Reading 2 – Sabbath, December 3, 2016
Alone–and Yet Not Alone
By Helmut Welker, Germany
Worms. April 17, 1521. Before the assembled Reichstag (Imperial Diet), Emperor Charles V asked Martin Luther two questions. The first one was whether he acknowledged “these writings” as his. That concerned the books that appeared in 1520–The Freedom of a Christian, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate, and The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Martin Luther gave affirmation. The second question was whether he was ready to retract these writings. Luther asked for a day to think about this.
“With his mind stayed upon God, Luther prepared for the struggle before him. He thought upon the plan of his answer, examined passages in his own writings, and drew from the Holy Scriptures suitable proofs to sustain his positions. Then, laying his left hand on the sacred volume, which was open before him, he lifted his right hand to heaven, and vowed ‘to adhere constantly to the gospel, and to confess his faith freely, even though he should be called to seal his testimony with his blood.’ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 158. He knew, “And when they bring you … unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour, what ye ought to say.” Luke 12:11, 12.
When he was “ushered into the presence of the Diet, his countenance bore no trace of fear or embarrassment. Calm and peaceful, yet grandly brave and noble, he stood as God’s witness among the great ones of the earth.” –The Great Controversy, p. 158. The deciding statement of his defense was: “If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent rea- sons; if I am not satisfied by the very texts that I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be right for a Christian to speak against his conscience.” He closed with the words: “ ‘Here I take my stand; I cannot do otherwise. God be my help! Amen.’ ” –The Great Controversy, p. 160.
Luther was asked to exit the Diet. There was internal discussion, and then he was called back and given another chance to retract. His answer was clear: “ ‘I have no other answer to give,’ he said, ‘than I have already given.’ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 161. What happened? “Christ had spoken through Luther ’s testimony with a power and grandeur that … inspired both friends and foes with awe and wonder. The Spirit of God had been present in that council, impressing the hearts of the chiefs of the empire.” –The Great Controversy, p. 162.
Martin Luther traveled back to Wittenberg on April 25, 1521. After his departure, Emperor Charles V imposed the “Edict of Worms” against him, thus making him an outlaw. On the way back, on May 4, Frederick the Wise (1463-1525), Elector of Saxony, had Luther “kidnapped” (Luther knew about this ahead of time). This happened on one hand to guarantee Luther ’s safety and, on the other hand, to have him temporarily disappear from sight. The rumor that Luther had died spread rapidly.
“Foremost among those who were called to lead the church from the darkness of popery into the light of a purer faith, stood Martin Luther.” –The Great Controversy, p. 120. He was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben. His parents, Hans and Margarete, lived in modest circumstances, were faithful to the church, but not overly pious. His father was a miner. After eleven years of school, Luther mastered Latin–both spoken and written–which was very important for his later life. He concludfurt with the “Magister Artium” (Mas- ter of Arts) degree. Then he began the study of law.
“While one day examining the books in the library of the university, Luther discovered a Latin Bible. Such a book he had never before seen. He was ignorant even of its existence…. Now, for the first time, he looked upon the whole of God’s Word…. Angels of Heaven were by his side, and rays of light from the throne of God revealed the treasures of truth to his under- standing.” –The Great Controversy, p.122.
Against the wishes of his father, he entered the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt on July 17, 1505. The following quotation comes from this time: “The fear of the Lord dwelt in the heart of Luther,… ‘To pray well,’ he often said, ‘is the better half of study.’ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 122.
In the monastery, he led an austere life. With fasting, flagellation, and self-mortification, he wanted to “work out,” or thus experience, the merciful God. About this self-redemption, he himself writes: “ ‘If ever monk could attain Heaven by his monkish works, I should certainly have been entitled to it.’ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 123. Instead of calming him, this life drove him to greater and greater distress of conscience. His confessor, Johann von Staupitz, told him: “ ‘Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, cast yourself into the arms of your Redeemer. Trust in Him–in the righteous- ness of His life–in the atonement of His death.” –The Great Controversy, pp.123, 124. In addition, he recommended that Luther study theology and transferred him for this purpose to Witten- berg in the fall of 1508. After a year, he received two bachelor degrees, one of which was the “baccalarius Biblicus” (Professor of the Bible). He was then recalled to Erfurt.
The journey to Rome
In late summer 1511, Luther went with a friar on the approximately 1,400-km (870-mile) trip to Rome, as the monas- tic rules specified: Silently and in single file (so people could not even talk to each other). Arriving in Rome, he was shocked: “As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. ‘It is incredible,’ he wrote, ‘what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. So that it is usual to say, “If there be a hell, Rome is built above it. It is an abyss whence all sins proceed.“ ‘ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 125.
