“The Just shall live by faith”: the message that changed the world. Part 1.

Today, October 31st, 1517 (500 years ago) a penniless monk named Martin Luther posted his now-famous diatribe denouncing the corruption of the medieval world’s largest and most powerful institution, the Roman Catholic Church. His forerunners had been burned alive for similar statements, but Luther had a new tool at his disposal—the recently invented printing press.

Birth and education:

Martin Luther was born on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was sprinkled the next morning on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. Historians will use the term baptism but this is incorrect for baptism is to immerse and the one day old Martin was certainly not immersed but sprinkled. His father was an ambitious man and wanted Martin, his eldest son to become a lawyer.

In 1501, at the age of 17, he entered university. Martin was very bright; God would use his intellect to propagate the message of faith and salvation. Martin would later translate the New Testament into German so the ordinary person could read or have read the bible in the local vernacular.

One must remember that the bible was in very short supply for it had to be copied by hand which took weeks if not months to do and by a number of people working flat out. Moreover, the only language the bible could be found in was Latin.

In accordance with his father’s wishes, Luther enrolled in law school at the same university that year but dropped out almost immediately, believing that law represented uncertainty. Luther sought assurances about life and was drawn to theology and philosophy.

Philosophy proved to be unsatisfying, offering assurance about the use of reason but none about loving God, which to Luther was more important. Reason could not lead men to God, he felt, and he thereafter developed a love-hate relationship with Aristotle over the latter’s emphasis on reason.

For Luther, reason could be used to question men and institutions, but not God. Human beings could learn about God only through divine revelation, he believed, and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him.

He later attributed his decision to an event: on 2 July 1505, he was returning to university on horseback after a trip home. During a thunderstorm, a lightning bolt struck near him. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!”

He came to view his cry for help as a vow he could never break. He left law school, sold his books, and entered St. Augustine’s Monastery in Erfurt on 17 July 1505.

Luther dedicated himself to the Augustinian order, devoting himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage, and frequent confession. He also went without sleep for days, endured bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

Though he sought by these means to love God fully, he found no consolation. He was increasingly terrified of the wrath of God: “When it is touched by this passing inundation of the eternal, the soul feels and drinks nothing but eternal punishment.”

Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, “I lost touch with Christ the Saviour and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.

Johann von Staupitz, his superior, pointed Luther’s mind away from continual reflection upon his sins toward the merits of Christ. He taught that true repentance does not involve self-inflicted penances and punishments but rather a change of heart. This simple truth though not fully grasped by Luther because of the indoctrination by Roman Catholicism it would serve him well in time to come.

Sadly, this legacy still binds Christians today. Believing its spiritual works above Christ.

He received a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies on 9 March 1508, and another bachelor’s degree in 1509.

On 19 October 1512 (age 29) he was awarded his Doctor of Theology and, on 21 October 1512, was received into the senate of the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg, having succeeded Staupitz as chair of theology. He spent the rest of his career in this position at the University of Wittenberg.

He was made provincial vicar of Saxony and Thuringia by his religious order in 1515 (age 31). This meant he was to visit and oversee each of eleven monasteries in his province.

In 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albrecht von Brandenburg, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses.

Hans Hillenbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly “searching, rather than doctrinaire.” Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” The question was never answered instead the forces of the state would be mobilised to intimidate and later threaten Luther.

Luther objected, in particular, to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory (also attested as ‘into heaven’) springs.” At a time of gross spiritual darkness people couldn’t take the chance of not paying the money because the departed soul of a loved one must get to heaven even if that meant being indebted.

Luther, however, insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.

The Latin Theses were printed in several locations in Germany in 1517. In January 1518 friends of Luther translated the Ninety-five Theses from Latin into German. Within two weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months, they had spread throughout Europe.

Luther’s writings circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519. Students thronged to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak. He published a short commentary on Galatians and his Work on the Psalms. This early part of Luther’s career was one of his most creative and productive.

Three of his best-known works were published in 1520: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian.

From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, and on the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Catholic Church in new ways. He became convinced that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity.

The most important for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification”, he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”

Luther came to understand justification as entirely the work of God. He based his position on predestination on St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians 2:8–10. Against the teaching of his day that the righteous acts of believers are performed in cooperation with God, Luther wrote that Christians receive such righteousness entirely from outside themselves; that righteousness not only comes from Christ but actually is the righteousness of Christ, imputed to Christians (rather than infused into them) through faith.

“That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfils the law,” he wrote. “Faith is that which brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ.”

Faith, for Luther, was a gift from God; the experience of being justified by faith was “as though I had been born again.” His entry into Paradise, no less, was a discovery about “the righteousness of God” – a discovery that “the just person” of whom the Bible speaks (as in Romans 1:17) lives by faith.

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us … Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).

Luther’s rediscovery of “Christ and His salvation” was the first of two points that became the foundation for the Reformation. His railing against the sale of indulgences was based on it.

Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg did not reply to Luther’s letter containing the Ninety-five Theses. He had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. He needed the revenue from the indulgences to pay off a papal dispensation for his tenure of more than one bishopric. As Luther later noted, “the pope had a finger in the pie as well, because one half was to go to the building of St Peter’s Church in Rome”.

Pope Leo X, the then head of the Catholic Church, was used to reformers and heretics, and he responded slowly, “with great care as is proper.”

Note: In Revelation 2 verse 21, the bible says God gave “her space to repent but she would not”.

Over the next three years he deployed a series of papal theologians and envoys against Luther, which served only to harden the reformer’s anti-papal theology.

Luther’s boldest assertion in the debate was that Matthew 16:18 does not confer on popes the exclusive right to interpret scripture, and that therefore neither popes nor church councils were infallible. For this, Eck branded Luther a new Jan Hus, referring to the Czech reformer falsely accused of heresy who was burned at the stake in 1415. From that moment, he devoted himself to Luther’s defeat.

Excommunication:-

On 15 June 1520, the Pope warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the Ninety-five Theses, within 60 days.

Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X on 3 January 1521 after refusing to recant or withdraw his protests.

The enforcement of the ban on the Ninety-five Theses fell to the secular authorities. On 18 April 1521, Luther appeared as ordered before the Diet of Worms. This was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire that took place in Worms, a town on the Rhine. It was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521, with Emperor Charles V presiding. Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, obtained a safe conduct for Luther to and from the meeting.

Johann Eck, speaking on behalf of the Empire as assistant of the Archbishop of Trier, presented Luther with copies of his writings laid out on a table and asked him if the books were his, and whether he stood by their contents. Luther confirmed he was their author, but requested time to think about the answer to the second question. He prayed, consulted friends, and gave his response the next day.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. The Emperor presented the final draft of the Edict of Worms on 25 May 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest: “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.”It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence.

Martin Luther was a prolific writer, preacher and church organiser despite suffering ill health for years, including Ménière’s disease, vertigo, fainting, tinnitus, and a cataract in one eye.

In 1536, he began to suffer from kidney and bladder stones, arthritis, and an ear infection ruptured an ear drum. In December 1544, he began to feel the effects of angina.

An apoplectic stroke deprived him of his speech, and he died shortly afterwards at 2:45 a.m. on 18 February 1546, aged 62.

At no time did Martin Luther the man whose revelation on faith call upon God for divine healing nor was there any that laid hands upon him as Christ said we should do, and James wrote that the elders should do, for his healing. This is because faith is often incremental not a Big Bang. We can have strong or great faith in one area of life for example soul salvation yet have no faith for healing.

Source: the Bible KJV and Wikipedia.

To be continued in part 2.

Our platform is the world and our congregation the people.

The Lord’s servant 

Lloyd Denny

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