“Worms and the Wartburg” American Sentinel 11, 16, pp. 121, 122.

April 16, 1896

WORMS and the Wartburg Castle were both scenes of important events in the history of the Reformation.

At Worms assembled the Diet to which the place owes its fame, for it was there that Luther put to confusion the representatives of both Church and State; while, in Wartburg Castle the reformer subsequently found temporary asylum from his enemies.

“A real reformation,” says D’Aubigne, “prepared during many ages, is the work of the Spirit of God. Before the appointed hour, the greatest geniuses and even the most faithful of God’s servants cannot produce it; but when the reforming time is come, when it is God’s pleasure to renovate the affairs of the world, … then if men are silent, the very stones will cry out.” 632

All was ready when Luther came upon the stage of action. “God who prepares his work through ages, accomplishes it by the weakest instruments when his time is come.” The reformer was only a poor monk, but “he came in the fullness of time,” writes Professor Harnack, “when the rule of the Roman Church, which had hitherto educated the peoples, had become a tyranny, when States and nations were beginning to throw off an ecclesiastical yoke and independently to organize themselves in accordance with their own laws.”

“He came in the fullness of time—when laymen were no longer satisfied with priest and sacrament, but were seeking God himself, and were feeling the personal responsibility of their own souls.”

The Reformation was not the work, however, of Luther and his co-laborers; they were only instruments in God’s hands. In the life of the true reformer we see only the reflected glory of the Creator working out his eternal purpose. “Luther was great only in the rediscovered knowledge of God in the gospels.” He himself said: “I put forward God’s word; … this was all I did. And yet while I was asleep … the word that I had preached overthrew popery, so that neither prince nor emperor has done it so much harm. And yet I did nothing: the word alone did all.” 633

“The Reformation was accomplished,” says the historian, “in the name of a spiritual principle.” It “rejected all worldly elements.” And only so long as this was true did it continue to be reformation. “Every revolution,” says D’Aubigne, “should be accomplished in the mind before it is carried out externally.” It was so with Luther; the Reformation began in his own heart. Seeking freedom from the bondage of sin and finding it not in external ordinances, but only in the promise of God: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” Luther began to minister to others the comfort wherewith he himself had been comforted. It was with no ambitious purpose that Luther assailed the doctrines of the Papacy; he desired only to give to his fellowmen the gospel which priestcraft had taken from them. His purpose was not the destruction of the Papacy, but the salvation of souls.

Realizing that individual responsibility to God necessarily meant freedom to obey, Luther denied the right alike of Church and State to trammel his conscience. And this denial was fraught with far-reaching consequences to both civil and ecclesiastical systems.

“An obscure individual, bearing in his hand the word of Life, had stood firm before the mighty ones of the world, and they had shaken before him. He had wielded this arm of the word of God, first against Tetzel and his numerous army; and those greedy merchants, after a brief struggle, had fled away: he next employed it against the Roman legate at Augsburg; and the legate in amazement had allowed the prey to escape him: somewhat later with its aid he contended against the champions of learning in the halls of Leipsic; and the astonished theologians had beheld their syllogistic weapons shivered in their hands; and, lastly, with this single arm, he had opposed the Pope, when the latter, disturbed in his slumbers, had risen on his throne to blast the unfortunate monk with his thunders; and this same word had paralyzed all the power of this head of Christendom. A final struggle remained to be undergone. The word was destined to triumph over the emperor of the West, over the kings and princes of the earth; and then, victorious over all the powers of the world, to uprise in the Church, and reign as the very word of God.” 634

The ordeal was severe, but the reformer stood, not in the strength of men, but in the power of God. To one who asked him, “How can you hope to succeed?” Luther answered, “I trust in God Almighty, whose word and commandment I have before me.” The forces of a mighty empire were arrayed against him, but he faltered not, and when in the presence of the assembled Diet, he was required to give a direct answer to the demand of the Emperor that he retract his writings, the reformer said:—

I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is as 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 [122] 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.

Never before had the old city of Worms been stirred by such words. The most important declaration of independence since that of the apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than men,” had been given to the world. The Protest of the Princes at Spires five years later was simply the response of German manhood to the reformer’s declaration of the individual’s duty to God and of his consequent right to pay his highest allegiance to him only.

Rome was baffled! She had demanded unqualified submission only to hear her authority boldly challenged. The power of conscience was declared to be above the civil magistrate, and the word of God above the visible church.

“The sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” had been unsheathed against an apostate church, and though she might take the life of the warrior who thus wielded it, she could not destroy the weapon which had power in itself to continue the warfare; nor could she again fetter the human mind enlightened with divine wisdom. The word of God once locked in dead languages and chained to convent walls was not to be unfettered that it might accomplish in other minds and hearts the revolution it had wrought in Luther’s bosom. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

“He is a freeman, whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves beside. There’s not a chain,
That hellish foes, confederate for his harm,
Can wind around him, but he casts it off
With as much ease as Sampson his green withes.” 635

The Wartburg

From Worms Luther went to the Wartburg, not indeed by his own volition, but nevertheless providentially. May 25, 1521, he was placed under the ban of the empire. But his safe conduct protected him. The next day he left Worms as though to return to Wittenburg. On his journey he was seized by his friends and was carried to the Wartburg, a castle near Eisenach, where he remained until March of the following year.

But the Reformer was not idle in his retirement. “Luther’s residence at the Wartburg,” remarks, Dr. Schaff, “marks the second period of his reformatory activity.” For a time his enemies thought him dead, but they were soon undeceived. It was in the Wartburg that Luther translated the New Testament into German, which more than anything else contributed to make the Reformation permanent. Here too he wrote those tracts which so stirred Germany, and which were like barbed arrows in the sides of the Papacy. It is because of the work done within its walls for soul-liberty that the Wartburg is to-day a household word, while many more pretentious and in their day more noted castles are forgotten.

The eternal years of God belong to truth, and he who would make an everlasting name must identify himself with the incarnate “Word which liveth and abideth for ever,” for He is the embodiment of truth.

“With our own strength we naught can do,
Destruction yawns on every side:
He fights for us, our champion true,
Elect of God to be our guide.
What is his name? The anointed One,
The God of armies he; Of earth and heaven the Lord alone—
With him, on field of battle won, Abideth victory.” 636 [124]

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