In the spring of 1541 Luther gave his account of his role in the Reformation…and these were a few of his recollections:
…a man named John Tetzel carried indulgences about and sold “grace” for money, as expensively or cheaply as he could by the exertion of all his powers…at the same I was a preacher here in the monastery and a young doctor, brand-new, fervent and zealous in Holy Scripture…then, when many people of Wittenberg ran to Tetzel for indulgences, and I did not know what these indulgences were, I began to preach gently that one could do something better, something that would be more certain than the buying of indulgence. I also did not know at that time for whom the money was intended…then a booklet came out, beautifully adorned with the arms of Bishop Albert in which the indulgence peddlers were commanded to preach…so it appeared that Bishop Albert of Mainz had hired this man Tetzel because he was a great crier and peddler of indulgences…with half the money raised to go to the bankers who financed the loan so that Albert could acquire his bishop’s position, and the remaining half of the money would go toward the erection of St. Peter’s Church at Rome.
So I wrote a letter with the Ninety-five Theses to the Bishop of Magdeburg, admonishing and beseeching him to stop Tetzel and to prevent the preaching of such unfit things but I received no answer…I also wrote the same thing to the Bishop of Brandenburg; in his reply he said that I was attacking the power of the church and would get myself in trouble; he advised me to keep my hands off.
So my Propositions (95 theses) went forth against the articles of Tetzel…in fourteen days they actually passed through all Germany; for all the world was complaining about indulgences but all the bishops and doctors remained silent and no one wanted to “bell the cat” (from a medieval fable in which mice want to put a bell around the cat’s neck but cannot agree who should do it because of the danger involved to the one who attempts to “bell the cat”):
There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest (Thesis 27)…it is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest that greed and love of money increase (Thesis 28)
Any Christian who is truly repentant enjoys forgiveness of sins and this is given to him or her without letters of indulgence (Thesis 36)
I did not relish this task that became mine…and the song threatened to be too high for my voice – this is the true beginning of the “Lutheran disturbance”…and if it developed into a “disturbance” that hurt the Roman Catholic Church, they have to thank themselves for it – since they handled this matter so foolishly.
Reformation Gem: the Reformation was about the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- the Good News that a person is saved by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ
“for I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Romans 1:16)
“for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17)
In 1531 Luther gave a series of lectures on the book of Galatians. The following are some Reformation Gems from Luther -- for your reflection and the strengthening of your faith:
Two great enemies of a person are sin and conscience...and that is why Paul, in this epistle, talks about God's grace and peace -- for grace contains the forgiveness of sins and peace gives to us a quiet and joyful conscience.
Christ is no lawgiver, no tyrant, but a mediator for sins, a free giver of grace, righteousness, and life -- who gave Himself, not for our merits, righteousness, and godly life, but for our sins. For we are sinners yet Christ took our sins upon Himself and for them died on the cross -- Christ was accounted to be the greatest sinner whoever lived, having all sins imputed to Him -- that He might make satisfaction for them with His own blood. For it is the office of the mediator to pacify the party that is offended (God) and to reconcile to Him the party that is the offender (the sinner)...for if Christ is made guilty of all the sins that we all have committed, then we are delivered from all sins, but not by ourselves, not by our own works and merits, but by Him...but if He is innocent, and He did not bear our sins, then we still bear them and in them we shall die and be condemned.
Christian righteousness consists in two things: (1) faith in the heart and (2) God's imputation of righteousness, which we obtain through Christ, and for Christ's sake, who is given to us and received of us by faith. For he that believes has as great a sin as the unbeliever but to the believer, it is forgiven and not imputed...to the unbeliever the sin is not forgiven but is imputed.
We seek not the favor of men by our doctrine (of justification), for we teach that all men are wicked by nature, and the children of wrath. We condemn man's freewill, his strength, wisdom and righteousness, and religion of man's own making, and, to be short, that there is nothing in us to deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins...but, we preach, that we obtain this grace, by the free mercy of God only, for Christ's sake. For the Gospel teaches that He came that He might be made a blood covering for the sins of the whole world and that our sins might be forgiven and everlasting life given to us for His sake, and not for the works of the law or for our own righteousness.