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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 16037

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Thekla's Story.

Wittemberg, April 2, 1521.

Dr. Luther is gone. We all feel like a family bereaved of our father.

The professors and chief burghers, with numbers of the students, gathered around the door of the Augustinian Convent this morning to bid him farewell. Gottfried Reichenbach was near as he entered the carriage, and heard him say, as he turned to Melacthon, in a faltering voice, "Should I not return, and should my enemies put me to death, O my brother, cease not to teach and to abide steadfastly in the truth. Labour in my place, for I shall not be able to labour myself. If you be spared it matters little that I perish."

And so he drove off. And a few minutes after, we, who were waiting at the door, saw him pass. He did not forget to smile at Elsè and her little ones, or to give a word of farewell to our dear blind father as he passed us. But there was a grave steadfastness in his countenance that made our hearts full of anxiety. As the usher with the imperial standard who preceded him, and then Dr. Luther's carriage, disappeared round a corner of the street, our grandmother, whose chair had been placed at the door that she might see him pass, murmured, as if to herself,-

"Yes, it was with just such a look they went to the scaffold and the stake when I was young."

I could see little, my eyes were so blinded with tears; and when our grandmother said this, I could bear it no longer, but ran up to my room, and here I have been ever since. My mother and Elsè and all of them say I have no control over my feelings; and I am afraid I have not. But it seems to me as if every one I lean my heart on were always taken away. First, there was Eva. She always understood me, helped me to understand myself; did not laugh at my perplexities as childish, did not think my over-eagerness was always heat of temper, but met my blundering efforts to do right. Different as she was from me (different as an angel from poor bewildered blundering Giant Christopher in Elsè's old legend), she always seemed come down to my level and see my difficulties from where I stood, and so helped me over them; whilst every one else sees them from above, and wonders any one can think such trifles troubles at all. Not, indeed, that my dear mother and Elsè are proud, or mean to look down on any one; but Elsè is so unselfish, her whole life is so bound up in others, that she does not know what more wilful natures have to contend with. Besides, she is now out of the immediate circle of our every-day life at home. Then our mother is so gentle; she is frightened to think what sorrows life may bring me with the changes that must come, if little things give me such joy or grief now. I know she feels for me often more than she dares let me see; but she is always thinking of arming me for the trials she believes must come, by teaching me to be less vehement and passionate about trifles now. But I am afraid it is useless. I think every creature must suffer according to its nature; and if God has made our capacity for joy or sorrow deep, we cannot fill up the channel and say, "Hitherto I will feel; so far, and no further." The waters are there,-soon they will recover for themselves the old choked-up courses; and meantime they will overflow. Eva also used to say, "that our armour must grow with our growth, and our strength with the strength of our conflicts; and that there is only one shield which does this, the shield of faith,-a living, daily trust in a living, ever-present God."

But Eva went away. And then Nix died. I suppose if I saw any child now mourning over a dog as I did over Nix, I should wonder much as they all did at me then. But Nix was not only a dog to me. He was Eisenach and my childhood; and a whole world of love and dreams seemed to die for me with Nix.

To all the rest of the world I was a little vehement girl of fourteen; to Nix I was mistress, protector, everything. It was weeks before I could bear to come in at the front door, where he used to watch for me with his wistful eyes, and bound with cries of joy to meet me. I used to creep in at the garden gate.

And then Nix's death was the first approach of Death to me, and the dreadful power was no less a power because its shadow fell first for me on a faithful dog. I began dimly to feel that life, which before that seemed to be a mountain-path always mounting and mounting through golden mists to I know not what heights of beauty and joy, did not end on the heights, but in a dark unfathomed abyss, and that however dim its course might be, it has, alas, no mists, or uncertainty around the nature of its close, but ends certainly, obviously, and universally in death.

I could not tell any one what I felt. I did not know myself. How can we understand a labyrinth until we are through it? I did not even know it was a labyrinth. I only knew that a light had passed away from everything, and a shadow had fallen in its place.

Then it was that Dr. Luther spoke to me of the other world, beyond death, which God would certainly make more full and beautiful than this;-the world on which the shadow of death can never come, because it lies in the eternal sunshine, on the other side of death, and all the shadows fall on this side. That was about the time of my first communion, and I saw much of Dr. Luther, and heard him preach. I did not say much to him, but he let down a light into my heart which, amidst all its wanderings and mistakes, will, I believe, never go out.

