Luther, Man of the Bible
By Pastor Hal Mayer
Welcome to Keep the Faith Ministry. Thank you for joining me today as we look into some of the key issues that we are facing in these last days. Our heavenly Father wants us to understand our times and live in such a way as to reflect His glory and power in our lives. Today we are going to go back in history and consider what happened during a powerful and successful religious movement. We will commemorate the powerful Reformation of the 16th century that was led by Martin Luther, the monk of Wittenberg that became the arch enemy of Rome. He would, as some people like to say, turn over in his grave if he saw the effect of the ecumenical movement on his own church.
In recent years, those who want to suggest that Luther’s Reformation was really just a schism and that there was no real substance to the reforms he made have consistently besmirched Luther’s name as just a disruptor. Moreover, they try to say that there is now unity on justification, and that his reform wasn’t really necessary, and that the Reformation is over. In recent years Martin Luther and his great work has been maligned and misrepresented by both the Catholic Church and the formerly Protestant churches, including the Lutheran church itself. They do not take into account the fact that it was Luther’s Bible, translated into German from the Textus Receptus that held the church separate from Rome for 500 years. They think it doesn’t matter so much what Bible we read.
Friends, the Bible is at the center of the issue. Which Bible are you going to believe, the corrupted western Bibles from Catholic sources? Or are you going to believe the Reformation Bibles that come from the Textus Receptus, which was compiled from the purer eastern sources? The real question in our day hangs on your loyalty to scripture just as it was in the days of Martin Luther.
Before we begin however, I just want to ask that you please invite at least one person to sign up for our monthly CDs. Give them the pink card in your packet, or show them how to sign up on line. We need to get the message much farther afield and this is a great way for you to help.
Also, don’t forget to order our Prophetic Secrets of the New World Order DVD set. This will help you prioritize your thinking so that prophetic things in the news come alive. Once you understand the principles involved, you’ll have new eyes of discernment that will help you understand the news in its true meaning – its prophetic meaning.
I would also like to tell you about the Last Generation Magazine. In this heightened age of ecumenical fervor, many people wonder if the Reformers made much ado about nothing. Was the Protestant Reformation a mistake? Or perhaps it was just a bad misunderstanding? Last Generation magazine explores these timely questions in its commemorative issue of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Power packed topics include, Ecumenical Arrogance, What the Early Church Fathers said about Antichrist, Identifying the Beast of Revelation, Who Gave us Our Bible? What the Reformers believed and taught about Antichrist, and other important issues surrounding a correct biblical and historical understanding of the issues of Protestantism. Written especially for those who do not understand our end time message, this magazine is a wonderful tool to share! Last Generation Ministries has good prices on quantities. Call them at 540-672-5671.
But most importantly, I want to draw your attention to your insert in your packet this month. It is our annual appeal to our supporters to assist us in our work. We only make one appeal a year. And this year we really need your support. We must get our wellness retreat in South Australia renovated and ready for guests. We already have $50,000 toward our goal of $150,000. Your extra gift will help us prepare to win souls and change people’s lives forever! God has entrusted us to do this work. Therefore, we know he will sustain it. And thank you for your generous support.
Let us begin with prayer. Our Father in heaven, we are so thankful that You have given us the Bible. Its sacred pages are full of counsel and guidance for us in these last days. Please send Your Holy Spirit to us today as we open the scriptures and understand our times. As we look at the amazing principles of the Lutheran Reformation, please help us place our affections on heavenly things and remember that we are called to be their successors. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Let us begin our study today by reading Revelation 12:13-17. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man [child]. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood, which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
The church has always been under the careful eye of the Godhead. It is the object of their supreme regard. All three of them, Father, Son and Holy Ghost are involved in supporting the church. They have always nurtured and protected the church even though the enemy hurls its persecutions and abuse at her. And now that church has only a remnant of faithful souls left. It is those who follow the Bible, keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of Prophecy. See Revelation 19:10. You cannot have the testimony of Jesus if you aren’t following the Bible for the Bible testifies of Jesus.
After a thousand years of darkness and ignorance throughout Roman Catholic Europe, the time had come for light to be shed upon the people and to break the power of Rome. Many of those who are members of once Protestant churches have forgotten their heritage and the importance of the principles of Bible interpretation that brought them into existence in the first place. They have also forgotten why their forefathers shed their blood. They have forgotten the suppression of the scriptures the Catholic Church brought to society. Rome still places tradition above the scriptures and urges men to seek indulgences and the worship of Mary, and the blasphemous Mass, etc. They have turned a blind eye to Rome’s modern popular style. They have chosen the easy popular side.
So, let us first consider the key principles that led to Martin Luther’s Reformation and how it affected the circumstances of Europe. We will also look at the role the Bible played in society and its effect on the minds of the common people. And lastly, we will look at its impact on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Underlying the Reformation was the authority of the Bible. The Bible (or the word of God) has been at the center of every conflict between truth and error since the very beginning. When Adam and Eve first sinned, the real issue was whether or not they were going to believe the word of God. During the time of the patriarchs, the word of God was the driving force in their relations both domestic and in the communities in which they lived. In the time of Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness, the central issue was the authority of the word of God. Were they going to trust in that word, or were they going to grumble and complain against God.
The same is true during the time of Samuel and Saul. When Saul brought back all the spoils of the Amalekites Samuel said, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22.
During New Testament times, the word of God was still at the center of the conflicts. “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye,” said Peter and John. “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19, 20.
Paul’s experience reveals the centrality of the word of God too. He wrote to Timothy and said, “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:15-17.
All the apostles and prophets place the word at the center of the struggle for truth. Martyrs were martyrs because of their love and loyalty to the word. And they refused to replace it with the authority of man.
And so it goes, down through the ages, God’s word has always been the guide of those who love God, for it sustains, supports and strengthens them. The Holy Scriptures have been the comfort of the righteous and the condemnation of the unjust. The Bible has been the enemy of those who do not love God supremely, even though they may profess it. At every turn, whether the Old or New Testament history, the Bible has been at the center of the conflict between Christ and Satan, between truth and error, and between the powers of right and the powers of wrong.
During the Middle Ages the word of God was suppressed by Rome. The church did everything she could to keep the Bible from the people, all the while proclaiming her loyalty to the Bible. She chained it in monasteries and sequestered it in the naves of churches, so that only the most learned doctors of the church, the most loyal to the popes would have access to it. Rome threatened anyone that opposed her power and authority, especially if it was because of the Bible. The Waldenses suffered greatly. They were brutally persecuted during the darkest ages because they tried to bring light and truth to the people and undermine the false teachings of Rome.
One of the tricks Rome used to keep the people in darkness was the way she used the Latin language. The Western Bibles were only translated into Latin from the Greek. These Bibles had been corrupted by the Gnostic school in Alexandria, Egypt, and suited Rome’s intention to keep the people in darkness. So, the Bible was only read in Latin. It was not to be published in the languages of the people for several reasons. First, the people could not understand it even if it was in their own language, they argued. They cannot read or write, mostly. Second, Rome taught that Latin was a holy language and since the scriptures were holy, they had to be read in Latin.
Keeping the Bible in Latin however was also a powerful strategic move. They could then keep the people ignorant of the scriptures, and themselves unaccountable to the Bible or the people. They could claim that they were the only ones who knew the scriptures and that the people just had to trust them with the interpretation.
This led to great abuses and wickedness. The church descended into abomination after abomination. It reeked with wickedness while sex and money scandals were rampant everywhere. The stench was so great that even well-respected churchmen, at times, were compelled to decry her vices and pine for a better day.
While-ever the Bible was suppressed and was not to be read by the common man, the truth of God was hidden and only a few who were somewhat enlightened by the faithful Waldensian missionaries understood that the church was in error.
Speaking of the Waldenses, their main purpose was to give light and truth to the people, to expose the errors of Rome through the word of God. Their aim was to turn the people to Christ who is the word of God. They would carry with them little portions of the scripture, especially pointing out the way of salvation and the errors of Rome, and would share them whenever they had opportunity with the benighted souls they encountered. And little by little the light was spread abroad, creating a deep longing for an understanding of the word in the hearts of the people.
The church leaders treated the Waldenses as if they were extremists and subversives so that they would be feared. They persecuted them, as if they were the cause of the evils of society. Many a faithful Waldenses was executed for his faith.
Keeping the Bible in Latin also meant that the uncorrupted Bibles from the East would be kept out of the western empire. In fact, the church in the West had become exclusively Latin. Only the Waldenses kept the Bible in the common language known as the Itala tongue.
But the crusades, which preceded the Reformation, prepared the way for a new Bible to make itself prominent in the West to a considerable extent. The crusade wars between the Catholic West and the Muslim East brought massive changes to the West because of the refugees that came in from the East as a result of the disruptions and conflicts. And they brought their Bibles, which were written in the common languages of the East, but which were also of a completely different variety than the Bibles of the West. The Gnostics of Alexandria had not corrupted the eastern Bibles. These were the Bibles that had descended from Lucian’s work in Edessa. These are the Bibles that would be the foundation of the Reformation. Eventually, even under the noses of the ignorant priests, these Bibles made their way into the universities and churches of the West.
But let us digress for a moment. Why were the eastern Bibles so important to the West and to the Reformation? God was planning a major change in the West. That change could not happen without a pure Bible. The Waldenses had shown the common people that they could not trust the priests to give them the truth, and that they could not trust the Latin Vulgate, and for good reason. It was not reliable to be the word of God. God knew that the soon coming reformers would need Bibles the people could trust; Bibles that weren’t connected to the Roman Catholic Vulgate. God knew they needed the pure and vastly more accurate translations of the East.
God used the Islamic crusaders to create turmoil and upheaval and thereby open up the East, which would then allow the eastern Bibles to migrate into the West. Once that was accomplished, the time for the great Protestant Reformation had come. In this way, God used the Muslim to help Him prepare to shake the Roman Catholic Church to its core.
As I said, these Bibles were sourced from the Lucian texts, which later became known as the Textus Receptus. Now it was possible that the ones God would appoint to lead the Reformation could now compare the two texts, East and West. Now, they could see the corruptions in the western manuscripts more easily.
The reformers knew that they could not build a true reform on the western texts. In 14th century England, John Wycliffe had brought great light into England through his Bible translation from the Latin Vulgate into English. But that was 200 years prior to Martin Luther and that was all he had available, and a lot had happened in the interim years. The reformers knew they could not use Wycliffe’s great work because the Reformation needed to go way beyond Wycliffe and way beyond Catholicism. The Latin Vulgate could not be its foundation. In fact, the Reformation Bibles were to open the way for the truth to grow and progress until the end of time. The reformers also knew that they could not get a pure church if they could not have a pure Bible. So, you can see that for modern Protestants to return to Rome is an epic tragedy.
As the time for the Reformation drew near, Erasmus, the great scholar of Rotterdam was very concerned about the corruptions in the church. He knew the church needed reform. But he would not allow his sterling reputation as a scholar to be tarnished with allegations of heresy. So, he set about to do a scholarly work that would certainly burnish his reputation among his colleagues. He set about to change the church from the top down. Of course, he didn’t tell very many people exactly what he was doing. But he compiled a compilation of the eastern manuscripts in a New Testament, had it published and handed it to the church leaders. It became known as the Textus Receptus (or the received text). His idea was that if they had a pure manuscript, the Pope and other church leaders who could understand Greek, would then see for themselves that the church needed to be reformed and start the reform from the top down. The leaders saw no harm or threat in Erasmus’ work and congratulated him on its completion. After all it was in Greek, a language that was unfamiliar to the common people. But tragically the expected reformation never happened. And you can understand why. There were too many vested interests, too much power, too much politics, and virtually no motivation to change. Everything was going the way of the priests and nobles who supported them.
When Martin Luther burst on the scene like a thunderbolt, Europe was ready for him. Word of his 95 theses against the sale of indulgences spread throughout the empire very quickly. In a matter of two weeks all of Germany knew about it, and in a matter of two months, all of Europe had heard of the monk who had rocked “Peter’s boat.”
Indulgences were the way to buy forgiveness for sins, past, present and future. And he was not shy about pointing out the real object of indulgences. “Who in fact seeks the salvation of souls through indulgences,” Luther asked redundantly, “and not instead money for his coffers? This is evident from the way indulgences are preached. For the commissioners and preachers do nothing but extol indulgences and incite the people to contribute… all you hear is how much one must contribute. The people are always left in ignorance, so that they come to think that by gaining indulgences they are at once saved.”
Luther basically told the people that their indulgences were worthless and that it was all about money. Imagine what the Holy Spirit could do with a church that did not care about money, and cared only for His sanctifying power. They would have all the money they needed and then some. But when church leaders are more concerned about money than the saving of souls, there will be abuse and corruption like in the days of Luther.
Martin Luther was a man who was not to be trifled with. He had God on his side, for one thing. But he also had powerful friends, who protected him. His efforts at reform struck at the heart of Romanism. Rome had placed the pope above all else. Luther placed the Bible above the pope.
Luther was disgusted with the corruptions of the church. He saw them for what they really were and he denounced them publically. To Luther the Bible was the final authority and it would deal with the corruptions of both the human heart and the church.
“From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels,” he said, “but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.”
At his famous trial in Worms, he said, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
But Luther was more afraid of himself than of the pope. “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, self.”
On another occasion he said, “You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.” It is interesting, the way he put that. Many men can be convicted in their conscience on things that are outright wrong, and which do violence to the scriptures, because they are not enlightened by the word. So, even conscience must be subject to the Bible and its enlightening message.
And listen to this one. “We must make a great difference between God’s Word and the word of man,” said Luther. “A man’s word is a little sound, that flies into the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God, and endures everlastingly.”
And here is another one line wonder. “A simple man with Scripture has more authority than the Pope or a council,” Luther said. Notice that he was putting the authority of the word over the pope. Also notice that he was giving the common man, who knows scripture for himself, the right to question the pope’s teachings. This horrified the pope, and threatened the church with collapse.
And about the schools and universities, Luther advised them to center their instruction on the word of God. “I am much afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which means are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must be corrupt.” In other words, forget the monasteries, and even most of the universities. Of course, students flocked to Wittenberg from all over Europe to learn at the feet of Martin Luther who dared to challenge the papal power.
And the Bible also had quite an impact on Luther himself. “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me;” he said, “it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”
On another occasion he said, “The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it, the more it stimulates thirst.”
I’ve experienced that in my life. Have you? The Bible is boring to those who do not spend time with it. But it comes alive to those who discipline themselves to study it. And they want more, and more, and more. Once we are captured by the word, we can say, like Luther, “My conscience is captive to the word of God.”
Luther understood that the Bible is the voice of God. He also knew that the only way to a godly life was to study the Bible. “Let the man who would hear God speak, read the Holy Scriptures,” he said. That’s true today too, isn’t it?
Luther understood that the Bible is directly connected to salvation because it reveals the cross. “No man understands the Scriptures,” he said, “unless he be acquainted with the Cross.” Again, he said, “Can he who understands not God’s word, understand God’s work?”
How can we understand the high principles of salvation unless we read and study the Bible? That is the only source of a true understanding of how God works to save us. It is the only way we can learn how to cooperate with the divine agencies engaged in our salvation.
“The Bible is the proper book for men,” Luther said. “There the truth is distinguished from error far more clearly than anywhere else, and one finds something new in it every day. For twenty-eight years, since I became a doctor, I have now constantly read and preached the Bible; and yet I have not exhausted it but find something new in it every day.”
And concerning the impact of Luther’s work, he said, “I did nothing; the Word did everything.” How very true! The word does everything. God says to do. If we do it, it is His word that actually accomplishes it. We just cooperate with the word. I’ve found in my ministry that when I demonstrate that I am willing to do what God says, He brings it to pass. I work like crazy, but it is not I that accomplishes it. It is God.
And when it comes to trusting God and His word, Luther was full of advice. “The sin underneath all our sins.” he said, “is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.”
Oh how true that is! The essence of salvation is to learn to not take matters into our own hands, but to let God deal with every problem we face.
On wisdom, he said, “Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.” And if you want true self-control, you must experience the Bible, my friends.
But perhaps it can be said that one of Luther’s special concerns was to expose the pope and his minions who knew so little of scripture, and purposely deceived the people in a false sense of security. He laid them bare for their pretended faith. And again his focus was scripture.
