Short Papers on Church History — Chapter 45

The Reformation in Germany

We have already traced the history of the Reformation in Germany from the year 1517, when Luther nailed his theses to the church door in Wittemberg, down to the year 1532, when the Emperor signed the treaty of peace at Ratisbon. The history of these fifteen years is certainly the most important in the annals of mankind, if we except the early part of the first christian century. We pass through a succession of events, characterized by the grace and energy of the Holy Spirit, combined with the hand of God in government, and emerge from the darkness and superstition of Rome, into the light and liberty of the truth of God. We know of no page in history, which so commands, not only our interest, but our adoration.

And how, it may be asked, was this mighty revolution so speedily accomplished? Not by philosophy, not by the schoolmen, not by the Humanists, but simply by the truth of God acting on the conscience of man, through the power of the Holy Spirit. On what ground did Luther stand and triumph at the Diet of Worms? The word of God, sustained by His grace. On what principle did the princes prevail at Augsburg? Precisely the same. And by what means did Zwingle put to flight the enemies of the truth at Zurich? By appealing to the word of God, and to that alone; but when he shifted his position, giving up divine ground for human, he became weak as other men. So long as conscience ruled in that noble mind, and raised that powerful voice, the mightiest of Rome's champions were confounded, and fled ashamed from his dignified presence. But alas! when he connected the civil sword with the sword of the Spirit, the truth of God was dishonoured, he had left the place of strength, and became the weakest of the weak. He had a bad conscience, his breastplate was gone; and that always robs a man of courage, peace, and happiness. It is only by means of conscience that truth establishes its dominion over the minds and ways of mankind.

This fact, historically viewed, is wonderful, and demands our devout consideration. Luther was as free from fanaticism as he was far from hypocrisy; he was perfectly simple; but his conscience was honestly bound by the word of God, and his affections were kindled by it, and thus, holding by that word, all Europe was shaken by a power which faith only can understand. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. " The two exquisite properties of faith are, to exclude human power, and to bring in divine. As the apostle says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Rom. 4:5; Phil. 4:13)

We will now glance for a moment at the effects of this power in the short period of fifteen years.

A Brief Survey

The great truth which the early Reformers preached — salvation by faith without works of human merit — spread with a rapidity resembling the light of heaven. In a short time it had travelled over the greater part of Europe. In the year 1530 Luther, writing to the Elector, speaks of his dominions as if they were a millennial scene. "It gives me great pleasure," says the Reformer, "when I see that boys and girls can now understand, and speak better concerning God and Christ, than formerly could have been done by the colleges, monasteries, and schools of the papacy, or than they can do even yet. There is thus planted in your highness's dominions a very pleasant paradise, to which there is nothing similar in the whole world." The ground had been cleared of monasteries and convents, and covered with churches and schools.

Hesse, as well as Saxony, we have seen evangelized, and planted with churches and schools, and all regulated by the government. In Franconia, Silesia, East Friesland, Prussia, Brunswick, Luneburg, and Anhalt, the light of the gospel was spreading. Many of the free cities had opened their gates to the preachers of the new doctrines and were now rejoicing in the truth, and boldly witnessing for it. The rapid conquests of the Reformation in Switzerland, which we have examined with some care, fall within the limits of our period. Along the chain of the Jura, by the shores of Leman to the gates of Geneva, the light of the gospel had travelled. In Denmark and Sweden the gospel had gained a firm footing, and Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary had been revived. Even in the court of Francis I. and in the Sorbonne, renowned for its orthodoxy, there were true believers in the doctrine of justification by faith alone; but the state ever was and is Roman Catholic; and dearly she has had to pay in her terrible revolutions for her rejection of the truth, and the persecution of its witnesses. In England, the followers of Wycliffe were revived, and the persecuted Lollards again lifted up their heads, and testified for the truth with fresh courage. The king, the parliament, and the people threw off the yoke of Rome in 1533, and Henry was declared supreme head of the British church. The authority of the Roman pontiff was then abolished in England. But the details of this important event will form a distinct theme for our "Short Papers," the Lord willing.

As early as 1528, Luther's tracts and Tyndal's New Testament had done their blessed work in Scotland. The noble, gentle, and accomplished Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake in the centre of the large area before the gate of St. Salvator's college, Aberdeen, on a charge of "holding and maintaining divers heresies of Martin Luther."*

{*Cunningham, vol. 1, p. 220. Wylie, vol. 1, p. 620.}

A Great Increase

After the pacification of Ratisbon many, who had concealed their opinions, now came boldly forward and declared for the great truths of the Reformation. Princes, nobles, various regions and towns of Germany, year after year, professed without fear to have given up the old faith, and to have embraced the new doctrines.

An event, in its origin purely political, which occurred at this period, was so overruled, as to increase greatly the strength of the Reformers. In the year 1519, Ulrich Duke of Wurtemberg, gave offence to the league of Swabia and was expelled from his dominions, which were afterwards placed under the sceptre of Ferdinand. The exiled prince, after a long captivity of seventeen years, was restored, through the assistance of his kinsman, Philip of Hesse, to the dukedom of his ancestors. It appears that he attended the conferences at Marburg in 1529, and had received impressions favourable to the Reformation. "Hence," says Scultetus, "his first object on the recovery of his dominions, was to throw them open to the glory of Christ, and to introduce the preaching of the pure word of God, and the administration of the sacraments, according to His institution." He also engaged the assistance of several theologians to organize churches, establish schools, and arrange other details on the principles of Protestantism. This must have been like life from the dead to those extensive dominions which had been under the sway of the bigoted catholic Ferdinand.

The Reformation of the Duchy of Wurtemberg, was followed by that of Brunswick, Calenberg, Hanover, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and the cities of Augsburg, Bremen, and Hamburg. But there was one accession to the Protestant cause about this time which demands a special notice as illustrating the overruling providence of God in those eventful times.

On the 24th of April, 1539, George, Duke of Saxony, died. He was head of the Albertine branch of the Saxony family and possessed, as Marquis of Mesnea and Thuringia, extensive territories comprising Dresden, Leipsic, and other cities now the most considerable in the electorate. From the dawn of the Reformation he had been the most resolute and determined enemy of what he styled Lutheranism. It is probable that his opposition at first was from a sincere belief in the doctrines of Romanism; but it became embittered by personal antipathy to Luther, and by the electoral princes, the other branch of the family, being his unfailing friends. By his death without issue, the succession fell to his brother Henry, whose attachment to the doctrines of the Reformation surpassed, if possible, that of his brother George to the papacy. Like Ulrich, he invited some Protestant divines, and among them Luther himself, to meet him at Leipsic. In the course of a few weeks the whole system of ancient rites was over-turned, and the full exercise of the Reformed religion established, and that with the universal applause of his subjects.

This was an event of great advantage to the Reformation. It removed an inveterate enemy from the very centre of the Reformed states, and converted that which had been a point of weakness into a position of strength. These providential, yet mysterious, accessions greatly strengthened the Smalcald league, extending the boundaries, and increasing the numbers of the Protestants. The territories of the princes, and cities attached to their cause now extended, in one great and almost unbroken line, from the shores of the Baltic to the banks of the Rhine.*

{*Robertson's History of Charles V., p. 244.}

The Great Actors Passing Off the Scene

Many of the names with which we have become familiar, and who have sustained a conspicuous part in the earlier history of the Reformation, are now passing off the stage of time. "Having discharged the offices assigned to them," says Dean Waddington, "they had proceeded on their fatal journey; and the grave which closed over their ashes might have concealed the memories of most of them in a like oblivion, had they not been cast upon one of those periods of revolutionary convulsion which break in like tempests, upon the ordinary progression of human events, and leave behind them such lasting traces of their operations on the destinies of mankind, as to give an interest to the petty performances of the humblest agents, even with a remote and intelligent posterity." But happy they, happy all, who act in the great drama of life with a good conscience towards God and man- repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ-who care for the glory of the one and the well-being of the other.

Conscience has much more to do with man's future well-being than is generally thought. A bad conscience forbids him accrediting the grace of God in Christ towards the guilty. Man knows the difference between good and evil, and, knowing that he has chosen the evil and refused the good, he believes God is against him. In this state of mind he endeavours to keep out of the way of all that which would bring him face to face with God. Therefore as unbelief is cherished, the mind becomes darker and the heart grows harder. The effects of self-complacency, through the power and subtlety of the enemy are also most ruinous. Man is so blinded by the god of this world, and so occupied with self, that he sees no moral beauty in Jesus, no need of Him as a Saviour, and no need of the salvation which is pressed upon his acceptance. And thus it is that so many pass off the scene, outwardly respectable, but inwardly heedless of the danger against which they are so solemnly and so frequently warned.

We judge not the dead; but offer the result of our reflections for the benefit of the living. May he not, as many do, slumber on under the influence of an evil conscience, self-complacency, and the blinding power of Satan, until he has played out his part; and then wake up, too late, to the importance of the truth he has rejected, and the Saviour he has slighted. But, alas! the day of mercy is past, the door of mercy is closed; and, seeing his loss to be irreparable, he sinks under the weight of hopeless despair.

John, Elector of Saxony, surnamed the Constant, died August 16th, 1532. During seven critical years, this illustrious prince, guided with great wisdom and firmness the vessel of the Reformation. At Augsburg, it will be remembered, he displayed a constancy superior to the wavering of some of his theologians; yet so tempered by moderation as to preserve him from immediate collision with the Emperor. At one time he was cruelly menaced by Charles, at another, his honesty was tempted by secret but flattering overtures; but, nobly free from personal motives, he remained true to his convictions, and generously devoted to the great public question of the sixteenth century, the Reformation. There can be no question as to the genuineness of his piety. He was affectionately attached to Luther, and on doubtful questions usually deferred to his opinion. He took such delight in the holy scriptures, that he would frequently have them read to him by youths of noble families, as much as six hours in the day. Happily the Reformation lost nothing by his death. His son, John Frederick, the new Elector, was in the flower of his youth, warmly attached to the cause, and not less to the person of Luther, than his father. He was characterized by piety and firmness in the trying circumstances through which he was afterwards called to pass.*

{*Scott, vol. 1, p. 129; Waddington, vol. 3, p. 164.}

As few of the antagonists of Luther survived him, notwithstanding the high price that was set upon his life, we will notice some of the leading ones.

Pope Clement VII. died September 27th, 1534. He died, even according to Italian history, "Detested by his court, suspected by the princes, with an offensive and hateful reputation; for he was esteemed avaricious, faithless, and by nature indisposed to do good to mankind." In addition to the evil qualities here specified, others mention an obduracy and inclemency, which grew with the decay of his frame, and the morbid weakness of declining life. The virtues commonly ascribed to him are gravity, parsimony, self-control, circumspection, or, dissimulation; for indeed, the last was so essential a quality, at the court of Rome, that he who excelled in that, in which all aspired to excel, deserved the sort of praise attached to such pre-eminence."*

{*Guicciardini and Fra Paolo, quoted by Waddington, vol. 3, p. 183.}

Clement is familiarly known to our readers as professing his willingness to call a council, yet persevering to the end of his life in the artifices which he knew would delay, if not finally prevent, its convocation. His dark and suspicious mind dreaded the thought of a general council. He was afraid of the light; he knew that the circumstances of his own history, and his elevation to the chair, were not free from reproach. How different the character and the end of the chief prince of Germany to the chief pastor of Rome! May we seek to imitate all that was of God in the former and avoid all that was of Satan in the latter.

Cardinal Cajetan, one of Luther's earliest antagonists, died the same year as Clement. He was censured by many of the dignitaries of the church for his unsuccessful contest with Luther at Augsburg, but not disgraced by the Vatican. It is thought by some that he fumed his attention more to the study of the scriptures after his defeat; but he lived and died in the service of the papacy.

Lorenzo Campeggio, the legate selected for the critical occasion of the famous Diet of Augsburg, died in 1539. He ably represented his papal majesty and the principles of the Vatican. Secretly and unceasingly he urged Charles to violent measures against the Protestants. Fire and sword sweeping confiscations, the Inquisition, burning heretical books, were the legate's arguments behind the scene. Still he was far from exceeding his orders.

Aleander, the great papal champion at the Diet of Worms died in 1542. For his great zeal in the pontifical cause, he received high ecclesiastical honours; but his life was chiefly spent in the management of public business, the affairs of state, and the councils of princes.

Erasmus, of high literary fame, and in some respects the forerunner of Luther, died in 1536 at the age of sixty-nine. His name must ever be associated with Luther and the Reformation, though latterly, Luther considered him one of its greatest enemies, and the enemy of all true religion. He lacked the essential principles of a Reformer. He was insincere, unstable, without courage, and trembled at the results of his own work. He was a reformer, until the Reformation became a great reality. He fled from Basle when the Reformation was established on the destruction of the images, and returned to it when tranquillity was restored. Yet, notwithstanding his inconsistencies, he commanded great respect from his literary reputation, his manners and accomplishments; and his death was deplored as a great national affliction. He died, professedly, in the bosom of holy mother church, and declaiming against the new evangelical practices.

John of Eck, professor of Ingolstadt, closed his noisy career in 1543, at the age of fifty-seven. He was the indefatigable champion of the dignity and absolute supremacy of Rome papal. He was arrogant, vain-glorious, and eminently gifted with the qualities which form an accomplished disputant. "His unwearied zeal hurried him into every field where the Reformers were encamped. Everywhere he was foremost in the strife; everywhere he contended with force and energy, and on more than one occasion with success.... Thus was he confronted in a long series of combats, during a space of twenty years, with all the chieftains of the Reformation." Thus he lived and thus he died, maintaining even with his latest breath the loftiest pretensions of Rome.

The Latter End of Luther

The public testimony of Luther and his associates, may be said to have closed when they delivered the confession of Augsburg. The contest then, if not before, changed its character. It was no longer between excommunicated heretics bearing witness to the truth of God against the falsehoods of Rome; but between the princes of Germany, united in league and arrayed in arms, and the imperial confederacy. But, although retiring from the notice of the public chronicler, they still laboured unweariedly in the duties of their special vocations, and had the gratification of seeing the result of their labours, in the peaceful progress of the word of God. Of Luther, however, one of his biographers remarks, "That though he continued to discharge, with his accustomed zeal, his official duties as a preacher and a professor, and published commentaries on various parts of scripture, and showed no inclination to relinquish his former habit of sending forth a popular treatise whenever circumstances in the state of religion appeared to call for it; yet, amid those various occupations, it was remarked that his enterprising spirit appeared to undergo abatement, and that in his latter years he was found to hazard no new doctrine."*

{*History of the Church by the Rev. John Fry, p. 324.}

During these years the great Reformer, who has claimed so large a portion of our attention, was chastened by long and painful sickness, and was fast descending to his resting-place, where the rude contests of life, its animosities and injuries, are all forgotten. Writing to a friend a few days before he set out on his last journey, he says, "I am old, decrepit, sluggish, weary, spiritless, and deprived of half my sight; yet, at a time when I had hoped to have a reasonable share of rest, I continue to be overwhelmed with business, writing, speaking, acting, and doing, as if I had never yet acted, written, spoken, or done anything."

In the January of 1546, the Counts of Mansfeld, having some difference about boundaries and inheritance, invited Luther to Eisleben-his native place-to decide it by his arbitration. Though not caring to meddle in such matters he consented.

He left Wittemberg on the 23rd of January, accompanied by his three sons, and his faithful friend, Justus Jonas. Though feeble and suffering, he engaged in the business on which he had come for about three weeks, and matters were arranged to the satisfaction of the lords of Mansfeld. He was received by these noblemen with great honour; they met him with an escort of one hundred horsemen, amidst the ringing of the bells in all the churches. He occasionally preached in the church and partook of the communion. Every night, as he took leave of his friends, he would say, "Pray to God that the cause of His church may prosper, for the Council of Trent is vehemently enraged against it."

On the evening of the 17th of February he dined with his friends, including his three sons-John, Martin, and Paul -and Justus Jonas. He was persuaded to abstain from business that evening, and to keep quiet in his study. He walked about the room, looked out at the window, looked upwards, and prayed earnestly. Deep thoughts were passing through his mind, but did not depress his spirits. There he had spent the morning and there, he now felt, he was to spend the evening of his life. "I was born and baptized here at Eisleben, Jonas," he would say: "what if I should remain or die here!"

The Death of Luther

Early in the evening he began to complain of an oppression in the chest; but he was relieved by means of friction and warm applications. Feeling better, he left his room and joined the party at supper. "During this last meal he was sometimes playful, even jocular, sometimes profoundly serious-such as he had ever been in the unreserved society of his friends." After supper, the oppression returned, yet he would not have medical aid called in, but asked for a warm linen cloth for his chest. He fell asleep about nine on a couch, and awoke about ten. Seeing so many friends around him, he desired that they should retire to rest. He was then led to his chamber; when he was placed in his bed, he exclaimed, "I go to rest with God .... Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." And, stretching out his hand to bid all good-night, he added, "Pray for the cause of God." Having slept about three hours, he awoke, feeling very ill. "Oh God!" he said, "how ill I am! what an oppression I feel in my chest! I shall certainly die at Eisleben!" "My reverend father," replied Jonas, "God our heavenly Father will assist you by Christ, whom you have preached. " He removed into his study without requiring assistance, and again repeating, "O my God! into Thy hands I commend my spirit."

Two physicians had been sent for, who presently arrived, and likewise Count Albert, accompanied by his countess, who brought cordials and other medicines. All Luther's friends and his three sons were now collected around him, and he seemed somewhat relieved; and having lain down on a couch he fell into a perspiration. This gave the friends some hope: but he himself said, "It is a cold sweat, the forerunner of death: I shall yield up my spirit." He then began to pray, nearly in these words:-

"O eternal and merciful God, my heavenly Father, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and God of all consolation! I thank Thee that Thou hast revealed unto me Thy Son, Jesus Christ; in whom I have believed, whom I have preached, whom I have confessed, whom I love and worship as my dear Saviour and Redeemer, whom the pope and the multitude of the ungodly do persecute, revile, and blaspheme. I beseech Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, receive my soul! O heavenly Father, though I be snatched out of this life, though I must lay down this body, yet know I assuredly that I shall dwell with Thee for ever, and that none can pluck me out of Thy hands." He then thrice repeated the words, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth." Also those words, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He then became silent, and his powers began to fail him. The countess gave him some restorative, and he gently whispered "Yes, or No." And when Jonas raised his voice and said to him, "Beloved father, cost thou confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Saviour and Redeemer?" he clearly and audibly rejoined, "I do;" and spoke no more. With his hands clasped, a gentle respiration interrupted by sighs, continued for a short time; and then, amidst the deep lamentation of his surrounding friends, between two and three in the morning, he fell asleep in Jesus.*

{*From the account given by Justus Jonas to the Elector of Saxony, by the hand of Count Albert's secretary. See Scott's History, vol. 1, pp. 464 - 477.}

The Funeral of Luther

The Counts of Mansfeld would gladly have retained and interred the body of Luther in his native place, but they submitted to the wishes of the Elector, who directed it to be conveyed to Wittemberg. The body was then removed into the largest church at Eisleben. Great excitement prevailed. Jonas preached a funeral sermon to an immense concourse of people after which, the body was placed under the charge of ten citizens, who were to watch it during the night. Early the following day the procession moved towards Wittemberg. The citizens crowded along the streets and beyond the gates. "There the countrymen, summoned by the ringing of bells, joined, together with their wives and families, the sad procession. It was met on the way by a deputation from the Elector, then reached Wittemberg, on the 23rd of February. When the procession arrived at the gate of the city, it was received by the senate, the rector, the professors, and the students of the university, with all the principal citizens; after which it advanced, attended by the whole population to the church of All Saints. Then came the widow of Luther with her daughters and three sons, and the little company of friends, Melancthon, Pontanus, Jonas, Pomeranus, Cruciger, and others, the true yoke-fellows of the departed, the veterans of the Reformation.

