Monday, November 13, 2017
DID MARTIN LUTHER HAVE A THIRD-HEAVEN EXPERIENCE?
One of Martin Luther’s first biographers, Johann Mathesius, mentions various prophecies spoken by him, which were fulfilled, and then remarks, “With many sure prophecies he confirmed his doctrine” (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 29). Indeed, many of Luther’s early followers believed him to be a prophet. Even Melanchthon at one point referred to Luther as Elijah, saying, “Thus the Holy Spirit prophesied of this third Elijah, Dr. Martin Luther” (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 29).
Luther Obviously Had Profound Spiritual Experiences
In his book, Luther and the Mystics, Professor Bengt Hoffman, of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, tells of a conversation in which Johann Cochelus asked Luther if he had received special revelations. Luther was silent for a moment, and then replied, “‘Est mihi revelatum,’ yes, he had had revelations.” According to Bengt, it seems that one of these was similar to Paul’s experience of being caught up to the third heaven (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 30).
Like Paul, Luther was not hesitant on insisting that he had received his gospel from heaven. In his book, The Babylon Captivity of the Church, he assured his readers that the truth he was presenting, “I have learned under the Spirit’s guidance.” And when the German prince, Frederick the Wise, expressed concern for his safety after his condemnation as a heretic, Luther wrote to him that he had nothing to fear, and then said, “Your Grace knows, if not, I make known to you, that I have the gospel, not from men, but from heaven through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 24-25).
He Spoke with Authority
Souer’s work in German, A History of the Christian Church, on page 406 of volume 3, describes Luther as “a prophet, evangelist, speaker in tongues and interpreter, in one person, endowed with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” And in the fourth stanza of his great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Luther wrote, “The Spirit and gifts are ours.”
Luther’s boldness does seem to stem from personal encounters with the Almighty. This writer vividly recalls his first reading of Luther's own writings and the impact it produced. As I read The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, I was amazed at the clear, concise and bold nature of his message and said to myself, "Luther is speaking with apostolic authority."
He Kept God's Word Central
However, whatever Luther’s personal experiences may have been, these were never the subject of his preaching. He lived and breathed the Scriptures and found in them the ultimate source of his confidence and courage. When, in later life, he was asked how he, a simple monk and teacher, had been able to have such an impact when opposed by both the pope and emperor, he replied,
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. The Word so weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all (Hyatt, The Charismatic Luther, 28).
You Talked Too Much About Yourself
I will never forget driving home one night from a meeting in which I had just preached. In the dark on the two-lane highway, I mused over the meeting I had just left and wondered aloud why I had a troubled sense in my spirit.
“It was a good meeting,” I told myself and the Lord. “People responded to the invitation and some were obviously touched and were weeping. Why am I feeling this way?” I then heard the voice of the Lord in my spirit, “You talked too much about yourself.”
Ah! What a revelation! Yes, my message was centered around myself and personal stories of my own spiritual experiences. In doing so, I had failed to preach God’s word. What a travesty!
There is a place for personal testimony, but personal testimonies must never take the place of the testimony of God’s word. God's power for salvation is in His gospel message, as Paul so clearly stated in Romans 1:16. They must hear His word!
Luther learned this and lived and ministered by it.