Pray Hard, For You Are Quite A Sinner (Luther)

The following paragraph is from a famous letter of Martin Luther to Phillip Melanchthon.  I’ve posted it on this blog before, but it’s worth doing again.  This letter shows two things: 1) Luther well understood Rome’s unbiblical doctrines [note the “imaginary” language below] and 2) he understood the gospel clearly.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but
the true mercy.  If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the
true, not an imaginary sin.  God does not save those who are only
imaginary sinners.  Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let
your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the
victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we
are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We,
however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new
heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that
through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the
sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to
kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think
such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager
sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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A Pastor’s Prayer (Luther)

Luther's Prayers by [Luther, Martin] This pastor’s prayer of Luther is one that resonates very much with me:

“[Lord,] you know how unworthy I am to fill so great and important an office.  Were it not for your counsel, I would have utterly failed long ago.  Therefore I call upon you for guidance.  Gladly will I give my heart and voice to this work.  I want to teach the people.  I want always to seek and study in your Word, and eagerly to meditate upon it.  Use me as your instrument.  Lord, do not forsake me.  If I were alone, I would ruin everything.  Amen”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Prayers, p 89.

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

Luther on the Term “Free Will”

If you know a few things about Martin Luther, you probably know that he wrote Bondage of the Will in response to Erasmus’ book about the freedom of the will (Discussion Concerning Free Will).  Luther argued from Scripture that man, since Adam’s fall, is born in sin, dead in sin, and in bondage to sin.  This means because his nature is corrupt and his will is sinful, an unregenerate person cannot obey and please God.  A bad tree brings forth bad fruit.  Luther did not like the term “free will” since it implies that fallen man is free to choose what is good and pleasing to God:

“This false idea of ‘free-will’ is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences.”

In other words, if man’s will even plays a little part in salvation, it robs God of glory and exalts man in a very unbiblical way.  Luther did make a minor concession, however.  He did say if we want to keep the term “free will,” we should use it differently than the semi-Pelagians or Pelagians use it:

“If we do not want to drop this term altogether – which would really be the safest and most Christian thing to do – we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with ‘free-will’ in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him.  That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own ‘free-will’ – though that very ‘free-will’ is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to his own pleasure.  However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no ‘free-will’, but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.”

Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, p. 106-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

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