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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

At last Staupitz saw the young man's real difficulty


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Luther tells us that no pen

could describe the mental anguish he endured.(138) Gleams of comfort came to him, but they were transient. The Master of the Novices gave him salutary advice; an aged brother gave him momentary comfort. John Staupitz, the Vicar-General of the Congregation, during his visits to the convent was attracted by the traces of hidden conflicts and sincere endeavour of the young monk, with his high cheek-bones, emaciated frame, gleaming eyes, and looks of settled despair. He tried to find out his difficulties. He revoked Nathin's order that Luther should not read the Scriptures. He encouraged him to read the Bible; he gave him a _Glossa Ordinaria_ or conventual ecclesiastical commentary, where passages were explained by quotations from eminent Church Fathers, and difficulties were got over by much pious allegorising; above all, he urged him to become a good _localis_ and _textualis_ in the Bible, _i.e._ one who, when he met with difficulties, did not content himself with commentaries, but made collections of parallel passages for himself, and found explanations of one in the others. Still this brought at first little help. At last Staupitz saw the young man's real difficulty, and gave him real and lasting assistance. He showed Luther that he had been rightly enough contrasting man's sin and God's holiness, and measuring the depth of the one by the height of the other; that he had been following the truest instincts of the deepest piety when he had set over-against each other the righteousness
of God and the sin and helplessness of man; but that he had gone wrong when he kept these two thoughts in a _permanent_ opposition. He then explained that, according to God's promise, the righteousness of God might become man's own possession in and through Christ Jesus. God had promised that man could have fellowship with Him; all fellowship is founded on personal trust; and trust, the personal trust of the believing man on a personal God who has promised, gives man that fellowship with God through which all things that belong to God can become his. Without this personal trust or faith, all divine things, the Incarnation and Passion of the Saviour, the Word and the Sacraments, however true as matters of fact, are outside man and cannot be truly possessed. But when man trusts God and His promises, and when the fellowship, which trust or faith always creates, is once established, then they can be truly possessed by the man who trusts. The just live by their faith. These thoughts, acted upon, helped Luther gradually to win his way to peace, and he told Staupitz long afterwards that it was he who had made him see the rays of light which dispelled the darkness of his soul.(139) In the end, the vision of the true relation of the believing man to God came to him suddenly with all the force of a personal revelation, and the storm-tossed soul was at rest. The sudden enlightenment, the personal revelation which was to change his whole life, came to him when he was reading the _Epistle to the Romans_ in his cell. It came to Paul when he was riding on the road to Damascus; to Augustine as he was lying under a fig-tree in the Milan garden; to Francis as he paced anxiously the flag-stones of the Portiuncula chapel on the plain beneath Assisi; to Suso as he sat at table in the morning. It spoke through different words:--to Paul, "Why persecutest thou Me?";(140) to Augustine, "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh";(141) to Francis, "Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, no wallet for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff";(142) to Suso, "My son, if thou wilt hear My words."(143) But though the words were different, the personal revelation, which mastered the men, was the same: That trust in the All-merciful God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, creates companionship with God, and that all other things are nothing in comparison with this fellowship. It was this contact with the Unseen which fitted Luther for his task as the leader of men in an age which was longing for a revival of moral living inspired by a fresh religious impulse.(144)


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