“I know that a Christian should be humble,” he said, “but against the Pope I am going to be proud and say to him: “You, Pope, I will not have you for my boss, for I am sure that my doctrine is divine.”
“Oh! how great and glorious a thing it is to have before one the Word of God! With that we may at all times feel joyous and secure; we need never be in want of consolation, for we see before us, in all its brightness, the pure and right way.”
“I never thought the world had been so wicked, when the Gospel began, as now I see it is;” he said. “I rather hoped that every one would have leaped for joy to have found himself freed from the filth of the pope, from his lamentable molestations of poor troubled consciences, and that through Christ they would by faith obtain the celestial treasure they sought after before with such vast cost and labour, though in vain. And especially I thought the bishops and universities would with joy of heart have received the true doctrines, but I have been lamentably deceived.”
But he said, “A simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”
Luther had biting words, however, for those pretended lords. “As for the signs of your peculiar priesthood…” he said, “for we know it would be quite easy to shave, anoint, and clothe in a long robe even a pig or a block of wood.”
And with powerful sarcasm Luther cut down the proud ruler with words like these: “For you are an excellent person, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp.”
“After the devil himself,” he said in another place, “there is no worse folk than the pope and his followers.”
And here’s another, “The Pope is a mere tormentor of conscience. The assembly of his greased and religious crew in praying was altogether like the croaking of frogs, which edified nothing at all.”
And another, “Ambition begat simony; simony begat the pope and his brethren, about the time of the Babylonish captivity.”
And to his obedience to the pope, Luther said, “Personally, I declare that I owe the Pope no other obedience than that to Antichrist.”
“My dear pope,” he said, “I will kiss your feet and acknowledge you as supreme bishop if you will worship my Christ and grant that through His death and resurrection, not through keeping your traditions, we have forgiveness of sins and life eternal.”
Now, think about this. Tony Palmer said there is no difference now between the reformers and the Catholic Church. Back then there was a great difference and Luther made it clear. Is there no difference because the Catholic Church has changed? No. It is because the descendants of the reformers have changed and joined with Rome in their ecumenical insecurities. The fact that Protestants have changed does not change the truth of Luther’s words. They still apply today.
Popes made a science of telling half-truths as if they were the whole truth. So, Luther responded, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”
But Luther was burdened for the souls of the people so deceived by the priests. He has many suggestions about how to live a godly life.
“The whole being of any Christian is faith and love,” he said. “Faith brings the person to God, love brings the person to people.” And how true that is. If these two principles were lived today, how much good would they do?
“God does not need your good works,” he said, “but your neighbor does.” And on how to get things done, he said; “Pray like it all depends on God, then when you are done, go work like it all depends on you.” In other words, faith acts on God’s promises and God fulfills them. But it all depends on you and I acting in faith on those promises.
And on trusting God, Luther wrote, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
And on daily experience of the gospel of Jesus, he wrote, “We need to hear the Gospel every day, because we forget it every day.”
I really like the powerful language Luther uses to address the problems of his day. He speaks pointedly to the heart of the matter. The popes tend to ramble on with long sentences and convoluted speech with academic language that is unfamiliar to common men. They do not speak to the heart. They beat the same drum over and over again. Even modern popes do this. Yet, amazingly people accept it because the pope said so. Luther, on the other hand, was crisp, forthright, and appealed to the heart. This galvanized the people in his support.
“I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word, till soul and body sever, for though all things [shall] pass away, His Word shall stand forever.”
Here’s another one. “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” And here is its corollary… “God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”
On sacrifice for the sake of Christ Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” And the reformers and their followers had to suffer much indeed.
On salvation and the righteousness of Christ, Luther prayed, “Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.”
Doesn’t that sound like a familiar statement from The Desire of Ages, page 25? “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’”
And on discouragement, he wrote with a sense of humor, “When Satan tells me I am a sinner he comforts me immeasurably, since Christ died for sinners.” In the knowledge that Jesus shed His blood for you and me, we have comfort whenever the enemy tries to discourage us.
And speaking of the sacrifice of Christ, Luther points out that “God does not love sinners because they are attractive; sinners are attractive to God because He loves them.
On humility, Luther was self-depreciating. “The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone… How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?”
