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N the year 1521, when Martin Luther agreed to attend the
diet (or national assembly) of the German Empire at Worms,
with the safe-conduct of the Emperor Charles V. in his pocket, his friends did their best to dissuade him from entering that city. Luther's reply is significant of the indomitable character of the man : “Were there as many devils in Worms as tiles upon the roofs of the houses, still would I enter.” Fortunately for Luther, Charles was a man of honor, and although Luther defended his position and refused to retract, he was permitted to leave Worms—though the emperor decreed that he should be seized as soon as his safe-conduct had expired. But before that happened he was safely concealed in the solitary castle of Wartburg, under guard of a party of friendly knights. When he left that place of refuge the peril had passed away.
Luther was a man of strong zeal and intrepidity. His being called to Worms was due, not to his attacks upon the priesthood, but to his denial of the authority of the pope, whom he had assailed with all the fierce invective and vituperation which were common in the controversies of that age. A provocation of this kind the Church was not likely to let pass, and Luther's visit to Worms was attended with imminent peril. He met it fearlessly, disdainful of death or danger in face of the mission of his life.
DEFENCE BEFORE THE DIET AT WORMS
[The charge against Luther was that he had written and disseminated false doctrines and virulent attacks on the Church, the priesthood, and the pope, and he was summoned to Worms with the demand that he should retract his heretical writings. He defended himself with tact and prudence, but with no yielding.]
Most SERENE EMPEROR, ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCES, GRACIOUS LORDS :
In obedience to your commands given me yesterday, I stand here, beseeching you, as God is merciful, so to deign mercifully to listen to this cause ; which is, as I believe, the cause of justice and of truth. And if, through inexperience, I should fail to apply to any his proper title, or offend in any way against the manners of courts, I entreat you to pardon me as one not conversant with courts, but rather with the cells of monks, and claiming no other merit than that of having spoken and written with that simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.
Two questions have been proposed to me: Whether I acknowledge the books which are published in my name, and whether I am determined to defend or disposed to recall them. To the first of these I have given a direct answer, in which I shall ever persist, that these books are mine and published by me, except in so far as they may have been altered or interpolated by the craft or officiousness of rivals. To the other I am now about to reply; and I must first entreat your Majesty and your Highnesses to deign to consider that my books are not all of the same description. For there are some in which I have treated the piety of faith and morals with simplicity so evangelical that my very adversaries confess them to be profitable and harmless, and deserving the perusal of a Christian. Even the pope's bull, fierce and cruel as it is, admits some of my books to be innocent; though even those, with a monstrous perversity of judgment, it includes in the same sentence. If, then, I should think of retracting these, should I not stand alone in my condemnation of that truth which is acknowledged by the unanimous confession of all, whether friends or foes ?
The second species of my publications is that in which I have inveighed against the papacy and the doctrine of the papists, as of men who by their iniquitous tenets and examples have desolated the Christian world, both with spiritual and temporal calamities. No man can deny or dissemble this. The sufferings and complaints of all men are my witnesses that, through the laws of the pope and the doctrines of men, the consciences of the faithful have been ensnared, tortured, and torn in pieces ; while, at the same time, their property and substance have been devoured by an intolerable tyranny, and are still devoured without end and by degrading means ; and that too, most of all, in this roble nation of Germany. Yet it is with them a perpetual statute, that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the Fathers.
If, then, I shall retract these books, I shall do no other than add
strength to tyranny, and throw open doors to this great impiety, which will then stride forth more widely and licentiously than it hath dared hitherto; so that the reign of iniquity will proceed with entire impunity, and, notwithstanding its intolerable oppression upon the suffering vulgar, be further still fortified and established ; especially when it shall be proclaimed that I have been driven to this act by the authority of your serene Majesty and the whole Roman Empire. What a cloak, blessed Lord, should I then become for wickedness and despotism !
In a third description of my writings are those which I have published against individuals, against the defenders of the Roman tyranny and the subverters of the piety taught by men. Against these I do freely confess that I have written with more bitterness than was becoming either my religion or my profession ; for, indeed, I lay no claim to any special sanctity, and argue not respecting my own life, but respecting the doctrine of Christ. Yet even these writings it is impossible for me to retract, seeing that through such retraction despotism and impiety would reign under my patronage, and rage with more than their former ferocity against the people of God.
Yet since I am but man and not God, it would not become me to go farther in defence of my tracts than my Lord Jesus went in defence of His doctrine ; who, when he was interrogated before Annas, and received a blow from one of the officers, answered: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil ; but if well, why smitest thou me?" If, then, the Lord himself, who knew His own infallibility, did not disdain to require arguments against His doctrine even from a person of low condition, how much rather ought I, who am the dregs of the earth and the very slave of error, to inquire and search if there be any to bear witness against my doctrine! Wherefore, I entreat you, by the mercies of God, that if there be any one of any condition who has that ability, let him overpower me by the sacred writings, prophetical and evangelical. And for my own part, as soon as I shall be better instructed I will retract my errors and be the first to cast my books into the flames.
[It being demanded that he should return a simple answer to a simple question, whether he would retract or not, he said :]
I cannot but choose to adhere to the Word of God, which has possession of my conscience ; nor can I possibly, nor will I, ever make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience. Here I stand ; I cannot do otherwise ; so help me God! Amen!
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564)
THE FAMOUS REFORMER AND PREACHER
FTER Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, Calvin
was the greatest of those who broke away from the Church of
Rome, preached new doctrines and established a new Church. Destined for the Roman clergy, and appointed curé of Marteville, France, when only sixteen years of age, he early dissented from the theology of his Church, and began to preach the new doctrines of the Protestant faith. Soon he made France too hot for him, and fled from place to place, until he finally found a refuge in Geneva, Switzerland, where he founded a church and developed a sectarian faith which has since made its way throughout the Christian world.
Calvin was exceptionally clear and exact as a theological writer and acutely logical as a reasoner. Beza, one of his admirers, speaks in high terms of his oratory, saying that he “ taught the truth, not with affected eloquence, but with such solid gravity of style that there was not a man who could hear him without being ravished with admiration."
THE COURAGE OF A CHRISTIAN [As an example of Calvin's style of preaching we offer a brief extract from a sermon on the necessity of enduring persecution, and the reasons for doing so with courage and fortitude.]
A heathen could say
that It was a miserable thing to save life by giving up the only things which made life desirable!” And yet he, and others like him, never knew for what end men are placed in the world, and why they live in it. It is true they knew enough to say that men ought to follow virtue, to conduct themselves honestly and without reproach ; but all their virtues were mere paint and smoke. We know far better what the chief aim of life should be ; namely, to glorify God,
in order that he may be our glory. When this is not done, woe to us! And we cannot continue to live for a single moment upon the earth without heaping additional curses on our heads. Still, we are not ashamed to purchase some few days to languish here below, renouncing the eternal kingdom by separating ourselves from Him by whose energy we are sustained in life.
Were we to ask the most ignorant, not to say the most brutish, persons in the world why they live, they would not venture to answer simply, that it is to eat, and drink, and sleep; for all know that they have been created for a higher and holier end. And what end can we find if it be not to honor God, and allow ourselves to be governed by Him, like children by a good parent; so that after we have finished the journey of this corruptible life, we may be received into His eternal inheritance ! is the principal, indeed the sole end. When we do not take it into account, and are intent on a brutish life, which is worse than a thousand deaths, what can we allege for our excuse ? To live and not know why, is unnatural. To reject the causes for which we live, under the influence of a foolish longing for a respite of some few days, during which we are to live in the world, while separated from God—I know not how to name such infatuation and madness !
It were easy, indeed, for God to crown us at once, without requiring us to sustain any combats ; but as it is His pleasure that until the end of the world Christ shall reign in the midst of His enemies, so it is also His pleasure that we, being placed in the midst of them, shall suffer their oppression and violence till He deliver us. I know, indeed, that the flesh kicks when it is to be brought to this point, but still the will of God must have the mastery. If we feel some repugnance in ourselves, it need not surprise us ; for it is only too natural for us to shun the cross. Still let us not fail to surmount it, knowing that God accepts our obedience, provided we bring all our feelings and wishes into captivity, and make them subject to him..
In ancient times, vast numbers of people, to obtain a simple crown of leaves, refused no toil, no pain, no trouble ; nay, it even cost them nothing to die, and yet every one of them fought for a peradventure, not knowing whether he was to gain or lose the prize. God holds forth to us the immortal crown by which we may become partakers of His glory. He does not mean us to fight at haphazard, but all of us have a promise of the prize for which we strive. Have we any cause then to decline the struggle? Do we think it has been said in vain, “If we die with Jesus Christ we shall also live with Him?”. Our triumph is prepared, and yet we do all we can to shun the combat,