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)

 

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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.

The Death of Thomas Bilney – Martyr of the Reformation

220px-Thomas_BilneyEach year in early September the Protestant Alliance organise a Memorial Service for Protestant Martyrs of Norwich, there were ten of them in total, all burned at the stake in the Lollard’s Pit off Riverside Road, Norwich, the site had been excavated as a chalkworks and that the time was owned by the Bishop of Norwich, a memorial marks the place of execution today. The best known of the Norwich Martyrs was Thomas Bilney who was ordained in 1519 by the Bishop of Ely to the title of St Bartholomew’s Priory, Smithfield. The following is an account of the execution as detailed by J.H. Merle d’Aubigné.

The Death of Thomas Bilney
Martyr of the Reformation
Burnt at the Stake at the Lollard’s Pit, Norwich
Saturday 19th August 1531.

by J. H. Merle d’Aubigné

[Thomas Bilney, ‘whose conversion had begun the Reformation in England’ was, in God’s hands, the instrument of Hugh Latimer’s conversion. The story of his life ‘in strength and weakness’, leading to his martyrdom in 1531, is eloquently recorded in The Reformation of England, volumes 1 and 2 by J. H. Merle d’Aubigné. These volumes trace the history of the Reformation from its earliest origins to the end of the reign of Henry VIII. Written in a lively evangelical spirit, they are both instructive and heart-warming. The following extract comes from volume 2.]

A few of Bilney’s friends went to Norwich to bid him farewell: among them was Matthew Parker, later archbishop of Canterbury. It was in the evening, and Bilney was taking his last meal. On the table stood some frugal fare [ale brew], and on his countenance beamed the joy that filled his soul. ‘I am surprised’, said one of his friends, ‘that you can eat so cheerfully’. — ‘I only follow the example of the husbandmen of the country’, answered Bilney, ‘who having a ruinous house to dwell in, yet bestow cost so long as they may hold it up and so do I now with this ruinous house of my body’. With these words he rose from the table, and sat down near his friends, one of whom said to him, ‘To-morrow the fire will make you feel its devouring fierceness, but the comfort of God’s Holy Spirit will cool it for your everlasting refreshing.’

Bilney, appearing to reflect upon what had been said, stretched out his hand towards the lamp that was burning on the table and placed his finger in the flame. ‘What are you doing ?’ they exclaimed. — ‘Nothing’, he replied; ‘I am only trying my flesh; to-morrow God’s rods shall burn my whole body in the fire.’ And still keeping his finger in the flame, as if he were making a curious experiment, he continued: ‘I feel that fire by God’s ordinance is naturally hot; but yet I am persuaded, by God’s Holy Word and the experience of the martyrs, that when the flames consume me, I shall not feel them. Howsoever this stubble of my body shall be wasted by it, a pain for the time is followed by joy unspeakable.’ He then withdrew his finger, the first joint of which was burnt. He added, ‘When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned.’ These words remained imprinted on the hearts of some who heard them, until the day of their death, says a chronicler.

Beyond the city gate—that known as the Bishop’s gate—was a low valley, called the Lollards’ Pit: it was surrounded by rising ground, forming a sort of amphitheatre. On Saturday, the 19th of August, a body of javelin-men came to fetch Bilney, who met them at the prison gate. One of his friends approaching and exhorting him to be firm, Bilney replied: ‘When the sailor goes on board his ship and launches out into the stormy sea, he is tossed to and fro by the waves; but the hope of reaching a peaceful haven makes him bear the danger. My voyage is beginning, but whatever storms I shall feel, my ship will soon reach the port.’

Bilney passed through the streets of Norwich in the midst of a dense crowd: his demeanour was grave, his features calm. His head had been shaved, and he wore a layman’s gown. Dr Warner, one of his friends, accompanied him; another distributed alms all along the route. The procession descended into the Lollards’ Pit, while the spectators covered the surrounding slopes. On arriving at the place of punishment, Bilney fell on his knees and prayed, and then rising up, warmly embraced the stake and kissed it. Turning his eyes towards heaven, he next repeated the Apostles’ Creed, and when he confessed the incarnation and crucifixion of the Saviour his emotion was such that even the spectators were moved. Recovering himself, he took off his gown, and ascended the pile, reciting the hundred and forty-third psalm. Thrice he repeated the second verse: ‘Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.’ And then he added: ‘I stretch forth my hands unto thee; my soul thirsteth after thee.’

Turning towards the officers, he said: ‘Are you ready ?’ — ‘Yes’, was their reply. Bilney placed himself against the post, and held up the chain which bound him to it. His friend Warner, with eyes filled with tears, took a last farewell. Bilney smiled kindly at him and said: ‘Doctor, pasce gregem tuum [feed your flock], that when the Lord cometh He may find you so doing.’ Several monks who had given evidence against him, perceiving the emotion of the spectators, began to tremble, and whispered to the martyr: ‘These people will believe that we are the cause of your death, and will withhold their alms.’ Upon which Bilney said to them: ‘Good folks, be not angry against these men for my sake; as though they be the authors of my death, it is not they.’ He knew that his death proceeded from the will of God. The torch was applied to the pile: the fire smouldered for a few minutes, and then suddenly burning up fiercely, the martyr was heard to utter the name of Jesus several times, and sometimes the word ‘Credo’ [‘I believe’]. A strong wind which blew the flames on one side prolonged his agony; thrice they seemed to retire from him, and thrice they returned, until at length, the whole pile being kindled, he expired.

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The Protestant Martyrs of Norwich

A booklet entitled “The Protestant Martyrs of Norwich” compiled by Charles Scott-Pearson has been published by, and is available from The Protestant Alliance, 77 Ampthill Road, Flitwick, Bedford MK45 2TT. The author of this booklet has researched all the details of all ten of the Protestant Martyrs who died at Lollard’s Pit, Norwich. Full contact details for the Alliance can be found on their web site

www.protestant-alliance.org