“I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than thus to violate my faith and principles.”
“O how excellent are the Scriptures to thy soul! O how much virtue dost thou see in such a promise, in such an invitation!
They are so large as to say, Christ will in no wise cast me out! (John 6:37) My crimson sins shall be white as snow!
I tell thee, friend, there are some promises that the Lord hath helped me to lay hold of Jesus Christ through and by, that I would not have out of the Bible for as much gold and silver as can lie between York and London piled up to the stars; because through them Christ is pleased by his Spirit to convey comfort to my soul.
I say, when the law curses, when the devil tempts, when hell-fire flames in my conscience, my sins with the guilt of them tearing of me, then is Christ revealed so sweetly to my poor soul through the promises that all is forced to fly and leave off to accuse my soul.
So also, when the world frowns, when the enemies rage and threaten to kill me, then also the precious, the exceeding great and precious promises do weigh down all, and comfort the soul against all.
This is the effect of believing the Scriptures savingly; for they that do so have by and through the Scriptures good comfort, and also ground of hope, believing those things to be its own which the Scriptures hold forth (Rom 15:4).”
“Let me here give thee, Christian reader, a more particular description of the qualities of unbelief, by opposing faith unto it, in these twenty-five particulars:—
1. Faith believeth the Word of God; but unbelief questioneth the certainty of the same (Ps. 106:24).
2. Faith believeth the Word, because it is true; but unbelief doubteth thereof, because it is true (1 Tim 4:3; John 8:45).
3. Faith sees more in a promise of God to help, than in all other things to hinder; but unbelief, notwithstanding God’s promise, saith, How can these things be? (Rom 4:19–21; 2 Kings 7:2; John 3:11, 12).
4. Faith will make thee see love in the heart of Christ, when with his mouth he giveth reproofs; but unbelief will imagine wrath in his heart, when with his mouth and Word he saith he loves us (Matt 15:22, 28; Num 13; 2 Chron 14:3).
5. Faith will help the soul to wait, though God defers to give; but unbelief will take huff and throw up all, if God makes any tarrying (Psa 25:5; Isa 8:17; 2 Kings 6:33; Psa 106:13, 14).
6. Faith will give comfort in the midst of fears; but unbelief causeth fears in the midst of comfort (2 Chron 20:20, 21; Matt 8:26; Luke 24:26; 27).
7. Faith will suck sweetness out of God’s rod; but unbelief can find no comfort in his greatest mercies (Psa 23:4; Num 21).
8. Faith maketh great burdens light; but unbelief maketh light ones intolerably heavy (2 Cor 4:1; 14–18; Mal 1:12, 13).
9. Faith helpeth us when we are down; but unbelief throws us down when we are up (Micah 7:8–10; Heb 4:11).
10. Faith bringeth us near to God when we are far from him; but unbelief puts us far from God when we are near to him (Heb 10:22; 3:12, 13).
11. Where faith reigns, it declareth men to be the friends of God; but where unbelief reigns, it declareth them to be his enemies (John 3:23; Heb 3:18; Rev 21:8).
12. Faith putteth a man under grace; but unbelief holdeth him under wrath (Rom 3:24–26; 14:6; Eph 2:8; John 3:36; 1 John 5:10; Heb 3:17; Mark 16:16).
13. Faith purifieth the heart; but unbelief keepeth it polluted and impure (Acts 15:9; Titus 1:15, 16).
14. By faith, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us; but by unbelief, we are shut up under the law to perish (Rom 4:23, 24; 11:32; Gal 3:23).
15. Faith maketh our work acceptable to God through Christ; but whatsoever is of unbelief is sin. For without faith it is impossible to please him (Heb 11:4; Rom 14:23; Heb 6:6).
16. Faith giveth us peace and comfort in our souls; but unbelief worketh trouble and tossings, like the restless waves of the sea (Rom 5:1; James 1:6).
17. Faith maketh us to see preciousness in Christ; but unbelief sees no form, beauty, or comeliness in him (1 Peter 2:7; Isa 53:2, 3).
18. By faith we have our life in Christ’s fullness; but by unbelief we starve and pine away (Gal 2:20).
19. Faith gives us the victory over the law, sin, death, the devil, and all evils; but unbelief layeth us obnoxious to them all (1 John 5:4, 5; Luke 12:46).
20. Faith will show us more excellency in things not seen, than in them that are; but unbelief sees more in things that are seen, than in things that will be hereafter;. (2 Cor 4:18; Heb 11:24–27; 1 Cor 15:32).
21. Faith makes the ways of God pleasant and admirable; but unbelief makes them heavy and hard (Gal 5:6; 1 Cor 12:10, 11; John 6:60; Psa 2:3).
22. By faith Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob possessed the land of promise; but because of unbelief, neither Aaron, nor Moses, nor Miriam could get thither (Heb 11:9; 3:19).
23. By faith the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea; but by unbelief the generality of them perished in the wilderness (Heb 11:29; Jude 5).
24. By faith Gideon did more with three hundred men, and a few empty pitchers, than all the twelve tribes could do, because they believed not God (Judg 7:16–22; Num 14:11, 14).
25. By faith Peter walked on the water; but by unbelief he began to sink (Matt 14:28–30).
Thus might many more be added, which, for brevity’s sake, I omit; beseeching every one that thinketh he hath a soul to save, or be damned, to take heed of unbelief; lest, seeing there is a promise left us of entering into his rest, any of us by unbelief should indeed come short of it.”
You know the real basis and foundation of your salvation, on which you must rest your confidence in this and all troubles, namely Jesus Christ, the cornerstone.
He will not waver or fail us, nor allow us to sink and perish, for He is the Saviour and is called the Saviour of all poor sinners, of all who face tribulation and death, of all who rely on Him and call on His name.
He says, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
If He has overcome the world, surely He has overcome the prince of this world with all His power. And what is His power but death, with which He has made us subject to Him, captives on account of our sin?
But now that death and sin are overcome, we may joyfully and cheerfully listen to the sweet words, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
And we must not doubt that they are certainly true. More than that, we are commanded to accept their comfort with joy and thanksgiving.
Whoever is unwilling to be comforted by these words does the greatest injustice and dishonor to the Comforter— as if it were not true that He bids us to be of good cheer, or as if it were not true that He has overcome the world.
If we act thus, we only restore within ourselves the tyranny of the vanquished devil, sin, and death, and we oppose the dear Saviour. From this may God preserve us!
Therefore, let us rejoice with all assurance and gladness. Should any thought of sin or death frighten us, let us lift up our hearts and say:
“Behold, dear soul, what are you doing? Dear death, dear sin, how is it that you are alive and terrify me? Do you not know that you have been overcome?
Do you, death, not know that you are quite dead? Do you not know the One who has said of you, I have overcome the world?
It does not behoove me to listen to or heed your terrifying suggestions. I shall pay attention only to the cheering words of my Saviour, ‘Be of good cheer, be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’
He is the Conqueror, the true Hero, who in these words, ‘Be of good cheer,’ gives me the benefit of his victory. I shall cling to Him.
To His words and comfort I shall hold fast. Whether I remain here or go yonder, He will not forsake me.
You would like to deceive me with your false terrors, and with your lying thoughts you would like to tear me away from such a Conqueror and Saviour.
But they are lies, as surely as it is true that He has overcome you and commanded us to be comforted.”
This is also the boast of Saint Paul and his defiance of the terrors of death:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ (1 Cor. 15:55)
Like a wooden image of death, you can terrify and frighten, but you have no power to destroy. For your victory, sting, and power have been swallowed up in Christ’s victory.
You can show your teeth, but you cannot bite. For God has given us the victory over you through Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be praise and thanks. Amen.’
With such words and thoughts, and with none other, you may set your heart at rest, dear mother.
Be thankful that God has brought you to such knowledge and not allowed you to remain in papal error, by which we were taught to rely on our own works and the holiness of the monks and to consider this only comfort of ours, our Saviour, not as a comforter but as a severe judge and tyrant, so that we could only flee from Him to Mary and the saints and not expect of Him any grace or comfort.
But now we know differently about the unfathomable goodness and mercy of our Heavenly Father.
We now know that Jesus Christ is our mediator, our throne of grace, and our bishop before God in heaven, who daily intercedes for us and reconciles all who call upon and believe in Him.
We now know that He is not a grim judge, except to those who do not believe in Him and who reject His comfort and grace.
We now know that He is not the Man who accuses and threatens us, but rather that He intercedes for and reconciles us by His own death, having shed His blood for us in order that we might not fear Him but approach Him with all assurance and call Him our dear Saviour, our sweet Comforter, the true Bishop of our souls.”
–Martin Luther, “To Mrs. John Luther, (May 20, 1531),” Letters of Spiritual Counsel, Ed. and Trans. Theodore G. Tappert, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1955/2006), 34-35.
“To my dear father, John Luther, citizen in the valley of Mansfeld:
Grace and peace in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
My brother James has written me that you are seriously ill. As the weather is bad and the season dangerous, I am very anxious about you, for though God has given you a strong, tough body, yet your age and the inclemency of the weather give me disquieting thoughts.
None of us is, or should be, sure of his life at any time. I should have come to you personally with the greatest willingness, but my good friends advised me against it and have persuaded me not to, and I myself thought it better not to tempt God by putting myself in peril, for you know how lords and peasants feel toward me.
It would be the greatest joy to me if it were possible for you and mother to come hither, which my Katie and all of us beg with tears that you will do. I hope we are able to take good care of you.
Therefore I am sending Cyriac to see whether your weakness will allow you to be moved.
However in God’s wisdom your illness turns out, whether you live or die, it would be a heartfelt joy to me to be with you again and with filial piety and service to show my gratitude to God and to you according to the Fourth Commandment.
In the meantime I pray from the bottom of my heart that our Father, who has made you my father, will strengthen you according to His immeasurable kindness and enlighten and protect you with His Spirit, so that you may receive with joy and thanksgiving the blessed teaching of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to which doctrine you have now been called and to which you have come out of the former terrible darkness and error.
And I hope that His grace, which has given you such knowledge, and thereby begun His work in you, will guard and complete it to the end of this life and to the joyous hereafter of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
God has already sealed this teaching and faith in you and has testified to it by such marks as that you have suffered much slander, abuse, obloquy, mockery, scorn, hatred, and odium for His name’s sake, as we all have done. These are the true marks of our likeness to the Lord Christ, as Paul says, that we may be like Him also in future glory.
Let your heart be strong and at ease in your trouble, for we have yonder a true mediator with God, Jesus Christ, who has overcome death and sin for us and now sits in heaven with all His angels, looking down on us and awaiting us so that when we set out we need have no fear or care lest we should sink and fall to the ground.
He has such great power over sin and death that they cannot harm us, and He is so heartily true and kind that He cannot and will not forsake us, at least if we ask His help without doubting.
He has said, promised, and pledged this. He will not and cannot lie; of that we are certain.
“Ask,” says he, “and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matt. 7:7) And elsewhere: “Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
The whole Psalter is full of such comforting promises, especially Ps. 91, which is particularly good to read to the sick.
I wish to write this to you because I am anxious about your illness (for we know not the hour), that I may become a participant of your faith, temptation, consolation, and thanks to God for His holy Word, which He has richly and graciously given us at this time.
If it is His divine will that you should postpone that better life and continue to suffer with us in this troubled and unhappy vale of tears, to see and hear sorrow and help other Christians to suffer and conquer, He will give you the grace to accept all this willingly and obediently.
This life, cursed by sin, is nothing but a vale of tears. The longer a man lives, the more sin and wickedness and plague and sorrow he sees and feels. Nor is there respite or cessation this side of the grave. Beyond is repose, and we can then sleep in the rest Christ gives us until He comes again to wake us with joy. Amen.
I commend you to Him who loves you more than you love yourself.
He has proved His love in taking your sins upon Himself and paying for them with His blood, as He tells you by the gospel.
He has given you grace to believe by His Spirit, and has prepared and accomplished everything most surely, so that you need not care or fear any more, but only keep your heart strong and reliant on His Word and faith.
