Quotes of Note: Martin Luther—Master Pastor, Part 9
Note: You’re reading the final post in a nine-part blog mini-series sharing Quotes of Note derived from my Ph.D. dissertation: Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.
Luther’s great lifelong terror was that he would not be accepted by God. His great lifelong pursuit was to find a way to earn God’s favor. Before coming to his convictions about salvation by faith alone though grace alone through Christ alone, to find peace with God Luther followed the methods common in the Medieval Church of his day.
Trying to Find Peace with God through Works
“I was a good monk, and I kept the rules of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work” (cited in Bainton, p. 45).
“When I was a monk I was unwilling to omit any of the prayers, but when I was busy with public lecturing and writing I often accumulated my appointed prayers for a whole week, or even two or three weeks. Then I would take a Saturday off, or shut myself in for as long as three days without food and drink, until I had said the prescribed prayers. This made my head split, and as a consequence I could not close my eyes for five nights, lay sick unto death, and went out of my senses” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 85).
“I almost fasted myself to death, for again and again I went for three days without taking a drop of water or a morsel of food. I was very serious about it” (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 339-340).
“Whatever good works a man might do to save himself, these Luther was resolved to perform” (Bainton, p. 45).
“While I was a monk, I no sooner felt assailed by any temptation than I cried out—‘I am lost!’ Immediately I had recourse to a thousand methods to stifle the cries of my conscience. I went everyday to confession, but that was of no use to me” (cited in D’Aubigne, 1950, p. 24).
Luther entered the monastery to find peace with God. Though driven there for rest for his soul, monastic life failed to ease his guilt. “Then, bowed down by sorrow, I tortured myself by the multitude of my thoughts. ‘Look,’ exclaimed I, ‘thou art still envious, impatient, passionate! It profiteth thee nothing, O wretched man, to have entered this sacred order’” (cited in D’Aubigne, 1950, p. 31).
Finding Peace with God through Christ Alone by Faith Alone through Grace Alone
If Luther could not find peace with God through human effort, what hope then did he or anyone else have? Luther found his hope in Christ alone.
“Now I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ. For in our age the temptation to presumption besets many, especially those who try with all their might to be just and good without knowing the righteousness of God, which is most bountifully and freely given us in Christ. They try to do good of themselves in order that they might stand before God clothed in their own virtues and merits. But this is impossible. While you were here, you were one who held this opinion, or rather error. So was I” (To George Spenlein, an Augustinian Friar) (LW, Vol. 48, p. 12).
“Hence it comes that faith alone makes righteous and fulfills the law . . .” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. xv).
“He who was without sin, for our sake became sin for us and so identified Himself with us as to participate in our alienation” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 75-77).
“You want to be an imaginary sinner and to regard Christ as an imaginary Saviour. You must accustom yourself to think that Christ is a real Saviour and that you are a real sinner. God does nothing for fun nor for show, and he is not joking when he sends his Son and delivers him up for us” (LSA, p. 12).
“This Epistle [Romans] is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. xiii).
“Then he begins to teach the right way by which men must be justified and saved, and says they are all sinners and without praise from God, but they must be justified, without merit, through faith in Christ, who has earned this for us by His blood, and has been made for us a mercyseat by God, Who forgives us all former sins, proving thereby that we were aided only by His righteousness, which He gives in faith . . . God certainly desires to save us not through our own righteousness, but through the righteousness and wisdom of someone else or by means of a righteousness which does not originate on earth, but comes down from heaven. So, then, we must teach a righteousness which in every way comes from without and is entirely foreign to us” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. xix, 28-29).
“Very well, then, we know of ourselves that we are unrighteous; we also know that we are inclined to evil and that inwardly we are enemies of God. We believe therefore that we must be justified before God, but this we desire to achieve by our prayers, repentance and confession. We do not want Christ, for God can give us His righteousness even without Christ. To this the Apostle replies: Such a wicked demand God neither will nor can fulfill, for Christ is God; righteousness for justification is given only through faith in Jesus Christ” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. 77).
“Hence Christ calls unbelief the only sin, when He says, in John 16, ‘The Spirit will rebuke the world for sin, because they believe not on me.’ For this reason, too, before good or bad works are done, which are the fruits, there must first be in the heart faith or unbelief, which is the root, the sap, the chief power of all sin” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. xvi).
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes all men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fires (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. xvii).
“Righteousness, then, is such a faith and is called ‘God’s righteousness’ or ‘the righteousness that avails before God,’ because God gives it and counts it as righteousness for the sake of Christ, our Mediator, and makes a man give to every man what he owes him” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. xvii).
“The words ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness of God’ struck my conscience like lightning. When I heard them I was exceedingly terrified. If God is righteous (I thought), he must punish. But when by God’s grace I pondered, in the tower and heated room of this building, over the words, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’ (Rom. 1:17) and ‘the righteousness of God’ (Rom. 3:21), I soon came to the conclusion that if we, as righteous men, ought to live from faith and if the righteousness of God should contribute to the salvation of all who believe, then salvation won’t be our merit but God’s mercy. My spirit was thereby cheered. For it’s by the righteousness of God that we’re justified and saved through Christ. These words (which had before terrified me) became more pleasing to me. The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me in this tower” (LW, Vol. 54, pp. 193-194).
“Another thunderbolt is Paul’s statement that the righteousness of God is manifested and avails ‘unto all and upon all them that believe’ in Christ, and that ‘there is no difference.’ Here again in the plainest words he divides the whole human race into two. To believers he gives the righteousness of God; to unbelievers he denies it . . . In Rom. 8, dividing the human race into two, ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit,’ as Christ does . . . . (Luther, The Bondage of the Will, pp. 290, 299).
“‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom we have access by faith . . .’ Since God now has justified us by faith, and not by works, we have peace with Him both in heart and conscience . . . .” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 87-88).
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24). God does not justify us freely by His grace in such a way that He did not demand any atonement to be made (for our sins), for He gave Jesus Christ into death for us, in order that He might atone for our sins. So now he justifies freely by His grace those who have been redeemed by His Son” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. 78).
“At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith . . . Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy” (LW, Vol. 34, p. 337).
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Which of today’s Quotes of Note impact your life and ministry the most?
Note: These quotes are derived from Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. The entire 212-page dissertation is available in PDF form at the RPM Store.
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