Remembering Luther’s Birth

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!” —Psalm 103:2

Each year on November 10 we remember with gratitude to God the life and work of His servant, Martin Luther, as one of His preeminent blessings to His church on earth. For if it had not been for Luther’s reformation of the church in the sixteenth century, we might still be sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death (Luke 1:79), robbed of the light of the Gospel by the tyranny of the Roman Antichrist!

Luther was born on November 10, 1483, just nine years before Columbus landed in the “new world” during the age of exploration. Europe was emerging from the “Dark Ages” of ignorance and superstition into a Renaissance or rebirth of intellectual curiosity and investigation. The time was right for the papal system to be questioned, unmasked, and held to account for the “commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9) under which the saving truth of God’s Word had been hidden and by which it had been perverted for well over a thousand years.

In the little town of Eisleben in Saxon Germany, Hans and Margarete Luther worked hard to make a living. Hans labored in the copper mines, while his wife cared for their humble home under arduous conditions. When their first son was baptized on “St. Martin’s Day,” November 11, they named him after the great missionary, not realizing the impact that his life’s work would have under the Lord’s blessing for hundreds of years to come. When Martin was only six months old, his father moved the family to nearby Mansfeld in order to take advantage of better opportunities for work as a miner. There the family grew with the addition of Martin’s three brothers and four sisters. His parents were very strict in the way they raised their children and tried to bring them up to be God-fearing, respectful, obedient, and devoutly faithful to the Roman Catholic Church — the only church they knew. It was only when Luther was a young adult, having given up the study of law to become a priest, that he learned from the Holy Scriptures to recognize the soul-destroying errors in the church of Rome and was enabled by the grace of God to combat them and to teach in their place the everlasting truths of His precious Word.

As we observe our annual Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, let us remember to note among our spiritual blessings the great benefits that the Lord our God bestowed upon the world in and through Martin Luther and his work of the Reformation. Chief among these is that he restored to the church on earth the Word of God in its truth and purity as the only source and standard of Christian faith and life, the Word which for centuries had been hidden under a multitude of false teachings and practices. At the same time, on the basis of the Scriptures, Luther restored to poor sinners the comfort, peace, and hope afforded by the pure Gospel of salvation by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, totally apart from the works of the Law. Our Lutheran heritage, summarized in the confessional writings produced during Luther’s life and immediately following his death, is based upon those two basic principles. Those Lutheran Confessions, which comprise the Book of Concord of 1580, include Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology [or Defense] of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, and the Formula of Concord.

In addition to those chief blessings and benefits, we are also grateful for Luther’s efforts to bring congregational singing back to the church on the basis of numerous passages of Scripture. Luther collected the few old hymns that he could find; and he himself wrote thirty-seven more. Some of these were incorporated them in the first Lutheran hymnbook published in 1524. Perhaps the most famous of his hymns is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which first appeared in 1529. Luther also stressed the importance of a thorough Christian education, the blessing of children, and an active Christian family life, among many other applications of Scripture in the lives of God’s people. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits,” particularly those He gave us through His servant Martin Luther!

D. G. R.