If you do that, let Him care for the rest. He will see to it that everything turns out well. Indeed, He has already done this better than we can conceive.
May our dear Lord and Saviour be with you so that, God willing, we may see each other, either here or yonder. For our faith is certain, and we doubt not that we shall shortly see each other in the presence of Christ.
Our departure from this life is a smaller thing to God than my journey would be from here to Mansfeld or yours from Mansfeld to Wittenberg. It is only an hour’s sleep, and after that all will be different. This is most certainly true.
I hope that your pastor and preacher will point out such things to you in faithful service, and so you will not need what I say at all. Yet I write to ask forgiveness for my bodily absence, which, God knows, causes me heartfelt sorrow.
My Katie, little Hans, Magdalene, Aunt Lena, and all my household send you greetings and pray for you faithfully. Greet my dear mother and all my friends.
God’s grace and strength be and abide with you forever. Amen.
Your loving son,
February 15, 1530.”
–Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, Ed. and Trans. Theodore G. Tappert, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1955/2006), 30-32.
[John Luther, Martin’s father, died on May 29, 1530, three months after this letter of consolation was written. On June 5, Luther wrote to Melanchthon: “John Reineck wrote me today that my beloved father, the senior Hans Luther, departed this life at one o’clock on Exaudi Sunday. This death has cast me into deep mourning, not only because of the ties of nature but also because it was through his sweet love to me that my Creator endowed me with all that I am and have. Although it is consoling to me that, as he writes, my father fell asleep softly and strong in his faith in Christ, yet his kindness and the memory of his pleasant conversation have caused so deep a wound in my heart that I have scarcely ever held death in such low esteem.” (30)]
“Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases.
He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.
Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and Hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.
What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head?
What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength?
What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life?
These things are sad indeed; but there is hope even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you. Christ can raise you from your low estate.
Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.
Reader, are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief,—come to Christ, and live.
I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires.
Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ by faith, and live.
Reader, are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ.
Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ.
Alas! the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fulness there is in Him.
Reader, do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ.
Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ.
Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love.
Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings.
Tell them of what He has done for the chief of sinners.
Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time.
Tell it them over and over again. Never be tired of speaking of Christ.
Say to them broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubtingly, ‘Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did,—come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.'”
–J.C. Ryle, Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 262–265.
“The true Christian is one whose religion is in his heart and life. It is felt by himself in his heart. It is seen by others in his conduct and life.
He feels his sinfulness, guilt, and badness, and repents. He sees Jesus Christ to be that Divine Saviour whom his soul needs, and commits himself to Him.
He puts off the old man with his corrupt and carnal habits, and puts on the new man. He lives a new and holy life, fighting habitually against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Christ Himself is the corner stone of His Christianity.
Ask him in what he trusts for the forgiveness of his many sins, and he will tell you, in the death of Christ.
Ask him in what righteousness he hopes to stand innocent at the judgment day, and he will tell You it is the righteousness of Christ.
Ask him by what pattern he tries to frame his life, and he will tell you that it is the example of Christ.
But, beside all this, there is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ.
Knowledge, faith, hope, reverence, obedience, are all marked features in a true Christian’s character. But his picture would be very imperfect if you omitted his “love” to his Divine Master.
He not only knows, trusts, and obeys. He goes further than this,—he loves.
This peculiar mark of a true Christian is one which we find mentioned several times in the Bible. “Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” is an expression which many Christians are familiar with.
Let it never be forgotten that love is mentioned by the Holy Ghost in almost as strong terms as faith. Great as the danger is of him “that believeth not,” the danger of him that “loveth not” is equally great. Not believing and not loving are both steps to everlasting ruin.
Hear what St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha.” (1 Cor. 16:22) St. Paul allows no way of escape to the man who does not love Christ.
He leaves him no loop-hole or excuse. A man may lack clear head-knowledge, and yet be saved.
He may fail in courage, and be overcome by the fear of man, like Peter.
He may fall tremendously, like David, and yet rise again.
But if a man does not love Christ, he is not in the way of life. The curse is yet upon him. He is on the broad road that leadeth to destruction.
