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“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” — John 10:27-28

As we read the history of the 16th century Reformation it is quite easy to get caught up in the debates of the theologians of the day. I just finished preparing an overview of the Smalcald Articles for our Minnesota Pastoral Conference. The study was very fascinating and edifying.

But is that it? What about the people? What about the souls for whom Christ died? It might be easy to read the doctrinal formulations of the period and conclude that Martin Luther stood aloof from the people, above their every day trials and afflictions and lacked concern for the individual souls.

For example, as I reviewed the history of the Smalcald Articles we see how they were written in preparation for a General Council of Christianity. Why a General Council? Luther did everything he could to convince the Emperor to convene such a Council. Why? For more debate? More argumentation with the Romanists? No! Luther was tired of debate without a God-fearing resolution. He was convinced that the Roman Church would not listen to the Truth of God. But the common people–the souls out there–were utterly neglected. This was his greatest concern.

Therefore he writes: “We see in the bishoprics everywhere so many parishes vacant and desolate that one’s heart would break, and yet neither the bishops nor canons care how the poor people live or die, for whom nevertheless Christ has died, and who are not permitted to hear Him speak with them as the true Shepherd with His sheep.” (Smal. Art. Preface, Conc. Trig., p. 457)

Upon visiting various congregations Luther cries out in alarm, “Mercy! Good God! What manifold misery I behold! The common people, especially in the villages have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach . … O you bishops! What will you ever answer to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people and never for a moment discharged your office?” (Sm. Cate. Preface, Conc. Trig. p. 533)

He pleads with his fellow pastors and preachers, “Therefore I entreat you all for God’s sake, my dear sirs and brethren who are pastors or preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office, to have pity on the people who are entrusted to you, and to help us inculcate the Catechism upon the people, and especially upon the young.” (Same ref.)

He just wanted the sheep to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd clearly. He loathed preaching which was over the heads of the people. His desire was to speak to the people, as he put it, as simply as a mother speaks to her child while nursing it.

As a true pastor Luther addressed the sins of the day, clearly and plainly. He was convinced that the only way properly to address sin was with the Law of God laying sin bare in all its wretchedness. And the only way to comfort the heart and raise one up from the devastation of sin was with the sweet Gospel of God’s love. The people had to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, for there alone was true comfort and peace for the soul for time and the assurance of God’s love for all eternity.

And so he wrote letters, published pamphlets and prayer books — gradually to wean the sheep from the words of the hirelings and lead them to eat of the green pastures and drink of the still waters of God’s wondrous grace in Christ Jesus.

Luther humbly prayed to his Good Shepherd: “Lord God, you have appointed me in the church as bishop and pastor. You see how unfit I am to attend to such a great and difficult office, and if it had not been for your help, I would long since have ruined everything. Therefore I call upon you. . . .”

Thank you, Lord, for Martin Luther. We pray, Oh Lord, that You give all of our pastors such a shepherd’s heart.

–Pastor L. D. Redlin