First Baptist Fridays: The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 3 of 3)

This biography of Dr. Allen was originally written at the time of his retirement. Click here for part 1 of this series, and here for part 2.

The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 3 of 3)

On January 16, 1952, a special business meeting of the church was held—a solemn and unhappy occasion for the majority of the members, and certainly for our beloved pastor For at this time his formal request for retirement was presented by the board of deacons and advisory board to the church at large The advisory board recommended that Dr. Allen’s request that his retirement begin May 1, 1952, be granted. This was so voted and the board then recommended adoption of a contract with Dr. Allen. This contract was adopted and provides that he shall receive a life pension of $3500.00 per year, in recognition and appreciation of his twenty eight years of devoted service to the Lord in this church. This recommendation was unanimously adopted Dr Allen, in his remarks, spoke of his happiness in his work in Rockford through the years, and said that his reason for wishing to retire at this time was solely that he felt the increasingly heavy demands of his position as pastor had become too great for him to attempt to fulfill at his time of life. He assured us that he will remain with us as a member of the church, and expressed deep gratitude for the pension voted him.

At a business meeting held later in January, Dr. Allen was voted the title of Pastor Emeritus. Also at this meeting, the advisory board recommended that the assistant pastor, Rev. Will H. Bisgaard, be extended the call to become First Baptist’s next pastor. This recommendation was adopted and Rev Bisgaard accepted the call. He will take up his duties as pastor on May 1, 1952.

Thus comes to a close, officially, the noteworthy active career of an able and courageous man of God. But as a Christian layman he still will find many tasks to perform for his Lord alertly interested as he is in every aspect of church and community life around him.

This church has been uniquely blessed in having had such a man as B.E. Allen, chosen of God, to lead her skillfully and firmly through all the years of growth from a struggling rather disunited little group of 275 souls to its present vigorously active and spiritually minded membership of well over one thousand. Nowhere could there be found a more devoted pastor, willing to give the entire twenty four hours of a day, if need be, to any member of his flock who was ill or in trouble. Always, he has been available on call day or night and the community as a whole, in addition to his own church people, has grown to rely upon him for all sorts of advice and assistance.

The high standard of integrity and rigorous work schedule Dr. Allen always has set for himself have amazed and impressed even his opponents — for he has had some — and everyone who knows him admires his unshakeable faith in the whole Bible as the inspired Word of God, and his firm stand for everything upright and honest in both public and private life. More than once during his career has he had to face not only criticism but actual persecution. During Prohibition days, his stalwart stand against “John Barleycorn,” boot-legging, and the like even brought threats against his life!

Never satisfied with half-way measures, Dr Allen, once convinced a cause is right and in need of his support, gives his wholehearted effort and thought to it. He is a past president of the Central Area of the Conservative Baptist Association, and at the present time, is Secretary of the Board of the American Association for Jewish Evangelism, as well as Vice-president of the Temperance League of Illinois.

Although to some who have not known him well and his firmness of character may have made him seem somewhat stern at times, Dr. Allen actually has a genial, sympathetic nature, and a lively and keen sense of humor. He enjoys saying that he has had as much fun throughout his life as anyone he knows. Among the recreations he especially has always enjoyed are attending baseball games (a sport in which he excelled as a youth), camping, and travel.

This sketch would be entirely incomplete if no mention were made of Dr. Allen’s lovely wife, Grace Fuller Allen, and of her splendid influence upon the lives of all who have come into contact with her. If ever a woman was perfectly suited in every respect to be a minister’s wonderful and loyal helpmate through the years, it is she. Sweet and winsome by nature, she has been ever a loving friend to all who have known her, and never at any time, despite much ill health and many other trials and testings, has she shown the slightest meanness of spirit nor spoken harshly to any of us. Many a time her gay little laugh and friendly word have smoothed the way for some of us possessed of far less patience and loving kindness than is she!

The lives Dr. and Mrs. Allen have lived before our church’s people all these past twenty-eight years have been constant testimonies to us of God’s marvelous grace and blessing toward those who truly love and seek to serve Him. The Book of Titus, chapter two, verses seven and eight, almost exactly describes the example the Allens have set among us.