Hear what St. Paul says to the Ephesians, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” (Eph. 6:24) The Apostle is here sending his good wishes, and declaring his good will to all true Christians.
Many of them, no doubt, he had never seen. Many of them in the early Churches, we may be very sure, were weak in faith, and knowledge, and self-denial.
How, then, shall he describe them in sending his message? What words can he use which will not discourage the weaker brethren? He chooses a sweeping expression which exactly describes all true Christians under one common name.
All had not attained to the same degree, whether in doctrine or practice. But all loved Christ in sincerity.
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says to the Jews, “If God were your Father, ye would love Me.” (John 8:42) He saw His misguided enemies satisfied with their spiritual condition, on the one single ground that they were children of Abraham.
He saw them, like many ignorant Christians of our own day, claiming to be God’s children, for no better reasons than this, that they were circumcised and belonged to the Jewish Church.
He lays down the broad principle that no man is a child of God, who does not love God’s only begotten Son.
No man has a right to call God Father, who does not love Christ. Well would it be for many Christians if they were to remember that this mighty principle applies to them as well as to the Jews.
No love to Christ,—then no sonship to God!
Hear once more what our Lord Jesus Christ said to the Apostle Peter, after He rose from the dead. Three times He asked him the question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me.” (John 21:15–17)
The occasion was remarkable. He meant gently to remind His erring disciple of His thrice-repeated fall. He desired to call forth from Him a new confession of faith, before publicly restoring to him his commission to feed the Church.
And what was the question that He asked him? He might have said,—“Believest thou? Art thou converted? Art thou ready to confess Me? Wilt thou obey Me?”
He uses none of these expressions. He simply says, “Lovest thou Me?”
This is the point, He would have us know, on which a man’s Christianity hinges. Simple as the question sounded, it was most searching.
Plain and easy to be understood by the most unlearned poor man, it contains matter which tests the reality of the most advanced apostle. If a man truly loves Christ, all is right;—if not, all is wrong.
Would you know the secret of this peculiar feeling towards Christ which distinguishes the true Christian? You have it in the words of St. John, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
That text no doubt applies specially to God the Father. But it is no less true of God the Son.
A true Christian loves Christ for all He has done for him.
He has suffered in his stead, and died for him on the cross.
He has redeemed him from the guilt, the power, and the consequences of sin, by His blood.
He has called him by His Spirit to self-knowledge, repentance, faith, hope, and holiness.
He has forgiven all his many sins, and blotted them out.
He has freed him from the captivity of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
He has taken him from the brink of hell, placed him in the narrow way, and set his face toward heaven.
He has given him light instead of darkness, peace of conscience instead of uneasiness, hope instead of uncertainty, life instead of death.
Can you wonder that the true Christian loves Christ?
And he loves Him besides, for all that He is still doing.
He feels that He is daily washing away his many shortcomings and infirmities, and pleading his soul’s cause before God.
He is daily supplying all the needs of his soul, and providing him with an hourly provision of mercy and grace.
He is daily leading him by His Spirit to a city of habitation, bearing with him when he is weak and ignorant, raising him up when he stumbles and falls, protecting him against his many enemies, preparing an eternal home for him in heaven.
Can you wonder that the true Christian loves Christ?
Does the debtor in jail love the friend who unexpectedly and undeservedly pays all his debts, supplies him with fresh capital, and takes him into partnership with himself?
Does the prisoner in war love the man who at the risk of his own life, breaks through the enemies’ lines, rescues him, and sets him free?
Does the drowning sailor love the man who plunges into the sea, dives after him, catches him by the hair of his head, and by a mighty effort saves him from a watery grave?
A very child can answer such questions as these. Just in the same way, and upon the same principles, a true Christian loves Jesus Christ.”
–J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (Carlise, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2014), 322-325.
“For your own soul’s sake dare to make up your mind what you believe, and dare to have positive distinct views of truth and error.
Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions.
And let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party-spirited, narrow, or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colourless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.
Mark what I say. If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision, and take up a distinct, sharply-cut, doctrinal religion.
