Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer (Full Documentary)

COOPER: Hi, I’m Barry Cooper, the host of
the documentary “Luther”. We’re coming up on another anniversary of
that definitive moment when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle
Church door in Wittenberg. Although he couldn’t have known it at the
time, Luther was lighting the fuse that would lead to an explosive rediscovery of the gospel:
the good news that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. More than five hundred years later, that rediscovery
– that Reformation – is still worth celebrating. For a limited time, the documentary Luther:
The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer can be streamed for free, in its entirety,
right here on Ligonier Ministries’ YouTube channel. Please tell your friends and share the link
to the film as widely as you can. Don’t forget to click the “subscribe”
button, AND the bell so that we can let you know when new videos are released. And by the way, if you’d like to dig deeper
into Luther’s story and significance, you can download Ligonier’s free study guide
at I hope these resources will be of great benefit
as we pray for a new Reformation in our day. LUTHER: God is our refuge in distress. Our shield of hope through every care. Our shepherd watching us to bless and therefore
will we not despair? Although the mountains shake and hills their
place forsake and billows o’er them break yet still will we not fear for thou o God
art ever near. COOPER: Martin Luther. To most Protestants and Evangelicals, a legendary
Reformer who rescued the gospel from the clutches of the papacy. To Catholics, a divisive heretic who denied
the way of salvation. The reality, of course, is more complex. Martin Luther was a great man — but he was
a man, subject to all of the frailties and faults that you and I are subject to. He was also an emotional man, a passionate
man. He experienced everything from the most luminous
highs all the way through to the deepest and darkest sorrows. Verbally, he could be vicious toward his enemies
and also his friends. For example, against colleagues who disagreed
with him on the theological significance of the Lord’s Supper, and that’s before we even
get to the alleged anti-Semitism in his later years. And yet, this was the man, this was the man
that God used to recapture the gospel. He restored the Word of God, the Bible, to
the center of Christian life and worship. He reestablished the importance of family,
the value of music, the dignity of human labor, but most significantly of all, he recovered
the truth that a person’s justification in the eyes of God comes by grace alone through
faith alone. Luther was, and still is, controversial, but
the controversies hardly do the man justice. We need to get a sense of the world in which
he lived. We need to grasp the cultural climate and
the state of the church at that time in order to see Luther for who he really was and to
understand what the legacy of the Reformation means for us. Once you begin to see what Luther did five
hundred years ago, you begin to see his fingerprints all around you today. Martin Luther is popularly credited as the
man who caused the Reformation of the church, but the real story is more nuanced. Luther was a huge driving force, of course,
but the seeds of discontent had been sown long before he was born. By the time Luther came of age, organized
Christianity bore little resemblance to its earliest days. The church had abandoned its prophetic voice
and become a political force trusting not in God’s wisdom, power and strength, but in
its own. The finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary
had been replaced with the ritual of the Mass, sacrificing the Lord anew whenever the congregation
gathered. The people’s hope was not in the righteousness
of Christ alone, but instead in their ability to meet the commands of God. Deceivers and swindlers wandered the streets
peddling their false promise that “as soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued
soul to heaven springs.” The Bible written by and to the common man
had been snatched from his grasp, its contents known only to an elite few. NICHOLS: This was a difficult age. In fact, the Reformation motto “post tenebras
lux,” “after darkness light,” tells us that just before the Reformation, this was a time
of darkness. One of the ways I think we can see this darkness
depicted is in, of all things, a painting. This is The Haywain Triptych. It was painted by Hieronymus Bosch. Bosch was a painter from the Netherlands. He died in 1516, and one of his last paintings
was this painting. The Triptych has three panels, and on the
one side Bosch depicts creation, and at the bottom of that panel, we have the fall and
the expulsion from the garden. On the far panel, Bosch depicts judgment,
and in that middle panel, the center panel, he depicts the moment. And at the center is this large oversized
hay bale and right up against it are the nobility and the Pope and the bishops and they have
access, as it were, to the hay bale. Then you sort of see the peasants and the
masses of people and they’re painted in dark tones and they’re far off, it’s as if they’re
unable to get access to the hay bale. In front of it there’s a monk and he’s sitting
in a nicely appointed chair and he’s being tended to by nuns and he has everything he
needs. Then on top of the hay bale there’s a solitary
angel and that angel is looking up and that angel is looking to Christ, and there at the
top of that center panel is Christ and He’s looking down and it is Christ in all that
He has to offer these folks and they can’t see Him. They’re not even looking up. It’s not only that Christ was obscured at
this moment in history, at this moment in the church’s life. It’s also that the people didn’t even know
what their true need was. Christ was so obscured they thought their
need was material and material things would somehow satisfy that and they don’t even see
their need for Christ. LAWSON: The priesthood had become very corrupt,
immorality flooded the church and they were literally the blind leaders of the blind,
just as the Pharisees had been in the day of Christ, so the church of Rome was in the
day of the Reformation. COOPER: The consolidation of power, haters
of God pretending to shepherd His people. Was this what Christ intended for his church? And was it really true that Jesus’ sacrificial
death for sinners wasn’t enough by itself to secure salvation? KOLB: But the world in which Martin Luther
grew up was a world of a ritual religion in which going to Mass was really the heart of
the way in which I found favor with God. It was a little scary for most medieval Christians
to actually receive the body and blood of the Lord, but in this magic moment when the
priest brought the presence of Christ right to our village, happened once in the week,
just to be there was sufficient to earn God’s grace. The longer Luther lived with that system,
the more burdensome it became because it really put the burden on him. His instructors at the university had taught
him that he had to do his best before God would give him the grace that would enable
him to do the good works that really pleased God and made his way to heaven. And so it was as he turned ever more deeply
into the Scriptures he found that the Christian religion is not a religion primarily of ritual,
but it is primarily a religion in which we don’t go to God first, but God comes to us
first and He comes as a God who likes to talk and who spoke the world into existence in
the beginning and who speaks a new person in Christ into existence through the forgiveness
of sins. TRUEMAN: Well, the practice of selling indulgences
emerges in the 15th century when the church ties together its understanding of purgatory,
this place between heaven and hell where most people go after they die in order to be purged
of their remaining sin and made fit for heaven. When that doctrine was tied together with
that of the treasury of merits this, for one of the better terms, heavenly bank account
where all of the extra good works of the saints have been deposited. What the church allowed for was the transfer
of the good works from the treasury of merits, if you like, to the accounts of other people
by payment of a certain amount of money and the provision of a certificate, a paper certificate
by the church. So by the time we get to the beginning of
the 16th century this is an established practice. It’s a way of the church earning money and
in terms of how it impacts popular piety clearly Luther perceived that this had led people
to think they could more or less buy their way into heaven, that for a cash transaction
you could have your sins dealt with in a way that bypassed the quality of the heart, bypassed
the need for repentance. COOPER: Indulgences represented hope for those
who died and for those left behind, but it was a false hope, it was a lie designed to
improve the church’s bank balance. It built up cathedrals, but it was tearing
down the souls of men and women across Germany and Europe. But there was yet another sin, a greater sin
that was staining the hands of the church. The Scriptures themselves had been all but
lost to the average parishioner and this perhaps was the greatest tragedy of all. LAWSON: Well, every great movement in church
history has been based upon the sole authority of Scripture. The Reformation was a back to the Bible movement
in reality. But preceding the Reformation, there were
two leading lights, in particular, whom God used, that would be John Wycliffe and John
Huss. John Wycliffe was an Oxford professor, the
leading scholar of his day in England, who lived in the 14th century, and he came back
to the authority of Scripture and at the end of his life he actually translated the Bible
into the English language from the Latin Vulgate. It was a step in the right direction. It would not be later until William Tyndale
would do this work from the original Greek and Hebrew language, but John Wycliffe was
known as “the morning star of the Reformation.” He was the first to appear on the horizon
and brought a portion of the church back to the authority, the infallibility of the written
Word of God itself. John Huss was across the English channel in
Prague and in the next century, in the 15th century, and he as a student at the University
of Prague began handwriting copies of Wycliffe’s works as a way of earning money. That was his initial exposure to the works
of Wycliffe and then through an exchange program between Oxford and the University of Prague
more of Wycliffe’s writings came to that city in Europe and Huss actually devoured the teaching
of Wycliffe, which was nothing more, nothing less, than the straightforward interpretation
of the Word of God. And so Huss was raised up in the city of Prague
as a powerful preacher of the Word of God and really was the leading pre-Reformer who
would lead the way for a man named Martin Luther to come in the following century. TRUEMAN: There is a legend that John Huss
when he was being burned declared, “Today you burn a goose, but a hundred years from
now a swan will arise.” Apparently, the word “Huss” in Czech means
“goose.” Luther knew of this legend and liked to think
of himself as the fulfillment of Huss’ prophecy arising almost exactly a hundred years after
Huss. And that is why today in many Lutheran churches
the lectern from which the Bible is read is in the shape of a swan. Luther was the swan who fulfilled the prophecy
of John Huss, the goose. SPROUL: Luther’s study in Scripture paved
the way for a new understanding, or a fresh understanding, of how the Bible is to be interpreted. But one of the big issues was his view of
private interpretation. Now let me just take a second to quote the
fourth session again of the Council of Trent where we have a statement in there where it
says, “To check unbridled spirits it,” that is the council, “decrees that no one relying
on his own judgment shall in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of
Christian doctrine, distorting the holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions presume
to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother church to whom it belongs to judge
their true sense of interpretation has held and holds.” Now what Luther advocated was called private
interpretation, but he would agree with half of this statement. He didn’t believe that any individual had
the, ever had the, right to distort the Scriptures. With the privilege of interpreting the Bible
for yourself, it also carried the responsibility of interpreting it accurately. But what he challenged was the unique sense
in which the church claimed that it and it alone had the right to interpret the Scripture,
and as this statement in Trent says, it condemns anybody who presumes to interpret the Scripture
contrary to how it was done by Holy Mother Church. So those are just a few of the issues that
have made a profound impact on the Christian church in history. COOPER: Long before Luther was born, the fires
of Reformation were already burning, there were already men and women in the church who
knew something was wrong, who just knew that a church built upon earthly power and ritual
wasn’t what the Apostles wanted, it wasn’t what the church fathers wanted, and it wasn’t
what God wanted either. The church needed to be renewed, it needed
to be reformed. The light of the gospel had almost been extinguished
— almost. When many of us think of Martin Luther we
think of the Ninety-five Theses, the document that he nailed to the door of All Saints’
Church in Wittenberg, his reaction to the corruption he saw in the church. Or, we think of that famous, if disputed phrase,
“Here I stand; I can do no other. So help me God.” Or perhaps, we think of the Luther insult
generator online, personal favorite of mine, “You stink like devilish filth flung into
Germany.” It’s pretty good. We know of him, but do we really know him? Do we really understand what made him tick? Well for that, we need to head to Eisleben
in Germany to the home of his father Hans Luder. Born in Eisleben on November the 10th 1483,
Martin Luther grew up in a devout Roman Catholic home where he was raised under the strict
disciplines of his parents’ faith. His father, a stern and hard-working miner
called Hans, wanted for his son a life outside the mines. He wanted him to become a lawyer, so Martin
pursued his education in Eisenach at the University of Erfurt, earning his bachelor’s and master’s
degrees by 1505. Luther was an exceptional student with a formidable
mind that thrived on study and analysis, but in July 1505, his studies were cut short when
he was caught in a severe thunderstorm. Lightning struck nearby, throwing him to the
ground. Fearing for his life and for his eternal salvation
he cried out to Saint Anne, the patroness of miners, “Help me! And I will become a monk!” Luther was spared and so the trajectory of
his life was altered. Within weeks and much to his father’s dismay,
Luther joined the strictest of monastic orders, the Augustinians. KOLB: The Augustinian hermits were one of
the preaching orders that originated in the 13th century. They were gathered in cloisters and houses
together, but they weren’t supposed to stay there restricted or set off from the world,
but they were to go out to preach, to teach, to hear confessions, to aid parish pastors. And so it was that world in which Luther came,
he wanted simply to scrub the floors in the monastery so that the brothers could go out
and preach. But his superiors recognized very quickly
he had a very good gift for language. He could preach well, and he was very quickly
the biblicus, we might say the living concordance. He mastered Scripture very early in his monastic
career even before he studied at the university, and so he was the perfect preacher for a preaching
order. TRUEMAN: By all accounts Luther’s days as
a monk prior to the Reformation were, we might say, angst ridden to a significant degree. When he officiated at his first Mass, when
he was ordained as priest and officiated his first Mass he had some kind of break down
at the altar. Possibly because his father was there and
his father didn’t really approve of his religion calling. Possibly because he was having to make God
and he considered himself to be very unrighteous, how could he an unrighteous man stand before
a righteous God? How could he make God with his hands and touch
God? And this is a theme throughout Luther’s life,
really, but particularly prior to his Reformation breakthrough to justification by grace through
faith. Luther’s burning concern was, “How can I as
an unrighteous man stand before a righteous God?” And there are tales of him being in the confessional
for hours on end obsessing over every little sin, desperately seeking and desperately craving
to find the assurance that God loved him and had forgiven him his sin. So Luther’s early days as a monk were marked
by great fear of God or great fear of what God might do to him because of his unrighteousness. COOPER: During his time as a monk Luther seemed
unusually burdened by the demands of God’s law far beyond the burden felt by his peers. He was desperate to know that his righteousness
was firmly secured, that he was truly saved. LUTHER: When I was a monk, I wearied myself
greatly for almost 15 years with the daily sacrifice. I earnestly thought to require righteousness
by my works. I tortured myself with prayer, fasting, vigils
and freezing. The frost alone might have killed me. COOPER: For more than a decade as Luther tortured
himself, he sought out relief. He made his confessions, but they fell on
deaf ears. He was even told not to bother doing it again
until he’d done something worth confessing. Well, this blasé attitude toward personal
holiness really troubled Luther, and his concern only deepened when he travelled to Rome as
a representative of the Augustinian order. SPROUL: And in 1510, he was selected, along
with one of his compatriots, to make a visit to the holy city of Rome which had enormous
benefits from a pilgrimage and an indulgence viewpoint, so he was very excited to be selected
for that trip. And when he went there he was extremely disillusioned
by what he saw. He saw obvious evident corruption among the
clergy, involving themselves with prostitutes and all kinds of immorality, saw them selling
the use of the Mass and speaking at a rapid speed so that they could say as many Masses
as possible to make money. But the big experience came when he visited
the Lateran Church, which had the sacred steps where from the tradition was that when the
crusaders went to Jerusalem they found the steps were still there from where Jesus had
risen to talk to Pontius Pilate and there they dismantled those sacred steps and brought
them back and then reconstructed them in the church, and the Lateran Church there in Rome. And so this was a huge site of pilgrimage
value and relics where the view was that if you went up the stairs, I don’t know how many
stairs, forty some stairs, on your knees reciting the rosary while you were going that had an
enormous value of indulgences and so Luther made that little journey on his knees up to
the top of the stairs and it’s said that when he got to the top of the stairs he stood up
and said out loud, “Who knows if it is true?” COOPER: Returning from Rome, Luther poured
himself into his studies, but has he grew in his understanding of the Scriptures, he
found it increasingly difficult to reconcile them with the teachings of the Roman Catholic
Church. He burned with desire to understand the Bible
even as he was growing to hate the words contained within it. Throughout the early to mid-1510’s Luther’s
conflict grew. He saw God as a tyrant demanding something
which as unrighteous people simply could not give: righteousness, perfection. Luther did not love this God. He did not fear him; he hated him. LUTHER: But I, blameless monk that I was,
felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by
my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather, I hated the just
God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly
I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, “Isn’t it enough that we miserable
sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin are oppressed by every kind of
calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through
the gospel and through the gospel threaten us with His justice and His wrath?” This was how I was raging with wild and disturbed
conscience. COOPER: This inner turmoil went on for years
until finally in an instant Luther was overcome. He began to see the words of Romans chapter
1, verse 17 clearly as Paul meant them to be understood. That we are justified by faith alone, not
by our works, and the gospel hidden for so long began suddenly to burn within him. LUTHER: At last by the mercy of God meditating
day and night I gave heed to the context of the words. There I began to understand that the righteousness
of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith and this
is the meaning. The righteousness of God is revealed by the
gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith. As it is written, “He who through faith is
righteous shall live!” Here I felt that I was altogether born again
and had entered paradise itself through open gates. COOPER: Was this a born-again experience as
we might understand it? We don’t know, nor do we know exactly when
it occurred, although Luther has indicated it was after the event which we most closely
associate with him, the nailing of the Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle
Church on October the 31st 1517. Little did Luther realize that this call to
repentance would reverberate around the entire world. SPROUL: The Ninety-five Theses were written
by Luther in Latin, and that’s a key point because when he attached them to the church
door at Wittenberg he wasn’t doing violence to the church, that was the bulletin board
where announcements were made and invitations were given to the faculty for academic discussions
among themselves. And so what Luther was proposing was a serious
scholarly discussion about the whole structure of the indulgence system. What happened without Luther’s permission
and without his knowledge, some students saw the Ninety-five Theses, translated them into
German, took advantage of the printing press and within two weeks they were in every village
and every hamlet throughout Germany and this huge uproar took place. Karl Barth makes the observation that Luther
when he posted the Ninety-five Theses was like a blind man climbing a tower in the church
in the bell tower and he began to lose his balance and he reached out to grab something
to stabilize himself and what he grabbed in his blindness was the rope for the church
bell and accidentally awakened the whole town by the ringing of the bells. LAWSON: The Ninety-five Theses was really
a protest against the selling of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church to raise money
to build larger buildings in Rome, and it was selling people a totally false hope that
loved ones who have already died could be released from purgatory through the purchase
of these indulgences. And when this message came to Martin Luther,
that a man named Tetzel was going through Saxony and selling these indulgences, he was
lit up with righteous indignation. And he could smell a rat from a long ways
off and Tetzel was that rat. And so, Martin Luther wrote out ninety-five
statements of affirmation and protest. He had no idea that he was striking the match
that would light up Western civilization and unknown to Luther, a Reformation was being
birthed. He simply wanted to have this discussion,
but it found much attention throughout the general area and Martin Luther was now riding
a tsunami. He was riding a wave of controversy that would
propel him forward to be the chief spokesman of the initial phase of the Reformation. KOLB: There were four printers who recognized
that these Ninety-five Theses were dynamite. They printed them and the world’s not been
the same since. NICHOLS: In many ways it was the beginnings
of the modern world, the move from that medieval era into the modern age. We speak of the Renaissance and we credit
the Renaissance with this, but there was something to that singular moment of the posting of
the Ninety-five Theses that not only changed church history, this changed world history
for the centuries to come. GODFREY: And what was particularly radical
in the Ninety-five Theses was his criticism of the Pope, who had extended the indulgences
to the dead as well as to the living, which was a practice less than fifty years old in
the life of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther, who had been really quite an unknown
figure up until that point, suddenly became a famous figure and people began to talk about
the possibility that the church might be wrong on certain issues and that the church might
need to be reformed on certain issues. COOPER: Luther’s fame spread at a remarkable
rate. His courage in defying the men in power resonated
particularly with those who had none. They took his works and reproduced them at
such a rate that it was rare to meet a German who was unfamiliar with Luther’s teaching. Before long, his works spread throughout the
Holy Roman Empire and into the heart of the Vatican itself. NICHOLS: My favorite response from the Catholic
Church to Luther’s posting the Ninety-five Theses was Pope Leo the Tenth’s first response. When a copy of the theses finally made its
way to him down in the Vatican, Leo the Tenth quips, “Ah, the ramblings of a drunken German
monk. He’ll think differently when he sobers up.” I think Leo the Tenth significantly underestimated
what he was dealing with in this German monk, and on the one hand, Luther never sobered
up. This was only the beginning of the challenge
between Luther and his Church. And from the posting of the Ninety-five Theses
until April of 1521 at Worms, there was one singular movement, and it ended with that
decisive action of excommunicating Luther. And we need to remember what this means, this
is a moment in time when to be outside of the church meant that you are outside of salvation. The church at this time believed that it held
the keys to the kingdom. Literally, when Christ said to Peter, “You
are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” That was taken as Christ’s giving of the keys
of heaven to Peter. And then as Roman doctrine understands it
through apostolic succession, Leo the Tenth was now the holder of the keys and that decision
to excommunicate Luther meant nothing short of saying, “We are condemning you, we are
saying that your soul is damned to hell.” That was the result of the Ninety-five Theses. That’s how the church fundamentally responded
to Luther. How did Luther respond? “Well, you’re not the true church. You’ve abandoned your calling as the church. The true church is the church that preaches
the Word of God, that preaches the gospel, and the true church is the church that exercises
the sacraments aright and according to the Word of God.” COOPER: In November 1518, Luther was summoned
to Augsburg to appear before an assembly and defend his theses. Three days of debate proved fruitless. Cardinal Thomas Cajetan continued to defend
the practice of issuing and selling indulgences. Luther refused to recant and returned to Wittenberg. But the controversy didn’t even there. Luther continued to write, publish and teach,
formulating and clarifying the doctrines that would become the foundation for the Reformation. Papal commissions studied his works and declared
them heretical. Pope Leo the Tenth declared him a heretic
and excommunicated him in early 1521. And then, at the Diet of Worms, Luther was
called to defend himself once again. GODFREY: The Diet of Worms is a very important
event in the life of Luther in the progress of the Reformation. And the Diet, of course, was a regular meeting
of princes, both ecclesiastical and secular. From the life of the Holy Roman Empire the
Diet was roughly like the parliament in Britain. But at this particular Diet meeting in the
city of Worms in April of 1521, another issue on the docket was the issue of Martin Luther
the monk. KOLB: Rome had to have Luther recant because
he actually had challenged the very basis of this medieval system. By 1521, when he was actually excommunicated,
he had attacked this ritual system upon which medieval piety was based and said it is God’s
Word that comes to us and not our performance of the rituals of the church through the priest,
through the hierarchy, that gives us access to God. So that was a major challenge to the entire
edifice of medieval Christianity. And equally important, or perhaps more important,
was his challenge to papal authority. He had said that the Pope rules Western Christendom
not by divine right, but as a result of human agreement. GODFREY: So Luther arrives in the city and
here are major players. There’s the emperor himself of course, there
are the great secular princes, there are all sorts of ecclesiastical princes, there’s the
representative of the Pope and the elector Frederick, of course, is there, and Luther
arrives. What set the meeting off to a somewhat bad
beginning in certain ways is that Luther had larger crowds and larger cheering when he
entered the city than had greeted the emperor. This somewhat annoyed the emperor. But on the day of the first meeting they gathered
in what we today would consider a relatively small room because after all it was a very
limited number of people that were ever allowed in the presence of the emperor. And Luther was put on trial because the church
had already declared him a heretic and insisted then that there should be civil penalties
along with ecclesiastical penalties for that heresy. And Luther went into it with a measure of
fear and trembling knowing how serious it was when he walked into the audience chamber
before the emperor, the Spanish guards at the door muttered to him, “To the flames,
to the flames.” So everybody knew what was at stake here. He enters in and there are his books, a number
of books by this time, piled on a table, and the representative of the emperor points to
the books and says, “Are these your books?” And Luther says, “Yes, they are.” And he says, “Will you now recant of the errors
in them?” Well, Luther was distressed because he really
was looking forward to the possibility of defending his views, so trying to buy time
he says, “Well, will you give me a list of the errors in my books that I’m to recant
of?” Well, they were ready for that, they knew
he was clever and they weren’t going to get into a debate with him what were and what
weren’t errors, so they said, “You’re a professor of theology. You know what your errors are, and you must
recant them.” And Luther then made the less famous speech
at Worms where he said, “cCan I have 24 hours to think it over?” And they granted him time to do that. Now, why did he want that time? Well, I think it’s a very important window
into Luther’s mind and heart and soul. He knew how serious this was and he knew as
his critics had said to him that he before God would have to answer the question, “Are
you alone wise?” And for medieval men this was a very troubling
question. They were not rugged individualists. They really believed in community. And Luther wrestled in prayer with that question,
“Am I the only one who’s wise?” And what his conclusion was, “I am not doing
this because I think I’m wise; I am doing this because I’m driven to it by the Word
of God. I feel this is the only way I can read the
Word of God or that anyone could read the Word of God.” COOPER: He was put under enormous pressure,
but Luther wouldn’t be swayed. LUTHER: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony
of the holy Scriptures, or by evident reason, for I can believe neither Pope nor councils
alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves. I consider myself convicted by the testimony
of holy Scripture, which is my basis. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. This I cannot and will not recant because
acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.” COOPER: Luther didn’t begin his work with
the intention of dividing the Catholic Church. He was simply calling it to repent, specifically
to repent of the use of indulgences as a means of securing salvation. He was challenging the abusive authority within
the church, not trying to create a new one. How would history look now if the Pope had
listened to Luther’s call to repent at this point? Would a Protestant movement still exist if
it had nothing to protest? Declared a heretic by Leo the Tenth and vilified
by Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fifth, Luther went into hiding in Eisenach, and although
he might not have said those famous Words, “Here I stand,” this much is clear: in exile
Luther never wavered. In fact, he became even more bold. He wrote and taught and reformulated his doctrines
with indefatigable zeal. He began to translate the New Testament into
German so that everyday folks could have the Bible in their own language for the very first
time. Here in exile his desire for moral reformation
morphed into the desire for a complete transformation, the establishment of a new church, one which
was modelled after the church visible in the New Testament. TRUEMAN: Luther’s understanding of the church
does develop somewhat over time during the Reformation, but in terms of his mature understanding,
essential to his thinking is the proclamation of the Word. The minister is the man, the priest is the
man who proclaims the Word and the Word is not simply for Luther an explanation of the
Bible. The Word is God speaking to the people. The Word comes in a powerful and transformative
way. It either loosens people if they grasp it
by faith, frees them, or it binds them if they meet it with unbelief. In terms of the congregation, I think Luther
expected the congregation to receive the Word with faith. You would go to church to hear the Word read
in your language, to hear the Word proclaimed in your language, and that was an active thing. Often we tend to think of congregants as sitting
there passively while the person at the front preaches. For Luther, listening was active because listening
had to be by faith. So when the Word was proclaimed, the congregation
were to actively receive that Word. When his hairdresser, Peter the barber, is
struggling with his prayer life, one of Luther’s bits of advice is go to church. Hear the Word preached. Hear the psalms being sung. And for Luther that would help Peter with
prayer because Peter’s not just sitting there passively receiving this stuff; he’s supposed
to be grasping it by faith, and as he grasps it by faith so the Lord will transform him. GODFREY: I think Luther was committed theoretically
to the notion that the Bible taught a rather congregationalist polity and that worship
services would be quite simple and with a fair level of congregational involvement in
those worship services. But Luther also recognized that the external
form of the church was for him a relative matter of indifference and that in the world
in which he lived those decisions would be made not by ministers or theologians but would
be made by princes. So the princes ended up making the decisions
about who would be ministers, where they would serve and how the liturgy at the church would
remain fairly conservative. COOPER: Luther understood that all believers
regardless of education, economic status or social standing, were invaluable members of
the body of Christ. All believers are priests, for the kingdom
of God is a kingdom of priests. And these priests were not under the authority
of a Pope; they were under the authority of God. KOLB: The Word of God, especially as anchored
in Scripture and in the authority of Scripture, was key to Luther’s entire call for reform. And so the sermon, he says in 1526 in his
work on the German liturgy, the sermon was now the center. The Lord’s Supper, the celebration of the
Lord’s Supper was very important, and absolution was key to the Christian life as well, daily
repentance. But the sermon, the delivery of the Word of
God, the hearing of Scripture for a population that was 85-90 percent illiterate, that was
the heart of the matter. NICHOLS: Why would a church want to keep Scripture
from the people? Well of course the answer is obvious, because
then you’re dependent on the church. You need to rely on what the church says and
it becomes a way for the church to keep the power over the people. The other reason that we see here is that
some of the doctrines, really crucial doctrines of the Middle Ages were based on a bad translation. In fact, we see this in the very first of
the Ninety-five Theses. After Luther wrote the Ninety-five Theses,
he wrote another text called “Explanations of the Ninety-five Theses,” and those are
paragraph expansions on each of the Ninety-five Theses, which are more or less single sentences. And in the first expansion of the first thesis,
in that text, the explanation of the Ninety-five Theses, Luther references the Greek text and
the Greek word for “repent.” Of course, the Greek Word for “repent” is
the word metanoia. We get from this the idea of a change of mind. So you do a 180 is the idea of repentance. This is how the Latin Vulgate translated that
Greek Word, it translated it as Poenitentiam agite, and what that is best translated, or
directly translated as, is “do penance.” Well there’s a world of difference between
“do penance” and the intention behind the Greek Word metanoia, and Luther saw it. Remember it was just in 1516 that we have
the publication of the Greek text through the scholar Erasmus’ work at the town of Basel. An one of those copies made its way into Luther’s
hands and there’s so accident here of history. Luther is reading the Greek text in 1516 and
a year later he’s posting the Ninety-five Theses. LAWSON: It was so scandalous because in the
day of the Reformation, in the centuries preceding, the Church stood in a posture of authority
over the Bible. The Pope became the chief interpreter of the
Bible, and what was so scandalous about the Reformation is that the Reformers, chief of
whom was Luther, asserted that the Bible is over the church, that the Bible commands and
directs the church; not the other way around. So that’s what really was the heart of the
Reformation. It was a crisis of authority in the church. And no longer now would human tradition and
ecclesiastical councils, and even the Pope himself, be the authority in the church. The highest arbitrator in the church would
now be “Thus says the Lord” as it was recorded in the canon of written Scripture. TRUEMAN: The purpose of preaching was to convict
people of their sin by proclaiming the law to them, pointing them to the righteous God
and to their own unworthiness to meet the demands of the law, and then, to offer the
people Christ. To command them to do something they can’t
do, and then to point them to Christ, the One who has done it for them. LAWSON: First are foremost, he had a fire
in his bones, and it came out in the preaching and proclamation of the Word of God. The kind of preacher that he was, he was a
straightforward Bible preacher. TRUEMAN: There’s a famous painting by Lucas
Cranach the Elder of Luther preaching. And there’s his family on one side, and Luther’s
in the pulpit on the other side, and his hands on the Bible. And his arm is outstretched pointing to a
crucifix, the crucified Christ, and that sums up beautifully Luther’s approach to preaching. It was to be based on the Bible, and it was
to culminate in pointing to Christ crucified. LAWSON: He was full of life and energy. He wasn’t simply a lecturer who stood in a
pulpit; he roared like a lion. He was bold, he was a son of thunder in the
pulpit. It’s been said that when you read the sermons
of Martin Luther, you really need to read them out loud so that you can hear and feel
the man because he was a powerful force as he stood to preach the Word of God. COOPER: Luther insisted that those who would
preach the Word must first be changed by the Word, that they be people committed to prayer
and careful study. Luther brought the Scriptures back to a place
of preeminence in the church’s worship and he also reinvigorated the practice of singing. After all, as Luther said, “God has created
man for the express purpose of praising and extolling Him.” SPROUL: Sacred music was an integral part
of Luther’s background as a monk. And once he came out of the monastery, he
still had a profound appreciation for the importance of church music. In fact, he said, “Second only to the Bible,
the Word of God, is the importance of music,” because music had the singular ability to
elevate the soul. LAWSON: Well, in Luther’s day, the worship
service had become dead because the spiritual leaders were spiritually dead, the people
were spiritually dead and there was a dead profession of faith in the church. And when Luther burst onto the scene, he brought
the life of the truth of the gospel with him and such theology revolutionized the doxology
in the church. As people now are alive unto God, under the