He made me understand something of what our dear heavenly Father is, and that willing but unequalled Sufferer-that gracious Saviour who gave himself for our sins, even for mine. And he made me feel that God would understand me better than any one, because love always understands, and the greatest love understands best, and God is love.

Elsè and I spoke a little about it sometimes, but not much. I am still a child to Elsè and to all of them, being the youngest, and so much less self-controlled than I ought to be. Fritz understood it best; at least, I could speak to him more freely,-I do not know why. Perhaps some hearts are made to answer naturally to each other, just as some of the furniture always vibrates when I touch a particular string of the lute, while nothing else in the room seems to feel it. Perhaps, too, sorrow deepens the heart wonderfully, and opens a channel into the depths of all other hearts. And I am sure Fritz has known very deep sorrow. What, I do not exactly know; and I would not for the world try to find out. If there is a secret chamber in his heart, which he cannot bear to open to any one, when I think his thoughts are there, would I not turn aside my eyes and creep softly away, that he might never know I had found it out?

The innermost sanctuary of his heart is, however, I know, not a chamber of darkness and death, but a holy place of daylight, for God is there.

Hours and hours Fritz and I spoke of Dr. Luther, and what he had done for us both; more, perhaps, for Fritz than even for me, because he had suffered more. It seems to me as if we and thousands besides in the world had been worshipping before an altar-picture of our Saviour, which we had been told was painted by a great master after a heavenly pattern. But all we could see was a grim, hard, stern countenance of one sitting on a judgment throne; in his hands lightnings, and worse lightnings buried in the cloud of his severe and threatening brow. And then, suddenly we heard Dr. Luther's voice behind us saying, in his ringing, inspiring tones, "Friends, what are you doing? That is not the right painting. These are only the boards which hide the master's picture."

And so saying, he drew aside the terrible image on which we had been hopelessly gazing, vainly trying to read some traces of tenderness and beauty there. And all at once the real picture was revealed to us, the picture of the real Christ, with the look on his glorious face which he had on the cross, when he said of hi

s murderers, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do;" and to his mother, "Woman, behold thy son?" or to the sinful woman who washed his feet, "Go in peace."

Fritz and I also spoke very often of Eva. At least, he liked me to speak of her while he listened. And I never weary of speaking of our Eva.

But then Fritz went away. And now it is many weeks since we have heard from him; and the last tidings we had were that little note from the convent-prison of Mainz!

And now Dr. Luther is gone-gone to the stronghold of his enemies-gone, perhaps, as our grandmother says, to martyrdom!

And who will keep that glorious revelation of the true, loving, pardoning God open for us,-with a steady hand keep open those false shutters, now that he is withdrawn? Dr. Melancthon may do as well for the learned, for the theologians; but who will replace Dr. Luther to us, to the people, to working men and eager youths, and to women and to children? Who will make us feel as he does that religion is not a study, or a profession, or a system of doctrines, but life in God; that prayer is not, as he said, an ascension of the heart as a spiritual exercise into some vague airy heights, but the lifting of the heart to God, to a heart which meets us, cares for us, loves us inexpressibly? Who will ever keep before us as he does the "Our Father," which makes all the rest of the Lord's Prayer and all prayer possible and helpful? No wonder that mothers held out their children to receive his blessing as he left us, and then went home weeping, whilst even strong men brushed away tears from their eyes.

It is true, Dr. Bugenhagen, who has escaped from persecution in Pomerania, preaches fervently in his pulpit; and Archdeacon Carlstadt is full of fire, and Dr. Melancthon full of light; and many good, wise men are left. But Dr. Luther seemed the heart and soul of all. Others might say wiser things, and he might say many things others would be too wise to say, but it is through Dr. Luther's heart that God has revealed His heart and His word to thousands in our country, and no one can ever be to us what he is.

Day and night we pray for his safety.

April 15.

Christopher has returned from Erfurt, where he heard Dr. Luther preach.

He told us that in many places his progress was like that of a beloved prince through his dominions, of a prince who was going out to some great battle for his land.

