One of my favorite quotes from the great reformer Martin Luther is this one:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
It’s a powerful, provocative word, and I have used it I don’t know how many times in speeches and sermons. I picked it up somewhere along the way and have found it to be very effective. Recently, I decided to include it in my forthcoming editorial for JBMW. Since my use of it is to be published, I decided to track down the original source of the saying.
One problem. I searched high and low for the original source, but I could not find it anywhere. I looked through other authors’ use of the quote, but both popular and scholarly writers provided little guidance. Most writers quote other writers’ use of the term. The few that credit an original source cite a letter published in the Weimar edition of Luther’s works [D. Martin Luther’s Werke : kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimarer Ausgabe) : [3. Band] Briefwechsel, ed. (Weimar: H. BoÌˆhlaus Nachfolger, 1933), 81-82]. Here’s a scan of the relevant text from the Weimar edition:
Here’s a rough translation:
“Also it does not help that one of you would say: ‘I will gladly confess Christ and His Word on every detail, except that I may keep silent about one or two things which my tyrants may not tolerate, such as the form of the Sacraments and the like.’ For whoever denies Christ in one detail or word has denied the same Christ in that one detail who was denied in all the details, since there is only one Christ in all His words, taken together or individually.”
As you can see, this does not match the first quotation, though the sentiments described in the former are similar to the latter. Nevertheless, many use the former quote and wrongly attribute it to this letter (e.g., George Lindbeck, Douglas John Hall).
I’m no Luther scholar, so if anyone out there can authenticate the saying I am all ears. Until then, I am going to classify this one as belonging to the apocryphal Luther.