The Disastrous Work of Spoiling Your Children (Luther)

Christian parents should, of course, lovingly teach their children the truths of the Christian faith. Christian parents should also do their best to model the Christian faith well, by God’s grace. We need teach our kids theological truths and truths about morality and ethics – even ethics like working with our hands, being self-sufficient, and not being lazy (e.g. Prov. 6:6, 1 Thes. 4:11-12, etc.).

Christian parents should love and care for their children with grace and patience, but parents are not their children’s servants. In other words, we should raise our children to learn to do things for themselves so they don’t always depend on others to do things for them. If we spoil our kids by doing things for them that they could do themselves, by never disciplining them, and by letting them lazily glide through childhood, we’re not doing anyone a favor. Martin Luther said this very well in a 1519 sermon he gave on the estate of marriage:

You could do no more disastrous work than to spoil the children, let them curse and swear, let them learn profane words and vulgar songs, and just let them do as they please. What is more, some parents use enticements to be more alluring to meet the dictates of the world of fashion, so that they may please only the world, get ahead, and become rich, all the time giving more attention to the care of the body than to the due care of the soul. There is no greater tragedy in Christendom than spoiling children. If we want to help Christendom, we most certainly have to start with the children, as happened in earlier times.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, p. 390.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Praise-Seeking Pastors [or Shaggy Donkey Ears] (Luther)

I probably don’t have to explain the celebrity pastor ethos that is a major problem in Christianity today. In fact, some pastors want to be famous and well-known. Social media has made this problem worse. Anyway, in the “Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings”, Martin Luther had some cutting things to say about pastors/theologians who think they are quite significant and desire fame. After explaining the essential importance of Scripture for theology, Luther mentioned prayer, meditating on the word, and suffering – all of which bring humility and dependence on the Word. Then he wrote this – and this is how he ends his “Preface.” Read it a few times!

If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it – if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.” That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can. But in this book the honor is God’s alone, as it is said, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” [1 Pet. 5:5]; to whom be glory, world without end, Amen

Martin Luther, “Preface to The Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 3rd Edition (Fortress Press: Minneapolis), p. 42.

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

If That Is Not Darkness…! (Luther)

As most of us know quite well, one biblical way to think about the Lord is that he’s our loving, kind, patient, and good shepherd (Ps. 23, John 10, etc.). He loves us, his sheep, so much that he laid down his life for us. Having the Lord Jesus as our shepherd is a source of amazing comfort in the Christian life.

As Martin Luther lectured on Psalm 23:1 he very clearly pointed out these comforting realities of having Christ as our shepherd. At one point in the lecture he applied the teaching by explaining how many in his day viewed Jesus not as a loving shepherd but as a stern and strict judge. The following quote is a good summary of how the recovery of the gospel was a central part of the Reformation:

From these words we can also see clearly how shamefully we have been led astray under the papacy. It did not depict Christ in so friendly a fashion as did the dear Prophets, Apostles, and Christ Himself, but portrayed Him so horribly that we were more afraid of Him than of Moses and thought that the teaching of Moses was much easier and more friendly than the teaching of Christ. Therefore we knew Christ only as an angry judge, whose anger we had to reconcile with our good works and holy life and whose grace we had to obtaion through the merit and intercession of the dear saints. That is a shameful lie that not only deceives poor consciences miserably but also profanes God’s grace to the extreme, denies Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, etc. together with all His inexpressible blessings, blasphemes and damns His holy Gospel, destroys faith, and sets up in its place nothing but horror, lies, and error.

If that is not darkness then I do not know what darkness is. Up to now no one was able to notice it, but everyone considered it the pure truth. To the present day our papists wish to have it preserved as right and hence shed much innocent blood. Dear friend, if we can feed and rule ourselves, protect ourselves against error, gain grace and forgiveness of sins through our own merit, resist the devil and all misfortune, conquer sin and death – then all Scripture must be a lie when it testifies of us that we are lost, scattered, wounded, weak, and defenseless sheep. Then we do not need a Christ either as a shepherd who would seek, gather, and direct us, bind up our wounds, watch over us, and strengthen us against the devil. Then He has also given His life for us in vain. For as long as we can do and gain al these things through our own powers and piety, we do not need the help of Christ at all.

Martin Luther, Psalm 23, Luther’s Works, volume 12, page 156.

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

The “Old Mire” of Works-Righteousness (Luther)

  Although I appreciate almost any sermon by Martin Luther, there are some that brilliantly stand out to me. One of those is a sermon called “Concerning the Sum of the Christian Life.”  It’s a sermon on 1 Timothy 1:5-7:  “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (NASB).

At one point in the sermon when Luther was discussing “sincere faith” he contrasted faith in Christ to works of the law.  The law, he wrote, drags us to the judgment seat of God, shows all the ways we’ve disobeyed, and calls down the sentence of the Judge.  The gospel, however, is the fact that Christ is our mercy seat, and through faith alone in him alone, we find forgiveness and the favor of God.  Luther said that even though we might understand this reality, it’s very difficult to let go of the law and our works in order to hold only to Christ for acceptance and peace with God.  Here’s how he explained it:

Let him that will, try and enter upon the beginning of this matter, and he shall soon see and experience, how hard and difficult a matter it is for a man who has passed all his life in works of great holiness, to leave the whole and cleave with his whole heart through faith unto this Mediator only.

I myself have now preached the Gospel for nearly twenty years, and have assiduously devoted myself to reading and writing upon faith, and may justly seem to have emerged from this false opinion. Yet even now, at times, I feel that old mire sticking to my heart; under the influence of which, I would willingly so act towards God, as to take a something with me in my hand to him, for the sake of which he should give me grace according to my righteousness. And scarcely can I be brought to commit myself with all confidence to mere grace only. And yet it must be so, and cannot be otherwise. The mercy-seat must stand and prevail alone (seeing that he has set himself before us as the only refuge) or no one shall ever be saved.

…And I have no other consolation, no other help or hope of salvation, than that Christ my mercy-seat, who never sinned, who never was defiled with iniquity, who died for me and rose again, now sits at the right hand of the Father, covers me with the overshadowing wings of his protection; so that I doubt not, that through his benefits and intercession, I am safe before God, and delivered from all wrath and terror of judgment. Thus, faith sets nothing before itself to trust in rashly, but remains pure in all things by resting in Christ alone.

 Martin Luther, “Sermon VIII: Concerning the Sum of the Christian Life,” in Select Works of Martin Luther: An Offering to the Church of God in “The Last Days,” trans. Henry Cole, vol. I (London: T. Bensley, 1826), 542.

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

Afraid? Worried? Bring it to God (Luther)

 Although I just posted these words of Luther in September 2019, they are applicable today as well.  If you’re worried, afraid, or anxious, here’s a short devotional for you:

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