Posted by: rcottrill | October 31, 2010

Today in 1517 – Luther’s 95 Theses Posted

So many in North America recognize this day as Hallowe’en. Costumes and candy have become big money-makers in the retail trade. But the emphasis, more and more, seems to be on gruesome death and the occult. As a result, many Christians have either restricted their children’s involvement or have forbidden it altogether.

Graphic Wittenberg Church Doors (bronze)But there is another event, largely unrecognized, for which this day should be remembered. On this day, nearly five centuries ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses (subjects for debate) on the door of Wittenberg Church. (Church doors in those days served as community bulletin boards.) The wooden doors from Luther’s time are gone. They have been replaced by the bronze doors, pictured here, which have been engraved with the text of Luther’s theses.

Martin Luther wanted to debate the abuses and false doctrines of the church of his day. And though he originally hoped to bring about reform in the Church of Rome, he was eventually forced to break with it. There were scattered reformers before this (such as Wyclif and Hus), but the day is usually recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

The changes that followed affected our hymnody profoundly. Not only did Luther himself write hymns. He encouraged congregational singing, which had been abandoned by the Church of Rome for a thousand years. Further, his emphasis on the authority of the Scriptures, and salvation by God’s grace, through personal faith in Christ, laid the foundation for the Golden Age of Hymnody, the two centuries between 1700 and 1900.

(2) Today in 1875 – Lawrence Tuttiet Born
English hymn writer Lawrence Tuttiet was the son of a surgeon in the British Navy. He trained to be a physician himself, but abandoned this goal to become a clergyman in the Church of England. He also wrote many hymn texts. Among them is his fine New Year’s hymn, Father, Let Me Dedicate, written, he said, to remedy a lack of good hymns for that occasion. (For the full hymn and the tune, see the Cyber Hymnal.)

Father, let me dedicate, all this year to Thee,
In whatever worldly state Thou wilt have me be:
Not from sorrow, pain or care, freedom dare I claim;
This alone shall be my prayer, glorify Thy name.

Can a child presume to choose where or how to live?
Can a Father’s love refuse all the best to give?
More Thou givest every day than the best can claim
Nor withholdest aught that may glorify Thy name.

(3) Today in 1907 – Daniel Roberts Died
Daniel Crane Roberts served as a private in the American Civil War. Later, he became an American clergyman, and also president of the New Hampshire State Historical Society. Only one hymn is credited to him, God of Our Fathers, a strong national hymn written for the July 4th celebration in 1876. Any nation would do well to espouse the prayer of the second stanza below that God would be “our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,” and that our lives would be directed according to His Word and in His paths. (For a bit more detail on the hymn, see Today in 1828.)

God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendour through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.


  1. Hi, Robert,

    Martin Luther has always been for me a troubling figure. His nailing of the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral is, of course, a marked turning point in Church history. And his famous declaration before the Holy Roman Emperor “Here I stand. I can do no other.” inspired many a Christian taking a stand for the truth. On the other hand, Luther insisted on salvation sola fide, not sola gratia. It was left to later theologians and reformers to correct that position, but Luther, in the meantime, deliberately mistranslated crucial passages of the NT to support sola fide. Finally, Luther’s polemics against Jews and his siding with the German nobles against the peasants in their very legitimate grievances against the nobility have to rate among the most shameful episodes of Church history.

    Yes, I am grateful to God for the good that He brought about through, or as the result of, Luther’s reformation. On the other hand, Luther is, or should be, a troubling figure in Church history to any thoughtful Christian.

    What do you think?

    • Yes, I agree. Temperamental, and sometimes crude. A flawed hero, with feet of clay. But, a true genius, nonetheless. I think we have to consider him in the context of his time, one who took a giant leap that (perhaps) few of us would have dared. That he did not go far enough in some areas–or too far in others, does not diminish his accomplishments. I look forward to getting to know him.

  2. It is important to remember what is and isn’t accepted as a confession among Luther’s writings.

    The Small and Large Catechism, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope are the only writings that are officially Confessions of the Lutheran Church.

    Luther spoke harshly about anyone who disagreed with him. In Bondage of the Will he tells Erasmus, “You swill Epicurius by the gallon!” He felt that the Jew and Turk would convert once they heard the pure Gospel. When they didn’t, he said crude and harsh things about them. Just because Luther said it, that does not make it part of our confession. And Luther freely admitted to being a sinner. And a saint. At the same time.

    The three “Solas” of Lutheranism are Sola Fide, Sola Gratia and Sola Scriptura. Faith Alone, Grace Alone, and Scripture Alone.

    Grace Alone was accepted during Luther’s life as evidenced by the first hymnal, “Etlich Christlich lider” aka “Achtliederbuch” or “Book of Eight Songs” in 1524. Four of the eight songs were by Luther.

    Among those hymns was this text by Paul Speratus, a friend of Luther, following the pattern of Ephesians 2:8-9:

    Salvation unto us has come
    By God’s free grace and favor;
    Good works cannot avert our doom,
    They help and save us never.
    Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
    Who did for all the world atone;
    He is our one Redeemer.

    • Thanks for the good comments about Luther. It’s important not to make plaster saints of the heroes of the faith. They were human beings with the same weaknesses and temptations we all have to deal with. Yet, by the grace of God, they accomplished amazing things.

      As to your second note, our church choir did its share of Peterson cantatas as well. And sometimes we’d invite another church choir to come and share their cantata with us. I can still recall a great black singer named Marion Newby (also a family friend) singing in one of the Christmas cantatas, “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted.”

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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