Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Rescuing the Gospel . . . from What?

Leslie Basham: Martin Luther was ready to die for what he believed in, even though his convictions ran contrary to tradition in his day. Here’s Dr. Erwin Lutzer.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: He’s on his way home, and men jump out of the ditch. They overpower him, and they capture him, and they hide him in the Wartburg Castle. These men were his friends.

Leslie: We’ll hear why his friends did this, today on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of A Place of Quiet Rest. It’s Thursday, October 26, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, we’re continuing our telling of the story of the Protestant Reformation as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of one of the most significant events in Western history. We talked in the last program about Martin Luther, the monk who was seeking for relief from his burden of guilt and sin.

It kind of reminds me, Dr. Lutzer, of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress and how he carried that weight of sin and was so burdened for how he could get to the Celestial City, but he couldn’t do it with that weight. Then he got to the cross. That’s where he believed in Christ and that burdened rolled off, and he was able to start that journey, knowing that he would end up in the Celestial City.

That’s been your experience, and mine. If we are children of God, we have experienced the saving grace, the liberating power of the gospel.

Sometimes we just forget how wonderful it is, and I hope you’re being reminded in this series.

Well, Dr. Erwin Lutzer has been our guest in this series, and he and Rebecca have been longtime friends of mine and encouragers in this ministry. When we got started into Revive Our Hearts, they were among the first to come in to say, “How can we encourage?”

Remember, Dr. Lutzer, you took me aside years ago and said, “Let me help you with how you can do this daily radio thing and how to look at Scripture and open it up”? In so many ways, you’ve been an encourager to me and to our ministry. So I thank you.

Dr. Lutzer has written a book called Rescuing the Gospel. Now, why does the gospel need rescuing? That’s a question I’d like to ask you, Dr. Lutzer. As we think about the Reformation, why did the gospel need to be rescued?

Dr. Lutzer: Well, let’s plunge right in. I think it will become very evident as to why the gospel needed to be rescued.

Last time we talked about Luther’s conversion, that he accepted the righteousness of Christ credited to him. That meant now he had a solid standing before God, so he was brought to peace.

But meanwhile, in Rome, there was a pope by the name of Pope Leo. He came to power, and he wanted to finish St. Peter’s Basilica. It was the basilica that you see on television. The piers of the basilica had been laid by a previous pope, but they lay unfinished. So he needed money.

So he made an agreement with the German banks—it’s a little bit complicated—but the bottom line is: He was going to sell indulgences. Well, indulgences previously had been sold, but this time there was a new twist. You could buy an indulgence, not just for yourself, but also for your relatives.

So vendors would go from town to town. They’d bring a cross into the town square and say, “This cross is of the same value as the cross of Christ. Now, hear ye, hear ye: You can purchase for a few pence, for a few pennies, you can purchase a relative out of purgatory. Listen to your mother. She is screaming at you today saying, ‘How hard-hearted are you? When, but for a few pence, you can buy me out of this place of torment?’”

There was a little jingle that he used, which translated from the German, roughly, is this: “As soon as the coin hits the chest, another soul flies to its heavenly rest.”

These indulgences were not sold in Wittenberg because the Elector Frederick had his own indulgence trade, and he didn’t want the competition. But people went to cross the old river from Wittenberg, and they went to these little towns. They came back with letters of indulgence, and they showed them to Luther. Some of them purchased letters for indulgence for sins they had not yet committed but planned to commit. (laughter)

Luther became angry and said, “I’ll put a hole in his drum.” That’s when he marches down to the Castle Church door, and he nails ninety-five theses on October 31, 1517. That’s why now we have the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. That event usually is the one that is used by historians to signal the beginning of the Reformation.

Nancy: And what was the point of these theses? What was the essence of it?

Dr. Lutzer: The point of these theses was to be critical of the sale of indulgences. Let’s look, for example, at number 32:

“Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers." Is that clear?

Martin Luther always loved clarity. (laughter)

Let’s look at 52:

“It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary or even the pope were to offer his soul as security.”

So what Luther does is he nails these ninety-five theses to the Castle Church door, written in Latin, intending that the intelligentsia at the university debate these.

Someone took them and translated them into German. The printing press had been invented, and pretty soon they were spread all through Germany. And what you have is all of the Germans agreeing, saying, “Ya vol.” In other words, “This is the direction we should go.”

They are very angry at the pope. They’re angry at all of the various abuses that they knew about, the simony, the sale of indulgences. And so Luther, overnight, becomes famous. He had not intended this. It’s something like somebody pulling a stone out of a mountain intending only that the stone be pulled out, and suddenly, what he did is begin an avalanche.

Pope Leo says, “Luther is a drunken German. He will think differently when he is sober.”

Well, Luther did drink, I must admit, but he never did think differently, and the pope totally underestimated Luther.

