Blog Entry

10 Lessons from Spurgeon on Luther’s Life and Ministry

By Geoff Chang Oct 26, 2017

On the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth, Charles Spurgeon preached two sermons commemorating the event. In the morning of November 11, 1883, Spurgeon opened his sermon with these remarks:

“Yesterday, four hundred years ago, there came into this wicked world the son of a miner, or refiner of metals, who was to do no little towards undermining the Papacy and refining the church. The name of that babe was Martin Luther: a hero and a saint. Blessed was that day above all the days of the century, which it honored, for it bestowed a blessing on all succeeding ages, through “the monk that shook the world.” His brave spirit overturned the tyranny of error, which had so long held nations in bondage. All human history since then has been more or less affected by the birth of that marvelous boy.”

Spurgeon acknowledged that Luther “was not an absolutely perfect man” and “we neither endorse all that he said nor admire all that he did.” And yet God used this imperfect servant (as we all are) to recover the message of justification by faith alone, which was nothing less than a recovery of the gospel of grace. By this message, Luther “unlocked the dungeons of the human mind, and set bondage hearts at liberty.”

Here in 2017, as we prepare to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it's once again worth considering what Luther might have to say to us. What can Christians learn from Luther today? Here are ten lessons that Spurgeon drew from Luther’s life and ministry:

1. Courage in theological conflict

“There is Martin Luther standing up in the midst of the Diet of Worms; there are the kings and the princes, and there are the bloodhounds of Rome with their tongues thirsting for his blood—there is Martin rising in the morning as comfortable as possible, and he goes to the Diet, and delivers himself of the truth, solemnly declares that the things which he has spoken are the things which he believes, and God helping him, he will stand by them till the last. There is his life in his hands; they have him entirely in their power. The smell of John Huss’s corpse has not yet passed away, and he recollects that princes, before this, have violated their words; but there he stands, calm and quiet; he fears no man, for he has nought to fear; “the peace of God which passeth all understanding, keeps his heart and mind through Jesus Christ.”

2. Gospel clarity

“Glorious old dogmatism, when wilt thou come back again to earth? It is these 'ifs,' and 'buts,' and qualifications, these 'perhapses' and 'may be so’s' that have ruined our pulpits. Look at Luther, when he stood up for the glory of his God, was there ever such a dogmatist? 'I believe it,' he said, 'and therefore I speak it.' From that day when on Pilate’s staircase he was trying to creep up and down the stairs to win heaven, when the sentence out of the musty folio came before him, 'Justified by faith we have peace with God,' that man was as sure that works could not save him as he was of his own existence. Now, if he had come out and said, 'Gentlemen, I have a theory to propound that may be correct; excuse my doing so,' and so on, the Papacy would have been dominant to this day. But he knew God had said it, and he felt that that was God’s own way to his own soul, and he could not help dogmatizing with that glorious force of secession which soon laid his foes prostrate at his feet.”

3. Patience in the ministry of the Word

“You see sometimes in history very grand commotions. It seemed as if the whole world were stirred to put down the Gospel about the days of Luther, and the trembling children of God were not a little afraid. But how very quietly the Lord went on! He only enabled His servants to preach the Gospel, to translate the Scriptures, to teach children the Psalms — simple, homely means, and yet by such means as these He checked all the power of Rome and all the cunning of the College of the Jesuits. And this day sometimes, as we look abroad, our hearts sink, and we say, 'Alas for God’s Church! What will become of His truth in the land? Surely we shall see back the days of the Martyrs!' and all that kind of thing. 'In quietness shall be thy strength.' 'Stand still and see the salvation of God.' He in whom we trust is not afraid.”

4. Humility in preaching

“Luther said, 'When I am preaching, I see Dr. Jonas sitting there, and Oecolampadius, and Melancthon, and I say to myself, Those learned doctors; know enough already; so I need not trouble about them. I shall fire at the poor people in the aisles.’ That is the way Luther preached, and God richly blessed his ministry because he did it. Though he was a truly learned man, he was willing to be reckoned as knowing nothing at all if by that means he could the better serve his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

5. Our need to be reminded of the gospel

“The whole Bible tells us, from beginning to end, that salvation is not by the works of the law, but by the deeds of grace. Martin Luther declared that he constantly preached justification by faith alone, 'because,' said he, 'the people would forget it; so that I was obliged almost to knock my Bible against their heads, to send it into their hearts.' So it is true we constantly forget that salvation is by grace alone. We always want to be putting in some little scrap of our own virtue; we want to be doing something.”

6. Perseverance through criticism

“I have often admired Martin Luther, and wondered at his composure. When all men spoke so ill of him, what did he say? Turn to that Psalm—'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble; therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.' In a far inferior manner, I have been called to stand up in the position of Martin Luther, and have been made the butt of slander, a mark for laughter and scorn; but it has not broken my spirit yet, nor will it, while I am enabled to enjoy that quiescent state of—'So he giveth his beloved sleep.' But thus far I beg to inform all those who choose to slander or speak ill of me, that they are very welcome to do so till they are tired of it. My motto is cedo nulli—I yield to none.”

7. Learning through suffering

“Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering. 'Ah!' said Luther, 'affliction is the best book in my library;' and let me add, the best leaf in the book of affliction is that blackest of all the leaves, the leaf called heaviness, when the spirit sinks within us, and we cannot endure as we could wish.”

8. Responding to Satan’s accusations

“The sort of sinners I would call to repentance are those whom Christ invited—those who mean what they say when they confess that they are sinners—those who know that they have been guilty, vile, and lost. If thou knowest thy sinnership, so truly Christ died for thee. Remember that striking saying of Luther. Luther says, Satan once came to him and said, 'Martin Luther, thou art lost for thou art a sinner.' Said I to him, 'Satan, I thank thee for saying I am a sinner, for inasmuch as thou sayest I am a sinner, I answer thee thus—Christ died for sinners; and if Martin Luther is a sinner, Christ died for him.'”

9. Praying with boldness

“Luther was a man who used familiarities with God, and if some of us had heard Luther praying, we should have been shocked—'Oh,' we should have said, 'how dare he talk thus with God?' But Luther knew that he was completely justified, that there was no sin on him, and therefore he did not tremble when he stood near to the holy, the perfect, and the just. If I know that there is no sin remaining, but that all has been washed away, why need I fear? I may go the throne of God, and cry, 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Not God, for he hath justified, nor Christ, for he hath died.'”

10. The ongoing need for Reformation

“Those who set aside the atonement as a satisfaction for sin, also murder the doctrine of justification by faith. They must do so. There is a common element which is the essence of both doctrines; so that, if you deny the one, you destroy the other. Modern thought is nothing but an attempt to bring back the legal system of salvation by works. Our battle is the same as that which Luther fought at the Reformation. If you go to the very ground and root of it, grace is taken away, and human merit is substituted.”

Spurgeon loved Luther because Luther loved the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. It was because of Luther’s love for the gospel that he was relevant in Spurgeon’s day and remains relevant in our present day.

 

    About the Author

Geoff Chang is associate pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon and working on his PhD on Charles Spurgeon at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @geoffchang.

 

 

 

Check out the newly-released Volume 2 of The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon by Christian George

 

“The Bible is not ours till we have studied it.” 

— Charles Spurgeon, Sermon 79