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I'd like to see a piece of historical theology charting the trajectory of Luther's thought from The Bondage of the Will right up until his final words.

It should be called:

Choosers can't be beggars

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I'd like to see a piece of historical theology charting the trajectory of Luther's thought from The Bondage of the Will right up until his final words.

It should be called:

Choosers can't be beggars

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Luther has said:

“The Holy Spirit knows that a thing has only such meaning and value for a man as he assigns to it in his thoughts.”

The lens through which we view our experiences of the world are all important.  Suffering could either be a catastrophic blow or the opportunity to know Christ and fellowship more deeply in His sufferings.  My sins could cause a ‘spiritual sulk’ and extended dry-ness or a deeper appreciation of the blood of Christ and His cleansing.  It all depends on the meaning I assign to these things in my thoughts.

CBT is not so good at showing how these thoughts flow from our hearts (Mark 7:21).  But Luther knows how to preach to the heart such that our perspective is shaped by the gospel word.  And in his Galatians commentary, Luther puts this idea into practice.  Not only is the truth of the gospel proclaimed but the Christian is exhorted to speak this truth again and again into the deepest recesses of the heart.   When the truth of the gospel shapes our thinking more fully, then we will be able to stand up against the devil’s accusations.

Click here for extracts from Luther’s Galatians where he shows us how to preach to ourselves.

Here's just one example from Galatians 1:4:

You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins. This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the real significance and comfort of the words “for our sins” is lost upon them. The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins” as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for  mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin.

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This is how to preach evangelistically, huh?

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want. –Martin Luther

Go and read all the quotes.

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A friend preached a wonderful sermon on the bible last Sunday.  He spoke, among other things, of Luther's attitude to the bible:

The whole reformation was birthed by a tenacious asking, seeking and knocking at the door of Scripture:

I beat importunately upon Paul at that place (Rom 1:17), most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words... There I began to understand... I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open doors.

Do I beat importunately upon Scripture?  Luther spoke of treating the bible like the rock in the wilderness - smiting it with the rod until water gushes out.  Do I do that?

When he lectured on Ecclesiastes he found it tough.  He wrote to a friend "Solomon the preacher, is giving me a hard time, as though he begrudged anyone lecturing on him. But he must yield."

Wow!  It's been a while since I've wrestled with Scripture like that.  Do we really believe that there's life-giving Waters in this book?  Well then, let's smite it till our thirst is slaked!

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Last week Dave Kirkman helped me to distinguish between what Luther called God's 'alien work' and His 'proper work'.

Death is the alien work.  Life through death is gospel and God's proper work.  But it's extremely important not to view death and life as equivalents in God's eyes.  One is the alien work, transformed by the proper work of resurrection.  This has many implications for theodicy - the study of God's justice in the face of evil.  The LORD may indeed kill and make alive, yet He is not so capricious that they are both alike to Him.  Rather, they belong together as one redeeming work - the former being the alien, the latter being the proper. (cf Isaiah 28:21)

Anyway, I came across Calvin using a similar distinction between the 'proper' and the 'accidental' office of the gospel.  (And again 2 Corinthians 3 was important - just as it was to Luther).  Calvin discusses the fact from 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 that the gospel hardens unbelievers.  This we know.  But we also ought to know that this is not its proper work.  It's proper work is as a 'ministry of life' (2 Cor 3:6).  How do these relate?  The last sentence is fascinating.

The term odor is very emphatic. Such is the influence of the Gospel in both respects, that it either quickens or kills, not merely by its taste, but by its very smell. Whatever it may be, it is never preached in vain, but has invariably an effect, either for life, or for death.”  “We are the savor of death unto death. But it is asked, how this accords with the nature of the Gospel, which we shall find him, a little afterwards, calling the ministry of life? (2 Corinthians 3:6.) The answer is easy: The Gospel is preached for salvation: this is what properly belongs to it; but believers alone are partakers of that salvation. In the mean time, its being an occasion of condemnation to unbelievers — that arises from their own fault. Thus Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, (John 3:17,) for what need was there of this, inasmuch as without him we are all condemned? Yet he sends his apostles to bind, as well as to loose, and to retain sins, as well as remit them. (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23.) He is the light of the world, (John 8:12,) but he blinds unbelievers. (John 9:39.) He is a Rock, for a foundation, but he is also to many a stone of stumbling — “Of offense and stumbling.” (Isaiah 8:14.) We must always, therefore, distinguish between the proper office of the Gospel,  — “The proper and natural office of the Gospel.” and the accidental one (so to speak) which must be imputed to the depravity of mankind, to which it is owing, that life to them is turned into death.

Calvin on 2 Corinthians 2:15 in his commentary:

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Given discussion about Lutheran influence on the UK, here's a Thawsday repost...

John Richardson (whose excellent blog is here) adds his voice to this discussion on Stand Firm in Faith.  He writes about the place of repentance in the communion service.  It chimes with a lot of what I wrote here

I have long felt Anglicanism (specifically Thomas Cranmer) to be good at driving us to our knees in repentance, but not so good at letting us get up again.

