Luther in the Wartburg
On the 26th of April, 1521, Luther departed from Worms. Threatening clouds overhung his path, yet as he passed out of the gate of the city, 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."
"The conflict at Worms," writes a friend of the Reformer, "resounded far and near; and as the report of it traversed Europe, from the northern countries to the mountains of Switzerland and the towns of England, France, and Italy, many seized with eagerness the mighty weapons of the word of God."
Luther left, the city at ten o'clock, with the friends who had accompanied him to Worms. Twenty gentlemen on horseback surrounded the carriage, and a great crowd attended him beyond the walls.
Upon the journey from Worms, he determined to write once more to the emperor, being unwilling to appear to him as a guilty rebel. "God is my witness, who knoweth the thoughts," said he, "that I am ready with all my heart to obey your majesty through good or evil report, in life or in death, with one exception--save the word of God, by which man liveth. In all the affairs of this life my fidelity shall be unshaken; for in these, loss or gain has nothing to do with salvation. But it is contrary to the will of God that man should be subject to man in that which pertains to eternal life. Subjection in spirituals is a real worship, and should be rendered only to the Creator."
He also addressed to the States of the empire a letter of nearly the same purport, recapitulating what had transpired at Worms. This letter made a deep impression upon the minds of the German people. They saw that Luther had been treated with great injustice by the emperor and the higher clergy, and their feelings were strongly aroused against the arrogant assumptions of the papacy.
Had Charles V. understood the real value of such a man as Luther to his empire, a man who would not be bought or sold, who would not sacrifice principle for friends or foes,--he would have cherished and honored instead of denouncing and proscribing him.
Luther journeyed toward home, receiving, as he went, 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 decided to turn aside from the direct route, to visit Mora, his father's birthplace. His friend Amsdorff and a wagoner accompanied him, while the remainder of the party proceeded on their way to Wittenberg. After spending a day with his relatives, enjoying a peaceful rest in marked contrast to the turmoil and strife of Worms, he resumed his journey.
As the carriage was passing a narrow defile, the travelers encountered five horsemen, completely armed and masked. Two of the men seized Amsdorff and the wagoner, while the other three proceeded to secure Luther. In profound silence they forced him to alight, threw a knight's cloak over his shoulders, and placed him upon an extra horse. Then the two in charge of Amsdorff and the wagoner released them, and the five all sprang into their saddles, and disappeared with their prisoner in the thick gloom of the forest.
Through winding and intricate paths they made their way, now advancing and now retracing their steps in such a manner as effectually to elude pursuit. When night fell, they struck into a new road, and swiftly and silently pressed forward, through dark, almost untrodden forests, to the mountains of Thuringia. Here, on a lofty summit, reached only by a steep and difficult ascent, stood the castle of Wartburg. Within the walls of this isolated stronghold, Luther was conducted by his captors, and the heavy gates closed after him, effectually shutting him from the sight and knowledge of the world without.
The Reformer had not fallen into the hands of enemies. A vigilant eye had followed his movements, and as the storm was about to burst upon his defenseless head, 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.
Upon Luther's departure from Worms, the papal legate had procured an edict against him, to which was affixed the emperor's signature and the seal of the empire. In this imperial 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 ordered to be destroyed, and finally, all who should dare to act contrary to this decree were placed under the ban of the empire.
The emperor had spoken, and the diet had given their sanction to the decree. The whole body of Romanists were jubilant. Now they considered the fate of the Reformation sealed. The superstitious multitude were filled with horror at the thought of Luther as the incarnate Satan whom the emperor had described as clothed in a monk's habit.
In this hour of peril, God prepared a way of escape for his servant. The Holy Spirit moved upon the heart of the Elector of Saxony, and gave him wisdom to devise a plan for Luther's preservation. Frederick had caused it to be intimated to the Reformer while still at Worms, that his liberty might be sacrificed for a time to secure his own safety and that of the Reformation; yet no hint had been given as to the manner in which this might be accomplished. With the co-operation of true friends, the elector's purpose was carried out, and with so much tact and skill that Luther was effectually hidden from friends and foes. In fact, 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 had assured 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, Luther was but filling his lamp from the unfailing storehouse of truth, to shine forth in due time with brighter radiance.
It was not merely to secure his own safety that Luther was, in the providence of God, withdrawn from the stage of public life. Infinite Wisdom overruled all circumstances and events for the accomplishment of his deep designs. It is not the will of God that his work should bear the impress of one man. There were other workers who in Luther's absence must be called to the front, to give character to the Reformation, that it might develop proportionately.
Furthermore, in every reformatory movement, there is danger that it will receive the stamp of the human rather than the divine. As men rejoice in the freedom which the truth brings them, they are inclined to exalt those whom God has employed to break the chains of error and superstition. These leaders are honored, extolled, and reverenced, and if they are not truly humble and devoted, unselfish and incorruptible, they gradually lose sight of their continual dependence upon God, and begin to trust in themselves. Soon they seek to control the minds and restrict the consciences of others, seeming to regard themselves as the only channel through which God will communicate light to his church. The work of reform is often retarded because of this spirit indulged by its supporters.
In the friendly security of the Wartburg, Luther for a time gave himself up to repose, and rejoiced in his release from the heat and turmoil of battle. From the castle walls he looked down upon the dark forests that shut him in on every side, then turning his eyes to heaven, he exclaimed, "Strange captivity! a prisoner by consent, yet against my will!" "Pray for me," he writes to Spalatin. "I want nothing save your prayers. Do not disturb me by what is said or thought of me in the world. At last I am quiet."
The solitude and obscurity of this mountain retreat had another and still more precious blessing for the Reformer. Here he was saved from becoming too greatly elated by success. He was removed from every human prop, shut out from the sympathy and praise which are so often unwisely given, and which so often lead to the most deplorable results. It is Satan's studied object to direct men's thoughts and affections from God, who should received all praise and glory, and fix them upon human agencies; to exalt the mere instrument which God employs, and ignore the Hand that directs all the events of providence.
Here is a danger against which all Christians should constantly guard. However much they may admire the noble, self-sacrificing deeds of God's faithful servants, they should remember that God alone is to be exalted. All the wisdom, ability, and grace which men possess, has been given them of God. To him should be all the praise.
Luther 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 these solitary days, the condition of the church rose up before him, and he felt that there was no man who could stand upon the walls and build up Zion. Again his thoughts returned to himself, and he feared being charged with cowardice in withdrawing from the work. 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. He writes, "I am going through the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. I mean to write a discourse in German touching auricular confession, also to continue the translation of the Psalms, and to compose a collection of sermons as soon as I have received what I want from Wittenberg. My pen is 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. For nearly a whole year, sheltered from the wrath of all opposers, he exhorted and rebuked the prevailing sins of the time.
He also performed a most important service for his countrymen by translating the original scriptures of the New Testament into the German tongue. Thus the word of God was opened to the understanding of the common people, so that all might read for themselves the words of life and truth. Thus he labored most effectually to turn all eyes from the pope of Rome to Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness.