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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 17552

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Elsè's Story.

March, 1546

It is all over. The beloved, revered form is with us again, but Luther our Father, our pastor, our friend, will never be amongst us more. His ceaseless toil and care for us all have worn him out,-the care which wastes life more than sorrow,-care such as no man knew since the apostle Paul, which only faith such as St. Paul's enabled him to sustain so long.

This morning his widow, his orphan sons and daughter, and many of the students and citizens went out to the Eastern Gate of the city to meet the funeral procession. Slowly it passed through the streets, so crowded, yet so silent, to the city church where he used to preach.

Fritz came with the procession from Eisleben, and Eva, with Heinz and Agnes, are also with us, for it seemed a necessity to us all once more to feel and see our beloved around us, now that death has shown us the impotence of a nation's love to retain the life dearest and most needed of all.

Fritz has been telling us of that mournful funeral journey from Eisleben.

The Counts of Mansfeld, with more than fifty horsemen, and many princes, counts, and barons, accompanied the coffin. In every village through which they passed the church-bells tolled as if for the prince of the land; at every city gate magistrates, clergy, young and old, matrons, maidens, and little children, thronged to meet the procession, clothed in mourning, and chanting funeral hymns?-German evangelical hymns of hope and trust, such as he had taught them to sing. In the last church in which it lay before reaching its final resting-place at Wittemberg, the people gathered around it, and sang one of his own hymns, "I journey hence in peace," with voices broken by sobs and floods of tears.

Thus day and night the silent body was borne slowly through the Thuringian land. The peasants once more remembered his faithful affection for them, and everywhere, from village and hamlet, and from every little group of cottages, weeping men and women pressed forward to do honour to the poor remains of him they had so often misunderstood in life.

After Pastor Bugenhagen's funeral sermon from Luther's pulpit, Melancthon spoke a few words beside the coffin in the city church. They loved each other well. When Melancthon heard of his death he was most deeply affected, and said in the lecture-room,-

"The doctrine of the forgiveness of sins and of faith in the Son of God, has not been discovered by any human understanding, but has been revealed unto us by God through this man whom he has raised up."

In the city church, beside the coffin, before the body was lowered into its last resting-place near the pulpit where he preached, Dr. Melancthon pronounced these words in Latin, which Caspar Creutziger immediately translated into German,-

"Every one who truly knew him, must bear witness that he was a benevolent, charitable man, gracious in all his discourse, kindly and most worthy of love, and neither rash, passionate, self-willed, or ready to take offence. And, nevertheless, there were also in him an earnestness and courage in his words and bearing such as become a man like him. His heart was true and faithful, and without falsehood. The severity which he used against the foes of the doctrine in his writings did not proceed from a quarrelsome or angry disposition, but from great earnestness and zeal for the truth. He always showed a high courage and manhood, and it was no little roar of the enemy which could appall him. Menaces, dangers, and terror dismayed him not. So high and keen was his understanding, that he alone in complicated, dark, and difficult affairs soon perceived what was to be counselled and to be done. Neither, as some think, was he regardless of authority, but diligently regarded the mind and will of those with whom he had to do. His doctrine did not consist in rebellious opinions made known with violence; it is rather an interpretation of the divine will and of the true worship of God, an explanation of the word of God, namely of the gospel of Christ. Now he is united with the prophets of whom he loved to talk. Now they greet him as their fellow-labourer, and with him praise the Lord who gathers and preserves his Church. But we must retain a perpetual, undying recollection of this our beloved father, and never let his memory fade from our hearts."

His effigy will be placed in the city church, but his living portrait is enshrined in countless hearts. His monuments are the schools throughout the land, every hallowed pastor's home, and above all, "the German Bible for the German people!"

Wittemberg, April, 1547.

We stand now in the foremost rank of the generations of our time. Our father's house on earth has passed away for ever. Gently, not long after Dr Luther's death, our gentle mother passed away, and our father entered on the fulfilment of those never-failing hopes to which, since his blindness, his buoyant heart has learned more and more to cling.

Scarcely separated a year from each other, both in extreme old age, surrounded by all dearest to them on earth, they fell asleep in Jesus.

And now Fritz, who has an appointment at the university, lives in the paternal house with his Eva and our Thekla, and the children.

Of all our family I sometimes think Thekla's life is the most blessed. In our evangelical church, also, I perceive, God by his providence makes nuns; good women, whose wealth of love is poured out in the Church; whose inner as well as whose outer circle is the family of God. How many whom she has trained in the school and nursed in the seasons of pestilence or adversity, live on earth to call her blessed, or live in heaven to receive her into the everlasting habitations!

And among the reasons why her life is so high and loving, no doubt one is, that socially her position is one not of exaltation but of lowliness.

She has not replaced, by any conventional dignities of the cloister, God's natural dignities of wife and mother. Through life hers has been the lowest place; therefore, among other reasons, I oft think in heaven it may be the highest. But we shall not grudge it her, Eva and Chriemhild and Atlantis and I.

With what joy shall we see those meek and patient brows crowned with the brightest crowns of glory and immortal joy!

The little garden behind the Augustei has become a sacred place. Luther's widow and children still live there. Those who knew him, and therefore loved him best, find a sad pleasure in lingering under the shadow of the trees which used to shelter him, beside the fountain and the little fish-pond which he made, and the flowers he planted, and recalling his words and his familiar ways; how he used to thank God for the fish from the pond, and the vegetables sent to his table from the garden; how he used to wonder at the providence of God, who fed the sparrows and all the little birds, "which must cost him more in a year than the revenue of the king of France;" how he rejoiced in the "dew, that wonderful work of God," and the rose, which no artist could imitate, and the voice of the birds. How living the narratives of the Bible became when he spoke of them!-of the great apostle Paul whom he so honoured, but pictured as "an insignificant-looking, meagre man, like Philip Melancthon;" or of the Virgin Mary, "who must have been a high and noble creature, a fair and gracious maiden, with a kind sweet voice;" or of the lowly home at Nazareth, "where the Saviour of the world was brought up as a little obedient child."

And not one of us, with all his vehemence, could ever remember a jealous or suspicious word, or a day of estrangement, so generous and trustful was his nature.

Often, also, came back to us the tones of that rich, true voice, and of the lute or lyre, which used so frequently to sound from the dwelling-room with the large window, at his friendly entertainments, or in his more solitary hours.

Then, in twilight hours of quiet, intimate converse, Mistress Luther can recall to us the habits of his more inner home life-how in his sicknesses he used to comfort her, and when she was weeping would say, with irrepressible tears, "Dear K?the, our children trust us, though they cannot understand; so must we trust God. It is well if we do; all comes from him." And his prayers morning and evening, and frequently at meals, and at other times in the day-his devout repeating of the Smaller Catechism "to God"-his frequent fervent utterance of the Lord's prayer, or of psalms from the Psalter, which he always carried with him as a pocket prayer-book. Or, at other times, she may speak reverently of his hours of conflict, when his prayers became a tempest-a torrent of vehement supplication-a wrestling with God, a son in ago

ny at the feet of a father. Or, again, of his sudden wakings in the night, to encounter the unseen devil with fervent prayer, or scornful defiance, or words of truth and faith.

More than one among us knew what reason he had to believe in the efficacy of prayer. Melancthon, especially, can never forget the day when he lay at the point of death, half unconscious, with eyes growing dim, and Luther came and exclaimed with dismay,-

"God save us! how successfully has the devil misused this mortal frame!"

And then turning from the company towards the window, to pray, looking up to the heavens, he came (as he himself said afterwards), "as a mendicant and a suppliant to God, and pressed him with all the promises of the Holy Scriptures he could recall; so that God must hear me, if ever again I should trust his promises."

After that prayer, he took Melancthon by the hand, and said, "Be of good cheer, Philip, you will not die." And from that moment Melancthon began to revive and recover consciousness, and was restored to health.

Especially, however, we treasure all he said of death and the resurrection, of heaven and the future world of righteousness and joy, of which he so delighted to speak. A few of these sayings I may record for my children.

"In the Papacy, they made pilgrimages to the shrines of the saints-to Rome, Jerusalem, St. Jago-to atone for sins. But now, we in faith can make true pilgrimages which really please God. When we diligently read the prophets, psalms, and evangelists, we journey towards God, not through cities of the saints, but in our thoughts and hearts, and visit the true Promised Land and Paradise of everlasting life.

"The devil has sworn our death, but he will crack a deaf nut. The kernel will be gone."

He had so often been dangerously ill that the thought of death was very familiar to him. In one of his sicknesses he said, "I know I shall not live long. My brain is like a knife worn to the hilt; it can cut no longer."

"At Coburg I used to go about and seek for a quiet place where I might be buried, and in the chapel under the cross I thought I could lie well. But now I am worse than then. God grant me a happy end! I have no desire to live longer."

When asked if people could be saved under the Papacy who had never heard his doctrine of the gospel, he said, "Many a monk have I seen, before whom, on his death-bed, they held the crucifix, as was then the custom. Through faith in His merits and passion, they may, indeed, have been saved."

"What is our sleep," he said, "but a kind of death? And what is death itself but a night sleep? In sleep all weariness is laid aside, and we become cheerful again, and rise in the morning fresh and well. So shall we awake from our graves in the last day, as though we had only slept a night, and bathe our eyes and rise fresh and well.

"I shall rise," he said, "and converse with you again. This finger, on which is this ring, shall be given to me again. All must be restored. 'God will create new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.' There all will be pure rapture and joy. Those heavens and that earth will be no dry, barren sand. When a man is happy, a tree, a nosegay, a flower, can give him gladness. Heaven and earth will be renewed, and we who believe shall be everywhere at home. Here it is not so; we are driven hither and thither, that we may have to sigh for that heavenly fatherland."

"When Christ causes the trumpet to peal at the last day, all will come forth like the insects which in winter lie as dead, but when the sun comes, awake to life again; or as the birds who lie all the winter hidden in clefts of the rocks, or in hollow banks by the river sides, yet live again in the spring."

He said at another time, "Go into the garden, and ask the cherry-tree how it is possible that from a dry, dead twig, can spring a little bud, and from the bud can grow cherries. Go into the house and ask the matron how it can be that from the eggs under the hen living chickens will come forth. For if God does thus with cherries and birds, canst thou not honour him by trusting that if he let the winter come over thee-suffer thee to die and decay in the ground-he can also, in the true summer, bring thee forth again from the earth, and awaken thee from the dead?"

"O gracious God!" he exclaimed, "come quickly, come at last! I wait ever for that day-that morning of spring!"

And he waits for it still. Not now, indeed, on earth, "in what kind of place we know not," as he said; "but most surely free from all grief and pain, resting in peace and in the love and grace of God."

We also wait for that Day of Redemption, still in the weak flesh and amidst the storm and the conflict; but strong and peaceful in the truth Martin Luther taught us, and in the God he trusted to the last.

THE END.

* * *

[1] Paralipomenon.

[2] That is, skeletons left on the gallows for the ravens to peck at.

[3]

"Jesu, Sovereign Lord of heaven, sweetest Friend to me.

King of all the universe, all was made by thee;

Who can know or comprehend the wonders thou has wrought,

Since the saving of the lost thee so low hath brought?

Thee the love of souls drew down from beyond the sky,-

Drew thee from thy glorious home, thy palace bright and high!

To this narrow vale of tears thou thy footsteps bendest:

Hard the work thou tak'st on thee, rough the way thou wendest."

[4] An approved method of treatment of the plague in those times.

[5]

"Great Father Augustine, receive our prayers,

And through them effectually reconcile the Creator;

And rule thy flock, the highest glory of rulers.

The poor praise thee, lover of poverty;

True judges love thee, defender of truth;

Breaking the honeycomb of the honey of Scripture, thou distributest it to us.

Making smooth to us what before was obscure;

Thou, from the words of the Saviour, furnishest us with wholesome bread,

And givest to drink draughts of life from the nectar of the psalms.

Thou writest the holy rule for the life of priests,

Which, whosoever love and follow, keep the royal road,

And by thy holy leading return to their fatherland.

Salvation to the King of kings, life, glory, and dominion;

Honour and praise be to the Trinity throughout all ages,

To Him who declareth us to be fellow-citizens with the citizens of heaven."

[6]

Ad perennis vit? fontem mens sitivit arida,

Claustra carnis pr?stò frangi clausa qu?rit anima,

Gliscit, ambit, electatur, exul frui patria.

&c. &c. &c.

(The translation only is given above.)

[7] "Ye who would live holily, depart from Rome: all things are allowed here, except to be upright."

[8]

Hic breve vivitur, hic breve plangitur, hic breve fletur,

Non breve vivere, non breve plangere, retribuetur.

O retributio! stat brevis actio, vita perennis,

O retributio! c?lica mansio stat lue plenis,

etc. etc., etc.

[9]

Smile praises, O sky!

Soft breathe them, O air,

Below and on high,

And everywhere!

Awake thee, O spring!

Ye flowers, come forth,

With thousand hues tinting

The soft green earth!

Ye violets tender,

And sweet roses bright,

Gay Lent-lilies blended

With pure lilies white.

Sweep tides of rich music

The new world along,

And pour in full measure,

Sweet lyres, your song!

The black troop of storms

Has yielded to calm;

Tufted blossoms are peeping,

And early palm.

Sing, sing, for He liveth!

He lives, as He said;-

The Lord has arisen,

Unharmed, from the dead!

Clap, clap your hands, mountains!

Ye valleys, resound!

Leap, leap for joy, fountains!

Ye hills, catch the sound!

All triumph; He liveth!

He lives, as He said:-

The Lord has arisen,

Unharmed, from the dead!

[10]

Lo, the gates of death are broken,

And the strong man armed is spoiled,

Of his armour, which he trusted,

By the stronger Arm despoiled.

Vanquished is the Prince of Hell;

Smitten by the cross, he fell.

That the sinner might not perish,

For him the Creator dies;

By whose death, our dark lot changing,

Life again for us doth rise,

[11]

Mundi renovatio

Nova parit gaudia,

Resurgente Domino

Conresurgunt omnia;

Elementa serviunt,

Et auctoris sentiunt,

Quanta sint solemnia.

&c. &c. &c.

(The translation only is given above.)

[12] Adam of St. Victor, twelfth century.

[13] A friend has translated it thus:-

I, Luther's daughter Magdalen,

Here slumber with the blest;

Upon this bed I lay my head,

And take my quiet rest.

I was a child of death on earth,

In sin my life was given;

But on the tree Christ died for me,

And now I live in heaven.

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