America In Prophecy

Part 4 - Martin Luther Champion For Truth

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Champion for Truth
A divine hand was preparing the way for the Great Reformation. Foremost among those who were called to lead the church from the darkness of popery in to the light of a purer faith, stood Martin Luther. Zealous, ardent, and devoted, knowing no fear but the fear of God, and acknowledging no foundation for religious faith but the Holy Scriptures, Luther was the man for his time.

Martin Luther nails his theses to the door.

Luther trembled as he looked upon himself—one man opposed to the mightiest power of earth. But he was not left to become utterly disheartened. When human support failed, he looked to God alone and learned that he could lean in perfect safety upon that all-powerful arm.

Calm and peaceful, yet grandly brave and noble, he stood as God’s witness among the great ones of earth. The imperial officer now demanded his decision as to whether he desired to retract his doctrines.

“Since your most serene majesty and your high mightiness 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, . . . 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” (D’Aubigne, bk. 2, ch. 2)
The fear of the Lord dwelt in the heart of Luther, enabling him to maintain his steadfastness of purpose and leading him to deep humility before God. He had an abiding sense of his dependence upon divine aid, and he did not fail to begin each day with prayer, while his heart was continually breathing a petition for guidance and support. “To pray well,” he often said, “is the better half of study” (D’Aubigne, bk. 2, ch. 2).

While one day examining the books in the library of the university, Luther discovered a Latin Bible. Such a book he had never before seen. With mingled awe and wonder he turned the sacred pages; with quickened pulse and throbbing heart he read for himself the words of life, pausing now and then to exclaim, “I that God would give me such a book for myself!” (Ibid., b.2, ch. 2).

Luther was ordained a priest and was called from the cloister to a professorship in the University of Wittenberg. He began to lecture upon the Bible. His eloquence captivated his hearers, the clearness and power with which he presented the truth convinced their understanding, and his fervor touched their hearts.

By a recent decretal [degree] an indulgence had been promised by the pope to al who should ascend upon their knees “Pilate’s staircase.” Luther was one day devoutly climbing these steps, when suddenly a voice like thunder seemed to say to him: “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). He sprang to his feet and hastened from the place in shame and horror. From that time he saw more clearly than ever before the fallacy of trusting to human works for salvation. When he turned his face from Rome, he had turned away also in heart.

After his return from Rome, Luther received at the University of Wittenberg, the degree of doctor of divinity. Now he was at liberty to devote himself, as never before, to the Scriptures that he loved. He firmly declared that Christians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures.

The Roman Church had made merchandise of the grace of God. Under the plea of raising funds for the erection of St. Peter’s Church at Rome, indulgences for sin were publicly offered for sale by the authority of the pope. By the price of crime a temple was to be built up for God’s worship.

Luther, though still a papist of the straitest sort, was filled with horror at the blasphemous assumptions of the indulgence mongers. Many of his own congregation had purchased certificates of pardon. Luther now entered boldly upon his work as a champion of the truth. His voice was heard from the pulpit in earnest, solemn warning. He set before the people the offensive character of sin, and taught that it is impossible for man, by his own works, to lessen its guilt or evade its punishment. Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ can save the sinner. The grace of Christ cannot be purchased; it is a free gift.

Luther determined upon a more effectual protest against these crying abuses. Luther, joining the crowds already making their way to the church, posted on its door a paper containing ninety-five propositions against the doctrine of indulgences.

His propositions attracted universal attention. By these theses it was shown that the power to grant pardon of sin, and the remit its penalty, had never been committed to the pope or to any other man. It was also clearly shown that the grace of God therein revealed, is freely bestowed upon all who seek it by repentance and faith.

The questions which he proposed had in a few days spread through all Germany, and in a few weeks they had sounded throughout Christendom. Many devoted Romanists read the propositions with great joy, recognizing in them the voice of God. They felt that the Lord had graciously set His hand to arrest the rapidly swelling tide of corruption that was issuing form the see of Rome.

Many dignitaries, of both church and state, were convicted of the truthfulness of his theses; but they soon saw that the acceptance of these truths would involve great changes. To enlighten and reform the people would be virtually to undermine the authority of Rome, to stop thousands of streams now flowing into her treasury, and thus greatly to curtail the extravagance and luxury of the papal leaders. Furthermore, to teach the people to think and act as responsible beings, looking to Christ alone for salvation, would overthrow the pontiff’s throne and eventually destroy their own authority. For this reason they refused to knowledge tendered them of God and arrayed themselves against Christ and the truth by their opposition to the man whom He had sent to enlighten them.

Luther trembled as he looked upon himself—one man opposed to the mightiest power of earth. But he was not left to become utterly disheartened. When human support failed, he looked to God alone and learned that he could lean in perfect safety upon that all-powerful arm.

The council now demanded the Reformer’s appearance before them. The emperor at last Consented, and Luther was summoned to appear before the Diet.

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.

A deep silence fell upon the crowded assembly. Then an imperial officer arose and, pointing to Luther’s writing, demanded that the Reformer answer two questions—whether he acknowledged them as his, and whether he proposed to retract the opinions which he had there in advanced. The titles of the books having been read, Luther replied that as to the first questions, he acknowledged the books to be his. “As to the second,” he said, “. . . I should act imprudently were I to reply without reflections. I might affirm less than the circumstance demands, or more than truth requires. . . . 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).

The next day he was to render his final answer. Not for his own safety, but for the triumph of the gospel did he wrestle 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 nations.

Calm and peaceful, yet grandly brave and noble, he stood as God’s witness among the great ones of 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 number tone, without violence or passion. His demeanor was diffident and respectful; yet he manifested a confidence and joy that surprised the assembly. “I shall 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” (Ibid., b. 7, ch 8).

Those who stubbornly closed their eyes to the light were enraged at the power of Luther’s words. 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 mightiness 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, . . . 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).

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 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” (Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8).

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. 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.   Previous    Next


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