In October 1527 Martin Luther sat down and penned what would become the battle hymn of the Protestant Reformation. Ten years had passed since he had nailed his Ninety-Five theses onto the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. As is often the case, history is keen to remember the definitive events that shaped the world but it can shed comparatively little light on how those events shaped the men behind them. This is true in the case of the Ninety Five Theses. It was one of the most definitive events in the History of the Christian Church and as such, it is extremely well chronicled but there is precious little written about how that one seminal act defined Luther himself.
Luther before the Ninety Five theses was an obscure German monk grappling with his personal salvation and his view of God. The struggle led him on a journey of discovery that gave him the clarity and peace that he so desperately longed for.
Nailing the Ninety Five theses changed his life overnight in more ways than one. It catapulted him into the epicenter of a raging religiopolitical firestorm, the likes of which he had never witnessed in his lifetime.The list of struggles and challenges he faced at every turn is as long as it is grueling.
How did he cope? What ran through his mind as he found himself denigrated, condemned and maligned for choosing to stand for the truth? How did he find the courage to persist in the face of wave after wave of battery? Why didn’t he just throw in the towel and walk away? In October 1527 Luther wrote the lyrics to the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. The words give us a glimpse into not only how the theses defined him but also what continuously propelled him forward.
He wrote this hymn ten years after he chose to commit the one act that changed the history of the Church. Reading the lyrics I believe it was also an act that changed him. Though he was thrown into the midst of a raging inferno, that furnace served to refine and strengthen his faith in God, producing a spiritual caliber that could not be produced by human effort. His choice to stand for the truth and the trials he faced, as a result, didn’t just define history, they defined him.
The shift in his mindset from faith in the traditions of the church to faith in the Word of God empowered him to not only face the storm before him but commit to walking through it in faithfulness to God. The Ninety-Five theses brought him face to face with Jesus in the furnace and Luther grasped His hand by faith and stayed the course courageously. Sometimes when we face tough choices in life we pause to weigh the possible outcomes. If the losses far outweigh the benefits then we are more likely to not make the choice. In Luther’s case, he didn’t pause to ask “how much will this cost?” he only paused to ask “What is right in God’s sight?”. That was the only question that mattered.