What Do Reformers Look Like?

We are familiar with Martin Luther’s image. It is striking and immediately recognisable. It is said that there was enormous demand for printed pictures of Luther in his lifetime. Lucas Cranach, in a particular portrait captured the intense eyes of the German reformer. But we do not intend to focus on the physical appearance of the reformers or even their unique personality traits. Fearlessness may not in fact be an essential requirement. It is the spiritual characteristics that matter most. What graces as well as gifts blend together in those that God uses to bring spiritual transformation?

Anthony Burgess helpfully outlines these from Scripture in a sermon preached before the House of Lords in Westminster. He shows that the work of Reformation requires the conflux of many noble and excellent graces. In particular, it helps us discern the difference between those who want to effect change in the Church of God under the influence of the ideas and tastes of mere men and those who have the sole purpose of glorifying God. We are all called to effect reformation in our own lives and families – we need to be reformers ourselves.

1. They Know God’s Will

They must have a clear understanding of God’s will out of His Word. The king was to write God’s Word, and to be acquainted and familiar with it (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). This was so that he might be better able to reform all the abuses that might creep into the worship of God. It is a great fault when men in place and power think that matters of religion do not belong to them at all. They cannot in fact discharge their duties, if they know do not from the Word what to do.

2. They have a Zeal for God

They have a zeal for God’s glory and His pure worship.  This was evident in David, Hezekiah and most remarkably in Christ Himself.  It is an excellent thing when rulers take God’s dishonour to heart more than their own. They ought to be most concerned about Christ’s laws.

3. They have Love for the Souls of Others

They have affections for people in general and love to the souls of others.  Unless a man is clothed with a public spirit he cannot labour for a reformation.  Nehemiah was in a good position personally, yet how deeply and sadly he was affected because the temple was desolate? Christ Himself at the very time when He was received with the greatest acclamations ignores this and weeps for Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39). God has dealt graciously with your hearts when neither riches, honours or any personal dignity can do you any good, until Jerusalem is established a praise in the earth. This is how it was with David.

4. They have Pure Aims

They have sincerity and pure aims.  Governors may be carried far in a reformation, yet if pure love to God and His ordinances are not the star which leads them, the outcome will be very uncomfortable. Jehu is a sad instance of this, though he did everything according to God’s heart (as Scripture says in 2 Kings 10:30-31) yet in Hosea 1:4, God threatens to be avenged on him. Take heed therefore of corrupt, political designs in promoting God’s work. This has often made God let His own ark fall into the hands of the Philistines. Not because His cause was not dear to him but because those who managed it had selfish interests.

5. They are Humble

They have humility under all the honours God that puts upon them.  This was eminent in Gideon and David. Those who are lifted up by any success that God bestows on them are like a blazing star that shine brightly at first but ultimately end in slime. John the Baptist produced a great reformation and had the eyes of the world on him. Yet he rejoiced because he must decrease and Christ must increase (John 3:29-30).

6. They are Eminently Holy

They have exemplary holiness of life.  Reformers must conform to the general rule that he who reproves others ought himself to be free from those sins.  Reformers must be an example to others; they are to others as the part-coloured sticks were to Jacob’s sheep (Genesis 30:37-43). It is very unfitting when governors make laws against impiety, profaning the Sabbath, contempt of holiness while these sins can be found in their lives or in their families?  Reformation is achieved in great measure when the lives and families of men are changed as well as when public worship and ordinances are reformed.

7. They have Believing Courage

Reformers must have fortitude and courage accompanied with faith.  Every reformation encounters great opposition and contempt.  When Hezekiah sent out messengers to call people to observe the Passover purely, they were mocked and scorned (2 Chronicles 30).  To endure all kinds of accusations and slanders and to be tried by God Himself requires humility and patience as well as faith and courage.

8. They are Prudent

Prudence and extraordinary wisdom are required in reformation.  Some think it was weakness for Gideon to go out with a few men at night but it showed his great prudence.  Anyone who has read Church History can see that imprudence has greatly hindered propagation of the truth. We must of course be careful that prudence does not degenerate into carnal and mere political wisdom. God ultimately makes this kind of wisdom to be seen as great folly, especially when it is accompanied with corruption of His worship.

Conclusion

Reformation depends on individuals and families living out the Word of God in all areas of practice as well as faith. It is about closer obedience to God’s revealed will. We may never be used to bring about wide scale change but this does not mean we cannot be reformers. These qualities are needed in our lives as we strive to submit to Scripture in everything. We must advance in reformation and encourage others in the work of reformation as far as possible.

These days we have few true reformers in the Church. We have enough transformers – those who have their own vision of change. Sometimes this is change for the sake of change because culture has changed. Reformation is God’s work as opposed to transformation through our own innovation and ideas. Reforming is a spiritual work that requires spiritual men using spiritual means for the spiritual good of Christ’s Church. We are all too aware of various trends in modern Christianity that mushroom and then evaporate. They promise much but are just reinventing aspects of faith and practice. We don’t need this. Instead, we can be solidly grounded through reformation according to God’s revealed will. We need those who will have the courage and wisdom to submit to the Word of God in everything.

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