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Martin Luther

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Of the Perspicuity of Scripture

Tuesday··2006·10·24
Martin Luther on the perspicuity of Scripture: Now I come to another point . . . You divide Christian doctrines into two classes, and make out that we need to know the one but not the other. ‘Some,’ you say, ‘are recondite, whereas others are quite plain.’ Surely at this point you are either playing tricks with someone else’s words, or practicing a literary effect! However, you quote in your support Paul’s words in Rom. 11: ‘O the depth of both the riches and knowledge of God!’ (v. 33); and also Isa. 40: ‘Who gave help o the Spirit of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?’ (v. 13). It was all very easily said, either because you knew that you were writing, not just to Luther, but for the world at large, or else because you failed to consider that it was against Luther that you were writing! I hope you credit Luther with some little scholarship and judgment where the sacred text is concerned? If not, behold! I will wring the admission out of you! Here is my distinction (for I too am going to do a little lecturing—or chop a little logic, should I say?): God and his Scriptures are two things, just as the Creator and his creation are two things. Now, nobody questions that there is a great deal hid in God of which we know nothing. Christ himself says of the last day: ‘Of that day knoweth no man, but the father’ (Matt. 24.36); and in Acts 1 he says: ‘It is not for you to know the times and seasons’ (v. 7); and again, he says: ‘I know whom I have chosen’ (John 13.18); and Paul says; ‘The Lord knoweth them that are his’ (2 Tim. 2.19); and the like. But the notion that in Scripture some things are recondite and all is not plain was spread by the godless Sophists (whom now you echo, Erasmus)—who have never yet cited a single item to prove their crazy view; nor can they. And Satan has used these unsubstantial specters to scare men off reading the sacred text, and to destroy all sense of its value, so as to ensure that his own poisonous philosophy reigns supreme in the church. I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance; and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scripture. For what solemn truth can the Scriptures still be concealing, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb, and the greatest of all mysteries brought to light—that Christ, God’s Son, became man, that God is Three in One, that Christ suffered for us, and will reign forever? Are not these things known, and sung in our streets? Take Christ from the Scriptures—and what more will you find in them? You see, then, that the entire content of the Scriptures are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of those few obscure words. If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another. What God has so plainly declared to the world is in some parts of Scripture stated in plain words, while in other parts it still lies hidden under obscure words. But when something stands in broad daylight, and a mass of evidence for it is in broad daylight also, it does not matter if there is any evidence for it in the dark. Who will maintain that the town fountain does not stand in the light because the people down some alley cannot see it, while everyone else in the square can see it? There is nothing, then in your remark about the ‘Corycian cavern’; matters are not so in the Scriptures. The profoundest mysteries of the supreme Majesty are no more hidden away, but are now brought out of doors and displayed to public view. Christ has opened our understanding, that we might understand the Scriptures, and the Gospel in preached to every creature, ‘Their sound is gone out into all lands’ (Ps. 19.4). ‘All things that are written, are written for instruction’ (Rom. 15.4). Again: ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for instruction’ (2 Tim. 3.16). Come forward then, you, and all the Sophists with you, and cite a single mystery which is still obscure in the Scripture. I know that to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness, in that they make no effort to see truth which, in itself, could not be plainer. As Paul said of the Jews in 2 Cor. 4: ‘The veil remains on their heart’ (2 Cor. 3.15); and again ‘If our gospel be hid, it is hid to then that are lost, whose hearts the god of this world hath blinded’ (2 Cor. 4.3–4). They are like men who cover their eyes, of go from daylight into darkness, and hide there and then blame the sun, of the darkness of the day for their inability to see, so let wretched men abjure that blasphemous perversity which would blame the darkness of their own hears on to the plain Scriptures of God! When you quote Paul’s statement, ‘his judgments are incomprehensible, you seem to take the pronoun ‘his’ to refer to Scripture; whereas the judgments which Paul there affirms to be incomprehensible are not those of Scripture but those of God. And Isaiah 40 does not say ‘who has known the mind of Scripture?’ but: ‘who has know the mind of the Lord?’ (Paul indeed, asserts that Christians do know the mind of the Lord; but only with reference to those things that are given to us by God, as he there says in 1 Cor. 2 (v.12)). You see, then, how sleepily you examined those passages, and how apt in your citation of them—as apt are almost all your citations for ‘free-will’! So, too, the examples of obscurity which you allege in that rather sarcastic passage are quite irrelevant—the distinction of persons in the God head, the union of the Divine and human natures of Christ, and the unpardonable sin. Here, you say, are problems which have never been solved. If you mean this of the enquiries which the Sophists pursue when they discuss these subjects, what has the inoffensive Scripture done to you, that you should blame such criminal misuse of it on to its own purity? Scripture makes the straightforward affirmation that the Trinity, the Incarnation and the unpardonable sin are facts. There is nothing obscure or ambiguous about that. You imagine that Scripture tells us how they are what they are; but it does not, nor need we know. It is here that the Sophists discuss their dreams; keep your criticism and condemnation for them, but acquit the Scriptures! If, on the other hand, you mean it of the facts themselves, I say again: blame, not the Scriptures, but the Arians and those to whom the Gospel is hid, who, but reason of the working of Satan, their god, cannot see the plainest proofs of the Trinity in Godhead and of the humanity of Christ. In a word: the perspicuity of Scripture is twofold, just as there is a double lack of light. The first is external, and relates to the ministry of the Word; the second concerns the knowledge of the heart. If you speak of internal perspicuity, the truth is that nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God’s creatures, nor anything else—as Ps. 13 puts it, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps. 14.1). The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. If, on the other hand, you speak of external perspicuity, the position is that nothing whatsoever is left obscure or ambiguous, but all that is in the Scripture is through the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 70–74.

When God Kills

Monday··2006·11·06
Erasmus feared that the teaching of a human will that is not free, even if true (which he denied), served no good purpose and would cause people to neglect their own responsibility to respond to the gospel. Luther responded: ‘What use or need is there, then, of publishing such things when so many harmful results seem likely to follow?’ I reply: It should be enough to say simply that God has willed their publication, and the reason of the Divine will is not to be sought, but simply to be adored, and the glory given to God, Who, since He alone is just and wise, wrongs none and can do nothing foolish or inconsiderate—however much it may seem otherwise to us. This answer will satisfy those who fear God. However (to say a little more than I need, since there is so much more that I can say), there are two considerations which require the preaching of these truths. The first is the humbling of our pride, and the comprehending of the grace of God; the second is the nature of Christian faith. For the first: God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another—God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation. So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God. This, I repeat, one reason—that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive His gracious promise. The second reason is this: faith’s object is things not seen. That there may be room for faith, therefore, all that is believed must be hidden. Yet it is not hidden more deeply than under a contrary appearance of sight, sense and experience. Thus, when God quickens, He does so by killing; when He justifies, He does so by pronouncing guilty; when He carries up to heaven, He does so by bringing down to hell. As Scripture says in 1 Kings 2, ‘The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up’ (1 Sam. 2.6). (This is no place for a fuller account of these things; but those who have read my books are well acquainted with them.) Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957) 100–101.

The True Church

Tuesday··2006·11·21 · 3 Comments
Anyone who has debated much with Catholics has heard this question: “If the Catholic Church is not the true church, then where was the church for all the centuries between the alleged apostasy of Rome and the Reformation?” It’s a valid question, to which Dr. Luther provides a valid answer: In passing, I will here reply to the passage where you [Erasmus] describe it as unbelievable that God should overlook an error in His church for so many ages, and not reveal to any of His saints a point which we maintain to be fundamental in Christian doctrine. In the first place, we do not say that God tolerated this error in His church, or in any of His saints. For the church is ruled by the Spirit of God, and Rom. 8 tells us that the saints are led by the Spirit of God (v. 14). And Christ abides with His church till the end of the world (Matt. 28.20). And the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (i Tim. 3.15). This we know; for the Creed which we all hold runs thus, ‘I believe in the holy catholic church.’ So it is impossible that she should err in even the least article. Even should we grant that some of the elect are held in error throughout their whole life, yet they must of necessity return into the way before they die; for Christ says in John 8: ‘None shall pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10.28). But what is hard and problematical is just this: ascertaining whether those whom you call the church were the church’or, rather, whether after their lifetime of error they were at last brought back to the truth before they died. It does not at once follow that, if God suffered all those consummate scholars whom you quote to err throughout so many ages, therefore He suffered His church to err! Look at Israel, the people of God. There, out of a great number of kings over a long period of time, not one king is mentioned who did not err. Under Elijah the prophet, all the people and every public institution among them had gone astray into idolatry, so that he thought he was the only one left; yet, while the kings and princes, priests and prophets, and all that could be called the people and church of God, were going to ruin, God had reserved seven thousand to Himself (cf. i Kings 19.18). But who saw them, or knew them to be the people of God ? And who will dare to deny that in our day, under these principal men of yours (for you only mention persons of public office and of great name), God has kept to Himself a church among the common people, while allowing all whom you mention to perish like the kingdom of Israel? For it is God’s prerogative to bring down the chosen ones of Israel, and, as Ps. 77 says, to slay their fat ones (Ps. 78.31); but to preserve the dregs and remnant of Israel, according to Isaiah’s words (cf. Isa. 10.22). What happened under Christ Himself, when all the apostles were offended at Him, when He was denied and condemned by all the people, and only Joseph, Nicodemus and the thief on the cross were preserved? Was it not the former group who were then called the people of God? Indeed, there was a people of God remaining, but it was not so called; and that which was so called was not it. Who knows whether, throughout the whole course of world history from its beginning, the state of the church has not always been such that some were called the people and saints of God who were not so, while others, who were among them as a remnant, were the people and saints of God, but were not so called?—as appears from the histories of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. Look at the time of the Arians, when scarcely five catholic bishops were preserved in the whole world, and they were driven from their sees, while the Arians reigned everywhere, taking to themselves the public name and office of the church. Yet under these heretics Christ preserved His church; though in such a way that it was not for a moment thought or held to be the church. Or show me a single bishop discharging his office under the kingdom of the Pope. Show me a single council at which they dealt with matter of religion, and not with gowns, rank, revenues and other profane trifles instead, which only a lunatic could consider the province of the Holy Ghost! Yet they are called the church, despite the fact that all who live as they do are lost, and are anything but the church. Even under them, however, Christ has preserved His church, though not so as to be called the church. How many saints do you think the Inquisitors alone have in time past burned and killed for heretical perversions, such as John Hus and those like him? And many holy men of the same spirit doubtless lived in their day. Why do you not rather marvel at this, Erasmus: Since the world began, there have always been superior talents, greater learning, and a more intense earnestness among pagans than among Christians and the people of God. It is as Christ Himself acknowledges: ‘the sons of this world are wiser than the sons of light’ (Luke 16.8). What Christian can be compared with Cicero alone (to say nothing of the Greeks) for ability, learning and hard work? What then shall we say hindered them from finding grace? For they certainly exerted ‘free-will’ to the utmost of their power! Who dare say that not one among them pursued truth with all his heart? Yet we are bound to maintain that not one of them reached it. Will you say in this case too that it is unbelievable that God abandoned so many great men throughout the whole course of history and let them strive in vain? Certainly, if ‘free-will’ has any being and power at all, its being and power must have been present with such men as these, in some one case at least! But it availed nothing; indeed, it always wrought in the wrong direction; so that by this argument alone it can be proved clearly enough that ‘free-will’ is nothing at all, inasmuch as one can show no trace of it from beginning to end of the world! But I return to the matter in hand. What wonder, if God should leave all the great men of the church to go their own ways, when He thus allowed all the nations to go their own ways, as Paul says in Acts (cf. Acts 14.16) ? My good Erasmus, God’s church is not so common a thing as the term ‘God’s church’; nor are God’s saints so promiscuously found as the phrase ‘God’s saints.’ The saints are pearls and precious jewels, which the Spirit does not cast before swine; but (as Scripture puts it) He keeps them hid, that the wicked may not see the glory of God! Else, if they were open to the recognition of all, how could they be so vexed and afflicted in the world as they are? So Paul says: ‘Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (i Cor. 2.8). —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 119–123.

Blunders into Fruit

Tuesday··2006·11·28
If you’re a human being, you’ve made bad decisions. Some of them may have been seriously wrong, even sinful. You may have made choices that have left you wondering whether you’ve “missed your calling,” whether you’ve blown it so bad that God’s will is now out of reach. Fear not. On July 2 [1505], on the way home from law school, [Luther] was caught in a thunderstorm and was hurled to the ground by lightning. He cried out, “Help me, St. Anne; I will become a monk.” He feared for his soul and did not know how to find safety in the Gospel. So he took the next best thing, the monastery. Fifteen days later, to his father’s dismay, he kept his vow. On July 17, 1505, he knocked at the gate of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt and asked the prior to accept him into the order. Later he said this choice was a flagrant sin—“not worth a farthing” because made against his father and out of fear. Then he added, “But how much good the merciful Lord has allowed to come of it!” We see this kind of merciful providence over and over again in the history of the church. We saw it powerfully in the life of Augustine, and we will see it in Calvin’s life too. It should protect us from the paralyzing effects of bad decisions in our past. God is not hindered in his sovereign designs from leading us, as he did Luther, out of blunders into fruitful lives of joy. —John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2000), 83–84.

The Word Is in the Book

Wednesday··2006·11·29
Among the frustrations of conversing with postmodern “thinkers” is their insistence that the Bible is not the Word of God, but Christ is the Word. True Christianity is not to be found in the written Word, but in relationship with the incarnate Word. To this I reply, “Nonsense!” (Greek: σκύβαλον). John Piper responds more eloquently (and more politely): Why is the Spirit so silent about the incarnate Word after the age of the New Testament—even among those who encroach on the authority of the book? The answer seems to be that it pleased God to reveal the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, to all succeeding generations through a book, especially the Gospels. Luther puts it like this: The apostles themselves considered it necessary to put the New Testament into Greek and to bind it fast to that language, doubtless in order to preserve it for us safe and sound as in a sacred ark. For they foresaw all that was to come and now has come to pass, and knew that if it were contained only in one’s head, wild and fearful disorder and confusion, and many various interpretations, fancies and doctrines would arise in the Church, which could be prevented and from which the plain man could be protected only by committing the New Testament to writing and language. The ministry of the internal Spirit does not nullify the ministry of the “external Word.” The Spirit does not duplicate what the book was designed to do. The Spirit glorifies the incarnate Word of the Gospels, but he does not re-narrate his words and deeds for illiterate people or negligent pastors. The immense implication of this for the pastoral ministry and lay ministry is that ministers are essentially brokers of the Word of God transmitted in a book. We are fundamentally readers and teachers and proclaimers of the message of the book. And all of this is for the glory of the incarnate Word and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. But neither the indwelling Spirit nor the incarnate Word leads us away from the book that Luther called “the external Word.” Christ stands forth for our worship and our fellowship and our obedience from the “external Word.” This is where we see “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). So it is for the sake of Christ that the Spirit broods over the book where Christ is clear, not over trances where he is obscure. —John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2000), 81–83.

Luther: The Sum of the New Testament

Monday··2007·01·15 · 3 Comments
Luther gets it almost right: The New Testament, properly speaking, consists of promises and exhortations, just as the Old, properly speaking, consists of laws and threats. In the New Testament, the gospel is preached and this is just the word that offers the Spirit and grace for the remission of sins which was procured for us by Christ crucified. It is all entirely free, given by the mercy of God the Father alone as He shows His favour towards us, who are unworthy, and who deserve condemnation rather than anything else. Exhortations follows after this; and they are intended to stir up those who have obtained mercy and have been justified already, to be energetic in bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit and of the righteousness given them, to exercise themselves in love and good works, and boldly to bear the cross and all the other tribulations of this world. This is the whole sum of the New Testament. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell 1957) 180. The Old Testament, of course, consists of a great deal more than “laws and threats.” It contains the greatest promises ever given. Surely Luther knew that.
What is your attitude toward the Word of God? Do you approach it casually, or with awe and reverence? In ancient times the prophets felt the greatest fear when they received a message from God or an angel. Even Moses could hardly endure this great terror. Since the Word had not yet become flesh, they could not understand it because of its abounding glory and their own great weakness. But now, after the Word has been made flesh, it has become very captivating and is imparted to us by men of our very own flesh and blood. That, however, does not mean we should love it less or treat it with less reverence. It is the same Word as before, even though it does not come to us with terror, but with winning love. Those who do not want to love and honor it now, must at last endure all the more anguish. —Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 17.

The Idolatry of Ingratitude

Monday··2007·09·17
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts . . . to degrading passions . . . to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper . . . —Romans 1:21–28 Notice in the text [Romans 1:18–32] the steps or stages of (heathen) perversion. The first step of their idolatry is ingratitude: they were not thankful. So Satan showed Himself ungrateful over against His Creator before he fell. Whoever enjoys God’s gifts as though he had not graciously received them, forgotten the Donor, will soon find himself filled with self-complacency. The next step is vanity: they ‘became vain in their imaginations.’ in this stage men delight in themselves and in creatures, enjoying what is profitable to them. Thus they become vain in their imaginations, that is, in all their plans, efforts and endeavors. In and through them they seek whatever they desire; nevertheless, all their efforts remain vain since they seek only themselves: their glory, satisfaction and benefit. The third step is blindness; for, deprived of truth and steeped in vanity, man of necessity becomes blind in his whole feeling and thinking, since now he is turned entirely away from God. The fourth step or stage is man’s total departure from God, and this is the worst; for when he has lost God there remains nothing else for God to do than to give them up to all manner of shame and vice according to the will of Satan. In the same way also, man sinks into spiritual idolatry of a finer kind, which today is spread far and wide, ingratitude and love of vanity (of one’s own wisdom, of righteousness, of, as it is commonly said, of one’s ‘good intention’) prevent man so thoroughly that he refuses to be reproved, for now he thinks that his conduct is good and pleasing to God. He now imagines he is worshiping a merciful God. Whereas in reality he has none, indeed, he worships his own figment of reason more devoutly that the living God. Oh, how great an evil ingratitude is! It produces desire for vain things, and this again produces blindness; and blindness produces idolatry, and idolatry leads to a whole deluge of vices. Conversely, gratitude preserves love for God and so the heart remains attached to Him and is enlightened. Filled with light, he worships only the living God and such true worship is followed immediately by a whole host of virtues. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 29–30.

Works of the Law versus Works of Faith

Wednesday··2007·09·19 · 3 Comments
knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. —Galatians 2:16 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:8–9 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. —Romans 2:13 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. —James 2:24 Contradictions! The Bible is full of them. How are we to make sense of this? Let’s ask Dr. Luther: Here [in Romans 3:1–20] the question arises: How can a person be justified without the works of the Law, or how can it be that justification does not flow from our works? For St. James writes: “We see how that by works a man is justified, and and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). So also St. Paul: “Faith . . . worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6); and: “The doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). To this we reply: as the Apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace, so also he distinguishes between the works resulting from these. He calls those deeds “works of the Law” that are done without faith and divine grace, merely because of the law, moved by either fear of punishment or the alluring hope of reward. By works of faith he calls those deeds which are done in the spirit of (Christian) liberty and flow from love to God. These can be done only by such as are justified by faith. Justification, however, is not in any way promoted by the works of the Law, but they rather hinder it, because they keep a person from regarding himself as unrighteous and so in need of justification. When James and Paul say that a man is justified by works, they argue against the false opinion of those who think that (for justification) a faith suffices that is without works. Paul does not say that true faith exists without its proper works, for without these there is not true faith. But what he says is that it is faith alone that justifies, regardless of works. Justification therefore does not presuppose the works of the law, but rather a living faith which performs its proper works, as we read Galatians 5:67. By the law is the knowledge of sin (3:20). Such knowledge of sin is obtained in two ways. First, by meditation (of the Law), as we read in Romans 7:7: “I had not know lust except the law had said, thou shalt not covet.” Secondly, by experience, namely, by trying to fulfill the Law, or we may say, through the Law as was assure to fulfill its obligations. Then the Law will become to us as occasion to sin, for then the perverted will of man, inclined to evil, but urged by the Law to do good, becomes all the more unwillingly and disinclined to do what is good. It hates to be drawn away from what it loves; and what it loves is sin, as we learn from Geneses 8:21. But just so, man, forced by the Law and obeying it unwillingly, sees how deeply sin and evil are rooted in his soul. He would never notice this, if he did not have the Law and would not try to follow it. The Apostle here only mentions this though, since he intends to treat it more fully in Chapters 5 and 7. Here he merely meets the objection that the Law would be useless if its works could not justify. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 59–60.

Abraham Believed God

Thursday··2007·09·20
“I believe in God.” I have had some interesting conversations that began with that statement. Sadly, few who make it can honestly drop that little preposition: in. Most people I know will say, yes, I believe in God, but when confronted with what God has said about himself and about them, have to admit that, well, no, I don’t actually believe that. Then I have told them that it isn’t those who believe in God who will be saved, but only those who believe God. And this is the great stumbling block. Here are a few words from Luther on what it means to believe God: Abraham believed God (4:3). This must be understood in the sense that Abraham was always ready to believe God. He steadfastly believed God. This fact we learn from Genesis 12 and 13, where we are told that Abraham believed God who called and commanded him to leave his country and go into a strange land. Again he believed God when, according to Genesis 1:22ff., he was commanded to slay his son Isaac, and so forth. Whatever he did, he did by faith as the Apostle declares in Hebrews 11:8–10. So also what is stated in our text (v. 3) is said of Abraham’s faith in general, and not merely with regard to the one promise recorded in Genesis 15:4–6. To believe God means to trust him always and everywhere. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 66.

“Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.”

Monday··2007·09·24
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. —Romans 5:3–5 Knowing that tribulation worketh patience (5:3). He who has faith indeed has all the excellent things (which are mentioned in the text), but in a hidden way. Through tribulation they are tried and purified to the highest degree. Whatever (virtues) tribulation finds in us, it develops more fully. If anyone is carnal, weak, blind, wicked, irascible, haughty, and so forth, tribulation will make him more carnal, weak, blind, wicked and irritable. On the other hand, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle and humble, he will become more spiritual, wise, pious, gentle, and humble, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 4:1: “Thou hast enlarged me when in was in distress.” Those speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to such as offend them or to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted. Those are ignorant, childish and indeed hypocritical who outwardly venerate the relics of the holy Cross, yet flee and detest tribulation and affliction. Holy Scripture calls tribulation the cross of Christ in a special sense, as in Mathew 10:38: “He that taketh his not cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Let everyone be sure that he is not Christian but a Turk and an enemy of Christ who refuses to bear this cross; for here the Apostle speaks of all (believers) when he says: “We glory in tribulations.” And in Acts 14:22 we read: “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.” “Must” does not mean that tribulation comes by chance, or that it is a matter of choice for us, of that we may take it or leave it. In many Scripture passages our Lord is called a “Savior” and a “Helper in need,” and this means that all who do not desire to endure tribulation, rob him of his titles and names of honor. To such people our Lord will never become a Savior, because they do not admit that they are under condemnation. To them God is never mighty, wise and gracious, because they do not desire to honor Him as creatures that are weak, foolish and subject to punishment. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 74–75.

Love—for God’s Sake

Tuesday··2007·09·25
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. —Romans 5:3–5 Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts 5:5. Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God, that is, the love which of God and works in us as unshakable adherence to Him, is shed abroad in our hearts. This love we receive by grace and not on account of our merit; and it makes us willing to endure tribulation. If men are unwilling and of an unstable mind, they do not endure it by the Holy Ghost. St. Augustine remarks on the passage: “Step by step he (the Apostle), leads us toward love, which, as he says, we have as a gift from the Holy Spirit. He shows us thereby that we must ascribe all that we might claim for ourselves to God who by grace grant us His Holy Spirit.” We must understand these words as an added motivation or instruction of the Holy Spirit, showing why we can glory in tribulation, though this is impossible by our own strength. It is not the effect of our own power, but it comes from the divine love which is given us by the Holy Ghost. Let us note: 1. It is shed abroad, hence not born in us or originated by us. 2. It is by the Holy Ghost, therefore it is not acquired by our virtuous efforts as we may acquire good habits which lie on merely moral plane. 3. In our hearts, that is, it is in the innermost course of our being, not merely on the surface, as a foam is swimming on the top of the water. Such (superficial) love is that of the hypocrites who imagine and pretend to love. 4. Which is given unto us, that is, which is not merited, for we deserve the very opposite. 5. It is called love (caritas) in contradistinction to the inert and lower form of love with which we love creatures. It is a precious and worthy love, by which we most highly esteem that which we love, as we esteem God above all things, or as we love Him with highest esteem. He who loves God merely for the sake of His gifts or the sake of any advantage, loves Him with the lowest form of love, that is, with a sinful desire. Such (earthly) love means to use God, but not to delight in God. 6. Of God, because only God is so loved. The neighbor is loved for God’s sake, that is, because God wills this. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 76–77.

True Holiness

Thursday··2007·09·27
and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. —Romans 6:18–19 Yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness (6:19). The Apostle when here speaking of holiness has in mind the chastity of the body, in particular, that purity which comes from the Spirit of faith, who sanctifies us both inwardly and outwardly. Otherwise it would be a pagan chastity and not holy chastity, or (true) holiness, since the soul remains defiled. First the soul must become pure through faith, so that the sanctified mind purifies also the body for God’s sake. Of this our Lord speaks in Mathew 23:26: “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 90.

Luther the Calvinist

Friday··2007·09·28
I know it’s not quite right to call Luther a Calvinist, but it’s kind of fun. In any case, I might still be a Lutheran if Lutheranism more accurately reflected the doctrine of Luther, and if Lutherans didn’t work so hard to distance themselves from Calvin. The following commentary on Romans 8:28 sounds a lot like the Calvinist heresy I was warned about as a young Lutheran. I apologize for the length, but it didn’t seem right to cut it up. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (8:28.) The Greek text has the singular “works together” (sunergei), which is more fitting, since the referece is to the Holy Ghost; for this is the (Apostle’s) meaning: We must not be surprised that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, since He works together with God’s saints in all they do. That is the true exposition of the statement: “He maketh intercession for the saints.” In this (intercession) He works together with us, as He works together with us in all other things (Luther here follows the Greek reading: Panta sunergei ho Theos: in all things God works together with us for good.) The Apostle here says without any qualification: “Who are the called according to his purpose.” There is only this one purpose, namely, the purpose of God, which those recognize who recognize God. There is no other purpose than the one divine purpose (of salvation). This passage is the foundation on which rests everything that the Apostle says to the end of the chapter; for the means to show that to the elect who are loved of God and who love God, the Holy Spirit makes all things work for good even though they are evil (in themselves, e.g., sickness, persecution, etc.) He here takes up the doctrine of predestination which is not so incomprehensible as many think, but it is rather full of sweet comfort for the elect and for all who have the Holy Spirit. But it is most bitter and hard for (those who adhere to) the wisdom of the flesh. There is no other reason why the many tribulations and evils cannot separate the saints from the lover of God than the are the called “according to His purpose.” Hence God makes all things work together for good to them, and to them only. If there would not be this divine purpose, but our salvation would rest upon our will or work, it would be based upon chance. How easily in that case could one single evil hinder or destroy it! But when the Apostle says: “Who is he that condemneth?” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:33, 34, 35), he shows that the elect are not saved by chance, but by God’s purpose and will. Indeed for this reason, God allows the elect to encounter to many evil things as are here named, namely, to point out that they are saved not by their merit, but by His election, His unchangeable and firm purpose (of salvation in Christ). They are saved despite their many efforts (to lead them into perdition). What then is there to our own righteousness? To our good works? To the freedom of the will? To chance in the things that occur? That (denial of all these things) is what we must preach, (as does the Apostle), for that means to preach rightly. That means to destroy the wisdom of the flesh. So far the Apostle has destroyed merely the hands, feet, and tongue of the wisdom of the flesh; now he wipes it out utterly. Now he makes us see that it amounts to nothing, and that our salvation altogether lies in His hands. God absolutely recognizes no chance; it is only men who speak of chance. Not a single leaf falls from the tree without the will of the Father. All things are essentially in His hands, and so are our times. There are yet three thoughts that should be considered in connection with the subject (of divine predestination). First there are the proofs of God’s unchangeable election, gathered from the words of Scripture and His (divine works. The Apostle says: “Who are the called according to his purpose .” “Purpose” here stands for God’s predestination, or His free election, of His (eternal) counsel (regarding the salvation to individual persons) later, in chapter 9, the Apostle illustrates God’s eternal election by referring to Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau (v. 8f.). As he clearly shows, the difference between these men rests solely upon divine predestination. Lastly, for God’s eternal election the Apostle quotes two passages: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (9:15); and : “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (9:18). Similar passages are found elsewhere in Chapters 9 and 10. There are passages treating of God’s eternal election also in other books of Scripture. Thus we read in John 13:18: “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen” and in John 10:27-29: “My sheep here my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal love; and they shall never perish. Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater that all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand’; and in II Timothy 2:19: “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knows them that are his.” A further proof of God’s eternal purpose of election we find in His works. First, in the works which God did to Ishmael and Esau, Pharaoh and the Egyptians, as they are reported in this chapter and the following, Again, in the divine acts by which He gives over His saints to so many evil and rapacious enemies and yet does not permit them to lose their salvation. This clearly proves that His election stands firm and so cannot be hindered by any creature. Then also this act of God proves the divine election that He permits may to commit great sins and yet they are brought to repentance and are saved (David: II Samuel 12:13). While others who in the beginning lead a pious life and do may good works not saved (Saul: I Samuel 13:13). Compare for this also Judas and the thief on the cross (Matt. 26:14; Luke 23:41). The second thought (that we should consider in connection with God’s eternal election) is that all objections to predestination proceed from the wisdom of the flesh (human reason). Hence, whoever does not deny himself and does not learn to keep his thoughts in subjection to the divine will, never will find an answer to his questions. And that rightly so, for the foolish wisdom of the flesh exalts itself above God and judges His will, just as though this were of little importance. It should rather let itself be judged by God. For this reason the Apostle refutes all objections with two brief statements. First, he checks our arrogance by asking: “O man, who art thou that thou replies against God?” (Rom. 9:20) Then he defends the divine election by asking: “Hath not the potter power over the clay?” (v.21) The first and most flimsy objection against divine election is this, that man has been given a free will by which he can earn for himself either merit or demerit. To this I reply: Man’s free will without divine grace has not the least ability to secure righteousness, but is totally corrupt. The second objection is this: “Who will have all men to be saved” (I Tim. 2:4); that is, God gave His Son into death for us, as He has created us for life eternal. Again: All things exist on account of man; but he himself exists for God’s sake to enjoy first; for all these statements are realized properly in the elect, as the Apostle writes in II Timothy 2:10: “I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that thy may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” A third objection reads: Where there is not sin, there God does not condemn. But whoever is a sinner of necessity is condemned unjustly. To this I reply: We are all sinners of necessity and so under condemnation, but no one is a sinner by coercion, or against his will. A fourth objection is this: God hardens the will of man so that he desires to transgress the divine Law all the more. Hence, God is the cause why men sin and are condemned. This is the strongest and most weighty objection. But the Apostle meets it by saying that so it is God’s will, and that if God so wills He does not act unjustly, for all things belong to Him as the clay belongs to the potter. He thus establishes His law in order that the elect may obey it, but the reprobates may be caught in it, and so He may show both His wrath and His mercy. Here indeed the wisdom of the flesh objects saying: “It is cruel and regrettable that God seeks His glorification in my misery.” Ah, it is the voice of the flesh that says: “My, my!” strike out this “my, my” and say instead: “Glory be to Thee, O Lord!” Then you will be saved. The wisdom of the flesh seeks its own glory and is more afraid of suffering than of desecrating God. Hence it follows its own will rather than the divine will. We must think differently of God than we do of men; for He owes us nothing. That is what the Apostle teaches at the close of the eleventh chapter: “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?” (11:35) The third thought (that we could consider in connection with God’s eternal election) is that this doctrine is indeed most bitter to the wisdom of the flesh, which revolts against it and even becomes guilty of blasphemy on this point. But it is fully defeated when we learn to know that our salvation rests in no wise upon ourselves and our e conduct, but is founded only upon what is outside us, namely on God’s election. Those who have the wisdom of the Spirit become ineffably happy through the doctrine, as the Apostle himself illustrates this. To them, (His elect), Christ says: Fear not , little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). So also God says in Isaiah 35:4: “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.” Everywhere in Scripture those are praised and encouraged who listen to Gods Word with trembling. As they despair of themselves, the Word of God performs its work in them. If we anxiously tremble at God’s Word and are terrified by it, this is indeed a good sign. If one fears that he is not elected or is otherwise troubled about his election, he should be thankful that he has such fear; for then he should surely know that God cannot lie when in Psalm 51:17 He says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken on contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Thus he should cheerfully cast himself on the faithfulness of God who gives this promise, and turn away from the foreknowledge the threatening God. Then he will be saved as one who is elected. It is not the characteristic of reprobates to tremble at the secret counsel of God; but that is the characteristic of the elect. The reprobates despise it, or at least pay no attention to it, or else they declare in the arrogance of their despair: “Well, if I am damned, all right, then I am damned.” With reference to the elect we might distinguish between three classes. First, there are those who are satisfied with God’s will, as it is, and do not murmur against God, but rather believe that they are elected. They do not want to be damned. Secondly, there are those who submit to God’s will and are satisfied with it in their hearts. At least they desire to be satisfied, if God does not wish to save, but reject them. Thirdly, there are those who really are ready to be condemned if God should will this. These are cleansed most of all of their own will and carnal wisdom. And these experience the truth of Canticles 8:6: “Set me a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death.” Such love is always joined with cross and tribulation, for without it the soul should becomes lax, and does not seek after God, nor thirst after God, who is the Fountain of Life. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 111–116.

Be Transformed

Tuesday··2007·10·02 · 5 Comments
I am not a preacher, but I have occasionally played one when asked to fill in. Of the few times I have done so, there is really only one that I can look back on with any satisfaction that I did right with that responsibility. On that occasion, I chose Romans 12:1–2 for my text. Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Since then, I have always been interested in seeing how real expositors handle that text. I am always gratified to find that I didn’t botch it completely, and in fact agreed almost entirely with those who know far better than I. However, I am also severely humbled to see how much I missed. Luther heaps more shame upon me: Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (12:2). In this way the Apostle describes (Christian) progress; for he addresses those who already are Christians. The Christian life does not mean to stand still, but to move from that which is good to that which is better. St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) rightly says: “As soon as you do not desire to become better, then you have ceased to be good.” It does not help a tree to have green leaves and flowers if it does not bear fruit besides its flowers. For this reason—(for not bearing fruit)—many (nominal Christians) perish in their flowering. Man (the Christian) is always in the condition of nakedness, always in the state of becoming, always in the state of potentiality, always in the condition of activity. He is always a sinner, but also always repentant and so always righteous. We are in part sinners, and in part righteous. No one is so good as that he could not become better; no one is so evil, as that he could not become worse. This (fact) the Apostle expresses very nicely by saying “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He adds “By the renewing of your mind” to stress that renewal of the mind, which takes place from day to day and progresses farther and farther, according to the words, II Corinthians 4:16: “The inward man is renewed day by day”; of Colossians 3:10: “Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind” or “Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 151–152. What a rich passage this is! Maybe I’ll live long enough to thoroughly appreciate it. I have long said that being a Christian is not a matter of doing, but of being. I think I’ll have to replace being with becoming.

Reformation Day 2008

Friday··2008·10·31
Today is the 491st anniversary of the posting of Luthers 95 Theses. (If you were thinking this is Halloween, this may interest you.) I have no great Reformation Day post today. I only give you this small tidbit from Luther: The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me. quoted by Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made Crossway, 2006), 26. This Reformation Day, open the Scriptures. Listen as they speak to you; let them lay hands on you and grip you tightly. Many saints of the past have suffered much and even died so that you do just that.

Sola Scriptura in the Confessions

Wednesday··2009·03·11
In October of 1518, Martin Luther was already in hot water with the pope after having posted his Ninety-Five Theses the previous year. But he made things considerably worse for himself when, in a debate with Dominican Cardinal Cajetan, he asserted that the pope could and had erred. He turned up the heat considerably in the summer of 1519 when he confessed to Johannes von Eck that not only could popes and councils err, they had erred grievously in condemning John Huss. So was born the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. It was not that Luther despised church authority. He merely recognized that Scripture alone was inerrant and infallible, and therefore only Scripture possessed absolute normative authority. This principle is codified in several sixteenth century Reformed confessions which R. C. Sproul excerpts in the first chapter of his book, Scripture Alone. The Theses of Berne (1528): The church of Christ makes no laws or commandments without God’s Word. Hence all human traditions, which are called ecclesiastical commandments, are binding upon us only in so far as they are based and commanded by God’s Word. (Sec. 2) The Geneva Confession (1536): First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as a rule of faith and religion, without mixing it with any other things which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word of God, and without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord. (Sec. 1) The French Confession of Faith (1559): We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives it’s authority from God alone, and not from men. And inasmuch as is the rule of all truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation it is not lawful for men, even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it, or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority whether of antiquity, or custom or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these holy Scriptures, but on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated and reformed according to them. (Art. 5) The Belgic Confession (1561): We receive all these books, and these only as holy and confirmation of our faith; believing, without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives, and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnessed in our hearts that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves (Art. 5). Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule (Art. 7). The Second Helvic confession (1566): Therefore, we do not admit any other judge that Christ himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what is to be avoided (chap. 2). —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 18–20.
The church has historically called Scripture the “norm of norms and without norm.” The phrase “norm of norms” indicates the superiority of Scripture above all other standards, just as the New Testament calls Christ the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords.” With this phrase, we acknowledge that Scripture stands superior to all other authorities. But this does not mean that Scripture is simply a “first among equals.” The additional phrase “without norm” says that it stands alone, with or without the affirmation of other authorities. It is what it is whether it is acknowledged or not. Scripture alone is infallible; Scripture alone cannot err. This is the major point of conflict between Rome and the Reformation, between Roman Catholicism and Christianity. Rome claims infallibility for the church as well as Scripture. In fact, Rome claims to have infallibly created the canon of Scripture. Protestants make no such claims. We know that we are fallible, from the lowest to the highest. We know that the possibility of error exists in everything we do, including—and this is troubling to many—the compiling of the canon of Scripture. On this issue, R. C. Sproul writes: This disagreement . . . points to the larger issue that surrounds the question of canon. How was the canon established? By whose authority? Is the canon closed to further additions? . . . Did the canon come into being by the fiat of the church? Was it already in existence in the primitive Christian community? Was the canon established by a special providence? Is it possible that certain books that made their way into the present canon should not have been included? Is it possible that books that were excluded should have been included? We know that at least for a temporary period Martin Luther raised questions about the inclusion of the Epistle of James in the New Testament canon. That Luther once referred to James as an “Epistle of Straw” or a “right strawy Epistle” is a matter of record. Critics of biblical inspiration have not grown weary of pointing to these comments of Luther to argue their case that Luther did not believe in the inspiration or infallibility of Scripture. This argument not only fails to do justice to Luther’s repeated assertions of the divine authority of Scripture and their freedom from error, but more seriously it fails to make the proper distinction between the question of the nature of Scripture and the extent of Scripture. Luther was unambiguous in his conviction that all of Scripture is inspired and infallible. His question about James was not a question of the inspiration of Scripture but a question pf whether James was in fact Scripture. Though Luther did not challenge the infallibility of Scripture he most emphatically challenged the infallibility of the church. He allowed for the possibility that the church could err, even when the church ruled on the question of what books properly belonged in the canon. To see this issue more clearly we can refer to a distinction often made by Dr. John Gerstner. Gerstner distinguishes between the Roman Catholic view of the canon and the Protestant view of the canon in this manner: Roman Catholic view: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books. Protestant view: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books. The distinction in view here refers to the Catholic Church’s conviction that the canon of Scripture was declared infallibly by the church. On the other hand, the Protestant view is that the church’s decision regarding what books make up the canon was a fallible decision. Being fallible means that it is possible that the church erred in its compilation of the books found in the present canon of Scripture. When Gerstner makes this distinction he is neither asserting nor implying that the church indeed did err in its judgment of what properly belongs to the canon. His view is not designed to cast doubt on the canon but simply to guard against the idea of an infallible church. It is one thing to say that the church could have erred; it is another thing to say that the church did err. Gerstner’s formula has often been met with both consternation and sharp criticism in evangelical circles. It seems to indicate that he and those who agree with his assessment are undermining the authority of the Bible. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like Martin Luther and John Calvin before him, Gerstner has been an ardent defender of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. His formula is merely designed to acknowledge that there was a historical selection process by which the church determined what books were really Scripture and what books were not Scripture. The point is that in this sifting or selection process the church sought to identify what books were actually to be regarded as Scripture. It may be said that Rome has a certain “advantage” with respect to infallibility. Rome believes that the church is infallible as well as the Scripture. This infallibility extends not only to the question of canon formation but also to the question of biblical interpretation. To summarize, we can say that according to Rome we have an infallible Bible whose extent is decreed infallibly by the church and whose content is interpreted infallibly by the church. The Christian individual is still left in his own fallibility as he seeks to understand the infallible Bible as interpreted by the infallible church. No one is extending infallibility to the individual believer. For the classic Protestant, though the individual believer has the right to the private interpretation of Scripture, it is clearly acknowledged that the individual is capable of misinterpreting the Bible. He has the ability to misinterpret Scripture, but never the right to do it. That is, with the right of private interpretation the responsibility of correct inter-pretation is also given. We never have the right to distort the teaching of Scripture. Both sides agree that the individual is fallible when seeking to understand the Scripture. Historic Protestantism limits the scope of infallibility to the Scriptures themselves. Church tradition and church creeds can err. Individual interpreters of Scripture can err. It is the Scriptures alone that are without error. —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 40–43.

A Spiritual Assembly

Thursday··2009·09·24
Six hundred years ago, Jan Hus wrote that neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church, and his predestinate are the body and each one is a member, because his bride is one person with Jesus Christ [The Church, ed. David S. Schaff (Charles Scribners Sons, 1915), 66.]. One hundred years later, Luther echoed those words. That Reformation tradition was carried forward by the Puritans. Leland Ryken writes:    The greatest of all Puritan legacies in regard to ecclesiastical theory was also the most revolutionary in its time. It was the notion that the church is a spiritual reality. It is not impressive buildings or fancy clerical vestments. It is instead the company of the redeemed. The Puritans repeatedly showed their acceptance of Luthers dictum that The church is a spiritual assembly of souls. . . . The true, real, right, essential church is a matter of the spirit and not of anything external. For William Gouge the church consists of those who inwardly and effectively by the spirit . . . believe in Christ. John Hooper denied that the church consists of bishops, priests and such other, affirming rather that it is the company of all men hearing Gods Word and obeying unto the same. Richard Baxter agreed: the church is a holy Christian society for ordinary holy communion and mutual help in Gods public worship and holy living. Implicit in these definitions of the church is a Puritan preference for the invisible church over a type of institutional structure. The church is emphatically not the professional clergy and their rituals. What understand you by the church? asked John Balls Catechism. The answer: by the church, we understand not the pope. . . ; nor his bishops and cardinals met in general council. . . ; but the whole company of believers. If the church is essentially invisible rather than institutional, its head is obviously not a pope or church council, but Christ. The Puritans reiterated this again and again, as when Gouge spoke of that church whereof Christ is properly head. Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 115.

The Biblical View

Monday··2010·06·07 · 10 Comments
A couple of weeks ago, Ligonier Ministries’ Renewing Your Mind radio program broadcast a couple of old lectures—not really sermons, and not really a “debate” (as they were billed), either—on baptism. R. C. Sproul presented the traditional view of infant baptism, and John MacArthur presented the biblical doctrine of the baptism of believers alone. Now, if I was one of the Truly Reformed, I’d be annoyed by that last sentence, particularly by the adjectives. Of course, this is my blog, and I’m not pretending any kind of impartiality. I am also not introducing two speakers presenting opposing views, so I am under no burden to appear fair and unbiased. However, if that was the situation, describing the opposing views as I did above—even though that is exactly how I see it—would be prejudicial, and inappropriate for the moment. Consider, then, how the two messages were described on the Ligonier website: Baptism Debate With R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur The church’s practice of infant baptism came under attack in the sixteenth century. Since that time, many Christian churches have rallied against the practice, administering baptism only to believing adults. From Ligonier Ministries” 1998 National Conference, Drs. John MacArthur Jr. and R.C. Sproul discuss their views on the Biblical meaning and mode of Christian baptism. Dr. MacArthur presents the credo-baptist position and Dr. Sproul presents the historic paedo(infant)-baptist position. That’s “the credo-baptist position” vs. the “historic paedo(infant)-baptist position.” That really didn’t bother me at first, but after a comment about it was made on another blog, I began to think more about what the word “historic” means: Main Entry: his·tor·ic Pronunciation: \hi-’stȯr-ik, -’stär-\ Function: adjective Date: 1594 : historical: as a : famous or important in history <historic battlefields> b : having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion> c : known or established in the past <historic interest rates> d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts> So which view is more “historic”? I’ll grant that paedobaptism is an historic practice, but, by Dr. Sproul’s own admission, we don’t find it documented until the third century. Credobaptism, we all know, is explicitly documented in the New Testament. Paedobaptism is clearly not the historic position. To Ligonier’s credit, the original Renewing Your Mind introductions did not use quite so prejudicial a term. The original audience heard the following descriptions: the Protestant views of infant baptism the traditional doctrine of infant baptism the traditional Protestant case for infant baptism the classical Protestant view of infant baptism the classical Protestant case for infant baptism the Protestant case for infant baptism the traditional view of believer’s baptism Those descriptions still indicate some bias—there is a “case for” infant baptism, but only a “view of” believer’s baptism—but I don’t find them quite so irksome. After all, the earliest Protestants were paedobaptists. Somewhat humorous to me, though, is the reference to the “classical Protestant view.” [ahem] Excuse me, Mr. Ligonier-Announcer, but wouldn’t that be the Lutheran view? Well, be that as it may, I’ve rambled on for some five hundred words without getting to the issue that is really on my mind. We could go back and forth indefinitely on which is the historic view, or the (historical, classical, or what-you-will) Protestant view. Those discussions are not entirely irrelevant, but neither are they decisive. What we really want to know is which view is biblical. Luther famously declared that popes and councils can err. He also proved that reformers can err. Reformed churchmen would point to his doctrine of baptismal regeneration as proof of that. Among his other errors, also recognized by the Reformed, were his insistence on the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (transconsubstantiation), and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Calvin also either believed in or considered it unnecessary to deny the perpetual virginity. The Church Fathers present a wide variety of oddities (consider where Matthew 18:7–9 took Origen!). The Fathers and Reformers, valuable as they are, must be left in their places. So I think it’s unfortunate that those terms (historic, classical, traditional, Protestant) were used at all. Being Protestant is of great importance to me. That the Reformation was and remains necessary and right is a presupposition in any of my discussions. Yet the bottom line is not being Protestant, or (mostly) Reformed. The bottom line is being biblical. I’m sure Drs. Sproul and MacArthur would agree.

Lutheran Baptism

Wednesday··2010·09·08 · 3 Comments
A reader, knowing of my background in the Lutheran church, recently sent me this question (paraphrased): My daughter and I recently attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. During the service, the pastor said something that caught our attention. He made a comment in reference to baptism “giving” faith to someone. I am fairly certain that if I asked a Lutheran if baptism saves, he’d say “no.” But how does that correspond with the remark about baptism “giving” faith? My daughter asked me that later, after the service. I didn’t have an answer, and I told her I’d look into it. What would you tell her if she asked you? I can’t speak for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I come from another denomination that is not as high-church as the LCMS, that (I think) does not emphasize the sacraments quite as much, but don’t quote me on that. So I don’t know how a LCMS pastor would explain it. I can only offer the following statement from the LCMS website: Baptism, too, is applied for the remission of sins and is therefore a washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Before offering any of my own comments, I think it would be best to quote the Lutheran confessions, accepted by the LCMS and, as far as I know, all evangelical Lutheran denominations.* Luther’s Small Catechism: [Baptism] works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe, as the word and promise of God declare. —The Book of Concord, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 348–349. The Augsburg Confession: It is taught that Baptism is necessary and that grace is offered through it. Children, too, should be baptized, for in Baptism are committed to God and are acceptable to him. —Ibid., 33. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession: Baptism is necessary to salvation; children are to be baptized; the baptism of children is not in useless, but is necessary and efficacious for salvation. . . . It is most certain that the promise of salvation also applies to little children. It does not apply to those who are outside of Christ’s church, where there is neither Word nor sacraments, because Christ regenerates through Word and sacrament. Therefore it is necessary to baptize children, so that the promise of salvation might be applied to them, according to Christ’s command, (Matt. 28:19): “Baptize all nations.” Just as here salvation is offered to all, so Baptism is offered to all—men, women, children, and infants. Therefore it clearly follows that infants should be baptized because salvation is offered with Baptism. —Ibid., 178. Luther’s Large Catechism: . . . since we now know what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn for what purpose it was instituted, that is, what benefits, gifts, and effects it brings. Nor can we understand this better than from the words of Christ quoted above, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” To put it most simply, the power, work, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. . . . To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever. —Ibid., 439. The Lutheran link between salvation and baptism should be pretty obvious. Returning to the original question, I don’t see a statement in the confessions explicitly saying that baptism gives faith (although I may have missed it); however, Dr. Mueller (an LCMS theologian), in his Christian Dogmatics, explains: In agreement with the Romanists are all the Romanizing Protestants who claim that Baptism indeed works regeneration, but without actually kindling faith. They thus regard baptismal grace as conferred without a receiving means on the part of man, whereas Scripture teaches very clearly that there can be no regeneration without faith in the forgiveness of sins secured by Christ, John 1, 12. 13; 3, 5. 14. 15; 1 John 5, 1, and offered and conveyed to men by the means of grace the Lutheran Church, on the other hand, teaches correctly that Baptism is a means of regeneration for the reason that it offers and conveys forgiveness of sins and works and strengthens faith through its gracious Gospel offer. All (Romanists and Romanizing Protestants) who deny that Baptism is primo loco [in the first place] a means of justification by faith in the proffered grace intermingle Law and Gospel by making Baptism a means of sanctification, not by faith, but by works. —John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 439. It seems to me that Mueller is working backwards from the assumption that baptism saves, therefore deducing—correctly, if the premise be granted—that baptism gives faith. Lutherans are quick to distance themselves from Catholic baptism, saying that the water, administered by a priest, does not save ex opere operato. The sacrament is always spoken of as water and the Word, the Word making the water efficacious. However, this seems to me that they are still teaching baptismal regeneration ex opere operato, with the difference that the power is in the Word, rather than in the church.† The straight answer is that you probably won’t get a straight, simple answer from most Lutherans. They do believe in baptismal regeneration, but when asked, most will try to nuance their answer so as to avoid sounding Catholic. Most won’t come right out and admit baptismal regeneration, but will rather say that it works faith. If you’re left with any doubt as to the importance of baptism to the Lutheran, it should be revealing to note that pastors will rush to the hospital to administer emergency baptisms on babies who might not survive. This is so important that, in the event that the pastor isn’t available, the Concordia Hymnal includes an Order of Baptismal Service in cases of Emergency that includes the following preface: When a new-born child is in danger of death, the minister should promptly be called to baptize it. In such case he shall use as much of the common Order for Baptism as the circumstances allow. But where the danger is very great, and no minister is within reach, the father of the child, or some other Christian man or woman, may baptize it. But they shall not do so, except in extreme necessity . . . —The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960), 429. I have, on several occasions, asked Lutheran pastors about this. When asked what happens to the baptized baby who dies, they will, without hesitating, declare that baby to be in heaven. But what happens to the unbaptized baby who dies? “I can’t say. We have to trust that child to God’s mercy.” * I do not, in any case, refer to the apostate Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I don’t know what they would say, nor do I care. † I don’t mean to imply here that Lutheran baptism is really no different from Roman Catholic baptism, even though, by the language they use, I think they really are asking for it. That would not be fair or accurate.

Luther on Postmodernism

Thursday··2010·09·09
Originally posted October 2, 2006 Could it be that Emergent has its roots in the Reformation? If the movement ever solidifies into anything historically significant (it won���t [and in 2010, we can say didn���t]), will they count Erasmus as one of their Church Fathers? In 1524, Desiderius Erasmus published Diatribe seu collation de libero arbitrio (Diatribe on Free Will). Luther responded in 1525 with De Servo Arbitrio (On the Enslaved Will), which we know as The Bondage of the Will. I have just begun reading Luther���s work and, so far, his words and those of the translators in their introduction seem strikingly applicable to today���s postmodern ���thinkers.��� Consider this passage from the translator���s Historical and Theological Introduction:    Why did Erasmus and Luther approach the discussion of ���free-will��� in such contrasting attitudes of mind? The answer is not far to seek. Their divergent attitudes sprang from two divergent conceptions of Christianity. Erasmus held that matters of doctrine were all comparatively unimportant, and that the issue as to whether a man���s will was or was not free was more unimportant than most. Luther, on the other hand, held that doctrines were essential to, and constructive of, the Christian religion, and that the doctrine of the bondage of the will in particular was the corner-stone of the Gospel and the very foundation of faith. Here we are confronted with the deepest difference that there was, or could have been, between the two men; and we must say a little more about it. Christianity, to Erasmus, was essentially morality, with a minimum of doctrinal statement loosely appended. What Erasmus professed that he desire to see in Christendom was a return to an apostolic ���simplicity��� of life and doctrine, and this he thought could be brought about simply by eliminating the superstitions and abuses which had crept into the Church���s life over the centuries. The Reformation that Erasmus actually advocated under the name of ���the philosophy of Christ��� as the true, slimmed, ���simple��� version of Christianity, turns out on inspection to be no more than a barren moralism. Erasmus recognizes no organic dependence of practice upon faith. That the life which pleases God springs only from living trust in Christ as the Word of God sets Him forth that is something that the great humanist never saw. That is why he could profess to find so little pleasure in theological dogmatizing that he would gladly side with the Sceptics whenever Scripture and the Church allowed him to do so although, as he hastened to explain, he uniformly submitted his judgment to these authorities, whether he understood the reasons for what they ordained or not. Luther takes him severely to task for this remark, and not without justice. Erasmus cannot be acquitted of the charge of doctrinal indifferentism. His attitude was that what one believes about the mysteries of the faith does not much matter; what the Church lays down may safely be accepted, whether right or wrong, for the details of a churchman���s doctrine will not affect his living as a Christian in this world, nor his eventual destiny in the world to come therefore, however sure one might be that the Church was a some point wrong, one is never justified in disrupting Christendom about it (as Luther was doing); peace in the Church was of more value than any doctrine. The churchman would be wise not to bother his head about problems of doctrinal definition, but to concern himself simply with guiding his life by the moral law of Christ. In particular, the question as to whether or not man���s will is free, to Erasmus��� mind, can be ignored with perfect safety; it can have no possible bearing on man���s endeavor to keep the law of Christ, except perhaps to distract and discourage him. Wisdom and humanity alike dissuade us from prying too deeply into such an abstruse subject; and it is a sign of pride and folly when a man lays much stress upon it. The Christian church is better off without rash ventures of that sort. The Bondage of the Will (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), 42���44, bold type added. At first glance, Erasmus��� stated willingness to submit to Scripture and the Church may seem incompatible with Emergent, but it really is not. Like Erasmus, Emergent gives the desultory nod to Scripture.* At the same time, any dogma (however noncommittal) is the result of a consensus (however loose) of ���the community,��� which is Emergent���s version of the Church. Erasmus��� main resemblance to Emergent is his disdain for dogma and his willingness to discard doctrine as unimportant and even harmful. In Luther���s own introduction, he takes Erasmus to task for an offense that screams Emergent to even the most casual observer: I forbear at the moment to mention further the fact that, in your usual way, you have taken vast pains throughout to be slippery and evasive. You are more canny than Ulysses in the way you suppose yourself to be steering between Scylla and Charybdis���you would have nothing actually asserted, yet you would seem to assert something! Who, I ask, but one who could catch Proteus himself could bring forth anything to touch people like you? Ibid., 64. Luther begins his Review of Erasmus��� Preface by demonstrating ���the necessity of assertions in Christianity.��� Away, now, with Sceptics and Academics from the company of us Christians; let us have men who will assert, men twice as inflexible as very Stoics! Take the Apostle Paul���how often does he call for that ���full assurance��� which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction. In Rom. 10 he calls it ���confession���������with the mouth confession is made unto salvation��� (v. 10). Christ says, ���Whosoever confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father��� (Matt. 10.32). Peter commands us to give a reason for the hope that is in us (I Pet. 3.15). And what need is there of a multitude of proofs? Nothing is more familiar of characteristic among Christians than assertion, take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. Why, the Holy Spirit is given to Christians from heaven in order that He may glorify Christ and in them confess Him even unto death���and is this not assertion, to die for what you confess and assert? Again, the Spirit asserts to such purpose that He breaks in upon the whole world and convinces it of sin (cf. John 16.8), as if challenging it to battle. Paul tells Timothy to reprove, and to be instant out of season (2 Tim. 4.2); and what a clown I should think a man to be who did not really believe, nor unwaveringly assert, those things concerning which he reproved others! I think I should send him to Anticyra!† But I am the biggest fool of all for wasting time and words on something that is clearer to see that the sun. What Christian can endure the idea that we should deprecate assertions? That would be denying all religion and piety in one breath���asserting that religion and piety are nothing at all. Why then do you���you!���assert that you find no satisfaction in assertions and that you prefer an undogmatic temper to any other? Ibid., 67, bold type added. Emergents, and postmodernists in general, will never define or allow themselves to be defined. But as this nearly half-century-old work demonstrates, whatever they are, they can���t claim to be onto anything new. * When I originally wrote this, I gave Emergents more credit than I do now. † Anticyra was a health resort on the Aegean coast where mental illness was treated.

Lutheranism versus Calvinism

Tuesday··2011·03·15
Yesterday I happened upon the following excerpt from Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. As a Lutheran-turned-Calvinist, I found it particularly interesting, and the more I considered it, the more I saw the truth of it. The difference seems to be conveyed best by saying that the Reformed Christian thinks theologically, the Lutheran anthropologically. The Reformed person is not content with an exclusively historical stance but raises his sights to the idea, the eternal decree of God. By contrast, the Lutheran takes his position in the midst of the history of redemption and feels no need to enter more deeply into the counsel of God. For the Reformed, therefore, election is the heart of the church; for Lutherans, justification is the article by which the church stands or falls. Among the former the primary question is: How is the glory of God advanced? Among the latter it is: How does a human get saved? The struggle of the former is above all paganism- idolatry; that of the latter against Judaism- works righteousness. The Reformed person does not rest until he has traced all things retrospectively to the divine decree, tracking down the “wherefore” of things, and has prospectively made all things subservient to the glory of God; the Lutheran is content with the “that” and enjoys the salvation in which he is, by faith, a participant. From this difference in principle, the dogmatic controversies between them (with respect to the image of God, original sin, the person of Christ, the order of salvation, the sacraments, church government, ethics, etc.) can be easily explained. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1: Prolegomena (Baker, 2003), 177. Also yesterday, as it happened, I had done something I normally do not do: study a text without reading Calvin. So, with Bavinck in mind, I looked up both Luther and Calvin on Genesis 11:30. Luther wrote: But Sarai was barren; she had no child (11:29, 30). The Scriptures (here) report that Sarai (Sarah) had no children. This shows that at that time children were regarded as precious gifts of God, for the text represents Sarai’s barrenness as a great affliction. So the almighty God chastened this saintly man (Abraham) with this great tribulation as he lived in this sin-cursed world in which we all (by our sins) are deserving of hell. The wicked (meanwhile) had many children and a large generation, while Abraham’s marriage was without issue. But this was more than a mere trial of Abraham, for it also demonstrated very convincingly God’s adorable mercy, power and faithfulness, for barren Sarai, when she had become old and was beyond the years of bearing children, received a son, from whom there came a great people. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Genesis Volume I, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, (Zondervan, 1958), 203–204. and Calvin: But Sarai was barren. Not only does he say that Abram was without children, but he states the reasons namely, the sterility of his wife; in order to show that it was by nothing short of an extraordinary miracle that she afterwards bare Isaac, as we shall declare more fully in its proper place. Thus was God pleased to humble his servant; and we cannot doubt that Abram would suffer severe pain through this privation. He sees the wicked springing up everywhere, in great numbers, to cover the earth; he alone is deprived of children. And although hitherto he was ignorant of his own future vocation; yet God designed in his person, as in a mirror, to make it evident, whence and in what manner his Church should arise; for at that time it lay hid, as in a dry root under the earth. —John Calvin, Commentary on the Genesis, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 337–338. This text, at least, corroborates Bavinck. While Calvin interprets it as a mirror of God’s glory, Luther sees God’s purpose for Abraham.

Hymns of My Youth: A Mighty Fortress

Saturday··2011·05·14 · 1 Comments
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. —Psalm 46:1 This is one hymn that no Lutheran hymnal can be without. I have no explanation for the unique lyrics. I have found other alternate translations, but I have not seen this version anywhere else. 239 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon; Our help is He in all our need, Our stay whate’er doth happen; For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; Strong mail and craft and power He weareth in this hour; On Earth is not his equal. Stood we alone in our own might our striving would be losing; For us the one true Man doth fight, The Man of God’s own choosing. Who is this chosen One? ’Tis Jesus Christ, the Son, The Lord of hosts, ’tis He Who wins the victory In ev’ry field of battle. And were the world with devils filled, All watching to devour us, Our souls to fear we need not yield, They cannot overpower us; Their dreaded Prince no more Can harm us as of yore; His rage we can endure; for lo! his doom is sure, A word shall overthrow him. Still they must leave God’s word its might, For which no thanks they merit; Still He is with us in the fight, With His good gifts and Spirit. And should they, in the strife, Take kindred, goods, and life, We freely let them go, They profit not the foe; With us remains the kingdom. —The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960).

Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott

Monday··2011·10·31
Psalm 46 (Luther, 1545) 1 Gott ist unsre Zuversicht und St?rke. Eine Hilfe in den gro?en N??ten, die uns getroffen haben. 2 Darum f?rchten wir uns nicht, wenngleich die Welt unterginge und die Berge mitten ins Meer s?nken, 3 wenngleich das Meer w?tete und wallte und von seinem Ungest?m die Berge einfielen. Sela. 4 Dennoch soll die Stadt Gottes fein lustig bleiben mit ihren Br?nnlein, da die heiligen Wohnungen des H??chsten sind. 5 Gott ist bei ihr drinnen, darum wird sie fest bleiben; Gott hilft ihr fr?h am Morgen. 6 Die Heiden m?ssen verzagen und die K??nigreiche fallen; das Erdreich mu? vergehen, wenn er sich h??ren l??t. 7 Der Herr Zebaoth ist mit uns; der Gott Jakobs ist unser Schutz. Sela. 8 Kommet her und schauet die Werke des Herrn, der auf Erden solch zerst??ren anrichtet, 9 der den Kriegen steuert in aller Welt, den Bogen zerbricht, Spie?e zerschl?gt und Wagen mit Feuer verbrennt. 10 Seid stille und erkennet, da? ich Gott bin. Ich will Ehre einlegen unter den Heiden; ich will Ehre einlegen auf Erden. 11 Der Herr Zebaoth ist mit uns; der Gott Jakobs ist unser Schutz. Sela. Psalm 46 1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. 4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. 6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. 9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. 10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Happy Reformation Day!

The Limits of Perspicuity

Monday··2011·12·05 · 1 Comments
When we speak of the perspicuity of Scripture, it is not without a vital qualification. Luther wrote, If you speak of internal perspicuity, the truth is that nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God’s creatures, nor anything else—as Ps. 13 puts it, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps. 14.1). The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 73–74.

Definite Atonement in Isaiah

Tuesday··2012·09·11
Christ did not bear unspecified griefs and sorrows; the transgressions and iniquities for which he was killed were not theoretical. He was stricken for the transgression of a particular people. Gods Messiah would die an ignominious substitutionary death under the judgment of God as He bore the sins of the elect. By so doing, He would take away the sins of His people: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? Isaiah 53:48 Isaiah taught that Christ would bear and absorb Gods wrath for the sins of Gods people. As a result, He would justify them. In Chapter 53, Isaiah was referring to those for whom Christ would die when he used such terms as our (vv. 45), all we (v. 6), us all (v. 6), my people (v. 8), his offspring (v. 10), their (v. 11), the transgressors (v. 12), and many (v. 12). The Messiah was to die for the seed born out of His sacrificethe elect. James Montgomery Boice argues, Isaiah 53:6 says that God laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. But it is clear from the verse immediately before this that the ones for whom Jesus bore iniquity are those who have been brought to a state of peace with God, that is, those who have been justified (cf. Rom. 5:1). Again, they are those who have been healed (v. 5), not those who continue to be spiritually sick or dead. That is to say, Christ died to redeem the elect of God. Concerning these verses, Luther writes, This states the purpose of Christs suffering. It was not for Himself and His own sins, but for our sins and griefs. He bore what we should have suffered. . . . These words, OUR, US, FOR US, must be written in letters of gold. He who does not believe this is not a Christian. . . . This is the supreme and chief article of faith, that our sins, placed on Christ, are not ours; again, that the peace is not Christs but ours. The exclusive terms Isaiah uses for Gods elect designate the intent and extent of the atonement. Christ died exclusively for the elect of God, not for the entire world. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 178179.

A Hymn for Reformation Day, 2012

Wednesday··2012·10·31
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word; Curb those who fain by craft and sword Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son And set at naught all He hath done. Lord Jesus Christ, Thy powr make known, For Thou art Lord of lords alone; Defend Thy Christendom that we May evermore sing praise to Thee. O Comforter of priceless worth, Send peace and unity on earth. Support us in our final strife And lead us out of death to life. Martin Luther

The Twofold Perspicuity of Scripture

Thursday··2012·11·15
The perspicuity of Scripture is twofold . . . The first is external, and relates to the ministry of the Word; the second concerns the knowledge of the heart. If you speak of internal perspicuity, the truth is that nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God’s creatures, nor anything else—as Ps. 13 puts it, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps. 14.1). The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. If, on the other hand, you speak of external perspicuity, the position is that nothing whatsoever is left obscure or ambiguous, but all that is in the Scripture is through the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 73–74.

The Sum of the New Testament

Monday··2013·02·25
In the New Testament, the gospel is preached and this is just the word that offers the Spirit and grace for the remission of sins which was procured for us by Christ crucified. It is all entirely free, given by the mercy of God the Father alone as He shows His favour towards us, who are unworthy, and who deserve condemnation rather than anything else. Exhortations follows after this; and they are intended to stir up those who have obtained mercy and have been justified already, to be energetic in bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit and of the righteousness given them, to exercise themselves in love and good works, and boldly to bear the cross and all the other tribulations of this world. This is the whole sum of the New Testament. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 180.

The Center and Source

Monday··2013·06·03
Mark Dever on the centrality of preaching in the life of the church: The center and source of the congregation’s life is the Word of God. God’s promises to his people in Scripture create and sustain his people. Therefore the congregation is responsible to ensure, as much as lies within its power, that the Word of God is preached at its regular meetings. By the sixteenth century the centrality of the Word had long been displaced by the sacraments, especially by the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the face of this near universal distortion, the Reformers correctly returned to Scripture to find a canon, or rule, against which to measure the Roman church’s current teaching. In 1539, Luther wrote, “God’s Word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s Word.” The central role played by the Word in the New Testament church (e.g., [?] 6:42; Acts 20:40–47; 2 Tim 4:2) was recovered in the teachings and lives of the Protestant Reformers. “The church is not a group of people groping for a philosophy of life congenial to modern conditions, but a living body already being shaped by apostolic teaching. Holding steady to that teaching is a principal mark of the authenticity of the church.” If the Scriptures are “the word of life” (Phil 2:16), they should both generate and regulate the church’s life. Christians gather in congregations to hear one who stands in the place of God by giving his Word to his people. Through preaching, Christians come to know and understand God and his Word. It is a word to which Christians contribute nothing other than hearing and heeding. A Christian sermon is, even in its method, a picture of God’s grace. Since faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), hearing God’s Word rather than seeing the mass is appropriately placed at the center of the congregation’s public assembly. Christians rely on God’s Word, so preaching the Word must be absolutely central. And the preaching which most exemplifies this is expositional preaching—preaching in which the point of the passage of Scripture is the point of the message. Scripture is both authoritative and sufficient, and that should be evident in Christian gatherings. —Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (B & H, 2012), 128–129.