It is with the greatest reluctance and regret that we take leave of Dr. Allen as pastor. All of the words that might be set down here, in whatever form or combination, never could express what his and Mrs. Allen’s work among us has meant to us all. We only can hope and pray for them every good and lovely thing in the years ahead, and rejoice that they are to remain with us as church members. May God richly bless them both!

Click the link below for a PDF of the entire text in this series:

A Sketch of the Career of Dr. B. E. Allen

First Baptist Fridays: The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 2 of 3)

This biography of Dr. Allen was originally written at the time of his retirement. Click here for part 1 of this series.

The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 2 of 3)

In December, 1907, the young Reverend Mr. and Mrs. Allen moved to Osceola, Illinois, to assume pastoral duties in the Baptist church there. Their salary was nine hundred dollars per year, plus use of the parsonage. The church at Osceola was a struggling, loosely organized group of only a few members in a country community and offered a real challenge to the pastor and his wife. During the sixteen years, three months of their pastorate, this church underwent marvelous change and growth, and was greatly blessed of the Lord.

Under the Allens’ leadership, it became one of the ten outstanding rural churches of all denominations in America, and Country Gentleman magazine ran a large feature article, with photographs describing its progress and development. It was while still at the Osceola church that the Reverend Mr. Allen became Doctor B. E. Allen, through an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. This degree was conferred by Shurtleff College in recognition of his excellent work in building up this church, and may be considered a double honor, doubly earned for he had been forced to get all of the theological education leading to his ordination on his own initiative, never having had time or funds to manage a formal college education.

During the years at Osceola, Dr Allen had developed into a sturdy fighter for Christian principles, as well as having earned the reputation for scrupulous integrity and high ability in all matters pertaining to church business and organization.

In 1923 the First Baptist Church at Rockford, searching for a new Pastor, had been listening to quite a number of supply preachers throughout the summer and fall, but none had seemed to be the right one. And then Dr. A. S. Loving, the church treasurer, learned through a friend the Rev. J. V. Whiting, of Peoria, of Dr. Allen and his background of successful work. Accordingly, he was invited to fill the pulpit on December 9, 1923. Our people were pleased with him, and a unanimous call from the pulpit committee was extended to him on that very day. He accepted the call, and began his pastoral duties on March 1, 1924. The membership roll at this time showed 275 names and many of them were of inactive members.

At the time of the annual business meeting, in January, 1924, the Treasurer’s report showed a balance of $252.77 in the current expense fund, the pastor’s salary was to be $2750.00 per year, and the debt on the new church building, completed in 1920, was $15,700.00.

The new pastor immediately set about helping the church reduce the debt on its building, and began looking ahead toward new projects to encourage growth and sound organization. During that first year $9000.00 was raised for all church expenses, and it was voted to begin an organ fund. The Lord’s blessing on this team of pastor and people had immediately been given, and has been increasingly felt throughout the ensuing years! Membership and income increased steadily year by year and spiritual life began to be greatly deepened.

In about the second year of the Allens’ pastorate here, an entirely new work was undertaken by some of the women of the church, under the Christian Americanization plan of the Northern Baptist Convention: This was work among the wives of Mexican railroad laborers — visiting them in their homes to teach them English from a textbook and a Spanish-English New Testament. This was a much-needed work and, though often slow and difficult, won some souls to Christ, and opened the way for a larger service in this field.

Shortly thereafter, an English Sunday school for young Chinese men was begun at the church on Sunday afternoons, using similar teaching methods, and it was not long before young Mexican men were asking for classes, also.

Among those who began this missionary work, which was the seed from which was to grow our present Mexican Baptist Mission, were Mrs. E. L. Braid, Mrs. B. E. Allen, Mrs. C. A. Jackson, and a number of others, including our church’s organist, Miss Blanche Ambuster.  The patience and faithful work of all the women who helped with these projects helped our church to become really valuable in home missions at our very doorstep. Among the early converts was the Alba family, whose daughter, Carmen, now is the wife of our Mexican Mission pastor, Rev. Ralph Bratton.

The pastor’s salary moved upward through the years from 1924 until 1929. The new organ was installed, and was dedicated November 3, 1929 — on Dr. Allen’s birthday. Things were going well in all phases of church life, and, under the new pastor’s efficient and consecrated leadership, the church had come a long way in a few short years.

— And then the Stock Market collapsed — in October of 1929. The full meaning of this fact was not realized at once, nor even felt, and, in February of 1930, payment was completed on the building debt, and the mortgage was burned amidst great rejoicing. Also in 1930, Dr. Allen’s salary was increased to $3200.00. But, by 1931, the depression had swept the country, and our church suffered in proportion as her members felt the impact of curtailed incomes.  Every practical economy in operation of the church plant was adopted. And, in 1932, Dr. Allen voluntarily rebated twenty percent of his salary until conditions should warrant return to full payment. In addition, he further voluntarily cancelled some of the unpaid salary the church owed him as a result of depression difficulties.

In April of 1946, Miss Connie Alba and Mr. Roger Arendsee, both young members of the church, were endorsed for full-time Christian service, and Roger was licensed to preach, pending completion of his preparation for the ministry. Miss Alba was preparing for missionary service.

By the beginning of 1947, Dr. Allen’s responsibility had become so heavy, with the greatly enlarged program of service and number of members, that the church voted to call an assistant pastor. The number of deacons was increased to ten that year.

For several years, Dr. Allen and the church people had been much concerned over what seemed to be an ever-growing trend toward a toleration of liberalistic interpretations of the Bible on the part of the Northern Baptist Convention. Dr. Allen, especially, recognized this tendency and the accompanying danger to the spiritual life of the church. The fact that officers of the Illinois Baptist State Convention wished to control the erection and ownership of the chapel we proposed to erect west of the city only added to our anxiety, as this Convention was an affiliate of the Northern Baptist Convention. We feared that our individual rights and privileges as an independent Baptist church would be affected. Therefore, on May 14, 1947, the members voted to adopt a manifesto of our faith and declaration of our intention to affiliate our church with the newly-organized Conservative Baptist Association of America. This did not then constitute a withdrawal from the Northern Baptist Convention, however.

It was in the Spring of 1947, too, that a call was extended to the Reverend Will H. Bisgaard, to assume the duties of assistant to the pastor. This he accepted, and took up his work here that Fall. A second parsonage, at 2011 Cumberland Street, was purchased for the assistant pastor and his wife to live in. Their coming was very welcome, and their work among us — especially with the young people — has deepened still further our spiritual life, as well as broadening the scope of our church’s activities.

And then, in August of 1948, under the straightforward and farsighted leadership of our pastor, the church rook one of the most significant steps in its history: The deacons, pastors, and advisory board recommended, and the church in business session unanimously voted, to sever all connections with the Northern Baptist Convention and its affiliated missionary societies. This was a bold step to take after the many years of affiliation with the Convention, and there were many who had felt grave misgivings, and had heatedly debated the wisdom of such a decision, nearly forgetting to entrust the future to the Lord. But, as in so many previous instances throughout Dr. Allen’s pastorate here, God had used his yielded life and exceptional ability to guide our church over a rocky, stormy portion of the way, and out into the sunlight of a brighter prospect of service in His Name! The church’s subsequent and steady progress, spiritually and materially, proved this to be the case.

Sunday, October 16, 1948, brought another milestone in Dr. Allen’s career and the church’s history. That afternoon, on the land the church had bought west of the city, an impressive groundbreaking ceremony was held. At last the long-deferred chapel was begun, with the church launching and sponsoring the project “on its own.” The following Spring, the name Memorial Baptist Chapel was adopted, and the church launched a search for a student pastor to serve there; the building was to be ready for use by June first. On June 22, 1949,  the church voted to call Mr. K. Donald Berg and his wife, of Wheaton, Illinois, to serve as student pastor on weekends at the chapel. Mr. Berg was at that time studying for the ministry.

