A Treasure Above All Treasures: Martin Luther On Dying Well -- By: Matthew D. Haste
SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017) p. 103
A Treasure Above All Treasures: Martin Luther On Dying Well
Matthew D. Haste is Associate Professor of Ministry Studies at the Columbia Biblical Seminary of Columbia International University and the Pastor of Preaching at Midlands Church in Columbia, South Carolina. He is the co-author (with Robert L. Plummer) of Held in Honor: Wisdom for your Marriage from Voices of the Past (Christian Focus, 2015) and the co-author (with Shane W. Parker) of a forthcoming book on Puritans in pastoral ministry.
In the early morning hours of February 18, 1546, Martin Luther (1483-1546) lay dying in the town where he was born, miles away from his beloved family. His room at the Eisleben inn was crowded with witnesses hastily gathered by his friend and associate Justus Jonas (1493-1555). Anxious questions filled their heads: Would the great terrorizer of Rome finally recant or would he willfully die outside of the Church? Would he hold fast to his Evangelical confession or would he call for a priest to administer extreme unction? Would he demonstrate peace with God by remaining calm and fearless in the face of death; or would the Devil himself snatch the old Doctor from this life without warning? Every minute of his final hours was faithfully recorded for posterity; every statement dutifully confirmed by the witnesses.1 The future of the Reformation itself seemed to hang in the balance. As twentieth-century biographer Heiko A. Oberman explains, “The deathbed in the Eisleben inn had become a stage; and straining their ears to catch Luther’s last words were enemies as well as friends.”2
What they eventually heard has echoed down through the centuries. Two days prior to his death, Luther produced his last written statement, which
SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017) p. 104
ended in the famous line: “We are beggars: this is true.”3 In his final moments, he offered himself to God, reciting the words of Psalm 31:5 in a three-fold repetition: “Into thine hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.”4 Then, as he closed his eyes for the final time and grew quiet, Jonas and his colleague Michael Coelius (1492-1559) leaned in to ask one final question, “Reverend Father, do you wish to die, standing up for Christ and for the Teaching that you have preached?” Without reservation, Luther uttered one final confession of faith, “Yes.”5
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