The Great Controversy
Between Christ and Satan
Luther Before the Diet
A new emperor, Charles V, 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 other person had shown that Luther's
writings had been refuted;" therefore he requested "that Dr.
Luther should be furnished with a safe-conduct, so that he
might appear before a tribunal of learned, pious, and impartial
judges."--D'Aubigne, b. 6, ch. 11.
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; for the first time the princes of
Germany were to meet their youthful monarch in deliberative
assembly. From all parts of the fatherland had come
the dignitaries of church and state. Secular lords, highborn,
powerful, and jealous of their hereditary rights; princely
ecclesiastics, flushed with their conscious superiority in rank
and power; courtly knights and their armed retainers; and
ambassadors from foreign and distant lands,--all gathered
at Worms. Yet in that vast assembly the subject that excited
the deepest interest was the cause of the Saxon Reformer.
Charles had previously directed the elector to bring Luther
with him to the Diet, assuring him of protection, and promising
a free discussion, with competent persons, of the
questions in dispute. 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 go to Worms in good
health, I will be carried there, sick as I am. For if the
emperor calls me, I cannot doubt that it is the call of God
Himself. If they desire to use violence against me, and that
is very probable (for it is not for their instruction that they
order me to appear), I place the matter in the Lord's hands.
He still lives and reigns who preserved the three young men
in the burning fiery furnace. If He will not save me, my life
is of little consequence. Let us only prevent the gospel from
being exposed to the scorn of the wicked, and let us shed
our blood for it, for fear they should triumph. It is not for
me to decide whether my life or my death will contribute
most to the salvation of all. . . . You may expect everything
from me. . . except flight and recantation. Fly I cannot,
and still less retract."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 1.
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 the case had been
specially entrusted, 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. About this time the bull declaring
Luther's excommunication was published; and this, coupled
with the representations of the legate, induced the emperor
to yield. He wrote to the elector that if Luther would not
retract, he must remain at Wittenberg.
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 revealed too
plainly the spirit by which he was actuated. "He is moved
by hatred and vengeance," was the general remark, "much
more than by zeal and piety."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 1. The
majority of the Diet were more than ever inclined to regard
Luther's cause with favor.
With redoubled zeal Aleander urged upon the emperor
the duty of executing the papal edicts. But under the laws
of Germany this could not be done without the concurrence
of the princes; and, overcome at last by the legate's
importunity, Charles bade him present his case to the Diet. "It
was a proud day for the nuncio. The assembly was a great
one: the cause was even greater. Aleander was to plead for
Rome, . . . the mother and mistress of all churches." He
was to vindicate the princedom of Peter before the assembled
principalities of Christendom. "He had the gift of eloquence,
and he rose to the greatness of the occasion. Providence
ordered it that Rome should appear and plead by the ablest
of her orators in the presence of the most august of tribunals,
before she was condemned." --Wylie, b. 6, ch. 4. With some
misgivings those who favored the Reformer looked forward
to the effect of Aleander's speech. The elector of Saxony was
not present, but by his direction some of his councilors
attended to take notes of the nuncio's address.
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. "In Luther's errors there is enough," he
declared, to warrant the burning of "a hundred thousand
In conclusion he endeavored to cast contempt upon the
adherents of the reformed faith: "What are all these Lutherans?
A crew of insolent pedagogues, corrupt priests, dissolute
monks, ignorant lawyers, and degraded nobles, with
the common people whom they have misled and perverted.
How far superior to them is the Catholic party in
number, ability, and power! A unanimous decree from this
illustrious assembly will enlighten the simple, warn the
imprudent, decide the waverers, and give strength to the weak."
--D'Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 3.
With such weapons the advocates of truth in every age
have 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 is
our church! How many great and learned men are among
us! 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
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 disposition not only to condemn him
and the doctrines which he taught, but if possible to uproot
the heresy. Rome had enjoyed the most favorable opportunity
to defend her cause. 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.
