Progress of the Reformation
A NEW emperor, Charles the Fifth, had
ascended the throne of Germany, and the emissaries of Rome hastened to present their
congratulations, and induce the monarch to employ his power against the Reformation. On
the other hand, the Elector of Saxony, to whom Charles was in great degree indebted for
his crown, entreated him to take no step against Luther until he should have granted him a
The attention of all parties
was now directed to the assembly of the German States which convened at Worms soon after
the accession of Charles to the empire. There were important political questions and
interests to be considered by this national council; but these appeared of little moment
when contrasted with the cause of the monk of Wittenberg.
Charles had previously
directed the elector to bring Luther with him to the Diet, assuring him that the Reformer
should be protected from all violence, and should be allowed a free conference with one
competent to discuss the disputed points. Luther was anxious to appear before the emperor.
The friends of Luther were
terrified and distressed. Knowing the prejudice and enmity against him, they feared that
even his safe conduct would not be respected, and they entreated him not to imperil his
life. He replied: "The papists do not desire my coming
to Worms, but my condemnation
and my death. It matters not. Pray not for me, but for the Word of God."
Before the Council
At length Luther stood before
the council. The emperor occupied the throne. He was surrounded by the most illustrious
personages in the empire. Never had any man appeared in the presence of a more imposing
assembly than that before which Martin Luther was to answer for his faith.
The very fact of that
appearance was a signal victory for the truth. That a man whom the pope had condemned
should be judged by another tribunal was virtually a denial of the pontiff's supreme
authority. The Reformer, placed under ban, and denounced from human fellowship by the
pope, had been assured protection, and was granted a hearing by the highest dignitaries of
the nation. Rome had commanded him to be silent, but he was about to speak in the presence
of thousands from all parts of Christendom. Calm and peaceful, yet grandly brave and
noble, he stood as God's witness among the great ones of the earth. Luther made his answer
in a subdued and humble tone, without violence or passion. His demeanor was diffident and
respectful; yet he manifested a confidence and joy that surprised the assembly.
Those who stubbornly closed
their eyes to the light, and determined not to be convinced of the truth, were enraged at
the power of Luther's words. As he ceased speaking, the spokesman of the Diet said
angrily, "You have not answered the question put to you. . . . You are required to
give a clear and precise answer. . . . Will you, or will you not, retract?"
The Reformer answered:
"Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require from me
a clear, simple, and precise
answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope
or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and
contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or
by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted,
and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will
not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I
stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen."
Thus stood this righteous
man, upon the sure foundation of the Word of God. The light of Heaven illuminated his
countenance. His greatness and purity of character, his peace and joy of heart, were
manifest to all as he testified against the power of error and witnessed to the
superiority of that faith that overcomes the world.
Firm as a rock he stood,
while the fiercest billows of worldly power beat harmlessly against him. The simple energy
of his words, his fearless bearing, his calm, speaking eye, and the unalterable
determination expressed in every word and act made a deep impression upon the assembly. It
was evident that he could not be induced, either by promises or threats, to yield to the
mandate of Rome.
Christ had spoken through
Luther's testimony with a power and grandeur that for the time inspired both friends and
foes with awe and wonder. The Spirit of God had been present in that council, impressing
the hearts of the chiefs of the empire. Several of the princes openly acknowledged the
justice of Luther's cause. Many were convinced of the truth, but with some the impressions
received were not
lasting. There was another class who did not at the time express their
convictions, but who, having searched the Scriptures for themselves, at a future time
declared with great boldness for the Reformation.
The elector Frederick had
looked forward with anxiety to Luther's appearance before the Diet, and with deep emotion
he listened to his speech. He rejoiced at the doctor's courage, firmness, and
self-possession, and was proud of being his protector. He contrasted the parties in
contest, and saw that the wisdom of popes, kings, and prelates had been brought to nought
by the power of truth. The Papacy had sustained a defeat which would be felt among all
nations and in all ages.
