Charles the Fifth seemed to be the man for his time: the newly crowned emperor of Europe. And then he met Martin Luther - and his troubles began. For it led to a battle that would last the rest of his lifetime, a battle he would ultimately lose.
Hear Marlin Luther defend the Word of God before the great men of earth - though he knew it meant his death. This is a story that you will want to read for sure.
A new emperor, Charles the Fifth, had ascended the throne of Germany, and the emissaries of Rome hastened to present their congratulations, and induce the monarch to employ his power against the Reformation. On the other hand, the Elector of Saxony, to whom Charles was in great degree indebted for his crown, entreated him to take no step against Luther until he should have granted him a hearing. The emperor was thus placed in a position of great perplexity and embarrassment. The papists would be satisfied with nothing short of an imperial edict sentencing Luther to death. The elector had declared firmly that neither his imperial majesty nor any one else had yet made it appear to him that the Reformer's writings had been refuted; therefore he requested that Doctor Luther be furnished with a safe-conduct, so that he might answer for himself before a tribunal of learned, pious, and impartial judges.
The attention of all parties was now directed to the assembly of the German States which convened at Worms soon after the accession of Charles to the empire. There were important political questions and interests to be considered by this national council; but these appeared of little moment when contrasted with the cause of the monk of Wittemberg.
Charles had previously directed the elector to bring Luther with him to the Diet, assuring him that the Reformer should be protected from all violence, and should be allowed a free conference with one competent to discuss the dised points. Luther was anxious to appear before the emperor. His health was at this time much impaired; yet he wrote to the elector: "If I cannot perform the journey to Worms in good health, I will be carried there, sick as I am. For, since the emperor has summoned me, I cannot doubt that it is the call of God himself. If they intend to use violence against me, as they probably do, for assuredly it is with no view of gaining information that they require me to appear before them, I place the matter in the Lord's hands. He still lives and reigns who preserved the three Israelites in the fiery furnace. If it be not his will to save me, my life is of little consequence. Let us only take care that the gospel be not exposed to the scorn of the ungodly, and let us shed our blood in its defense rather than allow them to triumph. Who shall say whether my life or my death would contribute most to the salvation of my brethren?" "Expect anything from me but flight or recantation. Fly I cannot; still less can I recant."
As the news was circulated at Worms that Luther was to appear before the Diet, a general excitement was created. Aleander, the papal legate to whom his case had been specially intrusted, was alarmed and enraged. He saw that the result would be disastrous to the papal cause. To institute inquiry into a case in which the pope had already pronounced sentence of condemnation, would be to cast contempt upon the authority of the sovereign pontiff. Furthermore, he was apprehensive that the eloquent and powerful arguments of this man might turn away many of the princes from the cause of the pope. He therefore, in the most urgent manner, remonstrated with Charles against Luther's appearance at Worms. He warned, entreated, and threatened, until the emperor yielded, and wrote to the elector that if Luther would not retract, he must remain at Wittemberg.
Not content with this victory, Aleander labored with all the power and cunning at his command to secure Luther's condemnation. With a persistence worthy of a better cause, he urged the matter upon the attention of princes, prelates, and other members of the assembly, accusing the Reformer of sedition, rebellion, impiety, and blasphemy. But the vehemence and passion manifested by the legate plainly revealed that he was actuated by hatred and revenge rather than by zeal for religion. It was the prevailing sentiment of the assembly that Luther was innocent.
With redoubled zeal, Aleander urged upon the emperor the duty of executing the papal edicts. Overcome at last by this importunity, Charles bade the legate present his case to the Diet. Rome had few advocates better fitted, by nature and education, to defend her cause. The friends of the Reformer looked forward with some anxiety to the result of Aleander's speech.
There was no little excitement when the legate, with great dignity and pomp, appeared before the national assembly. Many called to mind the scene of our Saviour's trial, when Annas and Caiaphas, before the judgment-seat of Pilate, demanded the death of him "that perverted the people."
With all the power of learning and eloquence, Aleander set himself to overthrow the truth. Charge after charge he hurled against Luther as an enemy of the Church and the State, the living and the dead, clergy and laity, councils and private Christians. "There is enough in the errors of Luther." he declared, "to warrant the burning of a hundred thousand heretics."
