In Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, Eric Metaxas shares the remarkable story of the father of the Reformation.
This past fall was the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, and Metaxas shares not only the journey of Martin Luther but the impact his life has had on the rest of the world since then.
Luther took finding forgiveness with God incredibly seriously that he changed careers in spite of his parents’ wishes. As a result of his pursuit of God, he discovered that God was pursuing him and us all along. Luther rediscovered for the rest of us – faith and grace. His devotion to the Scriptures informed the way he navigated the controversy that he created, and this devotion was a new or at least a renewed practice.
Metaxas delves into the controversy surrounding Luther and the way hundreds of years later Nazis used Luther’s words to promote anti-Semitism. Metaxas does not gloss over Luther’s most perplexing pamphlets but gives context and makes a compelling case that Luther would have been appalled by the Nazis, their propaganda, and their evil agenda and Final Solution.
Interesting facts presented by Metaxas about Luther include:
- The real story about nailing the 95 Theses (probably not nailed but pasted to the door which was a common practice in those days)
- The remarkable dynamics (including a faked kidnapping) that kept Luther from being burned at the stake as other “heretics” had been.
- The extreme level of corruption among the political and religious leaders in Luther’s time.
- Luther’s struggle with depression.
- The printing press as the source of Luther’s fame and the catalyst to change.
- The power of Luther’s pen as demonstrated with the large number of sermons, pamphlets, devotions, books,
and even the German version of the Bible.
- The unwanted consequences of Luther’s reforms which went beyond a change in indulgences within the Roman Catholic Church to entirely new denominations and political uprisings.
- The tragic deaths of 100,000-300,000 people during the Peasants’ War including the infamous Thomas Muntzer.
- The introduction of congregational singing into the church service.
- The love story between a former monk (Luther) and a former nun.
Some of the quotes from the book that particularly stood out to me include:
“Luther’s writings and actions so altered the landscape of the modern world that much of what we now take for granted may be traced directly to him, the quirky genius of Wittenberg.”
“Luther was the unwitting harbinger of a new world in which the well-established boundaries of what was acceptable were exploded, never to be restored. Suddenly the individual had not only the freedom and possibility of thinking for himself but the weighty responsibility before God of doing so.”
“He desired desperately to help Rome [specifically the Roman Catholic Church] elude the fate it ended up experiencing. In fact, in a case of extreme irony… he became the very man who brought about everything he had hoped to avoid.”
“Once, Luther actually continued confessing for six consecutive hours… Staupitz [the monk listening to Luther’s confessions], on more than one occasion, tried to shock Luther out of his downward spiral of navel-gazing. ‘God is not angry with you!’ he once said. ‘You are angry with God! Don’t you know that God commands you to hope?'”
“No one was really entrusted with reading the Bible by itself, so that monks and even priests and theologians were typically kept at one or more removes from it…. Strangely enough, once a novice actually became a monk, he was no longer allowed to keep his Bible.”
“…for Luther the Bible was… the living Word of God and therefore could not be read like any other book. It was inspired by God, and when one read it, one must do so in such a way— with such closeness and intimacy— that one fully intended to feel and smell the breezes of heaven.”
“In his mind, there was no doubt that the truth would win, whatever became of him. He had not asked for this fight, but neither could he hide from it. The more he saw that the facts were on his side, the more emboldened he was to present them, to uphold the truth.”
“the more he became convinced that the church had for four hundred years been in a kind of Babylonian captivity, just as Israel had been. And if he like a prophet did not point this out and call for the church to repent and return to God’s truth, he would himself be guilty. He therefore had no fear in doing so.”
“Part of Luther’s appeal came from his escalating outspokenness. Just when he said one thing that everyone insisted no one must ever say, he said another and then another. It was as if the zeitgeist itself could barely keep up with him. The reason for this was that as Luther’s sense of his own danger increased, so did his boldness. He thought, what do I have to lose? I am speaking the truth and therefore my life is in danger, so I might as well say what I can while I have breath in me. His willingness to go further and further, wherever he felt the truth led him, became breathtaking.”
“Once we receive God’s free gift of love in Jesus, we are properly moved to want to love him back and to love our fellow man…. Once we embrace Christ, we are instantly made righteous because of his righteousness, and not because of anything we have done or could do. So our good works do not earn us God’s favor. That favor we already possess, even though we are sinners who sin and cannot help sinning. By turning to God in faith— as sinners who understand that we are sinners— and by crying out for God’s help, we do all we can by acknowledging our helplessness.”
“Luther understood that the God of the Bible was a loving father eager to hear the prayers of his children.”
“Luther almost single-handedly created the vox populi, or voice of the people.”
“In the end, what Luther did was not merely to open a door in which people were free to rebel against their leaders but to open a door in which people were obliged by God to take responsibility for themselves and free to help those around them who could not help themselves.”
Some of the most memorable quotes from Martin Luther himself:
“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. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
“In all this I fear nothing…. Even if their flattery and power should succeed in making me hated by all people, enough remains of my heart and conscience to know and confess that all for which I stand and which they attack, I have from God, to whom I gladly and of my own accord entrust and offer all of this. If he takes it away, it is taken away; if he preserves it, it is preserved. Hallowed and praised be his name forever. Amen”
[To a friend concerned for Luther’s safety]: “do not fear anything and do not let your heart be torn to pieces by human considerations. You know that if Christ were not leading me and my case, I would have been lost long ago.”
“When God in his sheer mercy and without any merit of mine has given me such unspeakable riches, shall I not then freely, joyously, wholeheartedly, unprompted do everything that I know will please him? I will give myself as a sort of Christ to my neighbor as Christ gave himself for me.”
“Death is oh so bitter— not so much to the dying as to the living whom the dead leave behind.”