When Doctrine Determines Your DestinyDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 21, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Martin Luther is known for his Ninety-Five Theses, but he also planted the seeds for religious freedom. And his German translation of the Bible from the original languages helped bring God’s Word to the common man.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us many things we might not know about Martin Luther, and not just the positive influence he had on Christianity. We also see that he had a few flaws. Yet despite those flaws, he was greatly used by God.
Now tonight we’re going to continue our discussion of the Reformation. Both then and now it does have relevance. And we should be encouraged by the life of someone like Martin Luther. Maybe you have a Catholic background and perhaps you are a member even now of a Catholic church. I want you to know that you are most welcome. This is only an opportunity really for us to contrast views, to understand what happened historically and its abiding relevance today.
Last time we introduced you to Luther, and this will only be the other lecture that I give, this one on Luther, and next time we are going to talk about Calvin, love him or hate him. What shall we do about Calvin? Oh, you won’t want to miss that. You’ll want to brave snowstorms, bypass games, whatever, so that you are here for John Calvin.
But today it’s Luther. Last time I told you that the thing that he struggled with was this sense of depression and alienation from God, and the question was, “How do you find rest for your soul when you are a sinner, and all that happens is the more you confess, the greater the sin seems to be? How do you get out from under the load of guilt?”
And when Staupitz told him to teach the Bible, Luther said, “It will be the death of me.” But there in Wittenberg he began to lecture on the Psalms, and he began to lecture on Romans, and discovered the truth of Scripture that the just shall live by faith, that justification is not God “making us” righteous so that we never know quite how righteous we are, but rather justification is God “declaring us” to be as righteous as Christ Himself is. So if by faith we receive Christ, we have His righteousness credited to our account. Now that’s good news for sinners. If you are here tonight and you say, “Well, I’m not a sinner,” then that might not be such good news. But I suspect that those who know you would think that it should be good news for you too. All right?
And then what happened is there was the indulgence controversy. I told you about Pope Leo X in Rome. The St. Peter’s Basilica that you see on the news, the tiers were laid, but it was unfinished. You needed money, so he went to one of the German banks, borrowed money, and then he said, “We will have an agreement that as we pay it back, we’ll pay half of it to the papacy and the other half to the banks, and the way in which we are going to get money is through indulgences.
Now an indulgence was the remission of temporal penalties that took the place of various penance that had to be done. Temporal penalties. Not eternal penalties because only God could take care of that, but because purgatory was a temporal penalty, namely it had an end to it. Nobody knew how long purgatory was. They just knew how much time they could get off if they looked at certain relics and gave certain gifts. So these new indulgences that the pope was issuing were not only for the living, but also for the dead, those in purgatory.
So Tetzel, who was an indulgence seller, went to the borders of Saxony and would set up his cross in town squares and begin to preach and say, “Hear ye, hear ye, this cross has as much value as the cross of Christ.” And then he would begin to say, “How can you not buy an indulgence for your mother, who has died? Hear her screams in purgatory, and here, for a few pence, you can get her out of purgatory to heaven.” People were buying indulgences.
Now, Tetzel was not allowed in Wittenberg because there was an elector whose name was Frederick who didn’t allow the traffic there, but the problem was people were going across the Elbe River to other towns. They were coming back and they were talking to Luther and they were showing him indulgences. In fact, some of them had indulgences for sins that they had not yet committed, but sins that they planned to commit. And Luther became angry, and that’s when he nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the castle door in Wittenberg.
And last time I mentioned one or two of them to you. I’ll read you only 79 and 82 today.
“To say that the cross, set up among the insignia of the papal arms is of equal value to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.”
And then I think 82 that I alluded to last time,
“Why does the pope not empty purgatory for the sake of holy charity? If he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of that most perishable thing called money to be spent on building his basilica?”
In other words, why does the pope have to be paid to empty purgatory? If he has compassion, he should do it without charging.
Well, Luther had no idea that this was going to happen and have such repercussions. You heard the story of the man who was in the belfry of a church, and he was walking there and kind of going from pillar to post, and suddenly he slipped and reached out and grabbed a rope, and the rope rang the bell and awakened the entire town. That’s the way Luther felt because he began something.
Now, the “Ninety-five Theses” were written in Latin, but they were translated into German, and thanks to Gutenberg, the printing press had been invented in the previous century, and so they went throughout Europe and everybody was reading them. And remember what I told you the pope said? “Luther is a drunken German. He shall feel differently after he is sober.” And now that sets up all kinds of intrigue that I’m not even going to tell you about. His life is short and so is this lecture.
But as things began to go along, Luther wanted to appeal to the secular powers. Charles V had just been crowned in Aachen, and he was the new Holy Roman Emperor, and the pope was above those powers he believed, and so the pope told Charles V, “Get rid of Luther. Kill him.” But Charles V knew that Germans loved Luther, and he knew if he condemned Luther without a hearing, that would be disaster so he decided to have a hearing with Luther in Worms, the city of Worms. And Luther accepted it.
Luther was very sarcastic about going there. If I may look at a quote here he says, “Luther believed that he was going to his death. Indeed, he thought that he was. He said that if God will not spare his life, ‘my head is worth nothing compared to that of Christ.’” And he was very sarcastic. He said, “I will reply to the emperor that if I am being invited simply to recant, I will not come. If to recant is all that is wanted, I can do that perfectly well here, but if he is inviting me to my death, then I will come. I hope none but the papists will stain their hands in my blood. Antichrist reigns, the Lord’s will be done.” And here comes the sarcasm. “This shall be my recantation in Worms. Previously I said that the pope is the vicar of Christ. I recant. Now I say the pope is the adversary of Christ and the apostle of the devil, so I shall go to Worms to recant.”
Well, Charles knew that he was in trouble because it is said that nine out of ten Germans were calling for death to the pope, and so what you had was a situation in which Luther was really a hero. He went into Worms. He said he would go there if there are as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the rooftop. You can go to Worms today, as I have had the privilege of doing many times, and you can see today even the buildings have tiles. Two thousand people accompanied him to where he was to stay.
Well, the next day he had a meeting with the emperor, and he was asked to recant. He was shown the books by Eck that he had written, that is to say the books Luther had written, and Luther said, “If you are asking me to recant, give me time to think about it. Give me until tomorrow.” So they said, “Okay, you can have until tomorrow.”
Now, that actually was kind of providential because what happened is, the next day there were even more people there. I mean the whole hall was filled. Here’s the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V. Here are all of the German princes. Oh, wouldn’t you have loved to have seen this? But tonight what I am going to do is to read you what Luther said, but before that I want to read the prayer that Luther prayed that night. Remember he believed that after this, he would be put to death, and he should have been put to death because of what he was willing to do, but he wasn’t put to death because of a reason I’m going to tell you about.
But this is his prayer:
“O Almighty and Everlasting God, how terrible is this world. Behold it opens its mouth to swallow me up and I have so little trust in Thee. How weak is the flesh and Satan how strong. If it is only in the strength of this world that I must trust, all is over. My hour is come. My condemnation has been pronounced. O God, O God, do Thou help me against all the wisdom of this world. Thou shouldst do this. Thou alone. This is Thy work. I have nothing to do here, nothing to contend for with these great ones of the world. I should desire to see my days flow on peaceful and happy, but this cause is Thine and it is a righteous and eternal cause. O Lord, help me. Faithful and unchangeable God, in no man do I place my trust. It would be vain. All that is of man is uncertain. All that cometh of man fails. O God, my God, hearest Thou me not? My God, art Thou dead? No, Thou canst not die. Thou only hidest Thyself. Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it well. And then, O God, stand by my side for the sake of Thy well-beloved Son, Jesus, who is my defense, my shield, and my strong tower.”
And then he struggled and continued:
“Where stayest Thou, O Lord? Oh my God, where art Thou? Come, come, I am ready to lay down my life for Thy truth, patient as a lamb, for it is the cause of justice. It is Thine. I will never separate myself from Thee, neither now or throughout all of eternity. And although the world should be filled with devils, though my body which is still the work of Thy hands should be slain, stretched out on the pavement, be cut in pieces, reduced to ashes, my soul is Thine. Yes, Thy word is my assurance of it. My soul belongs to Thee. It shall abide forever with Thee. Amen.”
Wow. All right, so the next day...it was actually in the afternoon...He goes into the hall. There’s a table with his books on it. He is asked whether or not these books are his. He says, “Yes.” He’s asked whether or not he’s willing to recant them, and he said he’d like to debate them individually because he says, “There are some things in those books that historically the church has always agreed with, including the medieval church.” But they said, “That’s just like heretics to always want to test their views with the Bible,” so they said no.
