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Martin Luther
by [?]

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Martin Luther was thirty-five years old. He was short in stature, inclining to be stout, strenuous and bold. His faults and his virtues were all on the surface. He neither deceived nor desired to deceive–the distinguishing feature of his character was frankness. He was an Augustinian monk, serving as a teacher in the University of Wittenberg.

Up to this time his life had been uneventful. His parents had been very poor people–his father a day-laborer, working in the copper-mines. In his boyhood Martin was “stubborn and intractable,” which means that he had life plus. His teachers had tried to repress him by flogging him “fifteen times in a forenoon,” as he himself has told us.

In childhood he used to beg upon the streets, and so he could the better beg he was taught to sing. This rough, early experience wore off all timidity, and put “stage-fright” forever behind. He could not remember a time when he could not sing a song or make a speech.

That he developed all the alertness and readiness of tongue and fist of the street-urchin there is no doubt.

When he was taken into a monastery at eighteen years of age, the fact that he was a good singer and a most successful beggar were points of excellence that were not overlooked.

That the young man was stubbornly honest in his religious faith, there is not a particle of doubt. The strength of his nature and the extent of his passion made his life in the monastery most miserable. He had not yet reached the point that many of the older monks had, and learned how to overcome temptation by succumbing to it, so he fasted for days until he became too weak to walk, watched the night away in vigils, and whipped his poor body with straps until the blood flowed.

We now think it is man’s duty to eat proper food, to sleep at night, and to care for his body, so as to bring it to the most perfect condition possible–all this that he may use his life to its highest and best. Life is a privilege and not a crime.

But Martin Luther never knew of these things and there was none to teach him, and probably he would have rejected them stoutly if they had been presented–arguing the question six nights and days together.

The result of all that absurd flying in the face of Nature was indigestion and its concomitant, nervous irritability. These demons fastened upon him for life; and we have his word for it in a thousand places that he regarded them as veritable devils–thus does man create his devil in his own image. Luther had visions–he “saw things,” and devils, witches and spirits were common callers to the day of his death.

In those early monastery days he used to have fits of depression when he was sure that he had committed the “unpardonable sin,” and over and over in his mind he would recount his shortcomings. He went to confession so often that he wore out the patience of at least one confessor, who once said to him, “Brother Martin, you are not so much a sinner as a fool.” Still another gave him this good advice, “God is not angry with you, but He will be if you keep on, for you are surely angry with Him–you had better think less about yourself and more of others: go to work!”

This excellent counsel was followed. Luther began to study the Scriptures and the writings of the saints. He took part in the disputes which were one of the principal diversions of all monasteries.

Now, a monk had the privilege of remaining densely ignorant, or he could become learned. Life in a monastery was not so very different from what it was outside–a monk gravitated to where he belonged. The young man showed such skill as a debater, and such commendable industry at all of his tasks, from scrubbing the floor to expounding Scripture, that he was sent to the neighboring University of Erfurt. From there he was transferred to the University of Wittenberg. In the classes at these universities the plan obtained, which is still continued in all theological schools, of requiring a student to defend his position on his feet. Knotty propositions are put forth, and logical complications fired at the youth as a necessary part of his mental drill. Beside this there were societies where all sorts of abstrusities and absurdities were argued to a standstill.