He Calls You So Graciously (Zwingli)

Huldreich (Ulrich) Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, was born in 1484, the same year as the German Reformer, Martin Luther. Zwingli is often known today for his memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper. However, there’s a lot more to Zwingli’s labors and teaching than a certain view of the Supper. He did clearly preach the truths of Scripture and criticized the doctrinal and moral abuses of the church in his day. Below is one excellent example found in his published sermon called “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word.”

Illustration: A man is longing for his soul’s salvation, and he asks a Carthusian: Dear brother, what must I do to be saved? And the answer will undoubtedly be this: Enter our order, and you will assuredly be saved, for it is the most rigorous. But ask a Benedictine and he replies: It is worth noting that salvation is easiest in our order, for it is the most ancient. But if you ask a Dominican he will answer: In our order salvation is certain, for it was given from heaven by our Lady. And if you ask a Franciscan, he will say: Our order is the greatest and most famous of all; consider then whether you will find salvation more easily in any other. And if you ask the Pope he will say: It is easiest with an indulgence. And if you ask those of Compostella they will say: If you come here to St. James you will never be lost and you will never be poor.

You see, they all show you some different way, and they all contend fiercely that their way is the right one. But the seeking soul cries out: Alas! whom shall I follow? They all argue so persuasively that I am at a loss what to do. And finally it can only run to God and earnestly pray to him, saying: Oh God, show me which order or which way is the most certain. You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards as sure and certain. Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.

But why do you not say: Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves; but you are the only, unconcealed good; show me the way of salvation? And the Gospel gives us a sure message, or answer, or assurance. Christ stands before you with open arms, inviting you and saying (Matt. 11): “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” O glad news, which brings with it its own light, so that we know and believe that it is true, as we have fully shown above. For the one who says it is a light of the world. He is the way, the truth and the light. In his Word we can never go astray. We can never be deluded or confounded or destroyed in his Word. If you think there can be no assurance or certainty for the soul, listen to the certainty of the Word of God. The soul can be instructed and enlightened – note the clarity – so that it perceives that its whole salvation and righteousness, or justification, is enclosed in Jesus Christ, and it has therefore the sure comfort that when he himself invites and calls you so graciously he will never cast you out. 

Ulrich Zwingli, “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word”, in Zwingli and Bullinger, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953) p.83-83.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Thick Monastery Walls (Kuyper)

 Sometimes Christians think retreating from the world will benefit their spiritual life.  They believe that withdrawing from the world will help them get closer to God.  This is most obviously seen in the monastic movement that dates back to the early church.  There are several biblical reasons why the monastic impulse is not a good one: withdrawing from the world makes it difficult for a Christian to be salt and light, withdrawing from the world also makes it difficult for a Christian to love his neighbor (including his enemy!), and it is the opposite of being evangelistic and missionary-minded.  Abraham Kuyper also noted well that wherever we go, we take our sinful hearts:

The world ruthlessly crosses our efforts [to draw near to God]…. Though it was not right, and never can be, we understand what went on in the heart of those who sought escape from the world, in cell or hermitage, for the sake of unbroken fellowship with God. It might have been efficacious, if in withdrawing from the world they had been able to leave the world behind. But we carry it in our heart. Wherever we go it goes with us. There are no monastic walls so thick, or places in forests so distant, but Satan has means to reach them. To shut oneself out from the world moreover, for the sake of a closer walk with God, is to seek on earth what can only be our portion in heaven. We may escape many things in doing it. The eye may no more see much vanity. But existence becomes abnormal. Life becomes narrow. Human nature is reduced to small dimensions. There is no imperative task on hand, no calling in life, no exertion of all one’s powers. Conflict is avoided. Victory tarries….

Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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

 

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

Dr. Martin on Monastic Futility

Product Details  Some Christians today unfortunately have a positive view of monasticism or monastic retreats; many of them view such things as very “spiritual” and pleasing to God.  Martin Luther, however, rightly rebuked such a view.  Having spent time in a monastery, Luther spoke first hand.  This excerpt that follows has a lot to do with the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel (justification by faith alone):

“The real change which Christ came to effect is an inward change of the human heart, just as I now have a different mind, courage, and perception than I did when we were still controlled by the papacy and before the Gospel was revealed anew. At that time I was convinced that God would reject me, and I did not believe that I would be serving God if I continued in my vocation, discharging the duties of my office. As a matter of fact, I did not know God as He really is. Nor did I know how I could ever overcome sin and death, go to heaven, and live in eternal bliss.  I had the idea that I had to reach those goals by my own good works; and I became a monk for that reason, and nearly tortured myself to death.”

“But salvation does not depend on caps, robes, not eating meats, fasting, and similar works.  Death cannot be destroyed in that way; nor can sins be washed away in that manner.  Instead, both sin and death continue to exist under either gray or black hoods, and under red or blue robes.  As I said earlier, salvation depends on the heart being enlightened and receiving a new seal, so that it can say, ‘I know that God accepts me just as I am, and that this truly applies to me because he has sent his Son, let him become a human being, so that through him I would be able to overcome sin and death and be assured of having eternal life.”

“…Prior to this time many people thought, ‘If I am to be saved, I will have to don a monk’s camp or a nun’s hood.’  If anyone tried to force you to wear one now, you would run to the end of the earth to avoid doing so.  Likewise if you previously would have eaten a bit of meat on Friday, you would have thought that the earth would upon up and swallow you for sure.  But now you tell the pope, the bishops, yes, the devil himself, ‘Go, kiss my hand! Why shouldn’t I eat meat?  Why should I be afraid to do so?’  That’s what it means to undergo an inner change and a change of heart, a change in which the heart acquires from God’s Word a different mind and will, and continues in its vocation and secular life as before, as we learn from the shepherds [in Luke 2:15-20).”

Martin Luther, a “Holy Christmas Day” sermon, Luther’s House Postils, in volume 5 of Luther’s sermons.

shane lems