Here I Stand

by Rev. Peter McIntyre - Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church
Here We Still Stand
Here I Stand
The panorama of Martin Luther's life is dominated by his bold declaration at Worms in April 1521. Summonsed to the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire, Luther embarked on what was potentially his final journey, to stand before Emperor Charles V, the princes of the German states, theologians and prelates. Since he nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church Door four years previously, the German Monk had waited for this moment, to publicly confess his faith and argue his defence from Scripture. His friends pleaded with him not to attend, reminding him of the fate of good John Huss of Prague, who went to the Church Council at Constance in 1415, under the promise of safe conduct, only to be burned to death. For Luther, the situation was a little different. Huss met a Church Council, whereas Luther was going to a Diet of the Empire convened in Germany. He had a powerful friend at this august assembly in Frederick the Wise of Saxony, who had secured from Charles V safe passage. Nevertheless, he remained an excommunicated monk who had incurred the wrath of the Papacy, and the risks were high. Nevertheless, Luther knew that his destiny lay at the Diet; and so he responded to the fears of his friends that he would travel, even if every roof tile in Worms was a devil!

The earliest portrait extant of Luther is dated from this period, 1520 to be precise. His face is gaunt, and his eyes are sunken. He appears as one so very, very different from the portly Luther of later years. These were times of pressure and fear. He had fought the battle with sin and guilt, and now he was engaged with the forces of Hell who were seeking to destroy him through the instrumentality of Church and State. Luther appears an unlikely figure to face foes so strong and sinister. Yet he was standing on the side of truth, and he was determined to make his defence even if it meant martyrdom. He must be faithful unto death. He must face his enemies and show that he is not afraid because God is with him.

Presenting himself to the Diet of Worms, Luther was confronted with his works, which by 1521 had amounted to a prodigious collection. While he was anticipating an opportunity to argue, debate, remonstrate and show from Scripture that what he taught was not heretical, but was based upon Scripture (which ought to be the sole authority of the Church), his enemies had other ideas. By this time, the monk had a considerable following in Germany. He was more than a theologian and priest. He had become a popular national figure, a symbol of the growing resentment that had been festering within the German psyche for a generation. He was the German standing against foreigners who were exercising power over the people, seizing their wealth, and carrying it away to Spain and Rome. As he arrived in Worms dressed in his simple monastic garments, he received the accolades of the people, much to the frustration of Charles V. Therefore, he must not be given a platform. A simple yes or no answer was what was required. Luther felt that such an approach was inadequate. He needed time to explain and argue his case; but his enemies were afraid of his logic, and so he was denied this opportunity.

He was granted one night to reflect on his reply. This request for space shows Luther to be a thoughtful, prayerful individual who was wont to examine his soul before facing the greatest challenge of his life. The following day, when presented with the same writings and the identical question, he is portrayed with his timeless and Reformation defining response:
"If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God's word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen."

These words reveal the resolute spirit that so imbibed Luther. Casting aside all his fears, he chose to stand with God's Word and expressed a willingness to embrace the martyr's stake if that was what God required of him. He refused to be moulded by Church and State, insisting that the sole arbiter of truth can only be the Word of God. With confidence, therefore, he boldly declared to this body who held the power of his life in their hands:
"Here I Stand"
The Motto of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster during this anniversary year has been based upon Luther's faithfulness at Worms - HERE WE STILL STAND.

At the close of the Reformation Thanksgiving Service in Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, organised by our Presbytery, on 27th October 2017, Dr Ian Brown, Clerk of the General Presbytery, led the vast congregation in an oath of affirmation, where together we promised before God and in the presence of one another that we as a denomination will continue to be faithful to the principles set forth in the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation. As I, along with several thousand others recited the words at the end of each Sola - "Here we Still Stand" - I could not help but reflect upon the faithfulness of our Scottish forefathers, that illustrious group known as the Covenanters. They too had made a vow to God when they signed the National Covenant of 1638 and again the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. These were important documents pledging the Scottish Church to uphold the Presbyterian form of Church Government, without interference from the King and Parliament, and to resist any return to Popery in the Kingdom. When Charles II and James II moved to usurp the independence of the Church of Scotland many capitulated. There were nobles, preachers and ordinary people who forgot their solemn vows and compromised with the King and his Government. Thousands of others refused to compromise because their covenanting vows were based entirely upon God's Word. They were the Covenanters. Like Luther, they declared with boldness "Here I Stand". Great was their sacrifice. From the execution of Alexander Campbell, the 1st Marquis of Argyll on 27th May 1661, to young James Renwick on 17th February 1688, 18,000 chose death rather than betray what they had vowed before God. Whether the martyrs were famous preachers such as Donald Cargill or Richard Cameron, or whether they were folk of simple faith like John Brown of Priesthill or the Wigtown Martyrs, their motto was the same: HERE WE STILL STAND.

The Five Solas present us with simple Gospel Truth, the preaching of which has been central to the ministry of our denomination since its inception in 1951. The message of "Scripture Alone", "Faith Alone", "Grace Alone", "Christ Alone" and "To the Glory of God Alone" lie at the heart of the presentation of the Gospel and are the bedrock of a faithful ministry. HERE WE STILL STAND.

The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster separated from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1951 because of the growing liberalism and ecumenical agenda that had become endemic within its ranks. Observing the ecumenical spirit that remains within the ranks of Irish Presbyterian ministers and other unscriptural practices such as the prevalence of modern and unreliable versions, the lack of head-covering amongst ladies in worship, and the ordination of female ministers and elders, we are reminded that the need for a separated Presbyterian Church remains. On this principle of separation wholly grounded on "Scripture Alone" we must declare - HERE WE STILL STAND.

We are deeply conscious that we are facing many challenges looking into the future. On the ecumenical front, preparations are being made for a suggested Papal visit in 2018. As Protestant Clergy and politicians of every shade, it seems, are prepared to welcome Pope Francis, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster will continue to object to such a visit and protest against it, if the event transpires. This is not because we do not believe in religious liberty, but because the Papacy usurps Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest and King and lords over Christendom as the Vicar of our Saviour on earth. If Pope Francis comes, he will claim jurisdiction over Roman Catholics and Protestants because Rome believes, as it did in Luther's time, that the Church cannot exist without the authority of the Papacy. Therefore, out of loyalty to Christ and with faithfulness to our ordination vows we must object. No Pope Here. HERE WE STILL STAND.

Morally, our nation is rapidly opening the hatch of hell unleashing all manner of wickedness upon our peoples. Sodomy, gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia and now gender fluidity are regularly discussed; and those who object are the promoters of hate in this depraved society. As it was in Hosea's time, so it is in 21st Century Britain; society declares that "the spiritual man is mad" (Hosea 9:7). As our nation is clearly heading for a collision course with the judgement of God, sowing the wind to reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7), we must increasingly raise our voices promoting the teachings of God's Word being prepared to face prosecution if need be. Standing with Luther - HERE WE STILL STAND.

We have taken our vows. We have entered into a covenant with God. Are we prepared to carry the spirit of the Reformation into 2018 and beyond? To vow rashly is be unwise, but to vow and then break our pledge is to be more than unwise - it is to be sinful and will certainly bring about the chastening of God. There is no room for complacency. These are times which demand the greatest of conviction, but above all we need the power of the Holy Ghost to attend our ministry, that God would rend the heavens and come down and that the mountains might flow down at His presence (Isaiah 64:1).

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