Outlaws for a Season

In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.” (Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden)

King was echoing another reformer’s convictions—whose name was Martin Luther. Like King, Martin Luther ignited powerful changes within a bureaucracy that oppressed the poor and disadvantaged.

In the 1500s, the Catholic Church forbid anyone but clergy to read the Bible. Clergy alone possessed the copies of the life-changing Word of God. The Bible was written in the obscure Latin language read exclusively by intellectuals and religious leaders of their day.

Martin Luther believed that reading and understanding the God-breathed scriptures would change the culture of inequality and spiritual poverty in his nation. Luther trained his God-given skills on painstakingly translating the original Hebrew and Greek texts into a popular language familiar to common people. By 1534 he and his academic Protestants had translated the Old and New Testament into the easily-understood German language.

Luther protested—with his piercing quill and rhetoric.

Unexpectedly, Luther’s own prejudices and character flaws were enlarged as well—a consequence of his immersion in God’s Word. He realized that his intellect, talents, and obedience to ordinances could never save him. In the Bible he discovered that his only assurance of an eternal home in heaven hung upon his faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

As for being “down for the struggle” for equality, Luther, the rebel reformer, gave us his blueprint for successfully overcoming systemic disparities. He said:

“I do not hold men’s hearts and consciences in my hand, as the potter holds the clay. We have the right to speak. We have NOT the right to act. We must preach [protest]. The rest belongs to God.

“We must win men’s hearts. That is the aim and end of our preaching. By his Word [the Bible], God, in a moment, can do more than you and I and all the world, by our united strength.”

Centuries later Luther’s counsel still thunders through the words of Martin Luther King who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Luther and King, two outlaws for a season, died centuries apart, but now stand shoulder to shoulder in heaven. In life they seized upon the revolutionary principle that moves the hand of God to rescue nations and reshape the future:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” [Romans 12:21]

Quotes by Martin Luther from:

Martin Luther: Student, Monk, Reformer

By John Rae


Hodder and Stoughton

Paternoster Row, 1884)


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