And, Nancy, what’s so interesting is this: Luther said later that if the pope had corrected some of these abuses, Luther might have been satisfied. But because the pope dug in his heels, and eventually he excommunicated Luther, because of all that happening, Luther began to look at the Bible again and again. His theology developed, and he began to see more and more things that needed changed in the church until eventually, of course, there was a breach. You have Catholic history, and you have Protestant history flowing from that event.

Nancy: Again, we come back to the importance of the authority of Scripture. As the debates unfolded in the ensuing months and years, that’s what it all came back to. What is the authority for the practices that we’re involved in? Is it the Scripture? Or is it the pope? This is what caused the avalanche.

Dr. Lutzer: Exactly. Luther entered into a number of debates. We won’t go into all of them. One was Leipzig, the other in Augsburg, and so forth. But always it came down to this: What is our source of authority? Is it the Scripture? Or is it tradition? Is tradition, alongside of Scripture, warranted? And that’s what the issue ultimately became.

Now, let’s fast forward a little bit here. Luther is actually excommunicated by the pope. The pope sends a letter of excommunication, which, if I remember correctly, takes about two months to get to Wittenberg. Remember, he didn’t send an email or text or any such thing. (laughter)

Luther knew what was in the letter of excommunication. I think it was forty-two objections to him, forty-two corrections that should be made in his theology. He took it outside of the Ulster Gate, there in Wittenberg, and burned it.

I love to take tourists to the actual spot. We know where the Ulster Gate is, and we go there. We think about the fact that it was here that Luther threw the papal bull into the fire. Students gathered around from the university, and they had fun the rest of the day.

But now we get to, really, the most critical aspect of Luther that you’ll ever want to know about. I’m going to be telling you a story that you ought to tell your children and your grandchildren. We often say to ourselves, “Well, what can we do to encourage our kids to be bold?”

Well, one thing we can do in addition to giving them the Scripture is, of course, to tell them stories of heroism. This is a story of heroism.

Nancy: In the midst of that, do you see Martin Luther always being bold and courageous and confident in his direction? How is he processing this? Does he know this is going to be so costly?

Dr. Lutzer: I would say that once Luther started down this track, he was an extraordinarily courageous man. He kept going even though he knew what the cost was. Perhaps there’s no event in his life that so illustrated that he knew what the cost was as when he went to the Diet of Worms.

Nancy: Can you spell that for us, because you said it with the German accent?

Dr. Lutzer: Right. W-o-r-m-s. It’s the Diet of Worms, which we often jokingly say is a diet that really works because if you had a diet of worms, you will lose weight. In German, a “w” is like a “v.” So, we really pronounce it the Diet of Vorms. But in English, it is spelled the Diet of Worms.

Nancy: And what does the word “diet” mean in the context?

Dr. Lutzer: It means a convention.

There’s a new emperor in Europe, and that’s Charles V. Charles V is from Spain. He’s an ardent Catholic, and he is very angry at the fact that Lutheranism is growing.

As I mentioned in a previous program, people said that 90 percent of the people were for Luther; the other 10 percent were shouting death to the pope. That’s an exaggeration. But the fact is that Lutheranism is spreading from town to town. People were reading the Ninety-five Theses. They were engaging in discussion. And this emperor, Charles V, wanted to put an end to it.

You must understand that we’re living at a time here, 500 years ago, when there was no freedom of religion. So what he wanted to do is to put Luther to death. That was one of his great goals. He didn’t, for reasons I’ll explain later, but that was what he intended. He knew that, “If I just kill Luther, I’m going to have all the Germans mad at me. I have to give him a hearing at least.”

So they haggled back and forth as to where they might meet. Luther is writing letters. Finally they agree in Worms, Germany, that, “We will meet here, and we will have this particular convention or diet, as it is called.” And Luther is called to it.

Now, Luther is very sarcastic. If you know anything about Luther, he often spoke in very earthy terms, sarcastic terms. One of the things he said is, “Oh, he wants me to recant in Worms? Well, I could do that here. Why should I go to Worms?”

He said, “This shall be my recantation at Worms: Previously I said that the pope was the vicar of Christ. I now recant. I say that the pope is the apostle of the devil and anti-Christ. That shall be my recantation at Worms.”

He said, finally, “I will go to Worms even if there are as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the rooftops.”

We’ve been to Worms a number of times, and even today it’s got houses—all of them have tiles on the roof.

So Luther goes. He’s confronted there in Worms by a man by the name of Eck. Eck says: “Are these your books?”

Luther said, “Yes.”

Eck said, “Will you recant them?”

And Luther said, “No.”

By the way, in German, the word Eck, really means corner. You can say, in effect, that he was trying to corner Luther.

He said, “Will you recant these writings?”

Luther said, “No. I have to debate the individual points because many of my books have things that even the Church agrees with.”

“No. You must recant them totally.”

Luther said, “Give me time to think about it. I need until tomorrow.”

He said, “Okay. Go ahead. Come back tomorrow, and tell us your answer.”

Nancy, may I read the prayer?

Nancy: Yes, please do. It’s a beautiful picture of what he was experiencing.

Dr. Lutzer: Oh, remember this: The intention of Charles was to kill Luther if Luther would not recant. Luther fully expected to die. Now, I haven’t told you yet the reason why he didn’t, but that was the expectation.

What does a man pray when he expects to be laid on the pavement, pulled apart, quartered, hewn in pieces the next day? It brings tears to my eyes. He said,

Oh, Almighty and Everlasting God, how terrible is this world. Behold, it opens its mouth to swallow me up, and I have so little trust in Thee. How weak is the flesh; and Satan, how strong. If it is only in the strength of this world that I must put my trust, it’s all over. My last hour is come. My condemnation has been pronounced.

Oh God, oh God, do Thou help me against all the wisdom of this world. Do this; Thou shouldst do this . . . Thou alone . . . for it is not my work, but Thine. I have nothing to do here, nothing to contend with these great ones of the world. I should desire to see my days flow on peaceful and happy. But the cause is Thine. . . .

O God, O God, hearest Thou me not? . . . Thou God, art Thou dead? . . . No. Thou canst not die. Thou only hidest Thyself. Thou hast chosen me for this work. . . . Act then O God . . . stand by my side, for the sake of Thy Well-Beloved Jesus Christ, Who is my Defense, my Shield, my strong Tower.

In the concluding paragraph, what he prays is this: “When I’m laid on the pavement, when my body is quartered, will You be there for me, O God?”

All right, that’s his prayer.

He goes there the next day. Eck says, “You must recant.”

Luther again argues, “There’s some things in these books that even the Church would agree with.”

Eck says, “No. You must recant without equivocation, without horns, without vacillation.”

And here’s his reply:

Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced 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. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

The room erupts. Here is the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V. Here are all the German princes. Here are all the Catholic theologians. And Luther says this.

He’s allowed to go back into his room for the night, and Charles debates with the electors as to what should be done. He writes what is known as the Edict of Worms. The Edict of Worms said this: I did promise him safe conduct, and he should be allowed to go back to Wittenberg.”

So unlike the previous emperor, Sigismund, who said that to Hus, “I’ll give you safe conduct,” and then reneged, Charles kept his word. But he said, “Once he’s back in Wittenberg, anyone can kill him without reprisal.”

So a delegation comes to Luther that night and says, “Look, you have to recant. Christendom is being torn apart. The seamless robe of Christendom is being shredded. If you don’t recant, we’re going to have all of these various sects that are all going to split from the Church.” And there was some truth to that charge, wasn’t there? You look at Protestantism today.

But Luther said these words. He said, “If I had a thousand heads, I would give them for the truth.”

All right. He’s on his way home. This is where it really gets exciting, if it hasn’t been up till now. He’s on his way, and he’s close to Eisenach, and men jump out of the ditch. They overpower him, and they capture him, and they hide him in the Wartburg Castle. These men were his friends.

The Elector Frederick, who was at the meeting, who defended Luther, decided that his own security detail would capture Luther so that he would not be killed and he’d be hidden in the Wartburg Castle.

So he goes into the Wartburg Castle. There’s a room in which we’ve been in many times. It’s perhaps maybe 12 x 12, maybe 12 x 20. Your kitchen is probably bigger than that room. And that’s where Luther lived for eleven months. And what he did there is absolutely unbelievable.

He suffered from depression, from gout, from the ringing of his ears. He said that his ears rung like the bells of Wittenburg. Through all that, he accomplished an incredible amount of work.

One of the things that he did is he translated the New Testament into German, in a kind of German that the Germans could read and understand, from a fresh New Testament/Greek manuscript that Erasmus had developed.

It was a good manuscript, and he’s the one that went through it and looked through all of the variations and so forth. It was given to Luther, and now he’s translating the Bible into a German that the people can understand from the original Greek. He finished it in eleven weeks.

Now, Luther was actually in there eleven months. But the rest of the time he wrestled with the devil.

I have to tell you the story. It is there that it is said that he threw an ink well at the devil. Tour guides used to rub a little bit of soot on the wall because you pay so much to go to Europe, and you have to go up all these stairs, and you want to see at least where the ink well landed. (laughter) And I know exactly where they did it. There’s an old stove there, and they put the ink well and a little bit of soot behind the stove.

But, Nancy, I don’t think that Luther threw an ink well at the devil. In his table talks, he said, “I fought the devil with ink.”

What he meant was, “I fought the devil with the translation of the Bible into German.”

