Sketches in the Life of the Man Who Shook the World - 5

 •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 8
“MONASTERIES,” says Melancthon in his “Life of Luther,” “often screened within them vices so abominable, as if discovered, would make a virtuous man shudder”: but often, too, they concealed such Christian virtues as would have been admired had they been known. A man with these qualities, however, was called to a place of eminence, where he had ample scope for the practice of his good qualities, the healthful influence of which was long and widely felt. The Candle was there placed on a candlestick and gave light to many.
This was John Staupitz, a descendant of a noble family in Misnia. From his youth he had been distinguished for his learning and love of virtue. He entered a monastery that he might have retirement to study literature, and acquire a knowledge of nature: but he soon found these studies could do little for him whereby to secure everlasting salvation. The study of the Bible and the writings of Augustine, the knowledge of himself, and the warfare which, like Luther, he had to wage with the deceits and evil desires of his own heart, led him to Christ. Faith in Christ brought peace to his soul. The doctrine of election by grace particularly laid hold of his mind. He was commended by his contemporaries for the uprightness of his life, the depth of his learning and his eloquence of speech, not less than by a stately figure and manners remarkable for their dignity. The Elector of Saxony made him his friend: he employed him in various embassies, and under his direction founded the University of Wittemberg. He was the first dean of the theological faculty of that school, and was afterwards Vicar-General for all Germany.
Staupitz groaned over the corruption of manners and the errors of doctrine which desolated the Church, but he was not fitted to be a reformer. His writings on the love of God, Christian faith, and conformity to the death of Christ, as also the testimony of Luther, show him to have been a man of sterling piety, and one taught by experience in the school of the Gospel. He paid a visit as Vicar-General to the monastery at Erfurt. Young Luther, made thin by study, abstinence, and watching, attracted his attention. He felt drawn to him, and Luther unbosomed himself to him. Staupitz had passed through the same conflicts which now agitated the soul of the young monk, and he had been informed of the circumstance which led to his entering the monastery. As “face answereth to face in water, so the heart of man to man.” Luther was terrified at the thought of Divine justice. God’s unspeakable holiness and sovereign majesty alarmed him. “Who can abide the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appeareth?”
Staupitz had travelled the same road, and knew how he found peace. “Why,” said he to Luther— “why will you torment yourself with these high thoughts and speculations? Look to the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood which He shed for you: it is there that you will discover the grace of God. Instead of making yourself a martyr for your offences, cast yourself into your Saviour’s arms. Trust yourself to Him, to the righteousness of His life, to the expiation of His death.” Luther labored under the mistake which keeps many an anxious soul from peace: “How shall I dare to believe in the favor of God, as long as there is no true conversion in me? I must be changed before He accepts me.”
The words of Staupitz comforted him, but he was still perplexed about some things. The doctrine of election in particular puzzled him. Was he to believe that it was man who should first choose God for his portion, or if it were God who should first choose man?
Staupitz urged him not to attempt the deep mysteries of the Godhead, but to keep to what is revealed of God in Christ. “Behold the wounds of Christ,” said he, “and there shalt thou see God’s counsel towards man clearly shining forth. We cannot comprehend God out of Jesus Christ. In Christ thou shalt find what I am, and what I require, saith the Lord. You will find Him nowhere else, whether in heaven or on earth.”
These words filled Luther with astonishment and humility, gave him fresh courage, and the consciousness of moral energy which he had not before even suspected. Staupitz gave him valuable directions as to his studies, exhorting him henceforth to throw aside all scholastic systems, and find all his theology in the Bible. He presented him with a Bible, saying, “Let the study of the Scriptures be your favorite occupation.” Luther followed these directions most zealously and earnestly. The Bible, especially the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, and the works of the great Augustine, were his only books. The Word of God came home to him with new power. The ploughshare had been deeply driven into his heart, and the incorruptible seed took deep root. When Staupitz quitted Erfurt a new day dawned upon Luther.
R. S.