preaching of the Word of God, their hearts begin to overflow with anthems of praise for
God. It is high doctrine that always promotes high
devotion to God and Luther was responsible for this. Luther himself began to write hymns and they
were expressions of his great love for Scripture and love for God. And so for example, when the black plague
swept through Europe he chose to stay in Wittenberg and to minister to the people who were suffering,
and in the midst of that crisis, he wrote that great hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. It was the direct result of meditating upon
Psalm 46, and God had become a stronghold and a refuge for him in his hour of greatest
need. SPROUL: When the things would be difficult
at the university at Wittenberg, Melanchthon, Luther’s closest lieutenant, trying to rally
the discouraged professors would say, “Gentlemen, let’s sing the 46th,” meaning, A Mighty Fortress
Is Our God. And that song, of course, has come down to
our day. GODFREY: One of the convictions of Luther
is that singing would be a great way for people to know God’s truth, and for that reason he
wrote hymns and the Lutheran tradition encouraged the use of hymns, the development of hymns. NICHOLS: My favorite hymn of Luther’s is a
hymn called Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands. In that hymn Luther actually plays off of
a medieval saying. If they had bumper stickers in the Middle
Ages, this would have been a bumper sticker, and the saying was this, “In the midst of
life, media vita in morte sumus.” “In the midst of life, we are in death.” Isn’t that a terrible worldview? You talk about the effect of the Middle Ages
on the people, doesn’t that show the hopelessness that was there on the eve of the Reformation? That they’re saying is in the midst of life,
we die. Here’s what Luther does in that hymn, and
it shows how clever he is, and it also shows what a great theologian he is. In that hymn Luther turns it around. Now, the truth is, in the midst of death we
live. COOPER: Luther, an adept hymn writer, had
a multifaceted view of music. It was a teaching tool, it was a key part
of public worship, but it was also a glorious God given source of happiness. LUTHER: Music is a fair and lovely gift of
God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching. I have no use for cranks who despise music
because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the devil and makes people
gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest
place and the greatest honor. I would not exchange what little I know of
music for something great. Experience proves that next to the Word of
God, only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings
of the human heart. We know that to the devils music is distasteful
and insufferable. My heart bubbles up and overflows in response
to music which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues. COOPER: Luther was many things. He was a daring revolutionary, he was a passionate
preacher, and a man of devout prayer. He cared deeply for the people of God and
the worship of God. He wrote hymns of such beauty that they’re
still being sung 500 years later. But arguably the most impressive aspect of
his ministry is one that he never anticipated and one that we often overlook: his ministry
as a husband and a father. Martin Luther never expected to get married. His early writings suggested that he saw marriage
as little more than a way of keeping men from sexual immorality. But after getting married himself Luther began
to view marriage as a school for character. TRUEMAN: Luther gets married in 1525. It’s quite a controversial move of course
because he had originally been a monk and a priest. He had taken vows of celibacy. He was certainly not the first Reformer to
get married. Clerical marriage had become quite common
in Protestantism by the time Luther gets married in 1525. But, of course, he’s well into middle age
by the standards of the day at that point. He’s a confirmed bachelor. He marries this lovely young lady, Katharina
von Bora who was the one nun that they couldn’t marry off. A group of them had fled from the town of
Nimbschen, a group of nuns had fled from Nimbschen a couple of years earlier. She was the one nun that they couldn’t marry
off. She falls in love with a young man, his parents
don’t approve, so that doesn’t work out. The Wittenberg establishment try to marry
her off to a skin flint of a Lutheran pastor in the territory and she won’t marry him,
so Luther eventually marries her himself. They have what appears to be a marriage that
certainly grows into one of great love. Luther makes a comment to the effect that
he wouldn’t have all the riches of Croesus in exchange for his wife. KOLB: Of course the house must have been just
bedlam all the time because there were he and Katharina and six children. They took in nieces and nephews, they had
students who lived with them, they had servants who took care of this kind of student dormitory. COOPER: Undoubtedly, it would take a woman
of remarkable character to handle being married to a man like Martin Luther. Someone who could not only endure his good-natured
ribbing, but be able to give as good as she got. TRUEMAN: Katie was a remarkable woman in her
own right, a great homebrewer. She also did some gardening work in the town
in order to generate some money for the Luther household and took in lodgers, and they seemed
to have been a couple greatly in love with each other. One of the touching things about visiting
Wittenberg is that outside the entrance into the house, the Augustinian cloister that elector
John gave them as a wedding present, there’s a doorframe, an arch with a little stool on
either side. This was apparently a present, a birthday
present that Katie bought her husband because she didn’t think they spent enough time talking
together. So she brought this doorframe so that at the
end of the day they could sit on either side of the door and just talk to each other. So it’s a delightful story and she was deeply
devastated when he died. He died away from home, he died in the town
of Eisleben, ironically where he was born. He was there doing some political business
with the local counts who had fallen out with each other and he took ill and died, and she
was devastated not to be with him in his dying moments. So it really is a very beautiful and touching
marriage that they had. KOLB:[Luther] Had some very warm stories to
tell about his children. He came in once and touched the lips of his
daughter Margarete, and recoiled in horror because he had not thought to wash his hands. I didn’t even think about whether people washed
their hands in the 16th century. He knew that with dirty hands that he had
from being out on the street he shouldn’t touch the baby’s mouth and he was just horrified
that he might have tempted God by making her sick. I don’t think she got sick but, so he had
this devoted love. TRUEMAN: When the Luthers’ daughter Magdalene
was dying one of the striking things about the account that he gives is how much faith
she had. She’s looking at her father and saying things
such as, “Why are you sad, father? I’m going to be with my heavenly father. I’m going to be in a better place,” and he
describes how he had to turn away because he didn’t want her to see him weeping. And he’s sort of beating himself up because
he doesn’t have the faith that his daughter has, that he wants her to stay with him but
he knows that when she passes she’ll be going to her heavenly father. And then he talks about the coffin and about
how he can hardly believe that something so small and so beautiful has died and can be
fitted into this small coffin. So it’s a very, very moving scene. He and Katie were deeply devastated by the
death of their daughter, as any parent would be. KOLB: And had a also wonderful spiritual relationship. The most dramatic story that I know is when
Luther was in one of his periods of discouragement and depression and she came dressed in black,
which was already then the color of mourning. He knew Wittenberg very well and he hadn’t
heard that anyone had died so he wondered why she had dressed in black. And she said that apparently God had died
the way he was going around moping and that revived him. TRUEMAN:
Katie seems to have ruled the roost somewhat within the house. There’s an anecdote where he makes what she
considers to be an inappropriate joke or harsh comment about an Anabaptist leader, one of
the Schwermer, one of the crazy people out there. And she rebukes him and says, “You shouldn’t
speak like that about a minister of the gospel,” and apparently he backs off straight away,
he backs down. He refers to her as his chain, he plays on
the Latin catēna, sounds a little bit like the Latin for Katherine, Katharina. He plays on that as a pun so he calls her
his chain, he also refers to her as “my lord Katie,” so I think within the home, Luther
probably had to mind his p’s and q’s, as we would say back in England. He was very much the loving, doting husband
and she was very much in charge, I think. COOPER: Luther the family man is perhaps where
get to see the most endearing aspects of Luther’s character: his love and his tenderness, his
desire to cherish and to protect. He was the monk who changed the world, but
there was one aspect of Martin Luther, for better or for worse, that never changed. LUTHER: You have fought against us as one
would attack a cliff with a broken straw. You are undisciplined heads who out of utter
perversity are able to do nothing in common or in agreement, but are different and self-centered
in heart and life. You teach the disorderly masses to break into
this field in disorder, like pigs. COOPER: Imagine being on the receiving end
of that. Martin Luther was famous for his caustic barbs
against his opponents and it’s pretty shocking even by today’s standards, especially when
you consider that he was pastor. In fact, when you put together Luther’s character
and also the controversies that he increasingly became embroiled in in later life, it’s hard
to know what to do with him. How do we evaluate a man whose words make
us wonder at the beauty of the gospel and yet a moment later make us wince? TRUEMAN: Anyone who reads Luther, or reads
about the life of Luther knows that he’s a man of extremes at points. For example, at the Diet of Worms where he
really stands more or less alone against the mass ranks of empire and Church. Less than four years after he posts the Ninety-five
Theses, he goes from being an obscure university professor and monk to standing in this room
with the most powerful men in the Church and empire who could take him outside and burn
him if they so choose. It took massive courage to do that. Yet if you read Luther’s life, you also, for
example, come across his attitude to the peasants in 1525 when the peasants rise up in rebellion
against their masters. In 1525 Luther writes a book known as his
harsh book against the peasants. And so, we admire the one Luther, the Luther
at the Diet of Worms, and we’re horrified by the Luther of 1525. I think what we need to understand, of course,
is that the same character trait that allowed Luther to do the one great and admirable thing
also drove the reprehensible thing. Luther was a bullheaded man who was capable
of moments of supreme self-confidence when he knew it was right and he was going to move
ahead like a bull in a china shop. And that allows him to stand at the Diet of
Worms where, say, a Philip Melanchthon would have crumbled. Philip Melanchthon was a gentle soul, could
not have achieved it. The problem with that kind of personality,
though, is when they get hold of the wrong end of an argument, or when they go off in
the wrong direction, the damage can be as spectacular as the greatness was spectacular. COOPER: The Martin Luther of the early days
of the Reformation had, at times, a spirit of congeniality in debate, but he was rarely
ever gracious to the defenders of Rome. GODFREY: One of the harder things for moderns
to understand is that in the 16th century there was absolutely no notion of denominationalism. For centuries, probably almost from its beginning,
the Church had fought about the Church as either the true Church or false churches. You know, today I’m a Presbyterian, you’re
a Baptist, somebody else is a Lutheran and we have differences, we may even see some
of our differences as important, but we regard one another as Christians. That was not the case through most of the
history of the church. You were either in the one true church or
you were part of a false church. And Luther initially hoped very much to be
a positive reforming influence in what he saw as the one true church. But when it became more and more obvious that
the Roman Church would not listen to him, would not reform itself, Luther’s conclusion
was Rome is establishing itself as a false church. That’s why fairly early on in the 1520’s,
Luther begins to talk about the Pope as the antichrist. And again, maybe when people in the 21st century
read that they think he’s being sort of rhetorical. He was not being rhetorical. He believed that the Pope was the eschatological
revelation of the antichrist at the end of the age. And so Luther is very earnest in everything
he says, both about the Pope, and about the Church of Rome. And what’s interesting when you read most
Protestant writers in the 16th century, they never refer to the Catholic Church; they refer
to the Roman Church, and their argument is that we are the catholic church, we are the
universal church, we stand in unity with the church of all ages. Now Luther and all the Reformers believed
there were true Christians in the Roman Church that still held to the gospel. But they believed they could say that the
Roman Church was a false church because it’s official teachers had rejected the gospel. And I think it’s worth saying, here as we’re
on the eve of the 500th celebration of the Reformation, that if Luther came back today
he would not change his view of the Roman Church. The Roman Church in fundamental ways has not
changed and it still does not teach the gospel clearly, and still elevates law to a place
that undermines and contradicts the doctrine of justification by faith alone. COOPER: For Luther, everything was theocentric. He took deep personal offence when he felt
that God was being dishonored in some way and so his most cutting rhetoric was reserved
for anyone who seemed to be distorting or denying the truth about God, and this includes
his writing in later life about the Jewish people. As a result, some have condemned Luther as
anti-Semitic. Others have noted that Luther’s words were
taken and used by the Nazis in their attempt at extermination. However, for many years, Luther strongly advocated
for a spirit of open-handed Christian love toward the Jewish people. LUTHER:
If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal
law, but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially and permit
them to trade and work with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked,
what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians
either. COOPER: Luther strongly advocated for the
Jewish people in a way that was unheard of in his day. Rather than treating them as second-class
citizens or as subhuman in some way, Luther desired that they be treated with the same
respect and offered the same opportunities as any German. TRUEMAN: Anti-Jewish sentiment was deeply
embedded in western European society in the 16th century. Almost everybody would have hated, despised,
distrusted, disliked the Jews. NICHOLS: Luther’s first piece in which he
addresses this issue was written in 1523, and in that piece, Luther actually says many
favorable things towards the Jews. TRUEMAN: In which he emphasizes Jesus’ Jewishness,
and also advocates that Christians should be kind to their Jewish neighbors, they should
reach out to them in order to be able to speak the gospel to them. NICHOLS: And really for the next decade Luther
is saying favorable things, more favorable things than others were saying. TRUEMAN: Luther is very much the heir a late
medieval eschatological expectation that Christ is going to return soon. And he understands himself as playing a role
in what he sees as the great revival at the end of time, the Reformation. The breaking out of the gospel is an end time
moment for Luther, that is an immediate precursor to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. And one of the precursors to the return of
the Lord Jesus Christ is going to be the conversion of the Jews. So in 1523, Luther writes this, in many ways,
very counter-cultural treatise on the Jews arguing that Christians should be kind and
welcoming and good neighbors to them because that is the way to draw them into taking the
gospel seriously, speaking the gospel to them so that they’ll be converted to the Lord Jesus
Christ and He will return. COOPER: Luther had been sure that overturning
the corruption of the papacy was the key to winning the Jewish people to the faith. But he was mistaken, and he didn’t take kindly
to their continued rejection of Christ. He also became incensed when he learned that
Christians were being encouraged to Judaize, to adhere to the Old Testament law. In his eyes, this was robbing the Christian
of his or her freedom in Christ, and as a result, some of Luther’s later work makes
for disturbing reading. LUTHER: Set fire to their synagogues or schools
and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn so that no man will ever again see
a stone or cinder of them. I advise that their houses also be razed and
destroyed, all of their prayer books and Talmudic writings in which such idolatry, lies, cursing
and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them, their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth
on pain of loss of life and limb. COOPER: It’s nearly impossible for us to hear
those words and not hear them as anti-Semitic, but how should we understand them? Are we right to see them as a racist diatribe? Or was there another motivation at work? NICHOLS: And so here Luther writes this text
and the text that everybody talks about is this text on the Jews and their despicable
lies. And so in this text, Luther goes after them. He doesn’t go after them on racial grounds;
he goes after them on theological grounds. You know, at one point Luther says, “Melanchthon
cuts with a knife; I swing with an axe.” Right? So here’s Melanchthon, his successor at Wittenberg. You can almost see him with the precision
of a surgeon, you know, slicing in precise words, and words well said and well put. Well, that wasn’t Luther. Luther has axe in hand, and he’s flailing
away, and whatever is in his way, look out. Right? Now, this is not an excuse, but it is a way
to understand Luther, and we also have to understand Luther in his context. GODFREY: What Luther comes later in his life
to believe is as he looks around, that the devil everywhere is active using the law to
try to destroy the gospel. So everywhere he is seeing the devil promoting
works righteousness against Christ righteousness in the gospel, and that’s why he becomes so
violent against the Pope and the Roman Church, that’s why he can be very sharp against Anabaptists,
that’s why he criticizes lawyers; they’re always all about the law. And that’s why he criticizes Jews. What all these groups have in common is their
misunderstanding of law in a way that corrupts the gospel and undermines the work of Christ. COOPER: The book of James says, “If we put
bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so
large and driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the
wheel of the pilot directs. So also, the tongue is a small member yet
it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a
small fire. And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members staining
the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile
and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame
the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and
with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” This was certainly true of Luther’s tongue. Here was a man who said, “I find nothing that
promotes work better than angry fervor. For when I wish to compose, write, pray and
preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is
sharpened and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.” Like fire, anger is a great servant, but a
terrible master, and there were times when Luther’s zeal for truth seemed to blind him
to his own weaknesses and failures. His tongue set the world ablaze with bright
gospel realities, but the fire could get out of hand. Speaking of Luther, John Calvin once said,
“Consider how great a man Luther is and what excellent gifts he has. The strength of mind and resolute constancy,
the skillfulness, efficiency and theological power he has used in devoting all his energies
to overthrowing the reign of antichrist and to spread far and near the teaching of salvation. I’ve often said that even if he were to call
me a devil I should still regard him as an outstanding servant of God. But with all his rare and excellent virtues,
he has also serious faults. Would that he had studied to curb his restless
uneasy temper which is so ready to boil over everywhere. Flatterers have done him much mischief since
he is by nature too prone to be overindulgent to himself.” Calvin recognized that even the greatest man
or woman of God will continue to struggle with sin until the end. He saw that struggle in Abraham, in Moses,
in David, and he saw it in Luther, too. And Luther himself knew how great a sinner
he was. It was precisely that self-knowledge that
made the gospel so personal and so precious to him. LUTHER: So when the devil throws your sins
in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that
I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction
on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and
where He is, there I shall be also.” COOPER: Though the fire of Luther’s tongue
could not be tamed, neither could the gospel which Luther had fanned into flame. In our day, perhaps more than any other since
the days of Luther, Christians in the West are living with a real sense of unease. The Christian faith in previous generations
almost universally recognized as being a great force for good in society is now often seen
as precisely the opposite. The charge to Christians is this: conform
or die. SPROUL: The world always tries to get the
church to change because so often what the world wants, even when it seeks council, it
doesn’t seek council; it seeks permission. It wants the church to embrace wherever the
culture is as we see it in our contemporary situation today. The whole question of marriage between men
and men, and women and women, and they talk about marriage equality. That’s where the culture is, and the culture
is demanding in some cases that the church endorse, promote and embrace this kind of
behavior. And it’s the same with abortion. The church has been very much involved as
being a prophetic criticism against the cultural acceptance of abortion on demand. And so we’ve heard from a recent presidential
candidate that what happens is that the views of the church have to change in order to conform
to where the culture is. COOPER: Luther and the Reformers left us with
a similar charge to conform or die, but where the world calls on the church to conform to
the wisdom of the world, the call of the Reformation is that the church be conformed to Scripture,
and the call continues to this day. The generation following Luther summarized
the charge in the Latin phrase semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei, “always be reforming
according to the Word of God.” NICHOLS: One of the things that Luther actually
feared most is that the church would forget the gospel. The very last sermon that Luther preached
in Wittenberg was a call to the people at Wittenberg not to distort the gospel, not
to turn their back on the gospel. He was seeing German peasants and the German
people going back to the relics. In fact it’s in that sermon that he talks
about Joseph’s pants at Aachen. And he also says, “Why would you settle for
the Pope’s second-hand junk?” That’s what Luther says. His fear was that the gospel would be distorted
or that the gospel would be neglected, and his hope for the church of every age was to
recognize that in every age we need a Reformation. SPROUL: There are lots of historians who are
saying that the Reformation is over. In many cases saying good riddance, as some
have said that it was a tempest in a teapot in the first place. It was just simply a matter of doctrine, and
doctrine divides. And there’s this basic either indifference
or even hostility to any doctrine at all. But Luther argued, of course, in the 16th
century that the doctrine of justification, which is the doctrine of the gospel, is the
doctrine, the article upon which the church stands or falls. The doctrines of the Council of Trent from
the 16th century are still in place, a treasury of merits, the system of indulgences, all
of that is still there, the anathema against the doctrine of justification by faith alone
is still there. Now a lot of people ignore it, a lot of people
are saying let’s just all get along and that was an old time argument but it doesn’t appeal
or apply to today. I’ve had other scholars say what has changed
from the 1st century until the 20th century? The gospel is still the gospel, and it has
to be clarified and defended in every generation. And insofar as the gospel is always in danger
of being distorted, it has to be maintained with clarity and urgency in every generation,
including our own. KOLB: Luther had a very strong sense of history. God created in the beginning, and there was
going to be a last day, and God participated in human history. Human history is also God’s history for Luther. What that means is that we are faced with
ever new situations. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not change. We are caught in our rebellion against God. Luther would say above all, our doubt of God’s
Word and God’s Lordship, so that this rhythm of dying and rising in Christ is always there. But because God is a God of history, things
are on the move and new situations developed and new ways of conveying this gospel of death
and resurrection through Christ need to be developed. And so the church needs always, not only to
be reformed, but more deeply the church needs always to be in a state of repentance. LAWSON: And so the church has always been
confronted by the world wanting to tone down its message, but as long as we are rooted
and grounded in the fertile soil of the Word of God, the truth will always be preached
by the church, a message that is antithetical to the spirit of this age, that is totally
in juxtaposition to what the world wants to hear. We must be different in order to make a difference
in this world, and so that is why we are committed to preaching the Word of God. The grass withers, the flower fades away,
but the Word of our God abides forever. COOPER: The Reformation isn’t over. If we have ears to hear, God’s Word creates
in each one of us a mini-Reformation every time it’s heard, but there is another kind
of Reformation on the way. We who live in the West are experiencing it
even now, in fact. The social privilege we once enjoyed has been
ripped away, Christians increasingly stereotyped as intolerant bigots, socially regressive
or just plain stupid by those who see themselves as progressive. It’s challenging and increasingly costly for
Christians to do what Luther did and stand firm. But even as the West declares Christianity
dead and buried, there is still good news to tell. The gospel has not been extinguished here,
and it burns brightly in Central and South America, Africa and many parts of Asia. Today, more than 2.2 billion people around
the world, that’s roughly one third of the earth’s population, claim to be believers,
and that number is rising. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is projected to be
home to as many as 1.1 billion Christians by 2050. Clearly God’s gospel does not fail, and because
of that we can have hope. LAWSON: The reason we have hope is ultimately
because of the sovereignty of God. That God rules and reigns in the heavens and
His supreme authority rules over all, and that what man means for evil, God intends
for good. And even in the darkest hours of history,
the light shines the brightest, the darkness cannot extinguish the light. The light will always extinguish the darkness. TRUEMAN: Christians should still have hope
today because Christ is still on the throne. Christ is risen. It doesn’t matter what worldly authorities
do, it doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court does, it doesn’t matter who’s elected president,
it doesn’t matter what your neighbor says about you, God is still sovereign and Christ
is still savior. SPROUL: Well, we don’t just hope that God’s
promises will come to pass in the sense of keeping our fingers crossed, but we have an
assurance that God will do what He says that He will do, and that’s the hope that we have
as Christians, and going forward as the church. TRUEMAN: The gates of hell will not prevail
against us so we know how the story ends. The story does end with God not only being
sovereign, but being visibly sovereign in the new heavens and the new earth. So Christians should always have hope. Yes, our own bodies are going to grow old
and die if the Lord doesn’t return, but ultimately we will be resurrected and be with the Lord
for all eternity. SPROUL: I am absolutely certain that no power
on earth, no force in this world can ever extinguish the kingdom of God, that the church
cannot and will not lose. The church of Christ will conquer all things. That’s the hope that we have. COOPER: There’s something else Luther’s story
proves. However dark the century becomes, however
powerful the opposition, God will never allow the light of the gospel to be fully extinguished. And just when the fire appears to be fading
forever, God will make it burn more brightly than ever before. LUTHER: God is our hope and strength in woe. Through earth he maketh wars to cease. His power breaketh spear and bow. His mercy sendeth endless peace. Then though the earth remove and storms rage
high above and seas tempestuous prove, yet still will we not fear, the Lord of hosts
is ever near. COOPER: That was Luther: The Life And Legacy
of the German Reformer. Don’t forget that you can download the accompanying
study guide for free at The study guide will help you dig more deeply
into Luther’s life and the history of the Reformation. And by the way, if you want to make sure you
don’t miss videos from Ligonier Ministries in future, subscribe to Ligonier’s YouTube
channel and click the bell to enable notifications. Thank you for watching.