Had the Reformer yielded a
single point, Satan and his hosts would have gained the victory. But his unwavering
firmness was the means of emancipating the church and beginning a new and better era. The
influence of this one man, who dared to think and act for himself in religious matters,
was to affect the church and the world, not only in his own time, but in all future
generations. His firmness and fidelity would strengthen all, to the close of time, who
should pass through a similar experience. The power and majesty of God stood forth above
the counsel of men, above the mighty power of Satan.
I saw that Luther was ardent
and zealous, fearless and bold, in reproving sin and advocating the truth. He cared not
for wicked men or devils; he knew that he had One with him mightier than they all. Luther
possessed zeal, courage, and boldness, and at times was in danger of going to extremes.
But God raised up Melancthon, who was just the opposite in character, to aid Luther in
carrying on the work of reformation. Melancthon was timid, fearful, cautious, and
great patience. He was greatly beloved of God. His knowledge of the Scriptures
was great, and his judgment and wisdom excellent. His love for the cause of God was equal
to Luther's. The hearts of these men the Lord knit together; they were inseparable
friends. Luther was a great help to Melancthon when in danger of being fearful and slow,
and Melancthon in turn was a great help to Luther when in danger of moving too fast.
caution often averted trouble which would have come upon the cause had the work been left
alone to Luther; and ofttimes the work would not have been pushed forward had it been left
to Melancthon alone. I was shown the wisdom of God in choosing these two men to carry on
the work of reformation.
and Scotland Enlightened
While Luther was opening a
closed Bible to the people of Germany, Tyndale was impelled by the Spirit of God to do the
same for England. He was a diligent student of the Scriptures, and fearlessly preached his
convictions of truth, urging that all doctrines be brought to the test of God's Word. His
zeal could but excite opposition from the papists. A learned Catholic doctor who engaged
in controversy with him, exclaimed, "It were better for us to be without God's law
than without the pope's." Tyndale replied, "I defy the pope and all his laws;
and if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who driveth the plow to know
more of the Scriptures than you do."
The purpose which he had
begun to cherish, of giving to the people the New Testament Scriptures in their own
language, was now confirmed, and he immediately applied himself to the work. All England
seemed closed against him, and he resolved to seek shelter in Germany. Here he began the
printing of the English New Testament. Three thousand copies of the New Testament were
soon finished, and another edition followed in the same year.
He finally witnessed for his
faith by a martyr's death, but the weapons which he prepared have enabled other soldiers
to do battle through all the centuries even to our time.
In Scotland the gospel found
a champion in the person of John Knox. This truehearted reformer feared not the face of
man. The fires of martyrdom, blazing around him, served only to quicken his zeal to
greater intensity. With the tyrant's ax held menacingly over his head, he stood his
ground, striking sturdy blows on the right hand and on the left, to demolish idolatry.
Thus he kept to his purpose, praying and fighting the battles of the Lord, until Scotland
In England, Latimer
maintained from the pulpit that the Bible ought to be read in the language of the people.
The Author of Holy Scripture, said he, "is God Himself;" and this Scripture
partakes of the might and eternity of its Author. "There is no king, emperor,
magistrate, and ruler . . . but are bound to obey . . . His holy word." "Let us
not take any by-walks, but let God's word direct us: let us not walk after . . . our
forefathers, nor seek not what they did, but what they should have done."
Barnes and Frith, the
faithful friends of Tyndale, arose to defend the truth. The Ridleys and Cranmer followed.
These leaders in the English Reformation were men of learning, and most of them had been
highly esteemed for zeal or piety in the Romish communion. Their opposition to the Papacy
was the result
of their knowledge of the errors of the Holy See. Their acquaintance with
the mysteries of Babylon gave greater power to their testimonies against her.
The grand principle
maintained by Tyndale, Frith, Latimer, and the Ridleys was the divine authority and
sufficiency of the sacred Scriptures. They rejected the assumed authority of popes,
councils, fathers, and kings to rule the conscience in matters of religious faith. The
Bible was their standard, and to this they brought all doctrines and all claims. Faith in
God and His Word sustained these holy men as they yielded up their lives at the stake.
Copyright © 1974
The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
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