10 Books for Remembering the Reformation
The arrival of the Autumn season, with the month of October in particular, ushers in a host of events, decorations, recipes—even scents—for occupants in the Northern hemisphere. Many prepare their homes both outside and in, eager for what the season will entail, while reflecting on what past Autumns have brought. This is especially true for the Christian!
When the calendar reads October, Christians ought of all people to be celebratory because so much of our Christian heritage—so much of God’s great work in His Church—brings us back to what occurred during this month during the period of the Reformation. Curious, are you? Consider…
- The Father of the English Bible (and language!)—the man through whom God chiefly worked to give you and me a Bible we can read—William Tyndale, was martyred on October 6th. His final prayer, ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes’, would be answered.
- The mighty Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, who stressed the authority of Scripture alone and modeled this conviction by preaching through the New Testament verse by verse, was killed in battle on October 11th. In his final moments, he refused to deny the Protestant faith, and likely proclaimed, ‘You may kill the body, but you cannot kill the soul!’, to the Catholic soldiers who then slew him and quartered his body.
- Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley— faithful servants of whom this world was not worthy—were burned at the stake on October 16th. Latimer’s final words to Ridley echo in our ears today: ‘Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.’ God did light a candle that day—and it still burns brightly.
- The famous starting point of the Reformation—the first trumpet blast— sounded out from the Castle Church door in Wittenberg Germany. A young monk named Martin Luther had posted his Ninety-Five Theses, alerting all who had ears to hear of the errors of Rome and of the need for repentance. This occurred on October 31st.
God has graciously given us another October. May we, in the spirit of Psalm 145:4, listen to this generation praise God’s works and learn as they declare His mighty acts. To aid in this process, here are ten books (a mix of history, biography, and theology) for remembering the Reformation—some detailing how God worked and others explaining what was (and still is!) at stake:
1. The Reformation by T. M. Lindsay
This remarkable book was a favorite of Spurgeon. It is a helpful summary of the key figures and places in the Reformation. Though condensed, Lindsay does not sacrifice, and in an economy of words thoroughly walks readers through the Reformation era. Especially commendable are the closing chapters on the principles of the Reformation, the why in the midst of the what.
2. History of The Reformation in Scotland by John Knox
What if you could listen to a first-hand account of how God worked in the land of lochs and castles, and learn from an eye-witness to the mighty working of the providence of God? Then read John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland. Dictated to his secretaries over several decades, Knox’s record is an intimate window into what took place. Hear him in his own words: ‘We write that the posterity to come may understand how patiently God wrought in preserving and delivering those that had but a small knowledge of the truth, and for the love of the same hazarded all.’
3. The Reformation in England by J. H. Merle d’Aubigné
For far too many, reading history is like reading a dictionary–factual, yet dull. Yet to read d’Aubigné on the Reformation in England is to be caught up in the retelling of a thrilling story— His-story (God’s) in England. As an added bonus, these two volumes are beautifully reproduced—some of the finest book production today, which will allow this important record to be preserved for the next generation.
4. Introducing Tyndale by John Piper, Robert Sheehan, and William Tyndale
A worthy piece to introduce you to the Father of the English Bible. It is a treat to read John Piper’s biographical introduction and learn of the ‘one note’ of Tyndale’s life–a note that should sound forth from us today. Then read an extract from one of Tyndale’s most important pieces and hear his defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It will help encourage you to read the Reformers themselves.
5. Five English Reformers by J. C. Ryle
Good advice comes in two words: Read Ryle. This is especially true in his account of five noteworthy believers who were martyred for their beliefs. An important first chapter helps readers understand why these Reformers were burned at the stake, and why the Reformation was necessary. Hear and heed some of Ryle’s opening words: ‘There are certain facts in history which the world tries hard to forget and ignore. …Truth is truth, however long it may be neglected. Facts are facts, however long they may lie buried. I only want to dig up some old facts which the sands of time have covered over, to bring to the light of day some old English monuments which have been long neglected, to unstop some old wells which the prince of this world has been diligently filling with earth.’
6. Masters of the English Reformation by Sir Marcus Loane
A classic and moving account on the lives of Thomas Bilney, William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer. Have a box of tissues close by as you learn of the faith and fortitude of some of God’s choicest children. Especially moving is the chapter on Tyndale—you will feel thankful for the gift of having an English Bible, and consequently humbled for not treasuring this gift as you ought.
7. John Knox and the Reformation by Iain Murray and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Three addresses by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray on John Knox and what took place in Scotland will ultimately help the reader remember, consider, and imitate the faith of Knox (Heb. 13:7). You will be stirred up when reading words like these from Lloyd-Jones:
‘The times are alarming—”the time of need”. The one thing necessary is to find this God, and there seated at his right hand, the One who has been in this world and knows all about it, has seen its shame, its sin, its vileness, its rottenness face to face; friend of publicans and sinners, a man who knew the hatred and the animosity of the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees, the doctors of the law, and Pontius Pilate. The whole world was against him, and yet he triumphed through it all; he is there, and he is our representative and high priest. Believe in him, hold fast to the confession. Let us go in his name with boldness unto the throne of grace, and as certainly as we do so we shall obtain the mercy that we need for our sinfulness and unfaithfulness, and we shall be given the grace to help us in our time of need, in our day and generation. The God of John Knox is still there, and still the same, and thank God, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Oh, that we might know the God of John Knox!’
8. The Case for Traditional Protestantism by Terry Johnson
How often do we hear of the Solas of the Reformation, and yet need help remembering what they were and why they are central. Johnson’s book ably unpacks each Sola while mixing in different references and illustrations from church history, helping any reader be rooted in Scripture and the understanding that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone.
9. The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation by William Cunningham
A classic Reformation volume by one of the ablest historical theologians. Cunningham, known for his magisterial two volume work on historical theology, applies his skill to the Reformation era. This volume is not for the faint of heart—close and slow reading is needed—yet rich dividends come to the patient and diligent.
10. The Works of William Tyndale
At some point, readers of church history and theology need to move beyond secondary sources and return to primary sources—in this case, the original writings of Reformers. Where better to start than with Tyndale himself! Volume one contains key tracts written in defense of the Protestant faith and prologues to books of the Bible he translated. These prologues are brief yet packed with insightful commentary on Scripture, like his succinct yet choice explanation of how to reconcile James’ justification by works with Paul’s justification by faith, in the prologue to James. Volume two contains several selections including his exposition on the Sermon on the Mount and 1 John.
Take up and read!
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