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From Here to Forever

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    Luther Before the Diet Again

    When again ushered into the Diet, he was calm and peaceful, yet brave and noble, as God's witness among the great ones of earth. The imperial officer now demanded his decision. Did he desire to retract? Luther made his answer in a humble tone, without violence or passion. His demeanor was diffident and respectful; yet he manifested a confidence and joy that surprised the assembly.HF 99.4

    “Most serene emperor, illustrious princes, gracious lords,” said Luther, “I appear before you this day, in conformity with the order given me yesterday. 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.”18Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 99.5

    Then he stated that in some of his published works he had treated of faith and good works; even his enemies declared them profitable. To retract these would condemn truths which all confessed. The second class consisted of writings exposing corruptions and abuses of the papacy. To revoke these would strengthen the tyranny of Rome and open a wider door to great impieties. In the third class he had attacked individuals who defended existing evils. Concerning these he freely confessed that he had been more violent than was becoming. But even these books he could not revoke, for the enemies of truth would then take occasion to curse God's people with still greater cruelty.HF 100.1

    He continued, “I shall defend myself as Christ did: ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.’ ... By the mercy of God, I conjure you, most serene emperor, and you, most illustrious princes, and all men of every degree, 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... .”HF 100.2

    “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 destiny, of the word of God. ‘I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword,’ said Jesus Christ. ... 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.”19Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 100.3

    Luther had spoken in German; he was now requested to repeat the same words in Latin. He again delivered his speech with the same clearness as at the first. God's providence directed in this. Many princes were so blinded by error and superstition that at first they did not see the force of Luther's reasoning, but the repetition enabled them to perceive clearly the points presented.HF 100.4

    Those who stubbornly closed their eyes to the light were enraged at the power of Luther's words. The spokesman of the diet said angrily: “You have not answered the question put to you. ... You are required to give a clear and precise answer. ... Will you, or will you not, retract?”HF 101.1

    The Reformer answered: “Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses 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 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 the Scripture, ... 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.”20Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 101.2

    Thus stood this righteous man. His greatness and purity of character, his peace and joy of heart, were manifest to all as he witnessed to the superiority of that faith that overcomes the world.HF 101.3

    At his first answer Luther had spoken with a respectful, almost submissive bearing. The Romanists regarded the request for delay as merely the prelude to his recantation. Charles himself, noting half contemptuously the monk's worn frame, his plain attire, and the simplicity of his address, had declared: “This monk will never make a heretic of me.” The courage and firmness which he now displayed, the power of his reasoning, filled all parties with surprise. The emperor, moved to admiration, exclaimed: “This monk speaks with an intrepid heart and unshaken courage.”HF 101.4

    The partisans of Rome had been worsted. They sought to maintain their power, not by appealing to Scripture, but by threats, Rome's unfailing argument. Said the spokesman of the diet: “If you do not retract, the emperor and the states of the empire will consult what course to adopt against an incorrigible heretic.”HF 101.5

    Luther said calmly: “May God be my helper, for I can retract nothing.”21Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 8.HF 102.1

    He was directed to withdraw while the princes consulted together. Luther's persistent refusal to submit might affect the history of the church for ages. It was decided to give him one more opportunity to retract. Again the question was put. Would he renounce his doctrines? “I have no other reply to make,” he said, “than that which I have already made.”HF 102.2

    The papal leaders were chagrined that their power should be despised by a humble monk. Luther had spoken to all with Christian dignity and calmness, his words free from passion and misrepresentation. He had lost sight of himself and felt only that he was in the presence of One infinitely superior to popes, kings, and emperors. The Spirit of God had been present, impressing the hearts of the chiefs of the empire.HF 102.3

    Several princes boldly acknowledged the justice of Luther's cause. Another class did not at the time express their convictions, but at a future time became fearless supporters of the Reformation.HF 102.4

    The elector Frederick had with deep emotion listened to Luther's speech. With joy and pride he witnessed the doctor's courage and self-possession, and determined to stand more firmly in his defense. He saw that the wisdom of popes, kings, and prelates had been brought to nought by the power of truth.HF 102.5

    As the legate perceived the effect produced by Luther's speech, he resolved to employ every means at his command to effect the Reformer's overthrow. With eloquence and diplomatic skill he represented to the youthful emperor the danger of sacrificing, in the cause of an insignificant monk, the friendship and support of Rome.HF 102.6

    On the day following Luther's answer, Charles announced to the diet his determination to maintain and protect the Catholic religion. Vigorous measures should be employed against Luther and the heresies he taught: “I will sacrifice my kingdoms, my treasures, my friends, my body, my blood, my soul, and my life. ... I shall ... proceed against him and his adherents as contumacious heretics, by excommunication, by interdict, and by every means calculated to destroy them.”22Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 9. Nevertheless, the emperor declared, Luther's safe-conduct must be respected. He must be allowed to reach his home in safety.HF 102.7

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