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The Principles of the Second Reformation
by Andrew Symington, D.D. (1841)
WHAT are the principles to which so much importance is attached? is a question meeting us as we introduce the proposed course of Lectures. In giving a reply to this most reasonable demand, reference must, of course, be made to the history of the memorable period with which the principles in question are associated—the principles of the Second Reformation. But in answering this question, I am not to be expected to give lengthened historical illustrations, nor am I to adduce a body of statutory proofs, nor am I to take up the scriptural argument in support and defense of the principles in question. Besides the impossibility of comprehending all this in a single lecture, I should, were I to attempt it, necessarily anticipate the tasks assigned to the brethren that are to succeed me. My duty at present, if I do not mistake it, is to make some brief preliminary observations, preparing the way for the discussions announced in the syllabus, by placing before the mind the principles that are to be advocated, and endeavoring to awaken interest and attention by impressing the mind with a sense of their importance. To this task, then, I immediately address myself.
The Second Reformation forms a brief, but crowded and lucid, chapter in the history of our country, and of the church of God in it, a chapter in which every British Christian should be well read. The period commencing in 1638, and continuing for the ten years which follow, has been usually known, in the ecclesiastical history of this country, by the designation of the Second Reformation, to distinguish it from a period of longer duration in the preceding century, usually called from its priority, not its excellence, the First Reformation. The First was the reformation from Popery; that of which we are now to speak is a reformation from Prelacy, and was distinguished, not only by retrieving what was lost, when in 1592 and subsequent years, the first reformation was departed from, but distinguished also by a great accession of important attainment. It is worthy of remark here, that the Second Reformation, within the last ten years, has been brought into more conspicuous and honorable notice, than for the preceding century and half. The historic page has been searched and thrown open, and the knowledge of the period in question is no longer confined to the antiquary, the curious historian, or to a few persons taking a Christian interest in the religious doings of that period; it has been raised from the obscurity in which it lay, and vindicated from much of that reproach which was cast upon it, where it was at all mentioned; and its great actors, and their noble Christian actings, have been held up to respect and admiration. Its attainments, after they were abandoned and lost, lingered long in the recollections and hearts of the religious people of Scotland, but had sunk into comparative oblivion when recent discussions recalled them to view; and the modern advocates of ecclesiastical reformation strengthen their arguments and pleadings, by appeals to its men, its principles, and its martyrs. Would to God that we could regard this as a token that an epoch draws near, when there will be a return to the faithful and extended application of its noble principles, “Turn thou us unto thee, O God, and we shall be turned: renew our days as of old."
To state the great principles of the Second Reformation, it will be necessary to recur to prominent facts in the history of the period. “In a period of conflicting opinions and sentiments, producing mental and moral revolutions, it seldom happens that individuals or communities arrive all at once at the great principles which are afterwards recognized and felt.” We are not to expect to find a system of principles, laid down and adopted by the leaders of the Reformation, and then acted upon; but, turning our attention to facts, and observing the great movements as they have proceeded, we shall be able to elicit the great principles which impelled the actors, whose doings have so large demands on our gratitude, and supply so valuable lessons for our adoption and imitation.
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