Luther's Journey to Worms
Luther at Wittenberg hears of the exciting scenes transpiring in the diet. Soon he receives a note of the articles which he will be required to retract. But, like Daniel of old, he purposes in his heart that he will maintain his fidelity to God. He writes to Spalatin: "Never fear that I will retract a single syllable, since the only argument they have to urge against me is that my writings are at variance with the observances of what they call the Church. If our Emperor Charles sends for me only to retract, my answer shall be that I will remain here, and it will be all the same as though I had been at Worms, and returned again. But if the emperor chooses then to send for me, to put me to death as an enemy to the empire, I shall be ready to obey his summons; for, by Christ's help, I will never abandon his word in the hour of battle. I know that these blood-thirsty men will never rest until they have taken my life. God grant that my death may be laid to the charge of the papists alone!"
Notwithstanding the entreaties, protests, and threats of Aleander, the emperor at last determined that Luther should appear before the diet. He accordingly issued a writ of summons, and also a safe-conduct insuring Luther's return to a place of security. These were borne to Wittenberg by a herald, who was commissioned to conduct the Reformer to Worms.
This was a dark and threatening hour for the Reformation. The friends of Luther were terrified and distressed. But the Reformer remained calm and firm. He was entreated not to risk his life. His friends, knowing the prejudice and enmity against him, feared that even his safe-conduct would not be respected. And it had been reported that the safe-conduct of heretics was not valid.
Luther replied: "The papists have little desire to see me at Worms; but they long for my condemnation and death. No matter. Pray not for me, but for the word of God. My blood will hardly be cold before thousands and tens of thousands, in every land, will be made to answer for the shedding of it. The 'most holy' adversary of Christ, the father, and master, and chief of man-slayers, is resolved that it shall be spilled. Amen! The will of God be done. Christ will give me his Spirit to overcome these ministers of Satan. I despise them while I live; I will triumph over them in death. They are striving hard at Worms to force 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. With deep emotion the Reformer bade farewell to his associates. Turning to Melancthon, he said: "If I never return, and my enemies should take my life, cease not, dear brother, to teach and stand fast in the truth. Labor in my stead, since I can no longer work. If thy life be spared, my death will matter little."
A multitude of students and citizens, to whom the gospel was precious, bade him farewell with weeping as he departed. The imperial herald, in full costume, and bearing the imperial eagle, led the way on horseback, followed by his servant. Next came the carriage in which rode Luther and his friends. Thus the Reformer 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 at Naumburg, a friendly priest expressed his fears by holding up before Luther the portrait of an Italian reformer who suffered martyrdom for the truth's sake. With trembling voice the priest bade Luther, "Stand fast in the truth, and thy God will never forsake thee."
Upon arriving, the next day, at Weimar, they learned that Luther's writings had been condemned at Worms. In the streets of the city the 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 Luther if, under the circumstances, he still wished to go on. He answered: "I will go on, though I should be put under interdict in every town."
At Erfurth, Luther was received with honor. Several leagues from the city, the rector of the university, with senators, students, and citizens, met him on horseback, and welcomed him with joyful acclamations. Great numbers of the population thronged the road, and cheered him as he was about to enter the city. All were eager to see the intrepid monk who had dared give battle to the pope. Thus, 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, as if spell-bound, to his words.
The bread of life was broken to those hungry souls. Jesus was lifted up before them as above popes, legates, emperors, and kings. Said Luther: "Christ, our Mediator, has overcome. This is the great news! and we are saved by his work, not by our own." "Some perhaps will say, You talk to us much about faith; teach us then how to obtain it. Well, agreed. I will show you how. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, 'Peace be unto you. Behold my hands!" That is to say, Look, O man, it is I, I alone, who have taken away thy sin and redeemed thee, and now thou hast peace, saith the Lord.' "Believe the gospel, believe ST. Paul, and not the letters and decretals of the popes."
Luther makes no reference to his own perilous position. He does not seek to make himself the object of thought or sympathy. In the contemplation of Christ, he has lost sight of self. He hides behind the Man of Calvary, seeking only to present Christ as the sinner's Redeemer.
As Luther proceeds on his journey he is everywhere regarded with great interest. An eager throng constantly accompanies him. Friendly voices warn him of the purpose of the Romanists. "You will be burned alive," say they, "and your body reduced to ashes, as was that of John Huss." Luther answers, "Though they should kindle a fire whose flames should reach from Worms to Wittenberg, and 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 the behemoth, break his teeth, and confess the Lord Jesus Christ."
The news of Luther's approach to Worms created great commotion among the supporters of the pope. His arrival might result in the defeat of their cause. An artful plan was at once laid to prevent him from finishing his journey. A troop of horsemen met him on his way with the message that a friendly knight desired him to proceed immediately to his fortress. The emperor's confessor was said to be there, awaiting a conference. His influence with Charles was unbounded, and everything might be harmoniously arranged.
The messenger urged that there be no delay. Luther's friends knew not what course to take, but he did not hesitate for a moment. "I shall go on," he answered, "and if the emperor's confessor has anything to say to me, he will find me at Worms, I repair to the place of summons."
At length Spalatin himself became alarmed for the safety of the Reformer. He heard it reported among the papists at Worms that Luther's safe-conduct would not be respected, and he immediately sent out a messenger to warn him of his danger. As Luther was approaching the city, a note from Spalatin was handed him, containing these words, "Abstain from entering Worms." Luther, still unshaken, turned his eyes on the messenger, and said, "Go tell your master that though there should be as many devils at Worms as there are tiles on its roofs, I would enter it." And the messenger returned, and repeated the amazing declaration.
Splendid was the reception granted Luther 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. "God will be my defense," said the Reformer, as he a lighted from his carriage.
Yet the news of his arrival was heard with alarm by both friends and foes. The elector feared for Luther's safety, Aleander for the success of his own iniquitous schemes. The emperor immediately convoked his council. "Luther is come," said he, "what must be done?" One of the bishops, a rigid papist, responded, "We have long thought of this matter. Let your majesty rid yourself at once of this man. Did not Sigismund bring John Huss to the stake? One is under no obligation either to give or to observe a safe-conduct in the case of heretics." "Not so, " said the emperor, "what we promise we should observe and keep." It was therefore decided that Luther should be heard.
All the city were eager to see the Reformer, and he had enjoyed but a few hours' rest when counts, barons, knights, gentlemen, and citizens flocked eagerly about him. Even his enemies could but mark 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."