What Evangelical Protestants Owe the German Princes?


Biblical Numerology: NUMBER THREE- Part XXVIII

What Evangelical Protestants Owe the German Princes?


   To think that God acts in history by the intermediary of political actions of man, revolutionary or conservative, is the complete opposite of hope.- Jacques Ellul.

Ellen G. White in her book Great Controversy (1911 ed.), “Protest of the Princes” ch. 11, quoted below, reminds the remainder of evangelical Protestants of the epic history of the heroic struggle the vastly outnumbered German princes put up in refusing to compromise with Rome in the sixteenth century so that in this 21st century, Christianity is still enjoying religious freedom and free access to God’s Word where over a thousand years these were treated as heresies punishable by some of the worst forms of torture invented through the Office of the Inquisition.

 In the face of roiling many-sided, complex geopolitical issues, all terminally impacting the last and most precious of all liberties: freedom of conscience, Benjamin Franklin sagely warned: “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” Think this as Apple, one of the largest global companies is currently resisting the FBI, the world’s most powerful law-enforcement agencies’ order to develop software that could circumvent encryption of the iphone—a disturbing new  conundrum of safeguarding personal and national safety on one hand and protecting personal privacy under civil liberties, on the other. Now this:

     “One of the noblest testimonies ever uttered for the Reformation was the Protest offered by the Christian princes of Germany at the Diet of Spires in 1529. The courage, faith, and firmness of those men of God gained for succeeding ages liberty of thought and conscience. Their protest gave to the reformed church the name of Protestant; its principles are ‘the very essence of Protestantism.’ – D’ Aubigne, b. 13, ch 6.

     “A dark and threatening day had come to the Reformation. Notwithstanding the Edict of Worms, declaring Luther to be an outlaw and forbidding the teaching or belief of his doctrines, religious toleration had thus far prevailed in the empire. God’s providence had held in check the forces that opposed the truth. Charles V was bent on crushing the Reformation, but often as he raised his hand to strike he had been forced to turn aside the blow.

Again and again the immediate destruction of all who dared to oppose themselves to Rome appeared inevitable; but at the critical moment the armies of the Turk appeared on the eastern frontier, or the king of France, or even the pope himself, jealous of the increasing greatness of the emperor, made war upon him; and thus, amid the strife and tumult of nations, the Reformation had been left to strengthen and extend.

      “At last, however, the papal sovereigns had stifled their feuds, that they might make common cause against the Reformers. The Diet of Spires in 1526 had given each state full liberty in matters of religion until the meeting of a general council; but no sooner had the dangers passed which secured this concession, than the emperor summoned a second Diet to convene at Spires in 1529 for the purpose of crushing heresy.  The princes were to be induced, by peaceable means if possible, to go against the Reformation; but if these failed, Charles was prepared to resort to the sword.

      “The papists were exultant. They appeared at Spires in great numbers, and openly manifested their hostility toward the Reformers and all who favored them. Said Melanchthon: ‘We are the execration and the sweepings of the world; but Christ will look down at His poor people, and will preserve them.’ – D’ Aubigne, b. 13, ch. 5. The evangelical princes in attendance at the Diet were forbidden even to have the gospel preached at their dwellings. But the people of Spires thirsted for the word of God [do we?], and, notwithstanding the prohibition, thousands flocked to the services held in the chapel of the elector of Saxony.

     “This hastened the crisis. An imperial message announced to the Diet that as the resolution granting liberty of conscience had given rise to great disorders, the emperor required that it be annulled. This arbitrary act excited the indignation and alarm of the evangelical Christians.  Said one: ‘Christ has again fallen into the hands of Caiaphas and Pilate [church and state united!] The Romanists became more violent.

A bigoted papist declared: ‘The Turks [Moslems] are better than the Lutherans; for the Turks observe fast days, and the Lutherans violate them. If we must choose between the Holy Scriptures of God and the old errors of the  church, we should reject the former.’ Said Melanchthon: ‘Everyday, in full assembly, Faber [the papist] casts some new stone at us gospelers’ [Evangelical Protestant, Lutheran Christians].’  – Ibid, b. 13, ch. 5.

     “Religious toleration had been legally established, and the evangelical states were resolved to oppose the infringement of their rights. Luther, being still under the ban imposed by the Edict of Worms, was not permitted to be present at the Spires; but his place was supplied by his co-laborers and the princes whom God had raised up to defend His cause in this emergency. The noble Frederick of Saxony, Luther’s former protector, had been removed by death; but Duke John, his brother and successor, had joyfully welcomed the Reformation, and while a friend of peace, he displayed great energy and courage in all matters relating to the interests of the faith.

     Evangelical Princes Reject Rome’s Compromise.  – “As a compromise it was finally proposed that where the Reformation had not become established, the Edict of Worms should be rigorously enforced; and that ‘in those where the people deviated from it, and where they could not conform to it without danger of revolt, they should at least effect no new reform, they should touch upon no controverted point, they should not oppose the celebration of the mass, they should permit no Roman Catholic to embrace Lutheranism.’ –Ibid., b. 13, ch. 5. Liberty of speech would be prohibited. No conversions would be allowed. And to these restrictions and prohibitions the friends of the Reformation were required at once to submit. The hopes of the world seemed about to be extinguished.” . . . .

      “How easily might the Reformers at this crisis, which was truly a tremendous one, have argued themselves into a wrong course! . . . Let us embrace peace; let us seize the olive branch Rome holds out, and close the wounds of Germany. With arguments like these might the Reformers have justified their adoption of course which would have assuredly issued in no long time in the overthrow of their cause.