Who knows? You can.

Monday··2013·07·22
The story has often been told of the monk Martin Luther exasperating his confessor with hours of detailed confession. The burden of sin weighed heavily on Luther, and the Roman system of confession and penance could not relieve him of it. Steve Lawson writes: In an effort to ease Luther’s burden, Staupitz sent him on an official trip to Rome (1510). Luther hoped to find peace there by visiting sacred sites and venerating supposed relics of Christianity, but instead he discovered the gross abuses and masked hypocrisies of the priests. He became disillusioned with the corruption of the Roman church and disenchanted by the pilgrimages to adore religious relics. These objects included the rope with which Judas supposedly hanged himself, a reputed piece of Moses’ burning bush, and the alleged chains of Paul. Yet worse, it was claimed that the Scala Sancta (“the Holy Stairs”), the very steps that Jesus had descended from Pilate’s judgment hall, had been moved to Rome, and that God would forgive the sins of those who crawled up the stairs on their knees, kissing each step. Luther dutifully climbed the stairs in the appointed manner, but when he reached the top, he despaired: “At Rome, I wished to liberate my grandfather from purgatory, and went up the staircase of Pilate, praying a pater noster on each step; for I was convinced that he who prayed thus could redeem his soul. But when I came to the top step, the thought kept coming to me, ‘Who knows whether this is true?’” —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 7–8. Luther’s doubts led him to dig into the Scriptures, which led him out of the bondage of Rome to freedom in Christ. Rome is once again—or, rather, still—offering indulgences (get yours here). Thousands will be flocking to Brazil this week to get theirs. We should pray that the thought will come to them, “Who knows whether this is true?”
Martin Luther believed that preachers, when faithfully expounding the Word of God, were no less than the voice of God. To this point, Luther emphatically stated: “For God has said, ‘When the Word of Christ is preached, I am in your mouth, and I go with the Word through your ears into your heart.’ Therefore, we have a sure sign and sure knowledge that when the gospel is proclaimed, God is present there.” In other words, Jesus Christ is powerfully present in the proclamation of the Scriptures. Consequently, Luther resisted any supposed private revelations to men. Dreams and visions, he asserted, must not be preached: “Whenever you hear anyone boast that he has something by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it has no basis in God’s Word, no matter what it may be, tell him that this is the work of the devil.” He added, “Whatever does not have its origin in the Scriptures is surely from the devil himself.” Luther believed that only the Bible, not the mystical intuitions of men, is to be preached. Luther’s theology of preaching can be summarized by his assertion that preaching is God’s own speech to people. For Luther, preaching is Deus loquens—“God speaking.” The greatness of preaching, he maintained, lies in the fact that God Himself is active insofar as the preacher remains obedient to the Word and seeks nothing but for the people to hear the Word of God. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 30–31. Luther’s high view of preaching is virtually unknown today. The reason for that may be, in part, that so little of today’s preaching deserves such honor. I think, however, the main reason preaching is so lightly esteemed is that the Word of God is lightly esteemed—which brings us back to the preacher. Luther could call preaching “God speaking” because he had committed himself to faithfully expounding the Word, and nothing but. Consequently, authority of God emanated from his pulpit.

No Clearer Book

Wednesday··2013·07·24
Martin Luther insisted that Scripture was understandable by the common mind. Yet all Scripture is not equally clear or—by itself—understandable, nor is it accessible to every person. Steve Lawson writes: The Roman Catholic Church withheld the Bible from the common people, claiming they could not understand it. The pope and other leaders must interpret it for the laity, Rome said. But Luther maintained the very opposite. He said, “No clearer book has been written on earth than the Holy Scripture.” Again, he stated, “There is not on earth a book more lucidly written than the Holy Scripture.” Luther affirmed that the Word is crystal clear, plainly understandable for ordinary Christians. This is especially true in regard to the core message of the Bible, which, Luther stated, is clearly communicated by God in intelligible language for all to read. He asserted: “Scripture is intended for all people. It is clear enough so far as truths necessary for salvation are concerned.” This foundational belief led Luther to translate the Bible into the German language. He was certain that if the people could read it in their own language, they would grasp its essential message. He believed that Scripture is remarkably clear in what it teaches about salvation. Luther did not deny that some parts of the Bible are not easy to understand, but he attributed that difficulty to the reader, not Scripture itself: “I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture.” With proper study, he believed, all the content of the Bible could be grasped. Because of his belief that some biblical passages are more difficult to understand, he advised, “If you cannot understand the obscure, then stay with the clear.” Again, he said, “If the words are obscure at one place, yet they are clear at another place.” Luther believed that the verses that are clearer must interpret passages that are less clear to the human mind. By this principle, Luther asserted that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Nevertheless, Luther did recognize that Scripture is incomprehensible to those who are not born again: “If you speak of the internal clearness, no human being sees one iota of Scripture unless he has the Spirit of God. All men have a darkened heart. . . . The Spirit is required to understand the whole of Scripture and every part of it.” He believed in Scripture’s intrinsic clarity, but he also accepted the biblical teaching that those whose hearts have not been enlightened by the Holy Spirit are blind to the Bible’s message. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 36–37.
Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God. . . . This Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of preaching, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 38 [original source].

Body and Soul at Work

Friday··2013·07·26
As noted previously, Martin Luther insisted that Scripture was understandable by the common mind. That does not mean, however, that it comes easily. As with any discipline, proficiency requires hard work. If all you want is a little devotional reading, and you’re not willing to tackle your studies with diligence, investing time and effort, don’t complain when you find you’re not getting much out of it. In the following excerpt, Luther writes of the preacher’s work, but the principle applies to every disciple of Christ. Sitting before an open Bible is far more strenuous, Luther believed, than physical labor in a field or factory. While some may consider sitting at a desk for extended hours to be idle work, Luther knew better: “Studying is my work. This work God wants me to do, and if it pleases Him, He will bless it.” Of this all-demanding work, he wrote: I would like to see the horseman who could sit still with me all day and look into a book—even if he had nothing else to care for, write, think about, or read. Ask a . . . preacher . . . whether writing and speaking is work. . . . The pen is light, that is true. . . . But in writing, the best part of the body (which is the head), and the noblest of the members (which is the tongue) and the highest faculty (which is speech) must lay hold and work as never before. In other occupations it is only the fist or the foot or the back or some other member that has to work; and while they are at it they can sing and jest, which the writer cannot do. They say of writing that “it only take three fingers to do it”; but the whole body and soul work at it too. —Steven J. Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 44–45.

Begin with Prayer

Tuesday··2013·07·30
Luther has been quoted previously on the diligent hard work required to gain understanding of the Scripture. He did not, however, believe that hard work was the key necessity. Without the Spirit of God, no one, however intelligent or studious, can expect to understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). Therefore, it behooves us to begin our studies in prayer (James 1:5). It is absolutely certain that one cannot enter into the [meaning of] Scripture by study or innate intelligence. Therefore your first task is to begin with prayer. You must ask that the Lord in His great mercy grant you a true understanding of His words, should it please Him to accomplish anything through you for His glory and not for your glory or that of any other man. For there is no one who can teach the divine words except He who is their Author, as He says: “They shall all be taught of God” (John 6:45). You must therefore completely despair of your own diligence and intelligence and rely solely on the infusion of the Spirit. Believe me, for I have had experience in this matter. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 46.

The Slaying, Condemning, Accusing Law

Wednesday··2013·07·31
Christians, though not under the Law, cannot live without it. We, too, who are now made holy through grace, nevertheless live in a sinful body. And because of this remaining sin, we must permit ourselves to be rebuked, terrified, slain, and sacrificed by the Law until we are lowered into the grave. Therefore before and after we have become Christians, the Law must in this life constantly be the slaying, condemning, accusing Law. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 71.

No Showmanship or Manipulation

Thursday··2013·08·01
Luther provides an example—and a rebuke—to preachers who use theatrics to manipulate an audience: Luther’s messages were noticeably marked by a warm personality and fervent delivery. One observer noted that Luther was compelling in the presentation of his words and arguments. At the Leipzig disputation, the following portrait of Luther’s manner of public speech was recorded by a distinguished humanist Latin scholar, Peter Mosellanus, who chaired the meetings: His voice is clear and melodious. . . . For conversation, he has a rich store of subjects at his command; a vast forest of thoughts and words is at his disposal. . . . There is nothing stoical, nothing supercilious, about him; and he understands how to adapt himself to different persons and times. In society he is lively and agreeable. He is always fresh, cheerful and at his ease, and has a pleasant countenance, however hard his enemies may threaten him, so that one cannot but believe that heaven is with him in his great undertaking. To this point, Fred W. Meuser, notes: “Everything in Luther’s preaching was genuine. The message was everything. Histrionics, calculated gestures, anything done for effect would have been regarded as a human intrusion on the Word of God. Although there was humor, there was never levity or anything calculated to produce laughter.” This is to say, there was nothing contrived about Luther’s delivery. There was no showmanship or manipulation of the listener. Instead, his delivery was marked by sincerity and a deep concern for the spiritual wellbeing of his flock. —Steve Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 84–85.

Truth for Everyone

Friday··2013·08·02
Luther was no simple, uneducated preacher. A master of the biblical languages and exegesis, and a highly skilled preacher, teacher, and debater, he crossed intellectual swords with the top scholars of his day. He tackled the minute details of theology with alacrity. Still, he never forgot his audience, and endeavored always to present the gospel in the common language, accessible to the common man. Luther intentionally sought to preach the gospel to his listeners in an understandable manner. Such plain preaching was much needed in his day. For centuries, German congregations had suffered through worship services conducted in Latin, which was the scholarly language of the classroom but not the common language of the marketplace or the home. Thus, it was largely unknown among the general populace. Luther believed that “the text of the Bible, and all preaching based upon it, should be in the vernacular—the everyday language of the people, not Latin, which distanced the people from the text.” Because he longed to be clearly understood in the pulpit, Luther strove to use language that was simple and accessible. The Word, Luther insisted, must be explained and applied in plain terms in the native language of the common people. “To preach plain and simply is a great art,” he said. Although Luther was the ranking scholar of the world in which he moved, he targeted his sermon delivery not to the intellectual or religious elite, but to the common people. E. C. Dargan states: “He thought with the learned, but he also thought and talked with the people. His style of speech was clear to the people, warm with life and sentiment, and vigorous with the robust nature of the man himself.” Broadus agrees, writing, “He [Luther] gloried in being a preacher to the common people.” Simply put, Luther wanted to communicate the truth to everyone. . . . Luther sounded a stern warning to preachers against parading their intellect at the expense of not communicating to simple people in desperate need of the gospel message: “Cursed are all preachers that in the church aim at high and hard things, and, neglecting the saving health of the poor unlearned people, seek their own honour and praise, and therewith to please one or two ambitious persons.” —Steve Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 90–91, 92.

In Death, We Live

Tuesday··2013·08·06
The father raised the knife. The boy bared his throat. If God had slept an instant, the lad would have been dead. I could not have watched. I am not able in my thoughts to follow. The lad was as a sheep for the slaughter. Never in history was there such obedience, save only in Christ. But God was watching, and all the angels. The father raised his knife; the boy did not wince. The angel cried, “Abraham, Abraham!” See how divine majesty is at hand in the hour of death. We say, “In the midst of life we die.” God answers, “Nay, in the midst of death, we live.” —Martin Luther, cited in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (Meridian, 1995), 289–290.

Delighting in Assertions

Wednesday··2013·08·07
Contention is sadly out of fashion in the large parts of the church today. Consequently, controversial doctrines are brushed aside for the sake of peace and unity. It is thought best never to be too sure of anything that might cause disagreement. Luther would not have fit in. Luther wholeheartedly contended that to be a Christian is to believe the Bible’s assertions. This must be true for every preacher as he stands before an open Bible. Luther maintained: To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed, one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all. . . . By “assertion” I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished. . . . Take the Apostle Paul—how often does he call for that “full assurance” which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction. . . . Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. Luther’s strong position regarding the inspiration of Scripture led him to believe that every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, recorded in Scripture, is authored by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the Bible’s assertions are the assertions of the Spirit. Thus, no biblical passage is to be doubted or minimized. Luther affirmed, “The Holy Spirit is no Skeptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions—surer and more certain than sense and life itself.” For this reason, Luther maintained, the preacher cannot be a skeptic. Rather, as he stands in the pulpit, he must declare with strong confidence all that the Bible affirms. —Steve Lawson, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 105–106.

Manure to the Vine

Friday··2013·08·09
Luther on the opposition Christians must necessarily face in this life: Even if all the devils, the world, our neighbors, and our own people are hostile to us, revile and slander us, hurt and torment us, we should regard this as no different from applying a shovelful of manure to the vine to fertilize it well, cutting away the useless wild branches, or removing a little of the excessive and hampering foliage. —Martin Luther, cited in The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (Reformation Trust, 2013), 109–110.

Pious Gullibility

Thursday··2013·08·29
I know I risk beating a dead horse with this third-of-a-kind post, but the problem of evangelical gullibility concerns me deeply. From The Prayer of Jabez to Heaven Is for Real, evangelicals are ready, and even anxious, to swallow every new, exciting addition to biblical Christianity, which they must find boring and inadequate. In short, the horse isn’t dead, and won’t be until until every Christian demands, with Luther, “Give me Scripture, Scripture, Scripture. Do you hear me? Scripture.” Those who demand to know more than Scripture tells us are sinning: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The limits of our curiosity are thus established by the boundary of biblical revelation. The typical Christian today seems oblivious to the principles established by Deuteronomy 29:29 and 1 Corinthians 4:6 (“that you may learn . . . not to go beyond what is written”). In fact, people seem to be looking for spiritual truth, messages from God, and insight into the spirit world everywhere but Scripture. Today’s evangelicals have been indoctrinated by decades of charismatic influence to think God regularly bypasses his written Word in order to speak directly to any and every believer—as if extra biblical revelation were a standard feature of ordinary Christian experience. Many therefore think charity requires them to receive claims of “fresh revelation” with a kind of pious gullibility. After all, who are we to question someone else’s private word from God? So when dozens of best-selling authors who profess to be Christians are suddenly claiming they have seen heaven and want to tell us what it’s like, most of the Christian community is defenseless in the wake of the onslaught. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 39–40.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Saturday··2014·04·26
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Psalm 46:7 A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe— His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He— Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle. And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph thru us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him— His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure: One little word shall fell him. That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours thru Him Who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also— The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still: His kingdom is forever. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

Luther, Regeneration, and Faith

Friday··2014·06·27
This might have surprised the Lutheran evangelists of my youth: Luther believed that regeneration precedes faith. The truth is that no sinner can believe and embrace the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit’s divine enabling. As Martin Luther observed, “In spiritual and divine things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yea, like a log and a stone, like a lifeless statue, which uses neither eyes nor mouth, neither sense nor heart. . . . All teaching and preaching is lost upon him, until he is enlightened, converted, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 225.

Before Arminius

Monday··2018·01·08
Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.

A Loophole in Sola Scriptura?

Friday··2018·08·10
Trying to hunt down another Luther quotation (because you can’t be too careful, e.g., the so-called “battle quote”), I came across this gem. Apologies to my Lutheran friends—I don’t do this to annoy you, really. That’s just an added bonus. In the second place, this is an important consideration: No heresy endures to the end, but always, as St. Peter says, soon comes to light and is revealed as disgraceful. So St. Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres and their like [II Tim. 3:8f], whose folly is finally plain to all. Were child baptism now wrong God would certainly not have permitted it to continue so long, nor let it become so universally and thoroughly established in all Christendom, but it would sometime have gone down in disgrace. The fact that the Anabaptists now dishonor it does not mean anything final or injurious to it. Just as God has established that Christians in all the world have accepted the Bible as Bible, the Lord’s Prayer as Lord’s Prayer, and faith of a child as faith, so also he has established child baptism and kept it from being rejected while all kinds of heresies have disappeared which are much more recent and later than child baptism. This miracle of God is an indication that child baptism must be right. He has not so upheld the papacy, which also is an innovation and has never been accepted by all Christians of the world as has child baptism, the Bible, faith, or the Lord’s Prayer, etc. You say, this does not prove that child baptism is certain. For there is no passage in Scripture for it. My answer: that is true. From Scripture we cannot clearly conclude that you could establish child baptism as a practice among the first Christians after the apostles. But you can well conclude that in our day no one may reject or neglect the practice of child baptism which has so long a tradition, since God actually not only has permitted it, but from the beginning so ordered, that it has not yet disappeared. For where we see the work of God we should yield and believe in the same way as when we hear his Word, unless the plain Scripture tells us otherwise. I indeed am ready to let the papacy be considered as a work of God. But since Scripture is against it, I consider it as a work of God but not as a work of grace. It is a work of wrath from which to flee, as other plagues also are works of God, but works of wrath and displeasure. —Martin Luther, Concerning Rebaptism [source]. In a nutshell: Infant baptism is not found in scripture, but it must be right because God “permitted it to continue so long, [and] let it become so universally and thoroughly established”—never mind that it only became “thoroughly established” in the apostate Roman Catholic church. Then, with no sense of irony, “I indeed am ready to let the papacy be considered as a work of God. But since Scripture is against it, I consider it as a work of God but not as a work of grace.” Luther was a great and brilliant man, but he was also a man of many contradictions.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: From Depths of Woe

Saturday··2018·09·08
From Depths of Woe Aus Tiefer Not Psalm 130 From depths of woe I cry to Thee; Lord, hear me, I implore Thee. Bend down Thy gracious ear to me; my pray’r let come before Thee. If Thou rememb’rest every sin, if nought but just reward we win, could we abide Thy presence? Thy love and grace alone avail to blot out my transgression; the best and holiest deeds must fail to break sin’s dread oppression. Before Thee none can boasting stand, but all must fear Thy strict demand and live alone by mercy. Therefore my hope is in the Lord and not in mine own merit; it rests upon His faithful Word to them of contrite spirit that He is merciful and just; this is my comfort and my trust. His help I wait with patience. And though it tarry till the night and till the morning waken, my heart shall never doubt His might nor count itself forsaken. Do thus, O ye of Adam’s seed, ye of the Spirit born indeed; wait for your God’s appearing. Though great our time and sore our woes, His grace much more aboundeth; His helping love on emit knows, or utmost need it soundeth. Our Shepherd good and true is He, who will at last His people free from all their sin and sorrow. —Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). The current hymnal for this series is Hymns to the Living God, recently published by Religious Affections Ministries. This is such a good hymnal that I’m pretty sure I could happily post every hymn it contains, but I’ll be limiting selections to hymns I have never posted here before, especially those unfamiliar to me (of which there are many). For more information and to purchase this hymnal, visit Religious Affections Ministries.

The Bull and the Owl

Thursday··2018·10·11
Martin Luther and John Calvin were two very different men, united in purpose, whom God used mightily. Though the two Reformers never met, they greatly admired one another’s works. Luther praised Calvin’s early writings, stating, “[His] books I have perused with singular pleasure.” Calvin, in turn, addressed Luther, twenty-five years his elder, as his “most respected father” and “a remarkable apostle of Christ, through whose work and ministry, most of all, the purity of the gospel has been restored in our time.” In fact, Luther may have helped bring Calvin to faith in Christ through his treatises The Freedom of a Christian and The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church. Despite this mutual esteem, the two Reformers were as different as night and day. Luther was fiery, spontaneous, and explosive, while Calvin was more careful, pensive, and systematic. Luther has been likened to a bull, stubborn and strong-headed, whereas Calvin has been compared to an owl, wise and calculating. Luther was passionate, dynamic, and prone to exaggeration. Calvin was a logical systematizer, quiet, and thoughtful, with a far more stable character. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 501. Though vastly different in personality, when it came to theology, the two men were fundamentally the same, standing firmly on sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria. And, as Lawson says, “Both were strict predestinarians of the Augustinian stripe. In short, these two magisterial Reformers were champions of the God-exalting truths of sovereign grace.  Calvin, however, went further than Luther in advancing these doctrines. He took the central tenets of the Reformation and fashioned them into a comprehensive body of divinity. “From the disparate, disorganized heritage of Luther and Zwingli,” Jonathan Hill writes, “[Calvin] forged a systematic version of the Christian faith and life that still profoundly influences modern Western society.” Whereas Luther emphasized justification by faith, Calvin took aim at a higher target, underscoring the glory of God in the display of His sovereignty in the world, both in salvation and in providence. Both Reformers were correct in their teachings in these areas, but Calvin gave a more comprehensive explanation of the many facets of the doctrines of grace. . . . Martyn Lloyd-Jones contrasts the two Reformers in this way: “Luther was a volcano, spewing out fiery ideas in all directions without much pattern or system. But ideas cannot live and last without a body, and the great need of the Protestant movement in the last days of Luther was for a theologian with the ability to arrange and to express the new faith within a system. That person was Calvin. . . . It was he who saved Protestantism by giving it a body of theology with his Institutes; and it is from this that the faith and the theology of most of the Protestant churches have sprung.” R. C. Sproul explains the roles these titans played as follows: Luther, being a brilliant student of language, brought to the theological table an uncanny ability to provide vignettes of insight into particular questions of truth. But Luther was not a systematician by nature, and so he could not be the theologian of theologians. He never developed a full-orbed systematic theology for the instruction of the church. That task in the sixteenth century was left to the genius of the Genevan theologian John Calvin. Calvin brought to the study of theology a passion for biblical truth and a coherent understanding of the Word of God. Of all of the thinkers of the sixteenth century, Calvin was most noted for his ability to provide a systematic theological understanding of Christian truth.“Calvin’s great achievement,” Timothy George likewise argues, “was to take the classic insights of the Reformation (sola gratia, sole fide, sola Scriptura) and give them a clear, systematic exposition, which neither Luther nor Zwingli ever did. . . . From Geneva they took on a life of their own and developed into a new international theology, extending from Poland and Hungary in the East to the Netherlands, Scotland, England (Puritanism), and eventually to New England in the West.” William Cunningham adds, “Calvin was by far the greatest of the Reformers with respect to the talents he possessed, the influence he exerted, and the services he rendered in the establishment and diffusion of important truth.” Thus, it was Calvin, a second-generation Reformer, who brought order to the Reformed ideas that were emerging and fashioned them into a seamless tapestry of thought, a systematic whole that was exegetical, logical, and sound. It is no exaggeration to say he was the architect of Reformed theology. —Ibid., 502–503.

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