In addition to making a general confession, he climbed the “Holy Staircase,” the “Scala Santa.” This 28-step staircase is supposed to have been removed from Pilate’s palace and brought to Rome. Even Jesus Christ supposedly descended this staircase after His trial. 2On the second, eleventh, and twenty-eighth steps, a window had been inserted, through which one could supposedly see traces of Jesus’ blood. Once a year or on certain holidays, the Catholic Church gave a general indulgence to every pilgrim who climbed the steps on his knees and said the Lord’s prayer at each step. However, a partial indulgence was possible every day. Martin Luther, who was searching for the “merciful God,” was climbing these steps on his knees “when sud- denly a voice like thunder seemed to say to him, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Romans 1:17. He sprung upon his feet, and hastened from the place, in shame and horror.” –The Great Controversy, p. 125.
Because of his knowledge of the Bible, he immediately grasped the importance of the inspiration, for he knew the verse: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16, 17.
Two pillars of faith are given here: (1) The gospel makes all blessed who believe in it; (2) The just (righteous) will live by faith. However, on closer examination of the text, it is seen that this text says: “The righteous will live by faith.” What might look like quibbling is critically important: He who is righteous by faith…. Here faith is explicitly reinforced, and the focus of faith is clearly emphasized.
“That text [Romans 1:17] never lost its power upon his soul.” –The Great Controversy, p. 125. “Not by good works, intercession of the saints, and the sacramental mediation of ordained priests is the salvation of the individual achieved, but it is given to him by God solely on the basis of his faith through pure grace.”2
University of Wittenberg
After his return, in 1512, he received at Wittenberg University the title of Doc- tor of Theology. He was 29 years old. He lectured on the Psalms (1514/15), Romans (1515/16), Galatians (1516/17), and Hebrews (1517/18). With these topics, Martin Luther delved more and more into the theme that we today call justification by faith, or “Christ our Righteousness.” As a devout Catholic, in the Catholic way of thinking with the pope as the head, the saints, the traditions, and the indulgences, he lectured on the core theme of the apostle Paul: “He who is righteous by faith….” Soon he formulated the thesis “that Chris- tians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures.” –The Great Controversy, p. 125. This statement was in stark contrast to Catholic theology, for the Bible was the “chained book”– chained because it was “dangerous.”
“Luther saw the danger of exalting human theories above the word of God.” –The Great Controversy, p. 125. He described such studies as “worth- less” and “perishable.” The blooming indulgences under Johann Tetzel (1460-1519) stood in sharp contrast to the Bible. Simon Magus wanted to buy from the apostles the power to perform miracles. “But Peter said unto him: Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.” Acts 8:20. Luther shared the teaching with his hearers that “The grace of Christ can- not be purchased; it is a free gift. He counseled the people not to buy the indulgences, but to look in faith to a crucified Redeemer.” –The Great Controversy, p. 129.
As a result of the unbiblical indulgences, on the eve of the Catholic All Saints Day, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. On All Saints’ Day, be- cause of the relics in the church, many visitors were expected. Through the 95 Theses, it was shown that the power to forgive sins had never been passed to a man, and not to the Pope either. These thoughts from the Reformation spread like wildfire in all directions.
“Luther was as yet but partially converted from the errors of Romanism. But as he compared the Holy Oracles with the papal decrees and constitutions, he was filled with wonder. ‘I am reading,’ he wrote, ‘the decretals of the popes, and …. I know not whether the pope is antichrist himself, or whether he is his apostle; so misrepresented and even crucified does Christ appear in them.’ Yet at this time Luther was still a supporter of the Roman Church, and had no thought that he would ever separate from her communion.” –The Great Controversy, p. 139.
Human struggles and doubt
Luther trembled as he looked at him- self. He saw himself alone, opposed by the mightiest powers of the earth. All the kings and emperors of this earth trembled before the pope. And he, Martin Luther, faced him. “When enemies appealed to custom and tradition, or to the assertions and authority of the pope, Luther met them with the Bible and the Bible only. Here were arguments which they could not answer; therefore [they] clamored for his blood,… ‘He is a heretic,’ cried the Roman zealots. ‘It is high treason against the church to allow so horrible a heretic to live one hour longer. Let the scaffold be instantly erected for him!’ –Ibid., b. 3, ch. 9. But Luther did not fall a prey to their fury. God had a work for him to do, and angels of heaven were sent to protect him. Many, however, who had received from Luther the precious light were made the objects of Satan’s wrath and for the truth’s sake fearlessly suffered torture and death.“ –The Great Controversy, pp. 132, 133.
