit of meekness and self-sacrifice. The word “bedel in Hebrew signifies the metal tin, and so deep was his desire of an entire renewal that he took for his motto, Isaiah 1:25, ‘I will purely purge thy dross,and take away all thy (bedel) tin.‘ He lived from 1570 to 1642, and, when he died in the midst of these troubles, the Irish had such regard for him that they fired a volley at his interment, and cried, Requiescat in pace ultimus Anglorum —  May the last of the English rest in peace.

. . .

The French Protestants, in the time of their persecution, had psalms adapted to their varied circumstances. The 3rd Psalm was for the stationing of sentinels to keep watch against sudden attack; when the danger was over, and they could worship in safety, they sang Psalm 122nd.

A little more about a great Christian and part of your Christian heritage: The Rt. Rev. William Bedell, D.D. (Irish: Uilliam Beidil; 1571 – 7 February 1642), was an Anglican churchman who served as Lord Bishop of Kilmore, had the Bible translated into Gaelic, and became a martyr of the Reformation during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. 

He was born at Black Notley in Essex, and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was a pupil of William Perkins. He became a fellow of Emmanuel in 1593, and took orders. In 1607 he was appointed chaplain to Sir Henry Wotton, then English ambassador at Venice, where he remained for four years, acquiring a great reputation as a scholar, theologian, printer, and Missionary to the faithfull leaving under Roman Catholic tyranny of the Inquisition.

He translated the Book of Common Prayer into Italian, and was on terms of close friendship with the Italian patriot, and supporter of the Reformation, Paolo Sarpi. He wrote a series of sermons with Fulgenzio Micanzio, Sarpi’s disciple. In 1616 he was appointed to the rectory of Horningsheath (near Bury St Edmunds, where he had previously worked), which he held for twelve years.

In 1627, because of his ceaseless efforts for nationalist evangalism, he was appointed provost of Trinity College, Dublin, despite having no prior connection with Ireland. Thus, he was at the forefront of advancing the Irish Reformation when he decreed that the Collect including the New Testament be read in Gaelic so that the masses might understand in contrast to the Catholic method of reading in Latin. In 1629, he was appointed to become Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. He set himself to reform the abuses of his diocese, which has with other Catholic diocese had been notorious in its corruption, bribery, graft. Additionally, to further encourage literacy and religious enlightenment he encouraged the use of the Irish language in all aspects of ecclesiastical affairs, and personally undertook the duties generally discharged by the bishop’s lay chancellor. He is noted for commissioning the translation of the Bible into the Irish Language, which translation was undertaken by the Protestant Rector of Templeport parish, The Rev. Muircheartach Ó Cionga. He would appoint only Irish speakers to parishes.

In 1633, he resigned the see of Ardagh, retaining the more primitive bishopric of Kilmore, where he had encountered some opposition from Anglican and Catholic nobles for his undertaking of reaching out to the Irish Commons. He was determined to rebuild the neglected church buildings throughout the diocese, where, in 1638, he held a synod of all the Anglican priests and officers within the diocese to discuss lax discipline. He was asked by the court of the Plantation Commission to ‘lay out’ the town of Virginia, County Cavan after complaints from the residents there about the landlords’ failure to build the town and provide a church for worship.

Bedell was a man of simple life, often walking miles on foot or on horse, travelling the dangerous byways. This was a particularly dangerous period as Irish Catholic nobles and leaders who adhered to ancient privileges of the Chieftainship made common cause with Catholic powers in Europe in causing treason, sedition, sabotage and partisan warfare. Indeed, Bedell made it a point of entering anti-Protestant and especially anti-English areas encouraging and providing assistance to converts to Protestantism, including supporting them whilst studying for the ministry.

Bedell was also noted for his even application of the law in prosecuting the law and providing help against corruption, regardless of persons religious adherence. For instance, he sided with the Catholics of Kilmore against the excess of Alan Cooke, the incumbent chancellor of the diocese. However, the church courts found that Cooke had legally acquired the right as chancellor, and the Bishop was unable to remove him.

Because of his support within the common Irish, especially the Catholic Irish leadership fearful of his standing, he was a high value targets by Irish Catholic rebels. With the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the local warlords, led by the O’Reillys, took control of the area. Nonetheless, while support for the rebellion had yet to bear full fruit the rebel leadership trod carefully around the popular bishop. Thus, the O’Reillys “gave comfortable words to the Bishop” and Bedell’s house at Kilmore in County Cavan was left untouched.

Indeed, because of Bishop Bedell’s popularity among Catholic and Protestant’s alike, not only did Protestant Irish refugees quickly flee to him, but also Catholics who were unwilling to join the rebellion. As the rebellion grew increasingly bloody and entire Protestant families and then towns were murdered, Bedell’s property, became a place of refuge for hundreds of families from the area seeking shelter from the rebel insurgents.

In the end, however, the rebels insisted upon the immediate release into their capture of all who had taken shelter in his house. Knowing full well that they would likely be mass murdered, the bishop refused. Having isolated the Bishop and the refugees, the rebels believed they could murder the bishop and refugees in silence. They mounted an assault, seized the Bishop and other known missionaries of the Reformation, and imprisoned them on the nearby island castle of Lough Oughter, Cloughoughter Castle.

Here, Bedell and other were tortured while imprisoned for several weeks. When the rebellion began to subside, his captors fearing for their own safety, forced him into signing a deposition and a remonstrance from his captors, ‘pleading on their behalf for graces from King Charles.’ Freed, Bedell was now into the care of his friend Denis Sheridan but the imprisonment and torture had worked their damage. Shortly after his release Bedell died from his wounds and exposure on 7 February 1642.

Bishop Bedell was afforded the dignity by his captors of being buried next to his wife Leah at Kilmore, where he received an honourable funeral in the presence of his O’Raghallaigh (O’Reilly) captors. At his funeral, a Roman Catholic priest, Father Farrelly, was heard to say, “May my soul be with Beddell’s”.

The story of his life was written by Bishop Gilbert Burnet in 1685 and by his elder son (ed. T. W. Jones, for the Camden Society, 1872). Bedell’s Last Will and Testament is available through the UK National Archives.

 Character excerpts from Wikipedia

REFORMATION: The Significance and Relevance of Luther’s 95 Theses. Part 3

Having already outlined what parts of the original posting of the Ninety-five theses were not significant, we are left to consider why the Ninety-five theses was and continues to be a significant force in our world today. As Philip Schaff writes,

“they contain the living germs of a new theology. The form only is Romish, the spirit and aim are Protestant.”


D’Aubigne points to this same thing, when he writes in his notable History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century,

“The germs of the Reformation were contained in these propositions of Luther’s. The abuses of indulgences were attacked therein, and this is their most striking feature; but beneath these attacks there was a principle which, although attracting the attention of multitudes in a less degree, was one day to overthrow the edifice of popery. The evangelical doctrine of a free and gratuitous remission of sins was there for the first time publicly professed.”

Now, we cannot go through the entire ninety-five theses, and we need not. They are very repetitious, though they are sturdy strokes of the axe to the root of a notorious problem. We can, however, summarize these Ninety-five Theses into six assertions, which make up the axeattack, as Thomas Lindsay includes in his History of the Reformation:

An Indulgence is and can only be the remission of a merely ecclesiastical penalty; the Church can remit what the Church has imposed; it cannot remit what God has imposed.
An Indulgence can never remove guilt; the Pope himself cannot do such a thing; God has kept that in His own hand.
It cannot remit the divine punishment for sin; that also is in the hands of God alone.
It can have no efficacy for souls in Purgatory; penalties imposed by the Church can only refer to the living ; death dissolves them; what the Pope can do for souls in Purgatory is by prayer, not by jurisdiction or the power of the keys.
The Christian who has true repentance has already received pardon from God altogether apart from an Indulgence, and does not need one; Christ demands this true repentance from every one.
The Treasury of Merits has never been properly defined, it is hard to say what it is, and it is not properly understood by the people; it cannot be the merits of Christ and of His saints, because these act of themselves and quite apart from the intervention of the Pope; it can mean nothing more than that the Pope, having the power of the keys, can remit ecclesiastical penalties imposed by the Church; the true Treasure-house of merits is the Holy Gospel of the grace and glory of God.

The significance of the 95 Theses is found in this; they have in germ form the evangelical doctrine of free pardon.

new lifeThis is not fully developed, but it is a germ that will leaven the whole of church, if permitted. It will begin to make things clear. It sets the authority of God over against the authority of men; it distinguishes the pardon of God from the pardon of men; and it provides a sure foundation for confidence and hope in contrast to an unfounded, false hope. These points are always pertinent, but they were especially felt in an age wherein the key question concerned in how I might be saved and just before God. Philip Schaff writes,

“The Reformation was at first a purely religious movement, and furnishes a striking illustration of the all−pervading power of religion in history. It started from the question: What must a man do to be saved? How shall a sinner be justified before God, and attain peace of his troubled conscience? The Reformers were supremely concerned for the salvation of the soul, for the glory of Christ and the triumph of his gospel. They thought much more of the future world than of the present, and made all political, national, and literary interests subordinate and subservient to religion.”

In our final section we will deal with the relevancy of the Ninety-five theses.

Many thanks and a debt of gratitude to Timothy A Williams for his materials and thoughts on this series!