Martin Luther’s Stand

On April 17, 1521, at the Diet of Worms (an imperial meeting in Worms, Germany) Martin Luther stood before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and many high representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. The hall was full of churchmen and civil leaders, governors and nobles, some who supported Luther as a heroic theologian and others who wanted him to burn as a heretic.

Luther must have felt the weight of the whole world upon his shoulders. In fact, he had stood right where he was on the day before and asked for some time to consider how he would answer the lethal question he was being asked, “Will you recant these things you have written and said?” Luther’s life was a stake because he had written and said things that impugned the doctrines and dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. He would have to withdraw his words or face serious consequences.

Four years earlier, Professor Martin Luther published an academic work on the university bulletin board. He wrote his now famous 95 Theses in Latin, which amounted to a professor’s invitation for scholarly dialogue on the practice of indulgences. Nailing this document to the chapel door in Wittenberg was the pivotal moment that set Luther’s trajectory towards the Diet of Worms.

Now, there Luther stood, surrounded by such an illustrious crowd. If he refused to recant, he would be charged as a heretic and burned alive. If he recanted, he feared the wrath of God would come upon him for not standing for divine truth amidst such tyrannical error. However, it does not seem that fear compelled him most. He was convinced by Scripture, and he simply could not knowingly deny what had gripped him so.

In a clear and distinct voice, Martin Luther answered,

“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”[1]

In God’s providence, Luther did not die that day, nor was he ever burned as a heretic. He was certainly condemned as an enemy of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Edict of Worms (a decree issued soon after the Diet), Charles V offered a reward for Luther’s capture (dead or alive), but Luther remained a champion of biblical Christianity until he died from various ailments and fatigue at 62 years old.

Like Athanasius before him, Martin Luther lived contra mundum (against the world), but he reminds us that the word of God is true even if the whole world is against it. May God raise up many convinced men and women in our own day, and may we be gripped – above all else – by His word.

[1] Reeves, Michael. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (p. 15). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you enjoyed this post, see by article Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and my essay Luther & the “Five Solas” of the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

It has been said that Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 theses to the chapel door at the university of Wittenberg. If that is true, then the content of Luther’s theses is quite lackluster. There are certainly points at which Luther’s words must have upset the bloated belly of the Roman Catholic Church of the sixteenth-century, but the dramatic doctrinal disputes for which the Protestant Reformation is known are simply absent.

That said, Luther’s theses are still potent and worth our time. This is especially true when we become more familiar with the context.

Martin grew up a faithful German son of the Roman Catholic Church. His father, Hans, was a miner who had worked hard to send Martin to law school. Expecting a profitable career in law, Hans was furious when Martin decided he would become a monk instead. Martin was plagued by guilt, and he feared God’s wrath was always imminent. He, like many young men and women of Martin’s day, thought the best way to appease God would be to serve Him through monastic life.

Martin’s fears, however, only intensified when he joined the Augustinian order. He punished his body through abuse and fasting. He confessed sins in the confessional chamber for hours at a time. Martin said later that if anyone could have earned entrance into heaven my “monkery,” then he would surely have qualified.

In order to help him address his fears, Martin’s mentor and friend (John Staupitz) sent him to Wittenberg to be a professor of theology. This may seem odd, but Staupitz believed that Martin would be best served by studying the Bible deeply – surprisingly something he had not done as a monk. Martin Luther did become a professor, and he earned his doctorate degree in theology.

At some point, teaching through the New Testament book of Romans, Luther began to understand the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “righteousness” of God was not something a person must achieve, but it is something God gives to those who trust in Christ (Rom. 1:17).

Luther progressively pulled away from the Roman Catholic Church, since he discovered vast differences between Scripture and Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine. Luther’s 95 theses were posted somewhat early in his theological pilgrimage out of Rome. This is why we don’t see a more full-orbed disputation of Roman Catholic doctrines in them. However, we are able to see the beginning of a trajectory and a brilliant mind express disagreements that would take finer shape over time.

I commend the reading of Luther’s theses to you.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, in his own (translated) words:

In the desire and with the purpose of elucidating the truth, a disputation will be held on the underwritten propositions at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Monk of the Order of St. Augustine, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and ordinary Reader of the same in that place. He therefore asks those who cannot be present and discuss the subject with us orally, to do so by letter in their absence. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ in saying: “Repent ye,”[1] etc., intended that the whole life of believers should be penitence.
  2. This word cannot be understood of sacramental penance, that is, of the confession and satisfaction which are performed under the ministry of priests.
  3. It does not, however, refer solely to inward penitence; nay such inward penitence is naught, unless it outwardly produces various mortifications of the flesh.
  4. The penalty[2] thus continues as long as the hatred of self — that is, true inward penitence — continues; namely, till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The Pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties, except those which he has imposed by his own authority, or by that of the canons.
  6. The Pope has no power to remit any guilt, except by declaring and warranting it to have been remitted by God; or at most by remitting cases reserved for himself; in which cases, if his power were despised, guilt would certainly remain.
  7. God never remits any man’s guilt, without at the same time subjecting him, humbled in all things, to the authority of his representative the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and no burden ought to be imposed on the dying, according to them.
  9. Hence the Holy Spirit acting in the Pope does well for us, in that, in his decrees, he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Those priests act wrongly and unlearnedly, who, in the case of the dying, reserve the canonical penances for purgatory.
  11. Those tares about changing of the canonical penalty into the penalty of purgatory seem surely to have been sown while the bishops were asleep.
  12. Formerly the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying pay all penalties by death, and are already dead to the canon laws, and are by right relieved from them.
  14. The imperfect soundness or charity of a dying person necessarily brings with it great fear, and the less it is, the greater the fear it brings.
  15. This fear and horror is sufficient by itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the pains of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven appear to differ as despair, almost despair, and peace of mind differ.
  17. With souls in purgatory it seems that it must needs be that, as horror diminishes, so charity increases.
  18. Nor does it seem to be proved by any reasoning or any scriptures, that they are outside of the state of merit or of the increase of charity.
  19. Nor does this appear to be proved, that they are sure and confident of their own blessedness, at least all of them, though we may be very sure of it.
  20. Therefore the Pope, when he speaks of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean simply of all, but only of those imposed by himself.
  21. Thus those preachers of indulgences are in error who say that, by the indulgences of the Pope, a man is loosed and saved from all punishment.
  22. For in fact he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which they would have had to pay in this life according to the canons.
  23. If any entire remission of all penalties can be granted to any one, it is certain that it is granted to none but the most perfect, that is, to very few.
  24. Hence the greater part of the people must needs be deceived by this indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalties.
  25. Such power as the Pope has over purgatory in general, such has every bishop in his own diocese, and every curate in his own parish, in particular.
  26. The Pope acts most rightly in granting remission to souls, not by the power of the keys (which is of no avail in this case) but by the way of suffrage.
  27. They preach man, who say that the soul flies out of purgatory as soon as the money thrown into the chest rattles.
  28. It is certain that, when the money rattles in the chest, avarice and gain may be increased, but the suffrage of the Church depends on the will of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory desire to be redeemed from it, according to the story told of Saints Severinus and Paschal.
  30. No man is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of the attainment of plenary remission.
  31. Rare as is a true penitent, so rare is one who truly buys indulgences — that is to say, most rare.
  32. Those who believe that, through letters of pardon, they are made sure of their own salvation, will be eternally damned along with their teachers.
  33. We must especially beware of those who say that these pardons from the Pope are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to God.
  34. For the grace conveyed by these pardons has respect only to the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, which are of human appointment.
  35. They preach no Christian doctrine, who teach that contrition is not necessary for those who buy souls out of purgatory or buy confessional licences.
  36. Every Christian who feels true compunction has of right plenary remission of pain and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
  37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has a share in all the benefits of Christ and of the Church, given him by God, even without letters of pardon.
  38. The remission, however, imparted by the Pope is by no means to be despised, since it is, as I have said, a declaration of the Divine remission.
  39. It is a most difficult thing, even for the most learned theologians, to exalt at the same time in the eyes of the people the ample effect of pardons and the necessity of true contrition.
  40. True contrition seeks and loves punishment; while the ampleness of pardons relaxes it, and causes men to hate it, or at least gives occasion for them to do so.
  41. Apostolical pardons ought to be proclaimed with caution, lest the people should falsely suppose that they are placed before other good works of charity.
  42. Christians should be taught that it is not the mind of the Pope that the buying of pardons is to be in any way compared to works of mercy.
  43. Christians should be taught that he who gives to a poor man, or lends to a needy man, does better than if he bought pardons.
  44. Because, by a work of charity, charity increases, and the man becomes better; while, by means of pardons, he does not become better, but only freer from punishment.
  45. Christians should be taught that he who sees any one in need, and, passing him by, gives money for pardons, is not purchasing for himself the indulgences of the Pope, but the anger of God.
  46. Christians should be taught that, unless they have superfluous wealth, they are bound to keep what is necessary for the use of their own households, and by no means to lavish it on pardons.
  47. Christians should be taught that, while they are free to buy pardons, they are not commanded to do so.
  48. Christians should be taught that the Pope, in granting pardons, has both more need and more desire that devout prayer should be made for him, than that money should be readily paid.
  49. Christians should be taught that the Pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them, but most hurtful, if through them they lose the fear of God.
  50. Christians should be taught that, if the Pope were acquainted with the exactions of the preachers of pardons, he would prefer that the Basilica of St. Peter should be burnt to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians should be taught that, as it would be the duty, so it would be the wish of the Pope, even to sell, if necessary, the Basilica of St. Peter, and to give of his own money to very many of those from whom the preachers of pardons extract money.
  52. Vain is the hope of salvation through letters of pardon, even if a commissary — nay, the Pope himself — were to pledge his own soul for them.
  53. They are enemies of Christ and of the Pope, who, in order that pardons may be preached, condemn the word of God to utter silence in other churches.
  54. Wrong is done to the word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is spent on pardons than on it.
  55. The mind of the Pope necessarily is that, if pardons, which are a very small matter, are celebrated with single bells, single processions, and single ceremonies, the Gospel, which is a very great matter, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, and a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The treasures of the Church, whence the Pope grants indulgences, are neither sufficiently named nor known among the people of Christ.
  57. It is clear that they are at least not temporal treasures, for these are not so readily lavished, but only accumulated, by many of the preachers.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and of the saints, for these, independently of the Pope, are always working grace to the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell to the outer man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church are the poor of the Church, but he spoke according to the use of the word in his time.
  60. We are not speaking rashly when we say that the keys of the Church, bestowed through the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
  61. For it is clear that the power of the Pope is alone sufficient for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases.
  62. The true treasure of the Church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.
  63. This treasure, however, is deservedly most hateful, because it makes the first to be last.
  64. While the treasure of indulgences is deservedly most acceptable, because it makes the last to be first.
  65. Hence the treasures of the Gospel are nets, wherewith of old they fished for the men of riches.
  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets, wherewith they now fish for the riches of men.
  67. Those indulgences, which the preachers loudly proclaim to be the greatest graces, are seen to be truly such as regards the promotion of gain.
  68. Yet they are in reality in no degree to be compared to the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to receive the commissaries of apostolical pardons with all reverence.
  70. But they are still more bound to see to it with all their eyes, and take heed with all their ears, that these men do not preach their own dreams in place of the Pope’s commission.
  71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolical pardons, let him be anathema and accursed.
  72. But he, on the other hand, who exerts himself against the wantonness and licence of speech of the preachers of pardons, let him be blessed.
  73. As the Pope justly thunders against those who use any kind of contrivance to the injury of the traffic in pardons,
  74. Much more is it his intention to thunder against those who, under the pretext of pardons, use contrivances to the injury of holy charity and of truth.
  75. To think that Papal pardons have such power that they could absolve a man even if — by an impossibility — he had violated the Mother of God, is madness.
  76. We affirm on the contrary that Papal pardons cannot take away even the least of venial sins, as regards its guilt.
  77. The saying that, even if St. Peter were now Pope, he could grant no greater graces, is blasphemy against St. Peter and the Pope.
  78. We affirm on the contrary that both he and any other Pope has greater graces to grant, namely, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc. (1 Cor. xii. 9.)
  79. To say that the cross set up among the insignia of the Papal arms is of equal power with the cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
  80. Those bishops, curates, and theologians who allow such discourses to have currency among the people, will have to render an account.
  81. This licence in the preaching of pardons makes it no easy thing, even for learned men, to protect the reverence due to the Pope against the calumnies, or, at all events, the keen questionings of the laity.
  82. As for instance: Why does not the Pope empty purgatory for the sake of most holy charity and of the supreme necessity of souls — this being the most just of all reasons — if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of that most fatal thing money, to be spent on building a basilica — this being a very slight reason?
  83. Again; why do funeral masses and anniversary masses for the deceased continue, and why does not the Pope return, or permit the withdrawal of the funds bequeathed for this purpose, since it is a wrong to pray for those who are already redeemed?
  84. Again; what is this new kindness of God and the Pope, in that, for money’s sake, they permit an impious man and an enemy of God to redeem a pious soul which loves God, and yet do not redeem that same pious and beloved soul, out of free charity, on account of its own need?
  85. Again; why is it that the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in themselves in very fact and not only by usage, are yet still redeemed with money, through the granting of indulgences, as if they were full of life?
  86. Again; why does not the Pope, whose riches are at this day more ample than those of the wealthiest of the wealthy, build the one Basilica of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with that of poor believers?
  87. Again; what does the Pope remit or impart to those who, through perfect contrition, have a right to plenary remission and participation?
  88. Again; what greater good would the Church receive if the Pope, instead of once, as he does now, were to bestow these remissions and participations a hundred times a day on any one of the faithful?
  89. Since it is the salvation of souls, rather than money, that the Pope seeks by his pardons, why does he suspend the letters and pardons granted long ago, since they are equally efficacious?
  90. To repress these scruples and arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to solve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the Pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian men unhappy.
  91. If then pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the Pope, all these questions would be resolved with ease; nay, would not exist.
  92. Away then with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ: “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace.
  93. Blessed be all those prophets, who say to the people of Christ: “The cross, the cross,” and there is no cross.
  94. Christians should be exhorted to strive to follow Christ their head through pains, deaths, and hells.
  95. And thus trust to enter heaven through many tribulations, rather than in the security of peace.

