This concludes a short work by Dr. Alan MacRae and edited by Dr. Ed Panosian the ACCC is providing for this year’s Reformation Sunday, October 25 (read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). You can order printed copies at our store page.
In the middle of the afternoon, Luther entered Worms and was ushered into the great hall where the emperor sat in state. As the son of a peasant, brought up to feel that he belonged to a lower class, Luther was quite overwhelmed by the great assemblage of dukes, counts, knights and nobles. Rarely had he been in the presence of one such dignitary in a great assemblage like this.
The chancellor asked: “Martin Luther, have you written these books?”
Luther answered, “Yes.”
The chancellor continued, “Martin Luther, are you ready to renounce what is written in these books?”
Luther said, “Will you give me twenty-four hours to consider?”
The chancellor exclaimed: “Martin Luther, you have known ever since you left Wittenberg that you were going to be asked this question. Why are you not now ready to answer?”
Abashed, Luther replied in a low tone: “Please give me twenty-four hours to consider.”
The emperor turned to the man next to him and said, “That man would never make a heretic out of me.” They agreed to hear Luther twenty-four hours later, and he was led away. When standing before the greatest dignitaries on earth, he experienced the normal reaction of a man brought up as he had been.
Luther spent that night in prayer. He stood before the King of Kings, in comparison with whom all earthly potentates are as nothing. He came back the next day a different man. Now he was representing the greatest Lord in the universe. He spoke respectfully before the great assembly. There was nothing of truculence or arrogance in his manner, but fear had departed. We have already noticed how he answered, and how firmly he stood upon the Word of God.
During the remainder of his life, Luther faced many dangers. He never knew when he might soon be seized and burned. After Luther had departed from Worms and a great portion of the Diet had gone home, the papal emissary induced the emperor to sign a statement placing Luther under the ban of the empire and labeling as an outlaw anyone who would give him help or sustenance. The emperor desired to destroy him immediately, but the changing political circumstance of the day forced him year after year to put off making a great effort to do so. From time to time local rulers came to Luther’s support. During these years his teachings spread more and more widely, and more and more people rallied to his doctrine.
Eventually, when the emperor was able to win freedom from the various political situations that had engrossed so much of his attention, his armies flooded across Wittenberg and in 1547 it was ordered that no worship be carried on in Germany except along the lines that the emperor would permit. By this time, however, Luther was dead.
Some of the emperor’s friends urged him to dig up Luther’s body and burn it, as had been done with John Wycliffe, the pioneer reformer of England, more than a century before. Charles drew himself up to his full height and said: “I fight with the living, not the dead.”
Many instances can be given of Luther’s wonderful courage during these years. He stood for God’s Word regardless of situations that made all his efforts appear hopeless. God gave him a tremendous influence. He was not merely the founder of the Lutheran Church; he was the founder of Protestantism.
Two hundred years after Luther’s death, two young men who had been brought up in a fine religious family desired to make their lives count for the church. These two men, John and Charles Wesley, traveled to America and worked in Georgia for two or three years but seemed to accomplish nothing. They felt that their time had been entirely wasted. They went back to England in disappointment, expecting to continue their methodical attempt to carry out the rituals and forms of the church and to try in every way to help their parishioners.
One day John Wesley sat in a little Moravian chapel in London. In order to understand what these Moravians said, he had learned the German language. As he sat there, he heard someone read Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, in which the teaching of salvation by faith was so clearly set forth, and he felt his heart strangely warmed. John Wesley counted his conversion from that moment. In succeeding months he went out to preach salvation by faith all over England. His brother Charles had a similar experience a little later, which was based upon Luther’s preface to his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians.
Similarly, George Whitefield, the third of that great trio that so moved England and America and the close friend of John and Charles Wesley, had a similar experience. He did not read Martin Luther, but rather a book by a Scottish divine that John Wesley had given him, hoping that it would help him spiritually. From reading this book, George Whitefield had the same experience of conversion before John Wesley did.
Luther’s influence has been as great as that of any man since the Apostle Paul. God used him in a marvelous way to remind people of the terribleness of sin and to make clear in their minds the biblical teaching of justification by faith. God also used Luther to bring people back to absolute loyalty to the Word of God and determination to study His book, the only possible source of knowledge in religious matters, and to learn from it those vital facts that are necessary if Christianity is to survive.
Today Luther is honored in name, but his teachings are forgotten in many sections. The American Council of Christian Churches stands firmly on Luther’s great teachings. Let us emulate the courage and devotion of that great man. Let us determine to count our lives as nothing if only we can accomplish what Jesus Christ wants us to do.