In June, 1950, following examination by Dr. Allen and Rev.  Bisgaard as to his faith and doctrinal beliefs, and with the approval of the board of deacons and the church as a whole, K. Donald Berg was ordained by a council of Conservative Baptist churches. And, the following February, the church called Rev. Berg to the full-time pastorate of the chapel. Thus a long-hoped-for advance in the work of our church in our own community has at last become a reality.

First Baptist Fridays: The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 1 of 3)

First Baptist Church wrote up a biography of Dr. Bart E. Allen at his retirement in 1952. It was broken into three parts, which is reflected in this series, a reproduction of this biography. A previously posted biography on Bart Allen was a condensed version of what you will see here today and the next two weeks.

The Life of Bart E. Allen (Part 1 of 3)

There was little enough of money, and nothing at all of luxury, in the little home on that third day of November, 1878. But there was love, and loyalty, and willingness to work to make the future brighter. And today there had arrived a new baby son. The Eugene Allens decided to name their second child Bartlett Eugene.

Looking back to that event in Arlington, now Bell Creek, Nebraska, it seems that God already had chosen just that child from just such a background, for a life of vigorous service in His Name. Eugene Allen was an upright honest man, whose word was “as good as his bond” and his wife was a sweet and cultured Christian woman. Like most of the young couples of their day and circumstances, they expected to make their own way, earning a livelihood and caring for their family by their own hard work. Never would it have occurred to ask others to shoulder even a small part of their responsibility and they would have been dismayed and humiliated had anyone suggested it.

When little “Bart” was six months old, the family moved to the Kansas Territory, to homestead, and his earliest memory of home is of the sod house in which they lived until he was six years of age. After six years, the father gave up homesteading and moved his family back to Nebraska. This time, not a sod house, but a dugout, served as home until a house could be obtained. Care had to be taken that the door was fastened securely, as the Indians living in the region were fond of walking in at any hour and taking whatever of food and household items happened to interest them!

The years in Nebraska, from the time he was six until the age of fifteen, were busy, important, happy years for young Bart Allen. He was learning the lessons all boys of pioneer families had to learn — to work hard, to study when he could, to live thriftily, to honor his stern and just father and gentle mother, to be trustworthy, to share with brothers and sisters (for five more babies joined the family during the years). Entering country school at the age of seven, he began to absorb all available book learning with great speed discovering within himself an unquenchable thirst for knowledge — a quality which has proven vastly useful throughout the years. So eagerly did he learn that from the day he began first grade until his graduation from high school at the age of fourteen, he had spent only seven years in school! This was accomplished by means of much burning of the midnight oil (literally, for there were only kerosene lamps to read by), in the time left after finishing the chores allotted to him at home. The money needed for high school he earned by hunting and trapping small animals for the price their pelts would bring. It was during these formative years that the boy made his life’s most important decision. When only twelve years old, he accepted Christ as his personal Savior, later joining the Baptist church, even though his father’s and mother’s families always had been Presbyterians and Methodists.

In the Fall of 1894, the Allen family set out from the town of Western Nebraska, for Arkansas. This was an exciting adventure, for the trip was made by covered wagon. At nightfall, the wagons had to be arranged in a circle, with the men and boys taking turns as guards, in case of a raid by the stock rustlers who preyed on wagon trains. Along the way the party saw for the first time the real blanket Indians of the Plains. At the end of seven weeks they arrived at the farm the father had purchased, near Almyra, Arkansas. Their second son was now fifteen.

Money being scarce, boys of that day were obliged to take men’s responsibilities at an early age. So, at sixteen, Bart Allen became a schoolteacher. This was work he grew to love, and was the beginning of a twelve year period of teaching during which time he was appointed superintendent of the county seat school, as well as county examiner of teachers. And, when he was a dignified schoolmaster with a year of teaching experience behind him, at the age of seventeen a highly important event took place. He met Grace Fuller, who had moved with her parents to Almyra from Marshalltown, Iowa, in the Spring of 1895. Their courtship lasted two years, and they were married on November 6, 1897. They met at the Baptist church, in Almyra, and always have been very active in Christian life.

Increasingly, through these years, the young teacher felt called to the ministry, and he began studying for this while continuing teaching. Finally, he was ordained in the Almyra, Arkansas, Baptist church and soon became pastor of the DeWitt, Arkansas church. At that time, he was head of the county seat school, and continued both church and school duties until the burden proved too great, his health broke, and doctors ordered him away for a long rest. It was during these years too, that several children were born to the young couple, only to be taken by death each time — a sorrow which never has been quite erased from their lives.

All of these circumstances and events have been mentioned here for two reasons: They are interesting glimpses into the early life of a vigorous, intelligent man, and, more important they combined to lay a strong foundation for a splendid career of accomplishment in God’s service. The parents of both Dr. and Mrs. Allen were of real pioneer quality — hard working, courageous, and uncomplaining. Their children thus had excellent examples set forth for budding strong character. They are fond of saying that the early years consisted of poverty, hard work, faith, and much happiness.

First Baptist Fridays: The Life of Bart E. Allen in 500 Words

Born November 3, 1878 in Bell Creek, Nebraska, to a fine Christian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Allen, Barlett Eugene (“Bart”) Allen lived in the pioneer west of America. He was saved at age 12, attended the local Baptist church, and finished high school by 14, paying his own way by selling the pelts of small animals he hunted and trapped. In the fall of 1894, the Allens traveled by covered wagon to Almyra, Arkansas.

At age 16, Bart became a schoolteacher and was appointed superintendent of the county seat school and the county examiner of teachers. He married Grace Fuller at age 19 on November 6, 1897. He taught for a total of twelve years and studied for the ministry, finally to become the pastor in DeWitt, Arkansas. The work of being both teacher and pastor broke his health, and several children born and lost broke the hearts of Bart and Grace as well. He took a doctor-ordered break for a time. Despite the poverty, hard work, and sorrow, the faith of Bart and Grace led to much happiness.

Rev. and Mrs. Allen moved to Osceola, Illinois to pastor the Baptist church there. The church changed for the better, grew, and was one of the ten outstanding rural churches of all denominations in America. Country Gentleman magazine ran a large feature article, with photographs describing its progress and development. Shurtleff College awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.

In 1923, First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois was searching for a pastor. Dr. A. S. Loving, the church treasurer, learned through a friend and pastor of Dr. Allen. He was invited to speak on December 9, 1923 and was given a unanimous call from the pulpit committee to be the next pastor, and he accepted, taking on his duties on March 1, 1924.

His ministry was incredibly fruitful. A church debt of $15,700 was retired. Members of the church taught Mexican wives to read from the New Testament, and Mexican and Chinese men were taught during Sunday school as well. The church grew from 275 to over 800 by 1944, despite the Great Depression in October of 1929 and stagnation of growth in Rockford for the decade to follow. He led the church to separate from the liberal Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches USA) in 1947. On Sunday, October 16, 1948, the church broke ground for the Memorial Baptist Chapel.

Though he retired on May 1, 1952, and became the pastor emeritus, the church saw his successor Rev. Will H. Bisgaard and 150 people leave the church on September 16, 1956. He led the church through this time of testing and to call their next pastor.

Dr. Allen and his wife were excellent examples and servants for First Baptist Church. We do well to remember Hebrews 13:7 when thinking of Dr. Allen: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

The Rebirth of Martin Luther

In April of 1511, Martin Luther went to Wittenberg, a city of 2,000 to 2,500. Luther received his Doctor of Theology in October of the following year, but for all his accomplishments, certainty of salvation eluded his grasp. He confessed his sins as much as possible, even six hours at a time in the confessional booth. Prayers were no help either. Even Johann von Staupitz, the vicar of his Augustinian order, could not help him with the mystic way: “Since man is weak, let him cease to strive; let him surrender himself to the being and the love of God” (p. 38). Something was still lacking.

Finally in 1513, Staupitz granted to Luther his own chair of Bible in the university, and Luther took up the Psalms in August. He would teach Romans in 1515 and Galatians in 1516. “One may wonder,” it is told, “why Luther had not of this himself,” that is, “to wrestle with the source book of his religion” (p. 42). “The reason is not that the Bible was inaccessible, but that Luther was following a prescribed course and the Bible was not the staple of theological education” (p. 42). Here was the substance of what his biographer calls “the evangelical experience.”

His biographer makes much of Luther’s teaching of Psalms in that “a new picture . . . of Christ” is seen (p. 45). From Ps 22:1 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), Christ exclaims that He is forsaken, identifying with mankind and thus man’s sin, showing Luther that Christ, while yes the judge, nonetheless “suffers with those whom he must condemn and feels himself with them subject to condemnation” (p. 45). By teaching the Psalms, Luther saw Christ as judge but also his Savior.

As to Romans, the source from which we thank Luther for his cry of “Sola Fide!” in the face of works-salvation, his long-held view of a wrath-ready God who judged the always impure by His perfect righteousness transformed when he saw justice met in Christ who gave His righteousness to him. Romans 1:17 caught Luther’s eye: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.’” Luther’s words speak of his rebirth:
“I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven” (p. 48).

Quotations from Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Peabody, MS; Hendrickson, 1977).

Here I Stand

I just finished reading the biography of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton. I look forward to the day I feel the rugged embrace of Luther as two who are one in Christ, justified by faith alone.

As I read one of Luther’s hymns in the final chapter of my book, I was moved to poetry by my fellow German and texted myself an initial draft of what you read below. For those who know Luther’s life, allusions may be found throughout.

Here I Stand
By David Huffstutler
In Honor of Christ
In Memory of Martin Luther

Satan nips my heels this day.
He bares his fangs and dares to say,
“You have guilt for many sins;
These deny your stand in Him!”
But one reply to tongues of two
With promises I know are true
Blunts his head as if with stone:
“Christ, not me, by faith alone!”

The serpent strikes; his venom stings.
Despite his slander, I shall sing,
“Sin brings death and I shall die,
But yet I sit with Him on high!”
He slithers by and bites my heel,
But soon his skull shall fully feel
The crush of Christ beneath my feet,
For, “Here I stand, in Christ, complete!”

Schaff’s History on Luther’s 95 Theses

Schaff’s History of the Christian Church is now in the public domain, so I decided to copy and paste an entire section recounting Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses for any ambitious readers. Enjoy!

After serious deliberation, without consulting any of his colleagues or friends, but following an irresistible impulse, Luther resolved upon a public act of unforeseen consequences. It may be compared to the stroke of the axe with which St. Boniface, seven hundred years before, had cut down the sacred oak, and decided the downfall of German heathenism. He wished to elicit the truth about the burning question of indulgences, which he himself professed not fully to understand at the time, and which yet was closely connected with the peace of conscience and eternal salvation. He chose the orderly and usual way of a learned academic disputation.

Accordingly, on the memorable thirty-first day of October, 1517, which has ever since been celebrated in Protestant Germany as the birthday of the Reformation, at twelve o’clock he affixed (either himself or through another) to the doors of the castle-church at Wittenberg, ninety-five Latin Theses on the subject of indulgences, and invited a public discussion. At the same time he sent notice of the fact to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, and to Bishop Hieronymus Scultetus, to whose diocese Wittenberg belonged. He chose the eve of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), because this was one of the most frequented feasts, and attracted professors, students, and people from all directions to the church, which was filled with precious relics.

No one accepted the challenge, and no discussion took place. The professors and students of Wittenberg were of one mind on the subject. But history itself undertook the disputation and defence. The Theses were copied, translated, printed, and spread as on angels’ wings throughout Germany and Europe in a few weeks.

