Rev. Donavon Riley
Martin Luther's move to Wittenberg did not lighten his workload at all. In fact, if anything, after he received his special license that made him a candidate for the doctorate in 1512, Luther's life became so busy he barely had time to sleep.
"I could use two secretaries," Luther wrote, "I do almost nothing during the day but write letters... I am a preacher at the monetary, a reader at meals, a parish preacher, director of studies, supervisor of eleven monasteries, superintendent of the fish pond at Litzkau, referee of a squabble at Torgau, lecturer on Paul, a collector of materials for a commentary on the Psalms, and then, as I said, I am overwhelmed with letters. I rarely have time for the required daily prayers and saying mass, not to mention my own temptations with the world, the flesh, and the devil. You see how lazy I am."
Still, the old nagging questions hung onto him. Martin was still in search of a merciful God. As "lazy" as he imagined himself to be, or not, Luther's studies and teaching led him deeper into Scripture. He searched, and wrote, and lectured, and preached like a man on his hands and knees crawling through the valley of the shadow of death. He hunted God through the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, which was where his particular theological expertise lay.
This is why, as Luther later said, "I did not learn my theology all at once, but had to search deeper for it, where my temptations took me."
During his early years as a lecturer Luther taught the book of Genesis (1512), the Psalms (1513-15151), Romans (1515-1516), Galatians (1516-1517), Hebrews (1517-1518), and again the Psalms (1518-1521).
And through them all, Luther was hunting for God's mercy. He chased after "the righteousness of God," to understand what "righteousness" meant. As Luther said years later, "I hated that word [at Romans 1:17], 'the righteousness of God,' which, according to the custom and the use of teachers, I had been taught to understand in the philosophical sense with respect to 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," he said, "I felt, with the most disturbed conscience imaginable, that I was a sinner before God. I did not love, indeed I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners and secretly (if not blasphemously and certainly with great grumbling) I was angry with God, and said, "As if indeed it is not enough that miserable sinners, eternally lost through eternal sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Ten Commandments, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel's threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!"
This is why he had been taught, and continued to teach in his early lectures, that when St. Paul wrote that "the righteous live by faith," Luther had to be righteous to be given and keep faith. Martin did not care how sinners come to God. He was only interested in how a Christian can live with a God whose demand for righteousness can never be satisfied.
God was righteous and holy. Martin Luther was not. And the Gospel, no matter how many times he heard it, taught it, or preached it, gave his heart no rest. Luther heard the Gospel, but the question stuck in his mind: "How can I 'live by faith?'"
Next time, we will look at Luther's biblical lectures and how these lectures led him to the discovery that changed not just the Christian Church, but the world.
Rev. Donavon Riley serves as pastor at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota.
Created: October 24th, 2016