This year we have been learning about Martin Luther, the German reformer. Five hundred years ago he protested against the errors of the Roman Catholic church, which had rejected the truths of the Bible. Luther was a very strong man to stand up for the Lord against so many enemies of the gospel. He made it clear, however, that his strength came from Lord who gives the power of His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him.
Almost twenty years before his death, Martin Luther wrote a hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which has been called the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” Luther wrote many hymns during his lifetime, but this one became most famous and has been used by composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach. Luther’s hymn was based on Psalm 46, originally written in German, but translated into English in 1853. That is the version that we have in our hymnbook today. It is very good to read this hymn, because it helps you to understand the heart and ministry of Mr. Luther. Five hundred years later, the words of this hymn still help us to remember that God is all-powerful, and His truth will always be defended no matter what enemies attack it.
For so many years God gave Martin Luther power to be a faithful preacher to call the people away from error to follow the truth. God also gave Martin Luther special strength when he came to die at the age of 62. The gospel that made him strong in his life also made him strong in his death. The details of Martin Luther’s last hours before his death are recorded in the pages of history. The great reformer died of what we call “natural causes.” His body had been weakened by some of the diseases he had suffered in his life. That means Martin Luther did not die by the sword, nor was he burned at the stake, or hanged, or stoned to death, or poisoned, or left to die in prison like many martyrs. Being able to live as long as he did is astonishing because he was hated by many powerful men in his day who could have killed him. The only way to explain how he avoided becoming a martyr is that God protected His servant.
“The body they may kill.”
Martin Luther had many enemies in his life. These were leaders who had money, connections, and power in Europe. When Martin Luther began to spread the truth of the Bible, he threatened their empire which had been powerful for hundreds of years. They tried to stop him by making his teachings look foolish. When that didn’t work, they wanted to kill him. But Martin Luther and his message kept on opening people’s eyes to the truth of the gospel and the false teachings of the Roman Catholic church.
“God’s truth abideth still.”
With God’s protection, Martin Luther could not be stopped by the threats and schemes of evil men. Nor did he stop believing in the Lord when it came time for him to die. With his dying breath, he testified of his steadfast faith in the blood of Christ alone for his salvation. This is what he prayed:
“O my heavenly Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all consolation [comfort], I thank Thee that Thou hast revealed to me Thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I have believed, whom I have preached, whom I have confessed, whom the pope and all the ungodly insult, blaspheme, and persecute, but whom I love and adore as my Savior. O Jesus Christ, my Savior, I commit my soul to Thee! O my heavenly Father, I must quit [leave] this body, but I believe with perfect assurance that I shall dwell eternally with Thee, and that none shall pluck me out of Thy hands.”
From 1533 to his death in 1546, Martin Luther continued his preaching duties despite various disappointments and ailments. He continued to teach at Wittenberg University until the end of his life, and his last lecture ended with the words: “I am weak, I cannot go on.”
“Reverend father,” asked his friend Jonas, “in your dying hour, do you rest on Jesus Christ, and steadfastly rely upon the doctrine which you have preached?”
“Yes” was Martin Luther’s last word and immediately he went into the presence of his Savior. Martin Luther will always be remembered and appreciated as a man who started the Protestant Reformation which has made a huge impact on our religious freedom and knowledge of the truth of God. For this reason alone, we should be thankful for his life and ministry.