“Luther was one day seated in the confessional at Wittenberg. Many of the townspeople came successively and confessed themselves guilty of great excesses. Adultery, licentiousness, usury, ill-gotten gains—such were the crimes acknowledged to the minister of the Word by those souls of which he would one day have to give an account. He reprimanded, corrected, and instructed. But what was his astonishment when these individuals replied that they would not abandon their sins. Greatly shocked, the pious monk declared that since they would not promise to change their lives, he could not absolve them. The unhappy creatures then appealed to the letters of indulgence; they showed them and maintained their efficacy. But Luther replied that he had nothing to do with these papers and added,
“Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
They cried out and protested, but the doctor was immovable. They must cease to do evil and learn to do well, or else there was no absolution.
“Have a care,” added he, “how you listen to the clamors of these indulgence merchants: you have better things to do than buy these licenses which they sell at so vile a price.”
The inhabitants of Wittenberg, in great alarm, hastily returned to Tetzel: they told him that an Augustinian monk had treated his letters with contempt. The Dominican at this intelligence bellowed with anger. He stormed from the pulpit, employing insults and curses; and to strike the people with greater terror, he had a fire lighted several times in the marketplace, declaring that he had received an order from the pope to burn all heretics who presumed to oppose his most holy indulgences.
Such is the fact that was, not the cause, but the first occasion of the Reformation. A pastor, seeing the sheep of his fold in a course in which they must perish, sought to withdraw them from it. Luther, who was impelled equally by obedience to the Word of God and charity toward men ascended the pulpit.
“No one can prove by Scripture that the righteousness of God requires a penalty or satisfaction from the sinner,” said the faithful minister of the Word to the people of Wittenburg. “The only duty imposed is a true repentance, a sincere conversion, a resolution to bear the cross of Christ, and to perform good works. It is a great error to pretend of one’s self to make satisfaction for our sins to God’s righteousness; God pardons them gratuitously by His inestimable grace.”
Finally, glancing at his adversaries, Luther concluded in these words:
“And should any cry out that I am a heretic, for the truth I preach is very prejudicial to their strongbox [treasury], I care but little for their clamors. They are gloomy and sick brains, men who have never taste the Bible, never read the Christian doctrine, never comprehended their own doctors, who lie rotting in the rags and tatters of their own vain opinion. May God grant both them and us a sound understanding. Amen.” After these words the doctor quitted the pulpit, leaving his hearers in great emotion at such daring language.”
This was the public struggle for hearts and souls that led to Luther’s protest with his 95 Theses, that became the Protestant Reformation.
1 THE TRIUMPH OF TRUTH M.L. D’Aubigne pgs. 79-80