The Hidden Luther It is fashionable nowadays to recast the leaders of the Reformation into caricatures that they themselves would hardly recognize. Calvin, of course, is often mistakenly branded as "that Servetus-killer". Martin Luther, thanks to the revisionist history of authors like Hal Lindsey and John Hagee, is unfairly transformed into an anti-Semite and ultra-nationalist precursor to Adolf Hitler. But I want to show how that Luther is being wounded in the house of his friends, those who have genuine appreciation for the man and for what he has accomplished in God's work. Of course, the man did make a number of unwise comments, especially toward the end of his life. There are some who so emphasize Luther's "faith alone" as to put his other emphases far into the background. We are not denying the importance of "faith alone" - as opposed to works or merit. We just don't believe this was Luther's main emphasis. His Main Point was... What was, in Luther's own words, the pivotal issue of the Reformation? What was the overriding issue that cost him and other Reformers so much pain and effort? Was it the issue of faith alone, as we are led to believe (important as that issue is) or was it something else? Read this quote from the man himself and I will let the spiritually astute reader decide the answer for himself/herself. In writing to his literary adversary Erasmus, Luther made this concession: "I give you hearty praise and commendation ... that you alone, in contrast to all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue....[Y]ou, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot." [Emphasis added] Now, what was the vital issue? According to Luther in this passage, it was not "the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences or such .. trifles". It wasn't even faith. It was the issue of the will. More specifically, it was the central truth that, when it comes to choosing to be saved, to choosing God, no one -without the Lord First moving the heart- can say "Yes, Lord Jesus". This is exactly what is NOT being taught about Luther today. Instead we are focused on his "Here I stand" speech, or on his defiance of Papacy, or his faith alone theology. Yet salvation by faith alone is indeed a precious truth, but only insofar as it is related to the essential foundation of God's sovereignty. "Faith alone" without a truly sovereign God is a meaningless mantra, a figment of filthy dreamers (Jude 9), if it has no foundation on which to rest. Faith in Whom? Faith has to have a worthy object on which to hang upon. If the "God" we are exercising faith in is not the real God, then the faith is not saving faith. Agreed? Otherwise Mormons and others have equal validity as true religions. Faith in what? An atonement with blood that spreads like a coating mono-layer, equally and all-pervasively, over the entire Earth, yet cannot save a single soul? This is not the Biblical blood of Christ. This is a fiction of those who would remake God in man's image. If God loves everyone equally, what do we do with the Bible's record of Pharaoh and Esau? ("Esau have I hated" - Romans 9:13, Malachi 1:13). Clearly God has a special saving love for His own, though He shows tokens of a general care for all the world, since He gives them many good gifts. The Biblical foundation is this: God sovereignly saves those He wills to save ("Who has resisted His will"?). Because we were utterly unable ("without strength" - Romans 5:6) God had to come and Get us (John 10:16). Christ came to, and called Lazarus out of the tomb. He didn't meet him halfway. Because we were totally benighted, unaware (Romans 3:11 "without understanding") God had to give us a new heart and a new nature. Because we were unwilling (Romans 3:11 "no one seeks")- rebellious even - God had to work in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure". (Phil 2:13) All of this is reason why Martin Luther centered on the issue of the human will, the lack of it rather, as the sticking point. Without a changed will all the good news of salvation is but a cruel joke. It is the throwing of a too-short spider web strand to a man overboard - who already died. Lest anyone think I am also reshaping Luther into what I want him to be, here are some other quotes from him from his "Table Talk". One last comment of mine is at the bottom: Other comments of Luther's on Free Will "Ah, Lord God! why should we boast of our free will, as if it were able to do anything ever so small, in divine and spiritual matters? when we consider what horrible miseries the devil has brought upon us through sin, we might shame ourselves to death." "This is my absolute opinion: he that will maintain that man's free will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases, be they never so small, denies Christ. This I have always maintained in my writings, especially in those against Erasmus, one of the most learned men in the whole world, and thereby I will remain, for I know it to be the truth, though all the world should be against it; yea, the decree of Divine Majesty must stand fast against the gates of hell. "I confess that mankind has a free will, but it is to milk cows, to build houses, etc., and no further; for so long as a man is at ease and in safety, and is in no want, so long he thinks he has a free will, which is able to do something; but when want and need appear, so that there is neither meat, drink, nor money, where is then free will? It is utterly lost, and cannot stand when it comes to the pinch. Faith only stands fast and sure, and seeks Christ. Therefore faith is far another thing than free will; nay, free will is nothing at all, but faith is all in all." "The sentences in Holy Scripture touching predestination, as, 'No man can come to me except the Father draws him,' seem to terrify and affright us; yet they but show that we can do nothing of our own strength and will that is good before God, and put the godly also in mind to pray. When people do this, they may conclude they are predestinated." All of these quotes, thanks to the shift in how history has handled the Reformation, sounds to modern ears more like John Calvin than Martin Luther, don't they? For the record, our emphasis should not be on mere men, but on God's Word. In driving home my point, hopefully you can see that my foundation is not what a man said, but what the Word teaches. But why is Luther's "Faith Alone" put center stage? Why was there that shift in our treatment of that Reformer? Commitment to free-will requires it. I am speaking, to be precise, of the free-will that is able allegedly to choose to believe in God. Then, once a certain belief is accepted, after having first found an assumed Scriptural foundation, it becomes important to find historical justification for the belief. This is where Luther comes in. It had been conveniently overlooked that Luther fought for all five of the "Sola's" ("sola" = "alone". Salvation is through Scripture alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, to the glory of God alone). If emphasis must be made for any of them - speaking of Luther's life and teaching - he would have placed it on the last one, the glory of God alone. The modern enlarging of "faith" goes against this, "faith" redefined, by the way, from Biblical and Reformation times, from heart-awakening to mere intellectual assent, from the outright and gracious gift of God to the innate and native predisposition to accept the (other) gifts of God. Luther is thus made a spokesman for this denatured "faith". But he would have strenuously opposed this, as I have hopefully shown from his writings. More importantly, the Word of God teaches that true faith is merely an evidence of eyes having been opened (Matthew 16:17) and hearts having been opened (Acts 16:14). A fitting last word here - and one that Luther would have wholeheartedly agreed with - is Jonah's inspired conclusion (Jonah 2:9): "SALVATION IS OF THE LORD!"