We can learn much from Martin Luther, the Reformer in the Dark Ages. He was a man for his time; rightly described as a champion of truth. This man also went through difficult experiences like Elijah and Elisha. Luther had to face the religious leaders of his day to answer for his faith. This called forth from this man of God the need for much prayer and strong faith. As a result, these spiritual exercises, plus a knowledge of Christ and His truths, produced heavenly bravery and holy boldness in this servant of God.
As you read the story of his encounters with the authorities, imagine the scenes in your mind, and let us endeavor to discover what kind of mind Luther had and what kind of thoughts made him as solid as he was. We pick up his experience as he is about to set out on a long and very dangerous journey:
“Luther was not to make his perilous journey alone. Besides the imperial messenger, three of his firmest friends determined to accompany him. Melanchthon earnestly desired to join them. His heart was knit to Luther’s, and he yearned to follow him, if need be, to prison or to death. But his entreaties were denied. Should Luther perish, the hopes of the Reformation must center upon his youthful colaborer. Said the Reformer as he parted from Melanchthon: ‘If I do not return, and my enemies put me to death, continue to teach, and stand fast in the truth. Labor in my stead. . . . If you survive, my death will be of little consequence.’ [J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, London ed., b. 7, ch. 7.] Students and citizens who had gathered to witness Luther’s departure were deeply moved. A multitude whose hearts had been touched by the gospel, bade him farewell with weeping. Thus the Reformer and his companions set out from Wittenburg.
“On the journey they saw that the minds of the people were oppressed by gloomy forebodings. At some towns no honors were proffered them. As they stopped for the night, a friendly priest expressed his fears by holding up before Luther the portrait of an Italian reformer who had suffered martyrdom. The next day they learned that Luther’s writings had been condemned at Worms. Imperial messengers were proclaiming the emperor’s decree and calling upon the people to bring the proscribed works to the magistrates. The herald, fearing for Luther’s safety at the council, and thinking that already his resolution might be shaken, asked if he still wished to go forward. He answered, ‘Although interdicted in every city, I shall go on.’ Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
“At Erfurt, Luther was received with honor. Surrounded by admiring crowds, he passed through the streets that he had often traversed with his beggar’s wallet. He visited his convent cell, and thought upon the struggles through which the light now flooding Germany had been shed upon his soul. He was urged to preach. This he had been forbidden to do, but the herald granted him permission, and the friar who had once been made the drudge of the convent, now entered the pulpit.
“To a crowded assembly he spoke from the words of Christ, ‘Peace be unto you.’ ‘Philosophers, doctors, and writers,’ he said, ‘have endeavored to teach men the way to obtain everlasting life, and they have not succeeded. I will now tell it to you: . . . God has raised one Man from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ, that He might destroy death, extirpate sin, and shut the gates of hell. This is the work of salvation. . . . Christ has vanquished! this is the joyful news; and we are saved by His work, and not by our own. . . . Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Peace be unto you; behold My hands;” this is to say, Behold, O man! it is I, I alone, who have taken away thy sin, and ransomed thee; and now thou hast peace, saith the Lord.’ Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
“He continued, showing that true faith will be manifested by a holy life. ‘Since God has saved us, let us so order our works that they may be acceptable to Him. Art thou rich? let thy goods administer to the necessities of the poor. Art thou poor? let thy services be acceptable to the rich. If thy labor is useful to thyself alone, the service that thou pretendest to render unto God is a lie.’ Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
“The people listened as if spellbound. The bread of life was broken to those starving souls. Christ was lifted up before them as above popes, legates, emperors, and kings. Luther made no reference to his own perilous position. He did not seek to make himself the object of thought or sympathy. In the contemplation of Christ he had lost sight of himself. He hid behind the Man of Calvary, seeking only to present Jesus as the sinner’s Redeemer. [Emphasis added.]
“As the Reformer proceeded on his journey, he was everywhere regarded with great interest. An eager multitude thronged about him, and friendly voices warned him of the purpose of the Romanists. ‘They will burn you,’ said some, ‘and reduce your body to ashes, as they did with John Huss.’ Luther answered, ‘Though they should kindle a fire all the way from Worms to Wittenberg, the flames of which reached to heaven, I would walk through it in the name of the Lord; I would appear before them; I would enter the jaws of this behemoth, and break his teeth, confessing the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Ibid., b. 7, ch. 7.
“The news of his approach to Worms created great commotion. His friends trembled for his safety; his enemies feared for the success of their cause. Strenuous efforts were made to dissuade him from entering the city. At the instigation of the papists he was urged to repair to the castle of a friendly knight, where, it was declared, all difficulties could be amicably adjusted. Friends endeavored to excite his fears by describing the dangers that threatened him. All their efforts failed. Luther, still unshaken, declared: ‘Even should there be as many devils in Worms as tiles on the housetops, still I would enter it.’ ” The Great Controversy, 151–153.
This was a brave man! Imagine the number of tiles or shingles it takes to make one roof, and imagine all those tiles on all the housetops in a whole city, each of them representing a demon who wants to destroy you. Imagine that you have to make a long journey, and you have to pass each and every one of them. The only way you could speak like Luther is if you have the experience of Luther. What made Luther’s experience so solid was his belief that he was not alone. He believed that God was with him, in him, and for him. When this became his outlook, his faith became a reality—his belief was real to him, he was not alone. His constant communion and strong faith in God prepared him to do his Master’s will; this is what made him a champion of God.
Lost Sight of God
However, one particular night Martin Luther became afraid to face these rulers. He was on his knees nearly all night, begging God to be with him. He feared that he would have to come up against these men by himself. Like Elijah when Jezebel was coming after him, Luther temporarily lost sight of Him who was his support all along. (See The Great Controversy, 156, 157.)
This happens again and again with the people of God, even with those who stand in the forefront of many spiritual battles. They are human too. The apostle James writes: “Elias [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” James 5:17, 18.
Just Like Us
Elijah and Martin Luther were human beings just like us. They had emotions similar to ours, including fear. Therefore, we have to learn from their experiences. We have to learn how they gained victories, how and when they were successful, what made them heroes for God. One sure ingredient was that their faith was strengthened by their constant prayers and belief that they were not alone. When they prayed and believed that the Creator was with them, like Enoch, they were able to walk with God.
Faith is something that often confuses people. We wonder what faith is. But faith can be narrowed down to the concept of believing that God loves you and wants to bless you, that if you seek to abide in Him, He will abide with and in you, that you are not alone in any situation, in any place, at any point in time. When we can take hold of this truth, we will know what it means to “be still, and know that I am [the Lord is] God.” Psalm 46:10. Yes, only then will we know what it means to be a hero for God.
The Mind of a Champion
A man who fails to pray often and trust God cannot say or do the things that champions of truth, such as Luther and many others, have said or done. Because Luther believed that the Lord was with him, he went on his long journey to Worms to face his enemies and answer for his faith. Despite the earnest cries of those who loved him and did all they could to urge him not to go because his life was in danger, Luther bravely and boldly went on. He prayed constantly; he had faith; he knew God loved him, and was with him. He, like Enoch, walked with God.
We again pick up the story just after he had made a clear and noble defense of his faith. Let us now see what was Luther’s experience and what was going on in his mind when he stood before those in authority.
“He was directed to withdraw from the Diet while the princes consulted together. It was felt that a great crisis had come. Luther’s persistent refusal to submit might affect the history of the church for ages. It was decided to give him one more opportunity to retract. For the last time he was brought into the assembly. Again the question was put, whether he would renounce his doctrines. ‘I have no other reply to make,’ he said, ‘than that which I have already made.’ It was evident that he could not be induced, either by promises or threats, to yield to the mandate of Rome.
“The papal leaders were chagrined that their power, which had caused kings and nobles to tremble, should be thus despised by a humble monk; they longed to make him feel their wrath by torturing his life away. But Luther, understanding his danger, had spoken to all with Christian dignity and calmness. His words had been free from pride, passion, and misrepresentation. He had lost sight of himself, and the great men surrounding him, and felt only that he was in the presence of One infinitely superior to popes, prelates, kings, and emperors.” The Great Controversy, 161. [Emphasis added.]
A Champion of Truth
This really gives an insight into the mind of the man and what made him who he was, a champion of truth. Luther was very prayerful and obedient and possessed great faith in God, and, as a result, the power of God abided in him and with him. This was the secret of Luther’s life of heavenly bravery and holy boldness. Because of his prayerfulness and faith, Luther did not see himself alone. He saw himself in the presence of the Lord. So when he spoke to these men, he looked beyond them and spoke as one who was addressing the Lord in behalf of His cause. This, the man of God believed, was a reality, and it was, for the Lord of hosts was truly present as a protector of His servant and a witness to the whole event.
Luther looked within the invisible realm. He looked beyond the physical and saw that he was not alone, and because of this belief, he uttered what he knew would be pleasing and acceptable in the ears of God, regardless of men’s opinions. Such faith, coupled with a genuine Christian experience, was the secret of Luther’s bravery and boldness for the cause of God. He was a man with Enoch’s experience; he was a man who walked with God.
Armies of Heaven
Summing up the experiences of Luther and other faithful workers, Ellen White plainly declares: “God’s faithful servants were not toiling alone. While principalities and powers and wicked spirits in high places were leagued against them, the Lord did not forsake His people. Could their eyes have been opened, they would have seen marked evidence of divine presence and aid as was granted to a prophet of old. When Elisha’s servant pointed his master to the hostile army surrounding them and cutting off all opportunity for escape, the prophet prayed: ‘Lord, I pray Thee, open his eyes, that he may see.’ 11 Kings 6:17. And, lo, the mountain was filled with chariots and horses of fire, the army of heaven stationed to protect the man of God. Thus did angels guard the workers in the cause of the Reformation.” Ibid., 208. [Emphasis added.]
All of God’s true laborers were guarded by these same armies of heaven during the Reformation. It is a gift that God extends to all of His true servants clear down to the end of time. It is something we need to know, believe in, and cherish in our hearts even now, because it will help us to become the much-needed champions of truth in these last days.
Champions of Truth
In order to become champions of truth, we too must pray in season and out of season and trust in God’s care always. We must also become diligent students of God’s Word. But we must not only know the truth, we must also choose to obey it every day. The prophet Daniel and his friends studied the Scriptures earnestly and were approved unto God. So did Luther. Like Enoch, these men walked with God by striving to trust in Him, studying God’s Word, and obeying His will in all things. As a result, they were blessed with the Master’s presence and protection.
“In acquiring the wisdom of the Babylonians, Daniel and his companions were far more successful than their fellow students; but their learning did not come by chance. They obtained their knowledge by the faithful use of their powers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They placed themselves in connection with the Source of all wisdom, making the knowledge of God the foundation of their education. In faith they prayed for wisdom, and they lived their prayers. They placed themselves where God could bless them. They avoided that which would weaken their powers, and improved every opportunity to become intelligent in all lines of learning. They followed the rules of life that could not fail to give them strength of intellect. They sought to acquire knowledge for one purpose—that they might honor God. They realized that in order to stand as representatives of true religion amid the false religions of heathenism they must have clearness of intellect and must perfect a Christian character. And God Himself was their teacher. Constantly praying, conscientiously studying, keeping in touch with the Unseen, they walked with God as did Enoch.” Prophets and Kings, 486. [Emphasis added.]
We, too, can become champions like these great men of old. Remember, they were not much different from us, and we, like them, also have the assurance that the Lord our God “in the midst of [us] is mighty” and willing to work in our behalf and “save” us. Zephaniah 3:17.
Pastor Patrick Herbert is the senior pastor of the Tucker-Norcross Adventist Church and Director of the Gilead Institute of America, a medical missionary evangelistic training institution located in Norcross, Georgia. He holds a Doctorate in religion and speaks and writes on a wide range of religious and health topics. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com.