Protest of the Princes The Protest of the Princes

King Ferdinand begged the Protestant princes to accept the decree, assuring them that this would be most pleasing to the emperor. Respectfully they replied that they were willing to obey the emperor in everything that contributed to maintaining the peace and the honor of God, and withdrew for deliberation. The crisis was a momentous one and the princes fully understood the gravity of their situation. Much rested on the outcome of their decision. They realized that they themselves could be left alone to follow their religious convictions without the fear of having to face dire threat, but in doing so, they would be denying the gospel commission and surrendering the rights of conscience throughout Christendom. Should they agree, they reasoned, how could they plead that they were innocent of the blood of the thousands who, in pursuance of this arrangement, would be forced to yield up their lives in popish lands? This they could not do and rather than betray the cause of the gospel at this hour of supreme test, they would rather sacrifice their dominions, their titles, and their own lives.

On April 18, the diet met once again. King Ferdinand seeking to wrap up the matter thanked the Catholic members of the Diet for having voted the proposition. He continued by informing the members that the sentiments passed would shortly be contained in an imperial edict that would be published throughout the Empire. Then, turning to the Protestant princes, he pointed out that the Diet having decided and voted on the matter, it remained only for them to submit to the decision of the majority.

The Protestant members not having anticipated such a haughty and abrupt end of the matter, retired to frame a response. Ferdinand, however, refused to wait for their answer and left the Diet. It mattered not to him what the Lutheran princes might say, he had but one word for them—Submit. “To no purpose they sent a deputation entreating the king to return. “It is a settled affair,” repeated Ferdinand; “submission is all that remains.” This refusal completed the schism: it separated Rome from the Gospel. Perhaps more justice on the part of the empire and of the papacy might have prevented the rupture that since then has divided the Western Church.” D’Aubgine, History of the Reformation, Book 13, Chapter 5

The following day, April 19, the Diet held its last meeting. The Elector of Saxony and his friends entered the hall. Ferdinand being gone, his chair was empty but that did not in the least detract from the validity nor the splendor of what followed. Though the king was not there personally, the princes did not loose sight of the audience they were addressing. They spoke not just to those then present, nor only to the states they represented, but to the emperor, Christendom, and the ages yet to come. The elector speaking for himself, and on behalf of the princess who stood with him, and indeed for the whole of the Reformation, proceeded to read a Declaration.

“We protest by these presents, before God, our only Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and Saviour, and who will one day be our Judge, as well as before all men and all creatures, that we, for us and our people, neither consent nor adhere in any manner whatever to the proposed decree in anything that is contrary to God, to his Word, to our right conscience, or to the salvation of our souls. . . . We cannot assert that when Almighty God calls a man to his knowledge, he dare not embrace that divine knowledge. . . . There is no true doctrine but that which conforms to the Word of God. The Lord forbids the teaching of any other faith. The Holy Scriptures, with one text explained by other and plainer texts, are, in all things necessary for the Christian, easy to be understood, and adapted to enlighten. We are therefore resolved by divine grace to maintain the pure preaching of God's only Word, as it is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, without anything added thereto. This word is the only truth. It is the sure rule of all doctrine and life, and can never fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell, whilst all the vanities that are set up against it shall fall before the face of God.”

“We therefore reject the yoke that is imposed upon us.” “At the same time we are in expectation that his imperial majesty will behave toward us like a Christian prince who loves God above all things; and we declare ourselves ready to pay unto him, as well as unto you, gracious lords, all the affection and obedience that are our just and legitimate duty.” D’Aubgine, History of the Reformation, Book 13, Chapter 6

A deep impression was made upon the Diet. By their protest, the princes had lifted the power of conscience above that of the State, and the authority of the Holy Scriptures above the visible church. They presented a solemn witness against religious intolerance, and an assertion of the right of all men to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences.

But a few years had passed since Luther stood and said No before the Diet of Worms. Now it was no longer one lone man, but princes and ministers who had refused to bow before the tyranny of Rome. Few, if any, understood the significance of what had taken place.

Though the Protestant princes had been denied a hearing by Ferdinand, they were yet to be granted the opportunity to present their cause before the emperor. In an attempt to quiet the dissensions that had disturbed the empire, Charles V determined to convoke a Diet at Augsburg over which he would preside in person and to which the Protestant leaders were summoned to appear.

Great dangers threatened the Reformation and the Elector of Saxony was urged by his councilors not to appear at the Diet. Seeing only a snare being laid by which as the result of some, as for yet unseen circumstances, the emperor might avail himself of the situation to take all his enemies in one cast of the net.

The chancellor, however, remained firm and refused to be intimidated, asserting that the princes only need remain firm to their convictions and God would save the cause.

Returning to Germany after an absence of nine years, what must Charles’ thought have been as he gazed down from the northern slopes of the Tyrolese Alps upon the German plains below.  During the years that had elapsed since his last visit, how little had he reaped.

As he thought of the Wittenberg movement, which he was advancing to confront, he must have had some misgivings. Though he had won victories over Francis, and even over the pope, he had won none over Luther. Each advance step he had taken against the intrepid monk had only resulted in strengthening his cause. When he had fulminated his ban against him at the Diet of Worms, he little doubted but that a few weeks, or months at the most, and he would have the satisfaction of seeing that ban executed and the Rhine bearing away the ashes of Luther as a hundred years before it had those of Huss. How different had been the outcome. His ban, if it had consigned Luther to a brief captivity, had but resulted in removing him from all other distractions and allowed him liberate the Word of God, imprisoned in a dead language, so that it was now freely available to all in the mother tongue.

A second time he had essayed to destroy the monk and the movement of Wittenberg by convoking a Diet of the Empire at Spires in 1526. Again, the results had been just the opposite of that which he had planned. Rather than resulting in the destruction of the cause he had intended to crush, it resulted in an edict of toleration, and henceforward the propagation of Protestant truth throughout the dominions of the princes was to go on under sanction of the Diet, now surrounded by legal securities.

Twice had he failed but undaunted, Charles made third attempt. In 1529 he convoked the Diet anew at Spires. Sending a threatening message from Spain commanding the princes, by the obedience they owed him as emperor, and under peril of ban, to execute the edict against Luther, he awaited news of the outcome. It was now that the Lutheran princes unfurled their great Protest, and took up that position in the Empire and before all Christendom which they have ever since, through all variety of fortune, maintained. Every attempt of the emperor to destroy the detested cause results in infusing new life into the movement, moving it onward.

Even the dullest mind could not fail to perceive that these most extraordinary events, in which everything meant for the destruction of the Protestant movement turned out for its furtherance, did not originate with Luther. Nor were there any within the Protestant movement with either the sagacity or power to have effected such outcomes. In these events we behold the footprints of One is “wonderful in counsel, excellent in working.”

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