Martin Luther: Certainty in the Truth by Iain H. Murray
It was a day of grace for Europe when Martin Luther was born at Eisleben, in Germany, in 1483. Entering first the University of Erfurt in 1501, then an Augustinian monastery, Luther was ordained in the Church of Rome in 1507. But the death of a friend in a thunderstorm, a visit to Rome-revealing its corruption-and an increasing sense of his sinfulness, arrested Luther's promising career. Made aware of the emptiness of all human wisdom, its inability to give peace to the soul, he was drawn to study the Word of God.
So great was his anguish of soul that sometimes he would lay "three days and three nights upon his bed without meat, drink, or any sleep, like a dead man." In this condition, he learnt to read each verse in the Bible like a drowning man would clutch at any piece of wood to save his life, and thus sometime between the years 1513-1517 he found that man can be justified by faith in Christ alone, and that in salvation God takes no account of man's works, merit, or will. "This doctrine," Luther writes, "is not learned or gotten by any study, diligence, or wisdom of man, but it is revealed by God Himself." Henceforth he stood upon the Word of God alone, it was his storehouse from whence he drew those truths which, in his writings, flashed like thunderbolts through Europe.
In 1519 Erasmus writes to Luther that "his books had raised such an uproar at Louvain, as it was not possible for him to describe." God had begun a conflict for His Truth, and it was bitterly opposed. "I had" Luther says, "hanging on my neck the pope, the universities, all the deep learned, and the devil; these hunted me into the Bible, wherein I sedulously read . . ." An "illiterate monk" thus became, in the hands of God, too much-as Margaret the Emperor's sister confessed-for all the academics in Paris to answer. By 1520 there was an irreconcilable break with the Church of Rome; the pope was determined that Luther and his gospel should perish together.
A man-made religion will ever contest with those who preach that salvation is solely of the grace of God. There is a clean difference between the two. This was exemplified in Luther's disputation with Eckius, the Romanist champion, in 1519, when the first point of dispute was over free-will. "We condemn," Luther proclaimed, "man's free-will, his strength, his wisdom, and all religion of man's own devising; in short, we say that there is nothing in us able to deserve grace."
The compromising Erasmus rightly saw free-will to be a chief issue between Luther and Rome, and fearing the displeasure of man, he wrote in defence of man's free-will in salvation. This brought forth in reply Luther's mighty work on "The Bondage of The Will". Erasmus rather than attempting the hopeless task of showing that the Bible teaches free-will and not God's eternal election, had sought to avoid the issue by complaining that there could be no usefulness in teaching doctrines of election and predestination.
Luther, sweeping aside his evasions, demands to know whether the doctrines are of God or not? "Where, alas! Erasmus, are your fear and reverence of God, when you roundly declare that this branch of truth, which He has revealed from heaven, is at best, useless? What! Shall the Glorious Creator be taught by you, His creature, what is fit to be preached? Is the adorable God so very defective in knowledge, as not to know, till you instruct Him, what would be useful and what pernicious? Could He not know the consequence of His revealing this doctrine, till those consequences were pointed out by you? Who art thou, O Erasmus, that thou shouldst reply against God! Paul, discoursing of God, says, "Whom He will He hardeneth." And again, "God willing to show His wrath . . ." and the Apostle did not write this to have it stifled among a few persons, and buried in a corner, but wrote it to the Christians at Rome; which was, in effect, bringing this doctrine upon the stage of the whole world, stamping a universal imprimature upon it, and publishing it to believers at large throughout the world. What can sound harsher to carnal men than those words of Christ, 'I know whom I have chosen'? Now these and similar assertions of Christ and His Apostles, are the very positions which you, O Erasmus, brand as useless and hurtful!"
Luther then goes on to show why the doctrines of election and grace are to be preached, "Whilst a man is persuaded that he has it in his power to contribute anything, be it ever so little, to his salvation, he remains in carnal self-confidence; he is not a self-despairer, and therefore is not duly humbled before God, he believes he may lend a helping hand in his salvation, but on the contrary, whoever is truly convinced that the whole work depends singly on the will of God, such a person renounces his own will and strength; he waits and prays for the operation of God, nor waits and prays in vain . . ."
Luther's characteristic is certainty in the Truth. "A man must be able to affirm, I know for certain, that what I teach is the only Word of the high majesty of God in Heaven, His Final conclusion and Everlasting Unchangeable Truth, and whatsoever concurs and agrees not with this doctrine is altogether false, and spun by the devil . . . To God's Word will I remain, though the whole world be against me." Commenting on Paul's certainty in the truth on Galatians i. 9, he writes, "he dare curse all teachers throughout the World and in heaven, which pervert the Gospel that Paul preached, or teach any other; for all men must either believe that Gospel that he preached, or else be accursed and condemned." Such was Luther's certainty of the truth that he cared not for any man; excommunicated by the pope, he replied by throwing the papal bull into a fire with the prayer "Because thou hast troubled the Holy One of God let eternal fire trouble thee."
When King Henry VIII of England was incensed to write against the truth, Luther answered him very plainly, and defends his sharpness of language thus: "nor ought it to be considered as a great matter if I affront and treat sharply an earthly prince, who has dared to blaspheme the King of Heaven in his writings, insulting His Name with lies." Again we see his boldness in stating God's truth that all relying upon their works for salvation, not justified by faith in Christ alone, are under the curse of God (Gal. iii. 10). "This the pope and his proud prelates do not believe. Yet must we not hold our peace but must confess the truth and say, that the papacy is accursed; yea the Emperor is accursed; for according to Paul, whatsoever is without the promise and faith of Abraham, is accursed."
Luther was a man void of ambition. He took no money for his written works. His consuming desire was the declaration of the Truth of God. The Bible was the beginning and end of his thoughts, without it, he said, all the learning in the world is not worth a straw. His dying prayer was that God would preserve His church in the truth, and his last words: "Thee, O Christ have I known, thee have I loved, thee have I taught, thee have I trusted, into thy hands I commend my spirit." It would be a happy day indeed, should God cause His children to return and study the works of His servant, Martin Luther, then we could say: "Earth still enjoys him, tho' his soul is fled, his name is deathless, tho' his dust is dead."