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The Rise of the Protestant Reformation
The term “Protestant” was used in reference to those who
protested some of the unbiblical beliefs and practices that had been embraced
by the Roman Catholic religion—the religion for much of the world for more than
one thousand years.
What was it about the Roman Catholic religion that people
felt compelled to protest? You will find many reasons as you read about Martin Luther
and the princes that stood with him in the early sixteenth century. However, the Protestant Reformation began at least two
hundred years earlier:
In the fourteenth century arose in England the “morning star of
the Reformation.” John Wycliffe [1328-1384] was the herald of reform, not for
England alone, but for all Christendom. The great protest against Rome which it
was permitted him to utter was never to be silenced. That protest opened the
struggle which was to result in the emancipation of individuals, of churches,
and of nations. . . .
When Wycliffe’s attention was directed to the Scriptures,
he entered upon their investigation with the same thoroughness which had
enabled him to master the learning of the schools. Heretofore he had felt a
great want, which neither his scholastic studies nor the teaching of the church
could satisfy. In the word of God he found that which he had before sought in
vain. Here he saw the plan of salvation revealed and Christ set forth as the
only advocate for man. He gave himself to the service of Christ and determined
to proclaim the truths he had discovered.
Like after Reformers, Wycliffe did not, at the opening of his
work, foresee whither it would lead him. He did not set himself deliberately
in opposition to Rome. But devotion to truth could not but bring him in
conflict with falsehood. The more clearly he discerned the errors of the
papacy, the more earnestly he presented the teaching of the Bible. He saw that
Rome had forsaken the word of God for human tradition; he fearlessly accused
the priesthood of having banished the Scriptures, and demanded that the Bible
be restored to the people and that its authority be again established in the
church. He was an able and earnest teacher and an eloquent preacher, and
his daily life was a demonstration of the truths he preached. His knowledge of
the Scriptures, the force of his reasoning, the purity of his life, and his
unbending courage and integrity won for him general esteem and confidence. Many
of the people had become dissatisfied with their former faith as they saw the
iniquity that prevailed in the Roman Church, and they hailed with unconcealed
joy the truths brought to view by Wycliffe; but the papal leaders were filled
with rage when they perceived that this Reformer was gaining an influence
greater than their own.
The Great Controversy, pp. 80-81
Note how important a role the Scriptures played in the life
and work of this first Protestant reformer.
In a work, On the Truth and Meaning of Scripture, he
[Wycliffe] expressed his intention to translate the Bible, so that every man in
England might read, in the language in which he was born, the wonderful works
of God. . . .
At last the work was completed—the first English translation of
the Bible ever made. The word of God was opened to England. . . .
The art of printing being still unknown, it was only by slow and
wearisome labor that copies of the Bible could be multiplied. So great was the
interest to obtain the book, that many willingly engaged in the work of
transcribing it, but it was with difficulty that the copyists could supply the
demand. Some of the more wealthy purchasers desired the whole Bible. Others
bought only a portion. In many cases, several families united to purchase a
copy. Thus Wycliffe’s Bible soon found its way to the homes of the people.
The appeal to men’s reason aroused them from their passive
submission to papal dogmas. Wycliffe now taught the distinctive doctrines of
Protestantism—salvation through faith in Christ, and the sole
infallibility of the Scriptures. The preachers whom he had sent out
circulated the Bible, together with the Reformer’s writings, and with such
success that the new faith was accepted by nearly one half of the people of
The Great Controversy, pp. 87-89
Note these two Protestant principles that Wycliffe was
teaching: (1) salvation through faith in Christ; and (2) the sole infallibility
of the Scriptures. These were two of the major principles that were the basis
of the Protestant Reformation for the next four or five centuries.
Wycliffe came from the obscurity of the Dark Ages. There were
none who went before him from whose work he could shape his system of reform.
Raised up like John the Baptist to accomplish a special mission, he was the
herald of a new era. Yet in the system of truth which he presented there was a
unity and completeness which Reformers who followed him did not exceed, and
which some did not reach, even a hundred years later. So broad and deep was
laid the foundation, so firm and true was the framework, that it needed not to
be reconstructed by those who came after him. . . .
Wycliffe accepted the Holy Scriptures with implicit faith as the
inspired revelation of God’s will, a sufficient rule of faith and practice. He
had been educated to regard the Church of Rome as the divine, infallible authority,
and to accept with unquestioning reverence the established teachings and
customs of a thousand years; but he turned away from all these to listen to
God’s holy word. This was the authority which he urged the people to
acknowledge. Instead of the church speaking through the pope, he declared
the only true authority to be the voice of God speaking through His word. And
he taught not only that the Bible is a perfect revelation of God’s will, but
that the Holy Spirit is its only interpreter, and that every man is, by the
study of its teachings, to learn his duty for himself.
The Great Controversy, p. 93
In the coming centuries, the light of the Protestant
Reformation would grow brighter under the influence of such reformers as John
Huss and Martin Luther.
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