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Enduring Love

He lived to minister to the needs of men.

From the crest of Olivet, Jesus looked upon Jerusalem. In full view were the magnificent buildings of the temple. The rays of the setting sun lighted up the snowy whiteness of its marble walls and gleamed from golden gate and tower and pinnacle. What child of Israel could gaze upon the scene without a thrill of joy and admiration! But far other thoughts occupied the mind of Jesus. "When He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it" (Luke 19:41). His tears were not for Himself. He wept for the doomed thousands of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been honored of God above all the earth. Had Israel as a nation preserved her allegiance to heaven, Jerusalem would have stood forever, the elect of God. But the history of that favored people was a record of backsliding and rebellion.

For three years the Lord of light and glory had gone in and out among His people. A homeless wanderer, reproach and penury His daily lot, He lived to minister to the needs and lighten the woes of men, to plead with them to accept the gift of life. But Israel had turned from her best Friend and only Helper. The pleadings of His love had been despised, His counsels spurned, His warnings ridiculed. The hour of hope and pardon was fast passing.

Christ forsaw the doom of Jerusalem and Jews scattered
As Christ looked upon Jerusalem, the doom of a whole city, a whole nation, was before Him. He heard the tread of armies marshaling for war. He heard the voice of mothers and children crying for bread in the besieged city. He saw her holy house, her palaces and towers, given to the flames, and where once they stood, only a heap of smoldering ruins. Looking down the ages, He saw the covenant people scattered in every land.

Christ saw in Jerusalem a symbol of the world hardened in unbelief and rebellion, hastening on to meet the retributive judgments of God.

Jesus saw last-day rebellion
The Majesty of heaven in tears! That scene reveals to us the exceeding sinfulness of sin; it shows how hard a task it is, even for Infinite Power, to save the guilty from the consequence of transgressing the law of God. Jesus, looking down to the last generation, saw the world involved in a deception similar to that which caused the destruction of Jerusalem. The great sin of the Jews was their rejection of Christ; the great sin of the Christian world would be their rejection of the law of God, the foundation of His government in heaven and earth. Millions in bend-age to sin, slaves to Satan, doomed to suffer the second death, would refuse to listen to the words of truth in their day of visitation.

The disciples had been filled with awe and wonder at Christ's prediction of the overthrow of the temple. The future was mercifully veiled from the disciples. Christ presented before them an outline of the prominent events to take place before the close of time. The prophecy which He uttered was twofold in its meaning; while foreshadowing the destruction of Jerusalem, it prefigured also the terrors of the last great day.

By stubborn rejection of divine love and mercy, the Jews had caused the protection of God to be withdrawn from them, and Satan was permitted to rule them according to his will.

Jerusalem destruction a warning
The destruction of Jerusalem is a fearful and solemn warning to all who are trifling with the offers of divine grace and resisting the pleadings of divine mercy. In the fate of the chosen city we may behold the doom of a world that has rejected God's mercy and trampled upon His law.

Let men beware lest they neglect the lesson conveyed to them in the words of Christ. The world is no more ready to credit the message for this time than were the Jews to receive the Savior's warning concerning Jerusalem. Come when it may, the day of God will come unawares to the ungodly.

Loyal and True

When Jesus revealed to His disciples the fate of Jerusalem and the scenes of the second advent, He foretold also the experience of His people from the time when He should be taken from them, to His return in power and glory. Penetrating deeper into the future, His eye discerned the fierce, wasting tempests that were to beat upon His followers in the coming ages of darkness and persecution. In a few brief utterances of awful significance He foretold the portion which the rulers of this world would mete out to the church of God.

Paganism foresaw that should the gospel triumph, her temples and altars would be swept away; therefore she summoned her forces to destroy Christianity. The fires of persecution were kindled.

A voice came down to them from the throne of God: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

Persecution of Christians in Roman Empire
These persecutions, beginning under Nero, continued with greater or less fury for centuries. Christians were falsely accused of the most dreadful crimes and declared to be the cause of great calamities-famine, pestilence, and earthquake. Great numbers were thrown to wild beasts or burned alive in amphitheaters. Some were crucified; others were covered with the skins of wild animals and thrust into the arena to be torn by dogs. Vast multitudes assembled to enjoy the sight and greeted their dying agonies with laughter and applause.

