Happy Reformation Day [Insane Guilt]


If chapter four of the Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul was about how God’s holiness unsettles people, then this chapter explored that theme through the lens of Martin Luther’s life. I enjoyed Sproul’s retelling of key moments in the life of Martin Luther exploring the events and personality that shaped the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation. If you are looking for a good intro to Luther this chapter is excellent. I am a church history buff and have added a new book – Here I Stand – to my ever growing Wish List too.

The thing that struck me (maybe because I can relate to some degree) was Luther’s obsession with his guilt resulting in his compulsions to go to confessions daily often for hours to be cleansed. He seemed to struggle mightily with trying to figure out how to be right before a Holy God. What brought him to a point where he could barely function…

Luther examined the Great Commandment, ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself”‘ (Luke 10:27). Then he asked himself, “What is the Great Transgression?” Some answer this question by saying that the great sin is murder, adultery, blasphemy, or unbelief. Luther disagreed. 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 with all the heart. He saw a balance between great obligations and great sins.

Sproul describes most people when they realize the great demands of a Holy God:

The test is too great, too demanding; it is not fair. God will have to judge us all on a curve.  … Lesser minds went merrily along their way, enjoying the bliss of ignorance. They were satisfied to think that God  compromise his own excellence and let them into heaven.

However:

Luther didn’t see it that way. He realized that if God graded on a curve, He would have to compromise His own holiness. To count on God doing so is supreme arrogance and supreme foolishness as well. God does not lower His own standards to accommodate us. He remains altogether holy, altogether righteous, and altogether just.

This chapter brought home the fact that we really have a poor idea of what holiness is, whereas Luther really understood this concept and it impacted his life mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Sproul quotes from Bainton’s Here I Stand  the following passage where Luther describes the insane guilt and how the truth set him free:

I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.

Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.”

Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven….

I have seen this or portions of this quotation before and wondered from which of Luther’s works was it taken. I figured a quick Internet search would clear this up and I could then read the quote in context along with the rest of the work. While I found many hits that includes portions of this quotation it took awhile before I finally found the work of Luther from which this was taken. It appears in the Preface to The Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Works, which was published in 1545. However even this link is only an excerpt from the preface.

[originally posted on blogger on November 11, 2010]

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