An Account of the Life and Persecutions of Martin Luther
This illustrious German divine and reformer of the Church was
the son of John Luther and Margaret Ziegler, and born at Isleben,
a town of Saxony, in the county of Mansfield, November 10, 1483.
His father's extraction and condition were originally but mean,
and his occupation that of a miner; it is probable, however, that
by his application and industry he improved the fortunes of his
family, as he afterward became a magistrate of rank and dignity.
Luther was early initiated into letters, and at the age of thirteen
was sent to school at Magdeburg, and thence to Eisenach, in Thuringia,
where he remained four years, producing the early indications
of his future eminence.
In 1501 he was sent to the University of Erfurt, where he went
through the usual courses of logic and philosophy. When twenty,
he took a master's degree, and then lectured on Aristotle's physics,
ethics, and other parts of philosophy. Afterward, at the instigation
of his parents, he turned himself to the civil law, with a view
of advancing himself to the bar, but was diverted from this pursuit
by the following accident. Walking out into the fields one day,
he was struck by lightning so as to fall to the ground, while
a companion was killed by his side; and this affected him so sensibly,
that, without communicating his purpose to any of his friends,
he withdrew himself from the world, and retired into the order
of the hermits of St. Augustine.
Here he employed himself in reading St. Augustine and the schoolmen;
but in turning over the leaves of the library, he accidentally
found a copy of the Latin Bible, which he had never seen before.
This raised his curiosity to a high degree: he read it over very
greedily, and was amazed to find what a small portion of the Scriptures
was rehearsed to the people.
He made his profession in the monastery of Erfurt, after he had
been a novice one year; and he took priest's orders, and celebrated
his first Mass in 1507. The year after, he was removed from the
convent of Erfurt to the University of Wittenberg; for this university
being just founded, nothing was thought more likely to bring it
into immediate repute and credit, than the authority and presence
of a man so celebrated, for his great parts and learning, as Luther.
In this University of Erfurt, there was a certain aged man in
the convent of the Augustines with whom Luther, being then of
the same order, a friar Augustine, had conference upon divers
things, especially touching remission of sins; which article the
said aged father opened unto Luther; declaring that God's express
commandment is that every man should particularly believe his
sins to be forgiven him in Christ: and further said that this
interpretation was confirmed by St. Bernard: "This is the
testimony that the Holy Ghost giveth thee in thy heart, saying,
thy sins are forgiven thee. For this is the opinion of the apostle,
that man is freely justified by faith."
By these words Luther was not only strengthened, but was also
instructed of the full meaning of St. Paul, who repeateth so many
times this sentence, "We are justified by faith." And
having read the expositions of many upon this place, he then perceived,
as well by the discourse of the old man, as by the comfort he
received in his spirit, the vanity of those interpretations, which
he had read before, of the schoolmen. And so, by little and little,
reading and comparing the sayings and examples of the prophets
and apostles, with continual invocation of God, and the excitation
of faith by force of prayer, he perceived that doctrine most evidently.
Thus continued he his study at Erfurt the space of four years
in the convent of the Augustines.
In 1512, seven convents of his order having a quarrel with their
vicar-general, Luther was chosen to go to Rome to maintain their
cause. At Rome he saw the pope and the court, and had an opportunity
of observing also the manners of the clergy, whose hasty, superficial,
and impious way of celebrating Mass, he has severely noted. As
soon as he had adjusted the dispute which was the business of
his journey, he returned to Wittenberg, and was created doctor
of divinity, at the expense of Frederic, elector of Saxony; who
had often heard him preach, was perfectly acquainted with his
merit, and reverenced him highly.
He continued in the University of Wittenberg, where, as professor
of divinity, he employed himself in the business of his calling.
Here then he began in the most earnest manner to read lectures
upon the sacred books: he explained the Epistle to the Romans,
and the Psalms, which he cleared up and illustrated in a manner
so entirely new, and so different from what had been pursued by
former commentators, that "there seemed, after a long and
dark night, a new day to arise, in the judgment of all pious and
Luther diligently reduced the minds of men to the Son of God:
as John the Baptist demonstrated the Lamb of God that took away
the sins of the world, even so Luther, shining in the Church as
the bright daylight after a long and dark night, expressly showed
that sins are freely remitted for the love of the Son of God,
and that we ought faithfully to embrace this bountiful gift.
His life was correspondent to his profession; and it plainly appeared
that his words were no lip-labor, but proceeded from the very
heart. This admiration of his holy life much allured the hearts
of his auditors.
The better to qualify himself for the task he had undertaken,
he had applied himself attentively to the Greek and Hebrew languages;
and in this manner was he employed, when the general indulgences
were published in 1517.
Leo X who succeeded Julius II in March, 1513, formed a design
of building the magnificent Church of St. Peter's at Rome, which
was, indeed, begun by Julius, but still required very large sums
to be finished. Leo, therefore, in 1517 published general indulgences
throughout all Europe, in favor of those who contribute any sum
to the building of St. Peter's; and appointed persons in different
countries to preach up these indulgences, and to receive money
for them. These strange proceedings gave vast offence at Wittenberg,
and particularly inflamed the pious zeal of Luther; who, being
naturally warm and active, and in the present case unable to contain
himself, was determined to declare against them at all adventures.
Upon the eve of All-saints, therefore, in 1517, he publicly fixed
up, at the church next to the castle of that town, a thesis upon
indulgences; in the beginning of which he challenged any one to
oppose it either by writing or disputation. Luther's propositions
about indulgences were no sooner published, than Tetzel, the Dominican
friar, and commissioner for selling them, maintained and published
at Frankfort, a thesis, containing a set of propositions directly
contrary to them. He did more; he stirred up the clergy of his
order against Luther; anathematized him from the pulpit, as a
most damnable heretic; and burnt his thesis publicly at Frankfort.
Tetzel's thesis was also burnt, in return, by the Lutherans at
Wittenberg; but Luther himself disowned having had any hand in
In 1518, Luther, though dissuaded from it by his friends, yet,
to show obedience to authority, went to the monastery of St. Augustine,
at Heidelberg, while the chapter was held; and here maintained,
April 26, a dispute concerning "justification by faith";
which Bucer, who was present at, took down in writing, and afterward
communicated to Beatus Rhenanus, not without the highest commendations.
In the meantime, the zeal of his adversaries grew every day more
and more active against him; and he was at length accused to Leo
X as a heretic. As soon as he returned therefore from Heidelberg,
he wrote a letter to that pope, in the most submissive terms;
and sent him, at the same time, an explication of his propositions
about indulgences. This letter is dated on Trinity Sunday, 1518,
and was accompanied with a protestation, wherein he declared,
that he did not pretend to advance or defend anything contrary
to the Holy Scriptures, or to the doctrine of the fathers, received
and observed by the Church of Rome, or to the canons and decretals
of the popes: nevertheless, he thought he had the liberty either
to approve or disapprove the opinions of St. Thomas, Bonaventure,
and other schoolmen and canonists, which are not grounded upon
The emperor Maximilian was equally solicitous, with the pope about
putting a stop to the propagation of Luther's opinions in Saxony;
troublesome both to the Church and empire. Maximilian, therefore,
applied to Leo, in a letter dated August 5, 1518, and begged him
to forbid, by his authority, these useless, rash, and dangerous
disputes; assuring him also that he would strictly execute in
the empire whatever his holiness should enjoin.
In the meantime Luther, as soon as he understood what was transacting
about him at Rome, used all imaginable means to prevent his being
carried thither, and to obtain a hearing of his cause in Germany.
The elector was also against Luther's going to Rome, and desired
of Cardinal Cajetan, that he might be heard before him, as the
pope's legate in Germany. Upon these addresses, the pope consented
that the cause should be tried before Cardinal Cajetan, to whom
he had given power to decide it.
Luther, therefore, set off immediately for Augsburg, and carried
with him letters from the elector. He arrived here in October,
1518, and, upon an assurance of his safety, was admitted into
the cardinal's presence. But Luther was soon convinced that he
had more to fear from the cardinal's power than from disputations
of any kind; and, therefore, apprehensive of being seized if he
did not submit, withdrew from Augsburg upon the twentieth. But,
before his departure, he published a formal appeal to the pope,
and finding himself protected by the elector, continued to teach
the same doctrines at Wittenberg, and sent a challenge to all
the inquisitors to come and dispute with him.
As to Luther, Miltitius, the pope's chamberlain, had orders to
require the elector to oblige him to retract, or to deny him his
protection: but things were not now to be carried with so high
a hand, Luther's credit being too firmly established. Besides,
the emperor Maximilian happened to die upon the twelfth of this
month, whose death greatly altered the face of affairs, and made
the elector more able to determine Luther's fate. Miltitius thought
it best, therefore, to try what could be done by fair and gentle
means, and to that end came to some conference with Luther.
During all these treaties, the doctrine of Luther spread, and
prevailed greatly; and he himself received great encouragement
at home and abroad. The Bohemians about this time sent him a book
of the celebrated John Huss, who had fallen a martyr in the work
of reformation; and also letters, in which they exhorted him to
constancy and perseverance, owning that the divinity which he
taught was the pure, sound, and orthodox divinity. Many great
and learned men had joined themselves to him.
In 1519, he had a famous dispute at Leipsic with John Eccius.
But this dispute ended at length like all others, the parties
not the least nearer in opinion, but more at enmity with each
About the end of this year, Luther published a book, in which
he contended for the Communion being celebrated in both kinds;
which was condemned by the bishop of Misnia, January 24, 1520.
While Luther was laboring to excuse himself to the new emperor
and the bishops of Germany, Eccius had gone to Rome, to solicit
his condemnation; which, it may easily be conceived, was now become
not difficult to be attained. Indeed the continual importunities
of Luther's adversaries with Leo, caused him at length to publish
a formal condemnation of him, and he did so accordingly, in a
bull, dated June 15, 1520. This was carried into Germany, and
published there by Eccius, who had solicited it at Rome; and who,
together with Jerome Alexander, a person eminent for his learning
and eloquence, was intrusted by the pope with the execution of
it. In the meantime, Charles V of Spain, after he had set things
to rights in the Low Countries, went into Germany, and was crowned
emperor, October the twenty-first at Aix-la-Chapelle.
Martin Luther, after he had been first accused at Rome upon Maunday
Thursday by the pope's censure, shortly after Easter speedeth
his journey toward Worms, where the said Luther, appearing before
the emperor and all the states of Germany, constantly stuck to
the truth, defended himself, and answered his adversaries.
Luther was lodged, well entertained, and visited by many earls,
barons, knights of the order, gentlemen, priests, and the commonalty,
who frequented his lodging until night.
He came, contrary to the expectation of many, as well adversaries
as others. His friends deliberated together, and many persuaded
him not to adventure himself to such a present danger, considering
how these beginnings answered not the faith of promise made. Who,
when he had heard their whole persuasion and advice, answered
in this wise: "As touching me, since I am sent for, I am
resolved and certainly determined to enter Worms, in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ; yea, although I knew there were as many
devils to resist me as there are tiles to cover the houses in
The next day, the herald brought him from his lodging to the emperor's
court, where he abode until six o'clock, for that the princes
were occupied in grave consultations; abiding there, and being
environed with a great number of people, and almost smothered
for the press that was there. Then after, when the princes were
set, and Luther entered, Eccius, the official, spake in this manner:
"Answer now to the Emperor's demand. Wilt thout maintain
all thy books which thou hast acknowledged, or revoke any part
of them, and submit thyself?"
Martin Luther answered modestly and lowly, and yet not without
some stoutness of stomach, and Christian constancy. "Considering
your sovereign majesty, and your honors, require a plain answer;
this I say and profess as resolutely as I may, without doubting
or sophistication, that if I be not convinced by testimonies of
the Scriptures (for I believe not the pope, neither his general
Councils, which have erred many times, and have been contrary
to themselves), my conscience is so bound and captivated in these
Scriptures and the Word of God, that I will not, nor may not revoke
any manner of thing; considering it is not godly or lawful to
do anything against conscience. Hereupon I stand and rest: I
have not what else to say. God have mercy upon me!"
The princes consulted together upon this answer given by Luther;
and when they had diligently examined the same, the prolucutor
began to repel him thus:
"The Emperor's majesty requireth of thee a simple answer,
either negative or affirmative, whether thou mindest to defend
all thy works as Christian, or no?"
Then Luther, turning to the emperor and the nobles, besought them
not to force or compel him to yield against his conscience, confirmed
with the Holy Scriptures, without manifest arguments alleged to
the contrary by his adversaries. "I am tied by the Scriptures."
Before the Diet of Worms was dissolved, Charves V caused an edict
to be drawn up, which was dated the eighth of May, and decreed
that Martin Luther be, agreeably to the sentence of the pope,
henceforward looked upon as a member separated from the Church,
a schismatic, and an obstinate and notorious heretic. While the
bull of Leo X executed by Charles V was thundering throughout
the empire, Luther was safely shut up in the castle of Wittenberg;
but weary at length of his retirement, he appeared publicly again
at Wittenberg, March 6, 1522, after he had been absent about ten
Luther now made open war with the pope and bishops; and, that
he might make the people despise their authority as much as possible,
he wrote one book against the pope's bull, and another against
the order falsely called "The Order of Bishops." He
published also a translation of the New Testament in the German
tongue, which was afterward corrected by himself and Melancthon.
Affairs were now in great confusion in Germany; and they were
not less so in Italy, for a quarrel arose between the pope and
the emperor, during which Rome was twice taken, and the pope imprisoned.
While the princes were thus employed in quarrelling with each
other, Luther persisted in carrying on the work of the Reformation,
as well by opposing the papists, as by combating the Anabaptists
and other fanatical sects; which, having taken the advantage of
his contest with the Church of Rome, had sprung up and established
themselves in several places.
In 1527, Luther was suddenly seized with a coagulation of the
blood about the heart, which had like to have put an end to his
life. The troubles of Germany being not likely to have any end,
the emperor was forced to call a diet at Spires, in 1529, to require
the assistance of the princes of the empire against the Turks.
Fourteen cities, viz., Strassburg, Nuremberg, Ulm, Constance,
Retlingen, Windsheim, Memmingen, Lindow, Kempten, Hailbron, Isny,
Weissemburg, Nortlingen, S. Gal, joined against the decree of
the Diet protestation, which was put into writing, and published
April, 1529. This was the famous protestation, which gave the
name of "Protestants" to the reformers in Germany.
After this, the Protestant princes labored to make a firm league
and enjoined the elector of Saxony and his allies to approve of
what the Diet had done; but the deputies drew up an appeal, and
the Protestants afterwards presented an apology for their "Confession"-that
famous confession which was drawn up by the temperate Melancthon,
as also the apology. These were signed by a variety of princes,
and Luther had now nothing else to do, but to sit down and contemplate
the mighty work he had finished: for that a single monk should
be able to give the Church of Rome so rude a shock, that there
needed but such another entirely to overthrow it, may be well
esteemed a mighty work.
In 1533, Luther wrote a consolatory epistle to the citizens of
Oschatz, who had suffered some hardships for adhering to the Augsburg
confession of faith: and in 1534, the Bible translated by him
into German was first printed, as the old privilege, dated at
Bibliopolis, under the elector's own hand, shows; and it was published
in the year after. He also published this year a book, "Against
Masses and the Consecration of Priests."
In February, 1537, an assembly was held at Smalkald about matters
of religion, to which Luther and Melancthon were called. At this
meeting Luther was seized with so grievous an illness that there
was no hope of his recovery. As he was carried along he made
his will, in which he bequeathed his detestation of popery to
his friends and brethren. In this manner was he employed until
his death, which happened in 1546.
That year, accompanied by Melancthon, he paid a visit to his own
country, which he had not seen for many years, and returned again
in safety. But soon after, he was called thither again by the
earls of Manfelt, to compose some differences which had arisen
about their boundaries, where he was received by one hundred horsemen,
or more, and conducted in a very honorable manner; but was at
the same time so very ill that it was feared he would die. He
said that these fits of sickness often came upon him, when he
had any great business to undertake. Of this, however, he did
not recover, but died in February 18, in his sixty-third year.
A little before he expired, he admonished those that were about
him to pray to God for the propagation of the Gospel, "Because,"
said he, "the Council of Trent, which had set once or twice,
and the pope, will devise strange things against it." Feeling
his fatal hour to approach, before nine o'clock in the morning,
he commended himself to God with this devout prayer:
"My heavenly Father, eternal and merciful God! Thou hast
manifested unto me Thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I have
taught Him, I have known Him; I love Him as my life, my health
and my redemption; Whom the wicked have persecuted, maligned,
and with injury afflicted. Draw my soul to Thee."
After this he said as ensueth, thrice: "I commend my spirit
into Thy hands, Thou hast redeemed me, O God of Truth! 'God so
loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in Him should not perish, but have life everlasting.'"
Having repeated oftentimes his prayers, he was called to God.
So praying, his innocent ghost peaceably was separated from the