This was the first success of Protestantism. A second is closely related to it, and for this too we are indebted to Luther himself. Goodness had become an external, formal thing in the Catholic Church. It always tends to become so. It first creates certain forms and then loses itself in them; and as men are counted good citizens who pay their taxes, vote, and hold office, irrespective of their thought and motive in so doing, so men were counted good Christians who simply obeyed the rules of the empire I have described, who said so many Aves or Pater-nosters, did so much fasting or penance, gave so much money or received of such and such sacraments. That is, there was an external test of character, — and the significance of Luther is that he proposed an internal test. In one of his earliest discourses, two years before he published his theses, he strongly urged the doctrine that piety consists not in outward works, but in an inward principle ; that an act in itself good even becomes sinful if the motive is sinful did not use philosophical language, and his thought was cast entirely in theological moulds; but the fundamental significance of his great doctrine of justification by faith rather than by works seems to me to have been this, — that the inward attitude alone determines the worth of a man ; so that though a man's whole outward life were right, yet if the thought or impulse that lay within and behind were merely selfish, he would still be in the wrong. Luther did not say works were of no account, nor does his principle of justification involve of itself any contempt of the rules and ritual of the Church; he did say that works or acts severed from their motive, and conformity to rites and rules in themselves, were of no account, —yes, that when viewed as themselves giving those who practise them moral worth, they were harmful and an offence. Only, Luther said " in the sight of God " where I have said "moral;" and an offence to him was not simply to an ideal law, but to a personal, angry God. Protestantism thus sprang from a quickening of the conscience and a deepening of the moral life. Luther could find no rest in fastings and penances and almsgiving, —they humbled the body, they did not purify the soul. It was at the centre of his being that he wanted rest; and he found it, while still at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, in the suggestions of a passage of Scripture, " The just shall live by faith ;" and ever and anon it would ring in his ears and send a strange peace over his soul, — " The just shall live by faith." May I give a modern version of that old experience ? In the charming Norwegian story of Arne, a simple peasant girl says, " I often think there's something that sings when all is still;" and she spoke in a voice so soft and low, the narrative goes on, that her companion felt as if he had heard it now for the first time. " It is the good within our own souls," he answered. And it is true that when a man, instead of seeking to do this or that external thing which will commend him before the world or give him a kind of vain-glory in his own eyes, turns and gives himself over to the good, forever to obey it, something does sing within; and whether we call it the good or God, whether we say " the good sings " or " God is well pleased," it is all the same ; the differences are differences of dialect, not of fact. Protestantism is thus, so far as it is true to the original Lutheran spirit, more inward, more searching than Catholicism; its religion is more personal ; it may make less show, but it has more substance ; it places men face to face with the central truth of things, it brings them immediately before the nameless Authority of which all else is shadow and reflection. I do not say this of Protestantism everywhere. In England it was more a political affair, and instead of heightening the moral life, it came into being only with a lowering of it, in obedience to the intrigues of Henry VIII. The Puritans were the first true Protestants in England, as the Huguenots were in France, and the followers of Zwingle and Calvin in Switzerland. But in general Protestantism surely brought a new moral seriousness into life. Compare but for one moment Luther or Zwingle or Calvin with Leo X., and see the difference in the type of man.
1 Luther 1 Sears's Life of Luther, p. 169.
In another way, also, Protestantism has been a success ; it has given us freedom of conscience. It must be confessed that here Luther himself is not so great as the logic of the movement which he started. Luther was no advocate of freedom of conscience as a principle ; he desired freedom simply for his own conscience. But the logic of history does not rest on any individual's partial interpretation of it. When Luther said at Worms, " It is not safe nor right to do anything against conscience; here stand I, so help me God," he virtually stood for every sincere reformer since ; he spoke for every progressive movement in thought and society down to our day. It is not fair then, to my mind, to charge the narrowness and bigotry of many Protestants, whether individuals or churches, to their Protestantism; it is to be charged to them as men or as associations, for narrowness and bigotry too easily attach themselves to men and associations : it may sometimes be charged to them as Christians and as Christian churches, but it can only be due to the lack of real Protestantism. The very meaning of Protestantism is freedom. Puritanism was a characteristic Protestant movement, for it was an assertion of conscientious scruples against the laxness and formalism of the English church. Unitarianism was another characteristic Protestant movement, for it was a revolt of reason and conscience against the dogmas of Orthodoxy. When any one stands up for the private conviction of his soul against whatever assembly of magnates or respectabilities, he is in very essence a Protestant. If Luther then persecuted Carlstadt, if Calvin burned Servetus, if the Puritans banished Roger Williams, they were so far not Protestants ; and in the very name of the principles by which they secured their own freedom, they may be condemned. It takes a long while for a principle thrown into history to work out its consequences, but sooner or later it will. This principle of freedom of conscience is perhaps first realized in any completeness in this country; but it is a fruit of Protestantism, — it was thrown in among the forces of history, though he little knew all he was doing, by the hand of Martin Luther.