THE MONK THAT SHOOK THE WORLD - MARTIN LUTHER
Protestants Today, Peacehaven, Sussex, England
IN the year 1497 two boys were seen passing through a small city in Germany. They walked slowly, and at times stopped before the doors of the houses and
sang carols about the infant Jesus. It was Christmas time and the weather was cold and frosty. The evening was drawing on and the bright glare of the fires within the houses of that old city of Eisenach shone forth through the small windows on the Hoar frost without.
These poor lads belonged to a school kept by some monks, who gave their pupils as many blows and angry words as lessons of learning. As was the custom of the times, they had been sent to beg their bread from street to street, singing as they went along. The better to move the heart to charity they sang of Him whose lowly birth was at that season of the year called to mind.
That day these minstrel boys had met with only frowns and repulses and they thought of returning, cold and hungry as they were, to their home. But there was the house of Conrad Cotta near at hand. He was the burgomaster, or chief magistrate, of the city; perhaps, if they sang before his door they might get some help, for his wife Ursula was well known for deeds of kindness. It was their last hope, and so they sang their carol in their sweetest style.
Ursula was very fond of music; and, hearing the sounds, she stood at the window till the song was finished. The singing of one boy was more musical than the other. It was the voice of young Martin Luther which fixed her attention. She had often listened to it with great delight in the great church of the city, and now, as she gazed on his pale, intelligent face, she felt the deepest pity.
A gentle, loving heart had Ursula Cotta. She had seen the boys driven from three doors, but there awaited them kind words and charity at her dwelling. When
the carol was ended, she made signs for them to approach. It was not often that they were spoken to in such a gentle manner and when she asked Martin from
whence he came, and what was his father's name, how great was her delight to find that he was a kinsman of her husband!
The boys were soon placed before a blazing fire; and after a good supper they were ready to sing to the good Ursula their most favourite carol. When that was
ended, young Martin sang the forty-sixth Psalm. From that day, Martin became a frequent visitor at her house. She was as a second mother to him; and often did he seek to repay her kindness by one of his sweetest songs, or by a few strains on his flute.
Five years had passed away and Martin had become a student in a college. He had met with many kind friends; and his father too (who had been a poor woodcutter) by this time was able to assist him with money. This was a great comfort to the young man; he could now pursue his studies with better hope of success.
In the college there was a large room, where he spent every moment he could spare. This room was the library, from the shelves of which he took down book after book and read them with profit and delight. But there was one large heavy volume he had never yet opened.
At length he took it from its place, and found it was a Bible printed in the Latin language. He was now nearly twenty years of age, and had been brought up almost all his life in schools and colleges, and this was the first time he had met with the Holy Scriptures. It is true, he had been told there was a book called the Bible, but he had never seen a copy of it.
With feelings of surprise and interest he turned over the leaves. He had not expected to find it so large a volume; and there were writers in it whose names or works he had never heard of. Beginning at the first page, he read on till he came to the history of Hannah and the prophet Samuel. It was to him all new and beautiful and full of instruction. As he left the library that night, he said to himself, "Oh that God would give me such a book for my own!"
That old Bible became to him more precious than gold and sweeter than honey to his taste. He turned over its pages with constant pleasure, as often as he could run into the library for a few hours. Little did he then think that his hands would give that holy volume, translated by himself into German, to millions of his countrymen, and to be a blessing for hundreds of years after he was laid in the grave.
Three more years passed and Martin Luther became a monk in another convent. The Bible he had read in the college library had aroused serious thoughts in his
mind; but like the Ethiopian treasurer, in the eighth chapter of Acts, he needed "some man should guide" him to understand the Scriptures.
He was looking to his prayers and fasting as the sure way of gaining heaven. He saw not that a sinner can only be saved through faith in Christ Jesus. He knew not clearly of the love of God. Every time he heard His holy name he was pale with terror.
The knowledge of God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, of the grace of the Saviour, were to him hidden truths. His trust was more in saints and angels, in human merits and tears of penitence, than in the glorious work of the one Mediator.
The monks with whom Martin lived were more ignorant than himself: he could not, therefore, be taught by them; besides, they cared more about his doing the work of a servant, that they might live at ease. They made him attend the gates, sweep the church and clean the rooms. Then, as soon as the young monk had
finished his labour they would say to him, "Go with your bag through the town" ; that is, in search of food for the convent. When they found him at his books, they cried aloud, "Come, come; it is not by study, but by begging corn, eggs, fish and money that you benefit the cloister. " Poor Martin found that by entering a convent he had changed his garments, but not his heart. He found no peace there. "Oh," he said, "what will deliver me from my sins, and make me holy!. How shall I satisfy the justice of God? How shall I appear before Him?" He almost pined away from sorrow of heart. God was thus trying him with small trials that he might the better hereafter bear great ones.
After Martin had been some time in this convent he again came across a copy of that precious book which formerly so astonished and delighted him when a student; but it was chained. He could not take it to his sleeping cell to read, nor remove it from its place, so he sat by it every time he could secretly get to the room
where it was fixed.