While most of the members of the Diet would not have
hesitated to yield up Luther to the vengeance of Rome, 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 the corruption and
greed of the hierarchy. 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 some of the abuses that cry out against Rome.
All shame has been put aside, and their only object is . . .
money, money, money, . . . so that the preachers who should
teach the truth, utter nothing but falsehoods, and are not
only tolerated, but rewarded, because the greater their lies,
the greater their gain. It is from this foul spring that such
tainted waters flow. Debauchery stretches out the hand to
avarice. . . . Alas, it is the scandal caused by the clergy that
hurls so many poor souls into eternal condemnation. A
general reform must be effected."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 4.
A more able and forcible denunciation of the papal abuses
could not have been presented by Luther himself; and the
fact that the speaker was a determined enemy of the Reformer's
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.
A committee was at once appointed by the Diet to prepare
an enumeration of the papal oppressions that weighed so
heavily on the German people. This list, containing a hundred
and one specifications, was presented to the emperor, with a
request that he would take immediate measures for the correction
of these abuses. "What a loss of Christian souls," said
the petitioners, "what depredations, what extortions, on
account of the scandals by which the spiritual head of Christendom
is surrounded! It is our duty to prevent the ruin and
dishonor of our people. For this reason we most humbly but
most urgently entreat you to order a general reformation,
and to undertake its accomplishment."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 4.
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, ensuring his return to
a place of security. These were borne to Wittenberg 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 do not desire my coming to Worms, but my
condemnation and my 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 error. I despise them
during my life; I shall triumph over them by my death. They
are busy at Worms about compelling me to retract; and
this shall be my retraction: I said formerly that the pope
was Christ's vicar; now I assert that he is our Lord's
adversary, and the devil's apostle."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 6.
Luther was not to make his perilous journey alone.
Besides the imperial messenger, three of his firmest friends
determined to accompany him. Melanchthon earnestly desired
to join them. His heart was knit to Luther's, and he
yearned to follow him, if need be, to prison or to death. But
his entreaties were denied. Should Luther perish, the hopes
of the Reformation must center upon his youthful colaborer.
Said the Reformer as he parted from Melanchthon: "If I
do not return, and my enemies put me to death, continue
to teach, and stand fast in the truth. Labor in my stead. . . .
If you survive, my death will be of little consequence."--
Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7. Students and citizens who had gathered to
witness Luther's departure were deeply moved. A multitude
whose hearts had been touched by the gospel, bade him
farewell with weeping. Thus the Reformer and his companions
set out from Wittenberg.
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. The next day they learned that Luther's writings
had been condemned at Worms. Imperial messengers
were proclaiming the emperor's decree and calling upon the
people to bring the proscribed works to the magistrates. The
herald, fearing for Luther's safety at the council, and
thinking that already his resolution might be shaken, asked if he
still wished to go forward. He answered: "Although interdicted
in every city, I shall go on."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
At Erfurt, Luther was received with honor. Surrounded
by admiring crowds, he passed through the streets that he
had often traversed with his beggar's wallet. He visited his
convent cell, and thought upon the struggles through which
the light now flooding Germany had been shed upon his
soul. He was urged to preach. This he had been forbidden
to do, but the herald granted him permission, and the friar
who had once been made the drudge of the convent, now
entered the pulpit.
To a crowded assembly he spoke from the words of
Christ, "Peace be unto you." "Philosophers, doctors, and
writers," he said, "have endeavored to teach men the way
to obtain everlasting life, and they have not succeeded. I
will now tell it to you: . . . God has raised one Man from
the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ, that He might destroy death,
extirpate sin, and shut the gates of hell. This is the work of
salvation. . . . Christ has vanquished! this is the joyful
news; and we are saved by His work, and not by our
own. . . . Our Lord Jesus Christ said, 'Peace be unto you;
behold My hands;' that is to say, Behold, O man! it is I, I
alone, who have taken away thy sin, and ransomed thee; and
now thou hast peace, saith the Lord."
He continued, showing that true faith will be manifested
by a holy life. "Since God has saved us, let us so order our
works that they may be acceptable to Him. Art thou rich?
let thy goods administer to the necessities of the poor. Art
thou poor? let thy services be acceptable to the rich. If thy
labor is useful to thyself alone, the service that thou
pretendest to render unto God is a lie."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
The people listened as if spellbound. 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. "They will burn you," said some,
"and reduce your body to ashes, as they did with John Huss."
Luther answered, "Though they should kindle a fire all
the way from Worms to Wittenberg, the flames of which
reached to heaven, I would walk through it in the name
of the Lord; I would appear before them; I would enter
the jaws of this behemoth, and break his teeth, confessing
the Lord Jesus Christ."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
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. At the instigation
of the papists he was urged to repair to the castle
of a friendly knight, where, it was declared, all difficulties
could be amicably adjusted. Friends endeavored to excite
his fears by describing the dangers that threatened him. All
their efforts failed. Luther, still unshaken, declared: "Even
should there be as many devils in Worms as tiles on the
housetops, still I would enter it."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
Upon his arrival at Worms, a vast crowd flocked to the
gates to welcome him. So great a concourse had not
assembled to greet 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 papists had not believed that Luther would really
venture to appear at Worms, and his arrival filled them
with consternation. The emperor immediately summoned
his councilors to consider what course should be pursued.
One of the bishops, a rigid papist, declared: "We have long
consulted on this matter. Let your imperial majesty get
rid of this man at once. Did not Sigismund cause John
Huss to be burnt? We are not bound either to give or to
observe the safe-conduct of a heretic." "No," said the
emperor, "we must keep our promise."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8. It
was therefore decided that the Reformer should be heard.
All the city were eager to see this remarkable man, and
a throng of visitors soon filled his lodgings. Luther had
scarcely recovered from his recent illness; he was wearied
from the journey, which had occupied two full weeks; he
must prepare to meet the momentous events of the morrow,
and he needed quiet and repose. But so great was the desire
to see him that he had enjoyed only a few hours' rest when
noblemen, knights, priests, and citizens gathered eagerly
about him. Among these were many of the nobles who had
so boldly demanded of the emperor a reform of ecclesiastical
abuses and who, says Luther, "had all been freed by my
gospel."--Martyn, page 393. Enemies, as well as friends,
came to look upon the dauntless monk; but he received
them with unshaken calmness, replying to all with dignity
and wisdom. His bearing was firm and courageous. His
pale, thin face, marked with the traces of toil and illness,
wore a kindly and even joyous expression. The solemnity
and deep earnestness of his words gave him a power that
even his enemies could not wholly withstand. Both friends
and foes were filled with wonder. 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 the bloodiest of our battles. But if thy cause is just, and
thou art sure of it, go forward in God's name, and fear
nothing. God will not forsake thee."--D'Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 8.
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. "This appearance was of itself a signal victory over
the papacy. The pope had condemned the man, and he
was now standing before a tribunal which, by this very
act, set itself above the pope. The pope had laid him under
an interdict, and cut him off from all human society;
and yet he was summoned in respectful language, and
received before the most august assembly in the world. The
pope had condemned him to perpetual silence, and he was
now about to speak before thousands of attentive hearers
drawn together from the farthest parts of Christendom.
An immense revolution had thus been effected by Luther's
instrumentality. Rome was already descending from her
throne, and it was the voice of a monk that caused this
humiliation."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8.
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. The titles of the books having
been read, Luther replied that as to the first question, he
acknowledged the books to be his. "As to the second," he
said, "seeing that it is a question which concerns faith and
the salvation of souls, and in which the word of God, the
greatest and most precious treasure either in heaven or earth,
is involved, I should act imprudently were I to reply without
reflection. I might affirm less than the circumstance
demands, or more than truth requires, and so sin against
this saying of Christ: 'Whosoever shall deny Me before men,
him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.'
