The Five Sola’s of the Reformation

Five Alones

Sola Scriptura: The Scripture Alone is the Standard

The doctrine that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority was the “Formal Principle” of the Reformation. In 1521 at the historic interrogation of Luther at the Diet of Worms, he declared his conscience to be captive to the Word of God saying, “Unless I am overcome with testimonies from Scripture or with evident reasons — for I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils, since they have often erred and contradicted one another — I am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by God’s Word.” Similarly, the Belgic Confession stated, “We believe that [the] holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein…Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures nor ought we to consider custom or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God… Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” (VII).
As the Scripture says,
Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law….I will bow down toward Thy holy temple, And give thanks to Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth; For Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name….You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (Psalm 119:18; Psalm 138:2; II Tim. 3:14-17)

Soli Deo Gloria! For the Glory of God Alone

The Reformation reclaimed the Scriptural teaching of the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the believer’s life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” This great and all consuming purpose was emphasized by those in the 16th and 17th Centuries who sought to reform the church according to the Word of God. In contrast to the monastic division of life into sacred versus secular perpetuated by Roman Church, the reformers saw all of life to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be sanctified unto the glory of God.
As the Scripture says,
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God; Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (1CO 10:31; 1PE 4:11; REV 1:6; 2PE 3:1; EPH 3:21; REV 7:12; ROM 11:36)

Solo Christo! By Christ’s Work Alone are We Saved

The Reformation called the church back to faith in Christ as the sole mediator between God and man. While the Roman church held that “there is a purgatory and that the souls there detained are helped by the intercessions of the faithful” and that “Saints are to be venerated and invoked;” “that their relics are to be venerated” — the reformers taught that salvation was by Christ’s work alone. As John Calvin said in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him…we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!” Likewise the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 30 asks, “Do such then believe in Jesus the only Saviour who seek their salvation and happiness in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else? They do not; for though they boast of him in words yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Saviour: for one of these two things must be true that either Jesus is not a complete Saviour or that they who by a true faith receive this Saviour must find all things in him necessary to their salvation.”
As the Scripture says,
There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time…For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. (1TI 2:5-6; COL 1:13-18)

Sola Gratia: Salvation by Grace Alone

A central cry of the Reformation was salvation by grace. Though the Roman church taught that Mass is a “sacrifice [which] is truly propitiatory” and that by the Mass “God…grant[s] us grace and the gift of penitence, remits our faults and even our enormous sins” — the reformers returned to the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Our righteous standing before God is imputed to us by grace because of the work of Christ Jesus our Lord. In contrast to the doctrines of self-merit taught by Rome, sola gratia and the accompanying doctrines of grace — total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, and perseverance of the saints — were preached by all the reformers throughout the Protestant movement. As the Baptist Confession of 1689 says, “Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf;…their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.”
As the Scripture says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. (Ephesians 1:3-8)

Sola Fide: Justification by Faith Alone

The “Material Principle” of the Reformation was justification by faith alone. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” The Genevan Confession likewise pointed out the necessity of those justified living by faith saying, “We confess that the entrance which we have to the great treasures and riches of the goodness of God that is vouchsafed us is by faith; inasmuch as, in certain confidence and assurance of heart, we believe in the promises of the gospel, and receive Jesus Christ as he is offered to us by the Father and described to us by the Word of God (Genevan 11).
As the Scripture says,
Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:6-11)


We are Sealed with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:14

SpritWe have now come to the conclusion of our studies from the first chapter of Ephesians we have arrived at verse 14 where we find the seventh blessing—God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit.

Having maintained that the gospel is certain, the apostle Paul now comes to the proof. And what higher surety can be found than the Holy Spirit?  Having denominated the gospel the word of truth, God will not prove it by the authority of men; for he has given us the testimony of the Spirit of God himself, the one who seals the truth of it in your hearts. Here we have a comparison taken from Seals, which had the effect of removing doubt on transactions among men. Seals gave validity both to charters and to testaments, they were the principal means by which the writer of a letter could be known; and, in short, a seal distinguishes what is true and certain, from what is false and spurious.

The apostle Paul uses the word “earnest” which means pledge, guarantee, a down payment. The Holy Spirit is given to the believer to give the believer perfect assurance of his salvation. We know that we are redeemed—that we are God’s cherished possession—by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. However, our minds never become so firmly established in the truth of God in order that we are able to resist all the temptations of Satan, until we have been confirmed in it by the Holy Spirit.

The true conviction which believers have of the word of God, of their own salvation, and of religion in general, does not spring from the judgment of the flesh, or from human and philosophical arguments, but from the sealing of the Spirit, who imparts to their consciences such certainty as to remove all doubt. The foundation of faith would be unsteady and easily fractured, if it rested on human wisdom; and therefore, as preaching is the instrument of faith, so the Holy Spirit makes preaching efficacious.

As the great puritan commentator, Matthew Henry states

“He (God) dispenses all his blessings, according to his good pleasure. His divine teaching led whom he pleased to see the glory of those truths, which others were left to blaspheme. — What a gracious promise that is, which secures the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! The sanctifying and comforting influences of the Holy Spirit seal believers as the children of God, and heirs of heaven. These are the first fruits of holy happiness. For this we were made, and for this we were redeemed; this is the great design of God in all that he has done for us; let all be ascribed to the praise of his glory”.

Again note: Why does God give us such a glorious guarantee as His own wonderful presence? That His glory might be praised eternally.

East Dereham, a town with an Historic Past

I have no doubt that if you were to delve back into the history of any village, town or city you would find something of interest in its past, the town where I live, East Dereham, situated in the centre of Norfolk is no different, admittedly you have to filter myth from the truth.

East Dereham Town Sign

Let’s begin by looking at the story behind the town sign. 

In the early years of the seventh century, Anna was king of the Angles. He had four daughters. Ethelreda, the eldest, inherited the Isle of Ely, and there she founded the great monastery and abbey. The next two sisters married and left East Anglia, while Withburga lived at Holkham. When their father died in 654, Withburga came to a small village in the middle of Norfolk – Dereham. Here she founded a small nunnery, no doubt with help from Ely. They settled down to teach and care for the people, and to build a small church. At times money was short and they had little but dry bread to eat. One night the Virgin Mary appeared to Withburga, saying ‘Send two of your women down to the stream every morning, where two does will stand to be milked’. This they did, and there was butter and cheese for all to add to their diet.

The tale of this wonder spread around, and many more of the country folk came to ask for help and advice – so much so that the Reeve of the village became jealous of Withburga’s fame. He set off with his hounds to kill, or drive away the deer, but his horse stumbled and threw him, and his neck was broken.

The years passed, Withburga died, and was buried in the churchyard until a suitable shrine could be built. When the time came to move her to her final resting place, the coffin was opened, and her body was found to be whole and uncorrupted as on the day she died. One story tells how one of the men reached and touched her cheek with his finger – whereupon the maiden saint blushed at the sacrilege!

Then came the Danish invasion. The nuns were scattered, the nunnery destroyed. But the church and shrine escaped, and when peace returned, became the parish church.

In 870 King Edgar gave to the Bishop of Winchester Ely and all the other monasteries destroyed by the Danes. He restored Ely, and at Dereham had a prison and court-house. On one visit, he suggested that Withburga, a royal princess, should lie at Ely with her three sisters, but Dereham folk did not wish to lose their saint. The next time, Ely monk:s gave a great feast to the men of Dereham and afterwards crept away, broke into the shrine, loaded the coffin onto an ox-wagon and set off for Ely. When morning came and the desecrated tomb was found, there was hot pursuit – they had almost caught up by Brandon, only to find the monks had got the coffin aboard a barge and were sailing down the river to Ely. The account in the Liber Eliensis ends with ‘and the men of Dereham ran along the bank, throwing clods of earth’. When they returned to Dereham, they found the empty tomb had filled with a spring of clear water, which they felt certain was recompense for the loss of their beloved Saint. Still pilgrims continued to come to pray, and drink the holy water, which to this day has never run dry.

Years later, at the end of the eighteenth century, a Bath-house was built over the spring, in the hope that the town would become a second Buxton nor Bath. Described as ‘a hideous building of brick and plaster’, it was never popular and about 1880 the Reverend Benjamin Armstrong got permission to pull it down. It was replaced with iron railings and for years was smothered in ivy and ferns, the water green with duck-weed. Since 1950 it has been cleared, the ivy replaced with climbing roses and rock plants, and the water kept clean.

(This account was written by Mildred M. Cook and is available  from spring/sourcearchive/fs6/fs6mmc1.htm)

Edmund Bonner, “Bloody Bonner”

There is one aspect of Dereham’s history I am not very proud of and that is the fact that Edmund Bonner was at one time rector of the parish. This name may not mean much to many people, indeed  the people of Dereham may only be aware of it in that his cottage next to the parish church still stands and operates as a museum today.

Bishop Bonner Cottages - Dereham
Bishop Bonner Cottages – Dereham

Those who have a little understanding of Church History will know that Edmund Bonner went on to become the Bishop of London and during the reign of Queen Mary and was responsible for the martyrdom at Smithfield of over 200 people who deified the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, in his day he was became known as “Bloody Bonner”.

William Cowper

One person who was connected to Dereham will need no introduction,  and that is the hymn-writer William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper).  Dereham is immensely proud of its connection to William Cowper, there was a Cowper Society in Dereham at one time, but today it is incorporated into The Dereham Antiquarian Society.

(2) Cowper mem
Cowper Memorial Evangelical Congregational Church – East Dereham

Cowper moved to Dereham with his friend Mary Unwin and they lived in house that was situated in the town market place. The house no longer stands, it was demolished and on the site now stands the Cowper Memorial Evangelical Congregational Church, for five years I served as a member of the pastoral team, but that is another story. William Cowper was a great friend of John Newton, and together they are well known for their collection of “Olney Hymns”. The list of William Cowper’s hymns includes hymns such as “Praise for the Fountain Opened” (beginning “There is a fountain fill’d with blood”) and “Light Shining out of Darkness” (beginning “God moves in a mysterious way”) which remain some of Cowper’s most familiar verses.

Although after being institutionalised for insanity in the period 1763–65, Cowper found refuge in a fervent evangelical Christianity, the inspiration behind his much-loved hymns, he often experienced doubt and after a dream in 1773 believed that he was doomed to eternal damnation. Several of Cowper’s hymns, as well as others originally published in the “Olney Hymns,” are today preserved in the Sacred Harp.  Cowper died at Dereham on the 25th April 1800 at the age of 68 years he is buried in the chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury, in St. Nicholas Church, East Dereham.

East Dereham was also the birthplace of the poet George Borrow, his birthplace still stands today although it is off the beaten track and rather difficult to find. I recall in my boyhood days delivering newspapers to the house every morning for two or three years. Although born at Dereham, Borrow died on the 26th July 1881 in Lowestoft, Suffolk.

George Borrow
george borrow's birthplace, dumpling green, dereham
George Borrow’s birthplace in Dumpling Green, Dereham