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

Servants Bowing Before the Word (Monod)

 Thy Word Is Still Truth  Adolphe Monod was a French preacher in the first half of the 19th century.  After serving as a pastor for some years, he became very ill and could no longer preach.  Yet even on his sick bed he would write sermons and preach sermons to the people who came to visit.  These sermons were later put into book form: Farewell to His Friends and the Church.  I was reading sections of Monod’s work recently and was impressed at how he talked about Scripture.  Here are a few helpful quotes:

“I commend to you, my dear friends, the Word of God as something for constant, in-depth study and meditation.  It will lift us up above everything else.  It will, through Jesus Christ, be the strength of our lives, the joy of our hearts, and our powerful consolation in life and in death.”

“When Scripture proclaims God’s will or the way of salvation or the great doctrines of sin and grace, and of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what it tells us is no less true and no less certain than if heaven were opened above us at this very moment and the voice of God resounded, as it once did at Sinai, saying these same things to us.”

“Oh, how can we surround this book [the Bible] with enough attention and respect?  No doubt Scripture is not the truth that saves us, but it is the road to that truth.  It is not salvation, but it is the book that reveals our salvation, a salvation we would never be able to know without it.  Through Scripture and in proportion to our growth in understanding it, we will also become better acquainted with Jesus, the Savior of our souls.”

“The greatest of all God’s servants are those who bow before that Word.  Saint Paul, David, Luther, Calvin were jealous to humble themselves in the dust before it, and if possible they would have gone still lower.”

These quotes can be found in Thy Word Is Still Truth, chapter 35.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

Saved by Love (Machen)

What is Faith? Here are some great words from a great book:

“Even before we could love as we ought to love, even before we could do or feel anything aright, we were saved by faith; we were saved by abandoning all confidence in our own thoughts or feelings or actions and by simply allowing ourselves to be saved by God.”

“In one sense, indeed, we were saved by love; that indeed is an even profounder fact than that we were saved by faith.  Yes, we were saved by love, but it was by a greater love than the love in our cold and sinful hearts; we were saved by love, but it was not our love for God but God’s love for us, God’s love for us by which he gave the Lord Jesus to die for us upon the cross.  ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’  That  love alone is the love that saves.  And the means by which it saves is faith.”

“Thus the beginning of the Christian life is not an achievement but an experience; the soul of the man who is saved is not, at the moment of salvation, active, but passive; salvation is the work of God and God alone.”

J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith, p. 196-7.

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

…Without Our Working (Luther)

Galatians: Crossway Classic Commentaries Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians is indeed one of the finest expositions of this epistle of Paul as well as one of the finest discussions of justification through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone.  Luther’s introduction is also a gold mine.  In it, he talks about active righteousness (our attempts at obedience) and passive righteousness (receiving righteousness as a gift).  Here are a few excerpts:

…Human weakness and misery is so great that in the terrors of conscience and danger of death we see nothing but our works, our unworthiness, and the law. And when we are shown our sin, in time we remember the evil of our past life. Then the poor sinner groans with great anguish of spirit and thinks, “Alas, what a dreadful life I have lived! Would to God I might live longer; then I would amend my life.” Thus human reason cannot restrain itself from the sight of this active or working righteousness—that is, our own righteousness; nor can it look up to see the passive or Christian righteousness but relies altogether on the active righteousness—so deeply is this evil rooted in us.

On the other hand, Satan abuses our natural weakness and increases and aggravates these thoughts of ours. Then our poor conscience becomes more troubled, terrified, and confounded, for it is impossible for the human mind to conceive any comfort, or to look only to grace in the feeling and horror of sin, or to constantly reject all argument and reasoning about words. For this is far above human strength and ability, and indeed above the law of God as well. It is true that the law is the most excellent of all things in the world; yet it is not able to quiet a troubled conscience but makes our terrors worse and drives us to desperation—“so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” (Romans 7:13).

Therefore, the afflicted and troubled conscience has no remedy against desperation and eternal death unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, freely offered in Christ Jesus—that is to say, this passive faith or Christian righteousness. If the conscience can take hold of this, then it may be at rest and boldly say, “I do not seek this active or working righteousness, although I know that I ought to have it, and also to fulfill it. But if I had it and did actually fulfill it, I still could not place my trust in it, nor should I dare to set it against God’s judgment. Thus I abandon all active righteousness, both of my own and of God’s law, and embrace only that passive righteousness that is the righteousness of grace, mercy, and forgiveness of sins. Briefly, I rest only on that righteousness that is the righteousness of Christ and of the Holy Spirit.  Just as the earth does not generate rain and cannot of itself work to produce it, but receives it by the mere gift of God from above, so this heavenly righteousness is given us by God without our working for or deserving it.”

Martin Luther – preface to Galatians.

shane lems

“Believing is not Doing”or “Sins Countless as the Stars”

 Octavious Winslow to the those struggling with sin, guilt, imperfection, and doubt about the gospel:

“It is not for your worth that you are saved, but for Christ’s worth.  It is not on the ground of your personal merits that you are justified, but on the ground of Christ’s merits alone.  It is not upon the plea of your fitness, your tears, your confessions, your prayers, your duties, that God forgives and accepts you, but simply and exclusively upon the one plea of the Savior’s sacrifice.  The blood of Christ pardons, the righteousness of Christ justifies you, and this is all that you require, or that God demands.  The great work is all done – it is not to BE done.  It is complete, finished, accepted, sealed.  And you, as a lost sinner, without holiness, without strength, without one plea that springs from what you are, have nothing to do.   Believe, and you are saved.  Believing is not doing, it is not meriting.  It is trusting, it is the simple exercise of a faith in Christ which God gives and which the Holy Spirit produces in the heart, so that your salvation, from beginning to end, is entirely out of yourself, in another.”

“…And do you still ask, ‘What then must I DO to be saved?’ Do! I answer – nothing!  All is done, completely and forever done!  Christ has done it all, paid it all, endured it all, suffered it all, finished it all, leaving you, O sin burdened, anxious, trembling, hesitating soul, nothing to do, and only to believe.  …Your sins, countless as the stars, are no barrier to your salvation if you but believe in Jesus.”

Octavious Winslow, Help Heavenward (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), 121-122.

shane lems

God’s Word in the Straw’s Mouth

Product Details Martin Luther constantly talked about the power of God’s Word.  This theme came up in his famous hymn that we’ve all heard: “That Word above all earthly powers…one little Word shall fell him.”  Here’s part of a sermon Luther gave on Luke 11:14-28; in it he talked about God’s powerful Word.  Look for Luther’s excellent straw illustration/analogy:

“…We should never speak in a derogatory or careless way about God’s Word….  True it is that the preached Word is but an ordinary Word and the people who preach it are but ordinary people.  But when it emanates from Christ’s command to preach it and is coupled with faith, then it possesses the kind of power that can make the devil flee.  God has set his almighty power in a very lowly instrument and a very fragile vessel.  Against Satan we human beings are but straw, so that were he able to unleash his power against us he would demolish us in a flash.  So what does God do?  He kindles a little flame against this arrogant, mighty spirit, that is, he puts his Word in the straw’s mouth, and that selfsame word is a heavenly fire which, wherever it goes, scorches the devil, so that he doesn’t know where to run.”

“That is indeed an almighty power, as St. Paul calls it in Romans 1:16, able to save those who believe on it.  It has the power and might of God and is able to bring people out of sin to righteousness, from death to life, from hell to heaven, out of the devil’s kingdom into the kingdom of God, to save them.  Surely there is no more wonderful, mighty power than that of the Word, which empowers the poor straw with such potency that it can drive Satan away and free those who believe it from sin and death, and bring them righteousness and everlasting life.”

-From a sermon Luther preached on the Third Sunday in Lent, 1534; found in Luther’s Sermons, volume 5, pages 342-3.

shane lems