Fox's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe

A history of the lives, sufferings and triumphant deaths of many early Christian martyrs.

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Chapter IX



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 prudent men."

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 that procedure.

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

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 any

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 other's persons.

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 Worms."

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

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 months.

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
earthly body.

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 2 Chronicles 26:12 (KJV)
The whole number of the chief of the fathers of the mighty men of valour [were] two thousand and six hundred.
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