Sometimes he learned by heart long passages from that chained Bible, to repeat to himself when in his cell at night. The more he read, the more light came into his mind. He began to see the evil of sin, the wickedness of his own heart and more than all, the rich grace and love of Jesus. He also began to detect the follies and
corruptions of the Church of Rome.
Two events, at this time, led his mind into a further search after the truth. As he sat in the company of some friends, one of them was suddenly killed. He then said
to himself, "What would become of me, if I were thus suddenly called away!" On his return from a visit to his father, the cloud covered the sky with blackness and a violent thunderstorm broke over his head. As he hastened along the road to find a shelter, the lightning struck the ground near to his feet. He was startled and
alarmed, but was unhurt. Stopping on his journey, he fell on his knees, and prayed to God to save him. When he arose, he said, "I must become holy". But he knew not of the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart, leading to a life of faith and holiness.
Whatever Martin Luther did to find peace was all in vain. Those who saw his conduct said he was a devout man; but he replied, "I am a great sinner: how is it
possible for me to satisfy Divine justice?" Salvation could not be in himself; "how then," he thought, "can I obtain it?" But the limit of day was now dawning on his darkness. The Holy Spirit was convincing him of sin, and bringing him to feel his need of a Saviour.
About this time there came to the convent an old man named Staupitz. He saw how ill the poor young man looked; and he asked: "Why are you so sad, brother Martin?"
"Ah," said Luther, "I do not know what will become of me; it is in vain, I make promises to God and sin is ever the strongest".
"Oh, my friend, "said Staupitz, calling to mind how he had felt, "instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, cast yourself by faith into the Redeemer's arms, look at the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood that He has shed for you. God is not angry with you, it is you who are angry with God. Listen to the Son of God; He became Man to give you the protnise.ot Divine favour. By His stripes are you healed; by His blood are your sins cleansed away. Love Him who first loved you,- and in order that you may be filled with the love of what is good, you must first be filled with, love for God."
What good words, what light and peace did they afford! Luther listened for his life. There was one part of the Bible he now studied with great diligence and interest. It was the Epistle of Paul to the Romans and in that he saw clearly the way in which God could be just and the justifier of the ungodly. From that time he found peace in believing. Then he was filled with love, and sought to obey God, not from fear, nor with the hope of getting into heaven through his own merits, but from the love which he felt as a child of God to his heavenly Father.
Years rolled on. and Luther became a preacher, the head of a college, and a doctor of divinity. As his influence became great, and still more great, he made known to others the truths he had found so precious to his own soul. He boldly exposed the vain teachings of the Roman Catholic priests, their craft and evil conduct.
The fame of his labours soon spread in the land and many came to hear the gospel from his lips. In the churches, the college halls and the open air, he set forth the only way in which a sinner can be saved.
In one of his preaching tours, Luther came to a city in which his early friends Conrad and Ursula Cotta had found a home. They had by this time lost nearly all their
property; the once rich burgomaster was now a poor man and the troubles of life had filled his heart with sorrow. He had been told that a great preacher was on
his way to the city.
"They tell me, " said Conrad to his wife, "that he talks bravely of free grace, that pardon for sin is to be had without money and without price."
"That would just do for us" replied Ursula; "let us go to the church and hear him."
The old church that day was well filled, for nobles and merchants. working men and maidens, had come to listen to the bold preacher. Among them sat Conrad
and Ursula. Strange thoughts and feelings must have moved them as they listened to the powerful voice of the monk. But when they beard him give out a Psalm
to be sung, his favourite forty-sixth Psalm, "God is our refuge," they called to mind that Christmas evening, when the minstrel boy of Eisenach sang it by their own fireside.
The words that were preached sank deep into the heart of Ursula, and from that hour she was brought to know the only way in which she could be saved. Nor
was this all; for Martin Luther was now in a condition to show his gratitude, and repay the kindness of those who, in the days of his youth, took into their house a
poor friendless boy.
The time at last came when Luther was called forth openly to enter on the blessed Reformation. The occasion was the opening of a great market by the Church of Rome. There were crowds of anxious buyers: men and women, rich and poor, old and young, flocked there to spend their money. The dealers were monks, who smiled and joked as they offered to sell their goods at the cheapest rate. But what was it they had to sell? It was, they said, the salvation of the soul. These dealers
passed through the country in a bright carriage; three horsemen rode by their side and servants went before them to make known their approach.
As they came near to a town, the magistrates, priests, nuns and the tradesmen, went forth to welcome them with music, flags and lighted tapers, amidst the ringing
of bells and the shouting of the people. The centre of all this was the marketplace. The three monks sat themselves at a table and raised a red flag, having on it the Pope's coat of arms. Before them was a money chest; and now one of them, named Tetzel, began to speak:
"Come near," he cried aloud, "and I will give you indulgences, letters duly sealed, by which even the sins you hereafter commit shall be all forgiven you: even repentance is not necessary. But more than this; these letters will not only save the living, but also the dead. The very moment the money chinks against the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory and flies to heaven. Bring your money; bring money; bring money!"
The whole account of this shameful and wicked imposture is almost too shocking for belief.
There was one whose spirit was roused and who preached and wrote against Tetzel and his traffic. It was Martin Luther, the monk who was now prepared for the contest which he saw before him. Though he almost stood alone, he resolved, with God's help, to witness to the truth and expose falsehood. He more than ever
attacked the errors of the Church of Rome.
What was better still, he clearly and boldly declared the two great Protestant doctrines that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the rule of our faith; and that a man can be justified. pardoned and accepted of God, only by believing in and trusting in the atonement and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. His success among the people filled his enemies with rage.
Tetzel sought to frighten the people by ordering a large fire to be lighted in the principal square of the city, declaring that he orders from the Pope to imprison or burn all those who dared to oppose the sale of indulgences.
"Only wait, " said the priests, "a fortnight, or at most a month, and that heretic, Luther will be burned alive"
But God did not let him fall into their power.
The preaching of Luther soon found favour with princes, nobles, learned doctors and students, as well as large numbers of the common people. As the priests
could not put him down, the Pope wrote against him a bull, a decree by which he was given over to persecution in this world and eternal death in the next. Officers were sent to burn his writings and to publish the bull in the town where Luther lived. But the reformer was not intimidated by the Pope.
Placing himself at the head of a crowd of doctors, students and friends, he went to the market-place. A fire was lit, and as the flames arose, he cast into them a copy of the laws of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope's bull. The spectators were filled with joy, for they had long felt the harsh and cruel power of these
laws. When all was burned to ashes, Luther quietly walked to his home. By this act he made known to the world that he had for ever separated from the Pope.
Luther was now summoned to meet at a Diet, an assembly of princes, nobles, cardinals and bishops, in the city of Worms, to answer all charges that might be
brought against him.
"Do not go," said his friends; "your enemies will seize your person, and cast you into prison."
"Christ liveth, " replied Luther; "and I will go to Worms, in spite of all the powers of darkness. Besides, a safe conduct isprovided me."
" But, "urged his friends, "was not a royal letter with a promise of safe conduct given to John Huss, and yet he was betrayed and burned".
Luther then concluded the debate by saying: "I must make a confession of the truth before the Diet. I will go, trusting in Christ, I am bound to stand up in defence of His gospel." He went, and before the princes and priests made a bold and brave confession of the truth.
Finding they could not prevail. they commanded him to depart at once from the town; but his friends leamed that there was a plot laid to arrest him on the road, though a safe conduct had been given to him. Luther obeyed and went forth: but as he came near to a forest, five armed men suddenly opened the door of the carriage in which he rode, pulled him out, placed him on a horse and riding through the forest, came at length to the castle of Wartburg.
But this was a friendly capture. It was a plan to save him from the craft and cruelty of his ever watchful foes. In the Castle of Wartburg, which he called his Patmos, his place of exile, he lived for ten months. He, however, though alone, was not idle here. He spent his time in writing books tracts and translating the New Testament into German.
Once more Luther came forth to carry on the work of God in public; and in spite of the rage of his enemies and the threats of the Pope, the Emperor and the Diet,
he openly exposed the errors of the Church of Rome and called on all men to come out from her that they might not partake of her sins.
The writings of Luther were now spread far and wide. Three presses were fully at work in printing them. His books passed from hand to hand; they were carried
into quiet valleys and over some of the highest mountains. They were read in the palaces of princes, in places of learning and in the homes of the poor. Ships carried them over wide seas and they were reprinted in Switzerland. France, England and other lands, until thousands of people were made to rejoice in the good
news of salvation.
It is said that within the space of little more than four years after publication, a traveller purchased some of his works in the far distant city of Jerusalem. Even little children shared his love and labours. For them he wrote many hymns, which are still sung by thousands of the young in Germany. Popery had received a check from which it has never recovered and a wound from the sword of God's word of which it will die. Who can tell the full results of the labours of that bold and earnest man?
There is a lesson, among many others, we may learn from the history of Luther. It is, that we may have much religious knowledge and yet not know Christ as the
Saviour of sinners. Even those in our days who have had the Bible from their earliest youth, may yet be strangers to its blessed truths. They may "go about to establish their own righteousness," thinking that they can become entitled to heaven by their own worthiness.
They understand not the great doctrine which Luther, after a long struggle, was led to receive and which is revealed in the word of God. Salvation, Salvation by Christ and Salvation by Christ Alone.
"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4.12).
Have you felt the evil and burden of sin? Do you look by faith to Jesus Christ that you may be saved? Are you willing to profess His name and labour in His cause,
even though you may suffer reproach and shame for His sake? Happy are they who, in the morning of their days, yield their hearts to the truth as it is in Jesus. AMEN.
Courtesy of: Protestants Today
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