Luther was born in what is now Germany 1483 and trained as a lawyer but vowed to become a monk when he prayed to St Catherine during a severe thunder storm. He joined the Augustinian Order and was sent to Rome where he saw the moral vices and hypocrisy of the religious establishment. The then Pope, Julius II was warring against the Venetians; the previous Pope, Alexander Borgia, was infamous for his mistresses, intrigues, poisonings and torture chambers.
Luther returned to Germany where his quick wits and wide reading promoted him to rank of theology professor in Wittenberg’s new university. Studying the scriptures opened his eyes. Strangely, Catholic clergy back then read commentaries on the Bible, but not the Bible itself. It was also only read in Jerome’s reasonably translated Latin Vulgate, rather than the Greek and Hebrew of the original.
He had become terrified of God- the vengeful, tyrannical judge of the Apocalypse. The phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ in the book of Romans terrified him. He read Romans 3:21: ‘But now a righteousness of God apart from Law is revealed’. He realised that God was not expecting the sinner to gain salvation through his own good efforts, but in the righteousness freely given by God to the believer.
At the same time, Johann Von Tetzel was peddling indulgences to help finance the rebuilding of St Peter’s in Rome. These certificates enabled a loved one to escape the fires of purgatory for the sake of a few coins. Luther said purgatory should be relieved of its prisoners freely, not through payment. He went onto establish that scripture alone was the source of Christian doctrine, and therefore rejected purgatory itself.
There’s no doubt Luther was a crude man- he often shouted at the devil whilst on the toilet and belched and broke wind without shame. But he helped light a beacon in Europe and the world that, by God’s grace, still burns.
Some Luther quotes:
• ‘Here I felt that I was altogether born again, and had entered Paradise itself through open gates’
A reference here to his conversion.
• ‘Let the Turk believe and live as he will, just as one lets the papacy and other false Christians live.’
A welcome nod towards religious freedom. People should be free to reject, as well accept the gospel.
• ‘Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the church; it is a goodly Christian weapon.
God answers prayer- yet prayer meetings are notoriously poorly attended.
• ‘The will is a beast of burden. If God mounts it, it wishes and goes as God wills; if Satan mounts it, it wishes and goes as Satan wills; Nor can it choose its rider... the riders contend for its possession.’
Luther talked of 'the bondage of the will'- outside of Christ we are merely slaves to our sinful desires which control us.
• ‘Pray, and let God worry.’
If we've given our burdens to God, is it not a lack of faith in Him that we then continue to fret?
• ‘Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.’
As Bonhoeffer said, this is not a license to sin, but an assurance that God's grace exceeds our sin.
• ‘I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.’
Spoken at the famous Diet (or parliament) of Worms before the emperor.
• ‘Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has.’
Our faculty of reason is corrupted by the Fall; scripture, however, is pure revelation from God.
• ‘The Gospel cannot be truly preached without offense and tumult.’
The gospel IS offensive. It involves telling respectable folk they're sinners, and church-goers they need to be born-again.
• ‘Dear Devil . . . I have soiled my pants and breeches; hang them on your neck and wipe your mouth with them’
A classic Lutherism; the gritty German humour that appealed to the ordinary folk.
• ‘The Pope is a mere tormentor of conscience. The assembly of his greased and religious crew in praying was altogether like the croaking of frogs, which edified nothing at all.’
• ‘I am cleansing my bowels and worshipping God Almighty; You (Satan) deserve what descends and God what ascends.’
• ‘It is a wonder that it did not tear his hole and belly apart’ (on the Pope breaking wind).