The rapid circulation of the Reformation literature was promoted by the perfect freedom of the press. There was, as yet, no censorship, no copyright, no ordinary book-trade in the modern sense, and no newspapers; but colportors, students, and friends carried the books and tracts from house to house. The mass of the people could not read, but they listened attentively to readers. The questions of the Reformation were eminently practical, and interested all classes; and Luther handled the highest themes in the most popular style.

The Theses bear the title, “Disputation to explain the Virtue of Indulgences.” They sound very strange to a modern ear, and are more Catholic than Protestant. They are no protest against the Pope and the Roman Church, or any of her doctrines, not even against indulgences, but only against their abuse. They expressly condemn those who speak against indulgences (Th. 71), and assume that the Pope himself would rather see St. Peter’s Church in ashes than have it built with the flesh and blood of his sheep (Th. 50). They imply belief in purgatory. They nowhere mention Tetzel. They are silent about faith and justification, which already formed the marrow of Luther’s theology and piety. He wished to be moderate, and had not the most distant idea of a separation from the mother church. When the Theses were republished in his collected works (1545), he wrote in the preface: “I allow them to stand, that by them it may appear how weak I was, and in what a fluctuating state of mind, when I began this business. I was then a monk and a mad papist (papista insanissimus), and so submersed in the dogmas of the Pope that I would have readily murdered any person who denied obedience to the Pope.”

But after all, they contain the living germs of a new theology. The form only is Romish, the spirit and aim are Protestant. We must read between the lines, and supply the negations of the Theses by the affirmations from his preceding and succeeding books, especially his Resolutiones, in which he answers objections, and has much to say about faith and justification. The Theses represent a state of transition from twilight to daylight. They reveal the mighty working of an earnest mind and conscience intensely occupied with the problem of sin, repentance, and forgiveness, and struggling for emancipation from the fetters of tradition. They might more properly be called “a disputation to diminish the virtue of papal indulgences, and to magnify the full and free grace of the gospel of Christ.” They bring the personal experience of justification by faith, and direct intercourse with Christ and the gospel, in opposition to an external system of churchly and priestly mediation and human merit. The papal opponents felt the logical drift of the Theses much better than Luther, and saw in them an attempt to undermine the whole fabric of popery. The irresistible progress of the Reformation soon swept the indulgences away as an unscriptural, mediæval tradition of men.

The first Thesis strikes the keynote: “Our Lord and Master when he says, ‘Repent,’ desires that the whole life of believers should be a repentance.” The corresponding Greek noun means change of mind (μετάνοια), and implies both a turning away from sin in sincere sorrow and grief, and a turning to God in hearty faith. Luther distinguishes, in the second Thesis, true repentance from the sacramental penance (i.e., the confession and satisfaction required by the priest), and understands it to be an internal state and exercise of the mind rather than isolated external acts; although he expressly affirms, in the third Thesis, that it must manifest itself in various mortifications of the flesh. Repentance is a continual conflict of the believing spirit with the sinful flesh, a daily renewal of the heart. As long as sin lasts, there is need of repentance. The Pope can not remit any sin except by declaring the remission of God; and he can not remit punishments except those which he or the canons impose (Thes.5 and 6). Forgiveness presupposes true repentance, and can only be found in the merits of Christ. Here comes in the other fundamental Thesis (62): “The true treasury of the church is the holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.” This sets aside the mediæval notion about the overflowing treasury of extra-merits and rewards at the disposal of the Pope for the benefit of the living and the dead.

We have thus set before us in this manifesto, on the one hand, human depravity which requires lifelong repentance, and on the other the full and free grace of God in Christ, which can only be appropriated by a living faith. This is, in substance, the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith (although not expressed in terms), and virtually destroys the whole scholastic theory and practice of indulgences. By attacking the abuses of indulgences, Luther unwittingly cut a vein of mediæval Catholicism; and by a deeper conception of repentance which implies faith, and by referring the sinner to the grace of Christ as the true and only source of remission, he proclaimed the undeveloped principles of evangelical Protestantism, and kindled a flame which soon extended far beyond his original intentions.

Taken from Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, vol. 7, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 155-60.