Reformation Relevance: The Gospel Discovers Martin Luther
“Our LCMS folks — especially church workers — need to be reconnected to Martin Luther.”
With those words from Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison as a cue, Reporter this month begins offering a series of Luther’s writings as a way to join the church body’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.
This reconnecting with Luther starts this month with the account of his Gospel breakthrough, as he wrote of it in 1545 in a preface to the first full edition of his works. — Editor
Meanwhile, I had already during that year returned to interpret the Psalter anew. I had confidence in the fact that I was more skilful, after I had lectured in the university on St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the one to the Hebrews. I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1[:17], “In it the righteousness of God is revealed,” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
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 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. 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, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.
And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise. Later I read Augustine’s The Spirit and the Letter, where contrary to hope I found that he, too, interpreted God’s righteousness in a similar way, as the righteousness with which God clothes us when he justifies us. Although this was heretofore said imperfectly and he did not explain all things concerning imputation clearly, it nevertheless was pleasing that God’s righteousness with which we are justified was taught. Armed more fully with these thoughts, I began a second time to interpret the Psalter. And the work would have grown into a large commentary, if I had not again been compelled to leave the work begun, because Emperor Charles V in the following year convened the diet at Worms.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34; Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, Vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 336-338. Reproduced by permission of Augsburg Fortress.
Posted March 31, 2016
How often will these writings appear on the LCMS website? Very interested in reading them. If you can, please email me each time you publish on the website. Thank you.
Please respond back.
I like reading Martin Luther a lot, since re-connecting with him and the Church a couple of months ago. I bought a copy of the readable Lutheran Confessions and am amazed at Luther’s depth and spirituality. In this Gnostic world, it is easy to not see with clarity. Luther was not fooled. Few saints experience that I am nothing, God is all. I like that you are beginning this series on Luther’s writings.
I am also interested in reading these writings. Will you be sending them out periodically? I would also like to notified when you put them on the website. Thanks so much.