Several nights ago, a group of us from the church were having a conversation about the Reformation. One of the Ladies participating asked about the time before Luther and the other Reformers. Were there any in the church leading up to the Reformation who rightly understood the gospel? We discussed how the Reformers would quote early church fathers approvingly in their writings when making arguments for gospel doctrine. We then made mention of Augustine, Anselm, Wycliffe, and Hus. However, our conversation didn’t go much deeper.
Yesterday, I was in a bookstore and spotted a new book, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation. With the recent conversation on my mind, I purchased a copy and devoured it. Nathan Busenitz has done a real service to the church by surveying the writing of many throughout church history and synthesizing their views on the gospel in an accessible volume.
The question is not if the teachings of the Reformers are contained in Scripture. As Protestants, we obliviously believe the 5 Solas are Scriptural. Our Elders have been teaching on such over the last few weeks. The question the book addresses is, were the Reformers the first to come to these conclusions? (Was a correct understanding of the gospel completely lost all of those years before the Reformation? Were the Reformers recovering or revising the gospel?) The answer is they were not the first; the Reformation was a recovery of the Gospel.
I will provide a quick sample of quotes from Busenitz’s book. I would urge you to pick-up a copy of the book and be encouraged by the riches of historical theology contained within. Here’s a taste:
Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)
For Abraham was declared by God to be righteous, not on account of circumcision, but on account of faith…And we, therefore, in the uncircumcision of our flesh, believing God through Christ, and having that circumcision which is of advantage to us who have acquired it—namely, that of the heart—we hope to appear righteous before and well-pleasing to God. (pg. 71)
Who has been justified by faith alone without works of the law? Thus in my opinion that thief [who] was crucified with Christ should suffice for a suitable example. He called out to him form the cross, “Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” In the Gospels, nothing else is recorded about his good works, but for the sake of this faith alone Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (pg. 65)
Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390)
For where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned [us], how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? (pg. 80, emphasis original)
No man can say that it is by the merit of his own works, or by the merit of his own prayers, or by the merit of his own faith, that God’s grace has been conferred upon him; nor suppose that the doctrine is true which those heretics hold, that the grace of God is given us in proportion to our own merit. (pg. 110)
Julian of Toledo (642-690)
[This is] the righteousness of faith, by which we are justified. This faith is that we believe in him whom we cannot see, and that, being cleansed by faith, we will eventually see him in whom we now believe. (pg. 183)
The apostle Paul preached that we are justified by faith without works. (pg. 184)
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
[Question] Do you hope and believe, that not by your own merits, but by the merits of the passion of Jesus Christ, you may attain to everlasting salvation? [Answer] I do. (pg. 187)
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
For the sake of your sins He will die, for the sake of your justification He will rise, in order that you, having been justified through faith, may have peace with God. (pg. 155)