None of the historical and biographical information given here was really new to me, but the perspective Dr. Sproul puts on it all was very thought-provoking. Luther was certainly not a perfect man, but the call of God was so incredibly apparent in his life! He was uniquely prepared for the role God had for him. As Sproul pointed out, “Whatever defense mechanisms normal people have to mute the accusing voice of conscience, Luther was lacking.” I'd never really considered that the same traits that made him so volatile and subject to accusations of insanity and instability were the same ones that eventually allowed him to grasp our dilemma and God's solution so well.
One aspect of Luther's background and personality is often overlooked...before [he] went to the monastery, he had already distinguished himself as one of the brightest young minds in Europe in the field of jurisprudence. Luther was brilliant. There was nothing wrong with his brain. His grasp of subtle and difficult points of the law made him a standout. Some heralded him as a legal genius.
It has been said many times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity and that some people move back and forth across it. Perhaps that was the problem Luther had.
He was not crazy. He was a genius. He had a superior understanding of law. Once he applied his astute legal mind to the law of God, he saw things that many people miss...
He concluded that if the Great Commandment was to love God with all the heart, then the Great Transgression was to fail to love God will all the heart...Most people do not think that way. None of us keeps the Great Commandment for five minutes. We may think we do in a surface way...but there is always that nagging sense in the back of our minds to accuse us of the certain knowledge that, in fact, we violate the Great Commandment every day.
Luther 's legal mind was haunted by the question, How can an unjust person survive in the presence of a just God?
Contrasting Luther with the rich young ruler in Luke 18 was brilliant! I really enjoyed Dr. Sproul's insight into this familiar story:
Jesus knew at once that He was talking to a man who had a superficial understanding of the word good. The man wanted to talk to Jesus about salvation. Instead, Jesus subtly turned the conversation around to a discussion about what goodness was. He took the opportunity to give the man an unforgettable lesson on the meaning of "good"...
God commands that we do certain good things. He commands us to give to the poor. We give to the poor. That is a good deed, isn't it? Yes and no. It is good in the sense that our outward act conforms to what God commands. In that sense we do good often. But God also looks at the heart. He is concerned about our deepest motivations. For a good deed to pass the standard of God's goodness, it must flow out of a heart that loves God perfectly and loves our neighbor perfectly as well. Since none of us achieves that perfect love for God and our neighbor, all of our outwardly good deeds are tarnished...the logic of the Bible is this: Since no one has a perfect heart, no one does a perfect deed.We all know the story. The young man claims that he has kept all the commandments. Jesus replies by telling him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor.
If ever Jesus spoke with tongue in cheek, it was here...if we speculate and try to get into the secret recesses of Jesus' mind, we can imagine a thought process that went something like this: Oh, you have kept all the commandments since you were a child. Well, let's see. What is the first commandment? Oh, yes, 'You shall have no other gods before me.' Let's see how you do with that one...
The point of the narrative is not to lay down a law that a Christian must get rid of all private property. The point is for us to understand what obedience is and what goodness actually requires. Jesus called the man's bluff, and the man folded...In contrast, Luther was the "polar opposite":
When Jesus met another young man centuries later, He did not have to go through an elaborate object lesson to help the man understand his sin. He never said to Luther, "One thing you lack." Luther already knew that he lacked a multitude of things.
Two things separated Luther from the rest of men: First, he knew who God was. Second, he understood the demands of God's law. He had mastered the law. Unless he came to understand the gospel, he would die in torment.Finally, Luther came to a new understanding of how God can be merciful without compromising His justice...of understanding how a holy God expresses a holy love:
Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith.God is both just and the justifier, an insight that literally changed the course of world history. He's completely holy yet completely merciful. We've been discussing a right understanding of God's holiness. If anyone grasped God's holiness, it was Luther! What a blessing to both him and the world that he eventually grasped God's grace and mercy also!
This was an excellent chapter, and according to my husband, Chapter 6 is even better. I'm looking forward to it!
You can read my thoughts on previous chapters here.