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men so great. We may not only generally depend on the letters for a clear statement of a man's views and opinions, and for the light which colored them in his mind, but we can find the incidents of his life more intimately understood and better described by himself than by others; and as for the
changes of feeling, the stranger cannot intermeddle with them · to advantage, any more than the wayfarer, who sees the even
ing light outside the window, can describe the play of the shadows within, as the rising or falling flame may cast them on the parlour-wall.
Luther had none of that poor ambition, which is sometimes found in those who ought to be above it, to disguise the humility of his birth ; as those who have made themselves rich can afford to dispense with a patrimonial inheritance, he who threw so much glory upon his line might be indifferent to so small a matter. He says that his ancestors, so far as he knew any thing about them, were common peasants ; his father labored in the mines ; their armorial bearing, for peasants had such playthings as well as lords, was a hammer, an emblem which, if it applied to the employment of the father, was at least equally descriptive of the work in which the son was engaged for a great part of his life, and assuredly that instrument was never swung with a mightier hand. It would not have been easy for one familiar as he was with the letter and spirit of the Scriptures to be blinded by traditional prejudice and outward show. He saw the nothingness of these distinctions, which rise up like walls of separation between human worms of the dust ; he had nothing of that spirit of compromise about him which induces many, who see the truth of human relations, to treat those things which are not as though they actually existed. And well was it for the world that it was so with him and his brethren ; since it made them heralds of liberty as well as of truth; they felt it their duty to strike off all manner of chains ; and though their work was done irregularly and blindly, we feel how much it is owing to their spirit and their labors that the principles of civil liberty are generally extending, and that so much of the civilized world is already comparatively free.
Luther himself was so poor in his youth, that, when sent to Eisenach to be educated, he sang in the streets for a live ing, as was not uncommon with German students of that day. He is said to have done this in 1489, when he was
but six years old, a period of life when the young are accustomed to sing in less musical tones than most persons delight to hear ; besides that it is rather early in his history for the process of education to begin. This date is obviously an error ; it should be 1498, which would bring him to an age of more discretion both in musical performance and learning. But he was fortunate enough to find a warmer friend than those who gave him bread at their doors ; a kind-hearted woman gave him a home for four years, while he was making himself master of what Eisenach could teach. After he ceased to depend on music for a subsistence, he continued to cherish it as a luxury and something higher ; valuing it, in part, because he was persuaded that Satan, by whom he conceived himself beset, had, like some better people, such an extreme distaste for concerts and musical sounds, that he always took himself out of their reach; and still more, because he found, that, in times of anxious and stormy excitement, music had more power than any thing else to bring peace to his troubled soul.
It was not till he reached the age of twenty-two, that any decided bearing was given to his life. The sudden death of a friend who was struck with lightning by his side made him serious at once; and his earnestness naturally turned in the prescribed channel of the day. He made a vow to become a monk, more, it would seem, as an act of self-denial than a choice of duty; for he must have felt, as he afterwards found, that such a life was most unsuited to his nature ; his mind, unexcited by outward circumstances, would be the very one to prey upon itself. Accordingly it appeared, as soon as he entered upon a life of inaction, that he fell into deep distress of mind, which was the effect of conscience wrought up into morbid sensibility by a condition so unexciting. For many days, he could not eat, drink, or sleep ; but at length, the Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith dawned like the rising light upon his mind. It gave him relief from his anxieties in a measure ; but it opened slowly on him. He did not understand how widely it would spread itself out. Still less did he perceive that it would reduce the value of those good works on which Catholics so much relied, till it finally undermined the foundations of the church itself in the hearts of men. He was led up to it by his experience of the insufficiency of external cir
cumstances, and even of religious forms, to satisfy the wants of the soul. It supplied a living principle within him ; it made him independent of human authority, and fearless of all that power could do. As fast as others became conscious of similar wants, and of the inadequacy of the prevailing faith to supply them, their hearts were prepared to move in harmony with his own ; so that, as soon as the standard of resistance was lifted, and the trumpet blown, a great army of martyrs stood ready for the summons of the chief whose commission was an earlier inspiration and a larger measure of the same spirit with theirs.