63 thoughts on “Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer (Full Documentary)

  • If we don't have time to watch it right now, how long will this be available for free on YouTube? It says "for a limited time"…

  • Wow! Thank you for sharing this! I will definitely indulge in watching this today. I always enjoy hearing RC use Karl Barth's description of Luther nailing the 95 theses @ the 30:35 mark!

  • I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE Martin Luther — ESPECIALLY his so-called "anti-semitism" (BECAUSE he was TOTALLY RIGHT in that area too!!! TOTALLY COMPLETELY ACCURATE and RIGHT!!!!!!!)

  • Due to the advice of my Elders, and Pastor, I have deleted my social media apps, except Twitter. So I shared it there.

  • What a wonderful program. I shared it to my fb, and pray His hand to lead any to see it. I am filled with joy that one day I'll be able to be graced by meeting Martin and showing him my appreciation for his humble (mostly, and assuradly still) sacrifice. What a blessing he is to our faith.

  • AWESOME 👏 BLESSINGS from NEW ZEALAND 🇳🇿 🇳🇿🇳🇿🇳🇿🇳🇿🙏🙏🙏❤️❤️

  • I read the chapter on Luther in RCs book, The Holiness of God, one night when I couldn't sleep. Love that book, and have loved this. Thank you Ligonier.

  • This makes me feel as a child at the age of 76 years old, I thank Christ that he gifted great men who came before me, to teach God's word so clearly, thank you Ligonier for this excellent documentary. CANADA.

  • Could you please make available the subtitles that you have on vimeo here on YouTube as well. I have friends who don't know English that well, and i would like to share this with them.

  • A wonderful documentary! As a lutheran I'm still fascinated by the work God did through Martin Luther. I'm happy, that you said the important things straight

  • Thank you for the timely post. I love these humble men who are low key and yet wonderful gift to the modern church. I learned Luther's catechism as a child.

  • I can't seem to download the free study guide from the link provided. What am I doing wrong? I am not that clued up with technology, so please bear with me in asking seemingly stupid questions. I get up to the page where the three items are listed with each having a click button "Add to Cart" and from there I can't seem to get it downloaded. 😥

  • I love how Calvinist love Luther. The only bad thing that come out of the reformation was Calvinism, Aminianism, credobaptism, the rejection of the real presents of the Lord Super, the rejection of Holy absolution and confession, unbiblical view of paedobaptism, rapture theology…etc.

    The Book of Concord is just what the Bible teaches (Jude 1:3) the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

  • I thank the lord for raising a man whomHe would use mightily and powerfully for His kingdom. That man is Martin Luther. Together with John Calvin, these two men are the greatest men whom God used to retrieve the true gospel for the Christian Church.

  • The call for further Reformation is good. One where it is possible to tame the tongue would be a doctrine of it. "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom." (James 3:13).

  • 2.2 billion "Christians"??? Only if you are including Roman Catholicism, Liberal denominations, Eastern and Russian Orthodox and other false sects are you able to come up with such a high number. If you are doing this, it is essentially saying that the Reformation was a waste of time, effort and lives.

  • The timing couldn't have been better. We seemed to have forgotten why the reformation took place. Salvation is by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. More and more protestants are now joining hands with pope Francis whose aim is to bring back all denominations as part of his universal church.

  • The universe is a system through which Re concludes or back closes the existence to itself. This universal system has a whole host of features. Through this there it is and it works. In each sequence of this video series – starting from 001 Data – each one of these features is presented and discussed. Since everything in the universe and his system is based on logic, the reason of God and the world is in principle understandable. Thus, all previous models of faith and cosmogony theories are unnecessary ballast.

  • We forget that in his time there were Christians who simply did not believe the Catholic church needed reforming, but simply that it was not Christian. They also saw Augustine, Luther and the Catholic churches father, was wrong in most all his doctrines in later life. The restoration of faith also seems a myth we place on him. He laid the foundation, yes that we couldn't earn salvation, but that it came by faith. Then on the other hand, laid the reformed Catholics idea that actually no human being could actually believe. He removed faith from the whole human race, not from those who chose not to believe. He introduced the idea that actually no human could believe. A doctrine furthered by Calvin. The removal of salvation by faith and replacing it with an awakening of an elect outside of faith, was the result. Adoctrine not acceptable to Christianity

  • Thank you Ligonier Ministries for this wonderful documentary. May the Lord continue to bless your ministry and His work of reforming the hearts and churches of our generation. Watched here at home from the Philippines!

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful movie. Had a greater grasp of how the Lord moved centuries past when the reformation began through Martin Luther. Grateful to God for your ministry. From the Philippines! ❤

  • A well-produced documentary that would do the BBC proud. The narrator was animated and full of conviction. Regards from Australia

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