My good friend Bryan Barrett recently put me on to a story I had never read: the Tower of the Black Cloister. In this tower, the history of the world turned a profound corner.
Most people view the Reformation as a theological phenomenon, and certainly it was that. But the Reformation had many effects beyond the theological. Prior to the Reformation, the world was uniformly poor. Western nations were divided socially (upper class vs. working class) and spiritually (church workers vs. secular workers). The Reformation had a leveling effect: millions were lifted out of poverty, a new middle class was created. In addition, a vision for universal education was born, as was a determination to give the common man access to the Scriptures in the vernacular.
The Reformation did not begin when a German monk nailed 95 theses (protesting unbiblical church practices such as the selling of indulgences) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Rather, it began with the rebirth of the monk himself: Martin Luther. His personal transformation led to the cultural transformation of Europe and the western world. That Reformation fire was born in Luther’s heart in his study in the Tower of the Black Cloister of the Augustinian Monastery in Wittenberg.
As he read Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther’s eyes were opened to the meaning of “the righteousness of God.” God’s righteousness had always brought terror to his heart. Luther knew himself to be a sinner under the judgment of a righteous God. Then he read Romans 1:17:
“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (emphasis added)
Paired with that was what he read in Romans 3:21-24:
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (emphasis added)
The words leaped off the page to Luther’s heart. The power brought the collapse of a mental stronghold–salvation by works—and replaced it with the truth of salvation by faith. Luther came to understand that salvation by the works of the law brings bondage. But salvation by grace through the finished work of Christ leads to freedom. That freedom, beginning in the heart, brought release and transformation to nation after nation.
Indeed, God can use one life to alter the course of history. Read in Luther’s own words, the story of the change that God brought in his life in his study in the Black Cloister of the Monastery in Wittenberg.
- Darrow Miller