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Martin Luther, Part 1: The Professor and Preacher

After a short stay in Erfurt, Luther was transferred back to the University of Wittenberg to teach theology. Although Wittenberg was an insignificant town of only two thousand people, Luther was pleased to go to Wittenberg. There he would have the opportunity to intensify his study of God’s Word. Wittenberg would be his home for the rest of his life. But, more important, in Wittenberg he would learn to know the true and only way to salvation. Through the study of God’s Word he would learn that salvation has been obtained for all people through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. All who believe in Christ as their Redeemer are saved. Eventually this wonderful message of salvation would be proclaimed throughout the world.

An Important Decision

Luther was assigned a little room in the upper story of the Black Cloister. This tower room would be his work room for most of his life. Here, through the study of God’s Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he would find peace for his soul and for untold numbers of others. Thanks to Luther’s work, many would again be able to hear the gospel of salvation in all its truth and purity. “God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.”

One day Luther was visiting with his good friend Dr. John Staupitz in the garden of the Black Cloister. During the conversation Dr. Staupitz said to Luther, “Brother Martin, you must become a doctor of theology and a preacher. That will give you plenty to do.” Staupitz had learned to know Luther as a gifted and dedicated man who had leadership ability. He had in mind that Luther should become the head professor in the religion department at the university and also serve as preacher in the university chapel. This was a great honor, but the work and responsibilities that John Staupitz wanted him to assume frightened Luther. Martin gave Staupitz many reasons why he felt that he could not carry out the assignment, but his friend would not consider any of them as valid reasons. Finally, Luther said, “All this work and these responsibilities will kill me. I will be dead in less than three months.” Staupitz replied, “God will surprise you. He will be there to help you. Would it be so bad to die in a service that will give life to others?” Jokingly he added, “And, the Lord has need for capable people also in heaven.”

Luther finally agreed to pursue his studies in religion and to prepare himself for the position as head professor of religion and as preacher in the university chapel. He studied diligently. In October 1512 he received his doctor’s degree in theology. When the degree was conferred on him, he had to swear to preach the Word of God faithfully. This troubled him very much. Later in life he said, “I was made a doctor of theology, but I did not yet know the light.”

Light in God’s Word

Martin Luther took his vow very seriously. As professor and preacher he had to expound the Scriptures to the students. This required careful and thorough preparation. From 1513 to 1517 he lectured on Genesis, the Psalms, Romans, and Galatians. Gradually, as he studied the Bible in its original languages, Luther learned to know Christ as St. Paul knew him. But it was not easy for Luther to discard the beliefs and fear that had been implanted in his mind up till now by his parents, his teachers, and the church. But the more he studied the Bible the more he realized that it is God who declares a person righteous through the righteousness earned by his Son. Jesus Christ kept the Law that man could not keep, and he gave his life to pay the punishment for the sins of all. In Paul’s Epistle to the Romans he read: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as is written, The just shall live by faith.” This passage now took on an altogether new meaning. Man does not become righteous by doing good works. Instead, salvation is a free gift of God through faith in Christ. Man is justified not by works, but by faith alone!

The more he searched the Scriptures, the more Luther’s doubts and fears left him, and peace came to his soul. And that saving message of the gospel he had found in the Bible he also proclaimed in his lectures and sermons. It could not be otherwise. Students flocked to his classroom to hear God’s Word expounded as they had never heard it explained in the past. They especially appreciated the thoroughness with which Dr. Luther prepared his lectures and the straightforwardness with which he spoke to them. There was never any doubt about his views on a subject. The faculty members of the university were also impressed by Luther’s understanding and clear interpretation of the Scriptures.

Luther was a very busy man. In addition to lecturing and preaching at the university, he also was overseer of ten Augustinian monasteries. When the pastor of the City Church in Wittenberg became ill, Martin Luther was assigned to serve as pastor of that large congregation. This increased his work load very much. Luther was an eloquent preacher, but, more importantly, he had a wonderful message for the people—the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ. More and more people came to hear him. Often he had to preach every day of the week, and sometimes twice a day. Although Luther was teaching and preaching that man is justified by faith in the atonement of Christ, and not by works, he still considered himself a faithful member of the church. He was even convinced that the pope would agree with him.

150376_featuredFrom The Life and Faith of Martin Luther, by Adolph F. Fehlauer. © 1981 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.