Habakkuk & Luther: “The Righteous Will Live By Faith”.

In the sermon last weekend I mentioned the impact of the book of Habakkuk on Martin Luther.  Here’s a little more of that story. As a monk, Luther had become deeply aware of his sin and knew that he fell short of the standards set by God’s law. The words of Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous will live by faith” struck Luther as the key to his problem, but it was some time before he grasped that his sins were forgiven by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, apart from any works of his own. 

In Rome there are a set twenty-eight white marble steps called the Lateran staircase which, according to tradition once led to the palace of Pilate at Jerusalem and which therefore, have been made sacred by the footsteps of Jesus. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church various indulgences (a forgiveness of sin or remission of punishment granted by the church) have been offered to devout pilgrims who ascend the steps after communion and confession. Many pilgrims ascend the steps on their knees hoping to attain forgiveness of sins.  This is what Martin Luther was doing when he remembered Habakkuk 2:4!

Luther’s son wrote:

“As he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of the prophet Habakkuk came suddenly to his mind: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the chief foundation of all his doctrine… . Luther himself said of this text, ‘Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words – “The just shall live by faith!” “The just shall live by faith!” – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God.”


James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 2, Micah-Malachi (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), pp. 91-92, quoting F.W. Boreham in A Bunch of Everlastings or Texts that Made History (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1920), pp. 20, 27. 


~ by Larry Kirk on July 29, 2008.

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