The Law Is Not a Remedy for Sin

 (This is a re-post from October 2010)

You cannot fully understand Martin Luther’s work unless you understand his distinction between the theologian of the cross and the theologian of glory.  This distinction is also important for us today especially when some are leaving the biblical truths of the Reformation for the traditions of Rome.  I myself will not and cannot go to Rome because I believe the five solas are eminently biblical and also because I believe Luther was right in declaring that Rome taught a theology of glory in opposition to the theology of the cross.

Interested in this discussion?  You should be.  And you should get this outstanding book, On Being A Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde.  The book is sort of a commentary on Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.  Though it is only around 100 pages long, it is one of the most profound discussions of the cross and salvation you’ll ever read.  The book will not only lead you away from Rome’s theology of glory, but it will also lead you away from yourself (your own righteousness, good works, and fig leaves) and lead you away from the things of this world.  It will lead you to the cross, and the cross alone.

I’ve blogged on this book before, so I won’t go into all the details.  But I do want to give an example of the contents of the book.  Here’s a small sample.

“The cross is the death of sin and the sinner.  The cross does the ‘bottoming out.’  The cross is the ‘intervention.’  The addict/sinner is not coddled by false optimism but is put to death so that a new life can begin.  The theologian of the cross ‘says what a thing is.’  The theologian of the cross preaches to convict of sin.  The addict is not deceived by theological marshmallows but is told the truth so that he might learn at last to confess, to say, ‘I am an addict,’ ‘I am an alcoholic,’ and never to stop saying it.  Theologically and more universally all must learn to say, ‘I am a sinner,’ and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true.”

“It is commonplace among evangelical Christians to believe that we can’t perfectly fulfill the law, but we often try to because we assume that if we only could we would do it.  Some believe that we must try to do something at least, and then, it is assumed, Christ will make up for our ‘shortcomings.’  But here is the bombshell: doing the law does not advance the cause of righteousness one whit.  It only makes matters worse.”

“The law is not a remedy for sin.  It does not cure sin but rather makes it worse.”

“Thesis 25.  He is not righteous who works much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

“Thesis 26. The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.

I could go on and on.  Again, trust me when I say that you need to get (and read!) this book if you haven’t yet: Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Calvin on Luther’s “Trumpet Blast” (Gerrish)

 Albert Pighius, a student of Pope Adrian VI,  lived during the Reformation and opposed both Luther and Calvin on their views of the bondage of the will.  Pighius wrote ten books against the slavery of the unregenerate will and strongly defended the freedom of the will in a semi-Pelagian manner.  Of course, this is one of those areas where Calvin and Luther agreed.  B. A. Garrish has a fascinating note about this topic – I like Calvin’s quote defending Luther:

On the problem of the enslaved will Calvin steps forward as Luther’s champion, except that he thinks it necessary to tone down some unguarded and exaggerated language. And he insists that, understood within their historical context, even Luther’s extravagant expressions were justified. Pighius deplored, for instance, the fact that Luther was obliged, as a corollary of his views on the bondage of the will, to regard all human works as sins, and that he pressed this theme with gross exaggeration. Calvin replies:

“I grant it, but still say that there was good reason that drove him to such exaggeration. He saw the world stupefied by a false and pernicious confidence in works, as if by a fatal lethargy. What was needed to awaken it was not voice and words, but the trumpet blast, thunder, and lightning.”

 B. A. Gerrish, The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 37–38.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Word Is Greater Than The Preacher (Luther)

Luther’s Church Postil: Gospels: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons Last year I posted this section of a sermon Martin Luther gave on Luke 2, but it’s worth mentioning again in our celebrity preacher situation.  In this part of the sermon, Luther was talking about how the shepherds outside of Bethlehem heard the angels’ words proclaiming the Savior’s birth.  Luther noted that the angels heard it as God’s word: “The angels were soon forgotten and the Word of God only seized and retained.”   Luther also said this:

One, however, might say: Yes, I would also gladly believe if an angel thus from heaven were to preach to me. This is very foreign to the subject. Whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake, will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him. And he who receives it because of the preacher does not believe in the Word, neither in God through the Word, but he believes the preacher and in the preacher. Hence the faith of such persons does not last long. But whoever believes the Word, does not care who the person is that speaks the Word, and neither will he honor the Word for the sake of the person; but on the contrary, he honors the person because of the Word, and always subordinates the person to the Word. And if the preacher perishes, or even falls from his faith and preaches differently, he will forsake the person of the preacher rather than the Word of God. He abides by what he has heard, although the person of the preacher may be what he will, and come and go as he may.

Exactly! The preacher is subordinate to the word. Preachers come and go, but the word of the Lord remains forever. Luther again:

The true difference between godly faith and human faith consists also in this, that human faith cleaves to the person of the preacher, believes, trusts and honors the Word for the sake of him who spake it. But godly faith, on the other hand, cleaves to the Word, which is God himself; he believes, trusts and honors the Word, not because of him who preaches it; but because he feels it so surely the truth that no one can ever turn him again from it, even if the same preacher were to try to do it.

This faith triumphs in life and death, in hell and heaven, and nothing is able to overthrow it; because it rests upon nothing but the Word without any regard whatever to persons.

Martin Luther, “Second Christmas Day (Luke 2:15–20),” in Luther’s Church Postil: Gospels: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons, ed. and trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. I, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1905), 162–163.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

God Is Strong to Carry Your Burden (Luther)

  Martin Luther’s exposition of 1 Peter 5:5-11 is a very helpful commentary on the Apostle’s words.  I was especially encouraged by his comments on verse 7: all your anxiety place on him because he cares about you (my translation). Here are some of Luther’s notes:

Let not your burden rest upon yourselves; for ye cannot bear it, and must finally perish beneath its weight.  …But, confident and full of joy, cast it from you and throw it on God, and say: Heavenly Father, thou art my Lord and God, who didst create me when I was nothing; moreover hast redeemed me through thy Son. Now, thou hast committed to me and laid upon me, this office or work, and things do not go as well as I would like. There is so much to oppress and worry, that I can find neither counsel nor help. Therefore I commend everything to thee. Do thou supply counsel and help, and be thou, thyself, everything in these things….

Let him who would be a Christian learn to believe this. Let him practice and exhibit faith in all his affairs, bodily and spiritual, in his doing and his suffering, his living and his dying. Let him banish cares and anxious thoughts. Courageous and cheerful, let him cast them aside; not into a corner, as some vainly think to do, for when burdens are permitted to conceal themselves in the heart they are not really put away. But let the Christian cast his heart and its anxieties upon God. God is strong to bear and he can easily carry the burden.

Besides, he has commanded that all this be put upon himself. The more thou layest upon him, the more pleasing it is to him. And he gives thee the promise that he will carry thy cares for thee, and all things else that concern thee.  This is a grand promise, and a beautiful, golden saying….

 Martin Luther, “Third Sunday after Trinity (1 Peter 5:5–11),” in Luther’s Epistle Sermons: Trinity Sunday to Advent, trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. III, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1909), 74.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Even Though I Torture Myself to Death (Luther)

The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude: Preached and Explained Today while studying 1 Peter 2:5 I ran across this helpful commentary by Martin Luther.  I thought it was worth sharing:

Peter says, we are to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable unto God through Jesus Christ. Since Christ is the cornerstone whereon we are laid, whatever we wish to transact with God must be done only through him, as we have heard sufficiently above…. For God does not look upon my cross even though I torture myself to death, but he looks upon Christ through whom my works are acceptable before God, which otherwise would not be worth a straw. Therefore the Scriptures properly call Christ a precious cornerstone which imparts its virtue to all who through faith are built upon it. So also Peter teaches us in this passage how Christ is the living stone, what Christ is; and the figure is beautiful, since it is easy to understand by it how we are to believe on Christ.

 J. G. Walch, “Analysis of Contents: 1 Peter 2,” in The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude: Preached and Explained, ed. and trans. John Nicholas Lenker, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1904), 95.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The “Bright Light” of Romans (Tyndale)

Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures In 1526 William Tyndale published a preface to his English translation of Romans.  The year before (1525), his English translation of the New Testament was printed in Worms.  [It was, of course, smuggled illegally into England, where church leaders quickly labeled it as a heretical work overflowing with false teaching.  In time, many of his translations were confiscated and burned.] Below is the opening paragraph of Tyndale’s preface to the book of Romans.  In it you will find some echoes of Martin Luther’s preface to Romans:

Forasmuch as this epistle is the principal and most excellent part of the New Testament and most pure evangelion, that is to say, glad tidings, and that we call gospel, and also is a light and a way unto the whole Scripture; I think it meet that every Christian man not only know it, by rote and without the book, but also exercise himself therein evermore continually, as with the daily bread of the soul. No man verily can read it too oft, or study it too well; for the more it is studied, the easier it is; the more it is chewed, the pleasanter it is; and the more groundly it is searched, the preciouser things are found in it, so great treasure of spiritual things lieth hid therein. I will therefore bestow my labour and diligence, through this little preface or prologue, to prepare a way in thereunto, so far forth as God shall give me grace, that it may be the better understood of every man: for it hath been hitherto evil darkened with glosses and wonderful dreams of sophisters, that no man could spy out the intent and meaning of it; which nevertheless of itself is a bright light, and sufficient to give light unto all the Scripture.

William Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures, ed. Henry Walter, vol. 1, The Works of William Tyndale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 484.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Unteachable Blockheads – Steifsynning (Luther)

Luther on Romans

Martin Luther’s “Lectures on Romans” is an excellent resource to own, read, and study. I’ve come back to it quite a bit and I’m always challenged, edified, and encouraged by it. Today when studying Romans 12:16b (do not be wise in your own estimation NASB) I came across this excellent commentary by Luther:

This is directed against opinionated, hardheaded, stiff-necked people, whom in popular language we call blockheads (‘standpatters’ – ‘immansivos’) but whom Scripture describes as “stiff-necked” and “unbelieving.” We all are strongly inclined to this fault with a strange propensity, and most rare is the man who does not possess it. In German it is described by the word steifsinnig. People of this sort refuse to change their minds, even if they have been refuted by every kind of reasonable argument. And even if one uses the opposite method (an unreasonable argument), they still remain adamant and wait for the chance to rejoice and laugh if the advice of others proves wrong. These people are the authors of contention and the most effective disturbers of the peace and the destroyers of spiritual unity. Paul speaks of this in Eph. 4:3: “Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and Phil. 2:2: “Be in full accord and of one mind, etc.”

Luther, Lecture on Romans, p.353-354.

It’s helpful how Luther doesn’t just point fingers and say other people are blockheaded and unteachable. He notes that we all have this “strange propensity.” It is for sure something we need to pray against: “Lord, please keep my heart and mind open to truth, wisdom, and reasonableness. Help me freely admit when I’m wrong. Give me the grace to change my views, thoughts, and actions if they are not wise, reasonable, or in line with your Word.”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015