It’s Advent 3, but John the Baptist was certainly not the only John in history sitting alone in a prison cell. Thanks to the English translation of Nathaniel Bierbert, we have the magnanimous words of John Frederick from his cell. Couldn’t help but include them. It is hard to believe that these are the words of a politician! Soli Deo Gloria!
Elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony’s Confession Against the Interim
I listened obediently when I was told that the Roman Imperial and Royal Majesty and the electors, princes, and estates of the empire had resolved how affairs will proceed in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation with regard to the Christian religion until a council should be held, and that the Imperial Majesty earnestly desires of me that I too would consent to the just-mentioned resolution and subscribe to the same.
Now, I am able to recall that when the most highly esteemed Imperial Majesty drew up the Capitulation, at first he also included an article saying that I was to obligate myself to whatever what would be decided in a council or that I would accept whatever Your Majesty would decree in matters of faith and not be opposed to the same. But when it was humbly announced to Your Majesty that I could not make such an agreement for many fitting reasons having to do with my conscience, and that no threat to body or life would bring me to do so, Your Majesty commanded that the aforementioned article be stricken and did not pursue any further dealings with me with respect to religion, which I also thus received with humble thanksgiving. And after I was relieved of this burdening of my conscience, everything else in person and possession was humbly surrendered to Your Imperial Majesty’s supremely gracious will and pleasure that much more readily. And after the Capitulation was formalized in all good faith, no further demands were supposed to be made of me, but I was to be permitted to continue in the religion I had embraced and professed. But since the Roman Imperial Majesty is now once again desiring of me that I give my consent to the prepared Interim or legal proposal [Rathschlag], I therefore, in humility, cannot leave Your Majesty uninformed that I have been thoroughly taught and instructed by the servants of the Divine Word from youth onward, and by diligently searching the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures I have come to know – and with God’s help I attest that I maintain this in my conscience without any wavering – that the articles as comprised in the Augsburg Confession, and whatever is in the same vein, are the correct, true, Christian, pure doctrine and are confirmed and founded in the writings of the holy prophets and apostles, and in the writings of the teachers who have followed in their footsteps, to such a degree that nothing conclusive can be produced against them.
It is for this reason that formerly my gracious, dear lord father, of blessed memory, and others, out of good and sufficient intelligence and learning, also for their part made us adhere to this Confession many years ago through legitimate ways and means, until a free, Christian, and impartial council should reach a decision. And by God’s grace and mercy, my pious lord father and I have stood by this confession – he to his grave, and I to the present day. And also as part of our governance, before and after the Confession, we have had this doctrine taught and preached, and we have known no other way – even as I still know no other way – to have the eternal, imperishable truth of God announced and expounded to our subjects than in this way. Since then I am now firmly convinced of this in my conscience, I owe God this gratitude and obedience in response to this inexpressible grace which he has shown me, namely that I do not fall away from the truth I have come to know and have confessed, the truth of his almighty will, the will he has revealed to all the world through his Word – so great is my desire to inherit eternal salvation and to escape eternal damnation. For this is what it says in that comforting and terrifying passage of God’s Word: “Whoever confesses me before other people, him I will confess before my heavenly Father. But whoever disowns me before other people, him I will also disown before my heavenly Father” [Matthew 10:32-33]. But if I were to acknowledge and accept the Interim as something Christian and godly, then I would have to go against my conscience and deliberately and intentionally condemn and disown the Augsburg Confession and that which I have hitherto maintained and believed about the gospel of Jesus Christ in many chief articles of doctrine on which salvation depends, and I would have to approve with my mouth that which I considered in my heart and conscience to be completely and utterly contrary to the holy and divine Scriptures. Oh, God in heaven, that would be a misuse and horrible blaspheming of your holy name, and it would be like I was trying to deceive and mislead both you on high in your exalted majesty and my secular jurisdiction here below on earth with fancy words, for which I would have to pay dearly, and all too dearly, with my soul. For that is the true sin against the Holy Spirit, concerning which Christ makes clear that it shall never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the next, that is, into eternity. Since then I am tied up and imprisoned in my conscience (according to my perception of its voice) and since I know better from the instruction of proven testimonies of Divine Scripture, I therefore ask in all submissiveness and humility, through the mercy of God which he has shown to the entire human race through the incarnation and death of his only and beloved Son, our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, that the Imperial Majesty would not be put out by me for not agreeing to the Interim and instead stubbornly persisting in the Augsburg Confession, and for setting everything else aside and considering only how I might partake of eternal joys after this life of misery and trouble.
For the Imperial Majesty seems to have the idea that what I really want has nothing to do with religion or faith, but with some hoped-for reputation and other temporal things along with it – as if anything, out all the temporal possessions available, could be more desirable to me than my freedom and, above all, the prospect of going with my heavy and enfeebled body to be with wife and child in peace and ease. These are thoughts of the heart, which no one can know but God himself. But I testify before the face of God, and wish to testify at the Last Judgment, when God will demand an account from me and all people as to how we have spent our lives here in thoughts, words, and actions, that I am seeking nothing in this matter except the glory of his omnipotence and how I might be received as a child and heir of eternal life. As far as external matters are concerned, I have always been eager to render humble obedience to the Imperial Majesty, as God knows, and I will continue to do that and to keep inviolable what I have promised, vowed, and sworn to the Imperial Majesty, with all the integrity of a prince. I pray that the almighty God would soften Your Majesty’s heart toward me, that I might one day obtain favor with respect to my protracted imprisonment and be paternally released from the same, lest I be allowed to be the first prince and blood relative of Your Majesty to spend his life in prison during the reign of Your Majesty: to whom I let myself be herewith commended in all humility.
Johann Friedrich the Elder