Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. History records the rise of numerous giants whose shoulders have been the launching pad for the progress and enlightenment of successive generations and of all those giants, one of the most formidable has been Martin Luther; academic, preacher, teacher and catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.
Speaking of Luther in his Lectures on the reformation at Lafayette College, Professor Andrew Fix said “more than most epochal events in history, the Reformation in its early stages was the personal product of one extraordinary individual”
Born on the 10th of November 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, Luther was the son of a well-to-do German peasant. His father Hans was a miner and former village mayor but like most peasants, the family was quite poor and at one stage struggled financially to such an extent that Luther was obliged to sing from door to door for a meal on his way to school.
Despite this Luther’s parents were industrious and worked hard to provide the best for their children and Luther was sent to university, becoming a rare exception among the peasants of his day.
He entered the University of Erfurt in 1501 and graduated with a bachelor of arts in 1503 and as Doctor of Divinity in 1505. While he was at Erfurt he discovered a complete copy of the Bible in the library and this had a profound impact on his spiritual life. He had not been aware of the existence of such a book, having only heard portions of the gospels and epistles read aloud to him at church and assuming that these constituted the entirety of scripture.
In 1505, on his way back to Erfurt after a visit to his parents, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm and nearly struck by lightning. In absolute terror, he promised to become a monk if God would spare his life and upon his safe return to Erfurt made good on his promise by committing himself to the priesthood and joining the Augustinian Order. This placed a strain on his relationship with his father, who, being a man of high integrity, intuitively distrusted the entire monastic system and it was two years before they were reconciled again.
Luther had a great desire to obtain Salvation and peace with God and he devoted long hours to various acts of worship and penance in an attempt to procure both. He once said: “if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I”. So zealous and ardent was he in his quest for salvation by works that he performed more fasts and vigils than any other monk.
While at the monastery he devoted hours to the study of the Bible, which he had found chained to the convent wall. It was during this time of severe mental turmoil over the state of his eternal well being that God brought him a much-needed friend to correct his course.
Johann Von Staupitz was a doctor of Theology, who was appointed as Vicar General of the Augustinian Monks in Germany. He met Luther at Erfurt in 1506 as a young monk riddled with thoughts of spiritual inadequacy, who once spent six hours confessing his sins to Staupitz. Staupitz was instrumental in helping Luther to understand the basics of the gospel and grasp a picture of God that was more gracious and merciful than the cruel and exacting judge that presided over the troubled thoughts in Luther’s mind. Luther himself said “if it were not for Dr. Staupitz, I would have sunk in Hell”
One of the most significant influences in Luther’s early years was the close connection he had with Staupitz and the impact that Staupitz had on his young life. There is so much potential in spiritual mentorship and wise, Godly counsel. Discipleship is a biblical concept, Jesus discipled 12, Paul discipled Timothy, Silas and many more, Elijah discipled Elisha. If you are an older Christian, then take the time to invest in the lives of younger Christians around you and if you are a younger Christian make use of the wisdom of those older in faith. There is such a need for discipleship in the church today. So many young people, like Luther, flounder without a clear understanding of who God is and what he desires for them and from them and there is a need for spiritually mature Christians to stand in this gap and offer the support and guidance that the youth need so much.