The Roman trial in Augsburg
In June 1518, the Roman Curia sum- moned Luther to Rome to convict him of heresy. Even before the date the indictment was expanded to notorious heresy; spies in Luther ’s Wittenberg lectures had denounced him. For health reasons, he attempted to get a hearing on German soil. The Saxon Elector Frederick the Wise, who was supposed to turn him over to the authorities, supported him in this. Thus Luther ’s trial was entangled in political interests: Pope Leo X needed the Elector for the upcoming imperial election and therefore lodged his objection in August 1518. Cardinal Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) was sup- posed to interrogate Luther before the Diet of Augsburg. From October 12 to 14, 1518, Luther spoke there. He refused to retract if he was not refuted from the Bible. For Cajetan he was therefore found guilty as a heretic and would have to be handed over. But the Elector Frederick the Wise refused to do this. Luther escaped the threat of arrest on the night of October 20-21, 1518, by fleeing from Augsburg. In His words, “ ‘He who resolves to bear the word of Christ to the world, must expect death at every hour.’ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 134.
The final separation from Rome
The Elector Frederick the Wise “saw also that as a professor in the university Luther was eminently successful. Only a year had passed since the re- former posted his theses on the castle church, yet there was already a great falling off in the number of pilgrims that visited the church at the festival of All-Saints. Rome had been deprived of worshipers and offerings, but their place was filled by another class, who now came to Wittenberg–not pilgrims to adore her relics, but students to fill her halls of learning. The writings of Luther had kindled everywhere a new interest in the Holy Scriptures, and not only from all parts of Germany, but from other lands, students flocked to the university. Young men, coming in sight of Wittenberg for the first time, would ‘raise their hands to heaven, and bless God for having caused the light of truth to shine forth from Wittenberg, as in former ages from Mount Zion, that it might penetrate to the most distant lands.’ “ –The Great Controversy, pp. 138, 139.
Luther was not blind to the storm that was about to break upon him; but he stood firm: “ ‘I am in the hands of God,’… ‘What can man do unto me?’ “ –The Great Controversy, p 139.
“When the papal bull reached Luther, he said: ‘I despise and attack it, as impious, false…. It is Christ Himself who is condemned therein…. I rejoice in having to bear such ills for the best of causes. Already I feel greater liberty in my heart; for at last I know that the pope is antichrist, and that his throne is that of Satan himself.’ “ –The Story of Redemption, p. 344.
On December 10, 1520, the final break with Rome took place when, in answer to the burning of his books, Luther burned the papal bull in front of the Wittenberg Elster gate. He was then excommunicated on January 3, 1521, through the papal edict, Decet Romanum Pontificem.
This courageous act and his primary reformatory writings made Luther known throughout the entire empire. The invention of the modern printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1400- 1468) helped him to achieve extraordinary success: By the end of 1520, 81 different books and collections by him had appeared, many of them translated into other languages, for a total of 653 editions.
The journey to Worms
Luther left on April 2, 1521, for the journey to Worms. His arrival at the Diet was not the penance that the church hoped for but rather a triumphal procession. He was received with enthusiasm everywhere. He preached in Naumburg, Erfurt, Gotha, and in the George Church in Eisenach. Even in Worms, where he arrived on April 16, he was received with jubilation.
Of course, it was clear to Martin Luther that this was a very dangerous journey. He was aware that he would possibly look death in the face. But his conviction was more important to him than his life. “Pray not for me, but for the Word of God,” he told his friends. –The Great Controversy, p. 150. He said goodbye to his friend Melanchthon with the words: “ ‘If I do not return, and my enemies put me to death, continue to teach; stand fast in the truth. Labor in my stead;… if thy life be spared, my death will matter little.” –The Great Controversy, p. 151.
On May 4, 1521, Elector Frederick the Wise had Luther brought to the Wart- burg Castle in Eisenach. The powerful Elector hoped that this would take Luther out of the spotlight for a short time and somewhat weaken the constant attacks against the Reformation movement. Luther lived incognito at the Wartburg; he called himself Junker Jörg and styled his hair and beard to keep from being recognized.
