The 16th century reformation is often understood in terms of the five ‘alones’:
- Scripture alone
- Grace alone
- Faith alone
- Christ alone
- To the Glory of God alone
Probably none of these were fully developed in the mind of Martin Luther in 1517 when he nailed his 95 theses for debate to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. But he was certainly moving in their direction. Take for example thesis 37:
Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
A few years later Luther was crystal clear:
Outside of Christ there is nothing but Satan, apart from grace nothing but wrath, apart from light only darkness, apart from the way only error, apart from the truth only a lie, apart from life only death (The Bondage of the Will, 1525)
How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: “The man who is named Jesus Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins.” The heavy artillery of these words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? (Luther’s commentary on Galatians, 1535 – worth reading the whole commentary which all makes the point, in fiery language, that salvation is by Christ alone)
A few years later again the French reformer John Calvin wrote:
We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is ‘of him’ (1 Cor. 1:30)… If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth (Heb. 2:17; 5:2)… If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Gal. 3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven… In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other. (Institutes, 2.26.19, 1559 edition).