They said also that it is an error to suppose that the directions given in the New Testament for Christian worship and practice, were only fitted for those times. On the contrary, they were to hold good even to the end, for God changes not, and He gave rules and precepts which needed no change to make them suitable for following ages.
Human learning, they said, could add nothing to God's teaching. For did He not choose and send forth fishermen and working men, armed only with His power and wisdom? And was not that the time when He was most glorified before men? And was it not, because men fell away from the teaching of these apostles, that ruin, and misery, and darkness came upon the Churches of Asia, Europe, and Africa?
"Therefore," said they, "let our object be to go back to the days of the apostles, and draw from the fountain head, rather than from the polluted streams."
"These heretics teach," wrote one of the inquisitors, "that the teaching of Christ and the apostles is all that we need for salvation, even without the statutes of the Church."
It was also a charge brought against them, that they had no science, and learnt and taught "nothing but the Bible." "All of them," said one of their judges, "men and women , great and small, by day and by night, never cease learning or teaching the Bible. The working man who has no time by day, learns it in the night. Consequently they neglect their prayers" (that is, are not to be seen at mass).
As early as 1203, they had translated parts of the Bible into German, and so in other countries, otherwise this universal study of the Bible would of course have been impossible.
Meanwhile at the Council of Toulouse (1229) the decree was passed, "We also forbid that the books of the Old and New Testament should be on possession of laymen, and we desire to prevent by the severest measures that translations of these books in the vulgar tongue should be in the hands of laymen." It was perhaps to avoid some of these severe measures, that the "Brethren" translated parts of the Bible in the form of poems. And far from troubling themselves about any edicts to the contrary, they required of every grown up person that they should make a regular practice of reading the Bible.
Thus stood the forces of darkness and light arrayed against one another. Is it otherwise now?
It is but three years ago that a young student in the Church of Rome awoke to the fact that in spite of Pope and priests, of services and sacraments, infidelity is spreading far and wide, in so-called "Catholic" countries, and that the one remedy, as yet untried, would be the reading of the Word of God.
But, alas, even here in Eastern Europe, there were millions living around him, into whose dialect the Bible had never been translated. He determined therefore to begin this work by translating the New Testament from the Greek.
But time went on, and the first portion (one of the Gospels), which was to be printed and published first, whilst he worked at the remainder, remained always unfinished. Sometimes his papers were lost. Sometimes when posted to the publisher they never arrived. Sometimes they were locked up, and the key was not to be had. At last, some months ago, came the explanation.
"If I have not sent you the Gospel which I promised you, it is because I have been told that the Catholic religion forbids the circulation in the vulgar tongue of the Bible, without notes. However, I have not myself arrived at an absolute certainty that this prohibition is right. I should like to talk it over with you."
But soon after came the further news, "I have been threatened with the greater excommunication of the Church if I proceed with such a work. You can well believe that for a Catholic this is a terrible sentence. And as an obedient son of the Church, I can but desist from my labours. This is the true explanation of all the delays and difficulties of the past two years."
This, too, is the true explanation of the darkness of those ages in which the despised "Brethren" shone as lights in the world. Without creeds or catechisms -- scattered abroad from Spain to Hungary, from Calabria to England, from Provence to Eastern Prussia, their faith was one and the same, their teaching all alike -- for their one authority was the Word of God.
But, alas, there is a sad side to this bright picture, and to trace back the cause of it we also must go to the Word of God. We there read that even in the days of Paul, many had turned aside from the truth that he taught, and he foretold that in this respect, matters would wax worse and worse, that men should turn away their ears from the teaching of the apostles of the Lord, and give heed to those who would add the law to the Gospel.
And so it came to pass, that long before the first flight of the ancestors of the Waldenses to the mountain valleys, the blessed Gospel of the Lord was but half believed amongst the most enlightened. They had forgotten the great and wonderful teaching of Paul, and understood but little that which they remembered. They went back to the days before the death and resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, not seeing that as the seal set upon His blessed work, God was calling out from all nations those who should be joined to Christ in heaven by the Holy Ghost, to be one body -- the body of Christ.
Already in the days of Paul we see how many there were who would fain make up "another gospel" by adding on the law; as if the Church of God were but a continuation of His Old Testament people. Many who would prefer the old garment patched with the new cloth, and who would put the new wine into the old bottles.
And for this reason the solemn messages of God in Galatians, in Colossians, and in Hebrews, stand as warnings -- how often disregarded now!
We need not therefore be surprised to find that whilst the "Brethren" regarded every word of Christ as infallible, they considered the word of the apostles as of less authority. They went consequently to the Sermon on the Mount, rather than to the Epistles, for rules of practice; and supposed that the apostles were more or less enlightened according to the state of their souls.
They did not therefore regard the Epistles simply as the word of God Himself, in whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. They held them in reverence, and do not seem to have denied or disputed any part of them, but they considered that the words spoken by Christ when on earth were more to be regarded.
They did not in consequence understand or teach clearly those "many things" which the Lord declared He could not make known to His disciples till He was ascended into the glory, and the Comforter was come; and thus many of them no doubt taught the Gospel as if it were only a more perfect law. And as it always happens with people who do not fully understand the difference between the law and the Gospel, they failed to learn from the Old Testament that which God would teach us thereby.
For in the Old Testament we find types and shadows of "good things to come," which we never understand or value till we know what those good things are.
The Old Testament, as has often been said, is like a transparency, which is dim and confused till the light is placed behind it, which brings out every part into view.
But while most of the "Brethren" were thus cloudy and misty as to the full clear Gospel, as taught by Paul, we must not confound them all together, as though God did not teach each one by His Spirit as he was able to receive it. We sometimes talk of people, as though all who are called by the same name, and profess to hold the same doctrines, must necessarily be as much alike as fragments of the same bit of limestone.
But the truth is, that the doctrines we profess, even if perfectly in accordance with the Bible, may or may not have been taught us by God Himself. Each one really learns only as much as he has himself received from God. And the Lord teaches most to those who look most simply to Him, and who walk according to that which they have already received.