Dear Devil, Go Eat the Dung (Luther)

In 1532 Martin Luther preached a sermon at the funeral of Duke John of Saxony.  He preached on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.  It’s a good sermon in many ways.  One helpful part of this sermon is where Luther explained how Satan, the accuser, uses the law in a crafty way.  He first tells us that we have to be good and keep the law, but then he reminds us that we haven’t kept the law.  “And with that thought he brings one into such anxiety that one is ready to despair.”  Luther continues:

And again when occasionally I have done something good, Satan is nevertheless able to turn it around in such a way that my holiness is reduced to nothingness. Then I make haste to seize hold of the article of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for my sins [I Cor. 15:31]; and this is precisely what Satan does not want to let into my heart. But what does go into the heart is that I have done this and not done that, that I have given alms, been good, etc., just as I can say of our beloved prince that he had a faithful heart, devoid of malice and envy.

In other words, if Satan can’t get us to despair about our many sins, he tries to get us to be proud of our obedience.  Again, Luther:

But by all means take care not to let anybody persuade you of this on your deathbed; for then the devil is not far away; he can throw in your face a little sin which reduces all such fine virtues to nothing, so that finally you come to such a pass that you say: Devil, rage as much as you please, I do not boast of my good works and virtues before our Lord God at all, nor shall I despair on account of my sins, but I comfort myself with the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again, as the text here says.

Lo, when I believe this with my whole heart, then I have the greatest treasure, namely, the death of Christ and the power which it has wrought, and I am more concerned with that than with what I have done. Therefore, devil, begone with both my righteousness and my sin. If I have committed some sin, go eat the dung; it’s yours. I’m not worrying about it, for Jesus Christ died. St. Paul bids me comfort myself with this, that I may learn to defend myself from the devil and say: Even though I have sinned, it doesn’t matter; I will not argue with you about what evil or good I have done. There is no time to talk of that now; go away and do it some other time when I have been a bad boy, or go to the impenitent and scare them all you please. But with me, who have already been through the anguish and throes of death, you’ll find no place now. This is not the time for arguing, but for comforting myself with the words that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. Thus I am sure that God will bring me, along with other Christians, with Christ to his right hand and carry me through death and hell.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 51, p. 241.

Shane Lems

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The Importance of “Christ Alone” (Luther)

Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (recently reprinted by Lexham Press) is an excellent resource to have when studying Matthew 5-7.  The language/translation is a bit dated, but it is outstanding and well worth the effort.  Today I read the following, which I marked up quite a bit:

For if I cling to this, that Christ alone is my righteousness and holiness, no monk will ever persuade or mislead me by his hood, rosary, this or that work and childish human notion. For through faith I am a judge of all imaginable conditions and ways of living, so that I can condemn everything that offers to show me anything else that is to avail before God.

In other words, Luther said that if we understand that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we’ll rightly reject and condemn any other way to be right with God.  Luther continued:

But if I neglect this, and let the treasure go, and am instructed to seek elsewhere and otherwise to be pious, to conciliate God and atone for sin, then I am already prepared for all sorts of snares and nets of the devil, and to let myself be led as he pleases; then presently comes someone who preaches to me: ‘If you want to be pious and serve God, then put on a hood, pray daily so many rosaries, burn so many little candles to St. Anna.’  Then I fall in with this like a blind man and everybody’s fool and prisoner, and do everything I am told, so completely that I cannot defend myself from even the most trifling mistake.

If you take away the teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, people will believe and do anything they are told to be accepted by God.  This is a rejection of the gospel.  Therefore we should, following the Apostle Paul’s insistence, clearly preach and firmly believe that we are not justified by works, but through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 3:28, Gal. 2:16, etc.).

Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, p. 68.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Contribute to Our Salvation? (Luther)

Product DetailsThe following quote by Martin Luther, from The Bondage of the Will, is one of the main points of the Reformation, the biblical truth that the salvation of sinners belongs completely and wholly to the Lord:

“A man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes 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 of himself entirely, 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 they can do for themselves.  Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.  This, I repeat, is one reason – that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive his gracious promise.” Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, II.vii.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Prayer: Often, Short, Strong (Luther)

  Martin Luther was quick to point out the spiritual abuses and unbiblical practices in many monasteries of his day.  In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 6:7-13, Luther noted how many monks thought of prayer as a work:

Therefore they have themselves said that there is no harder work than to pray; and that is in fact true, if you aim to make a work or labor out of your praying, imposing upon your body to read or sing so many hours continuously, so that any day laborer would rather choose to thresh for a whole day, than only to move his mouth for two or three hours one after another, or look straight into a book. In short their prayer was not a sighing or desire of the heart, but a mere force-work of the mouth or tongue: so that if a monk has been reading or muttering his Horas for forty years, he has not prayed from his heart for an hour during all that time. For they never think of presenting their wants before God in their prayers, but they think only that they must do it, and God must regard this trouble and toil.

So Luther was pointing out that the medieval monastic view of prayer was wrong since it viewed prayer as a work to gain favor with God.  Many thought that long prayers would get God’s attention and impress him.  Luther, however, would have none of that:

But the Christian’s prayer, which is offered in faith upon the promise of God, and presents before him from the heart its need, that is easy, and occasions no labor. For faith soon tells what it wants, yes, with a sigh that the heart utters and that cannot be reached or uttered in words, as Paul says. The Christian prays, and because he knows that God hears him, he does not need to prate everlastingly. Thus the saints in the Scriptures prayed, as Elijah, Elisha, David and others, with short, but strong and powerful words; as we see in the Psalms, in which there is hardly one that has a prayer of more than five or six verses. Therefore the old fathers have very properly said, there is no use in many long prayers, but they praise the short ejaculatory prayers, in which one lifts a sigh heavenward with a word or two; which one can do very often when he is reading, writing, or doing some other work.

…In short, one should pray short, but often and strongly; for God does not ask how much and long one has prayed, but how good it is and how it comes from the heart.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017), p. 166.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

The Three Uses of the Law (Luther’s Catechism)

Luther's Small Catechism (with Scripture explanation) Here’s a great Reformation treatment on the purposes (or uses) of God’s law.

“What purposes does the Law then serve?”

First, the Law helps to control violent outbursts of sin and keeps order in the world (a curb).

Second, the Law accuses us and shows us our sin (a mirror).

Third, the Law teaches us Christians what we should and should not do to live a God-pleasing life (a guide).  The power to live according to the Law comes from the Gospel.”

That’s worth committing to memory: the law is a curb, a mirror, and a guide for the Christian to follow by the power of the gospel.  Even young children can understand that!

This Q/A can be found in Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991).  As I’ve mentioned here before, this is a sweet little hardcover book that goes through the basics of the Lutheran side of Reformation theology. Even though I disagree with some aspects of Lutheran theology, this book is a great one to own and read.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Monks, Hermits, and the Devil’s Deception (Luther)

Product Details At one time in his life, Martin Luther was a monk in the Augustinian order, a strict branch of monasticism that emphasized separation from the world and vigorous spiritual disciplines.  However, after discovering the freedom of the gospel, Luther stopped living a monastic life because he found his righteousness and salvation in Christ, not in strict spiritual disciplines or separation from the world.  He went on to speak against monasticism because it was often a works-righteousness endeavor and because monasticism made it impossible for someone to love and serve his neighbor.  Here’s how he put it in a sermon from 1532 (on Mt. 22:34-46):

“In the papacy it was very common for all knights, soldiers, jurists, and people of this sort, who imagined they had been in an improper, execrable calling, to say, ‘Up til now we have served the world, but now we want to begin serving God.’  For this reason many of them entered the monastery and became monks and hermits.”

“However, this was a devilish deception.  Is it serving God when you crawl into a corner where you help and bring solace to no one?  What need does our Lord God have of the service you perform in a corner?  The one who wants to serve God should not crawl into an isolated cell but remain among people and serve them, where he can rest assured that thereby he is serving God, for he has commanded it and said, ‘The second is like unto it.'”

“…The lesson, therefore, very closely shows… that God looks an all the good and bad we do to the neighbor as being done to him.  If, when we serve our neighbor, each one would consider it as being done to God, the whole world would be filled with God-pleasing service.  A servant in the stable, a maid in the kitchen, a boy in school, they would be nothing but servants of God, were they to willingly perform whatever father and mother, master and mistresses commanded….”

Of course we should take time to pray, read Scripture, worship God with his people, and meditate on the great works of God.  But we should never withdraw from people, for people are the neighbors God calls us to love and serve!

The above quotes are found in

Why Don’t Reformed Churches Rebaptize People?

Westminster Confession of Faith (This is a re-post from June, 2013.)

Confessional Reformed/Presbyterian churches don’t rebaptize a Christian who comes from another church to join theirs.  The Westminster Confession of Faith (28:7) says “the sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered to any person.”  For example, if a person was baptized in a Roman Catholic, Methodist, Brethren, or Baptist church, he or she would not have to be baptized again to join a Reformed/Presbyterian church.

Why not?

Well, there are quite a few historical and biblical answers to the question.   I don’t have the space here to discuss how the Reformers spoke against the Anabaptists who began rebaptizing Christians during and after the Reformation.  You can read Luther’s 1528 treatise, “Concerning Rebaptism” for more information on this.  The (short) historical answer to the above question (Why not?) is simply this: because we’re not Anabaptists!

At the heart of the biblical answer is the fact that baptism is primarily God’s sign and seal of his covenant of grace rather than an action we perform when we believe.   If a person is baptized in the name of the Triune God, according to the command of Christ, it’s an objective sign that doesn’t need to be repeated – just like circumcision in the Old Covenant didn’t need to be repeated.  Speaking covenantally, John Calvin said,  “however the covenant might be violated by them [wayward Jews in the OT], the symbol of the covenant remained ever firm and inviolable by virtue of the Lord’s institution” (Institutes, IV.XV.17).

Robert Shaw, a 19th Century Presbyterian pastor, explained it like this:

“Baptism is not to be administered to any person oftener than once.  This is plain from the nature of the ordinance.  It is a solemn admission of the person baptized as a member of the visible Church; and though those that ‘walk disorderly’ are to be cast out, yet there is no hint in Scripture, that, when re-admitted, they are to be baptized again.  The thing signified by baptism cannot be repeated, and the engagements come under can never be disannulled” (Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 370).

Of course, we should always be prepared to profess our faith before God’s people (Ps. 22:22) and we should continually repent of our sins (Ps 51), but we don’t need to be baptized more than once because it is God’s covenant sign and seal of the covenant of grace.  Because his covenant promises never change and because he is faithful, baptism is something Christians only need to undergo once.  (If baptism depended on my faith, I’d have to be baptized several times a year since my faith waxes and wanes!)

Baptism is a “one time” sacrament that benefits us our whole life.   When we stumble, baptism reminds us of God’s promises and Christ’s shed blood.  We flee to the Lord with repentant faith, plead his promises, and rejoice that his blood covers all sins.  As Luther put it in the above mentioned treatise, there is always something lacking in our faith.  But there is never anything lacking in our baptism because it is God’s covenant sign and seal.  That’s a short answer to the question of why Reformed and Presbyterian churches don’t practice rebaptism.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI