Not surprisingly, the article is barely documented, so it isn't completely clear what sources the Watchtower used. There are a number of quotes throughout the article. Some appear to be spurious (or at least re-written) at worst or from obscure sources at best. The statement that originally led me to this article appears to come from a 1967 Time Magazine article.
Surprisingly, the article is quite favorable to Luther. For example:
"Luther’s words and actions helped give birth to the Reformation—a religious movement described as 'the most significant revolution in the history of mankind.'"
"His translation of the Bible remains by far the most popular in the German language."
"In 1525, Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora, a former nun. Katharina was good at managing household affairs and was equal to the demands of her husband’s generosity. Luther’s household came to include not only a wife and six children but also friends, scholars, and refugees."And they attempt balance by pointing out some of the negatvies of Luther:
His later essays became increasingly severe. According to the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Luther’s works reveal the “excessiveness of his anger” and a “lack of humility and love,” as well as a “highly developed sense of mission.”
When the Peasants’ War broke out and the principalities were bathed in blood, Luther was asked for his judgment on the uprising. Did the peasants have just cause for complaint against their feudal lords? Luther did not try to secure popular support by giving an answer pleasing to the majority. He believed that God’s servants should obey those in power. (Romans 13:1) In a forthright judgment, Luther said that the revolt should be put down with force. “Let whoever can, stab, strike, kill,” he said. Hanns Lilje remarked that this answer cost Luther “his hitherto unique popularity among the people.” Furthermore, Luther’s later essays on those Jews who refused to convert to Christianity, particularly On the Jews and Their Lies, have caused many to brand the author anti-Semitic.
Martin Luther had a sharp intellect, a prodigious memory, a mastery of words, and a prolific work ethic. He was also impatient and scornful, and he reacted vehemently to what he viewed as hypocrisy.
What I looked for as I read the article was how it gave testimony to the distinctives of the Watchtower. For instance, the Watchtower article mentions justification. Note the following snippets:
Luther considered himself unworthy of God’s favor and was at times driven to despair by a guilty conscience. But Bible study, prayer, and meditation helped him to gain a better understanding of how God views sinners. Luther recognized that God’s favor cannot be earned. Rather, it is granted through undeserved kindness to those exercising faith.—Romans 1:16; 3:23, 24, 28.
The doctrine of justification, or salvation, by faith and not by works, or penance, remained a central pillar of Luther’s teachings.
The Reformation, spurred on by men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, led to the formation of a new approach to religion called Protestantism. Luther’s major legacy to Protestantism was his central teaching of justification by faith.Someone reading these statements quickly might find them within the realm of orthodoxy. Certainly it's true that Luther thought himself not worthy of God's favor. Certainly it's true that Luther had his evangelical breakthrough by "Bible study, prayer, and meditation." It is true that "Luther recognized that God’s favor cannot be earned." It is true that salvation is "by faith and not by works, or penance." What's missing from these statements is Luther's emphasis on the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners (alien righteousness), and the word "alone," as in "faith alone." The majority of the article focuses on what Luther did: his works. Without stating it explicitly, the Watchtower has presented its soteriology: having faith in God and doing works.
One of the other implicit features of Watchtower theology is their inclusion of sections on Luther's Bible. his gifts as a translator, and an emphasis on the evils of the Roman church. The Watchtower sees their translation of the Bible as the end result of God's providence in preserving His word. In another Watchtower article you can see how "Jehovah Has Preserved His Word" from the opposition of Rome through such men like Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Luther.
One curious feature of the article is it's unqualified use of the term "Protestant":
The Reformation, spurred on by men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, led to the formation of a new approach to religion called Protestantism. Luther’s major legacy to Protestantism was his central teaching of justification by faith. Each of the German principalities aligned itself with either the Protestant or the Catholic faith. Protestantism spread and gained popular support in Scandinavia, Switzerland, England, and the Netherlands. Today it has hundreds of millions of adherents.The Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider themselves "Protestants." See their explanation here: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Protestant Religion?
Does the Watchtower actually think Luther was a proto-Jehovah's Witness? I don't know. A few years back I posted some comments from an old Watchtower publication in which Luther is cited as one of the "Lord's messengers" along with Charles Taze Russell. On the other hand, this link states
First, although Protestant faiths reject certain features of Catholic worship, Reformation leaders retained certain Catholic dogmas, such as belief in the Trinity, hellfire, and the immortality of the human soul. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, believe that those doctrines not only contradict the Bible but also promote a distorted view of God.
Addendum for the Defenders of Rome
Does this sound familiar?
Third, unlike the Protestant movement, which has splintered into hundreds of denominations, Jehovah’s Witnesses have maintained a united global brotherhood. When it comes to Bible doctrine, Jehovah’s Witnesses in over 230 countries follow the apostle Paul’s counsel to “speak in agreement.” There are no divisions among them. Instead, they are genuinely “united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) They strive within their own ranks “to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.”—Ephesians 4:3 [source]
A response was offered to this blog entry: Beggars All and the Jehovah's Witnesses position concerning justification—yet another misrepresentation of a non-Reformed soteriology. The response was written by an ex-defender of Rome (if I recall correctly) with whom this blog has interacted with over the years. Of my interactions with this blogger, I've noticed the imprecise defining of theological positions (the very thing I'm being accused of with his latest response). For instance, in our previous interaction, the blogger thinks Luther held the "Roman church" is a true church, but failed to account for Luther's important distinction between the Roman church and the papal church. He used a quote without a context (that when read in context, demonstrates the distinction). Given Trent's later anathema of sola fide and sola scriptura (to name only two distinctives from Trent), it's not much of speculative stretch to say the papal church still lives on to this day.
