(J. C. Ryle, “What Do We Owe to the Reformation?”)
The Reformation delivered England from an immense quantity of evils, such as gross religious ignorance and spiritual darkness.
In the days when the Roman Catholic Church ruled England, before the Reformation—the immense majority of the Catholic clergy did little more than say masses and offer up pretended sacrifices—repeat Latin prayers and chant Latin hymns, which of course the people could not understand. They heard confessions, granted absolutions, gave extreme unction, and took money to get dead people out of Purgatory. Preaching was utterly at a discount. As Latimer truly remarked, ‘When the devil gets influence in a church—up go candles and down goes preaching.’
As to the laity, it is not too much to say that the bulk of them had no religion at all. There was no one to tell them of the love of God, the mediation of Christ, the glad tidings of free salvation, the precious blood of Christ’s atonement, and justification by faith. They could only send for the priest, who knew nothing himself and could tell nothing to others; and then at last they received absolution and extreme unction—and took a leap in the dark!
To sum up all in a few words, the religion of our English forefathers before the Reformation, was a religion without knowledge, without saving faith, and without true hope! It was a religion without justification, regeneration, and sanctification—a religion without any clear views of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Except in rare instances, it was little better than an organized system of . . .
blind obedience to the priests!
It was a huge hodge-podge of ignorance and idolatry! The only practical result, was that the priests took the people’s money, and undertook to secure their salvation—and the people flattered themselves, that the more they gave to the priests—the more sure they were to go to heaven!
Such was the IGNORANCE, which was scattered to the winds by the English Reformation!
For another thing, the Reformation delivered England from the most groveling, childish and superstitious practices in religion. I allude especially to the worship of relics. Destitute of the slightest Scriptural knowledge, our forefathers were taught by the priests to seek spiritual benefit from the so-called relics of dead saints, and to worship them!
The following are examples of some of the relics which they honored and worshiped:
the spear-head which pierced our Savior’s side;
the apostle James’ hand;
a bone of Mary Magdalene;
pieces of our Savior’s cross;
the Virgin Mary’s smock;
a part of the stone upon which our Lord was born at Bethlehem;
a part of the bread used by Christ at the first Lord’s Supper;
a belt of the Virgin Mary, made of red silk;
some of the Virgin Mary’s breast-milk!
Facts like these are so amazingly silly, as well as painful—that one hardly knows whether to laugh or to cry over them! But it is positively necessary to bring them forward, in order that men may know what was the religion of our forefathers, in the days when the Roman Catholic Church ruled the land, before the Reformation! Let us never forget, that this was the SUPERSTITION which was shattered to pieces by the Reformation!