Luther's Source of Strength
Luther trembled as he looked upon himself, one man opposed to the mightiest powers of earth. He sometimes doubted whether he had indeed been led of God to array against himself the whole authority of the church. "Who was I," he writes, "to oppose the pope's majesty, before which the kings of the earth and the whole world tremble? No one can know what I suffered in those first two years, and in what dejection and despair I was often plunged."
But he was not left to become utterly disheartened. When human support failed him, he looked to God alone, and learned that he could lean in perfect safety upon that all-powerful arm. Steadfastly the Reformer labored to clear away the rubbish beneath which true faith had been buried for ages. The dust of ancient errors sometimes obscured his own vision, so that he could not see the truth with perfect clearness; but as he pressed resolutely on, rays of light flashed forth from God's word, banishing the darkness of superstition, and filling his soul with the brightness of a purer of holier faith. He rose above despondency; his courage and hope revived. Erelong friends began to rally around him. But he did not forget the Source of his strength. To Spalatin, the elector's chaplain, and a true friend of the Reformation, Luther wrote:--
"We cannot attain to the understanding of Scripture either by study or strength of intellect. Therefore your first duty must be to begin with prayer. Entreat the Lord to deign to grant you, in his rich mercy, rightly to understand his word. There is no other interpreter of the word but the Author of that word himself. Even as he has said, 'They shall be all taught of God.' Hope nothing from your study and strength of intellect; but simply put your trust in God, and in the guidance of his Spirit. Believe one who has made trial of this matter."
Here we see how Luther came in possession of the truth that waked up the Reformation. It is men of humility and prayer that become mighty men in the Scriptures. They search the word of truth as for hidden treasures. And as they read and pray, and pray and read, they become living channels of light and truth. Here is a lesson of vital importance to those who feel that God has called them to present to others the solemn truths for this time. These truths will stir the enmity of Satan and of men who love the fables that he has devised. In the conflict with the powers of hell, there is need of something more than intellect and human wisdom.
Tetzel, in his rage against Luther, met his theses with antitheses, in which he attempted to defend the doctrine of indulgences, and sustain the power of the pope. Luther advanced with joy to the contest, hoping that the truth, to him so precious, might be revealed to many minds. "Do not wonder," he wrote to a friend, "that they revile me so unsparingly. I hear their revilings with joy. If they did not curse me, I could not be so firmly assured that the cause I have undertaken is the cause of God." Yet Luther loved peace. He possessed a tender, sympathetic heart, and while urged by the Spirit of God to defend the truth, he shrunk from causing strife in the church or in the State. "I tremble, I shudder," said he, "to think that I may be an occasion of discord to such mighty princes."
As Luther, with noble firmness, stood in defense of the gospel, his doctrines spread, and priests and people rallied about him as their standard-bearer. Hard as it was for them to change their opinions, the light of truth was dispelling the darkness of error. Some who secretly rejoiced in the work, took at first no active part in it; but the determined opposition against Luther and the truths he preached, brought these persons to the front, and changed their doubts to the certainty of faith. In the hearts of those who would obey his word, the Lord placed a firmness and decision that nothing could move.
Satan was perseveringly at work to tear down all that God was moving his servants to build up. One of the adversary's ablest instruments was Prierias, the master of the pontifical palace, who also filled the office of censor. The leading men in the Catholic Church were divided as to the true authority for interpreting the Scriptures. A part believed that the authority rested in general councils, as representatives of the church; while another part steadfastly maintained that to the pope alone was granted the power of interpretation, and that no one had a right to explain the Scriptures contrary to his decree. Prierias was among the most zealous supporters of the pope. "Whosoever does not accept and rely upon the teachings of the Roman Church and the Roman pontiff as the infallible rule of faith, and as that from which Holy Scripture itself derives its obligation and authority, is a heretic." Thus spoke the haughty Prierias,and then he proceeded to attack Luther with the spirit of a buffoon and inquisitor, rather than with the spirit of a calm and dignified defender of the church of Christ.
