Martin Luther Quotes by Date

Portrait of Martin Luther

The reason for listing quotes by date is that Luther changed much over time.

Martin Luther was a fully committed Roman Catholic from the time he entered the monastery in 1505 at the age of 21 until he posted the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral in 1517, shortly before his 34th birthday.

Between 1517 and 1525 most of the major events of the Reformation occurred. Beginning with the Peasants War in 1525, his already vitriolic speech became occasionally completely unjustifiable. Personally, I wonder whether the intense stress of the Reformation combined with his many illnesses drove him to a less than mentally stable state.


1520

The priest is not made. He must be born a priest; must inherit his office. I refer to the new birth—the birth of water and the Spirit. Thus all Christians must became priests, children of God and co-heirs with Christ the Most High Priest. … The Christian priesthood costs life, property, honor, friends and all worldly things. It cost Christ the same on the holy cross. (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. IV, "First Sunday after Epiphany," p. 9)

As I have frequently stated, the suffering and work of Christ is to be viewed in two lights: First, as grace bestowed on us, as a blessing conferred, requiring the exercise of faith on our part and our acceptance of the salvation offered. Second, we are to regard it as an example for us to follow; we are to offer up ourselves for our neighbors' benefit and for the honor of God. This offering is the exercise of our love—distributing our works for the benefit of our neighbors. He who does so is a Christian. He becomes one with Christ, and the offering of his body is identical with the offering of Christ's body. (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. IV, "First Sunday after Epiphany," p. 9)

The offering of [the body] is called a spiritual sacrifice because it is freely sacrificed through the Spirit, the Christian being uninfluenced by the constrainst of the Low or the fear of hell. (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. IV, "First Sunday after Epiphany," p. 10)

1521

It matters not a whit that this King is despised. I will nonetheless treasure him like a precious jewel, for the Scripture states, "Blessed are they whosoever shall not be offended in me," and "whoever endures to the end shall be saved." If we reject him now, we are left with as little excuse as the Jews. So, let us not say, If our prince accepts the gospel, then we will too. (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. V, p. 36)

[The Lord] cautions his Christians against becoming secure, so that the day of his coming might not come upon them unawares. … We must not become like those secure and ungodly people who crowd their hearts with surfeiting [excess] and concerns about earning a livelihood. … When they are at their securest … they will suddenly be laid low and burn with a fire that will never be extinguished. (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. V, p. 38, brackets mine)

That's the way things will be, says Christ, when Judgment Day nears. The whole world will act secure. Don't let this disturb you. Christ admonishes, do not follow them; do not do what they are doing; cling to me. Nor be afraid; keep your head high, and see to it that, when I come down from heaven, I shall be able to find you! … But those who overload their hearts and show no concern for Judgment Day will find that death has suddenly overtaken them. The fellow who frolics and dances merrily with his wench, will then suddenly find himself flat on his face, and, while his next-door neighbor counts his shekels of silver and gold, he will suddenly be knocked down with his money bags and all. …

   For this reason Christ says to his disciples and Christians, Be on your guard so that I do not find you in this rowdy crowd. When they say, Nothing to worry about, at that very moment they will be lying flat on their faces. (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. V, p. 40-41)

1528

This faith alone, when based upon the sure promises of God, must save us; as our text clearly explains. And in the light of it all, they must become fools who have taught us other ways to become godly. ... Man may forever do as he will, he can never enter heaven unless God takes the first step with his Word, which offers him divine grace and enlightens his heart so as to get upon the right way. (On Faith and Coming to Christ)

He must surely perish whom the Father does not draw. (On Faith and Coming to Christ)

Should one imagine he is able to do anything good of his own strength he does no less than make Christ the Lord a liar. (On Faith and Coming to Christ)

First he instructs us that our entire lives and characters, however beautiful and holy they may be, are before him as nothing, yea, are as abomination, and displeasing; this is called a preaching of the Law. Then he offers us grace; that is, he tells us that he will not utterly condemn and reject us, but will receive us in his beloved Son, and not merely receive us, but make us heirs of his kingdom, lords over all that is in heaven and upon earth. This is called preaching grace or preaching the Gospel. (On Faith and Coming to Christ)

[commenting on John 6:44-55] The partaking of this bread is nothing but faith in Christ our Lord ... these words are not to be misconstrued and made to refer to the Sacrament of the Altar; whoever so interprets them does violence to this Gospel text. ... Why should Christ here have in mind that Sacrament when it was not yet instituted? (On Faith and Coming to Christ)

1530

God will avenge and severely punish the haughty rebellion of all who misuse the gospel, rich or poor. Would to God, that the punishment could be cold be delayed for a while by our prayers! … Rebellion is so great and widespread that God will have to put a stop to it. No amount of warning or admonition, pleading or begging, no amount of threats or punishments by either spiritual or secular authority will do any good; God himself will have to step in with avenging judgment to punish and put an end to such wickedness. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity," par. 31)

These things God has given us in rich measure through Jesus Christ our Lord, and they have already been proclaimed and confirmed by the blood and anguish of many godly people, who have been put to death by your party. Not that we are perfect, or that we have yet attained all things! But we have the right "rule," as St. Paul calls it, the right way, the right beginning; nay, so far as doctrine is concerned, we have no lack at all, no matter how it is with life. (An Exhortation to All the Clergy Assembled at the Diet of Augsburg)

My teaching was then [i.e., during the Diet of Worms] in full course, and had given rise to no revolt and was not tending that way, but was teaching the people to keep the peace and obey their rulers. (An Exhortation to All the Clergy Assembled at the Diet of Augsburg)

1531

As a result we have this paradoxical situation: The Gospel supplies the world with the salvation of Jesus Christ, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Just for that the world abhors the Gospel. (Commentary on Galatians)

Every minister should make much of his calling and impress upon others the fact that he has been delegated by God to preach the Gospel. As the ambassador of a government is honored for his office and not for his private person, so the minister of Christ should exalt his office in order to gain authority among men. This is not vain glory, but needful glorying. … Paul exalts his ministry out of the desire to make known the name, the grace, and the mercy of God. …

   We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride. (Commentary on Galatians)

When Paul speaks of those called "by men," I take it he means those whom neither God nor man sent, but who go wherever they like and speak for themselves. When Paul speaks of those called "by man" I take it he means those who have a divine call extended to them through other persons. God calls in two ways. Either He calls ministers through the agency of men, or He calls them directly as He called the prophets and apostles. Paul declares that the false apostles were called or sent neither by men, nor by man. (Commentary on Galatians)

Elsewhere Paul draws a sharp distinction between an apostleship and lesser functions, as in I Corinthians 12:28: "And God hath set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers." He mentions the apostles first because they were appointed directly by God. (Commentary on Galatians)

On the other hand, those who have a divine call must suffer a good deal of opposition in order that they may become fortified against the running attacks of the devil and the world. This is our comfort in the ministry, that ours is a divine office to which we have been divinely called. Reversely, what an awful thing it must be for the conscience if one is not properly called. It spoils one's best work. (Commentary on Galatians)

In this whole epistle Paul treats of the resurrection of Christ. By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil. And this His victory He donated unto us. (Commentary on Galatians)

Christ, whom God the Father has raised from the dead is our righteousness and our victory. (Commentary on Galatians)

Martin Luther and the Anabaptists

The quote to the left about the Anabaptists is strange because inaccurate. From the beginning the Anabaptists gave their lives for the Gospel. Perhaps Luther is referring primarily to the rogue Anabaptists led by Thomas Münzer, an archenemy of everyone. Perhaps he only knew of Anabaptists in Saxony. Whatever, the case, the description of the Anabaptists here is a very false one.

On the other hand, to this day Anabaptist descendants claim that Martin Luther put Anabaptists to death, something I can find no indication of, though Lutheran churches or princes may well have done so.

The Anabaptists in our time imitate the false apostles. They do not go where the enemies of the Gospel predominate. They go where the Christians are. Why do they not invade the Catholic provinces and preach their doctrine to godless princes, bishops, and doctors, as we have done by the help of God? These soft martyrs take no chances. They go where the Gospel has a hold, so that they may not endanger their lives. The false apostles would not go to Jerusalem of Caiaphas, or to the Rome of the Emperor, or to any other place where no man had preached before as Paul and the other apostles did. But they came to the churches of Galatia, knowing that where men profess the name of Christ they may feel secure. (Commentary on Galatians)

It is the lot of God's ministers not only to suffer opposition at the hand of a wicked world, but also to see the patient indoctrination of many years quickly undone by such religious fanatics. This hurts more than the persecution of tyrants. We are treated shabbily on the outside by tyrants, on the inside by those whom we have restored to the liberty of the Gospel, and also by false brethren. But this is our comfort and our glory, that being called of God we have the promise of everlasting life. (Commentary on Galatians)

Jerome raises the question why Paul called them churches that were no churches, inasmuch as the Galatians had forsaken the grace of Christ for the law of Moses. The proper answer is: Although the Galatians had fallen away from the doctrine of Paul, baptism, the Gospel, and the name of Christ continued among them. Not all the Galatians had become perverted. There were some who clung to the right view of the Word and the Sacraments. These means cannot be contaminated. They remain divine regardless of men's opinion. Wherever the means of grace are found, there is the Holy Church, even though Antichrist reigns there. (Commentary on Galatians)

The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart. (Commentary on Galatians)

The greeting of the Apostle is Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience  torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. (Commentary on Galatians)

Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God. (Commentary on Galatians)

The world advances free will, the rational and natural approach of good works, as the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. But it is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world. (Commentary on Galatians)

1532

For this is solely the gift and wisdom belonging to us who are Christians, that we are able to say that no greater wisdom, no more sublime truth, has appeared in the world than that God, who created heaven and earth, was born of a virgin … Indeed, it is ridiculous to human reason; but we celebrate this festival in order to become firmly persuaded of it and entertain no doubts about it. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "Festival of Christ's Nativity," par. 2)

This feast is also called the Feast of Our Ladies. The pope first instituted this festival some time ago against the Turkish threat … that just as the Virgin Mary went into the hill country and over the mountains [to Elizabeth's house], so we are to call upon her to trample down the Turks with the same feet. But the longer people celebrated this feast and called upon the Virgin Mary, the more the Turk trampled on us. Therefore, this cannot be the reason why we would want to observe this feast. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "The Day of Mary's Visitation," par. 1)

The purpose of the pope's celebration is to invoke Mary; but our purpose is to praise and thank God, in accordance with the example of the beloved Virgin, so that we celebrate just as she did. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "The Day of Mary's Visitation," par. 2)

The first of these is humility. The young Virgin Mary, although she is highly honored (for she is the mother of God, and Elisabeth ought really be serving her!), nevertheless, heeds God's teaching to honor older people. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "The Day of Mary's Visitation," par. 4, parentheses in original)

We miserable wretches, when we commend something, we do it with the mouth only; the body and the soul feel nothing of it; the Magnificat [Mary's proclamation that she magnifies the Lord] cleaves to us merely like phlegm to our tongue. Were it dollars, gulden [European coins of that time], or beautiful houses, beautiful clothes, then we, too, would wax eloquent with a Magnificat; but when it's for God, the fervor is small. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "The Day of Mary's Visitation," par. 27)

If we were not so stone blind, we would continuously leap for joy because God has given us not only body and soul, but his only begotten Son, and through him, eternal life. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "The Day of Mary's Visitation," par. 28)

Mary sets high her focus, and yet is humble, so humble, that she, a great doctor and prophetess, who is more learned than all apostles and prophets, becomes governess and handmaiden for Elisabeth. And we scoundrels, as soon as we can speak one Greek word, don't know where we belong, because of our arrogance. We ought to be thrown out, one after the other, with hue and cry, because of our shameful arrogance in chasing after trivial things. (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. VII, "The Day of Mary's Visitation," par. 29)

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