In my entry on the Watchtower and Luther, I dissected whether or not the Luther being presented was the actual Luther of history. I noted that the Watchtower did present some accurate information. On the other hand, I attempted to demonstrate that Watchtower theological assumptions must be kept in mind when reading who they think Luther was. For instance, when Luther proclaimed justification by faith, does the Watchtower mean the same thing when it stated, "Luther recognized that God’s favor cannot be earned. Rather, it is granted through undeserved kindness to those exercising faith"? I would argue that the Watchtower's view of faith in relation to works, and faith and its relationship to the righteousness of Christ (Luther's "great exchange") are fundamentally different than what Luther held to. So in his present criticism, the blogger equates Luther's view of sola fide and the Watchtower's alleged view of sola fide, without actually presenting Luther's view of sola fide and comparing it to what he purports the Watchtower believes. Nor have I come across anything from the Watchtower in which they actually attempt to explain Luther's view in comparison to their own view. This hearkens back to what Walter Martin said decades ago about the cults- that they redefine the standard terms used to describe biblical truth [See, Martin's Kingdom of the Cults (Minnesota: Bethany House, 1985), chapter 2]. When a Jehovah's Witness rings a doorbell and says "Yes, we believe in justification by faith," I contend they mean something much different than what Luther promulgated.
For instance, the following quote was offered in rebuttal to me:
Finishing his earthly course free from flaw in any sense of the word, Jesus was acknowledged by God as justified. He was thus the only man, who through test, stood firmly and positively just, or righeous before God on his own merit. By this "one act of justification [form of di•kai'o•ma],"that is, by Jesus' proving himself perfectly righteous his entire flawless course, including his sacrifice, he provided the basis for declaring righteous those persons having faith in Christ.—Rom. 5:17-19; 3:25, 26; 4:25. [Aid to Bible Understanding, 1971, p. 437.]The Watchtower makes this entire document available on line. There are a number of points made that would stand in opposition to Luther's theology. For instance, after the quote cited above, the Watchtower explains "Christ Jesus’ 'One Act of Justification'." Missing is any discussion of Christ taking upon himself the sin of the world (Luther's "great exchange"). Rather, the Watchtower says, "...[B]y Jesus’ proving himself perfectly righteous through his entire flawless course, including his sacrifice, he provided the basis for declaring righteous those persons having faith in Christ." Then comes the contrary view to Luther's:
Although Jehovah forgives their sins of fleshly weakness and imperfection, nevertheless, a conflict exists in these Christians, as illustrated in Paul’s letter to the Romans (7:21-25). It is between the law of their renewed mind (Ro 12:2; Eph 4:23), or “God’s law,” and “sin’s law” that is in their members. This is because their fleshly bodies are not perfected, even though they are counted righteous and their sins are forgiven. This conflict contributes to the test of their integrity toward God. They can win this conflict by the help of God’s spirit and with the assistance of their merciful High Priest, Christ Jesus. (Ro 7:25; Heb 2:17, 18) To win, however, they must constantly exercise faith in Christ’s ransom sacrifice and follow him, thus maintaining their righteousness in God’s eyes. (Compare Re 22:11.) Thereby they ‘make their calling and choosing sure’ for themselves. (2Pe 1:10; Ro 5:1, 9; 8:23-34; Tit 3:6, 7) If, on the other hand, they take up the practice of sin, falling away from the faith, they lose their favored standing before God as righteous persons because they “impale the Son of God afresh for themselves and expose him to public shame.” (Heb 6:4-8) Such ones face destruction. (Heb 10:26-31, 38, 39) Thus, Jesus spoke of the sin that has no forgiveness, and the apostle John distinguished between the sin that “does not incur death” and the sin that “does incur death.”—Mt 12:31, 32; 1Jo 5:16, 17.Now what's interesting about this quote also is it refers only to those who are "The followers of Jesus Christ who are called to be his spiritual brothers, with the prospect of being joint heirs with him in the heavenly Kingdom." If I recall JW theology, this refers to the original 144,000 Jehovah's Witnesses. according to the Watchtower, since this number of people has already been fulfilled, the best today's Jehovah's Witnesses can hope for is to be numbered in the "great multitude." This document goes on to say of them:
The “great crowd,” who survive the “great tribulation,” are not yet declared righteous for life—that is, as worthy of the right to everlasting life on earth. They need to continue partaking of the “fountains of waters of life,” as guided by the Lamb, Christ Jesus. They will need to do this during the Millennial Reign of Christ. (Re 7:17; 22:1, 2) If they prove loyal to Jehovah through a final test at the end of the thousand years, they will have their names permanently retained in God’s book of life, Jehovah thus declaring, or acknowledging, that they finally are righteous in the complete sense.—Re 20:7, 8; see LIFE (Trees of Life).I'm not entirely sure of the motivations of this blogger, but the application of equivocation to distinct theologies leads me to wonder if this particular person has embraced some form of a universal Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man approach to Christian theism (or perhaps theism in general).