In conclusion, he endeavored to cast contempt upon the adherents of the reformed faith: "What are all these Lutherans? — A motley rabble of insolent grammarians, corrupt priests, dissolute monks, ignorant lawyers, and degraded nobles, with the common people whom they have misled and perverted. How greatly superior is the Catholic party in numbers, intelligence, and power! A unanimous decree from this illustrious assembly will open the eyes of the simple, show the unwary their danger, determine the wavering, and strengthen the weak-hearted."
With such weapons have the advocates of truth in every age been attacked. The same arguments are still urged against all who dare to present, in opposition to established errors, the plain and direct teachings of God's word. "Who are these preachers of new doctrines?" exclaim those who desire a popular religion. "They are unlearned, few in numbers, and of the poorer class. Yet they claim to have the truth, and to be the chosen people of God. They are ignorant and deceived. How greatly superior in numbers and influence are our denominations! How many great and learned men are in our churches! How much more power is on our side!" These are the arguments that have a telling influence upon the world; but they are no more conclusive now than in the days of the Reformer.
The Reformation did not, as many suppose, end with Luther. It is to be continued to the close of this world's history. Luther had a great work to do in reflecting to others the light which God had permitted to shine upon him; yet he did not receive all the light which was to be given to the world. From that time to this, new light has been continually shining upon the Scriptures, and new truths have been constantly unfolding.
The legate's address made a deep impression upon the Diet. There was no Luther present, with the clear and convincing truths of God's word, to vanquish the papal champion. No attempt was made to defend the Reformer. There was manifest a general impulse to root out the Lutheran heresy from the empire. Rome had enjoyed the most favorable opportunity to defend her cause. The greatest of her orators had spoken. All that she could say in her own vindication had been said. But the apparent victory was the signal of defeat. Henceforth the contrast between truth and error would be more clearly seen, as they should take the field in open warfare. Never from that day would Rome stand as secure as she had stood.
The majority of the assembly were ready to sacrifice Luther to the demands of the pope; but many of them saw and deplored the existing depravity in the church, and desired a suppression of the abuses suffered by the German people in consequence of Rome's corruption and greed of gain. The legate had presented the papal rule in the most favorable light. Now the Lord moved upon a member of the Diet to give a true delineation of the effects of papal tyranny. With noble firmness, Duke George of Saxony stood up in that princely assembly, and specified with terrible exactness the deceptions and abominations of popery, and their dire results. In closing he said:
"These are but a few of the abuses which cry out against Rome for redress. All shame is laid aside, and one object alone incessantly pursued: money! evermore money! so that the very men whose duty it is to teach the truth, utter nothing but falsehoods, and are not only tolerated but rewarded; because the greater their lies, the greater are their gains. This is the foul source from which so many corrupt streams flow out on every side. Profligacy and avarice go hand in hand. Alas! it is the scandal caused by the clergy that plunges so many poor souls into everlasting perdition. A thorough reform must be effected."
A more able and forcible denunciation of the papal abuses could not have been made by Luther himself; and the fact that the speaker was a determined enemy of the Reformer, gave greater influence to his words.
Had the eyes of the assembly been opened, they would have beheld angels of God in the midst of them, shedding beams of light athwart the darkness of error, and opening minds and hearts to the reception of truth. It was the power of the God of truth and wisdom that controlled even the adversaries of the Reformation, and thus prepared the way for the great work about to be accomplished. Martin Luther was not present; but the voice of One greater than Luther had been heard in that assembly.
The council now demanded the Reformer's appearance before them. Notwithstanding the entreaties, protests, and threats of Aleander, the emperor at last consented, and Luther was summoned to appear before the Diet. With the summons was issued a safe-conduct, insuring his return to a place of security. These were borne to Wittemberg by a herald, who was commissioned to conduct him to Worms.
The friends of Luther were terrified and distressed. Knowing the prejudice and enmity against him, they feared that even his safe-conduct would not be respected, and they entreated him not to imperil his life. He replied: "The papists have little desire to see me at Worms, but they long for my condemnation and death. It matters not. Pray not for me, but for the word of God.... Christ will give me his Spirit to overcome these ministers of Satan. I despise them while I live; I will triumph over them by my death. They are busy at Worms about compelling me to recant. My recantation shall be this: I said formerly that the pope was Christ's vicar; now I say that he is the adversary of the Lord, and the apostle of the devil."
Luther was not to make his perilous journey alone. Besides the imperial messenger, three of his firmest friends determined to accompany him. A multitude of students and citizens, to whom the gospel was precious, bade him farewell with weeping, as he departed. Thus the Reformer and his companions set out from Wittemberg.
On the journey they saw that the minds of the people were oppressed by gloomy forebodings. At some towns no honors were proffered them. As they stopped for the night, a friendly priest expressed his fears by holding up before Luther the portrait of an Italian reformer who had suffered martyrdom for the truth's sake. The next day they learned that Luther's writings had been condemned at Worms. Imperial messengers were proclaiming the emperor's decree, and urging all men to bring the proscribed works to the magistrates. The herald, in alarm, asked the Reformer if he still wished to go forward. He answered, "I will go on, though I should be under interdict in every town."
At Erfurth, Luther was received with honor. Surrounded by admiring crowds, he entered the city where, in his earlier years, he had often begged a morsel of bread. He was urged to preach. This he had been forbidden to do; but the herald gave his consent, and the monk whose duty it once was to unclose the gates and sweep the aisles, now ascended the pulpit, while the people listened to his words as if spell-bound. The bread of life was broken to those starving souls. Christ was lifted up before them as above popes, legates, emperors, and kings. Luther made no reference to his own perilous position. He did not seek to make himself the object of thought or sympathy. In the contemplation of Christ, he had lost sight of self. He hid behind the Man of Calvary, seeking only to present Jesus as the sinner's Redeemer.
As the Reformer proceeded on his journey, he was everywhere regarded with great interest. An eager multitude thronged about him; and friendly voices warned him of the purpose of the Romanists. "You will be burned alive," said they, "and your body reduced to ashes, as was that of John Huss." Luther answered, "Though they should kindle a fire all the way from Worms to Wittemberg, whose flames should rise up to heaven, I would go through it in the name of the Lord, and stand before them; I would enter the jaws of this behemoth, and break his teeth, confessing the Lord Jesus Christ."
The news of his approach to Worms created great commotion. His friends trembled for his safety; his enemies feared for the success of their cause. Strenuous efforts were made to dissuade him from entering the city. The papists urged him to repair to the castle of a friendly knight, where, they declared, all difficulties could be amicably adjusted. The advocates of truth endeavored to excite his fears by describing the dangers that threatened him. All their efforts failed. Luther, still unshaken, declared, "Though there should be as many devils at Worms as there are tiles on its roofs, I would enter."
Upon his arrival at Worms, the crowd that flocked to the gates to welcome him was even greater than at the public entry of the emperor himself. The excitement was intense, and from the midst of the throng a shrill and plaintive voice chanted a funeral dirge, as a warning to Luther of the fate that awaited him. "God will be my defense," said he, as he alighted from his carriage.
The emperor immediately convoked his council to consider what course should be pursued toward Luther. One of the bishops, a rigid papist, declared: "We have long consulted on this matter. Let your majesty get rid of this man at once. Did not Sigismund bring John Huss to the stake? We are under no obligation either to give or to observe the safe-conduct of a heretic." "Not so," said the emperor; "we must keep our promise." It was therefore decided that the Reformer should be heard.
All the city were eager to see this remarkable man, and he had enjoyed but a few hours' rest when noblemen, knights, priests, and citizens gathered about him. Even his enemies marked his firm, courageous bearing, the kindly and joyous expression upon his countenance, and the solemn elevation and deep earnestness that gave to his words an irresistible power. Some were convinced that a divine influence attended him; others declared, as had the Pharisees concerning Christ, "He hath a devil."
On the following day, Luther was summoned to attend the Diet. An imperial officer was appointed to conduct him to the hall of audience; yet it was with difficulty that he reached the place. Every avenue was crowded with spectators, eager to look upon the monk who had dared resist the authority of the pope.
As he was about to enter the presence of his judges, an old general, the hero of many battles, said to him kindly, "Poor monk! poor monk! thou art now going to make a nobler stand than I, or any other captains, have ever made in our most bloody battles. But if thy cause is just, and thou art sure of it, go forward in God's name, and fear nothing! He will not forsake thee."
At length Luther stood before the council. The emperor occupied the throne. He was surrounded by the most illustrious personages in the empire. Never had any man appeared in the presence of a more imposing assembly than that before which Martin Luther was to answer for his faith.
The very fact of that appearance was a signal victory for the truth. That a man whom the pope had condemned should be judged by another tribunal, was virtually a denial of the pontiff's supreme authority. The Reformer, placed under ban, and denounced from human fellowship by the pope, had been assured protection, and was granted a hearing, by the highest dignitaries of the nation. Rome had commanded him to be silent; but he was about to speak in the presence of thousands from all parts of Christendom.
In the presence of that powerful and titled assembly, the lowly-born Reformer seemed awed and embarrassed. Several of the princes, observing his emotion, approached him, and one of them whispered, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul." Another said, "When ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, it shall be given you, by the Spirit of your Father, what ye shall say." Thus the words of Christ were brought by the world's great men to strengthen his servant in the hour of trial.
Luther was conducted to a position directly in front of the emperor's throne. A deep silence fell upon the crowded assembly. Then an imperial officer arose, and, pointing to a collection of Luther's writings, demanded that the Reformer answer two questions,—whether he acknowledged them as his, and whether he proposed to retract the opinions which he had therein advanced. Luther replied that as to the first question, he acknowledged the books to be his. "As to the second," he said, "seeing it is a question which concerns faith, the salvation of souls, and the word of God, which is the greatest and most precious treasure either in Heaven or earth, it would be rash and perilous for me to reply without reflection. I might affirm less than the circumstances demand, or more than truth requires; in either case I should fall under the sentence of Christ: 'Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before the Father which is in Heaven.' For this reason I entreat your imperial majesty, with all humility, to allow me time, that I may answer without offending against the word of God."
In making this request, Luther moved wisely. His course convinced the assembly that he did not act from passion or impulse. Such calmness and self-command, unexpected in one who had shown himself bold and uncompromising, added to his power, and enabled him afterward to answer with a prudence, decision, wisdom, and dignity, that surprised and disappointed his adversaries, and rebuked their insolence and pride.
The next day he was to appear to render his second answer. For a time his heart sunk within him as he contemplated the forces that were combined against the truth. His faith faltered as his enemies seemed to multiply before him, and the powers of darkness to prevail. Clouds gathered about him, and seemed to separate him from God. He longed for the assurance that the Lord of hosts would be with him. In anguish of spirit he threw himself with his face upon the earth, and poured out those broken, heart-rending cries which none but God can fully understand. In his helplessness, his soul fastened upon Christ, the mighty deliverer. It was not for his own safety, but for the success of the truth, that he wrestled with God; and he prevailed. He was strengthened with the assurance that he would not appear alone before the council. Peace returned to his soul, and he rejoiced that he was permitted to uphold and defend the word of God before the rulers of the nation. An all-wise providence had permitted Luther to realize his peril, that he might not trust to his own strength and wisdom, and rush presumptuously into danger. God was preparing his servant for the great work before him.
As the time for his appearance drew near, Luther approached a table on which lay the Holy Scriptures, placed his left hand upon the sacred volume, and, raising his right hand to Heaven, he vowed to adhere constantly to the gospel, and to confess his faith freely, even though he should be called to seal his testimony with his blood.
When he was again ushered into the presence of the Diet, his countenance bore no trace of fear or embarrassment. Calm and peaceful, yet grandly brave and noble, he stood as God's witness among the great ones of the earth. The imperial officer now demanded his decision as to whether he desired to retract his doctrines. Luther made his answer in a subdued and humble tone, without violence or passion. His demeanor was diffident and respectful; yet he manifested a confidence and joy that surprised the assembly.
He stated that his published works were not all of the same character. In some he had treated of faith and good works, and even his enemies declared them not only harmless but profitable. To retract these would be to condemn truths which all parties confessed. The second class consisted of writings exposing the corruptions and abuses of the papacy. To revoke these works would strengthen the tyranny of Rome, and open a wider door to many and great impieties. In the third class of his books he had attacked individuals who had defended existing evils. Concerning these he freely confessed that he had been more violent than was becoming. He did not claim to be free from fault; but even these books he could not revoke, for such a course would embolden the enemies of truth, and they would then take occasion to crush God's people with still greater cruelty.
"But as I am a mere man, and not God," he continued, "I will defend myself as did Christ, who said, 'If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.' By the mercy of God, I implore your imperial majesty, or any one else who can, whoever he may be, to prove to me from the writings of the prophets that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will be the first to cast my books into the fire. What I have just said, will show that I have considered and weighed the dangers to which I am exposing myself; but far from being dismayed by them, I rejoice exceedingly to see the gospel this day, as of old, a cause of trouble and dissension. This is the character, the destiny, of God's word. Said Christ, 'I came not to send peace, but a sword.' God is wonderful and terrible in his counsels. Let us have a care lest in our endeavors to arrest discords we be found to fight against the holy word of God, and bring down upon our heads a frightful deluge of inextricable dangers, present disaster, and everlasting desolation.... I might cite examples drawn from the oracles of God. I might speak of Pharaohs, of kings of Babylon or of Israel, who were never more contributing to their own ruin than when, by measures in appearance most prudent, they thought to establish their authority. God 'removeth the mountains, and they know not."'
Luther had spoken in German; he was now requested to repeat the same words in Latin. Though exhausted by the previous effort, he complied, and again delivered his speech, with the same clearness and energy as at the first. God's providence directed in this matter. The minds of many of the princes were so blinded by error and superstition that at the first delivery they did not see the force of Luther's reasoning; but the repetition enabled them clearly to perceive the points presented.
Those who stubbornly closed their eyes to the light, and determined not to be convinced of the truth, were enraged at the power of Luther's words. As he ceased speaking, the spokesman of the Diet said angrily, "You have not answered the question. A clear and express reply is demanded. Will you or will you not retract?"
The Reformer answered: "Since your most serene majesty and the princes require a simple answer, I will give it thus: Unless I shall be convinced by proofs from Scripture or by evident reason (for I believe neither in popes nor in councils, since they have frequently erred and contradicted themselves), I cannot choose but adhere to the word of God, which has possession of my conscience. Nor can I possibly nor will I ever make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience. Here I take my stand; I cannot do otherwise. God be my help! Amen."
Thus stood this righteous man, upon the sure foundation of the word of God. The light of Heaven illuminated his countenance. His greatness and purity of character, his peace and joy of heart, were manifest to all as he testified against the power of error, and witnessed to the superiority of that faith that overcomes the world.
The whole assembly were for a time speechless with amazement. The emperor himself and many of the princes were struck with admiration. The partisans of Rome had been worsted; their cause appeared in a most unfavorable light. They sought to maintain their power, not by appealing to the Scriptures, but by a resort to threats, Rome's unfailing argument. Said the spokesman of the Diet, "If you do not retract, the emperor and the States of the empire will proceed to consider how to deal with an obstinate heretic."
Luther's friends, who had with great joy listened to his noble defense, trembled at these words; but the doctor himself said calmly, "May God be my helper! for I can retract nothing."
Firm as a rock he stood, while the fiercest billows of worldly power beat harmlessly against him. The simple energy of his words, his fearless bearing, his calm, speaking eye, and the unalterable determination expressed in every word and act, made a deep impression upon the assembly. It was evident that he could not be induced, either by promises or threats, to yield to the mandate of Rome.
The papist leaders were chagrined that their power, which had caused kings and nobles to tremble, should be thus despised by a humble monk; they longed to make him feel their wrath by torturing his life away. But Luther, understanding his danger, had spoken to all with Christian dignity and calmness. His words had been free from pride, passion, and misrepresentation. He lost sight of himself, and of the great men surrounding him, and felt only that he was in the presence of One infinitely superior to popes, prelates, kings, and emperors. Christ had spoken through Luther's testimony with a power and grandeur that for the time inspired both friends and foes with awe and wonder. The Spirit of God had been present in that council, impressing the hearts of the chiefs of the empire. Several of the princes openly acknowledged the justice of Luther's cause. Many were convinced of the truth; but with some the impressions received were not lasting. There was another class who did not at the time express their convictions, but who, having searched the Scriptures for themselves, at a future time declared with great boldness for the Reformation.
The elector Frederick had looked forward with anxiety to Luther's appearance before the Diet, and with deep emotion he listened to his speech. He rejoiced at the doctor's courage, firmness, and self-possession, and was proud of being his protector. He contrasted the parties in contest, and saw that the wisdom of popes, kings, and prelates had been brought to naught by the power of truth. The papacy had sustained a defeat which would be felt among all nations and in all ages.
As the legate perceived the effect produced by Luther's speech, he feared, as never before, for the security of the Romish power, and resolved to employ every means at his command to effect the Reformer's overthrow. With all the eloquence and diplomatic skill for which he was so eminently distinguished, he represented to the youthful emperor the folly and danger of sacrificing, in the cause of an insignificant monk, the friendship and support of the powerful see of Rome.
His words were not without effect. On the day following Luther's answer, Charles Fifth caused a message to be presented to the Diet, announcing his determination to carry out the policy of his predecessors to maintain and protect the Catholic religion. Since Luther had refused to renounce his errors, the most vigorous measures should be employed against him and the heresies he taught. Nevertheless, the safe-conduct granted him must be respected, and before proceedings against him could be instituted, he must be allowed to reach his home in safety.
"I am firmly resolved to tread in the footsteps of my ancestors," wrote the monarch. He had decided that he would not step out of the path of the custom, even to walk in the ways of truth and righteousness. Because his fathers did, he would uphold the papacy, with all its cruelty and corruption. Thus he took his position, refusing to accept any light in advance of what his fathers had received, or to perform any duty that they had not performed.
He seemed to feel that a change of religious views would be inconsistent with the dignity of a king. There are many at the present day thus clinging to the customs and traditions of their fathers. When the Lord sends them additional light, they refuse to accept it, because, not having been granted to their fathers, it was not received by them. We are not placed where our fathers were; consequently our duties and responsibilities are not the same as theirs. We shall not be approved of God in looking to the example of our fathers to determine our duty instead of searching the word of truth for ourselves. Our responsibility is greater than was that of our ancestors. We are accountable for the light which they received, and which was handed down as an inheritance for us, and we are accountable also for the additional light which is now shining upon us from the word of God.
Said Christ of the unbelieving Jews, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin." [John 15:22]. The same divine power had spoken through Luther to the emperor and princes of Germany. And as the light shone forth from God's word, his Spirit pleaded for the last time with many in that assembly. As Pilate, centuries before, permitted pride and popularity to close his heart against the world's Redeemer; as the trembling Felix bade the messenger of truth, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee;" as the proud Agrippa confessed, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian," yet turned away from the Heaven-sent message, — so had Charles Fifth, yielding to the dictates of worldly pride and policy, decided to reject the light of truth.
Several of the pope's adherents demanded that Luther's safe-conduct should not be respected. "The Rhine," they said, "should receive his ashes, as it received those of John Huss a century ago." Rumors of the designs against Luther were widely circulated, causing great excitement throughout the city. The Reformer had made many friends, who, knowing the treacherous cruelty of Rome toward all that dared expose her corruptions, resolved that he should not be sacrificed. Hundreds of nobles pledged themselves to protect him. Not a few openly denounced the royal message as evincing a weak submission to the controlling power of Rome. On the gates of houses and in public places, placards were posted, some condemning and others sustaining Luther. On one of them were written merely the significant words of the wise man, "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child." The popular enthusiasm in Luther's favor throughout all Germany convinced both the emperor and the Diet that any injustice shown him would endanger the peace of the empire, and even the stability of the throne.
Frederick of Saxony maintained a studied reserve, carefully concealing his real feelings toward the Reformer, while at the same time he guarded him with tireless vigilance, watching all his movements and all those of his enemies. But there were many who made no attempt to conceal their sympathy. Princes, knights, gentlemen, ecclesiastics, and common people surrounded Luther's lodgings, entering and gazing upon him as though he were more than human. Even those who believed him to be in error could not but admire that nobility of soul which led him to imperil his life rather than violate his conscience.
Earnest efforts were made to obtain Luther's consent to a compromise with Rome. Nobles and princes represented to him that if he persisted in setting up his own judgment against that of the church and the councils, he would soon be banished from the empire, and then would have no defense. To this appeal Luther answered: "It is impossible to preach the gospel of Christ without offense. Why, then, should the fear of danger separate me from the Lord and that divine word which alone is truth? No; I would rather give up my body, my blood, and my life."
