On this day, in 1546, in the town where he was born, Eisleben, Germany, Dr. Martin Luther died, at the age of 63. Fittingly, he died shortly after collapsing at the end of his last sermon, preached at St. George Church in Eisleben. He was carried to a house just across from the church and there was received by our Lord into his heavenly rest. What a remarkable man. Luther continues to be a man who attracts interest across the world, as well he should. How blessed are we who identify ourselves with what Luther believed, taught and confessed. The picture you see here was taken in Eisleben, in the house where Luther died. This is a copy of the plaster face and hand casts made shortly after Luther died, a common practice in his day. What is most fascinating to me is that his right hand, his writing hand, is shaped in death as if he was holding a pen. And no wonder. The literary output of Martin Luther is simply astounding. If there ever was proof of the old adage that "the pen is mightier than the sword" we find it in the life and work of Martin Luther.
Luther's life and work can be studied from many different perspectives, each shedding its own unique light on our understanding of Luther. I've spent my entire adult life studying Luther: his life, his writings, the history surrounding the Reformation, and the lives and work of his friends and foes. I have never found anything more profound produced by Luther than his Small Catechism and his hymns. For here, in my opinion, is where the heart of Luther is revealed for all to see. For me, the truly "essential Luther" is found in his explanation of the Apostles Creed, and in the first hymn he wrote for congregational use Dear Christians One and All Rejoice, both of which follow:
I believe that
God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my
body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and
all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto,
clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife
and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides
me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body
and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves
me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine
goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me;
for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and
obey Him. This is most certainly true.
I believe that
Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity,
and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who
has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased
and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from
the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with
His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and
death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under
Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness,
innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead,
lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
I believe that
I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ,
my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me
by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and
kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens,
and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps
it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian
Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all
believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the
dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting
life. This is most certainly true.
Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice
Written by Martin Luther, 1523
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And with united heart and voice
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How his right arm the victory won.
What price our ransom cost him!
Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay,
Death brooded darkly over me,
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.
My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God’s judgment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.
But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of his mercies great,
He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose easy part
But gave his dearest treasure.
God said to his beloved Son:
"It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of my crown,
And bring to all salvation;
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with you forever."
The Son obeyed his Father’s will,
Was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my brother.
His royal power disguised he bore,
A servant’s form, like mine, he wore
To lead the devil captive.
To me he said: "Stay close to me,
I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I myself will be;
For you I strive and wrestle;
For I am yours, and you are mine,
And where I am you may remain;
The foe shall not divide us.
"Though he will shed my precious blood,
Of life me thus bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good;
Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the victory win;
My innocence shall bear your sin;
And you are blest forever.
"Now to my Father I depart,
From earth to heaven ascending,
And heavenly wisdom to impart,
The Holy spirit sending;
In trouble he will comfort your
And teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you.
What I on earth have done and taught
Guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought
And honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy
The heavenly treasure should destroy;
This final word I leave you."