The apostle Paul, having stood alone before the Roman emperor, the most powerful man on earth, said, “When I was first put on trial, no one helped me … But the Lord stood beside me. He gave me … strength” (2 Tim 4:16-17). Centuries later, another stood before the greatest ruler on earth making a similar defense—and Luther, too, discovered that God gives unexplained courage at critical moments.

Pope Leo had demanded that Martin Luther retract his teachings. Luther responded by burning the papal orders, and the impasse forced Emperor Charles V to convene an Imperial Congress in Worms, a German city on the Rhine, on April 18, 1521.

Leo sent lawyers to discredit Luther, who determined to defend himself even at risk of life. “I will not flee, still less recant,” Luther said. “May the Lord Jesus strengthen me.” Luther left Wittenberg on the ten-day journey with three friends, riding in a rough two-wheel cart. Crowds gathered along the way, and Luther preached at every stop. But as he grew closer to Worms, suspense grew. His friends warned he would suffer the same fate as John Hus. “Though Hus was burned,” Luther replied, “the truth was not burned, and Christ still lives. … I shall go to Worms, though there were as many devils there as tiles on the roofs.”

Luther’s arrival in Worms was heralded by city watchmen blowing horns, and thousands gathered. Stepping from his wagon, Luther whispered, “God will be with me.” Shortly, he stood before Emperor Charles V and the congress. The tension was thick as fog, and Luther, appearing to lose his nerve, mumbled and seemed near collapse. But the next day, fortified by prayer, he thundered his defense of the sufficiency of Scripture. “I cannot and will not recant!” he reportedly said. “Here I stand. God help me! Amen.” The congress erupted in confusion and was abruptly adjourned. Luther’s friends quickly spirited him to safety. Luther later said, “I was fearless, I was afraid of nothing; God can make one so desperately bold.” And such is the testimony of all those who stand alone for Christ in perilous times.

The Lord will always keep me from being harmed by evil, and he will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. (2 Timothy 4:18a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 28.

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