It’s the humanity of the Reformers that I appreciate most.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for Martin Luther’s courage. How can you not respect a man who, in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, responded to a request to recant his beliefs with these words:
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.
If you read much about Martin Luther, you realize that he was a man of courage and wit.
But I also appreciate his humanity. Yes, I’m referring to his earthiness, like when he said to Satan, “But if that is not enough for you, Devil, I have also sh*t and pissed; wipe your mouth on that and take a hearty bite.” I’m also referring to his response the first time his enemies asked him to recant. He hadn’t anticipated this exact question, and asked for more time to consider the request. I like that when he was called a disciple of the “damned and pestiferous” heretics John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, Luther was aghast and denied the charge. But then, during a break, he checked what Hus taught, and returned to admit that the charge was right after all. I like that the breakthrough Luther wanted came to him two years after he nailed the 95 Theses to the door in Wittenberg.
Luther was a man of courage, and one of the most influential figures in history. I can appreciate a man like that, but I can’t relate to him. Tell me about Luther’s hesitations, stumbles, and growth, and everything starts to change. We’ll never be like Luther — he was extraordinary, after all — but we can learn from him.
Thank God for the courage of the Reformers, and thank God for their humanity. Let’s not just admire them. Let’s learn from them too.
Footnote: I’m grateful to Mark Dever for including a Reformation story in each of his sermons this year. Pick any one of his sermons from 2017, and I think you’ll be encouraged by both the courage and the humanity of the Reformers.