Sketches in the Life of the Man Who Shook the World - 1

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 10
THE leaders of the Reformation in the sixteenth century were not men of high birth or noble descent. Like the men whom our Lord chose to be His Apostles, they were mostly of humble estate. He who in many respects was the greatest of the Reformers and whose name has been a watchword and a battle-cry for all succeeding ages, and which is still a household word in tens of thousands of homes, was no exception. Martin Luther was a poor man’s son. His father, John, and his mother, Margaret, however, possessed what is of more value than noble blood: they were devout Christians. In the year 1483 they removed from the village of Moza, near Eisenach in Thuringia, Saxony, to Eisleben in the same State or Electorate, and there, at 11 p.m., 10th November, 1483, the future Reformer was born. It was the eve of St. Martin’s day, that first of canonized Romish Saints, about whom so many wonderful stories are told. On the following day John Luther took his baby boy to St. Peter’s Church, where he dedicated him to God, giving him the name of Martin in honor of the good man—and good man he was—whose name and memory have been overlaid with so many gross superstitions and lying legends.
The next year the family removed to Mansfield, fifteen miles distant, where, besides delving in the mines for iron, John Luther set up two blast furnaces on his own account: but they lived in great poverty. His mother had to go to the forest to procure wood to keep the furnaces going, carrying the faggots home on her back. Martin spent his early boyish days amid the smoke and grime of these furnaces, but that did not sully his fair name (Luther, that is, lauter—pure), which was to receive its high illustration in his recovery and dissemination of the pure doctrines of the Gospel, especially that of justification by faith. There is an old picture in existence representing Martin’s first introduction to school by his father. The rod in the master’s hand and the weeping boy behind his chair are significant of the ordeal through which children usually passed in those days. “In one morning,” says Luther, “I was well whipped fifteen times:” and yet he was not a dull nor a lazy boy, for he learned quickly, not only German, but Latin.
In subsequent years Luther complains that schools were prisons and schoolmasters tyrants. The harshness and cruelty which he witnessed and suffered colored very much all his religious thoughts for some years. He looked upon God as a hard Master and a tyrannical Judge, to be appeased by suffering, almsgiving, and good works of all kinds even Jesus Christ was an Object of slavish dread.
John Luther’s circumstances improved, and, an enlightened man himself, especially for that time, he determined to use his best endeavor to make his son a scholar, a lawyer, or perhaps, a counsellor to some prince. The boy was therefore, at fourteen, sent off to Magdeburg, to a school kept by the Franciscans. This school was not like some of the Boarding Schools of modern times. The boys were taught and lodged, but food had to be found as best they could. “I had to beg,” says Martin, “with my schoolfellows for what little food was required for the supply o’ our needs.”
One Christmas-time the boys went in a body through the neighboring villages, singing in four voices the comm on hymns on the birth of Jesus. Stopping at a lone dwelling at the end of the village, a man came out with something for them to eat, but his voice was so gruff and his manner so uninviting, that they did not stop to answer his question, “Where do you come from, boys?” but ran off as fast as they could, seized with a sudden panic. At length, as the man kept calling, they stopped, threw off their fears, and ran towards him, and gladly partook of his bounty. “Thus it is,” says Luther, “that we are accustomed to fly when our conscience is guilty and alarmed. Then are we afraid even of the help that is offered to us, and of those who are our friends and who want to do us all manner of good.”
Learning what straits Martin suffered, his father removed him to Eisenach, much nearer home, and where he had many relations. But he was no better off there; his relations were either too poor, or too lacking in kindness to give the boy any assistance, so he often went without the food so necessary for him. Singing in the streets was his only resource, and this was precarious. Often the poor, shy lad got nothing but hard words instead of bread, when bitter tears were his meat and drink, and he trembled to think of the future. One day he had been roughly repelled from three houses, and thought to go back fasting to his lodgings, when, as he stood motionless and melancholy before the house of a burgess, all at once a door opened, and a woman appeared on the threshold. This was Ursula, the wife of Conrad Cotta. This Christian Shunamite, as she came to be called, had often seen Martin at church and had been struck by the soft tones of his voice. She had overheard the harsh words which had so dejected the poor scholar, and she resolved to help him. She welcomed him to her house and table, and, with her husband’s consent, to a home in their abode.
There was no longer any fear of his having to forsake his studies, and bury himself in the mines of Mansfield; his bread was given him; his water was sure. This inspired him with such trust in God that the wildest storms of his future life never removed. Young Martin now enjoyed a calm hitherto unknown. His heart was more open, his character more sprightly, and his whole being seemed to awake to the gentle beams of affection, and beat with life and joy and happiness. He became more ardent in prayer, his thirst for knowledge increased, and he made rapid progress in his studies.