The Just Shall Live By Faith: Luther at Rudolstadt

In the Convent Library at Erfurt is a renowned painting. It depicts Martin Luther as a young monk of 24 years of age reading a portion of Scripture in the early morning light. On the page he is reading can be seen the words, “The just shall live by faith.” Centuries before the prophet Habakkuk had penned these words and later the Apostle Paul repeated them. This painting depicts the renewal of humanity.

In the Library of Rudolstadt is a handwritten letter penned by Paul Luther, the son of Martin. In it he relates a family insight as follows, “In the year 1544, my late dearest father, in the presence of us all, narrated the whole story of his journey to Rome. He acknowledged with great joy that, in that city, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, he had come to the knowledge of the truth of the everlasting Gospel.”

Let me share a summary of that moment of enlightenment in the life of Martin Luther.

Still today in Rome you will find the Cathedral Church of St. John of Lateran. There are three parallel staircases in it. People walk up the stairs on the left and right, but the center one is considered special. On some of the steps of the center case there are coverings of plate glass through which red stains can be seen on the stairs. These steps are still climbed by anguishing would-be worshipers who stoop to kiss the glass covered stains. A late tradition says these were the stairs in Pilate’s Hall in Jerusalem, and these are the blood stains from Christ’s wounds.

As the devout young monk, Luther climbed these steps on his knees seeking thereby to gain the favor of God, the text which he had read in that early morning light came to his mind: “The just shall live by faith.” He jumped to his feet and went on his way rejoicing.

Now back to the Library of Rudolstadt and the handwritten letter by the son of Martin Luther: “Thereupon, he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the chief foundation of his doctrine.”

It is the foundation of Christianity.

When Habakkuk wrote the original script of this text the Babylonians were looting and pillaging. At issue was under those conditions what were the righteous to do. His answer: “The just shall live by faith.”

What are we to do when evildoers come to power? The just shall live by faith.

What are we to do when your prayers go unanswered? The just shall live by faith.

What are you to do when your dreams turn to ashes? The just shall live by faith.

It is to be the lifestyle of believers under all circumstances. Do you?