If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing.
The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology:
- by telling men roundly of Christ’s vicarious death and sacrifice
- by showing them Christ’s substitution on the cross, and His precious blood
- by teaching them justification by faith, and bidding them believe on a crucified Saviour
- by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit
- by lifting up the brazen serpent; by telling men to look and live– to believe, repent, and be converted.
This is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honoured with success, and is honouring at the present day both at home and abroad.
Let the clever advocates of a broad and undogmatic theology,– the preachers of the Gospel of earnestness, and sincerity and cold morality,– let them, I say, show us at this day any English village or parish, or city, or town, or district, which has been evangelized without ‘dogma,’ by their principles.
They cannot do it, and they never will. Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing.
It may be beautiful to some minds, but it is childless and barren. There is no getting over facts.
The good that is done in the earth may be comparatively small. Evil may abound, and ignorant impatience may murmur, and cry out that Christianity has failed.
But, depend on it, if we want to ‘do good’ and shake the world, we must fight with the old apostolic weapons, and stick to ‘dogma.’
No dogma, no fruits! No positive Evangelical doctrine, no evangelization!”
–J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (Carlise, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2014), 398-399.
“It is appropriate that Christians who acknowledge that they have a religion that is both rooted in historical events and transmitted through history via the church ask whether there is an age that provides precedent for the one in which we live.
Nostalgic Roman Catholics might point to the high medieval period, when the papacy was powerful and Thomas Aquinas’s thought offered a comprehensive synthesis of Christian doctrine. Protestants might look back to the Reformation, when the Scripture principle galvanized reform of the church.
But neither period is truly a plausible model for the present. The pope is not about to become the unquestioned head of some united world church to whom secular princes all look for spiritual authority; Thomism is not about to unify the field of knowledge; and the Reformation unleashed religious choice on the world in a manner that meant the Reformation itself could never again occur in such a form.
If there is a precedent, it is earlier: the second century.
In the second century, the church was a marginal sect within a dominant, pluralist society. She was under suspicion not because her central dogmas were supernatural but rather because she appeared subversive in claiming Jesus as King and was viewed as immoral in her talk of eating and drinking human flesh and blood and expressing incestuous sounding love between brothers and sisters.
This is where we are today. The story told in parts 2 through 4 of this book indicates how a pluralist society has slowly but surely adopted beliefs, particularly beliefs about sexuality and identity, that render Christianity immoral and inimical to the civic stability of society as now understood.
The second-century world is, in a sense, our world, where Christianity is a choice—and a choice likely at some point to run afoul of the authorities.
It was that second-century world, of course, that laid down the foundations for the later successes of the third and fourth centuries. And she did it by what means?
By existing as a close-knit, doctrinally-bounded community that required her members to act consistently with their faith and to be good citizens of the earthly city as far as good citizenship was compatible with faithfulness to Christ.
How we do that today and where the limits are—these are the pressing questions of this present moment and beyond the scope of this volume. But it is a discussion to which I hope the narratives and analyses I have offered here might form a helpful prolegomenon.”
–Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 406-407.
“This book is not a lament for a lost golden age or even for the parlous state of culture as we now face it. Lamentation is popular in many conservative and Christian circles, and I have indulged in it a few times myself.
No doubt the Ciceronian cry “O tempora! O mores!” has its therapeutic appeal in a therapeutic time like ours, whether as a form of Pharisaic reassurance that we are not like others, such as those in the LGBTQ+ movement, or as a means of convincing ourselves that we have the special knowledge that allows us to stand above the petty enchantments and superficial pleasures of this present age.
But in terms of positive action, lamentation offers little and delivers less. As for the notion of some lost golden age, it is truly very hard for any competent historian to be nostalgic.
What past times were better than the present? An era before antibiotics when childbirth or even minor cuts might lead to septicemia and death?
The great days of the nineteenth century when the church was culturally powerful and marriage was between one man and one woman for life but little children worked in factories and swept chimneys?
Perhaps the Great Depression? The Second World War? The era of Vietnam?
Every age has had its darkness and its dangers. The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them.”
–Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 29-30.