In the year 1517, Luther was teaching several advanced students at the university. They were preparing to write an exam that would give them a license to teach. Luther joyfully taught his students from the Bible. This was a new thing for the world. Even though people considered themselves to be Christians, they knew more about religion, the traditional ceremonies that had been invented, than about what the Bible taught about Christ and His teachings.
Luther had studied the writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle at the University of Erfurth. And he was hired to teach Aristotle when he came to Wittenberg. But as Luther studied the Word of God, he lost his taste for the words of Aristotle. Luther came to reject Aristotle’s teachings altogether. He taught his students to detest them also.
Luther contrasted the empty teachings of Aristotle with the satisfying lessons in the Bible. He did this in 99 theses which he published just months before the famous 95 Theses. The 99 theses showed that the freedom to choose what’s right comes from God. The ability to make right choices is not natural in humans because people are polluted by sin.
“Nature possesses neither a pure reason nor a good will.”[i]
“On the side of man there is nothing that goes before grace, unless it be impotency and even rebellion.”
We do not become righteous by doing what is righteous; but having become righteous, we do what is righteous.
“The law of God and the will of man are two adversaries, that without the grace of God can never be reconciled.”
In 1517, these ideas were radical. Most people accepted the church’s teaching that to be good, you just had to try very hard. Luther taught that no matter how hard you tried, you could never please God. He taught that you had to accept the free gift of God’s grace by faith in order to please God because the Bible teaches that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Dr Eck, a friend of Luther’s and a highly respected theologian, was teaching at the University of Ingolstadt. Luther wanted to talk to him about the ideas he’d written in the 99 theses, so he asked a mutual friend to take his theses to Eck. Although he Luther later lost respect for him, when he asked his friend to carry the theses to Eck, Luther referred to him as “that most learned and ingenious man.”
[i] J H Merle d’Aubigne, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.