Luther Appeals to Germany
On the 23d day of June, 1520, Luther published an appeal to the emperor and nobility of Germany in behalf of the Reformation of Christianity. In this appeal he declared: "The Romanists have raised three barriers against all reformation. When the temporal power has attacked them, they have denied its authority, and asserted that the spiritual power was superior to it. When any one rebuked them out of the Scripture, they have answered that no one but the pope was able to interpret Scripture. When they have been threatened with a council, the reply has been, No one but the sovereign pontiff has authority to convoke a council."
He writes of the pope: "It is monstrous to see him who is called the vicar of Christ, displaying a magnificence unrivaled by that of any emperor. Is this to represent the poor and lowly Jesus, or the humble ST. Peter? The pope, say they, is the Lord of the world! But Christ, whose vicar he boasts himself to be, said, My kingdom is not of this world. Ought the power of the vicar to go beyond that of his Lord?"
Luther writes thus of the universities: "I fear much that the universities will be found to be great gates leading down to hell, unless they take diligent care to explain the Holy Scriptures, and to engrave them in the hearts of our youth. I would not advise any one to place his child where the Holy Scriptures are not regarded as the rule of life. Every institution where the word of God is not diligently studied, must become corrupt."
This appeal was rapidly circulated throughout Germany, and exerted a powerful influence upon the people. The whole nation was roused to rally around the standard of reform. Luther's opponents, burning with a desire for revenge, now urged on the pope to take decisive measures against him. The pontiff and his courtiers yielded against their better judgment, and it was decreed that Luther's doctrines should be condemned immediately. Sixty days were to be granted the Reformer and his adherents, after which, if they did not recant, they should be all excommunicated.
It was a terrible crisis for the Reformation. For centuries Rome's sentence of excommunication had been swiftly followed by the stroke of death. Luther was not blind to the tempest about to burst upon him, but he stood firm, trusting in Christ to be his support and shield. With a martyr's faith and courage he wrote: "What is about to happen I know not, nor do I care to know. I am assured that He who sits on the throne of Heaven has from all eternity seen the beginning, the progress, and the end of this affair. Let the blow light where it may, I am without fear. Not so much as a leaf falls without the will of our Father. How much rather will he care for us! It is a light thing to die; for the Word which was made flesh hath himself died. If we die with him, we shall live with him; and passing through that which he has passed through before us, we shall be where he is, and dwell with him forever."
When the papal bull reached Luther he said: "I despise it, and resist it, as impious and false. It is Christ himself who is therein condemned. No reasons are given in it; I am cited to appear, not that I may be heard, but that I may recant. Oh that Charles the Fifth would act as a man! Oh that for the love of Christ he would humble these demons! I glory in the prospect of suffering for the best of causes. Already I feel in my heart more liberty; for I now know that the pope is antichrist, and that his chair is for Satan himself."
The whole nation waited with intense interest to see what Luther would do. They were not kept long in doubt. With great energy and boldness, he immediately answered in a discourse which he entitled, "Against the Bull of Antichrist."
Yet the word of the pontiff of Rome still had power. Prisons, torture, and sword were weapons potent to enforce submission. Everything declared that Luther's work was about to close. The weak and superstitious trembled before the decree of the pope, and while there was a general sympathy for Luther, many felt that life was too dear to be risked in the cause of reform.
Amidst the general tumult, Luther remains calm and composed. "Be of good cheer," he says to Spalatin. "It was Christ that begun all this, and he will bring it to its appointed issue, even though my lot may be banishment and death. Jesus Christ is here present; and He that is in us is mightier than he that is in the world."
Luther formally appeals from the authority of the pope to a general council of the Christian church. Having stated his reasons for this step he says: "Wherefore I most humbly beseech the most serene, illustrious, excellent, wise, and worthy lords, Charles, the Roman Emperor, the electors, princes, counts, barons, knights, gentlemen, cities, and municipalities of the whole German nation, to adhere to this my protest, and unite with me to resist the antichristian proceedings of the pope, for God's glory, in defense of the church and of the Christian faith, and to uphold the free councils of Christendom; and Christ our Saviour will richly reward them by his everlasting grace. But if there be any who set my entreaties at naught, preferring obedience to the pope, an impious man, rather than to obey God, I do hereby disavow all responsibility on their account, having given a faithful warning to their consciences, and I leave them to the final judgment of God, together with the pope and all his adherents."
His next step was to publicly burn the pope's bull, with the canon laws, the decretals, and certain writings sustaining the papal power. By this action he boldly declared his final separation from the Roman Church. He accepted his excommunication, and proclaimed to the world that between himself and the pope there must hereafter be war. The great contest was now fully entered upon.