In the fall of 1521, Luther translated the New Testament into German in only eleven weeks. The Greek Bible of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Latin translation, as well as the Vulgate, served as his template. Thus Luther made the content of the Bible accessible to ordinary people.
In 1523, the first part of a translation of the Old Testament appeared; by 1525 there were 22 authorized editions and 110 reprints. Up to 1534, with a group of Reformers, Luther translated the New Testament from ancient manuscripts. The famous, richly expressive Luther Bible was created!
Katharina von Bora
In Zisterzienserinnen Convent Marie in Nimbschen, Katharina von Bora and the other sisters of the order read the writings of the Reformer. The idea of escaping from the convent eventually developed among the nuns. Therefore, they asked Luther for help to flee. On Easter 1523 he sent them a wagon in which Katharina and eight of her sisters from the order hid in empty herring barrels. However, be- cause these women were afraid to return home, Luther made arrangements for them to stay with friends in Wittenberg.
On June 13, 1525, Martin Luther and the 19-years-younger Katharina von Bora were married. The couple set up house in the former Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg. Over time, they were blessed with six children.
First, Katharina brought order into Luther ’s life. Luther confessed that he had not changed or shaken out his straw mattress in the bedroom for a year. Although Luther received good income as a professor of theology, he never had any money, because every day beggars came seeking help, and he gave them liberal assistance.
Katharina took over the management of the house and yard, stables and rooms, bank accounts and debt repayments. She had the house repaired and freshly painted, made an herb garden in the monastery cemetery, converted the ground floor into a barn, and installed a kitchen. On her behalf, Luther purchased more gardens and land where she raised cattle and fruit trees. He jokingly called his wife “Mr. Käthe” because of her talent for management. Without Katharina von Bora, the Re- former would have been distracted by the chaos of everyday life and the Lutheran Reformation would not have advanced.3
God’s intention for marriage and the family was here shown clearly: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” Genesis 2:18. Katharina was his assistant. His life’s work would never have achieved the level it did without his wife.
When the Reformers left the Catholic Church, they had no hymns for their services. For Luther a worship service without songs was unthinkable, for he considered music of great importance for the salvation of the people, because it “is capable of something that only theology otherwise gives; namely, peace and a happy mind.”4 There are 36 hymns by Luther still known, the most famous of which is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” based on Psalm 46.
Luther’s theological heritage–the Bible and prayer
“ ‘All that the Lutherans have said is true, and we cannot deny it,’ declared a papist bishop. ‘Can you by sound rea- sons refute the Confession made by the elector and his allies?’ asked another, of Doctor Eck. ‘Not with the writings of the apostles and prophets,’ was the re- ply; ‘but with the Fathers and councils I can.’ ‘I understand, then,’ responded the questioner, ‘that the Lutherans are entrenched in the Scriptures, and we are only outside.’ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 208.
The complete Christian message is found in the Bible. It needs no interpretation, because it interprets itself. The Reformation principle was, is, and remains: “The Bible, and the Bible only, as the rule of faith and duty” (The Great Controversy, p. 204)–Sola Scriptura. Martin Luther ’s work began with the Bible. He found in it the loving God. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19. In God’s word he found justification and the forgive- ness of sins. “… The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17)–Sola Fide. All of this happens not through their own efforts: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6)–Sola Gratia. “From the secret place of prayer came the power that shook the world in the Great Reformation.” –The Great Controversy, p. 209.
The Advent pioneers also began their work with the study of the Bible and in prayer. The work of God will end with those people who have the Holy Scriptures as the eternal and sole foundation of their faith and maintain prayer as the constant connection with Heaven. In the words of Martin Luther, “ ‘We cannot attain to the understanding of Scripture either by study or by strength of intellect. Therefore your first duty must be to begin with prayer. Entreat the Lord to deign to grant you, in His rich mercy, rightly to under- stand His Word. There is no other interpreter of the word but the Author of that word Himself. Even as He has said, “They shall all be taught of God.” Hope nothing from your study and the strength of your intellect; but simply put your trust in God, and in the guidance of his Spirit.’ “ –The Great Controversy, p. 132. Amen! ■
The Great Controversy, 1888 edition.
1 Dt. Reichstag files, Younger series, vol. II, no. 80, pp. 581, 582.
2 The Reformation Doctrine, Introduction to Early Modern Times, University of Münster.
3 Ecumenical Holy Lexicon, www.heiligenlexikon.de.
4 Karin Bornkamm, Gerhard Ebeling (ed.): Martin Luther: Selected Writings, vol. 6, Insel Verlag,1982, p. 134.