Eck replied that it was indeed characteristic of heretics to want to defend their writings from Scripture. He said that Luther was repeating the errors of Hus and Wycliffe. How could he assume that he alone was able to interpret Scripture?
Finally, the challenge was clear. “I ask you, Martin, I ask you candidly and without horns, do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?”
And now come the words of Luther. Are you all able to handle them at this moment? Anyone here who says, “This is too much for me. I have to leave?” Are you able to absorb it in your soul? These words should be engraved upon your heart and mind and memories until the undertaker and the pastor say, “Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes.” I think I can quote them, but I prefer to read them to get them straight because there are two different versions of them.
“Since then your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns, and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, because I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive by the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe, so help me God.”
Another version adds:
“Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”
And with that he left the room. Charles V was an ardent Catholic. Luther had been promised safe conduct, so Charles wanted to give him that safe conduct, so the idea was, “Luther, go back to Wittenberg, and once you are there we have fulfilled our promise of safe conduct. Anyone can kill you without reprisal because you are a fugitive of justice and you are to be put to death.” It was very, very clear. Charles V said, “A friar, a single friar, reading the Scripture cannot contradict the church and what the church has believed for a thousand years.”
All right, from here on out because time goes so quickly, I’ll tell you the story rather than reading it to you. Luther leaves that night with horses, and some people traveling with him. And he’s supposedly on his way back to Wittenberg, and suddenly from the ditch are a group of men who come out of the ditch. They subdue the horses, and they take Luther and they hide him in the Wartburg Castle. These men were actually planted there by Frederick, the elector Frederick, who was Luther’s friend.
Now, you say, “Who in the world is this Elector Frederick?” An elector. What do electors do? Do you know what electors do? They elect. There were seven of them and they had the responsibility of electing the person who would be the head of the Holy Roman Empire. The elector Frederick was involved in the deliberations regarding Charles V, so Charles, you see, did not want to anger an elector because you needed them to be on your side. And the elector Frederick had the dominion and the area of Saxony in which Wittenberg was included. And he was a friend to Luther, and when Charles V asked all the electors to sign his decree that Luther be put to death, the elector Frederick refused to sign. So what he did to save Luther’s life, rather than let him go back to Wittenberg where he would be killed by someone, he took him and he captured him and put him in the Wartburg Castle. Of all the castles of Germany, one of the most remarkable is the Wartburg. You go through it and it’s just room after room, hall after hall, and you almost become weary of it until at the end of the tour, when almost everything is exhausted, they say, “Oh ja, hier ist ja der Luther Stube (Here is the Luther Room).” And you can go into that room and you can contemplate what happened there.
I would say that the room is probably the size of a kitchen; bigger probably than a kitchen; more like a living room maybe. Very, very...Just masonry for the floor. A desk. That’s where Luther supposedly threw an inkwell at the devil. Tour guides used to always take a little bit of soot and rub it on the wall because, you know, you pay so much to go to Europe. You have so many stairs to go up to the Wartburg. If you don’t see where the inkwell landed, it’s a little disappointing. I’m not so sure that Luther threw an inkwell at the devil. In his table talks he said, “I fought the devil with ink.”
Now, Luther lived there for ten months. What he accomplished there in ten months is unbelievable. He translated the entire New Testament from Greek. He was able to get his Greek New Testament into German in ten months. He didn’t do the Old Testament there. That was a lifelong venture, but he did the New Testament. But it was in that room that he experienced so much agony. In his “Table Talks” he says he looked out the window and his only companions were the birds. Nowadays you can’t open the window and it’s stained glass, but back in 1971 when I was there, we were actually able to open the window and see the very forest that Luther was able to see. And it is there that he had a lot of agony. He couldn’t sleep. He always suffered from insomnia anyway. And Luther, by the way, had ringing in his ears. He said it was equivalent to the bells of Leipzig, Halle, and Wittenberg all put together.
And so there he was. And this is the question that kept going through his mind. “Can you only be right? Can the church of a thousand years (to think back over the remark of Charles V) can the church for a thousand years have been wrong about these things?” And he says he encountered many devils in that room. Maybe he did throw an inkwell at the devil.
Now, Luther...what was his view of the Bible? Our course here talks about The Reformation: Then and Now. What is its relevance? Why was the Luther translation so significant? A couple of reasons. Number one, he translated the Bible, the New Testament, from the Greek. All other translations into German until that time had been made of the Latin. But the Bible wasn’t written in Latin. Latin was the language into which it was translated by Jerome, and there were all kinds of bad translation errors, or at least if not in error, at least misconceptions in that Latin translation.
Did I not tell you that the Latin translation says, “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” when in point of fact, it says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?” Penance was something that grew up over a period of time, that I don’t have time to tell you about. But it was the kind of thing that you had to do to prove that you were really penitent, and so it ended up being kind of a forgiveness by works rather than grace.
So you had all that confusion.
So Luther translated it directly from the Greek New Testament which Erasmus, whom we talked about in the first lecture, had made a new edition of the New Testament from the Greek.
Secondly, Luther translated the Bible into the German vernacular, the common language of the people. He was willing to entrust the Scriptures to the common man, believing that the Scripture interprets Scripture, and that people should be able to read the Bible so that the scrubwoman and the plowman would be able to read Scripture and recite it as they worked. He believed that.
Now, in order to make an accurate translation (years later he was working on the Old Testament), He would go to a butcher to try to find the names, the correct names, for various pieces of an animal so that he could translate Leviticus. He would go to a jeweler to find the different stones that are available so that he would know the names of different stones, as mentioned in the book of Revelation. And he said, “I want to translate the Old Testament into such good German that people will not even know that Moses was a Jew. What he wanted to do was to put it in the language of the common person.
Luther believed in the grammatical historical interpretation of the Bible. And by the way I failed to mention that if you have questions today and you want to write them out, Brother Mark and others here would be glad to pick them up, and we will take a little time for questions at the end of this session.
Luther believed that we are to judge ourselves by the Scriptures, and that we should not judge the Scriptures. He says, “I can say with good conscience I have used the utmost faithfulness and care in this work, and I never had any intention of falsifying anything. If a different way to heaven existed, no doubt God would have recorded it, but there is no other way, therefore, let us cling to these words firmly and rest our hearts upon them.” And “He who carefully reads and studies the Scripture will consider that nothing is so trifling that it does not at least contribute to the improvement of his life.” His point is that everything in the Bible has some value, and therefore, every word of the Bible is important.
“We ought not to criticize, explain or judge the Scriptures by our mere reason, but diligently, with prayer, meditate thereon and seek their meaning. The devil and temptations also afford us an occasion to learn and to understand the Scriptures by experience and practice. Without them we cannot love God. Without them we cannot come to salvation.” And so it was that Luther put a great emphasis on Scripture.
Now, I want you to think of all that Luther accomplished. I mean he died at the age of I think it was 64. I’m here tonight to tell you that that is very, very young. Sixty-four is young. And in the library fifty-five volumes...without exaggeration, fifty-five volumes of his works can be found, a commentary on every book of the Bible virtually, the translation of the Old Testament, books on everything that you can possibly imagine. How could one man do it? Well, he didn’t have television, and he spent an awful lot of time working. I guess he just worked day and night. In fact, before he was married, and he married Katie, you know...before he was married, he said he never changed the sheets in his bed. It was only after he was married, he realized...it came to him, I guess through Katie, that it might be a good idea to do that from time to time.
Luther was a very interesting person, and actually always gave God the credit for all that he accomplished. My eyes are on a quote here: “I did nothing,” he said. “The Word did everything. If I had wanted to stir up trouble I could have brought immense bloodshed on Germany.” Let me read that again because it’s true. “I could have brought immense bloodshed on Germany. In fact, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe.” But he said, “I did nothing.” He said, “I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word. While I slept or drank beer in Wittenberg with my friends, Philip and Onsdorf, the Word greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses on it.” “I did nothing,” he said. “We just drank beer and let the Word do the work.”
Well, you understand where Luther is coming from. Germans drink beer, and he did do some work though. He did do some work. It’s not true that he did nothing, but he kept giving credit to God for all that God had done.
Now, those of you who know anything about Luther’s history, you know that there are some negatives, and what I’m going to do actually, is not even talk about all of his books, his treatises on Christian liberty. I don’t think I ever discussed with you his book on the Turks.
I’m going to throw that in at no cost. Forty or fifty pages on the Turks. You see, the Turks were overrunning Germany, the Muslims, and news reached Wittenberg of heads that were being chopped off, and the greatest cruelties done. And the question is, “What do you do with the Turks?” I will not discuss his view of military force because that would make us go overtime. I just want to discuss a couple of paragraphs.
To show you how Luther relied on the Word of God, please don’t ever forget this. This is what he says. He says, “If you just look around you, it appears as if the god of the Turks is the right one. They can point to victories.” Remember Constantinople had fallen in 1453, a hundred years, you know, before Luther’s death, actually, because I think he died in ’46, that is 1546, so it would have been, you know, almost a hundred years after Luther died, which means that about fifty years after Luther was born...excuse me, fifty years after the fall of Constantinople, you have Luther being born, so that chill was still there in Europe, not to mention the other atrocities. And it was the Turks that were surrounding Vienna. Luther said that when he discovered that, he was so sick he had to basically vomit. And by the way, that’s another reason why Charles V became a little bit more amiable towards Luther because he needed the support of the Germans in his war against the Turks.
But here’s the paragraph. I’m paraphrasing obviously. Luther says, “If you look around you, you may think that the god of the Turks is the right one because they can point to these victories. They can point to all the heads that they have chopped off. They can point to cruelty, and the fun that they made of Christians, as they massacred them, so from that standpoint we appear to be on the wrong side of this. So how are we going to keep going on as believers when the Turks are winning all the victories?” Luther says, “What we need to do is to depend upon God’s bare Word. We can look to no circumstances; we can look to no victories as the basis of our faith. It appears as if everywhere that we look God is against us. But we know that He is for us because He has said it in His Word. And so we go on without any evidence except our faith in God’s book.” Wow.
Let me now give an evaluation of Luther’s life and ministry. First of all, he broke the monopoly of the medieval church, that the medieval church had on the souls of men. You see, in medieval theology, if the priests do not give you the sacraments, you go to hell. That’s what an interdict was. It was when the pope was angry with someone within a certain district he said to the people, “This is an interdict. We will offer none of the sacraments,” and that meant that all the people were going to hell. So the people would rise up and they’d take care of this person like John Hus, because if you didn’t have a right relationship with the church, you could not go to heaven. That was medieval theology.
So what Luther did was, by emphasizing that it is through faith in Christ alone, it is through faith that we have a relationship with God, it is possible to have a relationship with God apart from the church. Boy, that’s critical. In fact, that was one of the things that they threw into his face in Worms. It was that he believed that a sacrament had value only if the recipient had faith, and the teaching of the church was you don’t need any faith. The sacrament has value in and of itself, you see. So Luther broke that monopoly and said, “We can relate to God properly, even if the church is against us,” and certainly the popes were against him.
So he uncovered the Gospel. Some of us believe that he confused it by maintaining that infant baptism still saves, but that’s a whole different discussion. He broke the power of the tradition and the superstitions of the church.
Second, he planted the seeds of freedom of religion. Now, freedom of religion in Europe has a long, tortured history, and that’s a whole separate discussion. You know, this idea that you can believe whatever you like, and not believe anything if that’s okay with you. This is an American idea, our constitution. In Europe until 1648, the Peace of Westphalia, you couldn’t believe however you wanted to believe. What happened is the Enlightenment helped Europe to understand that there should be freedom of religion, and all the books thank the Enlightenment for freedom of religion. The Enlightenment did bring freedom of religion; unfortunately, it also brought a lot of bad things with it, a kind of humanism. But the seeds of freedom of religion go back to Worms. “My conscience is taken captive by the Word of God.” Luther preached afterwards, and he told people that nobody can coerce someone else to believe, and those are the seeds that began to grow. It took a long time before it happened, but those were the ideas implanted in the minds of the Lutherans in Europe that conscience should be free. Radical idea. The Puritans didn’t even have that idea, by the way.
When the Puritans came to America, they were not about to give freedom of religion to everybody. Roger Williams was run out of New England because (or at least one of the states) because he was a Baptist. And even in America, therefore, freedom of religion has had an interesting history. But we can thank Luther for that emphasis.
Third, the impact of the German Bible is enormous. Here I am. My parents grew up in the Ukraine, but they were Germans. And they come to Canada and were married 75 years ago. And this past summer they celebrated their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary. As you know, my father is 104 and my mother is 98. I think their marriage is going to last. Personally, I think it’ll last.
And we as children had devotions every morning. Our parents had devotions with us and what did they read? The German Bible, Luther Translation. Now, of course, it was updated, something like the King James is updated today, because Luther’s German was quite different from the contemporary German. But there it was. I remember. Euer Königreich komme. Thy kingdom come all read in the German Bible. The impact of the Bible in German beyond all belief and comprehension.