Peasants blessed him; poor men and women thronged around him and entreated him not to trust his precious life among his enemies. One aged priest at Nüremberg brought out to him a portrait of Savonarola, the good priest whom the Pope burned at Florence not forty years ago. One aged widow came to him and said her parents had told her God would send a deliverer to break the yoke of Rome, and she thanked God she saw him before she died. At Erfurt sixty burghers and professors rode out some miles to escort him into the city. There, where he had relinquished all earthly prospects to beg bread as a monk through the streets, the streets were thronged with grateful men and women, who welcomed him as their liberator from falsehood and spiritual tyranny.

Christopher heard him preach in the church of the Augustinian Convent, where he had (as Fritz told me) suffered such agonies of conflict. He stood there now an excommunicated man, threatened with death; but he stood there as victor, through Christ, over the tyranny and lies of Satan. He seemed entirely to forget his own danger in the joy of the eternal salvation he came to proclaim. Not a word, Christopher said, about himself, or the Diet, or the Pope's bull, or the Emperor, but all about the way a sinner may be saved, and a believer may be joyful. "There are two kinds of works," he said; "external works, our own works. These are worth little. One man builds a church; another makes a pilgrimage to St. Peter's; a third fasts, puts on the hood, goes barefoot. All these works are nothing, and will perish. Now, I will tell you what is the true good work. God hath raised again a man, the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that he may crush death, destroy sin, shut the gates of hell. This is the work of salvation. The devil believed he had the Lord in his power when he beheld him between two thieves, suffering the most shameful martyrdom, accursed both of Heaven and man. But God put forth his might, and annihilated death, sin, and hell. Christ hath won the victory. This is the great news! And we are saved by his work, not by our works. The Pope says something very different. I tell you the holy Mother of God herself has been saved, not by her virginity, nor by her maternity, nor by her purity, nor by her works, but solely by means of faith, and by the work of God."

As he spoke the gallery in which Christopher stood listening cracked. Many were greatly terrified, and even attempted to rush out. Dr. Luther stopped a moment, and then stretching out his hand said, in his clear, firm voice, "Fear not, there is no danger. The devil would thus hinder the preaching of the gospel, but he will not succeed." Then returning to his text, he said, "Perhaps you will say to me, 'You speak to us much about faith, teach us how we may obtain it.' Yes, indeed, that is what I desire to teach you. Our Lord Jesus Christ has said, 'Peace be unto you. Behold my hands.' And this is as if he said, 'O man, it is I alone who have taken away thy sins, and who have redeemed thee, and now thou hast peace, saith the Lord.'"

And he concluded,-

"Since God has saved us, let us so order our works that he may take pleasure therein. Art thou rich? Let thy goods be serviceable to the poor. Art thou poor? Let thy services be of use to the rich. If thy labours are useless to all but thyself, the services thou pretendest to render to God are a mere lie."

Christopher left Dr. Luther at Erfurt. He said many tried to persuade the doctor not to venture to Worms; others reminded him of John Huss, burned in spite of the safe-conduct. And as he went, in some places the papal excommunication was affixed on the walls before his eyes; but he said, "If I perish, the truth will not."

And nothing moved him from his purpose. Christopher was most deeply touched with that sermon. He said the text, "Peace be unto you; and when he had so said Jesus showed unto them his hands and his side," rang through his heart all the way home to Wittemberg, through the forests and the plain. The pathos of the clear true voice we may never hear again writes them on his heart; and more than that. I trust the deeper pathos of the voice which uttered the cry of agony once on the cross for us,-the agony which won the peace.

Yes; when Dr. Luther speaks he makes us feel we have to do with persons, not with things,-with the devil who hates us, with God who loves us, with the Saviour who died for us. It is not holiness only and justification, or sin and condemnation. It is we sinning and condemned, Christ suffering for us, and God justifying and loving us. It is all I and thou. He brings us face to face with God, not merely sitting serene on a distant imperial throne, frowning in terrible majesty, or even smiling in gracious pity, but coming down to us close, seeking us, and caring, caring unutterably much, that we, even we, should be saved.

I never knew, until Dr. Luther drove out of Wittemberg, and the car with the cloth curtains to protect him from the weather, which the town had provided, passed out of sight, and I saw the tears gently flowing down my mother's face, how much she loved and honoured him.

She seems almost as anxious about him as about Fritz; and she did not reprove me that night when she came in and found me weeping by my bed. She only drew me to her and smoothed down my hair, and said, "Poor little Thekla! God will teach us both how to have none other gods but himself. He will do it very tenderly; but neither thy mother nor thy Saviour can teach thee this lesson without many a bitter tear."

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