 

[1] In the Latin, from the Vulgate, “agite pœnitentiam,” sometimes translated “Do penance.” The effect of the following theses depends to some extent on the double meaning of “pœnitentia”—penitence and penance.

[2] I.e. “Pœna,” the connection between “pœna” and “pœnitentia” being again suggestive.

*The content above is part of Martin Luther’s larger body of work, which you can find at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL)

 

If you enjoyed this post, I suggest reading my brief article Martin Luther’s Stand and my not-so-brief essay Luther & the “Five Solas” of the Reformation.

 

Luther & the “Five Solas” of the Reformation

Martin Luther was a giant of history… [He] was the pioneer Reformer, the one whom God first used to spark a transformation of Christianity in the Western world.”[1] These accurate and sobering words from Steven Lawson on Martin Luther properly begin the discussion of such a man. There is no doubt that the stage of human history had been perfectly arranged for the Protestant Reformation.

However, one is a fool not to recognize that Martin Luther was the man perfectly designed for the role of a Reformer. Luther’s weaknesses and strengths were played out for all to see; time and again he brings his audience to their feet in admiration for his courage to stand for and by the grace of God.

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, to Hans and Margeret Luder in Eisleben, Germany. Before his twenty-second birthday, Martin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from the University of Erfurt. Well on his way to becoming a distinguished student and practitioner of law, this would only be the beginning of his higher education. Luther, however, changed his life plans from law to monasticism in haste during a thunderstorm; he swore to become a monk if he were spared from the dreadful storm. After this pivotal moment, he studied Bible at a monastery to earn his second BA, and later he received a doctorate in theology.

Luther said, “Who would have divined that I would receive a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s of Arts, then lay aside my brown student’s cap and leave it to others in order to become a monk… and despite all that I would get in the Pope’s hair…”[2]

Luther was deeply concerned about his sinfulness in light of God’s righteousness. He could not fathom any possible escape from God’s imminent judgment and punishment. Luther’s introspection drove him (and in turn many of his fellow Augustinian monks) to mental and spiritual anguish. Following the guidance of his superior (John Staupitz), Luther studied diligently to earn his doctorate and then began teaching courses on Psalms, Romans, Galatians and Hebrews.

All of this was intended to bring Luther to a place of peace and understanding, and that it did. Luther came to understand the meaning of “alien” or “foreign” righteousness and began to herald at least one of the “five solas” of the Reformation – sola fide or Faith Alone.[3]

Justification by Faith alone is the fundamental Protestant doctrine and the central tenant of the Reformation. This sola is the chief column, which upholds the Christian Faith. Luther said that this doctrine was the article upon which the Church is standing or falling (articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae). It was during his preparation for teaching on the book of Romans when Luther came to understand how God could be both just and the justifier of sinners (Rom. 3:26).