In regard to this, I would point out the contrast between what the Book of Common Prayer says about our preparation to receive Holy Communion and what Luther said. The Exhortation in the BCP says in effect that if we are to receive Communion worthily we must first put ourselves right with God.

Contrast this with Luther. First, he says, “There must be faith to make the reception worthy and acceptable before God, otherwise it is nothing but sham and a mere external show.”

And what is this faith? It is “a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father.”

But what does this mean for our ‘worthiness’? “This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them.”

Therefore those with the right faith are those, “who suffer tribulation, physical or spiritual ... spiritually through despair of conscience, outwardly or inwardly, when the devil causes your heart to be weak, timid, and discouraged, so that you do not know how you stand with God, and when he casts your sins into your face.” (emphasis added)

I don’t think the BCP reflects this. Rather, the BCP urges communicants first: “search and examine your own consciences ... that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table” and so, “examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life” (emphasis added).

The Anglican way is ‘be cleansed, then come’. The Lutheran way is ‘come and be cleansed’.

Here's a 'come and be cleansed' type sermon I preached called Eating with Jesus (listen here).

 

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Given discussion about Lutheran influence on the UK, here's a Thawsday repost...

John Richardson (whose excellent blog is here) adds his voice to this discussion on Stand Firm in Faith.  He writes about the place of repentance in the communion service.  It chimes with a lot of what I wrote here

I have long felt Anglicanism (specifically Thomas Cranmer) to be good at driving us to our knees in repentance, but not so good at letting us get up again.

In regard to this, I would point out the contrast between what the Book of Common Prayer says about our preparation to receive Holy Communion and what Luther said. The Exhortation in the BCP says in effect that if we are to receive Communion worthily we must first put ourselves right with God.

Contrast this with Luther. First, he says, “There must be faith to make the reception worthy and acceptable before God, otherwise it is nothing but sham and a mere external show.”

And what is this faith? It is “a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father.”

But what does this mean for our ‘worthiness’? “This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them.”

Therefore those with the right faith are those, “who suffer tribulation, physical or spiritual ... spiritually through despair of conscience, outwardly or inwardly, when the devil causes your heart to be weak, timid, and discouraged, so that you do not know how you stand with God, and when he casts your sins into your face.” (emphasis added)

I don’t think the BCP reflects this. Rather, the BCP urges communicants first: “search and examine your own consciences ... that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table” and so, “examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life” (emphasis added).

The Anglican way is ‘be cleansed, then come’. The Lutheran way is ‘come and be cleansed’.

Here's a 'come and be cleansed' type sermon I preached called Eating with Jesus (listen here).

 

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unquenchable-flame-cover-small

Are you aware of Mike Reeves' new book on the reformation, The Unquenchable Flame

 

Mark Dever says about it:

 

'With the skill of a scholar and the art of a storyteller, Michael Reeves has written what is, quite simply, the best brief introduction to the Reformation I have read.'

 

How about that?!  You can check out all the wonderful resources surrounding it on Theology Network.

 

Anyway, in the book Mike makes the point that there were no Lutherans among all the refugee theologians who came to England (something still felt today in the almost total lack of Lutheran flavour to English evangelicalism, which has always been much more Zwinglian and Calvinist). p129

That seems to me to be a very great loss.  Take for instance Luther's advice to a friend, Jerome Weller who suffered great bouts of depression:

Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment. Sometimes it is necessary to drink a little more, play, jest, or even commit some sin in defiance and contempt of the devil in order not to give him an opportunity to make us scrupulous about trifles. We shall be overcome if we worry too much about falling into some sin.

Accordingly if the devil should say, “Do not drink,” you should reply to him, “On this very account, because you forbid it, I shall drink, and what is more, I shall drink a generous amount.” Thus one must always do the opposite of that which Satan prohibits. What do you think is my reason for drinking wine undiluted, talking freely, and eating more often if it is not to torment and vex the devil who made up his mind to torment and vex me? Would that I could commit some token sin simply for the sake of mocking the devil, so that he might understand that I acknowledge no sin and am conscious of no sin. When the devil attacks and torments us, we must completely set aside the whole Decalogue. When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satis­faction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”

 

Compare Luther with Zwingli - here's Mike on p69:

Luther believed that when Adam sinned and was declared guilty, the entire human race became, as it were, ‘clothed’ in his guilt; but when we turn to Christ we are ‘clothed’ in his righteousness. Zwingli, on the other hand, believed more that we each become guilty when we actually sin, but that Christ makes us righteous in ourselves. Luther’s idea that believers are at the same time righteous (in status before God) and sinful (in heart), did not really figure in Zwingli’s mind.

 

Where can I get me some sweet draughts of Lutheran liberty??

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Galatians 1:4:  [Jesus Christ] who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.

You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun "our," and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins. This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." But the real significance and comfort of the words "for our sins" is lost upon them. The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul "who gave himself for our sins" as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for  mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: "Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another's possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

"Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins."  To believe this is to have eternal life. 

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, "Thou shalt be damned," you tell him: "No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God's fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure." With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil's craft and put from us the memory of sin.

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