As the current teaching of history emphasizes, secular factors—indeed, an extraordinary conjunction of mundane circumstances—played a great part in bringing about the Reformation. But all these together fall short of being its principal cause. That event of enormous enlightment, liberation, renewal, cleansing, revivification, and empowering was primarily a spiritual one. And, since it surely is a valid transposition of Christ’s words to say that what is spirit is born of the Spirit, as primarily a spiritual event, the Reformation must have had primarily spiritual causes.

The critical breakthrough of the Reformation lay in its reassertion of the conditions in God and in man that lead to salvation and in its location of the supreme authority for doctrine. God’s part in salvation, the Reformation declared, is on account of grace alone; man’s is through faith alone. The certainty of this, as well as of all other doctrine, it declared to be on the basis of Scripture alone. These classic three sola’s (sola gratia, sola fide sola scriptura) are primarily spiritual assertions. They were addressed to the souls of the age, and in those souls they accomplished the Reformation.

These souls were almost incredibly benighted about evangelical truth, considering that they had the Word and the sacraments. For despite recourse to these, there was virtually no vision of the real Christ. And since the Word was active in Christendom but there was no perception of the real Christ, there was profound distress, deepening in the more serious spirits of the age into an agony of despair. Upon this darkness of unrelieved guilt-consciousness, the proclamation of by grace alone and through faith alone broke as unmitigated high-noon gospel splendor in a ...

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