C. F. W. Walther, Sermon “On the Annual Day of Repentance”, Brosamen p. 270-278.
Condensed translation by Pastor Karl Hess,
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, IL.
September 13, 2016
Hearers, guilty together with me and yet dearly purchased by Christ!
The most terrifying punishment which God has ever allowed to happen to a land and people is without doubt the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans…
…Outside the city stormed the foe. Inside was the uproar of fanatical parties which, in wild fury, rent each other even in the face of external foes…hunger, pestilence…thousands of unburied corpses inside and outside the city gates filled the air with pestilence…A mother killed her own baby and prepared it as a last meal; the soldiers killed people in the search for gold. 1.5 million died. Land laid waste.
…Fulfilled word of Jesus…”There will be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world…and if these day’s weren’t shortened, no one would be saved.”
…But this was not the worst thing. The worst thing was this: they didn’t recognize that God’s wrath had come upon them, and they didn’t confess their sins and repent. If they had, the wrathful rod of God would have turned into His fatherly rod, and He would have snatched their soul like a brand from the fire.
But the Jews didn’t see God in it; they saw it only as the work of the Romans. (p.272) They didn’t want to see that it was God who worked through the Romans like an avenging angel. In the midst of the punishment they thought they were still God’s elect people and that their cause was righteous…and believed that at last God would give them victory, even without repentance and conversion. No exhortation and no chastening through men helped. Nor did warning-signs, which were visible in the heavens, nor did offers of peace on the part of the Romans. The people were hardened until all mercy with God and men came to an end, and the blinded people were thrown into the open doors of death and hell.
Oh dear brothers, I wish to God I could call out on this day of repentance and say, “Praise God! It’s not like this with our land and people! We recognize God’s punishing hand and repent!” But if I said that I would be a false prophet….
It’s true that not all true Christians have left America like they did Jerusalem for Pella. I don’t doubt that there are still thousands of believing children of God among our people. But, my loves, not only has the state of Jerusalem for the most part repeated itself in our land, but also most of the present virgins still here now appear to have fallen asleep, so that they still don’t see the true condition of our nation and people, as He pictures it in the divine Word. Thus they themselves stand in great danger to their souls.
In order that we may envision that condition, this hour has been consecrated.
Verse: Jeremiah 5:3
(p. 273) Lord, your eyes look for faith. You strike them, but they feel it not; you plague them, but they do not amend. They have a countenance harder than a rock, and will not be converted.
With these words, my loves, the holy prophet Jeremiah describes the state of the Jewish people shortly before the destruction of the first temple before the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. In these words is also described the present condition of our people. And that it is then also that I, to the awakening of true contrition in us all, mean now to show you. Namely:
That the prophet’s twofold complaint, “You strike them, but they feel it not,” also applies to our people:
1. The lament: “You strike them,” and
2. The lament: “But they feel it not.”
That the first part applies to our people no one can deny unless he is an atheist and no longer believes in a God in heaven, and has silenced the loud voice within all men that says “There is one God!”
It’s true that pestilence and famine comes as a consequence of failure of harvest from God, and that it is easier to see that these national disasters are not by means of men. But even if godless people alone were the mediate cause of all wars, the final cause for these [wars] is always God, who uses them as the rod of His discipline and punishment.
God is not only the Creator, but the ruler of the world…He isn’t an idle spectator who lets the world do whatever it wants. Jesus explains that not one sparrow falls from the sky without the will of the Father…and all the hairs on our heads are numbered.
“The Lord looks down from heaven and sees all the children of men…He marks all their deeds.” Psalm 33
God is not the cause of sin, but without His will no sinner can move or control heart, tongue, hand nor foot…. (p. 274) ”Whatever, therefore, the sinner would like to do, he can do nothing except fulfill what God has resolved.”
Therefore the prophet Amos cries (3:6): “Is there also disaster in the city, and the Lord hasn’t done it?” and in the prophet Isaiah the Lord Himself says, “I make the light and create the darkness; I give peace and create evil. I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
If we want to know the reason for war and bloodshed, we must lift our thoughts up higher, because no people on earth could terrify another with war were it not, as Daniel says, “Concluded in the council of the watchers, and deliberated on in the discussions of the holy ones.” That is, in the council of the Triune God…Thus in Holy Scripture it is said of God that He is a “true man of war”, who “governs the wars in all the world, who breaks the bow, shatters spears, and burns the chariots with fire”… Also that He visits the peoples’ sin and falling away with war and bloodshed…The prophets threatened His covenant people over and over and finally really punished them with bloody wars, for instance through Nebuchadnezzar, God’s chosen instrument…
So it’s clear without a doubt that “You strike them” applies to our people at this time.
For a long line of years God rained streams of love on our land and people. He made it a place of refuge for the poor and oppressed of all nations, and opened thousands of wells of wealth here, gifted us with all the blessings of religious and civil freedom; in short He made this place an earthly paradise, “so that our America stood as a wonder before the eyes of all nations.”
