Luther and the Psalms: His Solace and Strength
On 31 October 1517, Luther posted his historic Ninety-five Theses, launching his defiant protest against the vile perversions and grave abuses of the church in Rome. This decisive act became the hinge upon which history turned. And at the very core of this Protestant movement were the Psalms, which continued to play a defining role throughout Luther’s life and ministry. While being hidden by supporters in Wartburg Castle, the German Reformer translated the Bible into the German language. Included in this work were the Psalms, which Luther referred to as ‘the Bible in miniature’.
In future years, Luther would repeatedly turn to the Psalms for solace and strength. With the continent of Europe in upheaval, he found great comfort in the soul-lifting truths of the Psalms. Specifically, in 1527, Luther faced one of the greatest difficulties of his life as the Black Plague swept across Germany and much of the European continent. During this time, Luther’s son almost died and his own body was fainting under the mounting pressure. In the midst of this personal conflict, Luther found himself contemplating the promises of Psalm 46, an encouraging psalm of trust in the invincibility of the Lord.
“…the Bible in miniature.” —Martin Luther on the Psalms
Gaining new strength from this old song, Luther composed what is arguably his most famous hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress’. Amid such adversity, this embattled stalwart found God to be his ‘bulwark never failing’. Though he had previously taught and even translated the Psalms, Luther now found himself living them as never before. Many times during this dark and tumultuous period, when terribly discouraged, he would turn to his co-worker, Philipp Melanchthon, and say, ‘Come, Philipp, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm.’ Together, they would sing:
A sure stronghold our God is He,
A timely shield and weapon;
Our helper He will be and set us free
From every ill can happen.
With unshakable confidence in God, Luther reflected upon and drew strength from this choice psalm:
We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because He is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends His church and His word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.
Despite Luther’s intense inner turmoil, this valiant Reformer clung to the rock-solid truths of Israel’s ancient hymn book. Four years before he died, he wrote in his Bible the text of Psalm 119:92: ‘If Your Law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction.’ Such biblical truth empowered this spiritual leader and enabled him to persevere in the midst of his many struggles to reform the church. To the very end, this daring leader of the Reformation tenaciously held to the glorious revelations of the Psalms.
This is an excerpt from Steven Lawson’s Preaching the Psalms.
See also: Luther and the Psalms: His Thunder.
Copyright 2012 Steven J. Lawson. Preaching the Psalms published by EP Books.