The church as a whole, and in Wittenberg in particular, anticipated the observance of All Saints Day on November 1, 1517. Therefore, indulgence vendors were in full force. The most notorious of these peddlers was Johann Tetzel.
When entering a town, Tetzel proceeded with a great deal of pomp and circumstance. A cross bearing the pope’s official declaration was held high on a gold-embroidered cushion. The cross, or crucifix, was then planted in the town square, and then Tetzel would begin his sermon. An excerpt follows:
“Consider the salvation of your souls and those of your departed loved ones. Visit the holy cross erected before you. Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends beseeching you and saying, ‘Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance.’ Do you not wish to? Open you ears. Hear the father saying to his son, the mother to her daughter, ‘We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel and hard that now you are not willing for so little to set us free. Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory’?”
There was a little song which was composed in light of Tetzel’s motivational speaking. It went like this: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs.”
Talk about a guilt trip! What was a person to do in such an atmosphere but to comply and by so doing alleviate the suffering of their departed dead, as well as their guilt. The tragedy is that this does not, and cannot, happen. There is no such thing as purgatory, but only the promise of heaven for the believer, and the promise of hell for the unbeliever.
How many candles have been lit, and prayers said and monies given for the deliverance of the dead? Tetzel even had people believing that the cross he brought to a town square was of equal value to the cross Jesus Christ bore to Calvary.
As far as Martin Luther was concerned, he had had enough.
I encourage you to rest in the knowledge that in Christ alone, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1) by grace alone, through faith alone. Reject any notion that forgiveness can be purchased by anything other than the precious blood of Christ (I Peter 1:17-18).
Soli deo Gloria!