Wherever they sought refuge, the followers of Christ were hunted like beasts of prey. They were forced to seek concealment in desolate and solitary places. These called to mind the words of their Master, that when persecuted for Christ's sake, they were to be exceeding glad, for great would be their reward in heaven; for so the prophets had been persecuted before them. They rejoiced that they were accounted worthy to suffer for the truth, and songs of triumph ascended from the midst of crackling flames. Looking upward by faith, they saw Christ and angels gazing upon them with the deepest interest and regarding their steadfastness with approval. A voice came down to them from the throne of God: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

In vain were Satan's efforts to destroy the church of Christ by violence. God's workmen were slain, but His work went steadily forward. The gospel continued to spread and the number of its adherents to increase. "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed" (Tertullian, Apology, par. 50).

Christianity becomes popular
Satan therefore laid his plans to war more successfully against the government of God by planting his banner in the Christian church. The great adversary now endeavored to gain by artifice what he failed to secure by force. Persecution ceased, and in its stead were substituted the dangerous allurements of temporal prosperity and worldly honor. Idolaters were led to receive a part of the Christian faith, while they rejected other essential truths. They professed to accept Jesus as the Son of God, but they had no conviction of sin and felt no need of repentance or of a change of heart. With some concessions on their part they proposed that Christians should make concessions, that all might unite on the platform of belief in Christ.

Now the church was in fearful peril. Prison, torture, fire, and sword were blessings in comparison with this. Some of the Christians stood firm. Others were in favor of yielding or modifying some features of their faith. Under a cloak of pretended Christianity, Satan was insinuating himself into the church to corrupt their faith and turn their minds from the word of truth.

Popularity brings corruption
Most of the Christians at last consented to lower their standard, and a union was formed between Christianity and paganism. Although the worshipers of idols professed to be converted and united with the church, they still clung to their idolatry, only changing the objects of their worship to images of Jesus and even of Mary and the saints. Unsound doctrines, superstitious rites, and idolatrous ceremonies were incorporated into her faith and worship. The Christian religion became corrupted, and the church lost her purity and power.

There were some, however, who were not misled. They still maintained their fidelity to the Author of truth, and worshiped God alone.

Satan exulted that he had succeeded in deceiving so large a number of the followers of Christ. He then brought his power to bear more fully upon these, and inspired them to persecute those who remained true to God. These apostate Christians, uniting with half-pagan companions, directed their warfare against the most essential features of the doctrines of Christ.

It required a desperate struggle for those who would be faithful to stand firm against deceptions and abominations introduced into the church. The Bible was not accepted as the standard of faith. The doctrine of religious freedom was termed heresy, and its upholders were hated and proscribed.

Faithful Christians separate from established church
After a long and severe conflict, the faithful saw that separation was an absolute necessity. They dared not tolerate errors fatal to their own souls, and set an example which would imperil the faith of their children and children's children. They felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle.

Great Darkness

The apostle Paul foretold the great apostasy. He declared that the day of Christ should not come "except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." And furthermore, the apostle warns his brethren that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7). Even at that early date he saw, creeping into the church, errors that would prepare the way for the development of the papacy.

Little by little, "the mystery of iniquity" carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work. Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity were restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions. But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ.

Religious compromise leads to "man of sin"
This compromise between paganism and Christianity resulted in "the man of sin" foretold in prophecy. That gigantic system of false religion is a masterpiece of Satan's power—a monument of his effort to seat himself upon the throne to rule the earth according to his will.

Blasphemous claims of the papacy
It is one of the leading doctrines of Romanism that the pope is the visible head of the universal church of Christ, invested with supreme authority over bishops and pastors in all parts of the world. He has been styled "Lord God the Pope" and has been declared infallible. He demands the homage of all men. But those who fear and reverence God meet this heaven-daring assumption as Christ met the solicitations of the wily foe: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve" (Luke 4:8).

Satan well knew that the Holy Scriptures would enable men to discern his deceptions and withstand his power. In order for Satan to maintain his sway over men, and establish the authority of the papal usurper, he must keep them in ignorance of the Scriptures. For hundreds of years the circulation of the Bible was prohibited. Unprincipled priests and prelates interpreted its teachings to sustain their pretensions.

Unauthorized changes to the Ten Commandments
The detector of error having been removed, Satan worked according to his will. Prophecy had declared that the papacy was to "think to change times and laws" (Daniel 7:25). To afford converts from heathenism a substitute for the worship of idols, the adoration of images and relics was gradually introduced into the Christian worship. The decree of a general council finally established this system of idolatry. To complete the sacrilegious work, Rome presumed to expunge from the law of God the second commandment, forbidding image worship, and to divide the tenth commandment, in order to preserve the number.

Satan, working though unconsecrated leaders of the church, tampered with the fourth commandment also, and essayed to set aside the ancient Sabbath, the day which God had blessed and sanctified (Genesis 2:2, 3), and in its stead to exalt the festival observed by the heathen as "the venerable day of the sun." In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians. But with great subtlety Satan worked through his agents to bring about his object. That the attention of the people might be called to the Sunday, it was made a festival in honor of the resurrection of Christ. Religious services were held upon it, yet it was regarded as a day of recreation, the Sabbath being still sacredly observed.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Exhaltation of Sunday
The archdeceiver had not completed his work. Vast councils were held from time to time, in which dignitaries of the church were convened from all the world. In nearly every council the Sabbath which God had instituted was pressed down a little lower, while Sunday was correspondingly exalted. Thus the pagan festival came finally to be honored as a divine institution, while the Bible Sabbath was pronounced a relic of Judaism, and its observers were declared to be accursed.

In the sixth century the papacy had become firmly established [538 A.D.]. The bishop of Rome was declared to be the head over the entire church. Paganism had given place to the papacy. The dragon had given to the beast "his power, and his seat, and great authority" (Revelation 13:2). Now began the 1260 years of papal oppression foretold in the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5-7. Christians were forced to choose either to yield their integrity and accept the papal ceremonies and worship, or to wear away their lives in dungeons or suffer death by the rack, the fagot, or the headman's ax.

The "Dark Ages" begins
The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. Faith was transferred from Christ, the true foundation, to the pope of Rome. A deviation from his requirements was sufficient cause for the severest punishment to be visited upon the bodies and souls of the offenders. When the Scriptures are suppressed, and man comes to regard himself as supreme, we need look only for fraud, deception, and debasing iniquity. Those were days of peril for the church of Christ. The gospel was lost sight of, but the forms of religion were multiplied, and the people were burdened with rigorous exactions.

Many who professed conversion still clung to the tenets of their pagan philosophy, and not only continued its study themselves, but urged it upon others as a means of extending their influence among the heathen. Serious errors were thus introduced into the Christian faith. Prominent among these was the belief in man's natural immortality and his consciousness in death. This doctrine laid the foundation upon which Rome established the invocation of saints and the adoration of the Virgin Mary. From this sprang also the heresy of eternal torment for the finally impenitent, which was early incorporated into the papal faith.

Bible teachings were corrupted
Then the way was prepared for still another invention of paganism, which Rome named purgatory, and employed to terrify the credulous and superstitious multitudes. By this heresy is affirmed the existence of a place of torment, in which the souls of such as have not merited eternal damnation are to suffer punishment for their sins, and from which, when freed from impurity, they are admitted to heaven.

Still another fabrication was needed to enable Rome to profit by the fears and vices of her adherents. This was supplied by the doctrine of indulgences. Full remission of sins, past, present, and future, and release from all the pains and penalties incurred, were promised to all who would enlist in the pontiff's wars to extend his temporal dominion, to punish his enemies, or to exterminate those who dared deny his spiritual supremacy. The people were also taught that by the payment of money to the church they might free themselves from sin, and also release the souls of their deceased friends who were confined in the tormenting flames. By such means did Rome fill her coffers and sustain the magnificence, luxury, and vice of the pretended representatives of Him who had not where to lay His head.

The Scriptural ordinance of the Lord's Supper had been supplanted by the idolatrous sacrifice of the mass. Papal priests pretended, by their senseless mummery, to convert the simple bread and wine into the actual "body and blood of Christ" (Cardinal Wiseman, The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Eucharist Proved From Scripture, lecture 8, sec. 3, par. 26). With blasphemous presumption, they openly claimed the power of creating God, the Creator of all things. Christians were required, on pain of death, to avow their faith in this horrible Heaven-insulting heresy. Multitudes who refused were given to the flames.

Popery had become the world's despot. Kings and emperors bowed to the decrees of the Roman pontiff. For hundreds of years the doctrines of Rome had been extensively and implicitly received, its rites reverently performed, its festivals generally observed. Never since has the Roman Church attained to greater dignity, magnificence, or power.

Moral and intellectual paralysis
But "the noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world" (J.A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, b. 1, ch. 4). The Holy Scriptures were almost unknown, not only to the people, but to the priests. Like the Pharisees of old, the papal leaders hated the light which would reveal their sins. God's law, the standard of righteousness, having been removed, they exercised power without limit, and practiced vice without restraint. A moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom. Such were the results of banishing the Word of God.

Champion for Truth

A divine hand was preparing way for the Great Reformation. Foremost among those the who were called to lead the church from the darkness of popery into the light of a purer faith, stood Martin Luther. Zealous, ardent, and devoted, knowing no fear but the fear of God, and acknowledging no foundation for religious faith but the Holy Scriptures, Luther was the man for his time.

The fear of the Lord dwelt in the heart of Luther, enabling him to maintain his steadfastness of purpose and leading him to deep humility before God. He had an abiding sense of his dependence upon divine aid, and he did not fail to begin each day with prayer, while his heart was continually breathing a petition for guidance and support. "To pray well," he often said, "is the better half of study" (D'Aubigne, b. 2, ch. 2).

Martin Luther discovers a Bible
While one day examining the books in the library of the university, Luther discovered a Latin Bible. Such a book he had never before seen. With mingled awe and wonder he turned the sacred pages; with quickened pulse and throbbing heart he read for himself the words of life, pausing now and then to exclaim, "0 that God would give me such a book for myself!" (Ibid., b.2, ch. 2).

Luther was ordained a priest and was called from the cloister to a professorship in the University of Wittenberg. He began to lecture upon the Bible. His eloquence captivated his hearers, the clearness and power with which he presented the truth convinced their understanding, and his fervor touched their hearts.

Luther turns away from Rome
By a recent decretal [decree] an indulgence had been promised by the pope to all who should ascend upon their knees "Pilate's staircase." Luther was one day devoutly climbing these steps, when suddenly a voice like thunder seemed to say to him: "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). He sprang to his feet and hastened from the place in shame and horror. From that time he saw more clearly than ever before the fallacy of trusting to human works for salvation. When he turned his face from Rome, he had turned away also in heart.

After his return from Rome, Luther received at the University of Wittenberg, the degree of doctor of divinity. Now he was at liberty to devote himself, as never before, to the Scriptures that he loved. He firmly declared that Christians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures.

The Roman Church had made merchandise of the grace of God. Under the plea of raising funds for the erection of St. Peter's Church at Rome, indulgences for sin were publicly offered for sale by the authority of the pope. By the price of crime a temple was to be built up for God's worship.

Luther challenges indulgences
Luther, though still a papist of the straitest sort, was filled with horror at the blasphemous assumptions of the indulgence mongers. Many of his own congregation had purchased certificates of pardon. Luther now entered boldly upon his work as a champion of the truth. His voice was heard from the pulpit in earnest, solemn warning. He set before the people the offensive character of sin, and taught that it is impossible for man, by his own works, to lessen its guilt or evade its punishment. Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ can save the sinner. The grace of Christ cannot be purchased; it is a free gift.

Luther determined upon a more effectual protest against these crying abuses. Luther, joining the crowds already making their way to the church, posted on its door a paper containing ninety-five propositions against the doctrine of indulgences.

His propositions attracted universal attention. By these theses it was shown that the power to grant pardon of sin, and to remit its penalty, had never been committed to the pope or to any other man. It was also clearly shown that the grace of God therein revealed, is freely bestowed upon all who seek it by repentance and faith.

The questions which he proposed had in a few days spread through all Germany, and in a few weeks they had sounded throughout Christendom. Many devoted Romanists read the propositions with great joy, recognizing in them the voice of God. They felt that the Lord had graciously set His hand to arrest the rapidly swelling tide of corruption that was issuing from the see of Rome.

Dignitaries sideline truth for expediency
Many dignitaries, of both church and state, were convicted of the truthfulness of his theses; hut they soon saw that the acceptance of these truths would involve great changes. To enlighten and reform the people would be virtually to undermine the authority of Rome, to stop thousands of streams now flowing into her treasury, and thus greatly to curtail the extravagance and luxury of the papal leaders. Furthermore, to teach the people to think and act as responsible beings, looking to Christ alone for salvation, would overthrow the pontiff's throne and eventually destroy their own authority. For this reason they refused the knowledge tendered them of God and arrayed themselves against Christ and the truth by their opposition to the man whom He had sent to enlighten them.

Luther trembled as he looked upon himself—one man opposed to the mightiest powers of earth. But he was not left to become utterly disheartened. When human support failed, he looked to God alone and learned that he could lean in perfect safety upon that all-powerful arm.

Luther summoned to appear
The council now demanded the Reformer's appearance before them. The emperor at last consented, and Luther was summoned to appear before the Diet.

The emperor occupied the throne. He was surrounded by the most illustrious personages in the empire. Never had any man appeared in the presence of a more imposing assembly than that before which Martin Luther was to answer for his faith.

Luther stands firm for the Bible
A deep silence fell upon the crowded assembly. Then an imperial officer arose and, pointing to Luther's writings, demanded that the Reformer answer two questions—whether he acknowledged them as his, and whether he proposed to retract the opinions which he had therein advanced. The titles of the books having been read, Luther replied that as to the first question, he acknowledged the books to be his. "As to the second," he said, ". . . I should act imprudently were I to reply without reflection. I might affirm less than the circumstance demands, or more than truth requires . . . For this reason I entreat your imperial majesty, with all humility, to allow me time, that I may answer without offending against the word of God" (D'Aubigne, b.7, ch. 8).

The next day he was to render his final answer. Not for his own safety, but for the triumph of the gospel did he wrestle with God. In his utter helplessness his faith fastened upon Christ, the mighty Deliverer. He was strengthened with the assurance that he would not appear alone before the council. Peace returned to his soul, and he rejoiced that he was permitted to uplift the Word of God before the rulers of the nations.

Calm and peaceful, yet grandly brave and noble, he stood as God's witness among the great ones of earth. The imperial officer now demanded his decision as to whether he desired to retract his doctrines. Luther made his answer in a subdued and humble tone, without violence or passion. His demeanor was diffident and respectful; yet he manifested a confidence and joy that surprised the assembly. "I shall defend myself as Christ did: 'If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.' . . . By the mercy of God, I conjure you, most serene emperor, and you, most illustrious princes, and all men of every degree, to prove from the writings of the prophets and apostles that I have erred. As soon as I am convinced of this, I will retract every error, and be the first to lay hold of my books and throw them into the fire" (Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8).

Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, ... I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen

Those who stubbornly closed their eyes to the light were enraged at the power of Luther's words. The spokesman of the Diet said angrily: "You have not answered the question put to you. . . . You are required to give a clear and precise answer. . . Will you, or will you not, retract?""

Luther's final answer: no retraction
The Reformer answered: "Since your most serene majesty and your high mightiness require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, . . . I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen" (Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8).

Said the spokesman of the Diet: "If you do not retract, the emperor and the states of the empire will consult what course to adopt against an incorrigible heretic."

Luther's friends, who had with great joy listened to his noble defense, trembled at these words; but the doctor himself said calmly: "May God be my helper, for I can retract nothing" (Ibid., b.7, ch. 8).

Had the Reformer yielded a single point, Satan and his hosts would have gained the victory. But his unwavering firmness was the means of emancipating the church. The influence of this one man, who dared to think and act for himself in religious matters, was to affect the church and the world, not only in his own time, but in all future generations.

Background courtesy of The Background Boutique.

Copyright 1996 Family Heritage Books. Used by permission. The text of this magazine, written by Ellen G. White, was taken from The Great Controversy (subheads added)