While Martin Luther strengthened the churches in a variety of ways during the years after the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, he also faced many difficulties. He gave some embarrassingly bad advice to his supporter, Philip of Hesse, suggesting that Philip, who was already married, might also marry a second woman. Luther referred to the marriages of some Old Testament patriarchs and assumed that the advice he gave would be kept secret because it was given during a confessional. Luther’s request be kept secret was impossible to keep. His advice that Philip could enter a bigamous marriage was in disagreement with the biblical teaching of 1 Timothy 3:2. For Luther, the whole episode was a disaster. During these years Luther also made several unfortunate statements regarding the Jewish people and the papacy. In 1523 Luther had written that he hoped the Jews would be converted now that the Gospel was being taught clearly in the churches of the Reformation. When elector John Frederick banished all Jews from his territories in 1536 and forbade them to travel through the territories, one of Europe’s Hebrew scholars asked Luther to plead with the elector to allow Josel Rosheim, a Jewish leader of Hebrew scholars, to travel there. Luther refused. Disappointed at the Jews for not embracing the clear Gospel message, Luther regarded them as people who opposed Jesus and his saving grace. For 21st century people who have seen the Holocaust, his statements about Jewish people are reprehensible.
His attacks on the papacy were equally vicious. He spoke of Pope Paul III as being “the Antichrist.” In his tract “Against the Papacy of Rome, Founded by the Devil (1545), he depicted the pope a being instructed by the devil.
Some of Luther’s writings, even while he was contending for the Gospel, bring him no honor. For the rest of his life Luther continued to preach and teach in Wittenberg. He turned out many books, pamphlets, and letters. Luther’s house was always open to visitors, and his wife Katie and the children made the home a happy place for him, but Luther’s health began to fail. As a monk he had fasted much and slept little. As a reformer he never stopped working- preaching, teaching, and writing. Even a strong body couldn’t take such a workload indefinitely. By our standards we would call him a workaholic.
In January 1546 Luther was called to Eisleben to settle a quarrel between two noblemen. The hard, cold trip brought Luther his final illness. On his deathbed the great reformer recited Scripture passages and asked God to receive his soul. Accounts of his last words differ. In one version Luther says, “We are all beggers.” In another, Justus Jonas leans over him and asks, “Are you willing to die in the name of the Christ and the doctrine you have preached:” Luther used his last remaining strength to answer clearly, “Yes.” In the very town where he had been born over 62 years earlier, he died on the morning of February 18, 1546, surrounded by friends and two of his sons. It’s been said that his wife Katherine Von Bora died six years later when a horse pulling the wagon she was riding in was spooked and ran into a ditch and the wagon tipped over on her.
In spite of his faults, Luther was, by God’s grace, a religious genius, a man of courage, and a person devoted to the clear teaching of the Gospel. Where the Christian faith was concerned, he would not compromise. The Scripture verse that might well be applied to him is the passage: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)