[Matthew 10:33.] 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."--
D'Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 8.
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 final answer.
For a time his heart sank within him as he contemplated
the forces that were combined against the truth. His faith
faltered; fearfulness and trembling came upon him, and
horror overwhelmed him. Dangers multiplied before him;
his enemies seemed about to triumph, 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.
"O almighty and everlasting God," he pleaded, "how
terrible is this world! Behold, it openeth its mouth to swallow
me up, and I have so little trust in Thee. . . . If it is
only in the strength of this world that I must put my trust,
all is over. . . . My last hour is come, my condemnation
has been pronounced. . . . O God, do Thou help me against
all the wisdom of the world. Do this, . . . Thou alone; . . .
for this is not my work, but Thine. I have nothing to do
here, nothing to contend for with these great ones of the
world. . . . But the cause is Thine, . . . and it is a righteous
and eternal cause. O Lord, help me! Faithful and unchangeable
God, in no man do I place my trust. . . . All that is of
man is uncertain; all that cometh of man fails. . . . Thou
hast chosen me for this work. . . . Stand at my side, for the
sake of Thy well-beloved Jesus Christ, who is my defense, my
shield, and my strong tower."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8.
An all-wise Providence had permitted Luther to realize
his peril, that he might not trust to his own strength and rush
presumptuously into danger. Yet it was not the fear of
personal suffering, a dread of torture or death, which seemed
immediately impending, that overwhelmed him with its
terror. He had come to the crisis, and he felt his insufficiency
to meet it. Through his weakness the cause of truth might
suffer loss. Not for his own safety, but for the triumph of
the gospel did he wrestle with God. Like Israel's, in that
night struggle beside the lonely stream, was the anguish and
conflict of his soul. Like Israel, he prevailed with God.
In his utter helplessness his faith fastened upon Christ,
the mighty Deliverer. 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 uplift the word of God before the rulers of the
With his mind stayed upon God, Luther prepared for
the struggle before him. He thought upon the plan of his
answer, examined passages in his own writings, and drew
from the Holy Scriptures suitable proofs to sustain his
positions. Then, laying his left hand on the Sacred Volume,
which was open before him, he lifted his right hand to
heaven and vowed "to remain faithful to the gospel, and
freely to confess his faith, even should he seal his testimony
with his blood."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8.
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.
"Most serene emperor, illustrious princes, gracious lords,"
said Luther, "I appear before you this day, in conformity
with the order given me yesterday, and by God's mercies
I conjure your majesty and your august highnesses to listen
graciously to the defense of a cause which I am assured is
just and true. If, through ignorance, I should transgress the
usages and proprieties of courts, I entreat you to pardon me;
for I was not brought up in the palaces of kings, but in the
seclusion of a convent."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8.
Then, proceeding to the question, 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.
"Yet I am but a mere man, and not God," he continued;
"I shall therefore defend myself as Christ did: 'If I have
spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.' . . . By the mercy of
God, I conjure you, most serene emperor, and you, most
illustrious princes, and all men of every degree, to prove
from the writings of the prophets and apostles that I have
erred. As soon as I am convinced of this, I will retract every
error, and be the first to lay hold of my books and throw
them into the fire.
"What I have just said plainly shows, I hope, that I have
carefully weighed and considered the dangers to which I
expose myself; but far from being dismayed, I rejoice to see
that the gospel is now, as in former times, a cause of trouble
and dissension. This is the character, this is the destiny, of
the word of God. 'I came not to send peace on earth, but a
sword,' said Jesus Christ. God is wonderful and terrible in
His counsels; beware lest, by presuming to quench dissensions,
you should persecute the holy word of God, and draw
down upon yourselves a frightful deluge of insurmountable
dangers, of present disasters, and eternal desolation. . . . I
might quote many examples from the oracles of God. I
might speak of the Pharaohs, the kings of Babylon, and
those of Israel, whose labors never more effectually contributed
to their own destruction than when they sought
by counsels, to all appearance most wise, to strengthen their
dominion. 'God removeth mountains, and they know it
not.'"-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8.
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 to perceive clearly
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 put to you. . . . You are required to give a clear
and precise answer. . . . Will you, or will you not, retract?"
The Reformer answered: "Since your most serene majesty
and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple,
and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I
cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils,
because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred
and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced
by the testimony of Scripture or by the clearest
reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages
I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience
bound by the word of God, I cannot and I will not retract,
for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.
Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen."
-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8.
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. At his first answer Luther had spoken in a
low tone, with a respectful, almost submissive bearing. The
Romanists had interpreted this as evidence that his courage
was beginning to fail. They regarded the request for delay
as merely the prelude to his recantation. Charles himself,
noting, half contemptuously, the monk's worn frame, his
plain attire, and the simplicity of his address, had declared:
"This monk will never make a heretic of me." The courage
and firmness which he now displayed, as well as the power
and clearness of his reasoning, filled all parties with surprise.
The emperor, moved to admiration, exclaimed: "This monk
speaks with an intrepid heart and unshaken courage." Many
of the German princes looked with pride and joy upon this
representative of their nation.
The partisans of Rome had been worsted; their cause
appeared in a most unfavorable light. They sought to maintain
their power, not be 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 consult what course to
adopt against an incorrigible heretic."
Luther's friend, 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."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8.
He was directed to withdraw from the Diet while the
princes consulted together. It was felt that a great crisis had
come. Luther's persistent refusal to submit might affect the
history of the church for ages. It was decided to give him
one more opportunity to retract. For the last time he was
brought into the assembly. Again the question was put,
whether he would renounce his doctrines. "I have no other
reply to make," he said, "than that which I have already
made." It was evident that he could not be induced, either
by promises or threats, to yield to the mandate of Rome.
The papal 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 had lost sight of himself,
and 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 boldly 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 became fearless supporters of the Reformation.
The elector Frederick had looked forward anxiously to
Luther's appearance before the Diet, and with deep emotion
he listened to his speech. With joy and pride he witnessed
the doctor's courage, firmness, and self-possession, and
determined to stand more firmly in his defense. He contrasted the
parties in contest, and saw that the wisdom of popes, kings,
and prelates had been brought to nought 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 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. "A single monk, misled by his
own folly, has risen against the faith of Christendom. To
stay such impiety, I will sacrifice my kingdoms, my treasures,
my friends, my body, my blood, my soul, and my life. I am
about to dismiss the Augustine Luther, forbidding him to
cause the least disorder among the people; I shall then
proceed against him and his adherents as contumacious heretics,
by excommunication, by interdict, and by every means calculated
to destroy them. I call on the members of the states to
behave like faithful Christians."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 9.
Nevertheless the emperor declared that Luther's safe-conduct must
be respected, and that before proceedings against him could
be instituted, he must be allowed to reach his home in safety.
Two conflicting opinions were now urged by the members
of the Diet. The emissaries and representatives of
the pope again demanded that the Reformer's safe-conduct
should be disregarded. "The Rhine," they said, "should receive
his ashes, as it had received those of John Huss a century
ago."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 9. But princes of Germany, though
themselves papists and avowed enemies to Luther, protested
against such a breach of public faith, as a stain upon the
honor of the nation. They pointed to the calamities which
had followed the death of Huss, and declared that they dared
not call down upon Germany, and upon the head of their
youthful emperor, a repetition of those terrible evils.
Charles himself, in answer to the base proposal, said:
"Though honor and faith should be banished from all the
world, they ought to find a refuge in the hearts of princes."
-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 9. He was still further urged by the most
bitter of Luther's papal enemies to deal with the Reformer
as Sigismund had dealt with Huss--abandon him to the
mercies of the church; but recalling the scene when Huss in
public assembly had pointed to his chains and reminded the
monarch of his plighted faith, Charles V declared: "I should
not like to blush like Sigismund."--Lenfant, vol. 1, p. 422.
Yet Charles had deliberately rejected the truths presented
by Luther. "I am firmly resolved to imitate the example of
my ancestors," wrote the monarch.--D'Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 9.
He had decided that he would not step out of the path of
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.
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" (Acts 24:25;
26:28), yet turned away from the Heaven-sent message--so
had Charles V, yielding to the dictates of worldly pride and
policy, decided to reject the light of truth.
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 who 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 of 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
these were written merely the significant words of the wise
man: "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child."
Ecclesiastes 10:16. 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 with Luther. He was visited by princes, counts,
barons, and other persons of distinction, both lay and
ecclesiastical. "The doctor's little room," wrote Spalatin, "could
not contain all the visitors who presented themselves."--
Martyn, vol. 1, p. 404. The people gazed upon him as if he
were more than human. Even those who had no faith in
his doctrines could not but admire that lofty integrity which
led him to brave death 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 would have no defense.
To this appeal Luther answered: "The gospel of Christ
cannot be preached without offense. . . . Why then should the
fear or apprehension of danger separate me from the Lord,
and from that divine word which alone is truth? No; I
would rather give up my body, my blood, and my life."--
D'Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 10.
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 meanest Christian, should examine
and judge my works; but on one condition, that they take
the word of God for their standard. Men have nothing to
do but to obey it. Do not offer violence to my conscience,
which is bound and chained up with the Holy Scriptures."--
Ibid., b. 7, ch. 10.
To another appeal he said: "I consent to renounce my
safe-conduct. I place my person and my life in the emperor's
hands, but the word of God--never!"-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 10. 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. "In what concerns the
word of God and the faith," he added, "every Christian is
as good a judge as the pope, though supported by a million
councils, can be for him."--Martyn, vol. 1, p. 410. 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. "The devil himself,"
said he, "guarded the pope's citadel; but Christ has made a
wide breach in it, and Satan was constrained to confess that
the Lord is mightier than he."--D'Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 11.
After his departure, still desirous that his firmness should
not be mistaken for rebellion, Luther wrote to the emperor.
"God, who is the searcher of hearts, is my witness," he said,
"that I am ready most earnestly to obey your majesty, in
honor or in dishonor, in life or in death, and with no exception
save the word of God, by which man lives. In all the
affairs of this present life, my fidelity shall be unshaken, for
here to lose or to gain is of no consequence to salvation. But
when eternal interests are concerned, God wills not that man
should submit unto man. For such submission in spiritual
matters is a real worship, and ought to be rendered solely to
the Creator."-- Ibid., b. 7, ch. 11.
On the journey from Worms, Luther's reception was even
more flattering than during his progress thither. Princely
ecclesiastics welcomed the excommunicated monk, and civil
rulers honored the man whom the emperor had denounced.
He was urged to preach, and, notwithstanding the imperial
prohibition, he again entered the pulpit. "I never pledged
myself to chain up the word of God," he said, "nor will I."
--Martyn, vol. 1, p. 420.
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 form of a man and dressed in a monk's frock."--
D'Aubigne, b. 7, ch. 11. 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 elector of Saxony and the princes most friendly to
Luther had left Worms soon after his departure, and the
emperor's decree received the sanction of the Diet. Now the
Romanists were jubilant. They considered the fate of the
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 forest 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 exulted as the light of the gospel seemed about to
be extinguished. But instead of this, the Reformer was filling
his lamp from the storehouse of truth; and its light was
to shine forth 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!"-- Ibid., b. 9, ch. 2. 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
to fix them upon human agencies; he leads them 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 that 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
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