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The Sunday Magazine 1887 - London Isbister And Company 56 Ludgate Hill

On the summit of a wooded hill in the rarely beautiful forest of Thuringia stand the grey walls of a castle which may almost be deemed the Forum and the Vatican of the Protestant world. The place is Called the Wartburg, and within this pile of buildings once dwelt Martin Luther.

In the streets of the sleepy little town of Eisenach, from which the
Wartburg rock rises high enough into the sky to be rosed by the setting sun while the town is wrapt in twilight, Luther as a boy sang from door to door for the charities of the humble people of the place. And its inhabitants today are much as were their forefathers, to whom was held out the pence-box by child-hands which, when grown, were to nail the banner of the Reformation to its standard to give their town name and place in history, and bring to men and women of all the people of the civilised world.

Modem ways have made but little progress here. The same kind of girl tends the cow, with the same pretty turban and bright apron, and ever-busy knitting needles and lengthening stocking, as when Luther crossed the fields on his way from one religious house to another. Owners of farms lying between the hills around bear the names of those who doffed their caps to the mailed crusaders on their gay procession to Jerusalem. The same stern blue eyes and ruddy hair and large built bodies follow the ploughs and drive the wains which marked the Saxon warriors who conquered the land. Farms here are not chattels; the earth is not yet a commodity, but a home for fathers and their children and children's children. Happily the demoniac money-making has not yet possessed wood-cutters to cut wood and stone-cutters to cut stone out of the forest and rock, for anything save that people may be roofed and warmed. And neighborly trade has not yet joined the mad cut-throat riots of the competitive pursuit of wealth. Father and son follow each other as the seasons through the yearn. Yet are these people poorer now than they were of old. Modem life with its new batch of royal taxes, tolls, and penalties, and the conscription of their sons, has sorely touched them. Rulers, more costly and oppressive than of old, demand the keep of their police and standing armies, and have their rope round the people's necks, in way unknown and impossible when yeomen carried the spears and gracious landgraves and their ladies ruled them.

Since Luther looked out under his cowl on the scene, faggots which were free have risen to a price and are dear. Twice a week the poor are allowed to pick up dead branches, and the forest inspectors, whom they are required to maintain, watch that they do not pick oftener. The burdens the women bring down home on their heads on these free forest days are amazing. Indeed, to a Protestant proud heart, woman's lot here is a pain. The drudgery and slavery of things fall to women Of two faggot burdens, the heavier a man gives to a woman to carry. Of two journeys, the more toilsome falls to the woman to take She ploughs the roughest bit of the farm and if only one can find room on a cart to ride, it is the man that mounts, though he is on his way to hear his sermon and sustain his faith at church. Lutherans certainly are not chivalrous to women, with the chivalry which at first bewildered, then did so much to win and conquer the pagan world to hear and join the Master's first disciples.

But we are concerned just now not with Lutherans, but with the Luther who went his boyhood's way here, looking though the people's casements for a copper, and grew up to tread the forest paths round that Wartburg there - the Elector's little spaniel trotting at his heels - carrying about with him his New Testament, which he would make canon, cardinal, and pope of the coming world. From the little forest town, we climb up the steep spiral road between thickets of beech an birch and pine to the rocky crown on which, eyrie-like, the castle stands. From the summit we look over a vast sea of wooded knolls and spurs and valleys below, among which lie Fulda, Erfurt, and Maxburg; while right beneath us are the quaint red tiles of the little town, dropped into its rich cup of green, like warm eggs in a bird's-nest on the arm of a huge forest tree. No sound disturbs the sunny calm save the distant woodman's axe. Within this quiet amphitheatre of hills lie the principal scenes of Luther's life, and the best hours of it were spent here. Yonder is Erfurt, where he took the vows of a monk, the first step in the road to his fame. The religious houses at which he in vain sought light, lie separated by those green fields we see. His fierce spiritual struggles were waged, and his emancipation from the thraldom of Rome was won, in yonder valley, in the Augustine convent there. In that clump of woods he was arrested for his heresy; here, in this pile of buildings, he was imprisoned, and here he translated the New Testament which was to give a new manhood to the world.

