Luther- Early Years

October 25, 2023

This is a season often used to reflect on the Protestant Reformation. For the purposes of this pastoral letter, think about the early Martin Luther.

The Power of Parents

Luther was born November 10, 1483, in the city of Eisleben. The very place where 63 years later he would die. His mom and dad gave him a generally good upbringing. His father was a miner and then a mine manager, who invested his money well, and eventually became a town councilor. Hans Luther wasn’t rich, but he wasn’t poor either. He had great hopes for young Martin, especially in the field of law.

But all of that came crashing down in 1505. The 22-year-old Luther was caught in a thunderstorm, and when he was almost struck by lightning, he cried out to St. Anne, “Save me and I will become a monk!” Despite his parents’ protests, two weeks later, Luther joined an Augustinian order in the city of Erfurt. Luther’s actions caused serious tension between him and his father.

Modern day some have looked through the lens of psychoanalysis to try and show that Luther’s theological wrestlings were just a projection of his struggles with his dad. As one writer put it, “Luther sought to be right with God when, in reality, he was seeking to be right with his earthly father.” And while, this point should be dismissed (his theological issues were not a projection of his familial problems), it is important to note that his father’s disapproval did negatively impact him.

It reminds us, the influence parents have over their children is great. It’s why Paul calls them to ‘not provoke their children’ (Col. 3:21). Moms and Dads, you have been given great shaping power. Be careful and biblical in your parenting, and in your treatment of your kids. By God’s grace, as you seek to raise them in the fear and admonition of Christ, you can impact them for good. If you don’t, it will be the opposite. Let Luther’s parents lead you to fall on your knees and cry out to the Lord to help you to Scripturally influence your children.

Power of Satan, Sin, and the Savior

When Luther joined the monastery, he found it difficult to be a monk. And it was also true that Luther was ‘a difficult monk.’ If you were the head of his order, you would have likely been a bit overworked. He was a regular attender to the confessional. He felt assaulted by Satan; perpetually tempted to sin, accused of being worthless to God, and led to think wrongly of Christ and salvation in him. The Devil got Luther to have hard thoughts of God: that he was not good and gracious, but a divine puppet master, playing with the souls of men.

And on top of that, Luther saw himself as a habitual transgressor of God’s law and a moral monster. He sensed his enslavement to evil lusts and passions. That knowledge weighed on him, to the point there were days he could not eat nor pray. Physically and emotionally, he was wasting away. Spiritually, he thought himself dominated by the Devil and his own depravity. He was pressed low with doubts about God. He was spiraling downwards into depression. He was under the power of Satan and sin. It’s what later, Luther called Anfechtugen—angst in the soul caused by the assaults of the Evil One and the turmoil invading the soul. From 1505 on into the next decade, Luther was often paralyzed by fear and failure.

One example of this happened in 1508 when he performed his first mass. As he conducted the ceremony with many in attendance (family and friends included), he was overwhelmed. Reflecting on that moment, he said, “I was stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, ‘with what tongue shall I address such Majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince. Who I am, that I should lift my eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? … For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God.’”

In the service, Luther almost ran away. The power of Satan and sin had taken hold of him. He did not understand the nature of the Gospel. He did not see the wounds of Christ. He had not come to the suffering Savior, as the only hope for men. His flesh and the Devil paralyzed him. It’s a reminder of just how powerful Satan and indwelling sin can be. That’s true even for the Believer, in whom the Scriptures tell us, they do not reign. Nonetheless, the flesh and the Devil do remain, and can, if allowed, hold great sway over us.

We can find ourselves giving into the Evil One’s temptations and allowing sinful strongholds to develop in our lives. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, James 4:7, to resist the Devil and 2 Cor. 10:4, to destroy strongholds. But the question is how? Luther wanted to know that answer. As he approached God’s majesty he trembled before a holy God, because he knew he was an awful sinner. But at this stage in Luther’s life, that’s where he stopped. He failed to look to, what he would later call, “the friendly side of God.” He didn’t eye the merciful Christ. This merciful Christ is the one we need to return to regularly. The Devil and our depravity are powerful, but where sin abounds grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20).

 —Pastor Clif