Ex-Classics Home Page



And thus, having discoursed such matters occurrent between the pope and princes of Germany at the synod of Nuremberg, let us now proceed, returning again to the story of Luther, of whom ye heard before, how he was kept secret and solitary for a time, by the advice and conveyance of certain nobles in Saxony, because of the emperor's edict above-mentioned. In the mean time, while Luther had thus absented himself out of Wittenberg, Andreas Carolostadt, proceeding more roughly and eagerly in causes of religion, had stirred up the people to throw down images in the temples, besides other things more. For the which cause Luther, returning again into the city, greatly misliked the order of their doings, and reproved the rashness of Carolostadt, declaring that their proceedings herein were not orderly, but that pictures and images ought first to be thrown outof the hearts and consciences of men; and that the people ought first to be taught that they are to be saved before God, and please him only by faith; and that images serve to no purpose: this done, and the people well instructed, there was no danger in images, but they would fall of their own accord. Not that he repugned to the contrary, (he said,) as though he would maintain images to stand or to be suffered, but that this ought to be done by the magistrate; and not by force, upon every private man's head, without order and authority.

Furthermore, Luther, writing of Carolostadt, affirmeth, that he also joined with the sentence of them which began then to spread about certain parts of Saxony, saying, that they were taught of God that all wickedness being utterly suppressed, and all the wicked doers slain, a new full perfection of all things must be set up, and the innocent only to enjoy all things, &c.

The cause why Luther so stood against that violent throwing down of images, and against Carolostadt, seemeth partly to arise of this, by reason that Pope Adrian, in his letters sent to the princes and states of Germany, doth grievously complain and charge the sect of Luther for sedition and tumults, and rebellion against magistrates, as subverters and destroyers of all order and obedience, as appeareth by the words of the pope's letter before expressed; therefore Martin Luther, to stop the mouth of such slanderers, and to prevent such sinister suspicions, was enforced to take this way as he did; that is, to proceed as much as he might by order and authority.

Wherein are to be noted by the way two special points touching the doctrine and doings of Martin Luther, especially for all such who in these our days now, abusing the name and authority of Luther, think themselves to be good Lutherans, if they suffer images still to remain in temples, and admit such things in the church, which themselves do wish to be away. The first is, the manner how and after what sort Luther did suffer such images to stand; for although he assented not, that the vulgar and private multitude tumultuously by violence should rap them down; yet that is no argument now for the magistrate to let them stand. And though he allowed not the ministers to stir up the people by forcible means to promote religion; yet that argueth not those magistrates to be good Lutherans, which may and should remove them, and will not.

The second point to be noted is, to consider the cause why that Luther did so stand with standing of images; which cause was time, and not his own judgment; for albeit in judgment he wished them away, yet time so served not thereunto then, as it serveth now: for then the doctrine of Luther, first beginning to spring, and being but in the blade, was not yet known whereto it tended, nor to what it would grow, but rather was suspected to tend to disobedience and sedition; and therefore the pope, hearing of the doings of Carolostadt in Wittenberg, and of other like, took his ground thereby to charge the sect of Luther with sedition, uproars, and dissolute liberty of life. And this was the cause why Luther (compelled then by necessity of time to save his doctrine from slander of sedition and tumult being laid to him by the pope, as ye have heard) was so much offended with Carolostadt and others, for their violence used against images, For otherwise, had it not been for the pope's accusations, there is no doubt but Luther would have been as well contented with abolishing of images, and other monuments of popery, as he was at the same time contented to write to the Friars Augustine for abrogating of private masses. And therefore as Luther in this doing is to be excused, the circumstances considered, so the like excuse, perhaps, will not serve the over-much curious imitation of certain Lutherans in this present age now; which, considering only the fact of Luther, do not mark the purpose of Luther, neither do expend the circumstances and time of his doings; being not much unlike to the ridiculous imitators of King Alexander the Great, which thought it not sufficient to follow him in his virtues, but they would also counterfeit him in his stooping, and all other gestures besides. But to these living now in the church, in another age than Luther did, it may seem, after my mind, sufficient to follow the same way after Luther, or to walk with Luther to the kingdom of Christ, though they jump not also in every footstep of of his, and keep even the same pace and turnings in all points as he did.

[Footnote: A Roman Catholic bishop, Dr. Milner, in his Letters to a Prebendary, (seventh edition, London, 1825, pp. 113-118,) has favoured us with a series of the coarsest expressions which can be selected from the writings of Luther, to deduce from them, that Luther's morality was prostrated, that his sentiments were depraved, and that his motives and actions were the result of pride, bigotry, and ambition. Dr. Milner closes his observations with these words, "There are other passages in great numbers, too indecent to admit of being translated at all; indeed I almost blush to soil my paper with transcribing some of them into my notes below, in the original Latin." This learned doctor of the popish church shrinks, with wonted modesty, from his own translation of Luther's addresses to his royal antagonist Henry the Eighth; but how would his delicacy have been offended had he heard Mr. John Clark, the king's orator, before the Consistory of Leo the Tenth, (in presenting his master's book to that spiritual head of the church,) break out into such epithets as these which follow; unless, indeed, they were deemed excusable, as spoken of "an execrable, venomous, and pernicious heretic." [See page 1 of Henry the Eighth's own book, entitled, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum. Faithfully translated, &c., by T. W., gent., London, 1688.] The orator denounces Luther as "this furious monster," with "his stings and poisons, whereby he intends to infect the whole world." Or again, "What so hot and inflamed force of speaking can be invented sufficient to declare the crime of that most filthy villain?" [see page 2.] Or, in reading forward, how would his ear have been jarred with the expressions, "idol and vain phantom," "a mad dog, to be dealt with drawn swords," and "a viper's madness!" How startling to hear three times repeated from the mouth of the most holy father Pope Leo, the title of "terrible monster;" or to hear him, the head of a church that professes to be no persecutor of protestants, (because she persecutes all heretics alike,) speak in definite terms of "driving away from our Lord's flock the wolves; and cutting off, with the material sword, the rotten members that infect the mystical body of Christ:" [see the pope's bull to King Henry.] And, lastly, how would the tender feelings of Dr. Milner have been wounded had he read King Henry's own words, in his "Address to the Reader," animadverting upon Luther as "one risen up, who, by the instigation of the devil, under pretext of charity, stimulated with anger and hatred, spues out the poison of vipers against the church! "Again, how inconsistent with the meekness of Christianity, for the Defender of the Faith to speak thus of Luther: "Oh, that detestable trumpeter of pride, calumnies, and schisms! what an infernal wolf, &c., what a great member of the devil is he! &c. Every Christian mind must deeply regret the coarse and vulgar expressions used by the orator, the pope, the king, and Luther, in common with other writers of that age: that such should have been the expressions of Luther is deeply to be lamented, as the life and conversation of Christians should be characteristic of the religion which they profess: at the same time it will be perceived, that Luther was the more readily betrayed into errors of this kind in consequence of the bold and uncompromising character of his mind, a quality as much to be admired by every protestant, as it was dreaded by the papists: they could not refute his arguments, founded upon scripture; they dared not injure his person, beloved and esteemed by the people. That the tender mercies of the Romish Church would not have spared Luther, unless secured from danger by a more powerful arm, we may gather from John Clark's oration to the pope, on presenting to the pontiff King Henry's book; who, speaking of the poisoning of Socrates, adds these words respecting Luther: "Could this destroyer of the Christian religion expect any better from true Christians, for his extreme wickedness against God?" And again, King Henry the Eighth, in his Address to the Reader, speaking of Luther's repentance, adds, If Luther refuses this, it will shortly come to pass, if Christian princes do their duty, that their errors, and himself, if he perseveres therein, may be burned in the fire."

Whatever may have been the errors of Luther, they teach us this truth; that weak and unstable must be that proud and boasting church, which shook from its base to its summit, as Luther divulged and propagated his Scriptural, and alas, in those days, "strange" doctrines. The success which crowned the labours of this "puny brother," (as King Henry calls him in the last sentence of his book,) we must ascribe to the honour of God and the glory of his grace, who hath "chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and who hath chosen base things of the world, and things which are despised, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence." -- Seeley's Edition of Fox, vol. iv. p. 317.]

And contrariwise, of the other sort, much less are they to be commended, which running as much on the contrary string, are so precise, that because of one small blemish, or for a little stooping of Luther in the sacrament, therefore they give clean over the reading of Luther, and fall almost into utter contempt of his books: whereby is declared, not so much the niceness and curiousness of these our days, as the hinderance that cometh thereby to the church is greatly to be lamented. For albeit the church of Christ (praised be the Lord) is not unprovided of sufficient plenty of worthy and learned writers, able to instruct in 'matters of doctrine; yet in the chief points of our consolation, where the glory of Christ, and the power of his passion, and strength of faith, are to be opened to our conscience; and where the soul, wrestling for death and life, standeth in need of serious consolation, the same may be said of Martin Luther, among all this other variety of writers, that St. Cyprian was wont to say of Tertullian," Give me my master." And albeit that Luther went a little awry, and dissented from Zuinglius, in this one matter of the sacrament; yet in all other states of doctrine they did accord, as appeared in the synod holden at Marburg, by Prince Philip, landgrave of Hesse, which was A.D. 1529, where both Luther and Zuinglius were present, and, conferring together, agreed in these articles:

"1. On the Unity and Trinity of God. 2. In the incarnation of the Word. 3. In the passion and, resurrection of Christ, 4. In the article of original sin. 5. In the article of faith in Christ Jesus. 6. That this faith cometh not of merits, but by the gift of God. 7. That this faith is our righteousness. 8. Touching the extern word. 9. Likewise they agreed in the articles of baptism. 10. Of good works. 11. Of confession. 12. Of magistrates. 13. Of men's traditions. 14. Of baptism of infants. 15. Lastly, concerning the doctrine of the Lord's supper; this they did believe, and hold: first, that both kinds thereof are to be ministered to the people, according to Christ's institution; and that the mass is no such work for the which a man may obtain grace both for the quick and the dead. Item, that the sacrament (which they call of the altar) is a true sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord. Item, that the spiritual manducation of his body and blood is necessary for every Christian man. And furthermore, that the use of the sacrament tendeth to the same effect as doth the word, given and ordained of Almighty God, that thereby infirm consciences may be stirred to belief by the Holy Ghost," &c.

In all these sums of doctrine above recited, Luther and Zuinglius did consent and agree; neither were their opinions so different in the matter of the Lord's supper, but that in the principal points they accorded. For if the question be asked of them both, What is the material substance of the sacrament, which our outward senses do behold and feel? they will both confess bread, and not the accidents only of bread. Further, if the question be asked, Whether Christ be there present? they will both confess his true presence to be there; only in the manner of presence they differ. Again, ask, Whether the material substance laid before our eyes in the sacrament is to be worshipped? they will both deny it, and judge it idolatry. And likewise for transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass, they both do abhor, and do deny the same: as also that the communion to be in both kinds administered, they do both assent and grant.

Only their difference is in this, concerning the sense and meaning of the words of Christ, "This is my body," &c., which words Luther expoundeth to be taken nakedly and simply as the letter standeth, without trope or figure; and therefore holdeth the body and blood of Christ truly to be in the bread and wine, and so also to be received with the mouth. Uldricus Zuinglius, with Johannes Œcolampadius, and other more, do interpret these words otherwise; as to be taken not literally, but to have a spiritual meaning, and to be expounded by a trope or figure, so that the sense of these words, "This is my body," is thus to be expounded: "This signifieth my body and blood." With Luther consented the Saxons; with the side of Zuinglius went the Helvetians. And as time did grow, so the division of these opinions increased in sides, and spread in farther realms and countries: the one part being called, of Luther, Lutherans; the other having the name of Sacramentaries. Notwithstanding, in this one unity of opinion both the Lutherans and Sacramentaries do accord and agree, that the bread and wine therepresent are not transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ, (as it is said,) but are a true sacrament of the body and blood.

But hereof sufficient, touching this division between the Lutherans and the Zuinglians. In which division, if there have been any defect in Martin Luther, yet is that no cause why either the papists may greatly triumph, or why the protestants should despise Luther: for neither is the doctrine of Luther touching the sacrament so gross, that it maketh much with the papists; nor yet so discrepant from us, that therefore he ought to be exploded. And though a full reconciliation of this difference cannot well be made, (as some have gone about to do,) yet let us give to Luther a moderate interpretation; and if we will not make things better, yet let us not make them worse than they be, and let us hear, if not with the manner, yet at least with the time of his teaching; and finally, let it not be noted in us, that we should seem to differ in charity more (as Bucer said) than we do in doctrine. But of this more hereafter, (Christ willing,) when we come to the history of John Frith.

They which write the lives of saints use to describe and to extol their holy life and godly virtues, and also to set forth such miracles as be wrought in them by God; whereof there lacketh no plenty in Martin Luther, but rather time lacketh to us, and opportunity to tarry upon them, having such haste to other things. Otherwise what a miracle might this seem to be, for one man, and a poor friar, creeping out of a blind cloister, to be set up against the pope, the universal bishop, and God's mighty vicar on earth; to withstand all his cardinals, yea, and to sustain the malice and hatred almost of the whole world being set against him; and to work that against the said pope, cardinals, and Church of Rome, which no king nor emperor could ever do, yea, durst never attempt, nor all the learned men before him could ever compass: which miraculous work of God, I account nothing inferior to the miracle of David overthrowing great Goliath. Wherefore if miracles do make a saint, (after the pope's definition,) what lacketh in Martin Luther, but age and time only, to make him a saint? who, standing openly against the pope, cardinals, and prelates of the church, in number so many, in power so terrible, in practice so crafty, having emperors and all the kings of the earth against him; who, teaching and preaching Christ the space of nine and twenty years, could, without touch of all his enemies, so quietly, in his own country where he was born, die and sleep in peace. In which Martin Luther, first to stand against the pope was a great miracle; to prevail against the pope, a greater; so to die untouched, may seem greatest of all, espepecially having so many enemies as he had. Again, neither is it any thing less miraculous, to consider what manifold dangers he escaped besides: as when a certain Jew was appointed to come to destroy him by poison, yet was it so by the will of God, that Luther had warning thereof before, and the face of the Jew sent to him by picture, whereby he knew him, and avoided the peril.

Another time, as he was sitting in a certain place upon his stool, a great stone there was in the vault over his head where he did sit; which being staid miraculously so long as he was sitting, as soon as he was up, immediately fell upon the place where he sat, able to have crushed him all in pieces, if it had lighted upon him.

And what should I speak of his prayers, which were so ardent unto Christ, that (as Melancthon writeth) they which stood under his window where he stood praying, might see his tears falling and dropping down. Again, with such power he prayed, that he (as himself confesseth) had obtained of the Lord, that so long as he lived, the pope should not prevail in his country; after his death (said he) let them pray who could.

And as touching the marvellous works of the Lord, wrought here by men, if it be true which is credibly reported by the learned, what miracle can be more miraculous, than that which is declared of a young man about Wittenberg, who, being kept bare and needy by his father, was tempted by way of sorcery to bargain with the devil, or a familiar, as they call him; to yield himself body and soul into the devil's power, upon condition to have his wish satisfied with money. So that upon the same an obligation was made by the young man, written with his own blood, and given to the devil. This case you see how horrible it was, and how damnable. Now hear what followed. Upon the sudden wealth and alteration of this young man, the matter first being noted, began afterwards more and more to be suspected, and at length, after long and great admiration, was brought unto Martin Luther to be examined. The young man, whether for shame or fear, long denied to confess, and would disclose nothing; yet God so wrought, being stronger than the devil, that he uttered unto Luther the whole substance of the case, as well touching the money, as the obligation. Luther understanding the matter, and pitying the lamentable state of the man, willed the whole congregation to pray, and he himself ceased not with his prayers to labour; so that the devil was compelled at the last to throw in his obligation at the window, and bade him take it again unto him: which narration, if it be so true, as certainly it is of him reported, I see not the contrary, but that this may well seem comparable with the greatest miracle, in Christ's church, that was since the apostles' time.

Furthermore, as he was mighty in his prayers, so in his sermons God gave him such a grace, that when he preached, they which heard him thought every one his own temptation severally to be noted and touched. Whereof, when signification was given unto him by his friends, and he demanded how that could be: "Mine own manifold temptations," said he, "and experiences are the cause thereof." For this thou must understand, good reader! that Luther from his tender years was much beaten and exercised with spiritual conflicts, as Melancthon in describing of his life doth testify. Also Hieronymus Wellerus, scholar and disciple of the said Martin Luther, recordeth, that he oftentimes heard Luther his master thus report of himself, that he had been assaulted and vexed with all kinds of temptations, saving only one, which was with covetousness; with this vice be was never, said he, in all his life troubled, nor once tempted.

And hitherto concerning the life of Martin Luther, who, living to the year of his age sixty-three, he continued writing and preaching about twenty-nine years. As touching the order of his death, the words of Melancthon be these:


An intimation given by Philip Melancthon to his auditory at Wittenberg, of the decease of Martin Luther, A.D. 1546.

To the scholars assembled to hear the lecture of the Epistle to the Romans, Philip Melancthon recited publicly this that followeth, at nine of the clock before noon; advertising he gave this information, by the counsel of other lords, for that the auditors, understanding the express truth, (forasmuch as the lords knew certainly, fame would blow slanderous blasts every where of the death of Luther,) should not credit flying tales and false reports.

"My friends, ye know that we have enterprised to expound grammatically the Epistle to the Romans, in which is contained the true doctrine of the Son of God, which our Lord, by his singular grace, hath revealed unto us at this present by the reverend father, and our dearly beloved master, Martin Luther. Notwithstanding we have received heavy news, which has so augumented my dolour, that I am in doubt if I may continue henceforth in scholastical profession, and exercise of teaching. The cause wherefore I commemorate this thing is, for that I am so advised by other lords, that ye may understand the true sequel of things, lest yourselves blaze abroad vain tales of this fatal chance, or give credit to other fables, which commonly are accustomed to be spread every where.

"Wednesday last past, and the seventeenth of February, Doctor Martin Luther sickened a little before supper of his accustomed malady, to wit, of the oppression of humours in the orifice or opening of the stomach, whereof I remember I have seen him oft diseased in this place. This sickness took him after supper, with the which he vehemently contending, required secess into a by-chamber, and there he rested on his bed two hours, all which time his pains increased; and as Dr. Jonas was lying in his chamber, Luther awaked, and prayed him to rise, and to call up Ambrose, his children's schoolmaster, to make fire in another chamber; into the which when he was newly entered, Albert, earl of Manseld, with his wife, and divers others, (whose names for haste in these letters were not expressed,) at that instant came into his chamber. Finally, feeling his fatal hour to approach, before nine of the clock in the morning, on the eighteenth of February, he commended himself to God with this devout prayer:

"'My heavenly Father, eternal and merciful God! thou hast manifested unto me thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, I have taught him, I have known him; I love him as my life, my health, and my redemption; whom the wicked have persecuted, maligned, and with injury afflicted. Draw my soul to thee.'

"After this he said as ensueth, thrice:

"'I commend my spirit into thy hands, thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth! God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that all those that believe in him should have life everlasting,' John iii.

"Having repeated oftentimes his prayers, he was called to God, unto whom so faithfully he commended his spirit; to enjoy, no doubt, the blessed society of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles in the kingdom of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Let us now love the memory of this man, and the doctrine that he hath taught; let us learn to be modest and meek; let us consider the wretched calamities and marvellous changes, that shall follow this mishap and doleful chance. I beseech thee, O Son of God! crucified for us, and resuscitate Emmanuel, govern, conserve, and defend thy church."


A prayer after the manner of Luther.

"Let us render thanks unto God, the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath pleased, by the ministry of this godly Luther, to purify the evangelical fountains from papistical infection, and restore sincere doctrine to the church: which thing we remembering, ought to join our lamentable petitions, with zealous affection beseeching God to confirm what he hath begun in us, for his holy name's sake. This is thy voice and promise, O living and just God, eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of all things, and of the church! I will have compassion on you, for my name's sake. I will do it for myself, yea, even for myself, that I be not blasphemed. I beseech thee with ardent affection, that for thy glory, and the glory of thy Son Jesus Christ, thou wilt collect unto thyself in the voice of thy gospel, among us, one perpetual church, and that, for the dear love of thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Intercessor, thou wilt govern us by thy Holy Ghost; that we unfeignedly may call upon thee, and serve thee justly. Rule also the studies of thy doctrine, govern and conserve the policies and discipline of the same, which be the nurses of thy church and schools. And since thou hast created mankind to acknowledge and to invocate thee, and that for this respect thou hast revealed thyself by many clear testimonies, permit not this small number and selected flock (that profess thy sacred word) to be defaced and overcome. And the rather, for that thy Son Jesus Christ, ready to fight against death, hath prayed in this manner for us; Father, sanctify them in verity, thy word is verity. Our prayers we join with the prayer of this our holy Priest, making our petition with Him, that thy doctrine may shine among men, and that we may be directed by the same."

We heard Luther evermore pray in this wise, and so praying, his innocent ghost peaceably was separated from the earthly corpse when he had lived almost sixty-three years.

Such as succeeded, have divers monuments of his doctrine and godliness. He wrote certain learned works, wherein he comprised a wholesome and necessary doctrine for men, informing the sincere minds to repentance, and to declare the fruits of the same, the use of the sacraments, the difference betwixt the gospel and philosophy, the dignity of politic order; and, finally, the principal articles of doctrine profitable to the church. He composed certain works to reprove, wherein he refuteth divers pernicious errors. He also devised books of interpretation, in which he wrote many narrations and expositions of the prophets and apostles, and in this kind, his very enemies confess, he excelleth all others whose works are imprinted and published abroad. Then, all Christians and godly minds! conceive what praise he deserved; but certainly his exposition of the Old and New Testament, in utility and labour, is equivalent to all his works; for in the same is so much perspicuity, that it may serve instead of a commentary, though it be read in the German tongue. And yet this is not a naked exposition, but it containeth very learned annotations and arguments on every part; which both set forth the sum of heavenly doctrine, and instruct the reader in the sacred phrase and manner of speaking in the Scriptures, that the godly minds may receive firm testimonies of the doctrine, out of the very fountains. His mind was not to keep us occupied in his works; but to guide our spirits to the very springs. His will was, we should hear God speak, and that by his word true faith and invocation might be kindled in our minds, that God might be sincerely honoured and adored, and that many might be made inheritors of everlasting life.

It behoveth us thankfully to accept his good will and great labours, and to imitate the same as our patron, and by him to learn to adorn the church, according to our power. For we must refer all our life, enterprises, and deliberations, to two principal ends: First, to illustrate the glory of God; Secondly, to profit the church. As touching the first, St. Paul saith, Do all things to the glory of God. And of the second, it is said in Psalm xxii., Pray that Jerusalem may prosper. And there followeth a singular promise added in this versicle: Such as love the church, shall prosper and have good success. Let these heavenly commandments and divine instructions allure all men to learn the true doctrine of the church, to love the faithful ministers of the gospel and the true teachers; and to employ their whole study and diligence to augment the true doctrine, and maintain concord and unity in the true church.

Frederic, prince elector, died long before Luther, A.D. 1525, leaving no issue behind him, for that he lived a single life, and was never married: wherefore after him succeeded John Frederic, duke of Saxony.


Previous Next