Now there are some negatives—negative impact. Two things. First of all, his doctrine of the two spheres, that you should obey the temporal powers, no matter what they ask you to do, and at the same time, you see, you can serve God over here, and that those two spheres have to be kept distinct. This is an interesting discussion which again we shall avoid. But Nazism came along and built on that.
You see, the Nazis were told, and the German people were told, “You obey the powers that be, the temporal powers, your government.” If they ask you to shoot somebody you shoot, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t serve God in your private life as a Christian. So you can kill people in concentration camps but you can go home for Christmas and sing Christmas carols and still be a good Christian in that sphere. Now this is a very tricky issue as to the relationship between church and state and obligation, so I am overdrawing Luther’s distinction a little bit to make a point. But Nazism came along and they, of course, capitalized on that.
Another interesting historical thing is when you go to Luther’s hometown where he was born, Eisleben, and also where he preached his last sermon, which I’d love to tell you about his last sermon (Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.), but if you go there (At least when I was there, when the Berlin Wall was still up) there is a statue of Luther (Well, obviously the statue of Luther is still there), but it was a statue that was admired by the communists. How could the communists take Luther and turn him into one of their heroes? Well, he stood against the church, he stood against organized religion, etc., etc. Isn’t it interesting how people can come along and take somebody like Luther and twist him into any shape that they want him to be? But anyway, the doctrine of the two spheres, problematic probably.
And then the other thing, of course, is his words about the Jews, which I was asked about a couple of times ago when he said, “Let us burn their synagogues, let us confiscate their books, let us destroy them, etc.” And I mentioned that that was based on naïveté. He believed that when he had uncovered the Gospel, that the Jews would believe. When they didn’t, he became an angry old man. And by the way, he died an angry old man, and made many mistakes, and said those terrible, terrible things, which are inexcusable, based though on the fact that they were the Christ-killers. Hitler came along and was opposed to the Jews because they were of the wrong race. They weren’t Aryan, so you have a difference but you have a lot of hatred of the Jews, and Luther was a product of his time, and he simply did not get it. Early on he said, “Let us be kind to them; why should they believe on Jesus unless we treat them kindly?” but later on he ended up...
Can I tell you one other mistake that Luther made? There was a guy by the name of Philip, and Philip of Hesse had a castle, and it’s north of Frankfort. It was my privilege to be there a few years ago, and that’s where the famous debate took place between Zwingli and Luther. And I won’t tell you about the debate. I will when we talk about Zwingli, but Philip of Hesse wanted to unify the reform movements. He wanted to unify the reform movement in Switzerland and Germany, so he said, “Let’s get together and let’s debate this, and let’s leave united. But Philip of Hesse was in a bad marriage, a very unhappy marriage. It was a marriage that was imposed upon him because of the political intrigue, and he wanted to marry a different woman. And he came to Luther and said, “What do you think about that?” And Luther said, “Go ahead and do it. Just do it privately so nobody hears about it.” (chuckles)
Well, everybody heard about it, and Luther was vilified for that advice, and later on basically said, “If you’ve got marriage problems, don’t come to me.”
How do we assess a life like Luther’s? Always remember that when you are talking about human beings, you are talking about wheat and chaff, and we all have some wheat and we all have some chaff. But when God wanted a man to do something drastic, to take on the whole monolithic structure of medieval religion, He chose a man who had courage, who had nerve, who had faith, who was exceedingly brilliant, and who did some very wonderful things. And we are still the recipients of that heritage. We do not accept or condone his mistakes and his frailties and his stupidities, but we do affirm the fact that we are standing upon the shoulders of someone who saw a lot of truth.
So that, my friend, is Martin Luther’s story. And you’ve been very kind to wait this long. Someone over here apparently thinks I’ve overstepped my boundaries. Do you have any questions for me? I have time for three or four minutes. Why don’t you, Mark, or someone else along this side...do we have some ushers? Very quickly...I think probably I’ve answered all of your questions tonight, but just in case there is one or two we could handle those.
Luther married Katie. She bore him children. He had a little child by the name of Elizabeth who died at the age of thirteen. And that also contributed, I think, to Luther’s anger and so forth. He was deeply wounded. “My little girl,” he would say, “what is it like for you to go to heaven without me?” And so there was a really soft side to Luther.
Question: Were there true believers in the times preceding the Reformation, even though there was not a clear Gospel message?
Yes, God always has His people. There were small groups like the Waldensians. There were the Hussites that I told you about who predated Luther, the followers of Hus, a hundred years, of course, before Luther, so there were pockets of truth. And then the other thing that you have to understand is this. There were many, many people who believed in medieval religion who undoubtedly will be in heaven because despite the superstitions and the traditions, their faith was in Jesus, and they did trust Jesus to be the one that saved them apart from their works. At the end of the day, I am convinced of that.
So let’s even look at our hymnals. “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly” written by someone who was a part of the church, but of course, he knew Jesus as Savior, so God has always had His people even in the midst of it.
Question: Why did it take over a thousand years to really get the Bible translated correctly? Were people really that satisfied with doing good works to get to heaven? Why did it take a thousand years to really get the Bible translated correctly?
(Sighs) Why is it that you folks ask such good questions? If you didn’t ask such good ones, I could just brush them off, and then we could go on to something else. But virtually every question I’ve ever had up here has been a good one.
I will say this, that it was God’s intention that, as the Scripture was given to the church, that generation after generation would teach its truth, even though not all people were able to read. And if you look at the history of the church, even though there were heresies and so forth, the first 350 years, shall we say, basically the church was more evangelical in its theology. Yes, baptism was sometimes thought to be necessary for salvation. Yes, there were other beliefs that began to creep in, but by and large it was [evangelical]. And then what happened is Jerome translated the Latin. I mean he translated the Vulgate. That is to say he translated the Scripture into Latin, you understand. He worked there in Bethlehem in the basement, actually, of the church where Jesus supposedly was born. You can go there today and you can see where Jerome worked. And that translation had many good parts, but some that weren’t all that good, and that became, in effect, the Bible of Christendom for a thousand years. You are right.
So if you ask the question, “Why did it take so long?” I don’t think I can answer, because that’s puzzling. Why did God not raise up others? And there were other translations, but that Latin Bible, the Vulgate, became incredibly important. And despite its imperfections, it did have the Gospel in it. But I’m not sure I can answer that question.
Question: Is “Once in grace, always in grace” true? Can you ever be not saved if once you were?
Well, I don’t have to answer that because it’s time for me to dismiss. (chuckles) We believe...by “we,” we mean me, the pastoral staff, Jesus, and Paul (laughter), that once a person is in grace and is saved, you will make it to your heavenly home. Now that’s not to say that there are some passages in the Bible that could maybe be interpreted differently, but when you study the Bible, what you need to do is to look at the clear passages, and then you have to look at those that aren’t so clear, and you have to make sense out of them because you can’t believe both. Only Alice in Wonderland...she was able to believe as many as six contradictions before breakfast. But you can’t believe two, even before lunch, so it is either true or it isn’t.
So here’s the deal. If God saves you by electing you to eternal life, is it thinkable that the God who saves you and elects you from before the foundation of the world is going to actually lose you along the way? The best illustration is sheep. Jesus said, “These sheep have been given to me by my Father.” Okay, if you give a shepherd a hundred sheep, and he comes home at night and he’s only got ninety-three, what do you think of that shepherd? Do you say, “Oh yeah, but these sheep were really stubborn. They had free will, and they chose false paths.” Yes, even if they choose a false path, that shepherd has the responsibility, by hook or by crook, to get those sheep back, and to have them home for nightfall. And so I believe that there are sheep who do wander from the path, I believe that there are Christians who backslide, and when they do, we have every right to ask whether or not they were truly saved. But only God knows. There are some who I believe are saved who will show up in heaven with no rewards because they were God’s people, but they didn’t live like it. And that has its own implications.
Now, that’s the general picture, but of course, there are many, many fine people who disagree with us, and the good news is that in less than a hundred years, we’ll all be agreed on it, that is everybody who is here. You’ll be agreed on it. And my father and mother will probably be dead by then, so we’re headed for heaven, folks, and I hope to enjoy the journey.
Thank you so very, very much. Come back for Calvin in Geneva next week. You have to hear about John Calvin. I suppose you can get to heaven without having heard of him, but it would be much better if you did.
All right. Let’s stand, shall we?
Father, we thank you today for the life of Luther. We thank you that he wrote:
Though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not from him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.
Give us that same confidence in your bare Word. When nothing else around us makes sense, when we cannot harmonize circumstances, even with your promises, may we go with your Word.
Now, dismiss your people. And for those who perhaps have never trusted Christ as Savior, may they know that Jesus is available to those who believe. Cause them to believe for your glory, that they also might inherit eternal life. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.