and the One Thing Needful
From Martin Luther's
Commentary on Galatians 4:30.
was the man who took the first steps in leading the
Reformation, proclaiming the Word of God and its doctrine of justification by
grace through faith alone. As a young man he had earned his Master of Arts at
of Erfurt, but after a series of events including the death of a close friend and
a near-death experience of his own, he decided to try to atone for his sins as
a monk of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther went to great extremes in order to
obtain forgiveness of sins by his own “good works”, going so far as to
damage his health permanently by severe physical punishment such as fasting
for many days and abstaining from sleep. Ordained to the Roman priesthood in
1507, he still found no satisfaction, seeing nothing but the depth and
darkness of his own guilt. He then discovered a Bible in a library, from which
he found his first great rays of hope through Jesus Christ, and travelling to Rome
with the light of the Word in his heart, he saw through the pagan
superstitions of the Papal system. Finally he returned to his studies at
university, this time in
where he gained a doctorate in 1512. Here, encouraged by his mentor, the
Augustinian scholar Johann von Staupitz (1470-1524), he continued earnestly to
study the Bible; and as the text from Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by
faith”, had several times come to him with power, so he began to preach this
earth-shattering doctrine to the world.
we ought not to consider so much the wicked lives of the papists, as their
abominable doctrine and hypocrisy, against which we specially fight. And they
themselves do not defend their wicked lives; but the best of them do detest
it: but they fight for the maintenance and defence of the doctrine of devils,
for hypocrisy, and for the righteousness of works. Therefore we fight not
against the manifest wickedness of the papacy, but against the greatest and
holiest saints thereof, who think they lead an angelical life, whilst they
dream that they keep not only the commandments of God, but also the counsels
of Christ, and do works of supererogation, and such as they are not bound to
do. This, we say, is to labour in vain, except they take hold of that only and
alone which Christ says is necessary, and choose the good part with Mary which
shall not be taken away.
did Bernard, a man so godly, so chaste, that he is commended and preferred
above them all. He being once grievously sick and having no hope of life, put
not his trust in his single life, nor in his good works, and deeds of charity,
whereof he had done many; but removed them far out of his sight, and receiving
the benefit of Christ by faith, he said: "I have lived wickedly, but
Thou, Lord Jesus Christ, by double right dost possess the Kingdom of heaven:
first, because Thou art the Son of God: second, because Thou hast purchased it
by Thy death. The first Thou keepest for Thyself, by thy birthright; the
second Thou givest to me, not by right of my works, but by the right of
grace." He set not against the wrath of God his monkery, nor his
angelical life: but he took hold of that one thing needful, and so was saved.
I think that many other of the fathers were saved after the same sort. And it
is not to be doubted but that in the Old Testament, many kings and other
idolaters were saved in like manner, who, at the hour of death, casting away
their vain trust in idols, took hold of the promise of God, which was made
unto the seed of Abraham, that is to say, Christ, in whom all nations should
be blessed. And if there be any of the papists which shall be saved, they must
simply lean not on their own good deeds and deserts, but on the mercy of God
offered unto us in Christ, and say with Paul: "Not having mine own
righteousness which is of the law, but that which is by faith in Christ"
(Phil. iii. 9).
on Galatians", Kregel Publications, 1979, pp. 295, 296. (Reprinted from
the edition published in London in 1850).