     The Roman principle. – The historian “D’ Aubigne wrote: ‘Happily’ the princes ‘looked at the principleon which this arrangement was based, and they acted in faith. What was that principle? It was the right of Rome to coerce conscience and forbid free inquiry. But were not themselves and their Protestant subjects to enjoy religious freedom? Yes, as a favor specially stipulated for in the arrangement, but not a right.  As to all outside that arrangement, the great principle of authority was to rule; conscience was out of court; Rome was infallible judge, and must be obeyed.

The acceptance of the proposed arrangement would have been a virtual admission that religious liberty ought to be confined to reformed Saxony; and as to all the rest of Christendom, free inquiry and the profession of the reformed faith were crimes, and must be visited upon by the dungeon, and the stake? Could they consent to localize religious liberty? To have it proclaimed that the Reformation had made its last convert? Had subjugated its last acre? And that wherever Rome bore sway at this hour, there her dominion was to be perpetrated? Could the Reformers have pleaded that they were innocent of the blood of those hundreds and thousands who, in pursuance of this arrangement, would have to yield up their lives in popish lands?  This would have been to betray, at that supreme hour, the cause of the gospel and the liberties of Christendom.’ – D’ Aubigne, b. 9, ch. 15.

     “ ‘Let us reject this decree,’ said the princes. ‘In matters of conscience the majority has no power.’ The deputies declared: ‘It is to the decree of 1526 that we are indebted to the peace that the empire enjoys: its abolition would fill Germany with troubles and divisions. The Diet is incompetent to do more than preserve religious liberty until the council meets.’ – Ibid, b. 13, ch. 5. To protect the liberty of conscience is the duty of the state, and this is the limit of its authority in matters of religion. Every secular government that attempts to regulate or enforce religious observances by civil authority is sacrificing the very principle for which the evangelical Christians so nobly struggled.

     “The papists determined to put down what they termed ‘daring obstinacy.’ They began by [1] endeavoring to cause divisions among the supporters of the Reformation and to [2] intimidate all who had not openly declared in its favor. The representatives of the free cities were at last summoned before the Diet and required to declare whether they would accede to the terms of the proposition. They pleaded for delay, but in vain. When brought to the test, nearly one-half sided with the Reformers.

Those who thus refused to sacrifice liberty of conscience and the right of individual judgment well knew that their position markedthem for future criticism, condemnation, and persecution. Said one of the delegates: ‘We must either deny the word of God, or–be burnt.’ – Ibid, b. 13. ch. 5.

    “King Ferdinand, the emperor’s representative at the Diet, saw that the decree would cause serious divisions unless the princes would be induced to accept and sustain it. He therefore tried the art of persuasion . . . .But these faithful men acknowledged an authority above that of earthly rulers, and they answered calmly: ‘We will obey the emperor in everything that may contribute to maintain peace and thehonor of God.’ – Ibid, b. 13. ch. 5. . . . Had the Refomers depended upon human aid alone, they would have been as powerless as the papists supposed. But though weak in numbers, and at variance with Rome, they had their strength. They appealed ‘from the report of the Diet to the word of God, and from the emperor Charles to Jesus Christ, the King of king and Lord of lords.’ – Ibid, b. 13, ch. 6.

      “As Ferdinand had refused to regard their conscientious convictions, the princes decided not to heed his absence, but to bring their Protest before the national council without delay. A solemn declaration was therefore drawn up and presented to the Diet:  ‘There is no sure doctrine but such as is conformable to the word of God, . . . The Lord forbids the teaching of any other doctrine . . . The Holy Scriptures ought to be explained by other and clearer texts; . . . This Holy Book is, in all things necessary for the Christian, easy of understanding, and calculated to scatter the darkness.

We are resolved, with the grace of God, to maintain the pure and exclusive preaching of His only word, such as is contained in the biblical books of the Old and the New Testaments, without adding anything thereto that may be contrary to it. This word is the only truth; it is the sure rule of all doctrine and of all life, and can never fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation [not Peter!] shall stand against on all the powers of hell, while all the human vanities that are set up against it shall fall before the face of the Lord.’

      “ ‘For this reason we reject the yoke that is imposed on us.’ ‘At the same time we are in expectation that his imperial majesty will behave toward us like a Christian prince who loves God above all things; and we declare ourselves ready to pay unto him, as well as unto you, gracious lords, all the affection and obedience that are our just and legitimate duty.’ – Ibid., b. 13, ch. 6.

      “A deep impression was made upon the Diet. The majority were filled with amazement and alarm at the boldness of the protesters. . . But the Reformers, assured of the justice of their cause, and relying upon the arm of Omnipotence, were ‘full of courage and firmness.’ ‘The principles contained in this celebrated protest . . . constitute the very essence of Protestantism.

     “ ‘Now this protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the church. Instead of these abuses, Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles,‘We must obey God rather than man’ [Acts 5: 29]. In presence of the crown Charles the Fifth, it uplifts the crown of Jesus Christ. But it goes farther: it lays down the principle that all human teaching should be subordinate to oracles of God.’- Ibid, b. 13, ch. 6.  . . .

     “The experience of these noble Reformers contain a lesson for all succeeding ages. . . In our time there is a wide departure from their doctrines and precepts, and there is a need of a return to the great Protestant principle—the Bible and the Bible only, as the rule of faith and duty.  Satan is still working through every means which he can control to destroy religious liberty. The antichristian power which the protesters of Spires rejected is now with renewed vigor seeking to re-establish its lost supremacy. The same unswerving adherence to the word of God manifested at that crisis of the Reformation is the only hope of reform today.”- (end of Great Controversy quote).

(To be continued next week)

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