Category Archives: Martin Luther

The ‘Now’ of Eschatological Joy (Take 1)

Martin Luther explained the symbolism of his seal in a letter to Lazarus Spengler (July 8, 1530):

Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend!

Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly, I shall answer most amiably and tell you of those thoughts which now come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology.

There is first to be a cross, black and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For if one believes from the heart he will be justified. Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature; that is, the cross does not kill but keeps man alive. For the just man lives by faith, but by faith in the Crucified One.

Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace; in a word it places the believer into a white joyful rose; for this faith does not give peace and joy as the world gives and, therefore, the rose is to be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all the angels.

Such a rose is to be in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy; it is already a part of faith, and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that in heaven such blessedness lasts forever and has no end, and in addition is precious beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.

May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come.

Amen.

Source: Luther’s Works, vol. 49: Letters II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Fortress, 1999), 358–359.

O, to pray like Luther

As recounted by Charles Spurgeon in sermon #108:

Oh! to have heard Luther pray!

Luther, you know, when Melancthon was dying, went to his death-bed, and said, “Melancthon, you shall not die!”

“Oh,” said Melancthon, “I must die! It is a world of toil and trouble.”

“Melancthon,” said he, “I have need of thee, and God’s cause has need of thee, and as my name is Luther, thou shalt not die!”

The physician said he would.

Well, down went Luther on his knees, and began to tug at death. Old death struggled mightily for Melancthon, and he had got him well nigh on his shoulders.

“Drop him,” said Luther, “drop him, I want him.”

“Ho,” said death, “he is my prey, I will take him!”

“Down with him,” said Luther, “down with him, death, or I will wrestle with thee!”

And he seemed to take hold of the grim monster, and hurl him to the ground, and he came off victorious, like Orpheus with his wife, up from the very shades of death. He had delivered Melancthon from death by prayer!

“Oh,” say you, “that is an extraordinary case.” No, beloved, not one-half so extraordinary as you dream. I have men and women here who have done the same in other cases; that have asked a thing of God, and have had it; that have been to the throne, and showed a promise, and said they would not come away without its fulfillment, and have come back from God’s throne conquerors of the Almighty; for prayer moves the arm that moves the world.

While the Gospel is Silenced

The same day he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Martin Luther wrote a letter to Cardinal Albrecht, the Archbishop of Mainz (October 31, 1517). In it he writes:

Works of piety and love are infinitely better than indulgences; and yet [the indulgence preachers] do not preach them with an equally big display and effort. What is even worse, [the preachers] are silent about them because they have to preach the sale of the indulgences. The first and only duty of the bishops, however, is to see that the people learn the gospel and the love of Christ. For on no occasion has Christ ordered that indulgences should be preached, but he forcefully commanded the gospel to be preached. What a horror, what a danger for a bishop to permit the loud noise of indulgences among his people, while the gospel is silenced, and to be more concerned with the sale of indulgences than with the gospel! Will not Christ say to [such bishops], “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”?

[Source: Luther's Works, vol. 48, page 47.]

Here I Stand

When I think of Luther’s dramatic “here I stand” statement before the Diet of Worms in 1521, I think of …

… Roland Bainton’s excellent biography

[When Luther concluded the statemet he] “threw up his arms in the gesture of a victorious knight, and slipped out of the darkened hall, amid the hisses of the Spainiards, and went to his lodging.” (181)

… Niall MacGinnis’ fired passion (1953) …

… Joseph Fiennes’ quiet resilience (2003) …

… and Curt Allen’s track off his album The Process of the Pardon. Listen here:

Here I Stand (lyrics)

Verse 1

Let my life be a wordsmith, the word is a gift
What I’ve heard made me observe every verb from my lips
When you come from the curbs, where nervous don’t exist
And your heart is just hard to your sin, it did this
You need a reality check, in actuality vexed is God’s person
When what’s out of His neck is treated like strep
To those that respect stand firm even if you squirm
Learn what’s correct, cause your Diet of Worms is next

Hook

Here I stand, the Bible in my hand, let my life testify Jesus Christ is a man
And fully God, in the cross it’s fully our declaration, legal justification
Here I stand, the Bible in my hand is God’s word, it’s infallible
Disagreement is laughable. Denying this authority is Scripture hating
Planting my flag, I ask: What is your reformation?

