The Bible challenges us with these words: “Be still and know that I am God.” Is it possible for many of us to take this counsel seriously? People of all ages sing the same chorus: we are too busy. We feel guilty when our schedules are not filled with things to do.
Well, there is one who would encourage us to take these words – Be still and know that I am God – seriously. His name is Martin Luther, the reformer of the sixteenth century. This reformation was born during a time when Luther sat silently in the presence of Almighty God as God spoke to him through the Scriptures. Let me share just two of these experiences.
Luther learned in his quiet times that God’s voice will bring peace of mind and soul.
Martin Luther was a man with a brilliant mind and a troubled soul. He had no peace with God. A brilliant theologian, R. C. Sproul, has an excellent lecture on Luther’s mental health in which he raises the question, Was Martin Luther crazy? Sproul, who is an admirer of Luther, would say no. Luther was a great man of God, but at times his behavior was so weird, one could conclude he was not quite normal. Sproul tells us that psychiatrists have studied his life, along with other great minds, and they have concluded Luther suffered from mental illness. We do know that he punished his body.
Roland Bainton, another Luther scholar, writes, “He fasted – sometimes three days on end without a crumb. He cast off the blankets permitted him and nearly froze himself to death. He believed in later life that his austerities had done permanent damage to his digestion.”
Because Luther had no peace with God, he chose to enter the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, Germany in 1505 at the age of twenty-two years. His superiors soon became aware of his gifted mind, and they gave him opportunities to further his education. In 1512 Luther received the doctor of theology degree of Bible at the University of Wittenberg. It was at the university, while preparing his lectures on the book of Romans, that Luther had his great evangelical experience. He read in Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
Luther met Christ in the Scriptures. The Lord revealed to him that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by our own good works. Now Luther was at peace with God. Christ had atoned for our sins at the cross. Trusting Christ alone, we are forgiven. The burden of Luther’s sin was taken from him. This is the primary message of the Reformation; it is the Gospel.
This is the message that God brings to us in our quiet times. It is the common experience of all Christians to have these great moments with Christ in this quiet time. Many of our abnormal behavior patterns could be eliminated if we only went aside for awhile each day and had our time with God. Many times in my ministry I have seen what the power of the Gospel could do in bringing peace to my soul and to the lives of others.
Luther also received the power of his convictions based on the Bible during those hours he was alone with God.
Now that he was at peace with God through faith in Christ alone, it was Luther’s conviction that the world must hear this message from the Church. He had suffered all of this spiritual and mental turmoil because the Church had not proclaimed the Gospel. This led him to write ninety-five theses that he wanted to debate with church leaders. Luther nailed this document to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. This marked the beginning of the Reformation.
As Luther continued to be vocal about the Gospel, he was considered a menace to the Church and had to be quieted. Finally, at the age of thirty-eight, he was brought to trial at Worms, Germany. Emperor Charles himself was present, as were some distinguished scholars of the Church. A man by the name of John Eck was chosen to interrogate Luther. The following is a part of the conversation between Eck and Luther.
“Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all? You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ, the perfect Lawgiver, proclaimed throughout the world. I ask you, Martin, candidly, do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?”
After thinking about Eck’s question for one day, Luther answered with these words:
“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”
From where did this power of conviction come? He received this power from God when he was still and listened to what God was saying to him.
What can we learn from God’s Word and the experience of Martin Luther on this Reformation Sunday? If we will take some time daily to be alone with God, he will change our lives. He will fill our souls with peace and give us the convictions to make Christ known to others.
I ask you, is this not the kind of person our society needs today? Are they not needed in the world of business, in academia, in government, in education, in the Church? We have a clergy and laity who have the power of their convictions, which must be based on the Word of God. When God has convinced us that our convictions are true to the Word of God, we must be fearless. We cannot accept the modern teaching that God’s Word must be interpreted in the light of the culture in which we live. We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We cannot let the world shape the Church. The message of the Church, which is God’s Law and Gospel, must shape the world.
How do we find time to be alone with God? If you are a Christian, don’t you believe God should have a high priority in your life? Does He not deserve some of your time, just to be alone with you in His Word? We are not just bodies; we are also souls. Our bodies have to be fed. And our souls also need to be fed so that we might have an inner peace which passes all understanding and a spirit that carries with it strong Biblical convictions.