Suitable hymns were sung as the funeral proceeded through the streets of the city. The body was deposited on the right of the pulpit; whence, after some further verses had been sung, Pomeranus addressed the vast multitude. Melancthon then pronounced a funeral oration. But it has been remarked, as creditable to both orators, that their feelings were more conspicuous than their powers of oratory, and that their pious attempts to console the sorrows of others were little more than a hearty demonstration of their own."*

{*For Extracts of Melancthon's Oration, see Waddington, vol. 3, pp. 353 - 356.}

Reflections on the Life of Luther

To study and estimate the different characters which pass before us in history, contrasted in everything but their common design, and to trace with the eye of faith the overruling hand of God in all their works and ways, will be found both deeply interesting and highly profitable. It is the study of what God is in government, and of what man is in himself, however richly gifted or renewed by grace. Speaking of those great, we must always add, but, fallible men. There is only One who is infallible, and, thank God, we own no Head, no centre, but Him; and no name but His-the name of Jesus; and it is only from this elevated point of view that we can rightly estimate the characters and events of history.

The life and death of Luther are full of the deepest instruction for the thoughtful student, especially when contrasted with his great compeer, Zwingle. Their object was one; but their ways of attaining that object were as wide apart as the poles. It would be hard to say which had the greater heart for the maintenance and spread of the truth of God; perhaps Luther's was the warmer and deeper, Zwingle's the clearer and broader. The one was war, the other peace; the one looked for victory only through the energy of faith and the bold confession of the truth; the other thought that the sword of the magistrate might, in some cases, be allied with the gospel of peace; the one was destined to see his labours crowned with almost universal success; the other was doomed to witness a catastrophe which threatened to engulf his dearly loved Reformation; the one died in peace, surrounded by his friends; the other by the blows of his enemies. The principle of Luther in this respect, is one of the essential principles of Christianity. The fury of the persecutor is to be met by truth and meekness-the martyr's noblest crown-not by political edicts and men-at-arms. These two great examples are no doubt intended by God to be two great lessons to all future generations. If we follow Christ, we must be characterized by His Spirit, and walk in His footsteps. "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." (1 John 2:6)

The Lord's Care of His Servant

We need no voice from heaven to assure us of the Lord's watchful care over His servant Luther. He trusted in God and his faith was not disappointed. There is no more wonderful instance of the preserving power of divine providence on the page of history. Its lessons are well fitted to strengthen our faith in Him who rules over all. An Augustinian monk of humble condition, without authority, without protection, rose up against the most degrading, firmly-seated despotism ever imposed on the credulity of mankind, and alone he triumphed. We cannot be too often reminded of this unseen, but invincible power. Faith is always in harmony with the mind and government of God. This was the grand secret of Luther's victory. He had scarcely an avowed supporter when he stood superior to kings, princes, popes and prelates, to all that was mighty in power, and venerable for antiquity.

No human eye could discover any adequate motive for the strange position he had taken. It was neither vanity, ambition, nor fanaticism. He never was more, and he never cared to be more, than Dr. Martin Luther. It was also a time of general peace and quiet submission to papal authority. Why then trouble the still waters? There is but one answer to this question-conscience. There was a power in the enlightened conscience of the monk which the double sword of popery was powerless to overcome. Even the natural man without conscience can never be a man in any high and noble sense of the word. But faith placed the Reformer on the solid ground of the word of God, by which he was taught the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, justice and oppression. Now he stood for the truth of God; and God, in wisdom and power, stood with him. He boldly maintained "that scripture was the only test of truth; that the interpretation of scripture was of private right and privilege*; that conscience had her prerogatives, which were higher than all the powers of earth; and that despotism, whether spiritual, ecclesiastical, or intellectual, was contrary to the will of God, and to the happiness, prosperity, and dignity of mankind." On this foundation the Reformation was built; and by the maintenance of these principles, that system of delusion, which was deemed omnipotent, was shaken to its centre by a single monk in his brown frock and cowl.

{*The truer ground would have been personal responsibility to God Who has spoken to man.}

To have accomplished the destruction of such a heretic, Rome would gladly have given the half of her kingdom; but she could not touch a hair of his head, or take a day or an hour of his life from him. For well nigh thirty years he defied her utmost malice, her loudest thunders, and all her powers. Yes, the powers which, only a little time before, had made the proudest monarchs to tremble on their thrones. But now there were bolts forged at Wittemberg as well as at the Vatican, and hurled with as little ceremony at popes and kings as at the Anabaptists or the revolutionary peasants. What is to be done with the audacious monk? Will no man rid His Infallibility of this pestilent enemy of the papacy? Where are the daggers and the poisoned cups of Jezebel, which have so often come to her aid? And yet, he is always at hand, always to be seen, always in action, writing, speaking, uttering defiance to his adversaries, or inspiring his friends with courage and resolution. But he has no designs of blood; his object is life, not death. When he is most violent, it is in word only, and that he may awaken Christendom from the slumber of ages; or rage against the high ones of the earth because they have sought to arrest the progress of the truth. Every hand that was engaged on the side of papal tyranny was raised against him, yet not one of them could strike the fatal blow.

Such is the perfect security of the man who reposes under the shield of the Almighty. Diet after diet of the German Empire may be convoked, aided by the representatives of papal authority, but all in vain; Luther is beyond their reach, yet always in sight. His door stands open; the poor may come for alms; distinguished strangers from all parts of Europe may enter, converse freely, and sup with the far-famed professor; yet no man can be found to do him harm. And so he lived in the unwalled town of Wittemberg as safely as if he had been within the gates of heaven.

The Domestic and Inner Life of Luther

"Hitherto," says a competent critic, "the too common idea of the great Reformer's character has been, that it was a mere compound of violence and ruggedness. These features have been so prominent, that the finer lines of his portrait have been completely shaded from sight. The lion and the lamb were united in Luther. Nothing could exceed his submissiveness and humility when a choice was left him whether to be humble or daring: but when conscience spoke no other consideration was for a moment attended to, and he certainly did shake the forest in his magnificent ire.... We dwell not upon his constant contentment in poverty, and his contempt for riches, because this is the characteristic of almost all great men who are really worth more than gold can procure them; but his long unbroken friendship with Melancthon-a character so opposite to his own, and in some respects so superior, as he was the first to acknowledge himself-has always struck us as a proof that he possessed much sweetness and gentleness of disposition. Envy or jealousy never interrupted for a moment the fraternal affection that subsisted between these great men. Of those passions, indeed, Luther seems not to have been susceptible. Neither did personal ambition come near him. He gave himself no air of grandeur or importance, notwithstanding the great things he had performed. He seemed to consider himself as a common man among common men.

"But this great simplicity of manners exhibits, not only his native greatness, but that apostolic frame of mind, which all the messengers of God, from Moses downwards, have displayed. Such men are moulded at once by the hand that sends them. The accidents of this world have no power-as they have upon others-to change or modify their moral conformation. There is a oneness, a wholeness of character in these elect instruments; they are governed by one idea, and one only. Hence was begotten the simplicity and homeliness of Luther's walk in life. Had he acted the great man, he would have proved that he was not the apostle. In his family and among his neighbours, he was pleasant, affectionate, and pious; but his piety was not put on; it flowed in a mingled stream with his everyday life and conversation."*

{*Blackwood's Magazine-slightly altered-December 1835.}

Luther's Marriage

The marriage of Luther happening about a month after the death of his friend and patron, Frederick of Saxony, and while all Germany was bewailing the blood of her peasants, appeared to us so indiscreet, that we purposely left it out of our narrative. His usual impetuosity was strikingly manifested on this occasion.

The name of Catherine von Bora has long enjoyed a wide celebrity. She was of a good family, and one of nine recluses, who, after studying the scriptures, and finding that their vow was not binding, escaped from a convent in Mesnia. Within the space of two years eight of the nine were married; Catherine alone remained unmarried. During this time they had been supported by the bounty of friends, which was administered by Luther. In this way he must have known something of Catherine's character and disposition. He first proposed to unite her to one of his friends, a humble evangelical pastor; but not falling in with this arrangement, she remarked, with great simplicity, that had he proposed to espouse her himself, or to affiance her to Amsdorf, she should have felt less objection. Luther is represented to have been entirely overpowered by so flattering a declaration. He decided at once to be married, and without any notice of his intention, he caused the ceremony to be immediately performed.

On the 11th of June, 1525, Luther went to the house of his friend and colleague, Amsdorf. He desired Pomeranus, whom he styled The Pastor, to bless their union. The celebrated painter, Lucas Cranach, and Dr. John Apella, witnessed the marriage. Melancthon, the dearest friend of all, was absent. For Luther to take such a bold step, while so many calamities were hanging over the Reformation, overwhelmed him for the moment. But when the clamour arose against his friend, he warmly defended his friend's marriage.

No sooner was this quiet marriage known, than a shout of indignation arose, and all Europe was troubled. It afforded a fair opportunity for the enemies of Luther to spread the most false and wild calumnies; and it was regarded by his friends as a serious mortification. From this union of a monk and a nun, the Catholics confidently predicted-according to prophecy, they said-the birth of Antichrist; while the wits and scholars assailed the nuptials with their sarcastic hymns and epigrams.

We can have no idea in our own day, of the effect of such a step on the minds of men generally in that age. It was a rude violation of vows which had been considered for centuries inviolable. Even many of the disciples of the Reformation were scandalised by their chief marrying a nun. Early prejudices are difficult to overcome. But hasty as the step was, Luther was prepared to justify and defend it. He met the storm by a counterblast of invectives and sarcasms: but we have chiefly to do with that which seems to have become a matter of conscience. Marriage, he boldly affirmed, was the ordinance of God; celibacy, the institution of man. "I do not take a wife," he said, "that I may live long with her; but seeing the nations and the princes letting loose their fury against me, foreseeing that my end is near, and that after my death they will again trample my doctrine under foot, I am resolved, for the edification of the weak to bear a striking testimony to what I teach here below. " The war of the peasants had brought great reproach on the principles of the Reformation at that time, and Rome appeared to be recovering here and there the ground she had lost; she even flattered herself with the hope of victory; but the marriage of the monk, who was under the anathema of the pope, and the ban of the Emperor, spread terror and surprise through her ranks, and still more fully disclosed to her the courage of the enemy she fancied she had crushed.*

{*D'Aubigné, vol. 3, p. 309.}

The Marriage Feast

On the 15th of June, Luther says, in a letter to Ruchel, "I have made the determination to cast off every shred of my former papistical life, and thus I have entered the state of matrimony, at the urgent solicitation of my father." His friend was wealthy, and while inviting him to the marriage feast on the 27th, he tells him, with characteristic frankness and simplicity, "that any present he might choose to bring with him would be acceptable." In a letter to Spalatin about the same time, he says, "I have silenced those who calumniated me and Catherine of Bora. If I am to give a feast in celebration of these nuptials, you must not only be present yourself, but you must send me a supply of venison. Meanwhile pray for us, and give us your benediction." To Wenceslaus Link he wrote, "Quite suddenly, and while I was thinking of anything rather than marriage, God wonderfully brought me into wedlock with the celebrated nun, Catherine of Bora." He invited him to the feast, but stipulated that he should bring no present, he being poor like Luther himself. The following was addressed to Amsdorf: "The report is true, that I married Catherine, and that in great haste, before the accustomed clamours of tumultuous tongues could reach me, for I hope that I shall yet live some short time, and I could not refuse this last act of obedience to the importunity of my father." The old couple from Mansfeld-John and Margaret Luther-were to be present.

It will be seen from the above extracts, that one reason, by which Luther attempted to justify his marriage, was the urgent importunity of his father. "But when we remember the contempt," says one of his fairest critics, "with which he had treated the parental instances, twenty years before, when he took the most important step in his early life in direct opposition to them, we may question whether the actions of his mature age were directed by that influence, and whether, with his present imperious character and habits, even the persuasion of a father would have induced him to take any step on which he was not previously determined.... This defence would have been sufficient for any man except Luther; but his position was so preeminent before that of all his brother Reformers, his achievements had been so splendid, his pretensions were so lofty, and above all, his success had been so much advanced by the unquestionable disinterestedness of his character and designs, that his followers had a right to expect greater self-denial from him than from a Spalatin or a Carlstadt. They had a right to expect, in return for the almost implicit obedience which they yielded him, that he would sacrifice any private inclination, however consistent with evangelical principles, rather than cast a certain, though it might be an unmerited, scandal upon the cause over which he presided. . . . Thenceforward he ceased to stand apart from his brethren, and came nearer to the level of their common humanity."*

{*Waddington, vol. 2, p. 121.}

But though this imprudent affair unquestionably lowered Luther in public estimation, it does not appear to have inflicted any serious blow upon the cause of the Reformation. The work was of God, and too deeply founded to be shaken by the infirmity of His servant; and twenty peaceful years of domestic happiness may have amply remunerated the Reformer for some loss of public reputation.

The Married Life of Luther

The union of Luther and Catherine, though without the raptures of a first affection, was no doubt a happy one. The Lord greatly blessed them. She seems to have been a woman of great modesty, with tender affections, and more than an ordinary share of good sense. She consoled him in his dejection by repeating passages from the Bible, saved him all anxiety about household affairs, contrived to sit near him during his leisure moments, amused him by working his portrait in embroidery, reminded him of letters he had to write; but sometimes she indulged rather more in general conversation than suited the doctor, which called forth his most playful sallies; such as "Did you say your Pater, Catherine, before you began that sermon? If you had, I think you would not have been allowed to preach." And sometimes he addressed her as my Lord Ketha, and the Doctoress. But his letters overflowed with tenderness for Catherine, and as age advanced, his affection seems to have increased. He styles her his dear and gracious wife, his dear and amiable Ketha.

They had six children, three sons and three daughters. Their daughter Magdaline died at the age of fourteen. "Such is the power of natural affection," says the father, "that I cannot endure this without tears and groans, or rather an utter deadness of heart. At the bottom of my soul are engraver her looks, her words, her gestures, as I gazed at her in her lifetime and on her death-bed. My dutiful, my gentle daughter! Even the death of Christ-and what are all deaths compared to His?-cannot tear me from this thought as it should. She was playful, lovely, and full of love."

