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From Here to Forever

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    Luther Appealed Only to the Bible

    When enemies appealed to custom and tradition, Luther met them with the Bible only, arguments which they could not answer. From Luther's sermons and writings issued beams of light which awakened and illuminated thousands. The Word of God was like a two-edged sword, cutting its way to the hearts of the people. The eyes of the people, so long directed to human rites and earthly mediators, were now turning in faith to Christ and Him crucified.HF 83.3

    This widespread interest aroused the fears of the papal authorities. Luther received a summons to appear at Rome. His friends knew well the danger that threatened him in that corrupt city, already drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. They requested that he receive his examination in Germany.HF 83.4

    This was effected, and the pope's legate was appointed to hear the case. In the instructions to this official, it was stated that Luther had already been declared a heretic. The legate was therefore “to prosecute and constrain without any delay.” The legate was empowered “to proscribe him in every part of Germany; to banish, curse, and excommunicate all those who are attached to him,” to excommunicate all, of whatever dignity in church or state, except the emperor, who should neglect to seize Luther and his adherents and deliver them to the vengeance of Rome.16Ibid., bk. 4, ch. 2.HF 84.1

    Not a trace of Christian principle or even common justice is to be seen in the document. Luther had had no opportunity to explain or defend his position; yet he was pronounced a heretic and in the same day exhorted, accused, judged, and condemned.HF 84.2

    When Luther so much needed the counsel of a true friend, God sent Melanchthon to Wittenberg. Melanchthon's sound judgment, combined with purity and uprightness of character, won universal admiration. He soon became Luther's most trusted friend—his gentleness, caution, and exactness a complement to Luther's courage and energy.HF 84.3

    Augsburg had been fixed as the place of trial, and the Reformer set out on foot. Threats had been made that he would be murdered on the way, and his friends begged him not to venture. But his language was, “I am like Jeremiah, a man of strife, and contention; but the more their threats increase, the more my joy is multiplied. ... They have already destroyed my honor and my reputation. ... As for my soul, they cannot take that. He who desires to proclaim the word of Christ to the world, must expect death at every moment.”17Ibid., bk. 4, ch. 4.HF 84.4

    The tidings of Luther's arrival at Augsburg gave great satisfaction to the papal legate. The troublesome heretic exciting the attention of the world seemed now in the power of Rome; he should not escape. The legate intended to force Luther to retract, or failing in this, to cause him to be conveyed to Rome to share the fate of Huss and Jerome. Therefore through his agents he endeavored to induce Luther to appear without a safe-conduct, trusting himself to his mercy. This the Reformer declined to do. Not until he had received the document pledging the emperor's protection did he appear in the presence of the papal ambassador.HF 84.5

    As a matter of policy, the Romanists decided to win Luther by an appearance of gentleness. The legate professed great friendliness, but demanded that Luther submit implicitly to the church and yield every point without argument or question. Luther, in reply, expressed his regard for the church, his desire for truth, his readiness to answer all objections to what he had taught, and to submit his doctrines to the decision of leading universities. But he protested against the cardinal's course in requiring him to retract without having proved him in error.HF 85.1

    The only response was, “Retract, retract!” The Reformer showed that his position was sustained by Scripture. He could not renounce truth. The legate, unable to reply to Luther's arguments, overwhelmed him with a storm of reproaches, gibes, flattery, quotations from tradition, and the sayings of the Fathers, granting the Reformer no opportunity to speak. Luther finally obtained a reluctant permission to present his answer in writing.HF 85.2

    Said he, writing to a friend, “What is written may be submitted to the judgment of others; and second, one has a better chance of working on the fears, if not on the conscience, of an arrogant and babbling despot, who would otherwise overpower by his imperious language.”18Martyn, The Life and Times of Luther, pp. 271, 272.HF 85.3

    At the next interview, Luther presented a clear, concise, and forcible exposition of his views, supported by Scripture. This paper, after reading aloud, he handed to the cardinal, who cast it contemptuously aside, declaring it to be a mass of idle words and irrelevant quotations. Luther now met the haughty prelate on his own ground—the traditions and teaching of the church—and utterly overthrew his assumptions.HF 85.4

    The prelate lost all self-control and in a rage cried out, “Retract! or I will send you to Rome.” And he finally declared, in a haughty and angry tone, “Retract, or return no more.”19D'Aubigne, London ed., bk. 4, ch. 8.HF 86.1

    The Reformer promptly withdrew with his friends, thus declaring plainly that no retraction was to be expected from him. This was not what the cardinal had purposed. Now, left alone with his supporters, he looked from one to another in chagrin at the unexpected failure of his schemes.HF 86.2

    The large assembly present had opportunity to compare the two men and to judge for themselves the spirit manifested by them, as well as of the strength and truthfulness of their positions. The Reformer, simple, humble, firm, having truth on his side; the pope's representative, self-important, haughty, unreasonable, without a single argument from the Scriptures, yet vehemently crying, “Retract, or be sent to Rome.”HF 86.3

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