Luther speaks of his experience by saying, “I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”[4]

This miraculous breakthrough in Luther’s mind and soul was to create a shockwave that would not end in this one man. The shockwave would travel throughout the geographical, social, political and religious structures of his own day and all those after. Seemingly, the first glimpse into what the future might be for Martin Luther comes in the form of ninety-five arguments against Papal indulgences. Luther could not have known the impact he would make by nailing that text to the wooden door of the church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.

None of the most astute theologians, sociologists, politicians, psychologists or historians could have possibly understood how great the impact of this event would be. It essentially marked the beginning of what we have come to know as the Protestant Reformation. The arguments contained in Luther’s 95 theses were symptoms of a viral incompatibility, and Luther could not have known how the technology of his day would be harnessed to spread these ideas so far and wide. Luther wrote to one publisher of his theses, “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation.”[5]

Upon his conversion, Luther had no time for faux-piety or naive self-righteousness, neither did he intend to allow anyone to continue in his or her own illusions of grandeur based upon some notion of self-produced righteousness before God. Contrastingly, Luther’s pastoral care for all those over whom he expressed religious influence caused him to rail just as violently against the hopelessness produced by an honest investigation of one’s own inability to manufacture such labor-intensive righteousness.

His teachings and beliefs can be summed up in the five solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone, Sola fide or Faith Alone, Sola gratia or Grace Alone, Solus Christus or Christ Alone, and Soli Deo gloria or to the glory of God Alone. These are effectively the five battlegrounds upon which the war for the Reformation of the Christian Faith was fought, and the fight continues today.

The sufficiency of Christ, the justification of any sinner, the glory of God in salvation, the gracious grace dispensed through the sacrifice at the cross of Christ, and the supremacy of the Scriptures over any other revelation can be summed up in a portion of Luther’s sermon from the gospel of John chapter 1 and verse 29. He proclaimed, “Anyone who wishes to be saved must know that all his sins have been placed on the back of this Lamb [the Lamb of God]!” Luther goes on to explain that sin is “exterminated and deleted” at the cross.

Speaking as from the mouth of God, Luther says, “I see how the sin oppresses you. You would have to collapse under its heavy burden. But I shall relieve and rid you of the load – when the Law convicts you of, and condemns you for, your sin – and from sheer mercy I shall place the weight of your sin on this Lamb, which will bear them.”[6]

In this phrase from the lips of Luther, we can examine his beliefs and teachings concerning these “five solas.”

First, Sola Scriptura. Luther places supreme authority on the Scriptures as the word of God and here he finds truth to proclaim. His message of hope is not from traditional standard nor is it from cardinal decree, but from the text of God’s holy word. The importance of his source cannot be overstated, neither should we overlook the fact that he remains true to his source’s intent.

Far from being a topical preacher who rifles through the pages of holy writ for a pretext from which to spring toward his ‘relevant’ content, Luther digs deep into the actual text of Scripture and remains there. Even his application directly correlates to the passage. This, and because his understanding of the passage directly opposed accepted Church doctrines of the day, indicates that Luther understood the value of Scripture above all else. Sola Scriptura is not the idea that nothing else possesses value, but that nothing else besides God’s word enjoys the supreme place of authority.

Second, Sola fide. Luther presents the message of salvation as being available to only those who cast their own self-righteousness aside and place all their hope on this “Lamb.” No doubt, Luther would have immediately recognized the Old Testament reference to the Passover lamb that was sacrificed in order to spare the people from the judgment and wrath of God. He even refers to the connection between Christ and the sacrificial lamb that was killed on the Day of Atonement under the old covenant system.

His hearers would have understood; Luther was calling for total dependence upon and faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins. There was no building, no earthly priest, no confessional chamber, no washing with water, and no monetary expense to which Luther would point any sinner for his reconciliation to God. Faith in the finished work of Christ was and is the sinner’s only right response, which is a gift of God.

Third, Sola Gratia. Luther explains that the sinner’s reception of such faith in the person and work of Christ, who has accomplished such a great salvation, is only provided because of God’s great and marvelous grace. Luther expresses the origins of saving grace by speaking as though God Himself has said, “from sheer mercy I shall.” Mercy and grace are not identical, but it could be said that they are fraternal twins. At their end is the same goal, namely favor and blessing.

