Martin Luther and Stinkering at Satan

Legend has it that the great Reformer Martin Luther once threw an ink well at the Devil who had been incessantly accusing him.[1]  Whether or not this is true, Luther certainly had remarkable fits and fights with the ancient foe who seeks to work us woe.  And often, this involved stinkering at Satan.

Luther seems to have had some hyper-sensitive perceptions of the Serpent’s actual power.[2]  He once dismissed further medical attention for a physical illness insisting it was supernaturally induced by the Evil One.[3]  He credited the Deceiver for horrible weather storms.[4]  And when a friend’s horse suddenly fell and died while hunting a hare, Luther identified the prey as a “specter of Satan”.[5]

Though perhaps at times a bit too sensational in his sense of Satan’s influence, Martin Luther reminds us of how vitally important it is to have a sober awareness of our very real Adversary’s endless pursuit to devour us like a lion (1 Peter 5:8)—and that he particularly attacks by way of works-based accusations (Revelation 12:10).[6]

Luther’s Struggle with Satan and His Warning Others

Luther correctly credited Satan for deceiving men’s eyes and reason (Revelation 12:9);[7] namely, by developing doubt in one’s own faith as insufficient to drive a Christian into despair.[8]  He pointed to those succumbing to suicide as overcome by the Devil and God’s warning to show how dangerous he is and to guard against his wiles with prayer.[9]

Luther often testifies to his own bitter attacks by the Tormenter: “Apart from the forgiveness of sins I can’t stand a bad conscience at all; the devil hounds me about a single sin until the world becomes too small for me … while God loves life, the devil hates life.”[10]

Luther blames the Devil for often interrupting our theological study.[11]  Using his two main dastardly techniques of murder and falsehood, Luther speaks of how Satan especially hates God’s church and so vigorously targets the Lord’s primary means of grace of audible preaching and visible sacraments.[12]  Thus, when concerned about some who would playfully antagonize Satan and take him too lightly, Luther warns not to invite such a powerful and experienced enemy to linger.[13]

While Luther reminds us how dangerous the Devil is, he also helpfully guides us in successful battle resistance tactics as we are so commanded in 1 Peter 5:9 and James 4:7.

Luther Encountered the Devil Directly By Declaring God’s Grace

First, Luther encourages us that though we are always vulnerable, in Christ we are at all times more than conquerors:  “Christ fights with the devil in a curious way—the devil with great numbers, cleverness, and steadfastness, and Christ with few people, with weakness, simplicity, and contempt—and yet Christ wins.”[14]

With that victory in view, Luther often resisted the devil directly by declaring God’s unconditional, sovereign grace and advised the same battle cry to embolden ourselves.  While consulting on counseling a man whose physical suffering was so fierce that he fell into anxious, debilitating gloom, Luther advised:

When the devil can bring this about, it means that imagination has produced the effect.  On this account his thoughts ought to be changed.  He ought to think about Christ.  You should say to him, ‘Christ lives. You have been baptized.  God is not a God of sadness, death, etc., but the devil is.  Christ is a God of joy, and so the Scriptures often say that we should rejoice, be glad, etc.’ … A Christian should and must be a cheerful person.  If he isn’t, the devil is tempting him.  I have sometimes been grievously tempted while bathing in my garden, and then I have sung the hymn, ‘Let us now praise Christ.’ Otherwise I would have been lost then and there … our Lord God wants to put an end to the devil’s extreme arrogance.[15]

As the devil often debates a Christian about his assurance, Luther suggests to counter that he is baptized and incorporated in Christ, has His Word, and that only the non elect are lost.[16]

When a pastor from Süptitz came to Luther complaining of apparitions and disturbances caused by Satan for over a year (so much so that his wife and children wanted to leave), Luther recommended,  “ … pray to God with your wife and children [and say], ‘Be off, Satan!  I’m lord in this house, not you.  By divine authority I’m head of this household, and I have a call from heaven to be pastor of this church.  I have testimony from heaven and earth, and this is what I rely on.  You enter this house as a thief and robber.’ … you should sing him his litany and his legend …”[17]

Similarly, when a doctor came to him troubled and depressed, lamenting, The devil is a master at taking hold of us where it hurts most,” Luther replied, Yes … He is quite agile … He can make the oddest syllogisms: You have sinned.  God is angry with sinners.  Therefore despair!’  Accordingly we must proceed from the law to the gospel and grasp the article concerning the forgiveness of sins.”[18]  And this we especially do with prayer.

Luther Defended Against the Devil by Praying to God for Intervention

While Luther often encouraged counter attacks, he also knew that the best offense is a good defense: “In a conflict with the devil … one must pray constantly, ‘Father, help’, etc.  Nobody should fight with the devil unless he first prays, ‘Our Father.’”[19]

Yet we should recognize the “our” in the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, for, “No man should be alone when he opposes Satan.  The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another.  If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will.”[20]  Further, “ … when the devil gets me off the track he tempts me more than I can say … when the devil comes, he is the lord of the world and confronts me with strong objections … when these knaves, the spirits of iniquity, come, the church must join in the fight …Let us therefore fight here against Satan.”[21]  And this must be so, because, “The devil can’t have any other intention than to destroy us because he’s the foe of Christ … Satan is opposed to the church … The best thing we can do, therefore, is to put our fists together and pray.”[22]

While coaching Christians to use one’s fists figuratively united together in prayer, Luther also surprisingly and on quite a number of occasions also recommends the literal, and dare we suggest—private, use of one’s derrière.  Perhaps such a tactic is intended as a last resort but also as a gas retort of decisive resolve.

Finally, Luther Often Fought Lucifer with Flatulence

At times, Luther personally relied on his own breaking wind to push the Devil to pass on: “Almost every night when I wake up the devil is there and wants to dispute with me.  I have come to this conclusion: When the argument that the Christian is without the law and above the law doesn’t help, I instantly chase him away with a  fart.”[23]

Not unrelated, but to add insult to the Adversary’s injury, with his posterior Luther postured:

… the devil looks for me when I am at home in bed, and one or two devils constantly lie in wait for me.  They are clever devils.  If they can’t get anywhere in my heart, they grab my head and torment me there, and when that becomes useless, I’ll turn my behind upon them.  That’s where they belong.[24]

It’s the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel.  If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside. Even if I sinned I would say, ‘Should I deny the gospel on this account?’[25]

It would seem that Luther’s personal remedy and recommendation may have been passed on to him by a female parishioner.  Continuing to advise the pastor from Süptitz mentioned above, Lauterbach records, “Then [Luther] told a story about a woman in Magdeburg who, when Satan disturbed her, drove him away by breaking wind.”  However, Luther does caution against arrogant flatulence:  “‘This  example is not always to be followed and is dangerous,’ Luther said, ‘because Satan, who is the spirit and author of presumption, is not easily mocked and put to flight.  Reliance on such an example can prove that it’s not at all appropriate for somebody else.’”[26]

Though Luther warned against the careless use of farting in the Devil’s general direction, yet he often speaks of experiencing relief in so doing himself:

… I am of a different mind ten times in the course of a day.  But I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away.  When he tempts me with silly sins, I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too.  Have you written it down on your list?’  When I say to him, ‘You have been put to shame,’ he believes it … Thus I remind myself of the forgiveness of sin and of Christ and I remind Satan of the abomination of the pope.”[27]

Christian, remember that the Devil who speaks against your conscience has no audience with God.  Don't give him an audience with you.  Every time the Devil slanders your soul with thoughts of losing your salvation, fart at the Father of lies! Break wind at the blowhard!  Send gas at the Serpent!  In your private moments, it is a sanctified (perhaps figurative) toot when you Stinker at Satan![28]

 

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.



[1] Cursory research on the veracity of this story suggests such is not certain, and what can be seen on the wall of Luther’s residence where it supposedly happened as evidence to this day could possibly be due to some fabricated refurbishing by generations of curators.

[2] Though this was not unusual in medieval times.

[3] Luther’s Works, ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert, vol. 54, Table Talk (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967) , 24.

[4] Ibid, 82.

[5] Ibid, 313.

[6] The author recalls a skit he watched during a Campus Crusade for Christ event in Buffalo, N.Y., while in college where the student acting as “Satan” masqueraded through various human gatherings and was glad to learn no one believed he existed; this was much to his liking to allow him to be most stealthily devastating.

[7] Luther’s Works: Table Talk, 82.  “ … such is the power of Satan to delude mans outward senses.  What must he do to their souls?” 241.

[8] Ibid, 453.

[9] Ibid, 29.  He based his argument that those who have committed suicide should not be considered certainly damned on this consideration.

[10] Ibid, 34.

[11] Ibid, 50.  He also notes that God uses the Devil in this case to teach us the value of diligently showing ourselves approved and that some need to be taught by Satan in this sense.

[12] Ibid, 318.

[13] Ibid, 313.

[14] Ibid, 379.

[15] Ibid, 96.

[16] Ibid, 86.

[17] Ibid, 279-280.

[18] Ibid, 275.

[19] Ibid, 105.

[20] Ibid, 78.

[21] Ibid, 93.

[22] Ibid, 94.

[23] Ibid, 78.

[24] Ibid, 83.

[25] Ibid, 83, 106.

[26] Ibid, 280.

[27] Ibid, 16.

[28] For a lecture on Revelation 12:7-12 on this title, see https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=71813010377

 

Grant Van Leuven

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