The True Protestant

TimeWatch Editorial
March 02, 2017

According to the preface of his book, “The History of Protestantism, Volume 1,” James Aitken Wylie was born in Scotland in 1808. In 1852, after joining the Free Church of Scotland-- which was only inaugurated in 1843, Wylie edited their "Free Church Record" until 1860. The Protestant Institute appointed him Lecturer on Popery in 1860. He continued in this role until his death in 1890.  Aberdeen University awarded him an honorary doctorate (LL.D.) in 1856.  As a prominent spokesman for Protestantism, Dr. Wylie's writings included "The Papacy: Its History, Dogmas, Genius, and Prospects"-- which was awarded a prize by the Evangelical Alliance in 1851-- and, his best known writing, "The History of Protestantism" (1878).

There is one very sad fact that reoccurs so very often. Quite frequently, the very information that is most needed is not available when it would have provided the greatest amount of help. I have come to believe that this is not accidental by any means. Apart from the fact that it seems as if a smaller percentage of people actually read today, I do believe that those who would prefer that the information be made unavailable actually do make arrangements for the information to disappear. An example of this would be the incredibly informative work called “The History of Protestantism,” going out of publication in the 1920's.  Today, at the very time that a clear understanding of what Protestantism is, we find ourselves without some of the important tools necessary for our study. J. A. Wylie does a terrific job defining and illustrating the subject. Listen to how Wylie begins that definition on page 5 of volume 1.

“The name Protestantism is very recent: the thing itself is very ancient. The term Protestantism is scarcely older than 350 years. It dates from the protest which the Lutheran princes gave in to the Diet of Spires in 1529. Restricted to its historical signification, Protestantism is purely negative. It only defines the attitude taken up, at a great historical era, by one party in Christendom with reference to another party. But had this been all, Protestantism would have had no history. Had it been purely negative, it would have begun and ended with the men who assembled at the German town in the year already specified. The new world that has come out of it is the proof that at the bottom of this protest was a great principle which it has pleased Providence to fertilize, and make the seed of those grand, beneficent, and enduring achievements which have made the past three centuries in many respects the most eventful and wonderful in history.” J. A. Wylie, "The History of Protestantism, Vol 1"page 5

Wylie makes the point that even though the term itself is dependent upon that which is being protested against, the true origin of the point of view is a principle, a lifestyle choice, a belief system, a driving life force. First Wylie tells us what Protestantism is not.

“Protestantism is not solely the outcome of human progress; it is no mere principle of perfectibility inherent in humanity, and ranking as one of its native powers, in virtue of which when society becomes corrupt it can purify itself, and when it is arrested in its course by some external force, or stops from exhaustion, it can recruit its energies and set forward anew on its path. It is neither the product of the individual reason, nor the result of the joint thought and energies of the species.” J. A. Wylie, "The History of Protestantism, Vol 1"page 5

Then he tells us what Protestantism is. You will notice that his definition reaches beyond the normal historical narrative that we have become so accustomed to. In fact, he deals with the subject with great depth, reaching back to the source of human beginnings and revealing the merging of mankind with the divine. Listen to how he describes it here.

“Protestantism is a principle which has its origin outside human society: it is a Divine graft on the intellectual and moral nature of man, whereby new vitalities and forces are introduced into it, and the human stem yields henceforth a nobler fruit. It is the descent of a heaven-born influence which allies itself with all the instincts and powers of the individual, with all the laws and cravings of society, and which, quickening both the individual and the social being into a new life, and directing their efforts to nobler objects, permits the highest development of which humanity is capable, and the fullest possible accomplishment of all its grand ends. In a word, Protestantism is revived Christianity.” J. A. Wylie, "The History of Protestantism, Vol 1"page 5

In dealing with the early stages of Protestantism, Wylie begins with the work of the early church. He begins by describing the events that took place during the apostolic years and the speed with which the gospel went forth. The seed of the Protestant movement, he describes as being planted during the first three centuries. Listen to how he continues.

“The spread of Christianity during the first three centuries was rapid and extensive. The main causes that contributed to this were the translation of the Scriptures into the languages of the Roman world, the fidelity and zeal of the preachers of the Gospel, and the heroic deaths of the martyrs. It was the success of Christianity that first set limits to its progress. It had received a terrible blow; it is true, under Diocletian. This, which was the most terrible of all the early persecutions, had, in the belief of the Pagans, utterly exterminated the "Christian superstition" So far from this, it had but afforded the Gospel an opportunity of giving to the world a mightier proof of its divinity. It rose from the stakes and massacres of Diocletian, to begin a new career, in which it was destined to triumph over the empire which thought that it had crushed it.” J. A. Wylie, "The History of Protestantism, Vol 1"page 7

The persecutions, says Wylie, accomplished the opposite of what they were intended to do. The firm roots were established and remained untouched. The torture that was dished out served to confirm the correctness of the faith. The endurance of the saints served to draw others to Christ. Once planted, the seeds could never be destroyed.

We will continue in our next Editorial.

Cameron A. Bowen

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