‘Here I Stand!’ – A defining moment in world History

 

The Papal Bull excommunicating Luther

The Papal Bull excommunicating Luther

Before Luther’s greatest moment of public clarity and integrity came an act of defiance. Following the debate with Eck in Leipzig the Pope excommunicated him.

This was publicised in a ‘Papal Bull’ (a letter or decree with the Papal Seal or, ‘bulla’) largely written by Eck and distributed throughout Germany with an additional command that Luther’s works to be burned.

Luther’s response was to burn a copy of the Bull itself, along with the books of Catholic Canon Law. This act of defiance was witnessed by an excited crowd of Wittenberg residents and many students who sang praises to God as the papers burned.

Eck, the Bull and a Diet of Worms!
The various names and terms have a comic quality about them now but Luther was nearing the most dangerous part of his career yet. Luther was both vulnerable and heroic.

‘I will enter Worms under the banner of Christ against the gates of hell!’ Luther said.

The ‘Diet of Worms’ (or, The Imperial Assembly in the town of Worms) took place in 1521.

The famous John Eck was sent to question Luther and conclusively prove him to be a heretic.  The crowds were immense and it was with great difficulty that Luther and his team entered the hall.

A great gathering of nobles and church officials were there including the 21 year old Emperor Charles V, six electors of the empire, 24 dukes, 8 margraves, 30 archbishops, bishops and abbotts, 7 ambassadors, papal nuncios etc.  All in all 206 of the leading political and religious figures of the day.  It was an intimidating sight.

To Luther’s surprise, there was no debate but simply a command for him to repent of the things he had written, to recant. Eck asked Luther to acknowledge that the books piled on the tables were his. Luther said yes.

Eck then asked him to withdraw and reject the teaching that the books contained.  Sensing the gravity of the situation, Luther asked for time to reflect on the question in order that he might act wisely and in accordance with God’s word.  The meeting was adjourned till the following day.

Luther prayed, ‘There is no strength in me. This is Your cause, O God, not mine.  On you I rely, not on man.’

The next day when Luther was again asked to retract the doctrines he gave a speech, first in Latin then, true to form, he gave it again in German.

'Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise!'

'Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise!'

He ended with these famous words:

‘Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the word of God.

It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience.

Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.  So help me God.’

The meeting closed with the Emperor storming out and later said, ‘How can a single monk be right and the testimony of a thousand years of Christendom be wrong?’

Luther returned in safety and spent a period in hiding, but his influence – and the influence of the word of God – was felt all across Europe. He published many books and sermons and translated the Bible into German.  Churches were reformed, many preachers raised up and large numbers turned to the Lord.  A new era had begun.

Here I stand – trusting in Your Word
Here I stand – needing the intervention of God to vindicate His gospel
Here I stand – knowing that Truth cannot be suppressed forever
Here I stand – on behalf of my generation and the generations to follow
Here I stand – for the the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Here I stand – where else can I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life! (John 6:6)

References: The Reformation – Owen Chadwick (Pelican), Luther the Reformer – James Kittleson (IVP), Sketches from Church History – SM Houghton (Banner of Truth)

For the first part of the Martin Luther Story click here

For the next part of the Martin Luther Story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Luther wrestles with God – Through Anger, Guilt, Revelation and Forgiveness

When Luther returned to Wittenberg he began teaching and expounding the Scriptures and his thirst for truth intensified.

He writes:
‘I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans.  I did not have a heart of stone, but to that moment one phrase in chapter one stood in my way.

I hated the idea, ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ …according to which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

I lived without reproach as a monk, but my conscience was disturbed to its very depths and all I knew about myself was that I was a sinner.

I could not believe that anything I thought or did or prayed satisfied God.  I did not love, nay, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.

Certainly, and with intense grumbling (perhaps even blasphemy), I was angry with God and said, ‘As if it were indeed not enough that miserable sinners who are eternally lost through original sin and are crushed again by every calamity through the Ten Commandments, God Himself adds pain to pain in the gospel by threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!’

At last, meditating day and night…by the mercy of God, I gave heed to the context of the words, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’

Then I began to understand that the righteousness of God is…a gift of God, namely by faith…

Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.

An entirely new side of the Scriptures opened itself to me…and I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the loathing with which before I had hated the term ‘the righteousness of God’.

Thus, that verse in Paul was for me truly the gate of paradise.’

Luther wrestled with God! Next time we’ll see how he wrestled his generation and began a reform movement that took on the world!

(The quote is from Luther’s Works, Vol 34, p.336-338 Fortress Press,and quoted in Luther, the Reformer by James M. Kittleson, IVP)

For the next part of the Martin Luther story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

Dear Medieval world – meet Martin Luther

luther
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was born to a poor family in Eisleben, Saxony, Germany.

He was a bright scholar and entered the University of Erfurt when he was eighteen.  While there, for the first time he saw a Bible and was greatly challenged by the passage in which Samuel was called to be a prophet to Israel.

It wasn’t, however, until he was 22 and had left his studies that he began seeking God.  A combination of traumatic events (including nearly being struck by lightning) culminated in his promising to become a monk which, after a rollicking farewell party to the world, he did.

As a monk he was very diligent, following the strictest rules and trying to make peace with God.  He appealed earnestly to every saint he could think of for help including Mary, but no help came.

Once for a whole fortnight he didn’t eat or sleep.  He was desperate to find peace and yet held under a terrifying expectation of God’s righteous anger against him.

In 1510 he had the rare privilege of visiting Rome.  He had high expectations but was utterly shocked at the lawlessness he saw there.  Nevertheless he said many masses and visited many churches.

Of this trip he says:

‘At Rome I wished to liberate my grandfather from purgatory, and went up the staircase of Pilate, praying a pater noster on each step; for I was convinced that he who prayed thus could redeem his soul.  But when I came to the top step, the thought kept coming to me, ‘Who knows whether this is true?’’ (S.M. Houghton – Sketches from Church History (Banner of Truth) p.84)

Next time we’ll see what happened when Luther began reading and preaching from Erasmus’ recently published Greek New Testament.

For the next part of Luther’s story click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides