On July 2, 1505, a severe thunderstorm came over the German town called Stotterheim. Save for the sounds of the raindrops and thunderclaps, the town was silent. In the distance, a rider was approaching. It was Martin Luther, returning to his university after visiting his family in Erfurt, Germany. He had shared the news that he completed his master’s degree and that he was ready to pursue a career as a lawyer. While riding on his horse, a lightning bolt struck near Luther, and the pressure created by the strike flung him off the horse. The injured and frightened Luther then cried out to the sky, “Help me, Saint Anne! I will become a monk!”
After the experience, and despite the wishes of his father, Luther sold all that he had and willed to fulfill the vow he made to become a monk. It is believed that he had one last party (full of festivity and drunkenness no doubt) with his friends, and then on July 17, 1505, Martin Luther became an Augustinian monk. He quickly became one of the most brilliant theological minds of the time and had several theological studies degrees to prove it. However, very few people knew the troubles that lingered in the heart of Martin Luther.
He was a man who resented himself and believed that he was not good enough for heaven. There were scars on his back from the nights that he whipped himself, believing he deserved to be punished for his sins. He would frequently starve himself, and he would cut his flesh from time to time, believing his blood would satisfy the Lord’s wrath. What struck me the most, however, was when Luther stated that the more he studied God in the Bible, the more He began to hate Him. Luther was a depressed, unhinged, and tortured man.
One day, it all changed when he studied Romans in 1521, and he noticed a verse in the Bible that changed his life. That verse was Romans 3:28 (GNV), “Therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith, without the works of the Law.” Luther couldn’t believe his eyes. All his anger he felt towards God, all the guilt and shame he had kept, and all the self-inflicted torture that he endured rushed through his mind. He wept, put his trust in Christ, and repented. He realized from that day on that we are not able to do anything to save ourselves, but it is only by grace, through faith, that we are saved.
Not only that, people noticed that Luther had a change of heart. He was no longer the downcast, vile, and glum man he was before. He was joyful, and yet confident. Nevertheless, he was humbled that God would ever love a person like him, believing that it could only take the grace of God to use someone like him. Luther was not the only one who came to that realization. The reformers were humbled by the fact that God would take weak men such as themselves, and use them for great things.
When I look at the lives of the reformers and read their works, I see their humble view of their place in the world. They realized that they were nothing more than the dirt on the ground they walked on and that God could’ve easily used anyone else to do what they did. All of them recognized that it was only through the love of God that they were able to find the Gospel, and it was only through his mercy that they were able to become ministers of the Gospel.
Even now, when I meet mighty men of God, they do not boast in their achievements, but rather they give all glory and honor to God. This year I finally got to meet my personal hero, Dr. Steve J. Lawson, at the G3 Conference. When I met him, I told him how his preaching had influenced my life. I told him about how many other people I knew felt the same way, and how he has affected the way I approach the pulpit and the teaching of Scripture. I still remember how my hero of the faith was humbled by the weight of what I said, and he slouched and thanked me. Later on, he gave me advice to help my ministry and even gave me a book on how to improve my preaching. A man I knew to be mighty and firm on the pulpit, was overwhelmed by what God was doing through him.
This is what amazes me: the best warriors of the Kingdom of God, are always the ones who are the most humbled by the sheer glory of God. Men who preach the gospel to thousands, men who write best-sellers, men whose names make demons shiver… think of themselves as nothing compared to the name of Jesus Christ. That is inspiring! Can you believe that people like Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, MacArthur, Lawson, Washer, and many others, see themselves as insignificant compared to the glorious Gospel they proclaim? That is the heart of the Reformation, the fact that God uses weak men to do mighty things in order that He be exalted.
I realized then that young men like me don’t love Paul Washer, Dr. Steve Lawson, or others just because of their personality. We don’t! We don’t love Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformed figures of the past because we are entertained by them. We don’t! We are inspired, encouraged, and uplifted by these men because they don’t bring any attention to themselves, but they honor the One who has enabled them to speak. God saved a weak man like Luther from the lightning bolt so that he would testify to the Gospel, and God has chosen many others to do even greater things.
In 2 Timothy 2:21 (ESV), Paul gives a charge to Timothy, and encourages his pastoral ministry, while in prison, saying, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” God prepares vessels for His glory. Not only does He prepare vessels of glory for honorable use in a saving sense (Romans 9), but also vessels for honorable use in the ministry sense. It is God who takes weak men and women, even us at The Reformed Alliance, so that we could have a part in God’s work. That… is… awesome! What greater honor can there be? The best part is that when we are honored, it is ultimately really God that is honored (Soli Deo Gloria!).
Great missionary James Hudson Taylor once said, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.” God makes us who we are, and He must receive all glory for that. Who are we compared to God’s greatness? One of my favorite worship songs is You Are the One by David Potter. In this God-honoring song, he sings these lyrics for the third verse:
My life is no more than a grain in the desert
A drop in the mightiest sea
And so I am amazed every time I remember
That God, full of splendor
Became man and died for me.
Indeed, my life is no more than a grain in the desert, or a drop in the mightiest sea. Indeed, it is truly amazing to think Christ laid down His life for my own, that I may be counted righteous. The most amazing thing about it all though, is that He not only forgives me but also recruits me to be a minister for His Kingdom. It is a great honor to serve our God, and may we have the humility that the reformers had, and may the great resounding phrase of the Reformation always live to be on our lips, and in our hearts…
Soli Deo Gloria.