Luther met this opponent with the same fearless firmness which he displayed toward other adversaries. He had given himself to the service of truth, and the Spirit of truth gave him wisdom, strength, and understanding. Prierias had begun his work by laying down certain principles. "Following your example," said Luther, "I also will lay down certain principles. The first is the passage of ST. Paul: 'If any one preach unto you another gospel than that is preached, though he be an angel from Heaven, let him be accursed.' The second is from ST. Augustine: 'I have learned to render to the inspired Scriptures alone the homage of a firm belief that they have never erred: as to others, I do not believe in the things they teach, simply because it is they who teach them."
Luther adds: "If you rightly understand these principles, you will also understand that your whole dialogue is overturned." To the insinuations and threats of Prierias he responds in these brave words: "Do you thirst for blood? I protest that these menaces of yours give me not the slightest alarm. For what if I were to lose my life? Christ still lives; Christ my Lord, and the Lord of all, blessed forever."
It should be remembered that Luther was attacking with determined blows the institutions of ages. This could not be done without exciting hatred and opposition. No arguments against him could be drawn from the word of God; for his feet were firmly planted upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. When his enemies appealed to custom and tradition, or to the assertions and authority of the Roman pontiff, Luther met them with the Bible and the Bible alone. Here were arguments which they could not answer. Therefore the slaves of formalism and superstition clamored for his blood, as the Jews had clamored for the blood of Christ.
"He is a heretic," cried these Roman zealots; "it is a sin to allow him to live an hour longer! Away with him at once to the scaffold!" But Luther did not fall a prey to their fury. God had a work for him to do, and angels of Heaven were sent to protect him. Many, however, who had received from Luther the precious light, were made the objects of Satan's wrath, and for the truth's sake fearlessly suffered torture and death.
Opposition is the portion of all whom God employs to make an advance move in his work by presenting truth specially applicable to their time. The controversy between Christ and Satan is to increase in intensity to the close of this earth's history. Those who dare to present truths that are not in harmony with the popular churches and with the world, will thereby become the objects of slander, reproach, and falsehood. Many who at first but partially unite with scoffers, finally lend themselves fully to Satan, to oppose and overthrow what God would build up.
There is to-day the same disposition to substitute the theories and traditions of men for the word of God as in the days of Christ, of Paul or of Luther. Ministers advance doctrines which have no foundation in the Scriptures of truth, and in place of Bible proof, they present their own assertions as authority. The people accept the minister's interpretation of the word, without earnest prayer that they may know what is truth. There is no safety in depending upon human wisdom and judgment. Said our Savior, "Search the Scriptures: for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me."
All who possess reasoning powers can know for themselves what is truth. Those who pray and search for light, will receive light. The reason why so many are groping their way in the fog of error is, that they take the assertions of men, instead of searching the word of God for themselves. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Worldlings and superficial Christians will accept nothing which interferes with their selfish love of pleasure; hence they are willingly ignorant of the truth which would save their souls. Satan works with all his deceptive art to present pleasing fables before the people, and he takes thousands in his snare.
The advocates of truth in our day should not expect their message to be received with greater favor than was that of the early Reformers. Nay, rather, they should expect greater difficulties and more determined opposition than were experienced by Luther and his fellow-laborers. Satan's hatred for the truth is the same in all ages; but as he sees that his time is short, he makes one last mighty effort, by signs and lying wonders, to deceive and destroy, not merely the unbelieving world, but the great mass of professed Christians who have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved. In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul declares that the second coming of Christ will be preceded by "the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
There was a present truth--a truth at that time of special importance--in the days of Christ, of Paul, of Luther; there is a present truth for the church to-day. But truth is no more desired by the men of to-day than it was by the Jews in the time of Christ, or by papists in the days of Luther. Therefore Satan, working now with tenfold greater power, succeeds as of old in blinding the eyes of men and darkening their understanding.
As those who now labor in the cause of reform, experience conflicts and trials, as they find their path hedged in by difficulties, and obstructed by the rubbish of error, let them remember that they are traveling the same road that prophets, apostles, and reformers of every age have traveled before them. Christ himself trod a more thorny path than any of his followers. They may comfort themselves with the thought that they are in good company. One mightier than Satan is their leader, and he will give them strength to be steadfast in the faith, and will bring them off victorious.