Martin Luther: Good works flow from love and joy

18 03 2013

For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and doe good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ver once thinks of law.  He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.2 76





Martin Luther: The Great Work of the Christian

14 03 2013

Challenging words from the good doctor:

A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than as if his sin were our own.  We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely love him.  If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.261

 





Martin Luther: The “dear sun” of Jesus Christ

18 03 2012

When the dear sun rises in the heavens, all other fires, lights, and stars are obscured by its brightness, and we take no notice of them.  Similarly, whenever Christ shines through the message of the Holy Spirit and it becomes known that we have God’s grace and eternal life through Him, then all subsidiary lights that try to point the way to salvation in our night and our darkness must go out of their own accord.

–Luther, Vol 24 pg 371-371





Martin Luther: What a glorious thing to have the word of God!

24 01 2012

Oh!  How great and glorious a thing it is to have before one the Word of God!  With that we may at all times feel joyous and secure; we need never be in want of consolation, for we see before us, in all its brightness, the pure and right way.  He who loses sight of the Word of God falls into despair; the voice of heaven no longer sustains him; he follows on the disorderly tendency of his heart and of world vanity, which lead him on to his destruction.





Rob Sturdy: Help me read the Bible! (Martin Luther)

20 12 2011

If you’ve ever visited my office you will have noticed fifty-five red and black volumes to the right of my computer on a bookshelf behind my desk. Those volumes are the American Edition of Martin Luther’s collected works. Of the fifty-five volumes, thirty are dedicated to Martin Luther’s verse by verse exposition of the Scriptures. Martin Luther’s commentary on Genesis alone is eight volumes long. Luther’s exposition of the Old and New Testaments fills literally hundreds of thousands of pages, so who better to turn to for help reading the Bible than this German theologian who dedicated so much of his life to understanding it?

First off all, let us start with some practicalities.

  1. Luther would tell us first to buy a good translation that you can read and understand.  One of Luther’s immediate goals was to translate the entire Bible into the language of the people. However, this did not simply mean that Luther translated the Hebrew to the German, but he translated the Hebrew into thepopular German of the time so that it could be easily read by all.  For modern day North America, I would reccomend to you the ESV or NIV.  Sadly, it might be time to hang up the ole’ King James Version until Elizabethan English makes a comeback.
  2. Luther would also tell us to spend a lot of time in Scripture.  It is said that Luther was so saturated in the language of the Bible that he often quoted it without even being conscious of it (Pelikan, Exegetical Writtings, 49).  Luther would be an advocate for spending hours upon hours in the Scriptures.  Maybe you don’t have hours upon hours.  Well, how much time do you have?  Fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes?  Don’t fritter them away by pushing the snooze button for thirty minutes.  Get up early and get in the Scriptures.  Let them saturate you.
  3. Finally, Luther would say if you want to understand the Bible better you need to sit under the feet of a good preacher.  Luther once said, “the church is not a pen-house but a mouth house!,” and also “Christ did not command the apostles to write, but only to preach.”  Luther thought that one could read the Bible many times over and yet fail to understand it or apply it.  But when it is was proclaimed by another, Spirit inspired insight, clarity and personal application followed.

So how did Luther read the Bible?  Of the many things we could focus on, let us look at two that may help you as you read the Scriptures.  These two things have typically been identified as “Law and Gospel.”  To keep it simple, the “Law” is anything in Scripture that brings awareness of sin, fear of judgement, and affliction of conscience.  The “Gospel” is anything in Scripture that causes us to trust in God to forgive sin, forego judgement, and relieve conscience.  In Luther’s understanding, the passages that were “law” were meant to drive us to the promises of the “Gospel.”

Reading the “Law”
For Luther the “Law” accomplishes many things, but I would like to hone in on what it does to the heart while we read Scripture. Luther writes on Romans

“The chief purpose of this letter is to break down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh. This includes all the works which in the eyes of people or even in our own eyes may be great works. No matter whether these works are done with a sincere heart and min, this letter is to affirm and state and magnify sin, no matter how much someone insists that it does not exist” (LW vol. 25 pg 135).

Luther understood that as humans we have an aversion to recognizing sin in our life.  We either cover it up or explain it away with weak justifications.  That is why Scripture is so valuable.  It magnifies the hidden sin in our life and shatters belief in our weak attempts at righteousness and justification.  So what impact does this have on our reading of Scripture?  When we come across a difficult and convicting passage (Rom 3.9-18 for example) we do not seek to explain it away or say “that’s not me.”  Rather, we apply that passage to our hearts and let it reveal our sinfulness in ways we had not previously imagined.  In other words, we allow Scripture to magnify our sin, making it both real and known to us.

Reading the “Gospel”
As the reality of sin in our life begins to dawn on us through those passages of Scripture that are “law”, we begin to become fearful before God and in despair over the reality of our sinful nature.  It is at this point of fear and despair that we must intentionally turn our hearts to those passages of Scripture that Luther described as “Gospel.”  Concerning this skill Luther writes:

“When I see that a man is sufficiently contrite, oppressed by the Law, terrified by sin, and thirsting for comfort, then it is time for me to take the Law and active (works) righteousness form his sight and to set forth before him, through the Gospel, the passive (faith) righteousness which exlcudes Moses adn the law adn shows the promise of Christ, who came for the afflicted and sinners.  Here a man is raised up again and gains hope.”  (LW vol 26. pg 7).

How then does this affect the way we read Scripture?  We must not let ourselves stop at the convicting passages and wallow in despair or set forth with a renewed sense of determination.  Rather, as we read convicting passages of Scripture we must intentionally redirect our hearts to Christ on the cross and his saving righteousness.  As we read Scripture and come across especially comforting passages (1 John 4.1-11 or the Doxology of Jude for example) then we must make a great effort to apply them to ourselves and appropriate them to our hearts.  When I come across passages such as these I make a point to memorize them, so that when the knowledge of sin convicts me I might turn as quickly as possible to faith in Christ.

While by no means comprehensive, I believe these are a few of the things near and dear to the heart of Martin Luther and his study of the Bible.  I hope they were a help to you!  More to come soon…





The conversion of Martin Luther in his own words

20 12 2011

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





Rob Sturdy: Martin Luther’s Personal Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

20 12 2011

The essay below is about how Martin Luther conceives of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus, will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the ground rules for sacramental theology.

For many of the Reformed, the Christology that sets the ground rules for their sacramental theology has come to be known as the extra-Calvinisticum. Oberman defines the extra-Calvinisticum as the theological conviction “that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra cernem.” [1]To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word and the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The doctrine lends itself to a real, albeit spiritual, presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to memorialism.  Because of Christ’s physical presence in heaven, the doctrine prohibits a carnal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to transubstantiation.  It is typically supposed that because the doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum prohibits a true, carnal presence it must then also oppose Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation.  This paper will argue that this is not necessarily so.  Using Luther’s writings from 1520 up until the eve of the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, I will argue that the highly nuanced Christology underpinning Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation is thoroughly consistent with the extra-Calvinisticum.  It will be shown that Luther believes that the humanity of Christ is locally present at the right hand of God and that the divinity of Christ maintains a ubiquitous or extra presence in the world.  Furthermore it will be shown that by virtue of the union between the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, Christ can really and truly be said to be present in the Lord’s Supper.  This will serve to benefit a larger project of historical theology, tracing the development and significance of the extra-Calvinisticum in Christian thought and practice.

To understand Luther’s Christology one must enter the world of the Eucharistic controversy of the 1520’s.  Luther credits his adversaries for prompting the work that historians widely regard as responsible for initiating a Protestant discourse on sacramental theology.   “Whether I wish it or not,” he writes, “I am compelled to become more learned every day, with so many and such able masters eagerly driving me on and making me work.”[3] The work that Luther refers to here is his famous The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. It was The Babylonian Captivity that prompted Erasmus to declare the breach with Rome and Wittenberg “irreparable.”  It prompted Henry VIII of England to write his clumsy, yet nevertheless famous 78 quarto page work denouncing Luther and defending Roman positions on the sacraments.[4] Within a year of Luther’s publication Karlstadt had begun massive reforms concerning the Lord’s Supper.[5] Likewise in the same year Zwingli renounced his own pension.[6] Because of the explosive effect Luther’s work had on Europe, especially in regards to the subject matter, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church is the best place to begin an exploration of the Christological presuppositions introduced to the Eucharistic discourse of the 1520’s. Read the rest of this entry »