Heroes of the Faith: Martin Luther (1483-1546)
“Here I Stand! . . .”
How would you respond if you discovered a rare jewel which seemed hidden, but was actually always in your possession? Would you not guard its virtues and gauge its value? A 16th-century theologian, named Martin Luther, discovered the treasured worth of God’s Word, much as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3.15--”[Wisdom] is more precious than jewels and nothing you desire compares with her.” In his quest, he reformed the place of the Scriptures among the common Christian.
History--Martin Luther’s “Everyday” Life
Luther was of rather affluent German, middle-class, devout-Catholic stock, christened after St. Martin, the patron saint of that day, and, as a young man, at his father’s robust recommendation, began studies in law. He received advanced academic degrees, with designs on a legal career. However, a terrifying encounter in a thunderstorm caused Luther to change course, and he pledged to become a monk. He continued studies, and eventually became a professor of theology at the University of Wittenburg. If not for a period of personal introspection, Luther would have continued a career as a garden-variety lecturer of doctrine. That episode would alter the history of the Church.
Heritage--Martin Luther’s Earthly Labors
As a result of Luther’s infuriation of the Catholic practice of “indulgences” (payments made to cancel the penalty of purgatory), he was determined to “hold a disputation” with fellow university colleagues on the veracity of this common Catholic custom. He posted 95 theses impugning indulgences. When ordered to recant 41 of the 95 theses, Luther declared, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” For such a time as this, Martin Luther stood his ground and stayed his course. This led to further study, and particularly Romans 1:17--”The righteous shall live by faith.” His life was transformed, and he became architect of the “priesthood of believers” (the Bible for all man, not just the erudite or elite). Renouncing celibacy, he married “Katie” (former nun), and together they raised six children. Family life became foundational for life in Christ. Although excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, he still ministered and wrote for another 25 years, dying of natural causes.
Horizons--Martin Luther’s Enduring Legacy
Time does not permit sufficient space for the Luther legacy. Martin Luther is acclaimed “Father of the Reformation” and pioneer of Protestantism. A prolific hymnodist, he bequeathed scores of hymns, particularly “A Mighty Fortress,” and his role as progenitor of Protestant theology and thought, found in his copious writings, to this day is gratefully acknowledged as a pivotal linchpin for both clergy and laity life and liberty. Luther’s legacy is perhaps most appreciated for translating the Bible from Latin into the German “vernacular,” bringing the Book into the heart and home of all believers. Bible translation has reaped these benefits. One lesson we can garner is that our freedoms of expression and study are largely due to the providential hand of God upon a pliable and compliant, yet courageous disciple. When we encounter oppressive attacks on religious liberty, can we be Luther-like and declare “Here I Stand”?
Recommended Reading For Further Focus:
Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon Press, 1950).
Piper, John. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin [Swans are not Silent] (Crossway, 2006).