Heroes of the Faith
Concise stories of significant Christian leaders
© Peter J. Blackburn 1999
Heroes of the Faith
Martin Luther Martin Luther

Martin Luther was born on November 10th 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony. He received a traditional medieval early education. Some of his teachers were connected with the Brethren of the Common Life, a lay order concerned with education for devout Christian living. He studied at the University of Erfurt, receiving his B.A. in 1502 and M.A. in 1505.
Luther commenced legal studies, but soon abandoned them to take up the monastic life. In the monastery of the Augustinian hermits in Erfurt, he devoted himself to study, prayer and penance. In his search for God he wearied his priest with his confessions and punished himself will prolonged periods of prayer, fasting, sleepless nights, and flagellation.
His wise and godly superior, Staupitz, directed him away from excessive introspection towards the study of the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek.
Luther was ordained a priest in 1507, taught at the universities of Wittenberg and Erfurt (1508-1511), and in 1512 received his doctoral degree. In receiving his degree and becoming a professor, he took a traditional vow faithfully to teach and defend the Scripture.
Returning as a professor to Wittenberg in 1512, he began his lectures on the Bible - Psalms (1513-1515), Romans (1515-1516), Galatians (1517), Hebrews (1517-1518). These books were basic in shaping the thought of the future Reformer.
He was not only a scholar but a pastor, with regular preaching duties and pastoral care. In 1517 he became concerned about the abuses in the sale of indulgences. Technically, indulgences were a payment, as part of the act of penance, to remove or reduce the other requirements so that a person could be forgiven. Since the later fifteenth century, pope had authorised indulgences for souls in purgatory as well as for the living. As pastor and theologian Luther objected, and in response wrote his "95 Theses," which he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg. (This was a traditional way of inviting the academic community to discuss an issue.) This led to numerous debates which helped to clarify his views on religious authority. In the Leipzig Disputation in July 1519 with John Eck, he publicly recognised that the Bible alone, not popes or councils, was invariably true and reliable.
These events expressed his internal development. In his 1545 preface to his Latin writings, Luther recalled his dramatic conversion. He had long been troubled spiritually with the righteousness of God. In spite of all the sacramental grace offered by the medieval church, he still knew he fell short of God's standard.
One day he was wrestling with the problem in terms of Romans 1.17. How could the revelation of God's righteousness be good news? Suddenly he saw that the gospel is the good news that, in Christ, God gives the righteousness demanded in the law. God imputes, or reckons, the perfect righteousness of Christ to sinners who receive it by faith. This insight is the essence of Luther's doctrine of justification by faith. Faith, or trust in the promises of Christ, alone justifies, because faith alone receives and rests in Christ's imputed righteousness.
In January 1521 Luther was excommunicated and in April appeared before Charles V at the imperial diet meeting at Wörms. He refused to recant, saying that "My conscience is captive to the Word of God."
Throughout his life, Luther exerted a moderating influence on possible extremes in the Reformation. He died at Eisleben on February 15th 1546.