Unholy Prayers, Unholy Stairs And The Transformation of Martin Luther's Soul
Sermon Preached by Dr Ian RK Paisley on Reformation Sunday morning, 28th October, 2001 in Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, Belfast
Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben on November, 10th 1483 in the Duchy of Mansfield in Germany.
He grew up in a world dominated by the darkness, fear, superstition, tyranny and deceit of Romanism, a Romanism which had plunged the entire continent of Europe into that period of history known as the Dark Ages.
As he grew up he became greatly troubled about the salvation of his immortal soul. He early discovered the total inability of the religion of Rome to bring to him cleansing of soul.
Providentially, his life was wonderfully preserved when he accidentally fell on his sword. Thankfully he had the strength to tourniquet the bleeding, otherwise he would have bled to death.
One of his close friends was assassinated but again he was wonderfully preserved.
Travelling home with his companions a great thunder storm arose. The fierce lightning struck Luther to the ground and his companions thought him to be dead. After this incident he decided to enter the monastery and seek to save his soul.
He left his University education and entered the Augustine Monastery on the 17th day of July 1505 aged 21.
In the monastery he experienced more and more disillusionment. His testimony was:
"Verily I was a devout monk, and followed the rules of my order so strictly that I cannot tell you all. If ever a monk entered into heaven by his monkish merits, certainly I should have obtained an entrance there. The doctors and theologians told me to do good works and thus to satisfy divine justice. But what good works can proceed out of a heart like mine, a heart full of evil thoughts and desires?"
Given an opportunity to visit Rome he grasped it.
To Luther, as a devout papist, Rome was claimed to be the eternal city. This claim is one of the deceits of Rome. Rome is not the Eternal City either historically, morally, ethically, spiritually or religiously, and like all other monstrous claims of Rome, it is foundationless.
When Luther beheld the city from a distance, having covered a very long and difficult pilgrimage, he fell upon his knees and exclaimed, "I greet thee, thou Holy Rome, thrice holy from the blood of the martyrs."
He was soon to be completely disillusioned.
Luther expected something from Rome to cure the aching of his sinful soul. He got nothing from Rome, through Rome or by Rome. What an experience he had!
He went to Rome to see the City of Light, and beheld the city of night.
He went to enjoy the City of God, and he found the city of the devil.
He went to throw himself with zeal into the Temple of God, and found it to have been made a den of thieves.
He went to Rome to be cleansed, and he found himself covered with filth.
He went to Rome to find peace, only to be shaken with the worst storms which ever shook his soul.
God removed the mask from the City of Rome, and Luther saw no Holy City at all but the cage of every unclean and deceitful bird.
The path which he had come to walk upon as the path of the soul's salvation was rather the path of the soul's damnation.
Instead of comfort he found the deepest anguish of soul.
Rome sets out her special wares in the metropolis of the Antichrist. The Vanity Fair of his idolatrous traffic is well displayed.
One of the many frauds of Rome is her claim about certain sites and places where the most important events of religious history and miracles have taken place. Those claims, offered with such certainty but without a shred of evidence, are patently lying deceptions.
One of Rome's chief places on show is the Scala Sanctum or The Holy Stairs. Twenty-eight marble steps of considerable breadth are on display. These steps, we are authoritatively informed, are the very steps our Lord descended after sentence by Pilate in Jerusalem. Of course there is no mention of these in these in the Bible, but that does not matter, because Rome's traditions, according to her claims, are on equal authoritative par with the Holy Scriptures.
These stairs, Rome tells us, by the work of angelic engineering, now find themselves in Rome and those who dare to challenge their authenticity are condemned and anathematised with the curses of divine judgment.
Those who adore the Pope and kiss whatever he gives them to kiss - toe - relic - embroidery, naught comes amiss. These stairs have been almost kissed away.
In fact, wooden carvings have been worn away by the pressure of the knees of the supplicants upon them.
Mr Spurgeon had this to say:
Two years ago we stood at the foot of the staircase, and saw persons of both sexes, and all ages and conditions, climbing up these stairs upon their knees. The marble is protected by planks of wood, which, it is said, have been three times worn away by the knees of penitents, and as often renewed. We could quite believe it, for the kneeling traffic before us was very great. It was a mournful spectacle to look up and see poor human nature so degraded as to be crawling up a staircase with the view of reaching heaven, and it was sadder still to stand at the top and look down upon the faces of the ascending devotees. Some of them appeared to be going through the performance with light hearts, but others were quite absorbed in their prayers and genuflections. In the wood of the bottom, middle, and uppermost steps there is an opening, through which the marble appears, and here each climber pauses and kisses the stone, because there our Lord is reported to have fallen, groaned, or fainted, we forget which. We were not permitted to walk up this blessed piece of deception but we ascended by one of the parallel staircases which flank it on either hand, down which the penitents descend. At the top is a painting of the Saviour, in which he is represented at the age of twelve as five feet eight inches in height; this famous daub is ascribed to St. Luke, and held in the utmost veneration. The present Pope has expended large sums upon the buildings which enclose the Scala Santa, both in repairs and decorations. Last year, on our second visit, the Scala Santa were but very scantily furnished with worshippers; indeed, business seemed to be at a very low ebb in most of the churches, and we were led to hope that the trade in "the Roman row" of Vanity Fair was going to the dogs, as it deserved.
Now, it is one thing to read and write this description, but it was quite another matter to be present in body and see the whole affair in actual operation. One can be cool and prudent at a distance, for the abomination does not strike the mind so vividly; but to stand there and see those detestable priests looking on with an ill-concealed contempt for the crawling crowd of deluded men and women, looking, as Luther would say, "as if the poor laity stunk in their sacred noses," made our blood boil, and gave our language a flavour akin to David's fiercer psalms. Never did we more greatly marvel at the mercy of God, which holds back his thunderbolts from destroying those wretched shavelings who deceive the people. It was very wrong, no doubt, but a man must be even more perfect than John Wesley, or Pearsall Smith, if he can look upon such a scene without righteous indignation, intensified by a little mixture of human nature. We hope we did not imprecate vengeance upon anybody, Jesuit or Pope, but we do not feel quite sure about it. Happily for us we were at that time accosted by a gentleman, a member of the English Church, who expressed himself very forcibly upon the humiliating scene before us. This furnished us with a diversion, for we said to him, "This is what your church is coming to; the baptismal regeneration of the Prayer Book is rotting her through and through, and breeding in her all the evils of Popery." He mildly expostulated, but added that after what he had seen of Romanism he did not wonder at honest men using the strongest possible language, and even going to an extreme in their protests. Our abhorrence of Popery and everything verging upon it rose to a white heat as we saw how it can lower an intelligent nation to the level of fetish worship, and associate the name of the ever-blessed Jesus with a grovelling idolatry. If our mild milk-and-water Protestants could see Popery with their own eyes, they might have less to say against Orange bigotry; and if those who play at ornate worship could see whither their symbolism tends, they would start back aghast, and adhere henceforth to the severest simplicity. Perhaps Luther would never have become a Reformer had it not been for his visit to Rome and his ascent of these very stairs. In the city where he expected to find the church of God in all its holiness, he found sin rampant beyond all precedent. "It is almost incredible," he says, "what infamous actions are committed at Rome; one would require to see it and hear it in order to believe it. It is an ordinary saying that if there is a hell, Rome is built upon it. It is an abyss from whence all sins proceed." Nor did he speak as an exaggerating enthusiast, for Machiavelli's witness was that the nearer you came to the capital of Christendom the less you found of the Christian spirit. "We Italians," said the great historian, "are chiefly indebted to the church and the priests for our having become a set of profane scoundrels." Undeceived as to the holiness of Popedom by his own actual observation in its chief city, Luther was in a fit state to be delivered from its thraldom, and the hand which set him free snapped his fetters for him upon the very stairs which we have described, and which our friend has depicted. The historian of the Reformation thus describes the sudden enlightenment of Luther's mind: -
"One day, among others, wishing to gain an indulgence which he Pope had promised to every one who should on his knees climb up what is called Pilate's Stair, the Saxon monk was humbly crawling up the steps, which he was told had been miraculously transported to Rome from Jerusalem. But while he was engaged in this meritorious act, he thought he heard a voice of thunder which cried at the bottom of his heart, as at Wittenberg and Bologna, 'The just shall live by faith.' These words, which had already on two different occasions struck him like the voice of an angel of God, resounded loudly and incessantly within him. He rises up in amazement from the steps along which he was dragging his body. Horrified at himself, and ashamed to see how far superstition had abased him, he flies far from the scene of his folly.
"In regard to this mighty word there is something mysterious in the life of Luther. It proved a creating word both for the Reformer and for the Reformation. It was by it that God then said, 'Let light be, and light was.' It is often necessary that a truth, in order to produce its due effect on the mind, should be repeatedly presented to it. Luther had carefully studied the Epistle to the Romans, and yet, though justification by faith is there taught, he had never seen it so clearly. Now he comprehended the righteousness which alone can stand in the presence of God; now he received from God himself, by the hand of Christ, that obedience which He freely imputes to the sinner as soon as he humbly turns his eye to the God-Man who was crucified. This is the decisive period in the internal life of Luther. The faith which saved him from the terrors of death became the soul of his theology, his fortress in all dangers, the stamina of his discourse, the stimulant of his love, the foundation of his peace, the spur of his labours, his consolation in life and in death.
"But this great doctrine of a salvation which emanates from God and not from man, was not only the power of God to save the soul of Luther, it also became the power of God to reform the Church; a powerful weapon which the apostles wielded, a weapon too long neglected, but at length brought forth in its primitive lustre from the arsenal of the mighty God. At the moment when Luther stood up in Rome, all moved, and thrilling with the words which Paul had addressed fifteen centuries before to the inhabitants of this metropolis, truth, till then a fettered captive within the church, rose up also, never again to fall.
"Here we must let Luther speak for himself. 'Although I was a holy and irreproachable monk, my conscience was full of trouble and anguish. I could not bear the words, 'Justice of God.' I loved not the just and the holy God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret rage against Him, and hated Him, because, not satisfied with terrifying us, His miserable creatures, already lost by original sin, with His law and the miseries of life, He still further increased our torment by the gospel ... But when, by the Spirit of God, I comprehended these words; when I learned how the sinner's justification proceeds from the pure mercy of the Lord by means of faith, then I felt myself revived like a new man, and entered at open doors into the very paradise of God. From that time, also, I beheld the precious sacred volume with new eyes. I went over all the Bible, and collected a great number of passages which taught me what the work of God was. And as I had previously, with all my heart, hated the words, 'Justice of God,' so from that time I began to esteem and love them, as words most sweet and most consoling. In truth, these words were to me the true gate of paradise.'"
As the Scala Santa thus became the place of salvation to the great Reformer, so may our reference to them be made serviceable to those of our readers who have not yet found peace with God. The motive which leads men to crawl upon their knees up these famous stairs is the world-wide principle of self-salvation. Do is the popular gospel of unregenerate human nature: It is all done is the glad tidings of the grace of God. You, dear reader, are perhaps trying to be better in act, better in feeling, better in resolution, and this with the view of commending yourself to the favour of God. What is this but your Pilate's Stairs? You will find that all your efforts are labour in vain, for by the works of the law no man will ever be justified before God. The gospel does not promise eternal life to good works, or prayers, or tears, or horrible feelings; its one great utterance is, "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved." May the Holy Spirit with divine power force upon every self-righteous mind the conviction of its own ruin, and of the hopelessness of its own efforts, and so may the soul become willing to accept eternal life as the gift of God by Jesus Christ.
NO PEACE WITH ROME
Up, Samson, from thy dalliance! thou sleepest all too long,
The Popish harlot charmeth thee with witchery and song.
Up! for thy strength is waning. Up! ere thy locks be shorn,
And thine eyes both blinded, for Popish sport and scorn.
Up! loyal Britons! raise the cry in every English home,
Thy watchword, "No surrender, and No Peace with Rome!"
They come! they come! our ancient foes, like Egypt's frogs of old,
A plague and curse on all the land, and in the church's fold.
Our holy places languish, God's altars are defiled
By swarms of priestly locusts and Jesuits newly oiled,
And monks, and friars black and white, with "sisterhoods" of "guys,"
And very dirty saints, and nuns - those angels in disguise!
They come! ill-omened birds of prey, in countless flocks they come,
Drummed out of Germany of late, and now spewed out of Rome;
"Orders," and "Guilds," and "Brotherhoods," barefooted, lean, and shorn,
All minions of the "holy" Pope, black traitors, duly sworn
To conquer English freedom, and fetter Britain's right,
And quench, in seas of martyr-blood, the Reformation's light.
So, now, brave Englishmen, prepare! with gentle grace submit,
Fall down before the Pope, and kneel at turncoat Manning's feet.
They only ask to reign supreme! and cry, "Give back our own;
The Pope to govern England, and his serf on England's throne,
With Bonner for archbishop!" What less can they require?
Queen Mary's days again, a carnival of blood and fire.
Up! Britons, brave and loyal! the threatening peril grows,
The Popish plot is ripening, the tide of treason flows:
Wave the old flag of freedom! maintain your past renown!
Stand as your fathers stood, and guard the Bible and the crown.
Up! Britons, up! and raise the cry in every English home,
The watchword, "No surrender, and No Peace with Rome!"
Farewell, unhappy, hopeless, blasphemous Rome!
THE METROPOLIS OF ANTICHRIST
To shameless Rome, the capital of sin,
Where crime in canonised pretension smiled,
And pride and lust pontifically reign'd,
At length, great Luther comes. The glare of skies
O'er which the mercy of no soothing cloud
Had floated, vainly tried his toil-worn frame;
For still, o'er Alpine crags, by torrents wild,
And hoar ravines, within those rocky depths
Plunged the loud stream with everlasting yell,
The Monk of Wittenberg, with eager step
And soul expectant, sought the seven-hill'd Queen
Of cities; - till, behold! in glimm'ring haze
Her turrets, towers, and giant temple-spires
Emerge at length: and, low upon the ground,
In kneeling homage, falls her duteous son,
To breathe his blessing o'er maternal Rome,
Mother and Mistress of the churches all!
But when indeed her pillar'd streets he trod,
And on those ruins, eloquently vast,
Around him in sublime confusion piled,
Gazed with devotion, - what a gushing sense
Of ancient glory through his being swept!
The past in tow'ring resurrection rose,
Bright from the tomb of ages; while the air
Which Peter breathed, and Paul himself inhaled,
Play'd round his temples, like a breeze from heaven
New-wafted! Rome and rapture were combined;
And Luther, in one lofty dream of soul,
Enchanted stood, and drank the glorious scene;
As if religion from the very stones
Was preaching, where Apostles once had trod,
And over which the martyr's flame of death
Gleam'd in dread radiance, like a glory there.
Yet, soon the bandage of imposture fell;
And then, e'en like the Arch-fiend's mystic pomp,
Summon'd before EMMANUEL'S heaven-bright gaze,
So vanish'd into vile and viewless air
The pageantries, thou Babylon of guilt,
Thou scarlet Monster, with the costly blood
Of God's elected, drunken and bedew'd!
Since, plain reeled, in all thy hideous truth
He found thee, but a leprous church of lies,
By ages putrified, in papal form.
Oh, grace divine, and wonderful as deep,
That Rome and Luther should confronted be!
And there, in superstition's heart, one text
Almighty, like a thunderbolt of truth
Down from the throne of revelation hurl'd,
Should raise him, while he crouch'd in dismal faith,
Deluded! - Thus, the Champion for his cause
Was meeten'd; thus, from Rome herself he drew
Weapons of might, whereby her powers would fall.
So, swift recoiling from his task abhorred,
Uprose the brave Reformer! free and firm
For ever: "BY HIS FAITH THE JUST SHALL LIVE!"-
Thus roll'd the truth from Inspiration's lip:
Religion, then, and Luther's mind, arose
Erect; upon the rock of faith alone,
Together did they face the frowning hell,
And bid our spirit, like her God, be free!