Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

to heaven for help, and an occasional protest against some more notorious instance of Christian unfaithfulness.

Luther, before the Diet of Worms, is a fine study for those who delight to see how God makes use of men's natural tendencies and qualities to answer his own designs. It was the turning point of the Reformation, when the Chancellor of the Elector of Treves addressed the Reformer as follows: "Martin Luther, although you had no right to demand a longer period for deliberation, inasmuch as you were well aware of the purpose for which you were summoned, and a matter of faith ought to be so grounded in the minds of all, that any one, at whatever time he might be questioned should be able to render a sure and settled reason for it; Come, then, and answer the imperial demand ! Do you maintain all the works you have acknowledged to be yours, or are you willing to retract anything?We believe Luther might have been quite as conscientious, and yet have felt it his duty to concede something to the counsel of those whom he loved and admired, and few persons placed in his position would have maintained as he did all he had received and taught. But concessions at that time might have been fatal, for, if "the beginning of strife is as the letting out of water," so pliancy of temper towards opponents seldom stops at its first yielding, but goes on, often, to further admissions. In the celebrated final speech of Luther we may even detect errors, for surely a private judgment must often be called upon to yield to authority in matters of doctrine and faith; yet at that critical moment unyielding firmness seems to have been absolutely necessary for the cause, and Luther's native obstinacy came to rescue it from all chance of failure :

At the conclusion, the Chancellor remarked, in a chiding tone, You have not answered to the point. The doctrines condemned and defined by Councils cannot be brought into question. Give a simple and direct answer : Will you retract, or will you not ?? Luther, unmoved, replied, “Since your most serene Majesty and your Lordships require a simple and direct answer, I will give one as simple as language can express. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or plain reason, -(for I do not believe in the Pope or in Councils alone, for it is certain they have often erred, and have contradicted themselves),-unless I am convicted by the texts I have adduced (and my conscience is a captive to the Word of God), I cannot retract, nor will I retract anything ; for to act against my conscience is neither safe nor honest. Here I stand : I can do no otherwise. God help me. Amen.'

Unless we raise Luther above humanity, we cannot refuse to see in all this his natural temperament aiding the convictions of his understanding, and carrying him even beyond what the pious and good of his day deemed necessary for the cause he had undertaken. We know that many persons read these events as though they were not in the category of ordinary causes, and as though Luther acted under direct inspiration from heaven; but with such we have no sympathy. Only in the case of men having a direct mission from heaven, as the prophets and apostles, can we consent to eliminate the human element in our estimate of the causes which God makes use of in his Holy Providence; and if we say that the resolution of Luther at this time was arrived at partly by his constitutional pugnacity of disposition, we only affirm that he was a man, left to the ordinary means of grace which God gives to all his people for their own edification and for his own glory. In order to see the truth of our position, we have only to contemplate Luther in other scenes of his public life, in which his overbearing obstinacy will be generally acknowledged. Let us take the conference at Marburg, between him and Zwingle, as a fair illustration of the idiosyncracy of the former :

“The following day, Saturday, Oct. 2, 1529, the more public conference was to take place. An apartment in the interior of the castle near the prince's bed-chamber had been chosen for the discussion, for much care was used to prevent the intrusion of the idly-curious or illdisposed. Carlstadt had requested permission to be present, but Luther at once negatived such a proposition; and many who had come from Switzerland or the Rhine, full of anxiety to be witnesses of the controversy, knocked in vain at the castle gate, and implored to be let in. Early in the morning the Landgrave entered the hall and took his seat, with his courtiers, and counsellors of the first mark, professors of his university, and the nobles and deputies who had been granted admission ; about twenty-four spectators in all according to the Zwinglian account, as many as fifty or sixty according to the Lutheran. The prince was very plainly attired, and thus appeared eager to ignore his rank on the occasion, and to do homage to theology. Of an intelligent mind, and wellversed in Scripture, he listened with fixed attention to the arguments advanced by either side. A desk covered with a velvet cloth divided Luther and Melancthon from Zwingle and Ecolampadius, and the other theologians were seated behind the chiefs of their respective parties. But before the controversy began, Luther stepped forward, and wrote with a piece of chalk in large letters in Latin, the text of Scripture on which he depended, “This is my body.' It was a token that, as long as that text was found in Scripture, he would not abandon the doctrine of the corporeal presence.

- The conference was opened by Feige, the Chancellor of Hesse, admonishing the disputants of the object for which they were met, namely, the establishment of concord. Upon this Luther declared that he must protest against the opinions entertained by his opponents on the Lord's Supper, and ever should protest against them, for the words of Christ were simple and conclusive--This is my body.' Ecolampadius replied, that the words of Christ thus quoted were figurative, and to be explained by similar texts, such as ““I am the true vine ;” “I am the door of the sheep;” “ John is Elias,” etc. Luther acknowledged a figure in the passages adduced, for the simplest understanding must at once perceive them to be figurative, but he denied that there was anything parallel to them in the declaration, This is my body.' Ecolampadius then had recourse to Christ's own statement, of the manner in which eating his flesh and drinking his blood were to be understood in John vi., when, in answer to the enquiry, How can this man give us his flesh to eat ?' he says, 'It is the spirit that quickeneth ; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.' Luther insisted that that passage of Scripture did not refer to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, but to feeding on Christ spiritually; but even if it did refer to the Sacrament, by Christ's words in that place must be understood, not his flesh, but our flesh; in other words, that the body of Christ is to be received not with a carnal, but a spiritual heart; for what blasphemy to dare to say “The flesh of Christ profiteth nothing ! Christ himself saith, ‘His flesh bringeth life.' Ecolampadius continued to press him upon this point. But if there be the spiritual manducation, what can the oral avail ?' 'That,' said Luther, ‘is a mere rationalistic question; it ought to be enough that the Word of God says so. What that Word states we are bound to believe without a doubt, or a cavil, or objection. The world must obey God's precepts, we must all kiss his Word. Worms, listen : it is your God who speaks! Here Zwingle came to the aid of his friend, and the controversy quickly assumed a sharper and more excited tone. “The devil,' Luther repeated, shall not drive me from simple dependence on Christ's words, " This is my body."' 'You keep on singing the same song,' Zwingle exclaimed. This Luther resented as rough and arrogant language; and when Zwingle continued, Pardon me, my dear sir; the Saviour's explanation of the meaning of his words is decisive : Christ tells you at once,' 'Your language,' Luther retorted,

savours of the camp and of bloodshed,'-glancing at the ulterior designs which he supposed to be veiled by the eagerness for unanimity, and yet more obviously alluding to the preparations for battle which had been made by Zurich and Bern against the Forest Cantons in the summer, and all but brought to the test of actual conflict. It was a relief to the Landgrave and all who had harmony and concord at heart, that at this heated time in the discussion, when the argument had degenerated into personal allusion, the combatants were parted by dinner being announced.”

Luther here reminds us of the “good old rule, the righteous plan,"

“ That they should take which have the power,

And they should keep who can,' since he attempts to accomplish by his own su erior strength, and by wordy bombast, what should have been sought by more lawful and Christian means. No Pope had ever asserted infallibility—that is, my interpretation of Scripture is the interpretation of Scripture, and I will allow no other—in a more offensive way, and the Reformer now used the same weapons of theological despotism which he had so long laboured to break when weilded by others. All through life he had the same characteristics, modified indeed by misfortune and sickness, yet continually peeping out. He formed his opinion and would brook no advice; he determined on a course of action, and refused to be controlled by others; qualities which, as we have said, were used and overruled for great purposes in the history of the Church, but which, while furnishing occasion for the exhibition of the wisdom of Divine Providence, still must be considered as blemishes in the man.

The fact is, that Luther's mental character never appears to full advantage except in his great conflict with the papal despotism. In proportion as he is brought into close contact with the Popedom, he rises in our esteem, and we are compelled to view him as God's instrument to humble that system of overgrown misrule ; but as he recedes from that centre as he retires from that platform of energetic action-he becomes like other men, and exhibits frailties which are strikingly contrasted with his masculine character and holy courage in the appropriate field of his exertions. In order to work out more clearly the purpose we have in view in this paper, we must dwell a little longer on these defects of character which, while they did not interfere with his active reforms, stood in the way of his reconstructing that which he laboured to throw down. Our object being to find out Luther's right place in the scale of means employed by God in the governance of his Church : when that is discovered we shall the more readily recognize the Hand which employed him, and rise from the humble instrument to the designing Mind which condescended to use his services.

We have been struck, in reading Mr. Worsley's interesting life of Luther, with the way in which the Reformer often mistook his own self-will for the will of God; and without any warrant but his own impressions, set aside that moral obedience which is a prime virtue in Christianity. Two instances of this temper we will bring before our readers. The Emperor had granted a safe-conduct to Luther to enable him to appear at Worms, and one of its conditions was, that he was not to preach on the way; a reasonable requirement considering the circumstances of the times, and one which might even have been suggested by a desire for his safety. The way in which he disobeyed

the injunction is thus related by Mr. Worsley, in a passage which will illustrate at the same time the fanaticism of the Reformer and his age, in attributing the most ordinary events to supernatural causes.

“The next day, the 7th of April, was Sunday ; and he was earnestly requested to preach (at Erfurth). The Emperor indeed had prohibited him from preaching on the way, but nothing was clearer to his conscience than that he was bound to obey God rather than man, and that God's Word could not be bound; and Caspar Sturm, whose inclination to Lutheranism had ripened into a settled persuasion by his intercourse with the Reformer, was not disposed to assert his authority to prevent a step from which he promised a blessing to himself and others. But had he attempted it, it would have been in vain. The little church of the Augustines at Erfurth was filled to pverflowing on the report that Luther would preach; and it is related by Selneccer that in the middle of the sermon part of the outer wall of the sacred building fell down with a loud crash. The congregation were using all haste to escape from the scene of danger; but Luther, raising his hand and elevating himself in the pulpit, called them back and exhorted them to composure. “Do you not understand,' he said, that this is a machination of Satan to hinder you from listening to the Word of God? Remain : Christ is with us.' They returned to their places, and the Reformer continued his discourse, which treated of the folly of trusting to human merit, and directed a severe censure against the vices of the clergy, amidst perfect tranquillity. It appears that he preached also in other towns and villages, as at Gotha, where Myconius relates that the devil in his wrath threw down some stones from the church gable, which had remained firm for two hundred years; and Varillas mentions a town by the name of Andors, which is however not to be found in any map, either ancient or modern, where he delivered a sermon with so much effect, that when it was concluded the inbabitants to a man declared themselves converted to the evangelical doctrines.”_vol. i., pp. 221-2.

Mr. Worsley does not comment on the disobedience of Luther; indeed, we gather that he rather approves of it; but surely a little consideration will shew that it was utterly unjustifiable. It is an evangelical precept that we are to "obey magistrates," and nothing can loosen the obligation but a clear command from the Divine Lawgiver, which no one will affirm Luther had. He acted on the impulse of self-will, as men have so often done since who have interpreted their own wishes and impressions into a divine call ; whereas if the will of God could be gathered from all the circumstances of the case before us, it was that Luther should obey the Emperor. That prudence which the Gospel inculcates, and which our Lord and his disciples put in practice, demanded that the civil powers at that time should be propitiated rather than irritated; and that an

« AnteriorContinuar »