Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
October 14, 2007

The strange and fascinating views of dear old Martin Luther


          Martin Luther I have known for his theology and his role in the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. Lately I have enjoyed reading for the first time about his personal life. His views on a variety of subjects are fascinating.

          When an admiring woman told Luther she hoped he could live another forty years, he replied, “God forbid!” He said he did not want to live much longer mainly because the world was “full of nothing but devils.” He had no use for physicians and insisted that “in God’s name” he would eat “whatever tastes good to me.” While I do not share Luther’s disdain for doctors, I find in myself an enormous desire to “eat whatever tastes good to me.”

          In many ways Luther was a very practical man. If water, for example, was not available for a baptism, beer would serve just as well. During a time of drought Luther prayed earnestly for rain. And that very night some rain fell. When he was a young man games with cards and dice were forbidden. In later years he embraced such games as good exercise for the mind.

          Luther scolded preachers for preaching scholarly sermons on lofty themes. He advised them to be simple and direct in preaching so that they could be understood by young people and children. As for the “learned doctors,” if they do not want to listen, “they can leave.” Luther once observed that “there are many fluent preachers who speak at length but say nothing, who have words without substance.” Sadly it must be noted that such preachers were not limited to the days of Luther!

          The German reformer had no patience with atheists of his day. Once he was asked about a citizen of Wittenberg who confessed publicly that he had not received communion for 15 years. Luther said that after a couple of admonitions he would declare the man excommunicated and to be “treated like a dog.” He went on to say, “If the unbeliever dies in this condition, let him be buried in the carrion pit like a dog.”

          Someone asked Luther about a man who felt called to preach but whose wife had a haughty spirit and did not want to have a parson for a husband. What should the man do? Luther was asked. He replied, “If she were my wife I’d say to her, ‘Will you go with me?’ Say quickly, No or Yes.’ If she said No, I would at once take another wife and leave her.”

          When asked if a priest should give the sacrament to a man he knew to be a liar, Luther replied, “Do what Christ did; he gave the sacrament to the betrayer Judas.”

          One man questioned Luther about where God was before the creation of the world. Luther quoted Augustine whose answer to the question had been, “God was making hell for those who are inquisitive.”

          Luther had a way of saying things that were not always polite and spiritual. The forgiveness of his sins was terribly important to Luther. Good old boys could understand him well when he observed: “Apart from the forgiveness of sins I can’t stand a bad conscience at all; the devil hounds me about a single sin until the world becomes too small for me, and afterward I feel like spitting on myself for having been afraid of such a small thing.” Most of us have shared that feeling about ourselves.

          Luther and his wife struggled in their marriage like most married couples. But he found great joy in his marriage. I found myself saying Amen to this tender observation by the reformer: “There is no sweeter union than that in a good marriage. Nor is there any death more bitter than that which separates a married couple. Only the deaths of children come close to this; how much this hurts I have myself experienced.” Luther and his wife lost their daughter Elizabeth in her first year.

          Dear old Martin had a delightful sense of humor. One evening he attended a wedding. Before the evening meal he advised the bridegroom to be content with the general custom and “be lord in his house whenever his wife is not at home!”

          Martin Luther is surely one of the most fascinating figures in Christian history. Long before the term was coined, Luther was thinking and living outside the box. The need for such men continues. + + +