While in this state of mind, he visited Rome, full of enthusiasm for the ancient glories of the church, and longing to see the fountains from which her light and salvation shone. But the time chosen for his journey was unfortunate for that purpose, though it well answered another. He was completely dismayed at the paganism of every thing which he saw; a pope bent on gaining military glory; the higher priesthood taking pride in their knowledge of Cicero, but entirely unacquainted with the Bible; the mass hurried over by galloping through a part and entirely omitting the rest; and a clergy ambitiously striving for the good things of this life, without any apparent consciousness that they were ever to go to another. When he once spoke to the Italian monks of their disregard to the church in eating meat on Friday, he came near being put into a condition which would have saved him from all expense for meat again. He knew that such priests could not impart to others that forgiveness of which they were in desperate want themselves; his reverence for the church fell into consumptive decay ; and though he did not confess it to himself, nor present the subject distinctly to his own mind, he evidently began to think, that, if the church could live without faith, faith could subsist without the church, - better, indeed, than with it; the light would be more serviceable without the lantern, than the lantern without the light.
Having his conscience thus quickened by the study of the Scriptures, and his mind enlarged and enlightened by various learning, he was able to see through the fallacies and contradictions which ordinary minds received without question, and he could not content himself with tame acquiescence in that which he knew to be unholy and untrue. And
nothing could be more startling to a conscientious Catholic than the sale of indulgences, which, as if the thing was not bad enough of itself, was intrusted to one of the most impudent peddlers that ever insulted the common sense of mankind. Luther had no delight in speaking, but he did not dare be silent; and after trying in vain to call his diocese and the primate to a sense of their duty, he published propositions of his own, with a sermon in the vulgar tongue in defence of them, in which the sale of indulgences was strongly condemned and shown to be entirely unchristian. This bold protest rang through his country like the trumpet which wakes the dead. Thousands had felt what he alone dared to say ; and as soon as his holy indignation found a voice, it was answered by echoes from every part of the land. The propositions were everywhere circulated, read, and approved; those who were most opposed to them in heart could not deny them. In fact, the only reply thought of seemed to be addressed to the fears of the author and his followers ; but it was soon found that to threaten was not the way to induce him to suppress his convictions. He seems to have felt some regret, when he witnessed the agitation which he had made ; he was disposed to obey and submit so far as his conscience would allow ; but it was one of those paths in which, having taken one step, there was no returning, and the only way of escape was not the one which such a man was likely to tread.
The only judicious course for the church in such a case would have been to conciliate the bold rebel, appealing to his kindness and reverence; but the holy mother had been too much accustomed to take brands from the burning with tongs made red hot for that benevolent operation. Luther was summoned to Rome, whither he was not disposed to go; if destined for the flames, he thought it more reasonable that the fire should come to him. For his own safety he gave himself no other concern than not to go into needless danger ; but the Elector of Saxony; who had sympathy with him in his views, and was not prepared to see one of his subjects trampled down, arranged matters in his favor so that he should have his hearing in Augsburg, a free city, where the magistrates could protect his person. Luther's manly words were, — “Let him shield me, if he can do it without compromising his interests; if not, I am ready to
face the danger.” He appeared in Augsburg before Care dinal Caietan, who, having been suspected of a tang of heresy himself, was thought to be expert in dealing with persons of that description. That dignitary was perfectly willing that Luther should be as heretical as he pleased, if, as the Presbyterian divine in Edinburgh said to Charles the Second, he would only shut the windows." The enormity of the sin consisted in its being publicly known, and thereby misleading others with its example. Moreover, he could not conceive why Luther should hesitate to make this cheap and easy recantation, which would cleanse him from all guilt, without requiring the least change in his opinions. Finding the Reformer intractable, the legate argued with him ; but as he found his authorities in the records of the church, and Luther took his stand on common sense and the Bible, they were hardly within speaking distance of each other.
The hearing did not lead to any satisfactory result ; the Pope had already denounced the insurgent, and it was his misfortune to be infallible, while Luther was sustained by a conscientious intrepidity which not all the world could bow. Nothing could be more generous than his bearing ; finding himself thus an object of persecution, he wrote to the Elector that he would by no means bring danger to his prince ; that he was about to quit Germany ; that, wherever he went, he should remember with never-ceasing gratitude the kind protection which had been afforded him, and he respectfully bade him farewell. When we remember how entirely alone he stood, how fearfully he was threatened, and how great were the sacrifices he was making to the truth, this conduct on his part seems as generous and high as any thing which history records. Every one capable of estimating character must dwell upon it with perfect delight; and it is a relief to find that the Elector guarded him, not by open resistance to Rome, but by requiring, with diplomatic adroitness, that he should be tried by disinterested judges ; a sort of bench which he well knew it was impossible to find. Meantime, the emperor of Germany died; and the Elector of Saxony was so prominent a candidate for that high station, that the Roman court did not think it wise to come in conflict with him till the imperial question was decided ; and in the interval his power was an effectual shield to all over whom it extended.
that he was remember, "been a