Nancy: The Word of God.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes. If you’re going to fight the devil, don’t throw an ink well at him. There isn’t a devil in the world that . . . “Oh, boy, that one almost hit me!” (laughter) If you want to fight the devil, you give them the Word of God.

Nancy: Yes.

Dr. Lutzer: That’s what I think happened in that room. 

Nancy: You mentioned in your book that Luther thought that the devil’s attacks were in the area of assurance of salvation.

Dr. Lutzer: Exactly.

Nancy: Doesn’t he do that same thing to believers today?

Dr. Lutzer: Luther believed that Satan primarily tries to attack the truth of God’s Word and get us to doubt God’s promises. That was his primary work.

As far as what we call a poltergeist . . . He said that he experienced the same thing in Wittenburg. In the middle of the night the devil would be making noise behind the stove. Luther said, “When that happened, I just rolled over, and I went to sleep. I didn’t care about that.”

He said, “What Satan wants to do is to attack the mind and the Word of God.”

So there in that room, thoughts would come to him—and you can understand why. “Are you the only one that’s right? You’re standing against a thousand years of Church history. You’re standing against the pope. Who are you? A monk, able to put your conscience above the pope and above the decrees and the traditions of the Church?”

So Luther wrestled, but he had to always come back to this: The Word of God and the translation of the Bible into German was really his strength.

Nancy: I love this quote that you have from Luther. He says,

When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something new, Devil! I already knew that perfectly well. I have committed many a solid and real sin. . . . [Christ] took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ. This wonderful gift of God I’m not prepared to deny, but want to acknowledge and confess.

So the devil comes at him in his mind with doubts about the truth of God’s Word and the reliability of God’s salvation, and he comes at him and says, “You’re right. I’m not worthy of this gift.”

But he takes the devil on. He deals with the devil the same way Jesus did—with truth, with the Word of God. And that’s how his peace was able to be maintained.

Dr. Lutzer: The devil came to him, and Luther says to the devil, “My sins aren’t mine. They belong to Jesus. So go talk to Jesus about them.” (laughter)

Nancy: Right.

Dr. Lutzer: You know, Nancy, this would be a good time for us to see how the gospel played this role in Luther’s life.

There was a friend of his by the name of Spalatin. Spalatin did something wrong. He gave some bad advice, and we’ve all done that, and things turned out very badly. Spalatin couldn’t forgive himself. I was thinking a modern counselor would say this: Spalatin, lighten up. We’ve all given bad advice. Just accept it, and God will work it out somehow.

Luther didn’t downplay the sin. What he did is, he magnified grace this way: He wrote a letter to Spalatin and said, “Oh Spalatin, so you’re a great sinner? You come over to us, Spalatin, because we’re hardboiled sinners over here. You have to get used to something: Jesus didn’t die for just little, small, iniquities, childish sins. Oh no, Spalatin. Jesus died for damnable iniquities, and you have to get used to the fact that we have a great Savior for great sinners.”

Nancy: Yes. Amen.

Dr. Lutzer: Do you see how he dealt with it?

Nancy: Yes.

Dr. Lutzer: He didn’t say, “Well, it’s insignificant.” No! But we have a Savior who can cover it.

Nancy: Yes.

Dr. Lutzer: So this was, of course, his burden. Oftentimes people look at him and say, “He was medieval in his understanding of Satan.” Actually, he was very biblical. Satan does come to us.

Think for example of Ananias and Sapphira, where Satan put ideas in their mind which they thought were their own. That’s why they weren’t afraid of those ideas, namely, to lie. They thought, Well, these are our ideas. Well, actually, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” (see Acts 5:3).

What Satan wants is access to the mind. I believe that our minds are protected, but, at the same time, we can certainly allow entry of Satan in. What he wants to do is discredit God’s Word and erode our faith, and Luther understood that.

Nancy: Well, what a story, and it’s not over. We’re going to talk about how the Reformation spread as we continue in this series on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

When we come to our next session, we want to take a little bit of a parenthesis here and talk about Luther’s marriage and his family—and not only how fascinating that relationship was and their home, but also how his marriage and family impacted the culture and our marriages and families to this day. So be sure and join us for the next Revive Our Hearts.

If you want to read more about this story, we would love to send you a copy of Pastor Lutzer’s book called Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation. We’re just hitting some of the high points in this series.

But when you make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry, the teaching of the Word through Revive Our Hearts, we’d love to send you a copy of Dr. Lutzer’s book as our way of saying, “Thank you for helping us, for partnering with us in this ministry.”

Be sure and join us for Revive Our Hearts the next time when we talk about Katie Luther and the impact of her life on the reformation.

Leslie: To make a donation, you can call us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit

Tomorrow, a look at the quirky marriage of Martin and Katie Luther. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth helps you treasure the gospel. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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