Again he was urged to submit to the judgment of the emperor, and then he would have nothing to fear. "I consent," said he in reply, "with all my heart, that the emperor, the princes, and even the humblest Christian, should examine and judge my writings; but on one condition, that they take God's word for their guide. Men have nothing to do but render obedience to that. My conscience is in dependence upon that word, and I am the subject of its authority."
To another appeal he said, "I consent to forego my safe-conduct, and resign my person and my life to the emperor's disposal; but as to the word of God — never!" He stated his willingness to submit to the decision of a general council, but only on condition that the council be required to decide according to the Scriptures. Both friends and foes were at last convinced that further effort for reconciliation would be useless.
Had the Reformer yielded a single point, Satan and his hosts would have gained the victory. But his unwavering firmness was the means of emancipating the church, and beginning a new and better era. The influence of this one man, who dared to think and act for himself in religious matters, was to affect the church and the world, not only in his own time, but in all future generations. His firmness and fidelity would strengthen all, to the close of time, who should pass through a similar experience. The power and majesty of God stood forth above the counsel of men, above the mighty power of Satan.
Luther was soon commanded by the authority of the emperor to return home, and he knew that this notice would be speedily followed by his condemnation. Threatening clouds overhung his path; but as he departed from Worms, his heart was filled with joy and praise. "Satan himself," said he, "kept the pope's citadel; but Christ has made a wide breach in it, and the devil has been compelled to confess that Christ is mightier than he." On this journey the Reformer received the most flattering attentions from all classes. Dignitaries of the church welcomed the monk upon whom the pope's curse rested, and secular officers honored the man who was under the ban of the empire.
He had not been long absent from Worms, when the papists prevailed upon the emperor to issue an edict against him. In this decree Luther was denounced as "Satan himself under the semblance of a man in a monk's hood." It was commanded that as soon as his safe-conduct should expire, measures be taken to stop his work. All persons were forbidden to harbor him, to give him food or drink, or by word or act, in public or private, to aid or abet him. He was to be seized wherever he might be, and delivered to the authorities. His adherents also were to be imprisoned, and their property confiscated. His writings were to be destroyed, and finally, all who should dare to act contrary to this decree were included in its condemnation. The emperor had spoken, and the Diet had given its sanction to the decree. The Romanists were jubilant. Now they considered the fate of the Reformation sealed.
God had provided a way of escape for his servant in this hour of peril. A vigilant eye had followed Luther's movements, and a true and noble heart had resolved upon his rescue. It was plain that Rome would be satisfied with nothing short of his death; only by concealment could he be preserved from the jaws of the lion. God gave wisdom to Frederick of Saxony to devise a plan for the Reformer's preservation. With the co-operation of true friends, the elector's purpose was carried out, and Luther was effectually hidden from friends and foes. Upon his homeward journey, he was seized, separated from his attendants, and hurriedly conveyed through the forests to the castle of Wartburg, an isolated mountain fortress. Both his seizure and his concealment were so involved in mystery that even Frederick himself for a long time knew not whither he had been conducted. This ignorance was not without design: so long as the elector knew nothing of Luther's whereabouts, he could reveal nothing. He satisfied himself that the Reformer was safe, and with this knowledge he was content.
Spring, summer, and autumn passed, and winter came, and Luther still remained a prisoner. Aleander and his partisans rejoiced that the light of the gospel seemed about to be extinguished. But instead of this, the Reformer was filling his lamp from the store-house of truth, to shine forth in due time with brighter radiance.
In the friendly security of the Wartburg, Luther for a time rejoiced in his release from the heat and turmoil of battle. But he could not long find satisfaction in quiet and repose. Accustomed to a life of activity and stern conflict, he could ill endure to remain inactive. In those solitary days, the condition of the church rose up before him, and he cried in despair, "Alas! there is no one in this latter day of His anger to stand like a wall before the Lord, and save Israel!" Again, his thoughts returned to himself, and he feared being charged with cowardice in withdrawing from the contest. Then he reproached himself for his indolence and self-indulgence. Yet at the same time he was daily accomplishing more than it seemed possible for one man to do. His pen was never idle. While his enemies flattered themselves that he was silenced, they were astonished and confused by tangible proof that he was still active. A host of tracts, issuing from his pen, circulated throughout Germany. He also performed a most important service for his countrymen by translating the New Testament into the German tongue. From his rocky Patmos he continued for nearly a whole year to proclaim the gospel, and rebuke the sins and errors of the times.
But it was not merely to preserve Luther from the wrath of his enemies, nor even to afford him a season of quiet for these important labors, that God had withdrawn his servant from the stage of public life. There were results more precious than these to be secured. In the solitude and obscurity of his mountain retreat, Luther was removed from earthly supports, and shut out from human praise. He was thus saved from the pride and self-confidence that are so often caused by success. By suffering and humiliation he was prepared again to walk safely upon the dizzy heights to which he had been so suddenly exalted.
As men rejoice in the freedom which the truth brings them, they are inclined to extol those whom God has employed to break the chains of error and superstition. Satan seeks to divert men's thoughts and affections from God, and fix them upon human agencies; to honor the mere instrument, and to ignore the Hand that directs all the events of providence. Too often, religious leaders who are thus praised and reverenced lose sight of their dependence upon God, and are led to trust in themselves. As a result, they seek to control the minds and consciences of the people, who are disposed to look to them for guidance instead of looking to the word of God. The work of reform is often retarded because of this spirit indulged by its supporters. From this danger, God would guard the cause of the Reformation. He desired that work to receive, not the impress of man, but of God. The eyes of men had been turned to Luther as the expounder of the truth; he was removed that all eyes might be directed to the eternal Author of truth.
HISTORICAL DATING OF THIS CHAPTER
Charles V (1500-1558), the new emperor, was only 21 when he convened the Diet [Council] of Worms. Meeting in November 1520, Luther appeared before it on April 17, 1521, and gave his defense the next day. After being secretly taken to the Wartburg Castle [away from persecting, murderous Papists], he began translating the New Testament in December. It was published in September 1522.
CHAPTER SUPPLEMENT - TRUSTING IN THE LORD
"He knoweth them that trust in Him". Nahum 1:7.
"The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself". Psalm 4:3.
"Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you". 1.Peter 5:7.
"Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe". Proverbs 29:25.
"Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him". Psalm 2:12.
"In God I will praise His Word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me". Psalm 56:4.
"Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us". Isaiah 25:9.
"He shall not be afraid of evil tidings". Psalm 112:7.
"How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings". Psalm 36:7.
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God". 1.John 3:1.
CHAPTER SUPPLEMENT - THE ONLY AUTHORITY
"The true [Roman Catholic] Church can tolerate no strange churches besides herself". Catholic Encyclopedia, VOL XIV, p.766.
"The Roman Catholic Church... must demand the right of freedom for herself alone". Civilta Cattolica, April 1948 [official Jesuit newspaper, published at the Vatican].
"The pope has the right to pronounce sentence of deposition against any sovereign". Bronson's Review, Vol.1, p.48
"We declare, say, define, and pronounce that every being should be subject to the Roman Pontiff". Pope Boniface VIII, quoted in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XV, p.126.
"No Catholic may positively and unconditionally approve of the separation of church and state". Monsignor O'Toole, Catholic University of America, 1939.
"The pope is the supreme judge, even of civil laws, and is incapable of being under any true obligation to them". Civilta Cattolica.
"Individual liberty in reality is only a deadly anarchy". Pope Pius XII, April 6, 1951.
"All Catholics, therefore, are bound to accept the Syllabus" [of Errors, of Pope Pius IX]. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol.14.
"Protestantism of every form has not, and never can have, any rights where Catholicity is triumphant". Bronson's Review.
"Heretics may be not only excommunicated, but also justly put to death". Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol.XIV, p.768
"Non-Catholic methods of worshipping God must be branded counterfeiters". Flynn, Loretto, and Simon, Living Our Faith, p.247 [a widely used high school textbook].
"In themselves, all forms of Protestantism are unjustified. They should not exist". America, January 4, 1941 [R.C. journal].
"After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth. It devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it, and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn... and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things... I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them... And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws, and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time". Daniel 7:7-8, 21, 25.
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