Viewed from a human stand-point, the path of duty and righteousness is not a path of peace and safety. By faith we must follow as the Lord leads us onward. But could we always discern the everlasting arms around and beneath us, there would be no occasion for the exercise of faith. The way of God's choosing may seem dark, yet it is the surest way to the light. In the midst of apparent disaster and defeat, God's providence is working out his purposes.
The eagle of the Alps is sometimes beaten down by the tempest into the narrow defiles of the mountains. Angry storm-clouds shut in this mighty bird of the forest, their dense, dark masses separating her from the sunny heights where she has built her nest. For a time her efforts to escape seem fruitless. She dashes to and fro, beating the air with her strong wings, and waking the echoes of the mountains with her cries. At length, with a scream of triumph, she darts upward, and, piercing the clouds, she is once more in the clear sunlight, with the darkness and tempest far beneath. Ever thus, by mighty efforts, have God's chosen servant is urged their way upward, breasting opposition, reproach, and persecution, in their conflicts with principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places.
When the hand of the Lord was upon the prophet Ezekiel in the vision of the valley of dry bones, he was commanded to prophesy to the wind; and in answer to his word, life was restored to the slain, and they stood up before him, an exceeding great army. This figure was presented before the prophet to show him that no work of restoration can be too hard for God to do, and none who trust in him need ever say, as Israel had said, "Our hope is lost."
Like the eagle, Luther had been shut in by dense clouds of superstition and Romish heresy, and he had been beaten about by the fierce tempest of opposition; but on the wings of a mighty faith he had risen above the storm, and was now grandly free, with the sunlight of Heaven shining upon his soul.
Standing under the broad shield of Omnipotence, Luther was doing a mighty work for God. Amid the war of conflicting opinions, he stood as a guide and a covert to a bewildered and benighted people. The torch of truth, kindled at the altar of God's word, he placed in the hands of princes and peasants, who aided him in his work, dispelling the dense darkness, and awakening all Europe from the slumber of ages.
The mighty conflicts and victories, the great sorrows and special joys, by which individuals and nations are carried forward in the path of reform and salvation, are of too great importance to be permitted to pass from the memory. Such experiences cost the heroes of faith too much to be often repeated in history; they should not be lightly regarded. Those struggles for freedom of conscience, should be a lesson to all, that no truth which involves self-denial and sacrifice will be favorably accepted by the world. A costly effort is required of every soul that will go in an opposite direction from the multitude. All that stand in Christ's name in defense of the truth must have a history of conflicts and sacrifices. They cannot advance in reform, as Christ leads the way, except at the risk of liberty and life.
It is through divine mercy in giving to the world such men as Martin Luther and his co-laborers that we are now free to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. We who are living so near the close of time should emulate the noble example of the great Reformer. Like Luther we should seek a deep and thorough knowledge of the word of God. It should be our highest ambition to stand firm as a rock when the strongholds of truth are assailed by an unbelieving world and an ungodly church. In the near conflict, thousands will be called to imitate Luther's constancy and courage. Now is the time for us to receive education and discipline in the school of Christ. Now is the time to cultivate faith and courage. Let the cry pass from one to another of the waiting ones, Stand fast. "Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry."
God will again move mightily upon chosen servants to make terrible charges upon the hosts of Satan. The men whom he will accept to carry forward his work, to fight his battles, must be men of principle, brave and firm and true. The customs, traditions, and doctrines, even of professedly great and good men, must have no weight, until first brought to the infallible test of the law and the testimony. "If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." To this test, popes and prelates refused to submit, knowing that it would overthrow at once all their pretended power. It was to maintain this great truth that Luther battled so firmly and fearlessly. His words echo down the line to all the tried and tempted defenders of the truth,--Stand fast. "In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength."
The Reformer found in Christ a hiding-place from the storms of opposition, wrath, and hatred that threatened to overwhelm him. In Christ alone was peace and strength and security. Such will be the experience of every Christian. Amid all the changes and agitations of the world, the Rock of our salvation stands firm. It has been assailed by the combined hosts of earth and hell. For centuries have active minds planned, and strong hands labored, to remove this great corner-stone, and lay another foundation for the faith of the world. The papal power most nearly succeeded in this blasphemous work. But God raised up Luther to cry day and night, as he built upon the walls of Zion. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." That great corner-stone, the Rock of Ages, stands to-day unshaken. Amid all the tumults and conflicts of the world, Christ still offers rest to the weary, and the water of life to the thirsting soul. Through the ages his words come down to us,--"I am the way, the truth and the life."