Unless I'm convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other.
God help me. Those courageous words of Martin Luther, just read by R.C. Sproul, have given countless Christians courage to stand firm in their day, and today we must likewise stand firm and not compromise.
You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. Tomorrow is Reformation Day, October 31st, because on that date in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. But his bold stand in a city called Worms three and a half years later took even more courage as he refused to recant. Today, R.C. Sproul describes the events leading up to this bold stand by Luther, dramatically recounting his speech and the surprising escape that ensued. Here's Dr. R.C.
Sproul. In our last session, we mentioned Luther's visit to Heidelberg and how that was a wonderful occasion for winning many more people in Germany to the Lutheran cause. Well, the next great crisis took place the same year, 1518, when instead of Luther's going to Rome to be tried for heresy, Rome came to Germany in the person of their most able theologian, Cardinal Cajetan. Luther was promised safe conduct if he would meet with Cajetan in the city of Augsburg.
Now, some of his friends urged him not to go fearing that he would be betrayed and would be carried off to Rome and be burned at the stake as a heretic. But Luther wanted to go because this was his wish come true that he would have the opportunity to have a reasoned debate and discussion with the princes of the church about these matters. Well, in Augsburg, Luther had four interviews with Cardinal Cajetan, and they did not go as Luther had hoped.
Instead of an open discussion and debate, the Cardinal just insisted that Luther would first of all repent, second of all recant his teachings, and third, promise that he would never teach these things again. And Luther grew more and more frustrated as Cajetan became more and more angry. But the students of history say that in a very clear manner, Cajetan in his erudition really got the best of Luther because he was able to maneuver Luther into taking a position that clearly brought him in conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. Much of their discussion there in Augsburg focused on the treasury of merits and the issue of indulgences that Luther had challenged in his ninety-five theses. Cajetan, armed with the knowledge of church history, pointed out to Luther that in 1300, Pope Boniface VII had authorized by papal authority the whole principle of indulgences and their sale.
And later in 1343, still in the fourteenth century, Pope Clement VI in his papal encyclical Unigentia developed and authorized the doctrine of the treasury of merit. And so with these historical teachings by the popes themselves, Cajetan was able to show that by Luther's antagonism toward the treasury of merit and the sale of indulgences was in conflict with two historic popes, at which point Luther said, but this is not in the Bible, and he dared to challenge the authority of the popes in these matters, saying that the popes in these cases simply erred. Now, you have to understand that the doctrine of papal infallibility had not yet been officially decreed. That did not come until the nineteenth century at Vatican Council I in 1870 under Pope Pius IX. And of course, even though the church said they declared it in 1870, it doesn't mean that they believed that for the first time in history the pope became infallible in 1870.
It just became a de fide, a matter of faith, formal doctrine of the church. But of course, the argument was that tradition had always maintained this idea of infallibility, and so Luther was shown to be in direct conflict with, as I said, two popes. Cajetan became so angry with them, and things got so loose that Luther was barely able to escape from Augsburg with his life and get back to Wittenberg. So again, because of this debate, the issues of Luther's orthodoxy and the charges against him as being a heretic were only exacerbated, which led then to the next disputation, which took place in 1519 at Leipzig. And on that occasion at Leipzig, Luther was meeting with John Eck, who as I said was the chief Roman Catholic theologian in Germany.
Now this particular debate took a different tack from the one in Augsburg with Cajetan. On this occasion, Eck was able to bring up teachings of the Bohemian reformer from a hundred years earlier, John Huss, whom we've already looked at briefly. And he indicated that there were certain doctrines for which Huss was condemned and burned at the stake that were similar to the teachings of Luther, because Huss had been arguing a hundred years earlier that the ultimate authority of the Christian church and the only authority that could bind the Christian conscience was Holy Scripture, the Word of God. And Luther, after challenging the authority of the pope at Augsburg, was now sounding the same message. And so just as Cajetan had maneuvered Luther into admitting that he differed with two popes in history, now Eck in his own brilliant way was able to get Luther to admit that he believed that in some of the charges that the church convicted of John Huss for which he was burned at the stake that the church was in error.
That is, where Huss was condemned, not just simply by a local bishop, but by a church council, and that council was the Council of Constance, which condemned Huss to death. So now Luther is maneuvered to say popes can make mistakes and church councils, because there were those still before the formal definition of papal infallibility who argued that it wasn't the pope individually, but it was the church in council that had the supreme authority in the Roman Catholic system. So now Luther has laid his axe at the root of both trees of the papacy and of the authority of church councils.
So again, Luther is now likened to John Huss, and he's called the German Huss, and he gets that reputation. And the reports go back to Rome so that the following year in 1520, Leo X issued a papal bull. Now a papal bull is not a bovine animal or a male cow. A papal bull is an edict written by the pope with his authority by which he communicates something to the church in the way of an encyclical, for example. And the pope wrote a papal bull condemning Martin Luther as a heretic.
And all of the papal encyclicals are named by the opening words that they have in Latin, Humanae Gaineris, for example, and just to name one. But the name of this papal bull was Exsurge Domine, which being translated means, rise up, O Lord. Rise up, O Lord. There is a wild boar loose in your vineyard. And then it goes on to say, rise up, St. Peter.
There's somebody challenging your authority. Rise up, St. Paul. And so the pope calls for Christ to rise up for the apostles to rise up against Luther. In the meantime, Luther's works had made their way to Rome and had been publicly burned in the square of St. Peter. It takes three months for the papal bull to reach Wittenberg. And when it does, Luther burns it in a bonfire there at Wittenberg.
So the game was now afoot, and there was no turning back. Now because of this, the authorities of the Holy Roman Empire were getting engaged in the issue. Before he died, the Emperor Maximilian was outraged at the furor this Lutheran revolt was creating throughout not just Germany now, but across the borders into other countries of the Holy Roman Empire. But of course, before he could do anything to snuff it out, he died and was replaced, as we saw before, by Charles, who then became the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Well, Charles was involved in wars here and there, and the last thing he needed was this kind of an upheaval to take place in the church. And so it was urged upon him by leaders of the church to call an imperial council or an imperial diet, which is a trial of sorts that is overseen by the Emperor itself. And so this imperial diet was called for 1521 in the German city of Worms, W-O-R-M-S.
Some people read that in their literature, and they see the words, diet of worms, and they think that it's a rather exotic method of losing weight. But the diet was this imperial trial to which Luther was summoned by the Emperor and was given safe conduct to come and have his ultimate day in court with respect to his writings. And once more, somewhat naively, Luther expected to be able now to go before church and state and give a reasoned defense of his writings. His friends didn't trust the Emperor or the authorities of Rome, who would be represented at Worms, and strongly urged Luther not to go, even with the safe conduct that had been given by Charles V, the new Holy Roman Emperor. And they said to Luther, don't you understand that that town's going to be filled with devils, every one of them out to get you. Now Luther was well acquainted with Satan. He wrote about experiencing relentlessly what he called the Anfechtung, the relentless assault of Satan against him.
But he was convinced of the truth of his teaching, which by now included the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that he had to defend these things publicly. And he said to his friends, if there are as many devils in Worms as there are orange tiles on the roofs of the town, I'm going. Now if you've ever been to Eastern Germany and some of these cities over there, you'll see that virtually every house has these orange tiled roofs.
And so if there were as many devils in Worms as there were orange tiles on the roof, there would have been a lot of devils assembled there in that place. But Luther and a couple of his friends made the journey from Wittenberg to Worms, and they made it in a covered wagon that was moved on two wheels. Now I don't know if you've ever seen covered wagons.
You know, when we think of covered wagons, we think of the explorers, the frontier people in our country that would go on Conestoga wagons with four wheels. The two-wheeled wooden variety of covered wagons, if you've ever been to Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, and you've had the opportunity to see the wagons used by modern day gypsies, you get an idea of the kind of awkward conveyance by which Luther and his friends made their way to Worms. Luther was apprehensive about what would be waiting for him when he got there. He did not expect that for miles outside of the city of Worms that the streets were lined with peasants shouting and cheering and rooting for Luther, which was making the authorities nervous to see how much popularity Luther had gained in this particular time. Well, finally he came into the Diet, and when he got into this great hall where the emperor was seated and the papal legates were there as well, representing Rome, Luther was not given the opportunity to debate. The interrogator who was there also, ironically his name was Eck, but not the same Eck that debated with him in Leipzig. And there was a table in the middle of the hall, and it was piled deep with the books and pamphlets that Luther had produced in just a very short period of time. People couldn't believe how many books he had written from the time this thing started until his trial now at Worms. But in any case, the interrogator said to Luther, are these your books?
And he said yes. And so then Eck said to him, you must say before the authorities assembled here today, revoco. That is, I recant of what I've written here. And Luther said, what specifically do you have in mind?
I've written on all kinds of subjects, many of which are not at all in conflict with the classic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. What are the specific issues they have? And Eck just said, never mind, just say revoco. And we want you to answer us right now non-cernutum, that is, without horns.
We want a straightforward answer. And so the place became hushed and quiet, and Luther responded to Eck inaudibly. And Eck said, speak up. What did you say?
Answer us non-cernutum, without horns. And Luther said, could I have twenty-four hours to think it over? Now he's had, you know, four years to think it over, been through all of this council, all of this discussion, and now at crunch time he falters.
And they agreed to give him a twenty-four hour respite to make sure that he appeared the next day. Now that night in his cell, Luther wrote a prayer that I'd like to read for you now, because I believe it's one of the most poignant prayers I've ever read in my life. Luther alone in his cell, monastic cell, waiting for the morrow where his fate will be determined, prayed like this, O God, Almighty God, everlasting, how dreadful is this world! Behold how its mouth opens to swallow me up, how small is my faith in Thee! O the weakness of the flesh and the power of Satan, if I am to depend upon any strength of this world, all is over, the knell is struck, sentence is gone forth. O God, O God, O Thou my God, help me against all the wisdom of this world. Do this, I beseech Thee, Thou shouldst do this by Thine own mighty power, for the work is not mine but Thine.
I have no business here. I have nothing to contend for with these great men of the world. I would gladly pass my days in happiness and peace, but the cause is Thine, and it is righteous and everlasting. Lord, help me, O faithful, unchangeable God. I lean not upon man.
It would be vain. Whatever is of man is tottering. Whatever proceeds from him must fail. My God, my God, don't You hear me? Are You no longer living?
No, You cannot die. You dost but hide Thyself. Thou hast chosen me for this work, I know it. Therefore, God, accomplish Your own will. Forsake me not for the sake of Your well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, my defense, my buckler, and my stronghold. Lord, where are You?
My God, where are You? Come, I pray. I am ready. Behold me prepared to lay down my life for Thy truth, suffering like a lamb. For the cause is holy.
It is Your cause. I will not let You go, no, nor yet for all eternity. And though the world should be thronged with devils, and this body, which is the work of Thine hands, should be cast forth, trodden underfoot, cut in pieces, consumed to ashes, my soul is Thine, and I have Your own Word to assure me of it. My soul belongs to You and will abide with Thee forever. Amen.
O God, send help. Amen. And the morrow He was brought once more into the assembly hall. And they said, Now, Luther, will you recant?
Will you say revoco? Luther said, since you have asked me to respond plainly and without horns, I will do so, unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason. I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other.
God help me. That was the watershed for the Protestant Reformation. With those words, the audience exploded in fury and confusion.
Some wanted to grab Luther and lynch him, but as he left the hall, a fake kidnapping was staged by his friends, and they whisked him off deep into the forest to the Wartburg Castle, where he worked for a year translating the New Testament in the German out of the disguise of a knight Sir Jorgen. Are you encouraged to stand firm? I know I am, and I pray that God would give each of us the grace and the strength to be faithful in our moment of trial.
That was R.C. Sproul, and you're listening to the Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind. At Ligonier Ministries, where we produce this podcast and radio program, we are standing firm. But as our founder, Dr. Sproul, would say, we're not standing still. As our global outreach continues to grow, we're approaching an annual reach of a hundred million people.
We need your support to bring trusted teaching into more languages and more places. So when you give a donation at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800 435 4343, we'll send you R.C. Sproul's book, Luther and the Reformation, and we'll also give you digital access to the entire 10-part series and study guide. So please visit renewingyourmind.org today.
We're so grateful for your generosity. Martin Luther took this bold stand in defense of the gospel. But what is the gospel?
What is the biblical view of justification? That's what R.C. Sproul will consider tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
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