On February 18, 1546 Martin Luther lived his last hours. Although he’d been struggling with old age and ill health for a while, Luther spent the end of 1545 trying to resolve an inheritance dispute in the town of Eisleben. On January 17, 1546 he preached his final sermon in Wittenberg, and then he traveled back to Eisleben with his three sons to continue working on that conflict. I find it striking that for a person with a reputation for controversy and polemics, he spent his last days working toward harmony and reconciliation.
Arriving in Eisleben, though still in ill heath, Luther preached four more sermons – his last.
Continuing a life-long tendency to downplay his own importance, two days before his death, Luther said,
If I make it home to Wittenberg, I will lay myself in my coffin to let maggots feast on the stout Doctor.
The words that are famously known as Luther’s last were probably penned on February 16. These would apparently be Luther’s last written statements.
Virgil’s shepherd poems cannot be understood, except by one who has been a shepherd for five years. Virgil’s poetry about agriculture cannot be understood, except by one who has been a farmhand for five years. Cicero’s letters cannot be understood, except by one who has participated and lived within a large community for 25 years. The Holy Scriptures do not have a satisfactory taste for me or anyone else, unless he has spent 100 years ruling a community as the prophets Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the Apostles.
We are beggars. This is true.
On his final evening, Luther ate dinner with family and friends, spent time in prayer as usual, and went to bed. Waking up in pain shortly after midnight, Luther apparently recognized that the end was near. According to witnesses, he spent his last hour in pain but with friends and doctors nearby, praying and reciting scripture.
Just before his death, Michael Coelius asked him if he was dying in the name of Christ. And Luther answered with a simple, “Yes.”
Then, he died.
A complex and complicated man, Luther left an incredible legacy. And he died a faithful death.