The Insanity of Luther

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16–17).

- Romans 1:16–17

If there were any doubt about the veracity of Paul’s statement that knowledge often “puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1), we only have to look at many of the assertions made by modern scholarship. For example, our advances in psychology have made many scholars arrogant. Academics are often quick to attribute various psychoses to men who lived hundreds of years ago, even though they have never had any person-to-person contact with these individuals.

Among other giants of the past, Martin Luther has been repeatedly subject to such scrutiny. Some have even gone so far as to label the German Reformer insane, much as he was labeled a “wild boar” by the pope in his own lifetime.

Luther did indeed have a “unique” personality. For much of his life he suffered from anxiety and was known as a hypochondriac. Luther was also prone to bombastic commentary; once he described Erasmus’ writings on free will as dung served on gold plates.

What bothers modern thinkers the most, however, is the acute sense of personal guilt that pervaded Luther during his early life. He had a paralyzing fear of the Lord’s wrath and always seemed to look over his shoulder for God to smite him. During his first celebration of the Mass, Luther froze while consecrating the elements because he realized how unworthy he was before the Lord. While in the monastery he tired his superiors with his long confessions of “trivial” sins, never finding peace for his guilty conscience.

Luther had a better understanding of his Creator’s unsurpassable holiness than most people, and consequently, he had a greater fear of God’s wrath. Only modern society that has become skilled at guilt-denial and self-justification can possibly believe this scholar lacked the ability to reason clearly. But Luther’s embrace of the holiness of God did not make him despair all the days of his life. Instead, it drove him to the Bible where he found that by faith alone man can be credited an alien righteousness that satisfies God’s justice without compromising His holiness (Rom. 1:16–17). The holiness of Christ enables us to be justified in the sight of this holy Lord (Rom. 4).

Coram Deo

God’s demand for holiness is absolute. We have to be holy just as He is holy (Lev. 19:2), and we deserve His wrath when we fail. All men merit this judgment (Rom. 3:23), but in His grace the Father has provided His Son, whose perfect conformity to the Lord’s standard is reckoned to us, if we trust in Him alone (2 Cor. 5:21). Only in Christ can we stand before a holy God. Confess your reliance upon the holiness of Jesus today and forsake your attempts to earn divine favor.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 15:6
Ps. 130
Gal. 3:10–14
1 Peter 1:13–21

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