Entering the castle grounds by a drawbridge where stands a mimic sentry, we look upon the quaintest of ancient Romanesque timbered walls; casement and window, and pillar and arch of Saracen and Spanish grace; nooks, corners, stairs, and doorways, oriel, ancient well, and trailing vine, and a thousand and one delightfully old-fashioned things. A tower soars into the clear air crowned by a wooden cross. This is the courtyard of the castle.

Within are mysterious passages, winding stairway; galleries, corridors, armoury, chapel, and hall, all charmingly antique, a very stage of the grand scenes of which history books have made us dream. Dark wainscots below deep lancet windows are set in illuminated wails of crimson, gold, and blue. Time seems positively dreadful while standing in a place through which floods of revelry, sorrow, love, care, toil, and pain flowed before most of the cities we now best were named, yet of which not an echo remains .

But the spot most fascinating, because most Lutheran, is the knightly little lodge, separated from the castle by a court It was in this that the young Reformer found harbour and refuge from the first outburst of clerical indignation at his idea of giving the Bible to the world. Made prisoner at the command of the Pope, the Elector of Saxony gave him this comfortable little box for his "
cell," and became the friendly warden of his happy gaol . Entering it by a low door, and proceeding up what is now a rickety staircase, we are in Luther's sitting-room, see his chair, and desk, and the ink-spot he intended for the devil, which is still shown on the wall. The leaden inkstand of a castle of that day would not be an unformidable weapon with which to assail either burglar or devil, and flung by the poor over-driven, over-worked, sturdy man must have certainly left more than an ink-spot on the wall it struck But three hundred years have gone since then, and that ink-pot has done better work against the devil than ink-spot a wall; it has marked itself upon history; the Testament it transcribed on to the printer's sheets, which lay once upon that desk there, has since then been transferred to the human mind, and has gone to shape the life of man. As for the "Expositions" Luther gave us, they have long since served their day. The words of men cannot last long, for God is "ever bringing more light out of His truth," but His truth endures for ever. It is before them all, for it was before them; and were they all destroyed to-borrow the world would lose but its glow-worms, the shining sun would remain. His New Testament for the people was greater than all Luther's opinions and creeds. Unhappily, on much of the New Testament those opinions and creeds were a word- " bushel," under which its light was and is still concealed. The Christian world thinks more of that little charity box which hangs against this study wall of his - a memorial of his street-singing, his wandering, and anxious' peepings for charities at peasants' doors - than of his great doctrine, as then counted great of sacramental consubstantiation. Of all the multitudes who visit this little room, counting it a sacred shrine, not one in a thousand is of Luther's way of thinking. They feel in him the throb of a man who did rough work, and did it bravely; and with pride, with half-personal friendship, they call him without prefix or diploma, Luther. Of his theory of inspiration they know nothing; forgotten men of romantic days walk here as in a vision, as we wander through the mysterious passages and stairs; but it is not for visions like these men come. This spot men show as Luther's room is more. The castle of his doctrine of Calvary and the supposed Legal difficulties of Jehovah they know nothing, and care less; they love to visit his out-of-the-world spot because here lived the man by whom religious life has had more freedom and abundance. The streets of that quaint town below, whose master-masons have been dead five hundred years, with their dreamy old-world ways, delightful as a fairyland, are most precious because he saw them so. That winding upward road, between the blowing trees, we have just come up by, has many a genuinely beautiful rival much nearer the traveller's home; but those Luther did not tread, nor do they lead to the castle where Luther dwelt. Medieval times linger about these courts and halls, is a fascinating bit of ancient a architecture; its situation, high throned upon a rock, hills around, is glorious. Here are stables where horses were reared and courtyards where they stood for their riders to mount, and join the companies which carried the sword of Germany and of God to Palestine; singing-monks hymning them on their way as they slowly and gladly descend the hill road below. In the halls of the castle stand the very armour in which these strange knights of the Cross fought in Jerusalem, and the terrible swords which hewed its Saracen inhabitants to pieces " before the Lord;" for, alas! the wickedest inquisitors, and maddest preachers, and bloodiest warriors have always thought within themselves that they were doing God service. But it is not for these relics of ancient days men to stand here; they come to look on the scene that Luther saw, to touch Luther's table and his chair has thus come to occupy the reverent imaginations of mankind. And in that appearance lies a key to himself; to his power and marvellous success; to his weakness and failure. As we look at that broad, frank, strong face the artist saw and painted for us to see, 1 we recognise at once the champion of liberties, the friend of Scripture, the man and idol of a reformation. That man's name, anyone can see, is not " Faint heart " nor " Timorous," nor is it "Facing both Ways " He is a man of movement, determined aim, and mighty force. He is brave, incapable of cowardice, and also of charity. He is no model for, the Good Shepherd, save when the wolves are by the fold, and then woe to them! He could face archdukes and prelates, and cities all whose tiles are devils; he could do that with unswerving sense of public duty; but he could not go out into the night alone, seeking the lost and weary; he could not patiently stand at a door and knock (except to knock it down), treading the path to the unwilling again and again in beseeching tears. He is not slow to anger: he is not plenteous

And there, looking out on us, where we stand, from its place on the wall, is the portrait which, by common consent, transmits to us the correct appearance of the man who in mercy; and you see at once that he "will by no means clear the guilty. " He means business, and no doubt the servants at the Wartburg Castle knew it and regarded him as a. terrible prophet of the Lord. We say this in no disparagement of the grand man, for the very greatest disciple has but a fragment of his Lord in him. He was public-spirited, and brave, and had the courage of his convictions. He held it to be God's will that men should judge and believe for themselves; and dedicating himself to that un-doubted fragment of the mind which was in Christ Jesus, he worked day and night to give them the means - the New Testament in their own tongue, and the power and right to use it - for breaking down the authority of Rome. A man of that face might be able and logical, have firm grasp of ideas, and clearly propound them; but though it glows with characteristics of the Word, it does not glow with the light of the Spirit. His most passionate admirer cannot see there, at last, signs of the broad, world-wide, patient, long-suffering love which speaks of drinking deeply of the mind of Jesus. At his best he was a grand prophet; he was scarcely an apostle. He could create a sect, but not a church. He became a dictator, but not a loyal leader towards the beautiful Christ The pope whom he denounced he succeeded, wherever his denunciations were heeded; sitting in a new kind of throne, issuing new bulls, canonising new saints, receiving the homage of the new faithful He was a prophet but not more than a prophet. He did not transfer his followers to the Nazarene. In his later life he became far too contented with what he did, and by prosperity became faithless. Jesus did not increase; himself, Luther, did not decrease, but rather the reverse. He founded a church, as men count churches, which increased and multiplied, but did not grow into a life wiser and stronger than his own had been. His early spirit did Dot pass on. To-day they hold what Luther held. Jesus did not, does not, cannot take the high place among them which He could and must have done, had Luther's spirit, not his dogma, possessed his. followers. Luther gave them rest. Had "Jesus, still lead on," been their cry as well as his, the church which bears his brave name would not have been, as it now is, cold and formal.

Luther's first days were his best - when he dreamed his dream of man's liberties under God's word. His last days were his worst; then he forged the shackles of theological formalism and slavery. The church he formed had, also its best days first. Then were not exhausted all the beautiful worshipfulness which the Catholic church had nurtured in all the men, women, and children who, converted to his views, formed them. Such feelings as theirs his system did nothing to create, almost as little to foster. Any sense of awe before the presence of God, reverence, devoutness is the last thing felt in a modern Lutheran service. In many churches they spit, much as they would in the beer-shop and market-house; and far more is there the air of profanity than of sacredness in the bearing of the congregations of them all. They lack every element which made their birth into the world a success. God is no more to them than the magistrate over the way, or the shopkeeper in the next seat: they owe Him a debt, and they go to church to see how to settle it. Their churches are the place of a sermon from a man, not the place of prayer to the great God. The people have come to church as to a lecture, not to bow down under the solemn sense of the presence of God.

It is another establishment of the man who gives us his " Table Talk, " rather than a temple of Him who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. The object of assembly is gained when people are relieved of fears in a future state; it is to explain a "plan of salvation." A momentous point this (yet one inevitably and necessarily exaggerated in Luther's day to give it any place at all in men's minds), but not all the truth of God, Luther owed his marvellous fires which he kindled to the fact that his spark fell on men who had been trained to bare their heads to the passing host to kneel on the bare floor before an image of a saintly inhabitant of an unseen world, to stand subdued and amazed before processions of muttering priests, with acolyte and swinging censer. In their chapel, on its altar, they saw a crucifix where was a Christ in agony - a holy place containing the miracle changed bread - a mysterious relic of some friend of God which healed men. By their side as they passed through its porch was a crutch some lame man had once left behind at its touch. They were accustomed to think of religion as a mystery; of God, its object, as a great and awful God before whom men and saints bowed down. Jehovah's awful throne they were not accustomed to contemplate as beyond death - it was at their chapel, they stood before it on Sundays. They were accustomed to hear low-voiced men as if praying to the Great Invisible, perhaps in the apostles' tongue, the tongue of martyrs, of prophets, of God. There is something very pitiable in all this clumsy religion of a. catholic chapel. And the priests who, with such veneration and sanctity in their congregation, led them to no more real and reasonable awe than to this jumble of things profane and sacred, of the false and the true, deserved the loss of their people. But the people themselves were innocent of blame, they bowed down before unknown external things and reverently prayed to the saints and to their friends the angels.

Such were the men who first listened to the Reformer, who won with them the fame which passed him on into the world. Because he knew the God for whom they and their forefathers before them were all full of vague awe, they listened to him and followed him, Their genuineness was that they believed in God in their own vague, awe-stricken fashion; and with the word of their God under his arm, they saw Luther tramp up and down all over the land, inspired by it to fear neither danger nor death; and they believed in him, and joined his procession with sacred joy. To reverent awe of God's name, they added intelligent faith in His will. They had not a very logical brain, but this preaching, singing man took captive what they had. They did not, could not, throw away one of the habits of their past; scarcely, indeed, the amulets and charms they hung round their necks. This was the raw material out of which early Lutheranism was made. Two poisons make common salt, and salt is good, but either alone is deadly. So was it in the Reformation. But now, reverence, mystery, awe at the name of God have died out, and where these glowed, other fires do not burn, and the Lutherans' best days have gone; their Moses is dead; the treasures they brought out of Egypt are exhausted, and their Joshua is not yet born. And when he appears he will for certain be despised and crucified by the very men in whose affections is built for Luther his most sacred and gorgeous tomb. Yet who knows? Perhaps the little feet to be nailed are already running about on some modem Erfurt floor; maybe they are pacing some successor of the Eisenach Street while the youngster who owns them holds out a box, like that upon the wall there, for the charity for which he sings.
Meanwhile Lutheran Germany is without living sense of God. The grand work of Luther - and Luther did a grand work, which will never lose fame and glory - was his resolve to make the men and women around him spiritually free, and to give then the Bible. It was in the childhood of his resolve that he dreamed his holiest dreams. He struck for a double independence - the independence of man, and the independence of God. Salvation was a personal, not a priestly transaction with God; and in face of dungeons, of landgrave and cardinal, he put his hand to the work. This is the work that Lutheranism needs to-day. Ichabod is written upon its walls; the especial glory of its founder has departed from it. A more tyrannical priesthood, a more enslaved people is not found in Germany, nor even in Italy, than those who compose the Lutheran Church of to-day; nor can we conceive a heavier day of judgment upon its ministers and people than that their founder should come again from his tomb and judge their barrenness and death.