Mercy is the withholding of harsh consequences due, and grace is the extending of favorable consequences undue. Both are the provocation of the one salvation, which God has provided. There is nothing in the sinner that places God in his debt. To God’s gracious grace alone (Sola gratia) can be attributed the redemption of any sinner, for justice and wrath is what every sinner is owed.

Fourth, Solus Christus. Christ Alone has been and is the ultimate Lamb of God, and He alone can take away sin.  Solus Christus carries the notion of the exclusivity of Christ and His work. There is salvation only through one man, namely the God-man Jesus Christ. He is the only hope for sinners, for He is the only Lamb God has provided. God is not obligated to make any way of escape for sinners, but indeed He has offered one.

God has not only offered this way of escape, but He has heralded the provision from the beginning (Genesis 3:15) and continually uncovered more of the beauty of the Redeemer throughout human history. The announcement of John the Baptist, to which Luther refers above, is the proclamation of the arrival of God’s Lamb. Old Testament saints trusted God for this day and this Lamb, and New Testament saints look back to God’s provision in Him. Thus, every saved sinner looks to the Lamb of God who alone takes away the sin of the world.

Finally, Soli Deo Gloria. Ultimately, every part of salvation is of the Lord, through the Lord, to the Lord, and for His glory.  It is natural man’s inclination to refuse to offer God the glory He deserves and to resist the knowledge of God, which has been displayed in creation and written on the hearts of men (Rom. 1:18-32). All humans, even Christians, are compelled by sinfulness to think much too well of their own worth, volition, and goodness.

Before a sinner is born again, he has no desire to honor God. After a sinner receives life and the gift of faith, his affections are changed and he longs to honor God but remains prone to withhold such glory from Him. Luther said in his arguments against Erasmus’ diatribe concerning the freedom of the will, “if ‘Free-Will’ were any thing, or could do any thing, it must have appeared and wrought something… But it availed nothing, it always wrought in the contrary direction.”[7] His point should be heavily contemplated.

Essentially, Luther made his case here against the freedom, neutrality, or goodness of human will by pointing out the reality that unregenerate humanity (natural and unconverted humanity) can have nothing good, godly, or holy ever attributed to it. The only possible way that humanity would be found good, godly, or holy is subsequent to and wholly dependent upon a miraculous work of God (Jn. 3:3-8; Eph. 2:1-4). Thus, God alone deserves glory for the salvation of any sinner.

The “five Solas” of Luther’s teachings and beliefs are the collective pillars, which uphold the biblical revelation of God’s plan of redemption and the execution of that plan. The person and work of Christ are the sinner’s only hope of escape from God’s wrath, and the only way that any sinner receives the benefit of this work is through the application of it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Effectively, the Father plans redemption, the Son fulfills all the requirements for redemption, and the Spirit applies the benefits of redemption to each and every sinner who consequently receives it.

It is this understanding of salvation (and especially regeneration) that gives God all glory. Therefore, Luther, as the other Reformers, sought to squash any idea that sinners contributed anything toward their own redemption. The sinner has but one hope, namely that God chooses to glorify Himself by delivering unmerited, unconditional, and effective grace.

The impact of Martin Luther in his own day is hard to accurately measure. He was hated by some, loved by others and unknown to many more. Those who loved him did so for various reasons. Some saw his rebellion from the established Roman Catholic Church as an opportunity to gain political and governmental power. Others wanted the opportunity to shirk the seemingly heavy hand of the Church, and Luther’s Reformation ideas were just the argument to present such a case. He is known as a magisterial agent of an incredible and miraculous Reformation that would continue for hundreds of years, even into our own day.

Luther is revered by many and, while he was certainly not perfect (admittedly a practical sinner), he understood the reality of positional righteousness through the plan of the Father, the person and work of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit for all who believe. For this, he is rightly held in the highest esteem.

 

Reference List

González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. New York, NY: HarperOne/HarperCollins, 2010.

“How Luther Went Viral. (Martin Luther).” The Economist (US) 401 (2011): 8764. Accessed April 9, 2014. Academic OneFile.

Lawson, Steven J. The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 2013.

Lawson, Steven J. Pillars of Grace: A.D. 100-1564. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010.

Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001.

Nichols, Stephen J. Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2002.

 

[1] Lawson, Pillars, 396

[2] Nichols, 24-25

[3] Nichols, 33

[4] Gonzalez, 25

[5] How Luther went viral.

[6] Lawson, Heroic, 76-77

[7] Luther, 41