Spreading Truth

     The traffic in indulgences, subversive as it was of the very foundation principles of the gospel, could not fail to arouse determined opposition on the part of Luther. Though still a papist of the straightest sort, he was filled with horror at the blasphemous assumptions of Tetzel and his associates. Many of his own congregation had purchased certificates of pardon, and they soon began to come to Luther confessing their various sins, and expecting absolution, not because they were penitent and wished to reform, but on the ground of the indulgence. Luther refused them absolution, and warned them that unless they should repent, and reform their lives, they must perish in their sins. In great perplexity, they sought out Tetzel, and informed him that Luther, an Augustine monk, had treated his letters with contempt. The friar was filled with rage. He uttered the most terrible curses, caused fires to be lighted in the public square, and declared that he had orders from the pope to burn the heretics who should dare to oppose his most holy indulgences.

     Luther now enters boldly upon his work as a champion of the truth, fighting not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places. His voice is heard from the pulpit, in earnest, solemn warning. He sets before the people the offensive character of sin, and teaches them that it is impossible for man by his own works to lessen its guilt or evade its punishment. Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ can save the sinner. The grace of Christ cannot be purchased. It is a free gift. He counsels the people not to buy the indulgences, but to look in faith to their crucified Redeemer. He relates his own painful experience in vainly seeking by humiliation and penance to secure salvation, and assures his hearers that it was by looking away from himself and believing in Christ that he found peace and joy unspeakable. He urges them to obtain, if possible, a copy of the Bible, and to study it diligently. It is those who do not learn and obey its sacred truths that are deceived by Satan, and left to perish in their iniquity.

     A bold blow had been struck for the Reformation. But Satan was rallying his forces to control the minds of the people and maintain the traffic in the grace of God. He aroused such hatred against Luther that many were ready to silence his opposition, even by taking his life. Thus the great controversy between the Prince of light and the prince of darkness went steadily forward.

     About this time the elector Frederic had a dream which made a deep impression upon his mind, and which seemed in a remarkable manner to foreshadow the work of the Reformation. "The feast of All-Saints was at hand, and the elector, having retired to rest, lay musing how he should keep the festival, and was praying for the poor souls in purgatory, and beseeching Divine guidance for himself, his counselors, and his people. Thus engaged, he fell asleep, and dreamed that a monk, a true son of the apostle Paul, was sent to him; and that all the saints accompanied him, for the purpose of testifying that he was divinely commissioned. They asked of the elector, that the monk might be allowed to write something on the church door at Wittenberg. The monk began to write, and the characters were so large and brilliant that they could be read at a great distance; and the pen he used was so long that its extremity reached even to Rome, and wounded the ears of a lion which was crouching there, and shook the triple crown on the pope's head. All the cardinals and princes ran to support it; and, as the dreamer himself joined in the effort to support the pope's crown, he awoke in great alarm, and angry with the monk who had used his pen so awkwardly. Presently he fell asleep again, and his strange dream continued; the disturbed lion began to roar, and Rome and all the surrounding States ran to make inquiry; and the pope demanded that the monk be restrained, and demanded this especially of the elector, as the monk dwelt in his dominions.

     "Once more the elector awoke from his dream, besought God to preserve the holy father, the pope, and slept again. And still his strange dream continued, and he saw all the princes of the empire crowding to Rome, and all striving to break the mysterious pen. Yet the more they endeavored to break it, the stiffer it became; and when they asked the monk where he found it, and why it was so strong, he replied that he secured it from one of his old schoolmasters; that it belonged to a Bohemian goose[* JOHN HUSS, WHOSE SURNAME IN THE BOHEMIAN LANGUAGE SIGNIFIES GOOSE, HUSS PROCLAIMED THE TRUTH A CENTURY BEFORE THE TIME OF LUTHER, AND WHEN ASSAILED BY PERSECUTION, HE DECLARED: "THE WICKED HAVE BEGUN BY PREPARING A TREACHEROUS SNARE FOR THE GOOSE. BUT IF EVEN THE GOOSE, WHICH IS ONLY A DOMESTIC BIRD, A PEACEFUL ANIMAL, AND WHOSE FLIGHT IS NOT VERY HIGH IN THE AIR, HAS NEVERTHELESS BROKEN THROUGH THEIR TOILS, OTHER BIRDS, SOARING MORE BOLDLY TOWARD THE SKY, WILL BREAK THROUGH THEM WITH STILL GREATER FORCE. INSTEAD OF A FEEBLE GOOSE, THE TRUTH WILL SEND FORTH EAGLES AND KEEN-EYED VULTURES."] a hundred years old; and that it was strong because no man could take the pith out of it. Suddenly the dreamer heard an outcry, and lo, a great number of pens had issued from the long pen of the monk!"

     The festival of All-Saints was an important day for Wittenberg. The costly relics of the church were then displayed before the people, and a full remission of sin was granted to all who visited the church and made confession. Accordingly on this day the people in great numbers flocked to Wittenberg.

     On the 31st of October, the day preceding the festival, a monk went boldly to the church, to which a crowd of worshipers was already repairing, and affixed to the door ninety-five propositions against the doctrine of indulgences. That monk was Martin Luther. He went alone; not one of his most intimate friends knew of his design. As he fastened his theses upon the door of the church, he proclaimed himself ready to defend them the next day at the university itself against all opposers.

     These propositions attracted universal attention. They were read and re-read and repeated in every direction. Great excitement was created in the university and in the whole city.

     By these theses the doctrine of indulgences was fearlessly opposed. It was shown that the power to grant the pardon of sin, and to remit its  penalty, had never been committed to the pope, or to any other man. The whole scheme was a farce, an artifice to extort money by playing upon the superstitions of the people, a device of Satan to destroy the souls of all who should trust to its lying pretensions. It was also clearly shown that the gospel of Christ was the most valuable treasure of the church, and that the grace of God, therein revealed, was freely bestowed upon all who should seek it by repentance and faith.

     God was directing the labors of this fearless builder, and the work he wrought was firm and sure. He had faithfully presented the doctrine of grace, which would destroy the assumptions of the pope as a mediator, and lead the people to Christ alone as the sinner's sacrifice and intercessor. Thus was the elector's dream already beginning to be fulfilled. The pen which wrote upon the church door extended to Rome, disturbing the lion in his lair, and jostling the pope's diadem.

     The sin-loving and superstitious multitudes were terrified as the sophistries that had soothed their fears were rudely swept away. Crafty ecclesiastics, interrupted in their hellish work of sanctioning crime, and seeing their gains endangered, were enraged, and rallied to uphold the pope.

     Luther's theses challenged discussion; but not one dared to accept the challenge. By the grace of God, the blow struck by the monk of Wittenberg shook the very foundation of the papacy, stunned and terrified its supporters, and awakened thousands from the slumber of error and superstition. The questions which he proposed in his theses had in a few days throughout Germany, and in a few weeks they had sounded throughout Christendom. Many devoted Romanists, who had seen and lamented the terrible iniquity prevailing in the church, but had not known how to arrest its progress, read the propositions with great joy, recognizing in them the voice of God. They felt that the Lord had graciously set his hand to arrest the rapidly swelling tide of corruption that was issuing from the see of Rome. Princes and magistrates secretly rejoiced that a check was to be put upon the arrogant power from which there was no appeal.

     Yet there were some who doubted and feared. The prior of Luther's order, frightened by Tetzel, came to the Reformer in great alarm, saying, "Pray do not bring disgrace upon your order." Luther had great respect for this man, and was deeply affected by his words, but rallying he replied, "Dear father, if the thing is not of God, it will come to naught. If it is, let it go forward."


ST  June 14, 1883