I always enjoy looking up Luther quotes. I was unaware as to the extent Jehovah's Witness apologists and Seventh Day Adventists quote Luther. I guess it makes sense- both groups place a strong emphasis on eschatology, and it's no secret that Luther was convinced his generation was the last. That they would use Luther makes perfect sense.
A friend from CARM posted this Luther quote for me- being used by a Jehovah's Witness:
Martin Luther - 1483 to 1546- "For my part, I am sure that the day of judgment is just around the corner. It doesn't matter that we don't know the precise day ... perhaps someone else can figure it out. But it is certain that time is not at an end." (Reformation Principles and Practice: Essays in Honor of Arthur Geoffrey Dickens, page 169)"
In the version above, the word "not" is supposed to be "now", so it should read, "For my part, I am sure that the day of judgment is just around the corner. It doesn't matter that we don't know the precise day ... perhaps someone else can figure it out. But it is certain that time is now at an end."
I also have Reformation Principles and Practice: Essays in Honor of Arthur Geoffrey Dickens, page 169. The essay the quote is taken from has little to do with Luther, but actually describes the books in a 16th Century Lutheran minster's library. The quote reads, " 'For my part,' Luther concluded, 'I am sure that the Day of Judgment is just around the corner. It doesn't matter that we don't know the precise day'; and characteristically he adds, 'perhaps someone else can figure it out. But certain it is that time is now at an end." The essay really has nothing to do with Luther's eschatology. It's amazing that this obscure book is cited, rather than the easily found comments from Luther Works on the end times. Then again, I've always been told Jehovah's Witnesses only read Watchtower material, so how a JW was able to track down this obscure text is even more amazing.
The Luther quote comes from the 1541 "extensive antipapistic commentary on Daniel 12" (description by the LW editors), and to my knowledge, is not translated in English. The LW 35 preface to Daniel only includes the version from 1530. So, not only did a Jehovah's Witness cite Luther from an obscure secondary source, the primary source isn't even in English.
Here are some other versions:
"Luther (quoted by Seiss, Last Times, p. 255) on Daniel 12 :7 says : " I ever keep it before me, and I am satisfied that the last day must be before the door ; for the signs predicted by Christ and the Apostles Peter and Paul have all now been fulfilled, the trees put forth, the Scriptures are green and flourishing. That we cannot know the day matters not; someone else may point it out ; things are certainly near their end." [The Theocratic Kingdom of our Lord Jesus, The Christ]
"Luther believed and taught that this consummation was to be expected every day. On Daniel xii. 7, he says, " I ever keep it before me, and I am satisfied, that the last day must be before the door; for the signs predicted by Christ and the apostles Peter and Paul have all now been fulfilled, the trees put forth, the Scriptures are green and blooming. That we cannot know the day, matters not ; some one else may point it out; things are certainly near their end." [The Last Times and the Great Consummation: An Earnest Discussion of Momentous Themes By Joseph Augustus Seiss Published by Smith, English, 1863]
In another blog entry, I'll discuss how the Jehovah's Witnesses use this quote and others. The argumentation they put forth is rather clever.
Here's another bit of Luther information used by the Jehovah's Witnesses:
"Continuing the heralding of imminent disaster after Luther's death, collections of his prophecies appeared regularly. Some were brief pamphlets like "The Several Prophetic Statements of Doctor Martin Luther, the Third Elias" (1552). In this material, Lutheran writers stated that, "Luther had prophesied that after he died the Gospel would disappear."
Luther prophesied that after he died the Gospel would disappear? As I read this snippet, it appears to me it was the apocalyptic Lutheran writers after Luther's death making the charge, "Luther had prophesied that after he died the Gospel would disappear," perhaps not Luther making it.
A book I found via a reference in Luther's Works is Luther's View of Church History by John Headley (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963). Headley describes at length, Luther's interpretations of Daniel. Headley points out that Luther believed that the Antichrist had come. Shortly before the last day, a period of time would be granted for repentance. But, this period would also be marked by the growth of heretics and sects "which will silence the public gospel."
Since Luther lived in what he believed were the last days, I can understand how later eschatologically minded Lutherans, adhering to Luther as an interpretive end-times prophet, would determine that the gospel would disappear after Luther's death. I can also see how Luther could've come to this conclusion.
As to the probable source, "The Several Prophetic Statements of Doctor Martin Luther, the Third Elias" (1552)," I believe this may be the work of Johannes Timann, who held Luther was raised up by God to be the third Elijah. In this text, Timann speaks of the disasters that happened in Germany after Luther's death, and that Luther had prophetically predicted them.
For a good overview of this apocalyptic Luther material, get a copy of Robert Kolb's, Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, and Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520-1620 (Michigan:Baker Books, 1999).
For my own reference, the following gives a good overview of Luther's eschatological thought concerning Daniel. It is the dedication letter from Luther's 1530 preface to Daniel (Found in Luther's Correspondence, Vol 2)
LUTHER TO JOHN FREDERIC, DUKE OF SAXONY.
De Wette, iii, 555. German. (WITTENBERG February or March, 1530.)This is the dedication of the German translation of Daniel, just completed.
Grace and peace in Christ our Lord. The world runs and hastens so diligently to its end that it often occurs to me forcibly that the last day will break before we can completely turn the Holy Scripture into German. For it is certain from the Holy Scriptures that we have no more temporal things to expect. All is done and fulfilled: the Roman Empire is at an end; the Turk has reached his highest point; the pomp of the papacy is falling away and the world is cracking on all sides almost as if it would break and fall apart entirely. It is true that this same Roman Empire now under our Emperor Charles is coming up a bit and is becoming mightier than it has been for a long time, but I think that that shows it is the last phase, and that before God it is just as when a light or wisp of straw is burnt up and about to go out, then it gives forth a flame as if it was going to burn brightly and even at the same moment goes out: — even so Christendom now does with the light of the Gospel.
Moreover all prophets in and out of the Bible write that after this time, namely, after the present year of 1530, things will go well again. That which they so rightly point to and prophesy will be, I hope, the last day, which will free us from all evil and help us to everlasting joy. So I reckon this epoch of the Gospel light as none other than the time in which God shortens and restrains tribulation by means of the Gospel, as Christ says in Matthew xxiv : "If the Lord shortened not these days, no man would be saved." For if the world had to stand longer as it has hitherto stood, the whole world would become Mohammedan or skeptical,' and no christian would be left, as Christ says: "When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" And, in fact, there was no more right understanding nor doctrine in the Christian faith present, but mere error, darkness and superstition with the innumerable multitude.
Truly there has been no greater tribulation on the earth,and none will come that goes farther, endures longer and rages more fiercely than the abomination of Mohamed and the Pope, for they have destroyed the world temporally with ceaseless blood and murder, but have seduced and murdered souls much more terribly. Thus the third woe in Revelation xii also shows that one must say that the devil is loose,
and rules bodily with all rage and wantonness.
Such thoughts have caused me to publish this prophet Daniel before the others who still remain, so that he may come to light before everything perishes, and he may exercise his office and comfort the poor Christians for whom he wrote, and for whom he was spared and preserved unto this last time. . . . History relates how Alexander the Great always had the poet Homer by him and at night put it under his head and slept on it. How much more fitting would it be that such and still greater honor be done to this Daniel by all kings and princes, that he should lie not only under their heads but in their hearts, inasmuch as he teaches differently and more highly than Homer was able to do.
For in him a prince can learn to fear and to trust God when he sees and recognizes that God loves the pious prince and rules him graciously and gives him all good fortune and safety,and contrariwise that He hates the bad prince, casts him down in anger and lays waste his power. Here we learn that no prince should trust to his own power or wisdom, nor presume upon it nor brag about it. For no realm nor government stands in human strength or wisdom, but it is God alone who gives, establishes, maintains, governs, protects, preserves, and Who also takes away. It is all held in His hand and depends upon His power as a ship on the sea or even as a cloud under the sky. . .