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From Here to Forever

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    Luther Stands Before the Council

    The emperor occupied the throne, surrounded by the most illustrious personages in the empire. Martin Luther was now to answer for his faith. “This appearance was of itself a signal victory over the papacy. The pope had condemned the man, and he was now standing before a tribunal which, by the very act, set itself above the pope. The pope had laid him under interdict, and cut him off from all human society; and yet he was summoned in respectful language, and received before the most august assembly in the world. ... Rome was already descending from her throne, and it was the voice of a monk that caused this humiliation.”14Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 97.3

    The lowly-born Reformer seemed awed and embarrassed. Several princes approached him, and one whispered: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” Another said: “When ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, it shall be given you, by the Spirit of your Father, what ye shall say.” See Matthew 10:28, 18, 19.HF 98.1

    A deep silence fell upon the crowded assembly. Then an imperial officer arose and, pointing to Luther's writings, demanded that the Reformer answer two questions—whether he acknowledged them as his, and whether he proposed to retract the opinions therein advanced. The titles of the books having been read, Luther, to the first question, acknowledged the books to be his. “As to the second,” he said, “I should act imprudently were I to reply without reflection. I might affirm less than the circumstance demands, or more than truth requires. For this reason I entreat your imperial majesty, with all humility, to allow me time, that I may answer without offending against the word of God.”15D'Aubigne, bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 98.2

    Luther convinced the assembly that he did not act from passion or impulse. Such calmness and self-command, unexpected in one bold and uncompromising, enabled him afterward to answer with wisdom and dignity that surprised his adversaries and rebuked their insolence.HF 98.3

    The next day he was to render his final answer. For a time his heart sank. His enemies seemed about to triumph. Clouds gathered about him and seemed to separate him from God. In anguish of spirit he poured out those broken, heart-rending cries, which none but God can fully understand.HF 98.4

    “O almighty and everlasting God,” he pleaded, “if it is only in the strength of this world that I must put my trust, all is over. ... My last hour is come, my condemnation has been pronounced. ... O God, do Thou help me against all the wisdom of the world. ... The cause is Thine, ... and it is a righteous and eternal cause. O Lord, help me! Faithful and unchangeable God, in no man do I place my trust. ... Thou hast chosen me for this work. ... Stand at my side, for the sake of Thy well-beloved Jesus Christ, who is my defense, my shield, and my strong tower.”16Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 99.1

    Yet it was not the fear of personal suffering, torture, or death that overwhelmed him with terror. He felt his insufficiency. Through his weakness the cause of truth might suffer loss. Not for his own safety, but for the triumph of the gospel did he wrestle with God. In his utter helplessness his faith fastened upon Christ, the mighty Deliverer. He would not appear alone before the council. Peace returned to his soul, and he rejoiced that he was permitted to uplift the Word of God before the rulers of the nations.HF 99.2

    Luther thought upon his answer, examined passages in his writings, and drew from Scripture suitable proofs to sustain his positions. Then, laying his left hand on the Sacred Volume, he lifted his right hand to heaven and vowed “to remain faithful to the gospel, and freely to confess his faith, even should he seal his testimony with his blood.”17Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 99.3

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