(Part 3 of 3)
As he left the Diet of Worms, not waiting to see if the would execute him, Martin Luther’s carriage was surrounded by horsemen and the man himself was kidnapped. Many thought him to be dead, stolen to be executed quietly, but in fact he had been spirited away by Frederick the Wise, a German prince who favoured Luther. For the next ten months he would stay at Wartburg castle, disguised as a knight called Sir George.
Unable to preach, Luther wrote a book of model sermons. He also began work on translating the Bible from the Greek New Testament that had been published by a noted scholar called Erasmus. He completed the work in less than 11 weeks and for the first time, Germans could read the scriptures in their own language. It was published in 1522.
In his absence the Reformation carried on. Yet in the wake of the Reformation, some of Luther’s more radical followers began to attack priests and churches. When Luther heard of this he came out of hiding to confront them. He tried to reason with the people, that true reform would come through the Scriptures and not the sword. All Luther wanted was to see the Word of God spread abroad and reformation would follow.
He married an ex-nun named Katie. He had helped 9 nuns escape from the nunnery in barrels and had found husbands for 8. Yet Katie remained. He didn’t want marriage, focused on his work and on the constant threats to his life, yet Katie pursued him and with persuasion from his friends, they were married after two years. Katie was fierce enough to stand up to Luther and together they built a life. They had children and guided the Reformation.
The heart of the Reformation began to be challenged by none other than Erasmus, the scholar who had so patiently worked on the Greek New Testament. He challenged the understanding of grace and sin that Luther held, prompting Luther to write his famous book: The Bondage of the Will. In it he explains that the heart of the Gospel is this: We cannot come to God on our own, so deep is our sin, but need a work of grace in our hearts to give us faith to cling to Christ.
Lutheranism became official in 1530, with the German princes standing up to the Emperor and all signing the Lutheran confession of faith. As the years war on though, Luther’s health deteriorated. He had several heart attacks and was constantly sick.
Yet Luther remained his rough brash self. He was by no means a perfect man, often saying things too rashly and harshly, especially when it came to disputable matters. He said many regretful things about his fellow reformer Ulrich Zwingli and about the Jews. These serve to remind us that he is still a man, desperately in need of his saviour, whom he loved with all his heart.
Luther died in January 1546. He was buried appropriately under his pulpit, having held the Word of God high and leaving a legacy that would carry on until today and beyond.
Tomorrow we will look at the Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli.