Sunday, February 17, 2008

Luther, Romans, and South Smithfield

This morning I had the honor of preaching the opening sermon of our church's series on Romans. In 1515, the young Dr. Martin Luther started a year-long series of lectures at the University of Wittemberg, and in the process, discovered the critical truth he was seeking. He had already realized the futility of religious works for making himself acceptable in God's eyes; it was Paul's letter that showed him the true path to forgiveness:

I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven. …

Quoted in Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), p. 65.

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