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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 16152

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Fritz's Story.

Eisleben, 1546.

It has been quite a festival day at Eisleben. The child who, sixty-three years since, was born here to John Luther, the miner, returns to-day the greatest man in the empire, to arbitrate in a family dispute of the Counts of Mansfeld.

As Eva and I watched him enter the town to-day from the door of our humble happy home, she said,-

"He that is greatest among you shall be as he that doth serve."

These ten last years of service have, however, aged him much!

I could not conceal from myself that they had. There are traces of suffering on the expressive face, and there is a touch of feebleness in the form and step.

"How is it," I said to Eva, "that Elsè or Thekla did not tell us of this? He is certainly much feebler."

"They are always with him," she said, "and we never see what Time is doing, love; but only what he has done."

Her words made me thoughtful. Could it be that such changes were passing on us also, and that we were failing to observe them?

When Dr. Luther and the throng had passed, we returned into the house, and Eva resumed her knitting, while I recommenced the study of my sermon; but secretly I raised my eyes from my books and surveyed her. If time had indeed thus been changing that beloved form, it was better I should know it, to treasure more the precious days he was so treacherously stealing.

Yet scarcely, with the severest scrutiny, could I detect the trace of age or suffering on her face or form. The calm brow was as white and calm as ever. The golden hair, smoothly braided under her white matronly cap, was as free from grey as even our Agnes', who was flitting in and out of the winter sunshine, busy with household work in the next room. There was a roundness on the cheek, although, perhaps, its curve was a little changed; and when she looked up, and met my eyes, was there not the very same happy, child-like smile as ever, that seemed to overflow from a world of sunshine within?

"No!" I said; "Eva, thank God, I have not deluded myself! Time has not stolen a march on you yet."

"Think how I have been shielded, Fritz," she said. "What a sunny and sheltered life mine has been, never encountering any storm except under the shelter of such a home and such a love. But Dr. Luther has been so long the one foremost and highest, on whose breast the first force of every storm has burst."

Just then our Heinz came in.

"Your father is trying to prove I am not growing old," she said.

"Who said such a thing of our mother?" asked Heinz, turning fiercely to Agnes.

"No one," I said; "but it startled me to see the change in Dr. Luther, and I began to fear what changes might have been going on unobserved in our own home."

"Is Dr. Luther much changed?" said Heinz. "I think I never saw a nobler face, so resolute and true, and with such a keen glance in his dark eyes. He might have been one of the emperor's greatest generals-he looks so like a veteran."

"Is he not a veteran, Heinz?" said Eva. "Has he not fought all our battles for us for years? What did you think of him, Agnes?"

"I remember best the look he gave my father and you," she said. "His face looked so full of kindness; I thought how happy he must make his home."

That evening was naturally a time, with Eva and me, for going over the past. And how much of it is linked with Dr. Luther! That our dear home exists at all is, through God, his work. And more even than that: the freedom and peace of our hearts came to us chiefly at first through him. All the past came back to me when I saw his face again; as if suddenly flashed on me from a mirror. The days when he sang before Aunt Ursula Cotta's door at Eisenach-when the voice which has since stirred all Christendom to its depths sang carols for a piece of bread. Then the gradual passing away of the outward trials of poverty, through his father's prosperity and liberality-the brilliant prospects opening before him at the university-his sudden, yet deliberate closing of all those earthly schemes-the descent into the dark and bitter waters, where he fought the fight for his age, and, all but sinking, found the Hand that saved him, and came to the shore again on the right side; and not alone, but upheld evermore by the hand that rescued him, and which he has made known to the hearts of thousands.

Then I seemed to see him stand before the emperor at Worms, in that day when men did not know whether to wonder most at his gentleness or his daring-in that hour which men thought was his hour of conflict, but which was in truth his hour of triumph, after the real battle had been fought and the real victory won.

And now twenty years more had passed away; the Bible has been translated by him into German, and is speaking in countless homes; homes hallowed (and, in many instances, created) by his teaching.

"What then," said Eva, "has been gained by his teaching and his work?"

"The yoke of tradition, and of the Papacy, is broken," I said. "The gospel is preached in England, and, with more or less result, throughout Germany. In Denmark, an evangelical pastor has consecrated King Christian III. In the low countries, and elsewhere, men and women have been martyred, as in the primitive ages, for the faith. In France and in Switzerland evangelical truth has been embraced by tens of thousands, although not in Dr. Luther's form, nor only from his lips."

"These are great results," she replied; "but they are external-at least, we can only see the outside of them. What fruit is there in this little world, around us at Eisleben, of whose heart we know something?"

"The golden age is, indeed, not come," I said, "or the Counts of Mansfeld would not be quarrelling about church patronage, and needing Dr. Luther as a peace-maker. Nor would Dr. Luther need so continually to warn the rich against avarice, and to denounce the selfishness which spent thousands of florins to buy exemption from future punishment, but grudges a few kreuzers to spread the glad tidings of the grace of God. If covetousness is idolatry, it is too plain that the Reformation has, with many, only changed the idol."

"Yet," replied Eva, "it is certainly something to have the idol removed from the Church to the market, to have it called by a despised instead of by a hallowed name, and disguised in any rather than in sacred vestments."

Thus we came to the conclusion that the Reformation had done for us what sunrise does. It had wakened life, and ripened real fruits of heaven in many places, and it had revealed evil and noisome things in their true forms. The world, the flesh and the devil remain unchanged; but it is much to have learned that the world is not a certain definite region outside the cloister, but an atmosphere to be guarded against as around us everywhere; that the flesh is not the love of kindred or of nature, but of self in these, and that the devil's most fiery dart is distrust of God. For us personally, and ours, how infinitely much Dr. Luther has done; and if for us and ours, how much for countless other hearts and homes unknown to us!

Monday, February 15, 1543.

Dr. Luther administered the communion yesterday, and preached. It has been a great help to have him going in and out among us. Four times he has preached; it seems to us, with as much point and fervour as ever. To-day, however, there was a deep solemnity about his words. His text was in Matt. xi., "Fear not, therefore; for there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye on the house-tops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." He must have felt feebler than he seemed, for he closed with the words-

"This, a

nd much more, may be said from the passage; but I am too weak, and here we will close."

Eva seemed very grave all the rest of the day; and when I returned from the school on this morning, she met me with an anxious face at the door, and said-

"Is the doctor better?"

"I have not heard that he is ill," I said. "He was engaged with the arbitration again to-day."

"I cannot get those words of his out of my head," she said; "they haunt me-'Here we will close.' I cannot help thinking what it would be never to hear that faithful voice again."

"You are depressed, my love," I said, "at the thought of Dr. Luther's leaving us this week. But by-and-by we will stay some little time at Wittemberg, and hear him again there."

"If God will!" she said gravely. "What God has given us, through him, can never be taken away."

I have inquired again about him, however, frequently to-day, but there seems no cause for anxiety. He retired from the Great Hall where the conferences and the meals take place, at eight o'clock; and this evening, as often before during his visit, Dr. Jonas overheard him praying aloud at the window of his chamber.

Thursday, 18th February.

The worst-the very worst-has come to pass! The faithful voice is, indeed, silenced to us on earth for ever.

Here where the life began it has closed. He who, sixty-three years ago, lay here a little helpless babe, lies here again a lifeless corpse. Yet it is not with sixty-three years ago, but with three days since that we feel the bitter contrast. Three days ago he was among us the counsellor, the teacher, the messenger of God, and now that heart, so open, so tender to sympathize with sorrows, and so strong to bear a nation's burden, has ceased to beat.

Yesterday it was observed that he was feeble and ailing. The Princes of Anhalt and the Count Albert of Mansfeld, with Dr. Jonas and his other friends, entreated him to rest in his own room during the morning. He was not easily persuaded to spare himself, and probably would not have yielded then, had he not felt that the work of reconciliation was accomplished, in all save a few supplementary details. Much of the forenoon, therefore, he reposed on a leathern couch in his room, occasionally rising, with the restlessness of illness, and pacing the room, or standing in the window praying, so that Dr. Jonas and C?lius, who were in another part of the room, could hear him. He dined, however, at noon, in the Great Hall, with those assembled there. At dinner he said to some near him, "If I can, indeed, reconcile the rulers of my birth-place with each other, and then, with God's permission, accomplish the journey back to Wittemberg, I would go home and lay myself down to sleep in my grave, and let the worms devour my body."

He was not one weakly to sigh for sleep before night; and we now know too well from how deep a sense of bodily weariness and weakness that wish sprang. Tension of heart and mind, and incessant work,-the toil of a daily mechanical labourer, with the keen, continuous thought of the highest thinker,-working as much as any drudging slave, and as intensely as if all he did was his delight,-at sixty-three the strong, peasant frame was worn out as most men's are at eighty, and he longed for rest.

In the afternoon he complained of painful pressure on the breast, and requested that it might be rubbed with warm cloths. This relieved him a little; and he went to supper again with his friends in the Great Hall. At table he spoke much of eternity, and said he believed his own death was near; yet his conversation was not only cheerful, but at times gay, although it related chiefly to the future world. One near him asked whether departed saints would recognize each other in heaven. He said, Yes, he thought they would.

When he left the supper-table he went to his room.

In the night,-last night,-his two sons, Paul and Martin, thirteen and fourteen years of age, sat up to watch with him, with Justus Jonas, whose joys and sorrows he had shared through so many years. C?lius and Aurifaber also were with him. The pain in the breast returned, and again they tried rubbing him with hot cloths. Count Albert came, and the Countess, with two physicians, and brought him some shavings from the tusk of a sea-unicorn, deemed a sovereign remedy He took it, and slept till ten. Then he awoke, and attempted once more to pace the room a little; but he could not, and returned to bed. Then he slept again till one. During those two or three hours of sleep, his host Albrecht, with his wife, Ambrose, Jonas, and Luther's son, watched noiselessly beside him, quietly keeping up the fire. Everything depended on how long he slept, and how he woke.

The first words he spoke when he awoke sent a shudder of apprehension through their hearts.

He complained of cold, and asked them to pile up more fire. Alas! the chill was creeping over him which no effort of man could remove.

Dr. Jonas asked him if he felt very weak.

"Oh," he replied, "how I suffer! My dear Jonas, I think I shall die here, at Eisleben, where I was born and baptized."

His other friends were awakened, and brought in to his bed-side.

Jonas spoke of the sweat on his brow as a hopeful sign, but Dr. Luther answered-

"It is the cold sweat of death. I must yield up my spirit, for my sickness increaseth."

Then he prayed fervently, saying-

"Heavenly Father! everlasting and merciful God thou hast revealed to me thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Him have I taught; Him have I experienced; Him have I confessed; Him I love and adore as my beloved Saviour, Sacrifice, and Redeemer-Him whom the godless persecute, dishonour, and reproach. O heavenly Father, though I must resign my body, and be borne away from this life, I know that I shall be with Him for ever. Take my poor soul up to Thee!"

Afterwards he took a little medicine, and, assuring his friends that he was dying, said three times-

"Father, into thy hands do I commend my spirit. Thou hast redeemed me, thou faithful God. Truly God hath so loved the world!"

Then he lay quiet and motionless. Those around sought to rouse him, and began to rub his chest and limbs, and spoke to him, but he made no reply. Then Jonas and C?lius, for the solace of the many who had received the truth from his lips, spoke aloud, and said-

"Venerable father, do you die trusting in Christ, and in the doctrine you have constantly preached?"

He answered by an audible and joyful "Yes!"

That was his last word on earth. Then turning on his right side, he seemed to fall peaceably asleep for a quarter of an hour. Once more hope awoke in the hearts of his children and his friends; but the physician told them it was no favourable symptom.

A light was brought near his face; a death-like paleness was creeping over it, and his hands and feet were becoming cold.

Gently once more he sighed; and, with hands folded on his breast, yielded up his spirit to God without a struggle.

This was at four o'clock in the morning of the 18th of February.

And now, in the house opposite the church where he was baptized, and signed with the cross for the Christian warfare, Martin Luther lies-his warfare accomplished, his weapons laid aside, his victory won-at rest beneath the standard he has borne so nobly. In the place where his eyes opened on this earthly life his spirit has awakened to the heavenly life. Often he used to speak of death as the Christian's true birth, and of this life as but a growing into the chrysalis-shell in which the spirit lives till its being is developed, and it bursts the shell, casts off the web, struggles into life, spreads its wings and sours up to God.

To Eva and me it seems a strange, mysterious seal set on his faith, that his birth-place and his place of death-the scene of his nativity to earth and heaven-should be the same.

We can only say, amidst irrepressible tears, those words often on his lips, "O death! bitter to those whom thou leavest in life!" and "Fear not, God liveth still."

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