BUT THE CAUSE IS THINE!
by Seattle ALC
The following is from the archives of our late Pastor Alvin Holmgren, published in the October 1999 church bulletin.
BUT THE CAUSE IS THINE
In commemoration of the Reformation, I have chosen to provide you with excerpts from the account of Luther’s appearance before Emperor Charles V at the Diet in Worms. These paragraphs are selections from J.H. Merle D’Aubigne’s famed History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century; published by Moody Press in 1955 in the book entitled The Life and Times of Martin Luther.
“At length the doors of the hall were opened. Luther went in. Never had a man appeared before so imposing an assembly. The Emperor Charles V, whose sovereignty extended over the greater part of the old and new world, presided; two hundred and three other high ranking officials of church and state formed the imposing court before which Martin Luther appeared.
“After a moment of solemn silence, the chancellor of the Archbishop of Treves rose and said with a loud and clear voice, first in Latin and then in German: ‘Martin Luther! His sacred and invincible imperial majesty has cited you before his throne, in accordance with the advice and counsel of the states of the holy Roman empire, to require you to answer two questions: First, Do you acknowledge these books to have been written by you? At the same time the imperial speaker pointed with his finger to about twenty volumes placed on a table in the middle of the hall, directly in front of Luther. ‘Are you prepared to retract these books, and their contents, or do you persist in the opinions you have advanced in them?’
“Luther’s counsel exclaimed aloud: ‘Let the titles of the books be read!’ The chancellor approached the table and read the titles. Their enumeration being finished, Luther said first in Latin, and then in German: ‘Most gracious emperor! Gracious princes and lords! His imperial majesty has asked me two questions . As to the first, I acknowledge as mine the books that have just been named: I cannot deny them. As to the second, seeing that it is a question which concerns faith and the salvation of souls, and in which the Word of God, the greatest and most precious treasure either in heaven or earth, is interested, I should act imprudently were I to reply without reflection. I might affirm less than the circumstance demands, or more than truth requires, and so sin against this saying of Christ: ‘Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.’ 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.”
“Martin Luther,” said the Chancellor of Treves, “his imperial majesty, of his natural goodness, is very willing to grant you another day, but under condition that you make your reply via voice, and not in writing.”
“On the morning when he was to appear again before the Emperor, Luther’s faith grew weak; his enemies multiplied before him; his imagination was overwhelmed at the sight. His soul was as a ship tossed by a violent tempest. He fell to the earth and uttered these broken cries: ‘O Almighty and Everlasting God! How terrible is this world! Behold it openeth its mouth to swallow me up, and I have so little trust in Thee. How weak is the flesh, and how powerful is Satan. If it is in the strength of this world only that I must put my trust, all is over! My last hour is come, my condemnation has been pronounced. 0 God! 0 God! 0 God! do Thou help me against all the wisdom of the world! Do this; Thou shouldest do this — Thou alone — for this not my work, but Thine. I have nothing to do here, nothing to contend for with these great ones of the world! I should desire to see my days flow on peaceful and happy. BUT THE CAUSE IS THINE … and it is a righteous and eternal cause. 0 Lord! help me! Faithful and unchangeable God! In no man do I place my trust. It would be vain! All that is of man is uncertain; all that cometh of man fails. 0 God, hearest Thou me not? . My God, art Thou dead? No! Thou canst not die! Thou hidest Thyself only! Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it well! Act, then, 0 God, stand at my side, for the sake of Thy well-beloved Jesus Christ, who is my defense, my shield, and my strong tower.
“Lord! where stayest Thou? 0 my God, where art Thou? Come! come! I am ready! I am ready to lay down my life for Thy truth patient as a lamb.. For it the cause of justice–it is Thine! I will never separate myself from Thee, neither now nor through eternity! And though the world should be filled with devils, though my body, which is still the work of Thy hands, should be slain, be stretched upon the pavement, be cut in pieces, reduced to ashes, my soul is Thine! Yes! I have the· assurance of Thy Word. My soul belongs to Thee! It shall abide forever with Thee. Amen! 0 God! help me! Amen!”
The historian goes on to describe the events of the second day in these words: “Martin Luther! Yesterday you begged for a delay that has now expired. Assuredly it ought not to have been conceded, as every man, and especially you, who are so great and learned a doctor in the Holy Scriptures, should always be ready to answer every question touching his faith. Now, therefore, reply to the question put by his majesty, who has behaved to you with so much mildness. Will you defend your books as a whole, or are you ready to disavow some of them?
Now for Luther’s reply: “Most Serene emperor! Illustrious princes! gracious lords! said Luther, turning his eyes on Charles and on the assembly. I appear before you this day, in conformity with the order given me yesterday, and by God’s mercies I conjure your majesty and your august highnesses to listen graciously to the defense of a cause which I am assured is just and true. If, through ignorance, I should transgress the usages and proprieties of courts, I entreat you to pardon me; for I was not brought up in the palaces of kings, but in the seclusion of a convent.
“Yesterday, two questions were put to me on behalf of his imperial majesty: the first, if I was the author of the books whose titles were enumerated; the second, if I would retract or defend the doctrine I had taught in them. To the first I then made answer, and I persevere in that reply.
“As for the second, I have written works on many different subjects. There are some in which I have treated of faith and good works, in a manner at once so pure, so simple, and so scriptural, that even my adversaries, far from finding anything to censure in them, allow that these works are useful, and worthy of being read by all pious men. The papal bull, however violent it may be, acknowledges this. If, therefore, I were to retract these, what should I do? Wretched man! I among all men, I alone should abandon truths that friends and enemies approve, and I should oppose what the whole world glories in confessing.
“Yet, I am but a mere man, and not God; I shall therefore defend myself as Christ did, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil’, said He (John 18:23). How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and who may so easily go astray, desire every man to state his objections to my doctrine!
“For this reason, most serene emperor, and you, most illustrious princes, and all men of every degree, I conjure you by the mercy of God to prove from the writings of the prophets and apostles that I have erred. As soon as I am convinced of this, I will retract every error, and be the first to lay hold of my books and throw them into the fire.
“What I have just said plainly shows, I hope, that I have carefully weighed and considered the dangers to which I expose myself; but, far from being dismayed, I rejoice to see that the Gospel is now, as in former times, a cause of trouble and dissension. This is the character; this is the testimony of the Word of God. I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword, said Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:34). God is wonderful and terrible in His counsels; beware lest, by presuming to quench dissensions, you should persecute the holy Word of God, and draw down upon yourselves a frightful deluge of insurmountable dangers, of present disasters, and eternal desolation. You should fear lest the reign of this young and noble prince, on whom (under God) we build such lofty expectations, not only should begin, but continue and close under the most gloomy auspices.
“If I say these things, it is not because I think that such great princes need my poor advice, but because I desire to render unto Germany what she has a right to expect from her children. Thus, commending myself to your august majesty and to your most serene highnesses, I humbly entreat you not to suffer the hatred of my enemies to pour out upon me an indignation that I have not merited.”
“The Chancellor, the orator for the diet, said indignantly: ‘You have not answered the question put to you. Will you, or will you not, retract?’ To this Luther responded: ‘Since your most serene majesty and your high mightiness require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is 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 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!”
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