Today is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation! We’re celebrating by examining the Five Solas the best way we know how: through the rulers in Lord of the Rings. For more information, see our preview post.
Spoiler warning:this post does contain minor spoilers for the film version of Return of the King.
The Stewards of Gondor swore two oaths: to yield his rule over Gondor until the rightful King’s return, and to lead Gondor faithfully until that day.
In his faithlessness, Denethor broke both of these oaths.
Denethor’s faithlessness led directly to his ruin.
Slowly losing faith in his own army and ability to defend his people, Denethor used a dangerous magical device to spy on the dark lord Sauron—but instead of information, he got despair. Convinced by Sauron that there was no hope to defeat the evil armies of Mordor, Denethor abdicated his oath to lead Gondor faithfully.
He didn’t prepare for a battle against the greatest threat in Middle-Earth. He sent his son on a dangerous mission that nearly killed him. He called for his soldiers to abandon their posts. He tried to put his son on a funeral pyre, ignoring objections that Faramir was still alive. And in their moment of greatest need, he left the nation of Gondor leaderless when he committed suicide.
Pretender to the Throne
Denethor told Gandalf that he would “not bow to this ranger from the North- last of a ragged house, long bereft of lordship.” He knew that Aragorn was the rightful King of Gondor, but yet refused to step down from his platform for him. Gandalf reminded him of his oath: “Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King, Steward.” But Denethor remained unmoved. “Rule of Gondor is mine, and no other’s!”
In his hopelessness, the only thing Denethor could cling to is his power. And cling he did, breaking his oath to yield his position to the rightful King.
He became a usurper; a pretender to the throne.
Faith and Law
The doctrine of Sola Fide promises that we are saved by faith alone; that our own works cannot add to the salvation Jesus won for us on the cross. The Reformation refutes those who would try to convince you that it isn’t enough; that you must also hold to the law—accomplish some work, or abstain from a sin—in order to win Christ’s favor.
Denethor’s faithlessness began when he tried to add something to his hope. Like our own sin, this faithlessness lied to him; convincing Denethor that there was no way out of his predicament. In his hopelessness, he abandoned his oath and tried to usurp the one true King.
Like the pretender-king, we usurp the true King when we try to earn our salvation on our own merits. Galatians 2:16 says that “by works of the law no one will be justified.” Isaiah 64:6 goes further, insisting that our good works are unclean, polluted, and fading.
When we try to earn our salvation with works, we’re usurping Jesus’ Kingship by our attempts to do what He already did.
Sola Fide urges us to trust in Christ’s salvation, not in our own works; because Christ alone, the true King, has given us justification and salvation. Don’t usurp His throne by your own polluted garments.
• • •
We hope you’ll continue celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation with us! The next article is coming soon.
Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture!