When Martin Luther entered the monastery at Erfurth, a man named John Staupitz was vicar-general, the highest official, of all the Augustinian monasteries of German. He, like Luther, had struggled to find peace with God. Staupitz had found that peace through faith in Jesus, which he discovered through study of the Bible. In the Bible, Staupitz had learned that salvation is a gift from God.
Luther – the Half-Starved Monk
On a visit to the monastery at Erfurth, Staupitz took notice of Luther. At that time, Luther was a bony skeleton of a man with sunken eyes and a depressed look. Staupitz talked with him and learned of Luther’s struggle for holiness.
The wise Staupitz encouraged Luther by sharing his own struggles. He said he, too, had broken promises he’d made to God and concluded, “If God will not be merciful toward me for the love of Christ…I shall never, with the aid of all my vows and all my good works, stand before him. I must perish.”[i]
Then Staupitz offered this advice to Luther: “Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself into the Redeemer’s arms. Trust in Him – in the righteousness of His life – in the atonement of His death…God is not angry with you, it is you who are angry with God.”
A Bible of His Own
Before leaving the monastery at Erfurth, Staupitz gave Luther a gift. It was a Bible! “Let the study of the Scriptures be your favorite occupation,” he told the young monk. After this, Staupitz left the monastery at Erfurth and Luther.
Luther Grasps Hold of Salvation by Faith
Shortly after Staupitz left Erfurth, Luther became very sick and was, once again, close to death. Luther had not yet fully grasped the idea of salvation as a gift from God. He felt that God could not accept him because he was sinful. He knew that impatience, anger and envy dwelt in his heart.
An old monk visited him and had Luther repeat with him the Apostles’ creed. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” Luther repeated.
“Ah! You must believe not only in the forgiveness of David’s and Peter’s sins, for this even the devils believe. It is God’s command that we believe our own sins are forgiven us.”[ii]
That was a turning point for Luther. From then on, Luther put his trust in God for salvation, not in his own works.
[i] J. H. Merle d’Aubigne, Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.