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Luther's Tower Experience:
Martin Luther Discovers the True Meaning of Righteousness
An Excerpt From:
Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Works (1545)
by Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Translated by Bro. Andrew Thornton, OSB
from the
"Vorrede zu Band I der Opera Latina der Wittenberger Ausgabe. 1545"
in vol. 4 of _Luthers Werke in Auswahl_, ed. Otto Clemen, 6th ed.,
(Berlin: de Gruyter. 1967). pp. 421-428.

Translator's Note: The material between square brackets is
explanatory in nature and is not part of Luther's preface. The
terms "just, justice, justify" in the following reading are
synonymous with the terms "righteous, righteousness, make
righteous." Both sets of English words are common translations of
the Latin "justus" and related words. A similar situation exists
with the word "faith"; it is synonymous with "belief." Both words
can be used to translate Latin "fides." Thus, "We are justified by
faith" translates the same original Latin sentence as does "We are
made righteous by belief."

Meanwhile in that same year, 1519, I had begun interpreting the
Psalms once again. I felt confident that I was now more
experienced, since I had dealt in university courses with St.
Paul's Letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the Letter to
the Hebrews. I had conceived a burning desire to understand what
Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had
stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one
word which is in chapter one: "The justice of God is revealed in
it." I hated that word, "justice of God," which, by the use and
custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand
philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they
call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he
punishes sinners and the unjust.

But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a
sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn't be sure
that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no,
rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I
did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got
angry at God. I said, "Isn't it enough that we miserable sinners,
lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by
every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God
heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel
threaten us with his justice and his wrath?" This was how I was
raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered
St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know
what he meant.

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the
mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: "The justice of
God is revealed in it, as it is written: 'The just person lives by
faith.'" I began to understand that in this verse the justice of
God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that
is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the
justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive
justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by
faith, as it is written: "The just person lives by faith." All at
once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise
itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of
Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from
memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g.,
the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God,
by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he
makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the
glory of God.

I exalted this sweetest word of mine, "the justice of God," with
as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of
Paul was for me the very gate of paradise. Afterward I read
Augustine's "On the Spirit and the Letter," in which I found what
I had not dared hope for. I discovered that he too interpreted
"the justice of God" in a similar way, namely, as that with which
God clothes us when he justifies us. Although Augustine had said
it imperfectly and did not explain in detail how God imputes
justice to us, still it pleased me that he taught the justice of
God by which we are justified.


This translation was made by Bro. Andrew Thornton, OSB, for the
Saint Anselm College Humanities Program. It is distributed by
Project Wittenberg with the permission of the author.

(c)1983 by Saint Anselm Abbey. This translation may be used freely
with proper attribution. You may distribute, copy or print this
text, providing you retain the author and copyright statements.
Thank you, MyMakersDaughter. I, too, had always tended to more often than not think of God's justice in terms of punishment. Now, the words of Romans 3:21-22 fairly explode off the page at me: "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."
"The work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God,
by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he
makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the
glory of God."

Amen Michelle and SLE! As Paul stated in that same passage, "The righteousness of God is revealed (uncovered) in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is the power of God unto salvation"

The veil that prevented us from being able to stand in His Holy presence was torn down, and was replaced by Jesus Christ himself, the new and living way to righteousness! Praise God! No more priests offering sacrifices for our sins, no more striving to keep the laws God gave to Moses! God said I am giving you ONE new law by which you can gain entrance into my holiest of holies, you need only accept the blood offering of Jesus Christ. HE is the only offering God now accepts! Shall then we think turn back to the law and carry its blemished sarifices of observances like meats, days, dress, rituals, and be granted entrance thru the veil with them? NO! Only thru the blood of Jesus Christ! This is the GOOD NEWS of the gospel!

Heb 10:9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. Heb 10:10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once [for all].
Heb 10:11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
Heb 10:12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
Heb 10:13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
Heb 10:14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
Heb 10:15 [Whereof] the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
Heb 10:16 This [is] the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
Heb 10:17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
Heb 10:18 Now where remission of these [is, there is] no more offering for sin.
Heb 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
Heb 10:20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
Heb 10:21 And [having] an high priest over the house of God;
Heb 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
Heb 10:23 Let us hold fast the profession of [our] faith without wavering; (for he [is] faithful that promised;)

Paul also went on to say in Rom 10; For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
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