Verse 2

Now every so often a heresy will say
That it killed what we feel, putting nails in the coffin
For real, not an option. They all been contested
And next is Paul, and it’s called the new perspective
So here’s the perspective: It’s some that would say
That justification’s not what we know it today
It should blow you away, what they say is insanity
That justification means a part of God’s family
It doesn’t mean that you righteous despite this
Exegesis that strengthens many believers
It gets deeper and hostile, they say
That the gospel is not about how you are saved!
What a grave mistake that you make when
Righteousness imputed to what you did is fake
It undermines the very nature of truth
That grace has now declared us righteous when we see His face

Hook

Verse 3

Now just when you thought it was safe, some depict a negative view of Scriptures
That wrongly pictures God’s Word unreliable, filled with inconsistencies
Though inconsistently brought, it ought not to really be an item
But it’s sad that we gotta fight ‘em, dag what they brag
Affects the word as ad infinitum. Apparently, many find issues with inerrancy
That Scripture makes mistakes, the debate innately tears at the foundation of
Can we trust with our life and observe a word that we not even sure is right?
’Cause it might say something that is wrong is an accusation that is far too strong
What God breathed along through the men that would pen His works
Yeah, there are quirks, but trust in the whole Bible extends the church
Where problems in the Scriptures, search, be a Berean
’Cause the Word that’s infallible, inerrant we believe in

Hook

© 2008 Curt “Voice” Allen, posted here by permission of the artist.

Luther on Assurance

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Werkes, 33:288–289):

For my own part, I frankly confess that even if it were possible, I should not wish to have free choice given to me, or to have anything left in my own hands by which I might strive toward salvation. For, on the one hand, I should be unable to stand firm and keep hold of it amid so many adversities and perils and so many assaults of demons, seeing that even one demon is mightier, than all men, and no man at all could be saved; and on the other hand, even if there were no perils or adversities or demons, I should nevertheless have to labor under perpetual uncertainty and to fight as one beating the air, since even if I lived and worked to eternity, my conscience would never be assured and certain how much it ought to do to satisfy God.

For whatever work might be accomplished, there would always remain an anxious doubt whether it pleased God or whether he required something more, as the experience of all self-justifiers proves, and as I myself learned to my bitter cost through so many years.

But now, since God has taken my salvation out of my hands into his, making it depend on his choice and not mine, and has promised to save me, not by my own work or exertion but by his grace and mercy, I am assured and certain both that he is faithful and will not lie to me, and also that he is too great and powerful for any demons or any adversities to be able to break him or to snatch me from him.

Gospel Feasting

From a Christmas sermon by Martin Luther (Works, 52:20):

Without the gospel there is nothing but desert on earth and no confession of God and no thanksgiving. But where the gospel and Christ are, there is Bethlehem abounding in grain, and grateful Judea; there everybody has enough in Christ and there is nothing but thanksgiving for God’s mercies. But the doctrines of men [ie legalistic attempts at justification with God through pious duty] thank only themselves, and yet they permit arid land and deadly hunger to remain. No heart is ever satisfied unless it hears Christ preached properly in the gospel; when this happens, a person comes to Bethlehem and finds him; then he also comes and stays in Judea and thanks his God eternally; then he is satisfied; then, too, God is praised and confessed. Apart from the gospel there is nothing but ingratitude and we do nothing but die of hunger.

Productivity

Martin Luther, as recorded in January 1532 by his friend Conrad Cordatus and recently translated and published in Off the Record with Martin Luther [(Hansa-Hewlett, 2009), page 110]:

“I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor; for when I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.”

Review: Martin Luther’s Works

Reformer Martin Luther was prolific in his output so I’m not surprised that it required 30 years of labor to translate the 55-volume collection of his works into English. Those works are currently available in a variety of formats: as printed hardcovers ($1,600), on the Kindle ($830), and integrated into Logos Bible software ($230). I use the Logos version of the works on a regular basis.

In 1958, in the inaugural volume, the editors admitted 55-volumes could not contain all of Luther’s works—not even close. But that’s okay because, “As he was first to insist, much of what he wrote and said was not that important.” Ouch.

The editors go on to explain the structure of the series:

The first thirty volumes contain Luther’s expositions of various Biblical books, while the remaining volumes include what are usually called his ‘Reformation writings’ and other occasional pieces [e.g. The 95 Theses]. … Obviously Luther cannot be forced into any neat set of rubrics. He can provide his reader with bits of autobiography or with political observations as he expounds a psalm, and he can speak tenderly about the meaning of faith in the midst of polemics against his opponents. It is the hope of publishers, editors, and translators that throughout this edition the message of Luther’s faith will speak more clearly to the modern church.

The 55 titles break down like this:

vol 1: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1–5 (1958)

vol 2: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 6–14 (1960)

vol 3: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 15-20 (1961)

vol 4: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 21-25 (1964)

vol 5: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 26-30 (1965)

vol 6: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 31-37 (1970)

vol 7: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 38-44 (1965)

vol 8: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 45–50 (1966)

vol 9: Lectures on Deuteronomy (1960)

vol 10: First Lectures on the Psalms, Psalms 1–75 (1974)

vol 11: First Lectures on the Psalms, Psalms 76–126 (1976)

vol 12: Selected Psalms, i (1955)

vol 13: Selected Psalms, ii (1956)

vol 14: Selected Psalms, iii (1958)

vol 15: Notes on Ecclesiastes; Lectures on the Song of Solomon; Treatise on the Last Words of David (1972)

vol 16: Lectures on Isaiah, Chapters 1–39 (1969)

vol 17: Lectures on Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (1972)

vol 18: Lectures on the Minor Prophets, i (1975)

vol 19: Lectures on the Minor Prophets, ii (1974)

vol 20: Lectures on the Minor Prophets, iii (1973)

vol 21: The Sermon on the Mount (Sermons); The Magnificat (1956)

vol 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 1–4 (1957)

vol 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 6–8 (1959)

vol 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 14–16 (1961)

vol 25: Lectures on Romans (1972)

vol 26: Lectures on Galatians [1535], Chapters 1–4 (1963)

vol 27: Lectures on Galatians [1535], Chapters 5–6; Lectures on Galatians [1519], Chapters 1–6 (1964, 1992)

vol 28: Commentaries on 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Corinthians 15; Lectures on 1 Timothy (1973)

vol 29: Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews (1968)

vol 30: The Catholic Epistles (1967)

vol 31: Career of the Reformer, i (1957)

vol 32: Career of the Reformer, ii (1958)

vol 33: Career of the Reformer, iii (1972)

vol 34: Career of the Reformer, iv (1960)

vol 35: Word and Sacrament, i (1960)

vol 36: Word and Sacrament, ii (1959)

vol 37: Word and Sacrament, iii (1961)

vol 38: Word and Sacrament, iv (1971)

vol 39: Church and Ministry, i (1970)

vol 40: Church and Ministry, ii (1958)

vol 41: Church and Ministry, iii (1966)

vol 42: Devotional Writings, i (1969)

vol 43: Devotional Writings, ii (1968)

vol 44: The Christian in Society, i (1966)

vol 45: The Christian in Society, ii (1962)

vol 46: The Christian in Society, iii (1967)

vol 47: The Christian in Society, iv (1971)

vol 48: Letters, i (1963)

vol 49: Letters, ii (1972)

vol 50: Letters, iii (1975)

vol 51: Sermons, i (1959)

vol 52: Sermons, ii (1974)

vol 53: Liturgy and Hymns (1965)

vol 54: Table Talk (1967)

vol 55: Index (1986)

The Logos collection also includes The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Tappert edition (1959).

As with any works on the Logos platform, the series has been transformed into an incredibly handy reference work. Searches are brisk and I can easy parachute into a forest of text and find what I’m looking for. One of my advisers/editors recently encouraged me to study Luther on the exercise of faith and the invisible promises of God. Luther was, as I expected, quite helpful on this theme. Here are a few excerpts I found in about five minutes of searching:

From vol. 3:

Faith alone lays hold of the promise, believes God when He gives the promise, stretches out its hand when God offers something, and accepts what He offers. This is the characteristic function of faith alone. Love, hope, and patience are concerned with other matters; they have other bounds, and they stay within these bounds. For they do not lay hold of the promise; they carry out the commands. They hear God commanding and giving orders, but they do not hear God giving a promise; this is what faith does. … Faith is the mother, so to speak, from whom that crop of virtues springs. If faith is not there first, you would look in vain for those virtues. If faith has not embraced the promises concerning Christ, no love and no other virtues will be there, even if for a time hypocrites were to paint what seem to be likenesses of them.

From vol. 5:

This is the constant course of the church at all times, namely, that promises are made and that then those who believe the promises are treated in such a way that they are compelled to wait for things that are invisible, to believe what they do not see, and to hope for what does not appear. … God does this in order to test our hearts, whether we are willing to do without the promised blessings for a time. We shall not do without them forever. This is certain. And if God did not test us and postpone His promises, we would not be able to love Him wholeheartedly. For if He immediately gave everything He promises, we would not believe but would immerse ourselves in the blessings that are at hand and forget God. Accordingly, He allows the church to be afflicted and to suffer want in order that it may learn that it must live not only by bread but also by the Word (cf. Matt. 4:4), and in order that faith, hope, and the expectation of God’s help may be increased in the godly.

From vol. 8:

…the flesh neglects God when He threatens and when He promises liberation. For because He delays and defers His help, He is despised. No one wants to become accustomed to the exercises of faith, but men want to live without faith and to enjoy the things that are at hand. They want the belly to be full. But they reject the sure promise. Even though this promise concerns invisible things, yet these things will surely come to pass.

My next step will be to return to these excerpts and study their context carefully.

To have Luther’s works in a searchable platform like Logos is a blessing. The electronic version of Luther’s works will ensure that the message of Luther’s faith will remain affordable; it will ensure that Luther’s voice will be clearly heard by the modern church; and it will help ensure that that Luther’s voice retains its appropriate prominence. For all his flaws, we need him yet.

PS: Here is a final word from Luther: “I make the friendly request of anyone who wishes to have my books at this time, not to let them, on any account, hinder him from studying the Scriptures themselves.”

Martin Luther, marriage counselor

As Martin Luther talked his friends and associates wrote. But only a small portion of the recorded table talk conversations have been translated from the German into English, making me slightly jealous of friends who can read German, but slightly less so since Charles Daudert translated and published his 500-page Off the Record with Martin Luther: An Original Translation of the Table Talks (Hansa-Hewlett, 2009).

I’m no translation expert but it’s clear the book was carefully translated because the back cover warns readers to expect “blunt, explosive, often abusive, and many times course” language. Sounds authentic. The new book reveals a number of glimpses into Luther’s life and ministry that we would not get from any other sources, like Luther’s marriage reconciliation strategy (as recorded in the winter of 1532):

Doctor Martin Luther had traveled with Count Johann [Johann von Küstrin] to his sister [Margarehte von Brandenburg] and attempted a reconciliation between her and her husband [Johann II von Anhalt-Zerbst]. When he returned, he said: Oh, Dear God, how much energy and work will it take to bring them back together, and then after that much more effort just to keep them together! Adam’s fall so damaged our nature that we are completely unstable. It flows back and forth like quicksilver. Oh, if we could only get them to sit down at table and go to bed together! [p. 53]

There you have it.

Justified

Here are two favorite quotes regarding how we can be assured of the reality of God’s justification.

The first is from Geerhardus Vos in his Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground, 2007):

“Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.” (135)

The second is from Robert Kolb and Charles Arand in the The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Baker Academic, 2008):

“Those who see this form of forensic justification as merely a legal fiction do not share Luther’s understanding of the power of the Word of God. The reformer knew that from the beginning of the world, God determined reality by speaking. Therefore, he was certain that God’s word of forgiveness created a new reality in the life of the sinner. The reformer could not explain the mystery of evil and sin continuing in the lives of those God had claimed as his own in baptism. But he did not doubt that when God said, ‘Forgiven,’ the reality of human sinlessness in God’s sight was genuine and unassailable. God’s children must live with the mystery of the continuing sin and evil in their lives as they engage in the battle against their own sins. But they have no warrant to doubt that God has established the mightier reality of their innocence in his sight. And what he sees is real because he determines reality.” (154-155)

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