Monday, November 7, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 12

An Evaluation of Luther’s Character and Significance:

Notwithstanding his flaws, Luther still exerts a force inferior only to the sacred writers. Augustine’s influence embraces a wider sphere, but he never reached the hearts of ordinary people the way that Luther did. Luther is the one Reformer whose name was adopted as the designation of the church he founded. Luther was the German of the Germans, and the most vigorous type of the faults as well as the virtues of his nation. Nevertheless, Martin Luther’s influence extends far beyond the limits of his native land. He belongs to the church and the world.

Like all great men, he harbored colossal contrasts in his mind. He was a giant in public, but a child in his family. He was the boldest reformer, yet a conservative churchman. He abused reason as the handmaid of the Devil, and yet a slave of the letter. He was an intense hater of popery to the end, yet was a pope himself in his own church. Yet there was a unity in this apparent contradiction.

His polemical books rush along like violent storms. He knew his temper, but never tried to restrain it. His last books against the Papists, the Zwinglians, and the Jews, are his worst, and exceed any thing that is known in the history of theological polemics. He told Spalatin, “Do not think that the gospel can be advanced without tumult, trouble, and uproar. You cannot make a pen of a sword. The Word of God is a sword; it is war, overthrow, trouble, destruction, poison; it meets the children of Ephraim, as Amos says, like a bear on the road, or like a lioness in the wood." It may well be that his vitriolic tongue inflammatory rhetoric were necessary for the semi-barbarian Germans of his day. Providence used his violent temper to overthrow the power of the greatest spiritual tyrant the world has ever seen.

Notwithstanding his faults, he is still the greatest man Germany has ever produced. Indeed, he is one of the greatest men in history. Melanchthon, who knew him best, and suffered most from his overbearing temper, called him the Elijah of Protestantism, and compared him to the Apostle Paul. This is his legacy. 

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