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Their system of faith, is the confession of Augsburg. Its capital articles are, The sufficiency of the scriptures as a rule of faith and practice ; justification by faith in the Son of God, and the necessity and freedom of divine grace. It was the common faith of the reformers. That which gave them distinction as a separate denomination, was the favourite opinion of Luther, that though, according to the papists, the bread and wine in the sacrament, are not converted into the body and blood of Christ, yet the body and blood of Christ are materially present with them, though in an incomprehensible manner. A wide breach was early made with Zuinglius and the Helvetic churches, who considered the bread and wine only as symbolical of the body and blood of Christ broken and shed for us.
This breach was increased by a pertinacity on the part of the Lutherans, to retain in their worship some of the forms of the Catholics ;-exorcism in baptism; the use of waters in the Lord's supper; private confession of sin : images, incense, and lighted tapers in their churches, crucifix on the altar ;-also to observe many of the festivals of the Roman church, and days of saints and martyrs.
Luther drew up for his followers, a liturgy or form of divine service ; but they have not been confined to that, por any particular form of government. In Germany the superior power is vested in a consistory, which has a president with a distincțion of rank and privilege. Denmark, Norway, and Sweeden acknowledge episcopacy; but their bishops have not that preeminence which is enjoyed in England. The supreme ruler of the state is ever acknowledged as head of the Church.
This portion of the reformed church has suffered no persucution since the peace of religion, except in 1618, when the Catholics made war upon it through the bigotted house of Austria, under pretence that it had departed from the confession of Augsburg. Their sufferings for 30 years were very great, but they were relieved by the friendly interposition of Gustavius of Sweden, and in the peace of Westphalia in 1648, had all their rights and privileges secured to them,
Her internal commotions upon points of faith and practice, have often been violent. To the Sacramental controversy, succeeded a dispute among her own members upon the Interim, or propriety of yielding to the Emperor and church of Rome in things indifferent. The pacific spirit of Melanchton, was disposed to yield points in the article of justitioation and in the Papal ceremonies and jurisdiction, for which Luther had most strenuously contended. He met with warm opposition from
Flaccins, professor of divinity an Jena. In 1552, arose a warm controversy upon the necessity of good works; and soon after another called the synergistical controversy, upon the co-operation of the human will with divine grace in conversion.
Before the death of Melanchton, a considerable defection had taken place from the doctrines of absolute predestination, irresistible grace, and man's moral impotence, in which Luther agreed with Calvin. Men seemed to be wcaried with the bold efforts and the astonishing advancement which they had made in the discovery of truth, and as is natural to the human mind, to repose and go backward. Some things, however, were favourable.
A large body grew dissatisfied with consubstatiation, and endeavoured to extirpate it from their churches. To check their progress, a standard of doctrine was adopted by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in 1576, at Torgau, called the Form of Concord, and imposed upon the churches as a term of communion. It occasioned great disturbances. Some of the churches refused to adopt it. Many of the opposers of Luther's sentiment upon the sacrament, were imprisoned. The Landgrave of Hesse, and the elector of Brandenberg, renounced Lutheranism, and embraced the communion of the Genevan church, which was a severe stroke to the Lutheran cause.
The separation which was continually widening between the followers of Luther and Calvin, filled the minds of all the protestant world with deep concern. Many attempts were made to reconcile them. James I., king of Great Britain, interposed by an embassy, in 1615. Many conferences were held, but all in vain. The Lutherans were always unyielding.
Calixtus, professor in the University of Helmstadt, supposed that the true principles of the Gospel, 'were retained in the Roman, Lutheran, and Calvinistic confessions, and endeavoured to bring these churches together. His writing's gave rise to what was called the Syncretistic controversy. The Lutherans heaped upon him torrents of abuse, which, as he was a man of much merit, prejudiced against them all candid and liberal minds. Had the Lutheran clergy acted out their principles in their lives, their enemies would have had but little advantage over them. But while contending violently for their doctrines, their morals were low. Through their carelessness and impotence, discipline failed, and a general degeneracy was visible in their churches, before the close of the sixteenth century.
Disgusted with their strife and the grossness of their lives, a smull party called Pietists, arose about the middle of the ser
enteeth century, and endeavoured to revive experimental religion. Their leader was Spener. He published a book, called Pious Desires, exhibiting the disorders of the church, and pointing out the necessity and means of reformation, which was very popular. He gained some adherents, particularly Franchius, Schadius, and Paulus, three professors of philosophy, who gave in their colleges, an evangelical exposition of Scripture. Their Bible Classes were popular, and roused a spirit of opposition : tumults were excited, and the professors were brought before the public authorities, and charged no more to teach thus in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Persecution only strengthened and increased them. The Pietists, as they were now called in derision, were found in all the towns, villages, and cities, where Lutheranism was professed, and by the reformation which they demanded, produced a prodigious excitement. They insisted on a reform in the prevalent system of theological instruction, which was devoted almost entirely to the subililties of controversy, neglecting the Scriptures and practical religion ;-demanded experimental piety in all candidates for the ministry ;-condemned dancing, pan-, tomimes, and theatrical amusements, as unlawful and ruinous to the Christian, and recommended private assemblies for prayer and religious conversation.
They were the Puritans of Germany. But their enemies charged them with despising philosophy and learning and theological discussion; and derogating from the power and efficacy of the word of God, which, they said, would be as great, though it was delivered by an unregenerate minister: and with useless austerities in public, and loose practices in private meetings, so that they were publicly proceeded against by the civil authorities. But vast good followed their effort. A general revival spread over Germany. Professor Frank established an orphan house in 1705, which was remarkably blessed of heaven.
Happy had it been for the Lutheran cause, bad the Pietists retained their principles and views, and enforced their demands. But it was not an age of light. They degenerated and were joined, or rather followed, in subsequent periods, by enthusiasts and fanatics, who, pretending to inspirations and revelations, went through Germany and Denmark, pulling up, as they said, iniquity by the root; prophesying the downfal of Babel, i. e. the Lutheran church ; terrifying the populace by fictitious visions, and introducing a mystical jargon in place of true religion.
These persons, who were of a very different character from the original Pietists, excited, for a long time, great disturban
Some of the principal authors of delusion, were John W. Peterson, Jacob Behmen, Paul Naget, Martio Sidelius, and a host of fanatical prophets. No tongue can tell the injury they did to the cause of religion, throughout Germany.
Among other consequences, the learned and refined were led to the study of a philosophical religion. They thought that in no other way could a stop be put io the progress of superstition. The science of metaphysics was brought into notice, and applied to religion by Leibnitz and Wolf. The application gave much offence to such as loved the simple doctrines of Christianity; but it was exceedingly popular in the universities. Metaphysical and mathematical demonstrations were produced of the Trinity; of the nature of Christ, and of the duration of the future punishment of the wicked. One Laurence Schmidt commenced a new translation of the Scriptures, to which he prefixed a system of theology, drawn up in geometrical order, which was to be his guide in interpreting the Scriptures. Others were exceedingly bold in the middle and at the close of the last century in their attempts to expunge every peculiarity in the gospel system, and give Christianity a philosophical garb. But none went to such lengths, or have been so successful as Semler, a man of great ingenuity and extensive learning. He threw aside entirely the inspiration of the Scriptures; gave rise to what is termed the doctrine of accommodation ; denied the possibility of miracles; ridiculed the account of the creation as a philosophical fable, and of Christ, as a new mythology; and viewed what was said by Him as uttered in condescension to the ignorance and weakness of the Jews, and the writings of his apostles as little better than nonsense. His disciples have been numerous, and his system has been spread with amazing industry throughout Germany. It has als most destroyed those few churches in which were cnce preached the doctrines of the reformation.
But notwithstanding these great defections in the Lutheran church, a precious body of pastors and churches are found throughout Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and a laudable zeal has recently been exciled for spreading the Gospel and circulating the Scriptures and tracts in every direction. Liberalism is not adapted to the pious poor. Such choose a literal interpretation of the Augsburg confession, which still remains the standard of their faith. Nor is evangelical truth confined to these. Some eminently learned me
have of late boldly defended the ancient faith through whose labours Liberalism has received such a check that it is evidently on the decline. Two of the original supports of the Lutheran Church, the Electorate of Saxony and the Principality of Hesse, went back at the close of the last century to the Catholic faith. The efforts of the Catholics to regain their lost possessions, have produced a warm spirit of animosity, and proselytism both in them and the Protestants. It has also resulted in a great union between the Lutherian and Reformed churches throughout the Prussian monarchy, in the Hessian territories, and in those of Nassau, in the Palatinate and in Baden. These churches generally retain the organization they received at the time of the reformation.
The Lutherian church has received considerable extension from the emigration of her members, at different times, to various parts of the world.
From among the Lutherans have proceeded the Moravians and the Swedenborgians, or followers of the Hon. Emanuel Swedenborg, who pretended to visions and revelations, and founded in 1743 what he called the New Jerusalem Church.
Swedenborg's theology is very mystical, and is expressed in language to which most men can attach no ideas. But it is pleasing to the visionary, and he has followers in Europe and America; though it is difficult to conceive how mankind can receive any benefit from his system.
'In missionary efforts the Lutherans have not been behind other reformed churches.
In 1717 and 1817, they commemorated their deliverance from the Church of Rome.
Their learned men have been very numerous. Their princes early endowed, with great munificence, schools and universities, that their rising church might be furnished with able critics and sound theologians. Luther was a host. · Melanchton was one of the greatest scholars of that or any other age. Carlostadt, Weller, Flacius, Bucer, Westphal, Phieffer, Spener, have held a high rank. Leibnitz, Wolf, Semler, Kant, Schelling, have been extolled by the Liberals. Among the orthodox, Storr, Winer, Wahl, have recently labored with great effeet.