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“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”   (Psalm 119:148 NIV)

Some people have an exceptional ability to study and learn. We might refer to them as scholars, and Justus Jonas was one. Born in 1493, Jonas studied law and theology at the University of Erfurt, one of the best universities in Germany (the same place where Martin Luther had begun his study of law). In 1510 he received his Master of Arts degree and in 1517 he accepted positions at St. Severus Church (as a Canon) and at the University of Erfurt (as a professor).

We picture Jonas studying late into the night preparing for his classes. He introduced Greek and Hebrew into the curriculum at Erfurt and was eventually named head of the university. Jonas’ aptitude for scholarship served him well as he studied the Scriptures and read the writings of the Reformation. A person is declared righteous by faith in Christ alone apart from good works, salvation in heaven is given as a free gift from God, the teachings of the Bible are authoritative above the ideas and customs of men—Jonas was brought to believe these truths.

He became a close friend of Martin Luther while serving as Dean of the Theological Faculty at the University of Wittenberg from 1523-1533. Jonas was the professor of the professors.

When Luther made his historic translation of the Bible into German so the common people could have the Word of God in their own language, Justus Jonas was on hand, an indispensable help to Luther as they pored over the Greek and Hebrew texts together, meditating on the promises of God, their eyes no doubt at times staying open even through the long watches of the night. Jonas further translated many of Luther’s Latin works into German, including the well-known tract “The Bondage of the Will.” He also helped prepare Luther’s metrical versions of the Psalms and appears to have written the hymn based on Psalm 124, “If God Had Not Been on Our Side,” which is sometimes attributed to Luther.

In January of 1546 it was Justus Jonas who accompanied Martin Luther to Eisleben to help solve an argument there over an inheritance between two heirs of a deceased count. But at Eisleben, Luther fell terribly ill and would not survive. Justus Jonas was at his side and asked him, “Reverend Father, are you willing to die in the name of Christ and the doctrine which you have preached?” Luther answered, “Yes.” Shortly afterward, he was gone.

Jonas preached at Luther’s first funeral service in Eisleben on February 19, 1546. He preached of the resurrection of the dead and the life to come in Christ Jesus. The sermon still survives and you can read it here: