Posts Tagged ‘martin luther’

Below is the account of Luther’s famous “Tower Experience” whereby he came to understand the Gospel as God’s unconditional mercy towards sinners.  I have emboldened a few phrases that I would like to draw special attention to.  As a matter of curiosity, you might find it amusing that the “heated room” was most likely the toilet.  Even the greatest men have some of their deepest insights in the most humbling of places!

The words ‘righteous’ and righteousness of God’ struck my conscience like lightning.  When I heard them I was exceedingly terrified.  If God is righteous [I thought], he must punish.  But when by God’s grace I pondered, in the tower and heated room of this building, over the words, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live [Rom 1.17] and ‘the righteousness of God’  [Rom 3.21], I soon came to the conclusion that if we, as righteous men, ought to live from faith and if the righteousness of God should contribute to salvation of all who believe, then salvation won’t be our merit but God’s mercy.  My spirit was thereby cheered.  For it’s by the righeousness of God that we’re justified and saved through Christ.  These words [which had before terrified me] now became more pleasing to me.  The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me in the tower.”

LW vol 54 pg 193-194

Luther is commenting here on the fear of Abram in Gen 15.1.  Notice Luther’s description of God withdrawing himself and what it is meant to accomplish.  First, when God withdraws himself it is because of His grace, not in spite of.  After all, grace is “truly immovalbe and unchangeable.”  But rather, God will from time to time withdraw himself to humble his people and protect them from grievous sins and at the proper time restore their spirits with a word of comfort.  The pastoral applications of this are immense. Here are some questions to help you tease this out for yourself.  What role does spiritual depression play in formation?  When I feel God’s absence, could there be a good and loving reason behind his absence?  How does being humbled by God help us to rely on his promises and love Him more? 

It is no small comfort, however, to know that grace has not been taken away but is truly immovable and unchangeable, although the awareness and experience of grace is taken away for a time, and dread and fear rush in, discouraging and troubling the spirit.  The man becomes impatient, concludes that he cannot bear the wrath of God, and simply makes a devil out of God. 

Christ experienced this trial in the garden (Matt 26.41), where nature was wrestling with the spirit, and the spirit indeed was willing but the flesh was weak, terrified, fearful, and troubled.  No one is truly sorrowful unless God forsakes him, just as, conversely, no one can be sorrowful when God is present.  Therefore sorrow is an indication that God has departed from us and has forsaken us for a time…

When on the other hand, as is written in the Book of Wisdom (3.7), God shines into our hearts with rays of mercy, then it is impossible for our hearts not to be glad, even though we, like Stephen, are being dragged to torture and death.

Therefore it is profitable to consider these examples, namely, that the saints who are bold in the Holy Spirit are bolder than Satan himself.  On the other hand, when they are in the clutches of trial, they tremble so much that they are afraid even of a rustling leaf.  We are reminded of our weakness in order that no matter how great the gifts are that we possess, we may not exalt ourselves but may remain humble and fear God.  From those who do not do this He turns His face away, and trouble and perplexity follow. 

I want to preface these remarks to this chapter, in which we learn about what Ps. 4.3 says: “know that God has dealt marvelously with the godly,” that is, that He keeps those who are His occupied in various ways, lest they become heretics, be presumptuous with regard to their gifts, and be puffed up over against those who do not have these gifts.  For those who do this are very close to destruction.

Therefore those who are chosen as teachers of the churches to rule over others should offer special prayers that they be preserved from this affliction as from the greatest and most dangerous evil.

Other sins- such as wrathfulness, impatience, and drunkenness- naturally bring shame because of their foulness.  Those who indulge in them know that they have sinned.  Consequently, they blush.  But vainglory and trust in one’s own wisdom or righteousness is a sin of such a kind that it is not recognized as sin.  Instead, men thank God for it, as the Pharisee does in the Gospel (Luke 18.9-14); they rejoice in it as in an extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore it is an utterly incurable devilish evil. 

From this God preserves saintly Abraham by subjecting the glorious conqueror to such an affliction that it is necessary to comfort him with a divine word…

Luther, Comentary on Genesis vol. II (LW vol. 3 pg 8-9)

A sermon from Luther’s Church Postil for Christmas Day from (Luke 2.1-14).  Notice how Luther distinguishes those who lived in plenty and comfort from Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the night of the savior’s birth.  This distinction is hammered home by his convicting series of questions at the end of the second paragraph.  “What has Bethlehem when it did not have Christ?  What have they now who at that time had enough?  What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?”  Indeed.  If you don’t have Christ, you have nothing. 

The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. 0 what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes. What had Bethlehem when it did not have Christ? What have they now who at that time had enough? What do Joseph and Marylack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?

Martin Luther, Church Postil  1.1.138

An excerpt from Luther’s lectures on Hebrews.  Of note is how the person who has placed their faith in Christ no longer must “work” to be patient, or good, or just etc. but rather the person who has put their faith in Christ simply is patient, just, good, etc. to the extent that their patience, goodness, etc. flow naturally from their relationship with Christ.

When the Jews asked in John 6.28 “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Christ draws them away from a large number of owrks and reduces the works to one.  He says:  “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6.29).  Therefore the whole substance of the new law and its righteousness is that one and only faith in Christ.  Yet it is not so one-and-only and so sterile as human opinions are; for Christ lives, and not only lives bu works, and not only works but also reigns.  Therefore it is impossible for faith in Him to be idle; for it is alive, adn it itself works and triumphs, and in this way works flow forth spontaneously from faith.  For in this way our patience flows from the patience of Christ, and our humility from His, and the other good works in like manner, provided that we believe firmly that He has done all these things for us…

Martin Luther, Lectures on Hebrews LW vol 29 pg 123

duel

What a wonderful excerpt from Luther’s 1535 commentary on Galatians.  Below Luther outlines a duel between Christ’s eternal righteousness and sin’s most powerful destructive force.  It is edifying and fascinating to see how he works it out.  Enjoy!

This is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that we were being oppressed through teh Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier, Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who at the apple in Paradise; the thief on teh cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.” Now the Law comes and says: “I find HIm a sinner, who takes upon Himself the sins of all men. I do not see any other sins than those in Him. Therefore let Him die on the cross!” And so it attacks Him and kills Him. By this deed the whole world is purged and expiated from all sins, and thus it is set free from death and from every evil. But when sin and death have been abolished by this one man, God does not want to see anything else in the whole world, especially if it were to believe, except the sheer cleansing and righteousness. And if any remnants of sin were to remain, still for the sake of Christ, the shining Sun, God would not notice them. (more…)

Here are the top three posts from the month of December. Curiously enough, none of the posts dealing with the incarnation even made a dent. During Advent I thought that was a bit strange. Oh well!

  1. U.S. Teens of Somali Background dissapear and emerge in terrorist training camps.  This was an alarming and very sad story that I picked up on CNN. 
  2. Help Me Read My Bible Part I:  What I think Martin Luther’s advice would be for good Bible study.  There are now three posts in this category.  They include John Calvin, and a good piece guest written by Iain Boyd on Jonathan Edwards.  The Calvin and Edwards piece didn’t get too much attention but I think they’re worth your time, especially Iain’s piece on Edwards. 
  3. And finally, Governor Jindal tells his conversion story from Hinduism to Christianity…and also why he doesn’t think too much of the Episcopal Church.

One extra:  I think this post that I wrote on Dante, Sin, Repentance and Desire would have gotten in the top three if it had not been posted so late in the month.  Check it out here.

Commenting on Gal 1.4 “Who gave Himself for our sins..”  Find it online here or buy it as a Christmas present for someone you love here.  Don’t worry about me, I’ve got three copies. 

a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice once offered

a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice once offered

 Paul sticks to his theme. He never loses sight of the purpose of his epistle. He does not say, “Who received our works,” but “who gave.” Gave what? Not gold, or silver, or paschal lambs, or an angel, but Himself. What for? Not for a crown, or a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins. These words are like so many thunderclaps of protest from heaven against every kind and type of self-merit. Underscore these words, for they are full of comfort for sore consciences.

 How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: “The man who is named Jesus Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins.” The heavy artillery of these words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts.

 This sentence also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words “who gave himself for our sins.” So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. When we reflect that the one little word “sin” embraces the whole kingdom of Satan, and that it includes everything that is horrible, we have reason to tremble. But we are careless. We make light of sin. We think that by some little work or merit we can dismiss sin.

 This passage, then, bears out the fact that all men are sold under sin. Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone. (more…)