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HISTORICAL PRELUDE: Luther at Worms.-INTRODUC-
“Consequences may sometimes be disregarded. Principles never."
Our New Departure.
THE gathering darkness of an April night was fast closing
the ancient city of Worms; black shadows glowered in the deep recesses or lurked beneath the overhanging eaves of the quaint old houses ; fantastic shapes played across the narrow windows or hovered in the half-opened, dimly lighted doorways. The four gray towers of the great cathedral stood in dim relief against the fast-darkening sky, while the historic river flowed noiselessly by, bearing its burden of mystery and romance past castled crag and ancient town, onward to the northern seas. Without, the flare of many torches cast a lurid glow upon the pressing throng-student and monk, artisan and soldier, merchant and noble—an anxious multitude that crowded every avenue of approach to the great building, hoping, fearing, waiting ; within, the light fell on gleaming armor and on glistening robe, or, perhaps, gave something of its cheerful glow to the dull outlines of the dark-robed priests who, with prince and courtier and many a titled dignitary, filled the crowded hall. In the chair of state, flanked by the papal nuncio and the electors of the realm, sat the youthful but already world-known Charles the Fifth, Emperor, absolute ruler of Spain and Germany, Austria and Italy, Burgundy, the Netherlands and America—the mightiest monarch in the Christian world. Before him, a target for all eyes, stood a brown-robed monk, simple but sturdy, quiet but determined—“ Brother Martin Luther of Wittenberg." Is there any scene in the great picture-gallery of the
ages more striking, more significant than this ? On one side power, on the other protest. The world's pomp and power sits there, on this hand ; on that stands up for God's truth one man, the poor miner Hans Luther's Son.” Friend and foe listen with deepening interest as from the lips of the great emperor's spokesman, the counsel of the Church, comes the stern demand, “ Martin Luther, do you retract or not?" Friend and foe wait in rapt attention for the words that come back in reply, closing that ever-memorable defence, “ I am bound by the Scriptures which I have quoted ; my conscience is submissive to the word of God; therefore, I may not and will not recant, for it is neither safe nor prudent to do aught against conscience. Here stand I ; I can do no other : God help me!”
Three centuries and a half have passed since the dark April night that witnessed in that old German city the manly and honest protest that broke forever the galling bonds of an autocratic church and asserted before all the world man's divinest right, the freedom of conscience. And however through the ages creeds have clashed or faiths have warred, the great heart of Protestant Christianity has ever pulsed with a common throb of pride as far above kings and conquerors it has placed the mighty name of this greatest of earth's reformers, “ Brother Martin Luther of Wittenberg."
The enthusiasm of a convert in his transition from one set of opinions to other, and, as he believes, better ones, can be readily understood. Full of the ardor that ever follows a fresh convincement, all aflame with the fervor which the change has wrought, he argues, strives, combats, refutes, and bends all his energies to the overthrow of doubters or the securing of fresh proselytes. But there may also live an equal grandeur of devotion, an equal moral heroism in the loyalty of a man to those opinions which, formed in childhood, have, even from his mother's knee, been as much a part of himself as are the very bone and sinew that make his stalwart frame;
in which his faith still grows stronger as life advances; to which-sincerely and intelligently believing them-he gives a never-faltering, ever-increasing devotion, and, as he strives to bring his opinions into the practical, every-day life of his fellow-men, in the clear light of what he believes to be the truth, seeks to mould the world into a better and purer fashion of living.
It is so natural for us to wear the cloaks that our fathers have left to us without thought or question that they too often drop from our shoulders through sheer lack of attention, and we stand habitless and full of shame. But to him who duly regards his cloak, wearing it as his constant protector, and looking with care to the condition of seam and band and loop, no careless dropping of the garment comes, but comfort, warmth, and security. If the progress of the world is due to the grand enthusiasm of the convert, the shaping of this progress into a definite plan for the world's welfare is as surely due to the steadfast adherent of a constant and ever-guiding principle.
Nearly a half-century ago the hand that in after years penned the few words that cap this initial chapter, prepared, not without mistrust as to its reception, a letter to the editor of the Trumpet, then the leading Universalist newspaper of New England. Written from one of Maine's quietest frontier towns, the village of Norridgewock, where Orthodoxy was dominant and a Universalist was regarded as one without good and utterly reprobate—in this, his first communication to the press, this phrase appears :
Give the people light-enable them rightly to understand that the simple ! statement that all men are finally to be saved is not the
whole of the Universalist faith, but that it teaches also that the
way of the transgressor is hard—and I cannot but think that they would forsake their evil ways, depart from their iniquities, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” Trite and immature this may sound to us, trained to an acceptance of Universalism in its truest sense as the regnant faith-germ that now leavens all the creeds,