The Elector provided for the mother and the five children after the father's death.*

{*As our space forbids indulging in extracts from Luther's letters to his children, his wife, his friends, and his many encounters with the invisible as well as with the visible world-such as the scenes in the castle of Wartburg; we would recommend our readers, who care to understand the personal character of Martin Luther, to study Michelet's Life of Luther, translated by Hazlitt.}


Before parting with the great Reformer, who has claimed so large a share of our attention in tracing the history of the church, we will bring under review the estimate formed of him by one of our most judicious writers-the historian of Charles V.; and also, Dean Waddington's review of the extent of his work.

"As Luther was raised up by divine providence, to be the author of one of the greatest revolutions recorded in history, there is not any person, perhaps, whose character has been drawn with such opposite colours. In his own age one party, struck with horror and inflamed with rage, when they saw with what a daring hand he overturned everything which they held to be sacred, or valued as beneficial, imputed to him not only the defects and vices of a man, but the qualities of a demon. The other, warmed with admiration and gratitude, which they thought he merited as the restorer of right and liberty to the christian church, ascribed to him perfections above the condition of humanity, and viewed all his actions with a veneration bordering on that, which should be paid only to those who are guided by the immediate inspiration of heaven. It is his own conduct, not the undistinguished censure, or the exaggerated praise of his contemporaries, that ought to regulate the opinions of the present age concerning him. Zeal for what he regarded as truth, undaunted intrepidity to maintain his own system, abilities, both natural and acquired, to defend his principles, and unwearied industry in propagating them, are virtues which shine so conspicuously in every part of his behaviour, that even his enemies must allow him to have possessed them in an eminent degree.

"To these may be added, with equal justice, such purity and even austerity of manners, as became one who assumed the character of a Reformer; such sanctity of life as suited the doctrine which he delivered, and such perfect disinterestedness as affords no slight presumption of his sincerity. Superior to all selfish considerations, a stranger to the elegancies of life, and despising its pleasures, he left the honours and emoluments of the church to his disciples, remaining satisfied himself, in his original state of professor in the university, and pastor of the town of Wittemberg, with the moderate appointments annexed to these offices.... His mind, forcible and vehement in all its operations, roused by great subjects, or agitated by violent passions, broke out, on many occasions, with an impetuosity which astonishes men of feebler spirits, or such as are placed in a more tranquil situation. By carrying some praiseworthy dispositions to excess, he bordered sometimes on what was culpable, and was often betrayed into actions which exposed him to censure. His confidence that his own opinions were wellfounded approached to arrogance, his courage, in asserting them, to rashness; his firmness, in adhering to them, to obstinacy; and his zeal in confronting his adversaries, to rage and scurrility. Accustomed himself to consider everything as subordinate to truth, he expected the same deference for it from other men; and, without making any allowances for their timidity or prejudices, he poured forth, against such as disappointed him in this particular, a torrent of invective mingled with contempt. Regardless of any distinction of rank or character when his doctrines were attacked, he chastised all his adversaries indiscriminately, with the same rough hand; neither the royal dignity of Henry VIII., nor the eminent learning and abilities of Erasmus, screened them from the same gross abuse with which he treated Tetzel and John of Eck.

"But these indecencies, of which Luther was guilty, must not be imputed wholly to the violence of his temper. They ought to be charged in part on the manners of his age. Some parts of Luther's behaviour, which to us appear most culpable, gave no offence to his contemporaries. The account of his death filled the Roman Catholic party with excessive as well as indecent joy, and damped the spirit of all his followers; neither party sufficiently considering that his doctrines were now so firmly rooted as to be in a condition to flourish, independently of the hand which first had planted them."*

{*Robertson's History of Charles V., vol. 6, p. 71-76.}

"But the most remarkable fact in the history of the Reformation, and, in my opinion, one of the most so in the history of the world, still remains to be mentioned-that the limits which the Reformation won while Luther lived, were very nearly those which divide the two religions at this day. Almost all that was accomplished before his death endured: almost all that was afterwards achieved was wrested back again by Rome. The enthusiasm of a single generation attained, under his guidance, the prescribed boundaries. No exertions of his disciples, no reverence for his name and virtues, no wider diffusion of faith, and knowledge, and civilization, and commercial activity, and philosophical truth, during the course of three centuries of progressive improvement, have made any lasting additions to the work which he left. Such as when it passed from the hands of its architect, or very nearly such, are its dimensions now. The form, indeed, is somewhat altered, and the part, which he considered as exclusively sacred, has been much narrowed by the change. But to the uncompromising, unrelenting enemy of Rome, it was an immortal triumph, that he extorted from her, with his own hands, all that she was ordained, so far as we yet have seen, to lose, and that he witnessed the utmost humiliation to which, even to this hour, it has pleased Providence permanently to reduce her."*

{*Waddington's History of the Reformation, vol. 3, p. 362.}