God Clothed in His Word and Promises (Luther)

Luther’s Works (55 vols.) Here’s a wonderful selection from Martin Luther’s commentary on Psalm 51:1a (Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love! NET).  These comments have a lot to do with Luther’s critique of Rome’s “theology of glory.”  Notice how Luther talked about God “clothed in His Word and promises,” which have to do with Christ.  In fact, Luther’s contempt for the theology of glory had to do with his love for the biblical teaching of “Christ alone.”  We don’t find a loving, merciful God apart from His Word which reveals the suffering Messiah; this is the theology of the cross.  Here’s Luther’s comment:

“…Here at the very beginning [of the commentary on Psalm 51:1] you should be reminded of something so that you do not think that David is talking about God like a Mohammedan [Muslim] or like some other Gentile [unbeliever]. David is talking with the God of his fathers, with the God who promised. The people of Israel did not have a God who was viewed ‘absolutely,’ to use the expression, the way the inexperienced monks rise into heaven with their speculations and think about God as He is in Himself. From this ‘absolute God’ everyone should flee who does not want to perish, because human nature and the ‘absolute God’ are bitterest of enemies. Human weakness cannot help being crushed by such majesty, as Scripture reminds us over and over.

Let no one, therefore, interpret David as speaking with the ‘absolute God.’ He is speaking with God as He is dressed and clothed in His Word and promises, so that from the name ‘God’ we cannot exclude Christ, whom God promised to Adam and the other patriarchs. We must take hold of this God, not naked but clothed and revealed in His Word; otherwise certain despair will crush us.  This distinction must always be made between the Prophets who speak with God and the Gentiles.  The Gentiles speak with God outside His Word and promises, according to the thoughts of their own hearts; but the Prophets speak with God as He is clothed and revealed in His promises and Word. This God, clothed in such a kind appearance and, so to speak, in such a pleasant mask, that is to say, dressed in His promises—this God we can grasp and look at with joy and trust.

The above slightly edited quote is found in Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Volume 12, page 312.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Everything is Done! (The Theologian of the Cross)

You cannot fully understand Martin Luther’s work unless you understand his distinction between the theologian of the cross and the theologian of glory.  This distinction is also important for us today especially when some are leaving the biblical truths of the Reformation for the traditions of Rome.  I myself will not and cannot go to Rome because I believe the five solas are eminently biblical, and also because I believe Luther was right in declaring that Rome taught a theology of glory in opposition to the theology of the cross.

Interested in this discussion?  You should be.  And you should get this outstanding book, On Being A Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde.  The book is sort of a commentary on Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.  Though it is only around 100 pages long, it is one of the most profound discussions of the cross and salvation you’ll ever read.  The book will not only lead you away from Rome’s theology of glory, it will also lead you away from yourself (your own righteousness, good works, and fig leaves) and lead you away from the things of this world.  It will lead you to the cross, and the cross alone.

I’ve blogged on this book before, so I won’t go into all the details.  But I do want to give an example of the contents of the book.  Here’s a small sample.

“The cross is the death of sin and the sinner.  The cross does the ‘bottoming out.’  The cross is the ‘intervention.’  The addict/sinner is not coddled by false optimism but is put to death so that a new life can begin.  The theologian of the cross ‘says what a thing is.’  The theologian of the cross preaches to convict of sin.  The addict is not deceived by theological marshmallows but is told the truth so that he might learn at last to confess, to say, ‘I am an addict,’ ‘I am an alcoholic,’ and never to stop saying it.  Theologically and more universally all must learn to say, ‘I am a sinner,’ and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true.”

“It is commonplace among evangelical Christians to believe that we can’t perfectly fulfill the law, but we often try to because we assume that if we only could we would do it.  Some believe that we must try to do something at least, and then, it is assumed, Christ will make up for our ‘shortcomings.’  But here is the bombshell: doing the law does not advance the cause of righteousness one whit.  It only makes matters worse.”

“The law is not a remedy for sin.  It does not cure sin but rather makes it worse.”

“Thesis 25.  He is not righteous who works much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

“Thesis 26. The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.

I could go on and on.  Again, trust me when I say that you need to get (and read!) this book if you haven’t yet: Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross.  And if you have read the book, feel free, as always, to comment below.

shane lems

Idols of Religion

   Update: In recent weeks (Nov-Dec 2011) Mark Driscoll has gone on record with some explicit claims of continuing revelation. We appreciate Driscoll’s ability to formulate and teach a few aspects of Reformed theology quite well, but we do not in any way agree with the notion that God continues to reveal himself to us apart from His word. Driscoll’s “visions” sound like divinations; we believe this is a dangerous element in his teaching. See THIS POST for more information.

“…In our own day religious people continue in various idolatries when they elevate their denomination, church building, liturgical order, Bible translation, worship music style, pastor, theological system, favorite author, or ministry program to where it is a replacement mediator for Jesus, one in which their faith rests to keep them close to God.  This also explains why any change to the tradition of a religious person is met with such hostility – people tend to cling to their idols, including their church buildings, which are worshiped as sacred, just as the temple was (by the NT religious leaders). 

“Religious idolatry is often the most pernicious of all.  Religious idolatry uses God for health, wealth, success, and the like.  In this grotesque inversion of the gospel, God is used for our glory; not only do we worship ourselves but we try to make God a worshiper of us.  This kind of false gospel preaching is evident whenever Jesus is presented as the means by which idolaters can obtain their idol.  Examples included promises that Jesus will make you rich, happy, healed, joyfully married, parentally successful, and the like, as if Jesus exists to aid our worship of idols.”

Indeed, we are professional idol makers.  I’ve even caught myself making an idol out of my idol making.  Thomas Watson talked about people making an idol out of their repentance.  Calvin said our minds are like factories producing idols (if he would have written in the 20th century he’d talk about our assembly lines of idols). 

This is a good reminder that we’re to flee to the cross, and the cross alone: crux sola est nostra theologia.

Quotes taken from chapter 11 (Worship: God Transforms) of Driscoll and Breshears’ Doctrine.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Intrusion of the Cross

Lutheran CollectiblesTaking a brief break from Bavinck on certainty by going back to something I’ve posted on before, I want to point out a few incredibly profound theses by Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.   G. Forde wrote an excelent book discussing these theses by Luther called On Being A Theologian of the Cross, if you want to read into it more.

The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.

Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.

Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.

The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1.20].

He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.

The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.

Contemplate those for awhile, considering the medieval Roman Catholic background.  Indeed, the Reformation was a theological/religious reformation first and foremost; the cross dragged the church back to the gospel.  These theses are proof!

shane lems

sunnyside wa