Awakened Again by Martin Luther\'s Gospel Awakening

I'm re-reading Martin Luther's biography by Roland H. Bainton and was provoked this morning to worship and rejoicing as I read the account of Luther's own awakening to the gospel.

Luther was tormented by years of depression and anguish in the monastic system within the Catholic Church. He suffered from deep despair and anxiety, mentally and emotionally pertaining to his standing with God. He was rigorous in his approach to religious life, and yet plagued by his sense of guilt and hopelessness despite his obsessive efforts to recall and confess every sin. Here's one paragraph on the hopelessness he felt and capriciousness with which he saw God, and one on the gospel that finally was revealed and set him free:

"Is it not against all natural reason that God, out of his mere whim deserts men, hardens them, damns them, as if he delighted in sins and in such torments of the wretched for eternity, he who is said to be of such mercy and goodness? This appears iniquitous, cruel, and intolerable in God, by which very many have been offended in all ages. And who would not be? I was myself more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love? I hated him!"

But the light of God's glory and grace dawned in Luther's studies for teaching on the Psalms and Romans, and the gospel Jesus Christ shone into Luther's:

"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 "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul become to me a gate to heaven...

If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God's heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face."

Oh, that we might see God as he truly is, and with faith enter into that justification which changed the course of Luther's life and in so doing, to course of history.

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