The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 7

Author: Philip Melanchthon  | Date: 1546


On the Death of Luther*

Some by no means evil-minded persons, however, express a suspicion that Luther manifested too much asperity. I will not affirm the reverse, but only quote the language of Erasmus, "God has sent in this latter age a violent physician on account of the magnitude of the existing disorders," fulfilling by such a dispensation the divine message to Jeremiah, "Behold I have put My words in thy mouth. See I have this day set thee over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out and pull down, and to destroy and throw down, to build and to plant." Nor does God govern His church according to the counsels of men, nor choose to employ instruments like theirs to promote His purposes. But it is usual for inferior minds to dislike those of a more ardent character.

When Artstides observed the mighty affairs which Themistocles, by the impulse of a superior genius, undertook and happily accomplished, altho he congratulated the State on the advantage it possessed in such a man, he studied every means to divert his zealous mind from its pursuits. I do not deny that ardent spirits are sometimes betrayed into undue impetuosity, for no one is totally exempt from the weaknesses incident to human nature, but they often merit the praise assigned by the ancient proverb to Hercules, Cimon, and other illustrious characters, "rough, indeed, but distinguished by the best principles." So in the Christian Church the apostle Paul mentions such as "war a good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience," and who are both pleasing to God and estimable among pious men. Such a one was Luther, who, while he constantly defended the pure doctrines of Christianity, maintained a conscientious integrity of character. No vain licentiousness was ever detected in him, no seditious counsels, but, on the contrary, he often urged the most pacific measures; and never, never did he blend political articles for the augmentation of power with ecclesiastical affairs. Such wisdom and such virtue I am persuaded do not result from mere human skill or diligence, but the mind must be divinely influenced, especially when it is of the more rough, elevated, and ardent cast, like that of Luther.

What shall I say of his other virtues? Oftenhave I myself gone to him unawares and found him dissolved in tears and prayers for the Church of Christ. He devoted a certain portion of almost every day to the solemn reading of some of the Psalms of David, with which he mingled his own supplications amid sighs and tears; and he has frequently declared how indignant he felt against those who hastened over devotional exercises through sloth or the pretense of other occupations. On this account, said he, divine wisdom has prescribed some formularies of prayer, that our minds may be inflamed with devotion by reading them, to which, in his opinion, reading aloud very much conduced.

When a variety of great and important deliberations respecting public dangers have been pending, we have witnessed his prodigious vigor of mind, his fearless and unshaken courage. Faith was his sheet-anchor, and by the help of God he was resolved never to be driven from it. Such was his penetration that he perceived at once what was to be done in the most perplexing conjunctures; nor was he, as some supposed, negligent of the public good or disregardful of the wishes of others, but he was well acquainted with the interests of the State, and preeminently sagacious in discovering the capacity and dispositions of all about him. And altho he possessed such extraordinary acuteness of intellect, he read both ancient and modern ecclesiastical writings with the utmost avidity, andhistories of every kind, applying the examples they furnished to existing circumstances with remarkable dexterity. The undecaying monuments of his eloquence remain, and in my opinion he equaled any of those who have been most celebrated for their resplendent oratorical powers.

The removal of such a character from among us, of one who was endowed with the greatest intellectual capacity, well instructed and long experienced in the knowledge of Christian truth, adorned with numerous excellences and with virtues of the most heroic cast, chosen by divine Providence to reform the Church of God, and cherishing for all of us a truly paternal affection,—the removal, I say, of such a man demands and justifies our tears. We resemble orphans bereft of an excellent and faithful father; but, while it is necessary to submit to the will of Heaven, let us not permit the memory of his virtues and his good offices to perish.

He was an important instrument, in the hands of God, of public utility; let us diligently study the truth he taught, imitating in our humble situations his fear of God, his faith, the intensity of his devotions, the integrity of his ministerial character, his purity, his careful avoidance of seditious counsel, his ardent thirst of knowledge. And as we frequently meditate upon the pious examples of those illustrious guides of the Church, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Paul, whose histories are transmitted to us, so let us frequently reflect upon the doctrine and course of life which distinguished our departed friend.

* From the funeral oration, pronounced after the death of Luther, in February, 1546.

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Chicago: Philip Melanchthon, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 7 in The World’s Famous Orations, ed. William Jennings Bryan (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906), 47–50. Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: Melanchthon, Philip. The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 7, in The World’s Famous Orations, edited by William Jennings Bryan, Vol. The World#8217;s Famous Orations, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906, pp. 47–50. Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Melanchthon, P, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 7. cited in December, 1906, The World’s Famous Orations, ed. , Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.47–50. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from