Anyone who will succeed over the enemy must become a man or woman of prayer. And Luther was just that. “God wants us to pray, and he wants to hear our prayers-not because we are worthy, but because he is merciful,” he said.
“Prayer is climbing up into the heart of God,” Luther told his audiences. He humorously encouraged them to “Pray, and let God worry.” God doesn’t worry, of course. I don’t think He can. He is prepared for every circumstance and knows just what to do to resolve any problem that arises.
Martin Luther understood that prayer is the breath of the soul, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing,” he said.
But he urged that we do not pray with the mouth like the priests and popes, but that we pray from the heart, for our words reflect what is in there. “Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth;” Luther said, “help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart.”
And knowing his weakness, he said, “I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees.”
He knew the power of prayer and said, “Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the church; it is a goodly Christian weapon.”
Luther also had a few good quips on temptation. Here’s one that especially struck me. “Temptations, of course, cannot be avoided, but because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them nest in our hair.”
And on obedience and Christian consistency Luther was practical, “It’s not what I don’t know that bothers me – it’s what I do know and don’t do!”
On preaching he said, “Always preach in such a way that if the people listening do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you.” In other words, don’t hold back. So many preachers and pastors today don’t want to call sin by its right name. They just want to mollify the people into comfortable complacency. They want to excuse even the worst of sins. The Catholic Church gives indulgences and the mass and absolution to Roman Catholics so they can do what they want, in effect. But even Protestant pastors often ignore the sins in the congregation and don’t feel obliged at all to make the people uncomfortable in them. No wonder they want to end the Reformation. It is too uncomfortable to live under such a fiery tongue as Luther.
Here’s some good counsel about marriage. “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.” I can tell you that I know what that is like from personal experience. My wife makes be glad to come home. I hope I make her sorry to see me leave. Luther was dealing with practical godliness and human problems and he appealed to the hearts of the people.
Have you ever wondered where the famous saying came from, “a penny saved is a penny earned?” That is modified a little from something Martin Luther said, “a penny saved is better than a penny earned.”
The church had created rituals and formalism which does little for the heart but turn it against the true Christ. The only alternative for people with sensitive natures is to try and find an “experience” in the darkness. You know Rome calls it Spiritual Formation. And it involves dark spaces, candles, chants, mumbo jumbo that echoes and sounds mysterious. But this does not change the heart. It just gives an experience of some kind. If you really want to have life, turn to the Son of righteousness, with healing in his wings. Avoid all this foolishness of Spiritual Formation, which is really about getting people familiar and comfortable with Rome’s principles. If the Jesuits were around in the days of Luther, he would have denounced them as the most pestiferous and pernicious pack of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.
In contrast, Luther’s advice on faith in Christ was bright hope. “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it one thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith.”
He also said, “Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see.”
And in spite of his distaste for the book of James, he still said, “True faith will no more fail to produce [good works] than the sun can cease to give light.” In other words, if you aren’t involved in good works as a Christian, you don’t have faith.
In those days the Catholic Church tried to make itself look like it was full of saints, with robed altar boys, walking around with hands held together as if in prayer, white robed choirs, and priests in beautifully embroidered vestments and little skull caps or hats making them look sanctimonious, something like they do today. It appeared that the leaders of the church were all saints and that the sinners were under their instruction and guidance as if their rituals were the only way to heaven.
Luther rejected the idea that the true church would be made only of saints. “May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint!” he exclaimed. “I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
Luther was a warrior for the Lord. He knew what he was up against. He knew that the whole juggernaut of Catholicism would come after him and destroy him if they could. “ Peace” he said, “if possible, truth at all costs.” In other words, he was not willing to give up truth for the sake of peace. Does that sound familiar?
Listen to this statement from The Great Controversy, page 45. Speaking of the early church and its inevitable separation from Rome, it says, “To secure peace and unity they were ready to make any concession consistent with fidelity to God; but they felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle. If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.”
Martin Luther was burdened that the world-loving masses would not accept the correction of the word of God. “The world doesn’t want to be punished,” Luther said. “It wants to remain in darkness. It doesn’t want to be told that what it believes is false. If you also don’t want to be corrected, then you might as well leave the church and spend your time at the bar and brothel. But if you want to be saved-and remember that there’s another life after this one-you must accept correction.”
