Martin Luther (5) A Despairing Monk

Martin Luther was on the verge of despair. The Catholic Church said, “Do this, do that, and that, and then you will be saved.” Luther did it all, and more, but still he was not sure he was saved. He was a sinner and God was holy. Despite the teachings of the church, he knew in his heart there was nothing that he, a sinner, could do to be saved.

He began his quest for salvation as a strict Augustinian monk in Erfurt, Germany, tried to find peace on a trip to Rome, and now was transferred to the small German town of Wittenberg.

Staupitz, an older and wiser priest who was stationed in Wittenberg, tried to help the young, intelligent but struggling monk. Luther was trying so hard to be saved. Perhaps too hard. Staupitz told him to quit trying and just rest in God. This was closer to the truth, yet Staupitz’s advice was mystical and still left Luther with questions. How could he rest if God had no reason to save him? God might save him, and God might not. What comfort was that? Luther despaired even more.

Finally Staupitz told Luther he ought to be a preacher and become the professor of Bible at the university in Wittenberg. This was in fact Staupitz’s own position he was offering to Luther.

A despairing monk become a professor of Bible? Luther thought not. The work would kill him! If it kills you, replied Staupitz— “Quite all right. God has plenty of work for clever men to do in heaven.”

Luther took the position.

Did Staupitz know the Bible contained the answers to Luther’s problems? Did Luther know? Maybe not. In those days men thought the popes and the Catholic Church had all the answers. Scripture was only secondary. Luther likely never saw a complete Bible until he was twenty years old. But God knew where the answers were. God was leading Luther to the only place they could be found.

Luther worked hard at his studies. He presented his first lectures in 1513 from the book of Psalms. The Psalms—with all their passion that matched the longing and suffering of his own soul. The Psalms—with all their depths into doctrines he so desperately needed. His eyes were being opened. And soon—very soon—God would show him the answer that he sought.