In an age before the camera hung from many a neck, the portrait painter and sculptor were the means by which a person’s image was preserved. Such artists sought to capture the essential element or the vital characteristic of their subjects.
Those who painted or sculpted Martin Luther often portrayed him with the Bible. Lucas Cranach, a friend of Luther, at least twice painted him with the Bible in his hand. In the “Age of Reformation” by Kaulbach, Luther is likewise depicted holding an open Bible. And the sculptors Schadow, Rietschel, and Siemering all cast the Bible as the vital element in Luther’s life.
Four hundred and fifty plus years ago, God graciously joined His divine agency, the Bible, and a human instrument–Martin Luther. The Book made the man, and through this man God restored to many men His inspired Word. Take the Book away from Luther and what is he? Take the man away from the Book–cow him, gag him, kill him–and what becomes of the Bible? Perhaps not what it became–the people’s Book.
Before Luther the Bible had become virtually a lost book. Hardly anyone owned one. Laymen had to seek permission form church officials even to read one. The church had given the people so many substitutes–legends, traditions, superstitions, regulations–that the Bible became unimportant to most. Certainly its central topic as then understood was not Christ Jesus.
As a university student Luther had opportunity to read and study the Bible. But he did not then understand its elemental truth that the righteousness of God is revealed and given to the sinner by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit caused the scales to fall from his eyes when Luther perceived that he could not make himself righteous by his doing for Christ, but that he was declared righteous because of what Christ had done for him.
That day Jesus became his personal Savior! In that hour the gates of heaven swung open to him and he looked straightway into the loving heart of God. That moment truly gave Luther the Bible!
Seeking The Glory Of God
Henceforth the Book became to him his guiding light and absolute authority. It taught him that the human heart is woefully wicked and totally corrupt; that man by nature is spiritually dead in sin. How then could salvation possibly be by human work or decision? With the Bible in his hand, he concluded with St. Paul that sinners are “justified freely by His (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
It was Luther who penned the famous statement which has become our banner and rule: “The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel” (Smalcald Articles, Art. II).
Small wonder then that Luther called Psalm 119 his own psalm and the ABC’s of all Christians. The Book in his hand became God’s Word engrafted in his heart: “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97); “through Your precepts I get understanding” (v. 104a); “for by them You have given me life” (v. 93b).
If there is danger today of again losing the Book, it is surely not because of a lack of copies. Today there is a dearth of reading and meditating. Today, even most of those who do read do not find the Savior and do not relate all it says to Christ. Today most do not heed the Bible’s divine truths. Clearly, continuing reformation is needed.
Martin Luther sought no stone monuments to his name. He sought the glory of God. The Book was graciously given to him. He made it his treasure and gave it to his people.
By gracious inheritance we have God’s Word to freely read, study, ingest, and believe. Only in doing these things do we become worth remembering–monuments to the glory and grace of the living God.
The Book has been restored! Let the reformation continue!
–Pastor David Fuerstenau