Luther's Legacy to Christianity

'In the early morning hours of the 18th of February, 1546, on a cold winter’s night in Eisleben, Martin Luther closed his eyes for ever. “I won’t live to see Easter” he had said on his sixty-third birthday. Concerned for his life, his friends and relatives saw him undertake, toward the end of January, the last journey of his life. Accompanied by his sons and Justus Jonas, he traveled to the city of his birth where he was to mediate a quarrel between the brothers who were the Counts of Mansfeld. The letters which he wrote to his “gracious dear lady of the house” during this journey, are the most stirringly human testimony to his mature, and yet childlike faith. “I fear that were you to cease your concern, the earth might finally swallow us up and destroy everything. Are you also studying the Catechism and the Creed? Pray and let God worry. For you and I are not commanded to worry for me or you. It says: ‘Cast your anxiety upon Him, for He cares for you’, Ps. 55 and many other texts.” He wrote this on the 10th of February. Four days later he preached his last sermon. On the 16th and 17th the agreement between the counts was signed and his task of peace-making was finished. Luther no longer took part in the negotiations on the last day and remained in his room. Toward evening he complained of chest pains, which then passed and returned and worsened. Toward 10:00 in the evening, after he had rested, he went to his bedroom. He took leave of his company with the words, “Pray for our Lord God and His Gospel, that things go well with Him. For the Council at Trent and the miserable Pope have a terrible grudge against Him.” Toward 1:00 am he awoke short of breath and raised his voice: “Oh, Lord God, I’m in so much pain! Oh, dear Doctor Jonas, it appears as though I shall remain here.” He still had been able to proceed to his room, and there began his last brief hour. In the presence of his son, his friends and a doctor who had been hastily summoned, at a moment of pause in his struggle with death, he spoke his last prayers, recited to himself Bible passages such as John 3:16, and Psalm 68:21, and answered the question put by Justus Jonas: “Reverend father, will you remain steadfast in Christ and the doctrine which you have preached?” He responded with an audible “Yes!” Then his soul passed into the peace of God. But in Eisleben, in the villages and cities through which his remains were carried, and especially in Wittenberg, at this burial in the Castle Church, and the funeral celebration of the University, there was a mourning which was more than the mourning of a people over the loss of one of its great men. Indeed, the man who died while the pope convened in Trent the council for the “eradication of heresy”, that is, for the elimination of the Lutheran Reformation, and while the Emperor mobilized the forces of a world power for war against the Evangelical estates, was more than a great German. He was more than a faithful guardian of the souls of his people, a man of whom one gets the impression that through his powerful prayers had averted the catastrophe which for many years had been sweeping toward Germany. As the rediscoverer of the Gospel of the grace of God, he was the Reformer of the Church, and not only the church of one land, rather the entire, the one church of God on earth.'

Trans. by Pr Matthew Harrison. This essay first appeared in the Jahrbuch des Martin Luther Bundes, 1946, pp. 38-42. It was written for the 400th anniversary of the Reformer’s death. The essay was republished in Lutherische Blätter, vol. 19, no. 90 (August 1967).

The whole essay has kindly been made available on-line at Pr Harrison's blog: http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com/2011/11/luthers-legacy-to-christianity.html

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