Love Under Fire


Luther Appealed Only to the Bible

When enemies appealed to custom and tradition, Luther met them with the Bible only. Here were arguments they could not answer. From his sermons and writings came beams of light that awakened and illuminated thousands. The Word of God was like a two-edged sword, cutting its way to the hearts of the people. The eyes of the people, so long directed to human ceremonies and earthly priests, were now turning in faith to Christ and Him crucified. LF 58.7

This widespread interest stirred the fears of the papal authorities. Luther received a summons to appear at Rome to answer the charge of heresy. His friends knew very well the danger that threatened him in that corrupt city, already drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. They requested that he receive his examination in Germany. LF 59.1

This was arranged, and the pope's representative, or legate, was appointed to hear the case. The instructions to this official stated that Luther had already been declared a heretic. The legate was therefore “to prosecute and restrain him without any delay.” The legate was empowered “to ban him in every part of Germany; to banish, curse, and excommunicate all those who are attached to him,” to excommunicate all, no matter their rank in church or state, except the emperor, who would neglect to seize Luther and his followers and deliver them to the vengeance of Rome.16 LF 59.2

The document reveals not a trace of Christian principle or even common justice. Luther had had no opportunity to explain or defend his position, yet he was pronounced a heretic and in the same day counseled, accused, judged, and condemned. LF 59.3

When Luther so much needed the advice of a true friend, God sent Melanchthon to Wittenberg. Melanchthon's sound judgment, combined with a pure and upright character, won everyone's admiration. He soon became Luther's most trusted friend. His gentleness, caution, and exactness helped to supplement Luther's courage and energy. LF 59.4

The trial was to take place at Augsburg, and the Reformer set out on foot. There had been threats that he would be murdered on the way, and his friends begged him not to go. But he said, “I am like Jeremiah, a man of strife and contention; but the more their threats increase, the more my joy is multiplied.... They have already destroyed my honor and my reputation.... As for my soul, they cannot take that. Whoever wants to proclaim the word of Christ to the world must expect death at every moment.”17 LF 59.5

The news of Luther's arrival at Augsburg gave great satisfaction to the pope's representative. The troublesome heretic who had caught the world's attention seemed now to be in Rome's power, and he would not escape. The representative intended to force Luther to retract, or if this failed, to send him to Rome to share the fate of Huss and Jerome. So through his agents he tried to get Luther to appear without a safe-conduct and trust himself to his mercy. But the Reformer declined to do this. Not until he had received the document pledging the emperor's protection did he appear in the presence of the pope's ambassador. LF 59.6

As a strategy, the pope's delegates decided to win Luther by seeming to treat him gently. The ambassador professed great friendliness, but he demanded that Luther submit completely to the church and yield every point without argument or question. In his reply, Luther expressed his regard for the church, his desire for truth, and his readiness to answer all objections to what he had taught and to submit his doctrines to the decision of leading universities. But he protested against the cardinal's requiring him to retract without having proved him to be in error. LF 59.7

The only response was, “Retract, retract!” The Reformer showed that his position was supported by Scripture. He could not renounce truth. The ambassador, unable to refute Luther's arguments, overwhelmed him with a storm of accusations, attacks, flattery, quotations from tradition, and the sayings of the church fathers, giving the Reformer no opportunity to speak. Luther finally received a reluctant permission to present his answer in writing. LF 60.1

In writing to a friend, he said, “What is written may be submitted to the judgment of others; and second, one has a better chance of working on the fears, if not on the conscience, of an arrogant and babbling despot, who would otherwise overpower by his haughty language.”18 LF 60.2

At the next interview, Luther gave a clear, concise, and forcible presentation of his views, supported by Scripture. After reading this paper aloud, he handed it to the cardinal, who threw it aside, dismissing it as a mass of idle words and irrelevant quotations. Luther now met the haughty official on his own ground—the traditions and teaching of the church—and completely overthrew his claims. LF 60.3

The official lost all self-control. In a rage he cried out, “Retract! or I will send you to Rome.” And he finally declared, in a haughty and angry tone, “Retract, or return no more.”19 LF 60.4

The Reformer promptly left with his friends, indicating plainly that the ambassador could expect no retraction from him. This was not what the cardinal had intended. Now, left alone with his supporters, he looked from one to another in chagrin at the unexpected failure of his schemes. LF 60.5

The large assembly who were there had opportunity to compare the two men and to judge for themselves the spirit each had shown, as well as the strength and truthfulness of their positions. The Reformer was simple, humble, and firm, having truth on his side. The pope's representative was self-important, haughty, unreasonable, and without a single argument from the Scriptures, yet loudly demanding, “Retract, or be sent to Rome.” LF 60.6