Martin Luther: An Assessment
Martin Luther was one of the few who walks out on to the historical stage to briefly dominate the drama and then leaves the audience forever inspired and troubled by the echo of his words. Luther, himself, once wrote that from time to time in history, God “provides a healthy hero or a wondrous man in whose hand all things improve or at least fare better than is written in any [history] book.”1 Luther was not speaking of himself, but rather of the role of great men and women in history. In the confession he is believed to have made shortly before his death, he said of his own works, “I am fully conscious and certain that I have taught correctly from the Word of God, according to the service to which God pressed me against my will; I have taught correctly about faith, love, the cross and the sacraments.”2 The only recognition Luther yearned for was to hear the words of his master: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21a).
Luther's view of history was clearly biblical. He believed that what may appear to some as a simple cause-and-effect sequence, or to others as random events, was in fact a war between divine and satanic powers. But it is not a struggle between equal powers, as in some Eastern concept of yin and yang. From a biblical perspective, history is a conspiracy within a conspiracy: God had a plan and within it, though subject to God's sovereign control, is a conspiracy, that of Satan. Satan was first in rebellion against God, and sought to
1 Quoted in Luther's Works, vol. 34, Career of the Reformer I V,
edited by Lewis W. Spitz (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960),
2 Quoted in Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil,