There was precious gold in the old conglomerate, which needed to be discriminated, extracted, and preserved. The divine foundations were not to be confounded with the rubbish heaped upon them. There was still a Church of Christ under the hierarchy, although the hierarchy was no part of its life or essence. The Zwickau prophets, with their new revelations and revolts against civil authority; the Wittenberg iconoclasts, with their repudiation of study and learning and all proper church order; and the Sacramentarians, with their insidious rationalism against the plain Word,—were not to be entrusted with the momentous interests with which the cause of the Reformation was freighted. And hence, at the risk of the Elector’s displeasure and at the peril of his life, Luther came forth from his covert to withstand the violence which was putting everything in jeopardy.
Grandly also did he reason out the genuine Gospel principles against all these parties. He comprehended his ground from centre to circumference, and he held it alike against erring friends and menacing foes. The swollen torrent of events never once obscured his prophetic insight, never disturbed the balance of his judgment, never shook his hold upon the right. With a master-power he held revolutions and wars in check, while he revised and purified the Liturgy and Order of the Church, wrought out the evangelic truth in its applications to existing things, and reared the renewed habilitation of the pure Word and sacraments.
GROWTH OF THE REFORMATION.
It was now that Pope Leo died. His glory lasted but eight years. His successor, Adrian VI., was a moderate man, of good intentions, though he could not see what evil there was in indulgences. He exhorted Germany to get rid of Luther, but said the Church must be reformed, that the Holy See had been for years horribly polluted, and that the evils had affected head and members. He was in solemn earnest this time, and began to change and purify the papal court. To some this was as if the voice of Luther were being echoed from St. Peter’s chair, and Adrian suddenly died, no man knows of what, and Clement VII., a relative of Leo X., was put upon the papal throne.
In 1524 a Diet was convened at Nuremberg with reference to these same matters. Campeggio, the pope’s legate, thought it prudent to make his way thither without letting himself be known, and wrote back to his master that he had to be very cautious, as the majority of the Diet consisted of “great Lutherans.” At this Diet the Edict of Worms was virtually annulled, and it was plain enough that “great Lutherans” had become very numerous and powerful.
Luther himself had become of sufficient consequence for Henry VIII., king of England, to write a book against him, for which the pope gave him the title of “Defender of the Faith,” and for which Luther repaid him in his own coin. Erasmus also, long the prince of the whole literary world, was dogged into the writing of a book against the great Reformer. Poor Erasmus found his match, and was overwhelmed with the result. He afterward sadly wrote: “My troops of friends are turned to enemies. Everywhere scandal pursues me and calumny denies my name. Every goose now hisses at Erasmus.”