Page images


ties, a bull of excommunication against Luther, June 15, 1520; in which not only himself, but his followers and protectors, were outlawed and condemned as hereticks; which all the princes and subjects of the empire were called upon to seize and deliver into the hands of justice : but Luther's undaunted spirit acquired additional fortitude from such an instance of opposition. He complained of the impiety and injustice of the pope, and boldly declared him to be the man of sin, or antichrist; and exhorted all christian princes to shake off his yoke.

Luther's books having been burnt in several places, he, by way of retaliation, in the presence of a vast number of spectators in a field near Wittemberg, with great pomp threw the pope's bull of excommunication and the canon law into the flames, with these words ; Since thou hast grieved the Holy Ghost, may eternal fire grieve and devour thee ! Thig action, which has been censured by his enemies with much severity, he has justified by a particular publication : and the reasons he assigned for it were, because it was a custom to burn poisoned and hurtful writings; and that as a doctor of divinity, he was called to destroy the weed grown in the church of Christ; and because his enemies had done the same with his books.

It was not the design of Luther, at first, to overturn the whole system of papal arrogance and superstition ; but the opposition with which he met, in questions where truth and justice were unquestionably on his side, urged him to proceed in the discussion of other subjects. The doctrine of justification, and our acceptance with God by faith, being once fixed, he was naturally led to inquire into the doctrines connected with it: and having overthrown the errors with respect to indulgences, he was soon convinced of the idolatry of worshipping saints; of the vain trust reposed in pilgrimages; of the delu


pared the

sive terrors of purgatory, and of other false doctrines and practices of the church.

Waldus, Wiclef, Huss, and other martyrs of religious truth, in the foregoing centuries, had indeed pre

way; but they were too feeble lights, not to be extinguished by the power of darkness. Many grievous complaints had been made known in the diets of the empire; but the influence of papal authority had grown too strong to be resisted. The clergy indulged themselves in all the vices to which idleness and affluence naturally give birth. It was reserved for Luther to attack boldly the prevailing corruption. The circumstances under which he began and effected the reformation, the wonderful concatenation of so many causes, the seasonable preparations made for spreading his opinions and tenets, evince the intervention of a higher power, and that the same God who planted the gospel, was watchful to preserve it from utter destruction.

The invention of printing, half a century before, and the revival of learning, was extremely favourable to the progress of the reformation, and many learned men, as Melanchthon, Erasmus, and Reuchfin, who, on account of the timidity of their tempers, would not have ventured to wage the war with a powerful enemy, assisted Luther with their learning; who had a mind furnished with all the stores of solid and useful literature, united with the courage and boldness of an invincible champion.

Proceedings of the diet at Worms; with Luther's trial

and concealment, 1521.

At the diet of Worms, after some deliberations concerning the political affairs of the empire, the state of religion was taken into consideration; and Luther was summoned to appear, and give an account of his writings and opinions. Some of his friends, being apprehensive of his safety, advised him not to go to a place, where, perhaps, like Huss, he would be burnt: but his undaunted spirit was superior to the fears and terrors of danger; he thus replied to his friends : “I am lawfully called to that city, and thither will I go and defend the truth in the name of the Lord, though as many devils as there are tiles upon the houses were there combined against me. The same Lord is still living who preserved the three men in the fiery furnace.” It appears to have been his firm resolution, rather to lose his life, than to recant.

Many princes and noblemen, together with a vast number of admiring spectators, left the town to meet him upon the road. Many of the popish legates and ecclesiasticks privately instigated the emperor, Charles V., to imitate the example of the council of Constance, and silence this incorrigible heretick with the flames of a pile, or by the hands of an executioner. But the emperor, as well as other members of the diet, would not consent to violate the publick faith, and stain the German name and history with such another ignominious action; by which, notwithstanding an imperial safe-conduct, Huss, a hundred years before, had been burnt.

There was, perhaps, never a trial before a higher court and more august assembly. It consisted of the emperor and his brother Ferdinand, six electors, many princes, dukes and states of the empire, bishops, abbots, ambassadors and officers. Luther appeared twice before this awful tribunal ; the first time on the 17th of April, 1521, when, on account of the crowd of people, the herald conducted him through private apartments to the great hall, where to his great surprise and comfort, he heard a spectator repeat to him the words of our Saviour: Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my


sake : but when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.” Mat. X. 18, 19. Luther was not over-awed by such a sight, but behaved with great calmness, decency, and firmness.

Two questions were put to him to answer: the first, whether he confessed the books which lay before him to be his writings ? and the second, whether he would recant or not? To the first, he prudently replied, that he could not acknowledge any book to be his own unless they specified the title to him; and as to the second, he desired another day to consider of it. This being granted, at his second appearance he acknowledged the books to be his productions, and at the same time, that in some of his controversial works, he had been rather vehement and acrimonious; but refused to retract his opinions, unless he were convinced from the word of God that they were false. “I cannot (said he) consent to be tried by any other rule than the word of God; for councils and popes have erred, and are not infallible. Unless I am bound and forced in my own mind by arguments which convey conviction, to retract, it is not safe to do it. Here I am, I cannot! I dare not! I will not ! me God. Amen." This was the language of a man, who standing upon bible ground, like an unshaken rock in the midst of a roaring sea and tremendous storm, challenged all the world to refute him.

Neither the entreaties of his friends, nor the threats of his enemies, could prevail on him to depart from this resolution. When the elector of Saxony consulted him how matters could be settled to the satisfaction of both parties, he gave him the advice of Gamaliel. Curiosity

Curiosity, as well as high regard for the man who had stood the trial so well, and was the leader of a great party, was the cause

So help of many visits from personages of the highest rank, during his stay at Worms. A few days after his departure, a most severe and cruel edict of the emperor was published against him; by which not only himself was deprived of all the privileges which he enjoyed as a subject of the empire, but all princes and persons were forbidden, under the penalty of high treason, loss of goods, and being put to the ban of the empire, to receive or defend, maintain or protect, Luther or his opinions.

However, his faithful and discerning patron, the elector of Saxony, took a prudent precaution to screen him from the fury of the storm : for while Luther was on his return from Worms, he was taken and carried to Wartburg, a strong castle near Eisenach. While the emperor's edict was thundering throughout the empire, Luther was safely shut up for nine months in this place; which he used to call his Patmos and Hermitage. While in this place, he employed his time in publishing several treatises, and in translating the New Testament into the German language; which was shortly after printed; whereby his followers were enabled to read and judge for themselves. People of all ranks read the translation with uncommon avidity, and were astonished to discover the great difference between the doctrine of Christ, and that of his pretended viceregent at Rome.

Luther, after remaining nine months in the castle, addressed a letter to the elector of Saxony, informing him that he had not received the gospel from man, but from Heaven, through our Lord Jesus Christ; and that he intended to call himself a servant and evangelist of God: and for fear of doing discredit to the gospel, he was constrained by necessity and his own conscience, to proceed in a different manner. Thinking his presence absolutely necessary at Wittemberg, without waiting for the


« PreviousContinue »