Luther loved music and wrote a number of hymns. “As long as we live,” he said, “there is never enough singing.” And he gave music a very high ranking. “Music is a fair and glorious gift of God. I am strongly persuaded that after theology, there is no art which can be placed on the level with music.”
“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise,” he added. “The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.” Luther instructed the people in song, something that the Catholic Church had failed to do. People were told that they were to be quiet in church. A hearty hymn was not only foreign to them in the Catholic church, which taught that musical instruments (except perhaps the organ) were sinful, at least in church. But hymn singing was one of the things they really enjoyed under Luther’s leadership. Luther saw singing as part of worship and produced hymns for worship, such as A Mighty Fortress is Our God. “Come, let us sing a song,” Luther urged, “and drive away the devil.”
Modern preachers, who claim that Luther taught that justification is the only thing that is needed, are wrong. Listen to him. “There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow.”
And on conversion he wrote, “People go through three conversions: The conversion of their head, their heart, and their pocketbook. Unfortunately, not all at the same time.”
“This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing,” Luther said. “It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.”
In contrast to the priests, who rushed from one church counsel to another, Luther struck at the heart of their superficial religion. “The kingdom of God,” he said, “does not consist in talk, but in power, that is, in works and practice. God loves the ‘doers of the word’ in faith and love, and not the ‘mere hearers,’ who, like parrots, have learned to utter certain expressions with readiness.”
And to go along with that, Luther suggested that at least some people need to stop talking all together and clean up their foul language. “Some people,” he quipped, “need a fig-leaf on their mouths.”
But Luther’s understanding of the Bible was eminently practical. “It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.”
And on God’s love to us, he said, “The slender capacity of man’s heart cannot comprehend the unfathomable depth and burning zeal of God’s love toward us.” Precious thought. God is not passive. He is actively pursuing us.
Luther’s greatest work was to help the laymen understand the Bible. He knew that if they could study its pages, the pope and his minions would be finished. It is amazing in this enlightened age, with so many Bibles around us, that the pope has as much credibility as he has. People don’t study their Bibles anymore; else they would see that they are following a corrupt man, not Christ.
“I have undertaken to translate the Bible into German,” Luther said of his greatest task. “This was good for me; otherwise I might have died in the mistaken notion that I was a learned fellow.” Luther’s humility only enhanced the power of his work.
Let us come back to the issue of the Bible. Concerning Bible study, Luther said, “First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.”
Luther revolutionized Germany. It brought an open fire where there had only been burning embers. The Waldenses had done their work. They had been quietly shaking the walls of the established church until they were weakened like the walls of Jericho after the whole nation of Israel had tramped around them for seven days. Now God needed bold, open, public men, whose trumpet witness would shatter those theological strongholds and towers and bring them tumbling down.
Luther’s reform in Germany sparked reform in other lands, from Scandinavia to Italy men of God stood up at the peril of their lives to denounce the sins of Babylon so obviously portrayed by the popes and his minions.
Today my friends, we are facing the end of the Protestant era. America was founded on Protestant principles. But today the ecumenical movement has undermined those principles so that evangelicals see no danger. They have united with Rome as if Rome is their mother. They see only the desire to compromise their truth for the sake of unity. This is not the spirit of Martin Luther. Their Bibles are not from the same source as his Bible. And consequently their teachings are compromised by ecumenical thinking that is ever bringing them closer to the bosom of Rome.
Friends, let us not lose the principles of Martin Luther. Yes, we have more light than he had. God has given us the full message. But since present truth builds itself on previous truth, the message for the last days cannot be preached without the foundational principles of Protestantism. May God help us, my friends, to live in the light of the Bible and hold to the principles that God has been pleased to give us.
Let us pray. Our heavenly Father, we have come to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses. They were meant for his time, but they are also for our own time. Please Father, help us to hang on to our Protestant faith. Help us to live by the principles of truth that we have learned from the Reformers. And may we advance in our experience as far as present truth will take us. Thank You for Your love and care for Your people over the centuries. Now, send Your Holy Spirit to empower us to live in Christ and for Christ. In Jesus name, I prayer, amen.