He wanted to lead our people to repentance through the riches of His kindness. But what has happened? Our people, like Nebuchadnezzar, didn’t give God the glory for these benefits…Our people have propagated the idolatry of themselves, their freedom, their might, their wealth. Instead of being led to God, we fell from God more and more and said to gold nuggets, “My consolation!” Open atheism, false oaths, despising of the Word of God and desecration of the Sabbath, disobedience to parents and uproar (p. 275) against authority, murder, unchastity, deceit of all kinds, usury, bribery, false witness, unrighteous judgment—all these have become such everyday horrors that nobody is surprised or appalled by them—horrors which, unpunished by men, now already for long years have cried loudly to heaven for vengeance.
Thus God finally decided no longer to look on with His despised, mocked patience; thus He has finally allowed the fulfillment of John’s vision to go forth, who in his Revelation wrote: “And behold, I saw a pale horse, and he who sat on it, whose name was called death, and hell followed after him.” A terrifying war has broken out, such as has been seldom seen in the world before. Already hundreds of thousands have fallen…and only God knows how many departed in the midst of their sins and were cast into hell. Thousands and thousands have turned into weeping widows and orphans, or lie groaning in camps of pain…or live as cripples throughout the land. Thousands of peaceful homes, yes, whole cities and villages have been transformed into soot and ashes and their formerly blooming…fields into wastes. Thousands upon thousands of formerly peaceful neighbors have been transformed into bitter foes, who mortally hate each other. In whole great swathes of land families which once lived in golden peace surrender themselves in fear to murderous raids in the stillness of the night. And, what is most terrifying of all, thousands upon thousands have lost the little spark of faith and love which had been lit in their hearts in the torrential flood of the passions of war.
In His wrath, God has punished sin with sin. With every further day of wartime, the last sensation of love, morals, discipline, respectability, and domestic happiness dies away in ever more hearts, and the hosts of war, returning home, will deluge the land with still greater hosts of new sins.
O the great, O the fearful wrath of God!
Still, my loves, this is only one side of the picture of the present condition of our people and our land. Still another, disproportionately more terrifying, our text shows us, when it not only says, “You strike them,” but rather also, “But they feel it not”; not only: “you plague them,” but also: “But they do not amend themselves. They have a countenance harder than a rock, and will not be converted.” Let us then direct our gaze now also on this still darker side.
My loves, if our people had allowed this nearly two-year long distress of war to serve for the purpose for which God sent it to us, then we would have to kiss the bloody rod with tears of joy today, the rod wherewith God has struck us and our people, and with which He still is striking us. And we would have to thank Him for it.
But what is actually happening? Can we say, “Lord, you strike them and they feel it?”
Businessman feels the loss of business…propertied class feels the devaluation of property. Taxpayers feel the burden of increased taxes. Soldiers in the field feel the hardness of their service. Father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter and friend feel the pain of fallen loved ones, destruction of their hometowns, fields, the insecurity of their lives. Servants of mammon, greedy and usurers feel how their speculations of ever greater riches have been crossed out, halted, and ended. The poor feel how even their barest needs have increased in price.
But all of this is not the feeling which the Prophet meant when He said, “You strike them, but they don’t feel it.”
He means here the feeling that God is the one who strikes, that this striking is the punishment of our sins, that it is God’s wrath which has come over this Sodomitical land, that these are finally God’s judgments wherewith God in His burning wrath, unto the lowest hell, visits our people’s forgetting of God and godlessness.
But where is this feeling? There is still nothing of this feeling to be observed among our people. Much more is the old security in sin still ever present, the old pride, the old idolatry in ourselves and our works.
As the only reason for all this misfortune that has come upon us, our people regards the foe that is fighting against us; himself justified and blessed. Therefore only his opponent is execrated and cursed. But he sees nothing of God’s sword of vengeance [lifted up] over him. If one bears witness frankly and freely to our people that God is punishing our sins with this war, the answer would be like the answer of those inhabitants of Sodom, of whom it says that when they were informed of God’s judgment “It was laughable to them.” Yes, not only will people be blind and deaf to this, but still more will declare you to be a traitor to the nation, a desecrator and slanderer of the majesty of the people. And as against Stephen, who spoke against Jerusalem and the temple, people will pick up stones to throw at you as if against people who are not worthy of having the earth sustain them.
So then, in truth, the prophet Jeremiah has described the condition of our people when he writes: “You strike them, but they feel it not; you plague them, but they do not amend their ways. They have a face harder than a rock, and do not want to be converted.”
But now, my listeners, what is our condition? Must we not also admit to our own shame that even among us the majority have not recognized and felt from the beginning on in this war the punishment of our sins, the wrath and judgment of God over our people? Where are our tears of repentance over our joint guilt in the common misery? Where are our daily prayers, supplications, wrestlings, and struggle with God for contrition and grace for us and our unfortunate people? Haven’t we rather cheered those who in this war saw nothing besides the birth pangs, full of hope, of a new age of perfect freedom and equality? Haven’t we gotten our opinions about this war from the godless, atheistic newspapers instead of taking them from the unerring Word of God? Instead of looking to the Lord of all Lords, whose fierceness against our fallen people has been awakened, and who alone, above all, “carries out such desolations on earth”, have we not looked to men, and thus nurtured hatred of foes and party-anger within ourselves—indeed, even helped to increase this fire from the netherworld into a bright flame in others? Have we not taken part in the universal confidence of our people in its own might and intelligence and in its deification of men? That we have faithfully stood by the authority God has set over us, that was right; but have we not at the same time committed ourselves to the plans of those partisans which puff themselves up hypocritically with their loyalty as long as the government serves their purposes, but which cast away the mask when it appears to want to pursue another course? Those partisans which intend nothing else than to overthrow everything, and to bring about those conditions in which equality, mob rule, and impudence count for freedom?
Oh, how many have fallen into this whirlpool, of whom one frankly expected something completely different! Truly, twenty years ago such things would not have been possible in our congregation.
Twenty years ago (1843), when we were still without our own house of God, we would have considered that fact that we as Christians must follow another way than the world. We wanted at that time not to be condemned with the godless world. But we have gone backward. We have fallen. The spirit of the world has broken in among us and has carried out terrible devastations among us.
Oh my brothers and sisters, it is time; it is already high time that we remember, that we rise up from our fall, that we turn back. If we don’t want to do this, then the spirit of the world, even if he perhaps still leaves the external form of a right-believing church—still, in short he will have eaten through our core like an evil worm, and we will become an empty shell. We will have the name of being alive while we are dead.
Oh, then hear me to day, in order that you hear God again! Don’t turn away indignant from your old cure of souls (Seelsorger) who chastens you, that God Himself may not one day depart from you in the hour of your death! For I don’t speak to you in my own name, but in the name of the Lord, the Most High, to which I have been solemnly called and sworn by you.
Let each one then test his previous conduct and his condition according to God’s Word with heartfelt sighs for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
Also, as true spiritual priests, help one another to a right knowledge of himself, and let everyone allow himself to be helped to this end. Confess then to God your deviations from His Holy Word with remorse and a stricken heart, and comfort yourselves against your sins with the sweet promises of divine grace in Christ, given to all repentant sinners. Let no one here wait on another. Begin, each one, with himself, without first consulting with flesh and blood.
Oh, if we would do that, then the plan which Satan has in mind, to fight through this war against our salvation, and to cheat us through the same, would be foiled. Because when God strikes, and one feels it; when God plagues, and one amends, then God repents of all the evil that He had thought to do to us; the pain will turn into medicine, the misfortune to good fortune and the bloody war itself to means of, if not temporal, still spiritual and eternal peace.
But because God alone can give the willing and the doing, alone can give grace and peace, temporal and eternal salvation to any individual and to whole peoples, let us, in closing, cast ourselves on our knees, and call upon God together for us and our people, for the whole Christian Church, and the whole redeemed world, as we sing the indicated hymn of prayer, no. 368: Kyrie eleison.
 Luther’s translation.
 Daniel 4:17, Luther’s translation: Solches ist im Rat der Wächter beschlossen und im Gespräch der Heiligen beratschlaget…KJV: This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.
 Exodus 15:3 (Luther’s translation: Der Herr ist der rechte Kriegesmann.)
 Psalm 46:10 (Luther’s translation: Der den Kriegen steuert in aller Welt; der Bogen zerbricht, Spiesse zerschlaegt, und Wagen mit Feuer verbrennt.)
 Revelation 6:8 (Luther’s translation: Und siehe, und ich sah ein fahl Pferd, und der daraufsaß, des Name hieß Tod, und die Hölle folgte ihm nach.)
 Psalm 46:9 (Luther’s translation: Kommt her, und schauet die Werke des Herrn, der auf Erden solch Zerstoeren anrichtet…)
 i.e. the Litany.
(Tilemann Heshusius, Sermon for Christmas, Postilla)
Der Allmechtige und Gutige Gott/ hat nicht allein der gantzen Welt seinen Son geschencket/ und verehret zu dem reichen Trost/ wie wir jetzt gehoeret haben/ sondern auch geleret/ wie wir seiner moegen geniessen/ Und alle der Gueter theilhafftig werden. Er begeret zwar nicht von uns grosse Schetze oder Bezahlung/ das wir im solche Gueter abkeuffen muesten/ Oder das wir uns zubesorgen hetten/ Unsere Armuth were zu gros/ Wir koendten zu solcher Herrligkeit nicht kommen/ Er fordert auch nicht von uns schwere harte Dienste/ damit wirs muesten verdienen/ Sondern alles wil Er aus gnaden schencken. Eines fordert er nur/ das wir solche thewre Gaben mit Glauben annehmen/ An dem Newgebornen Kindlein alle unsern Trost und frewde haben/ unnd durch in von Suend und Todt uns helffen lassen/ Gott spricht selber/ Jesa. 55/ Wolan/ alle die ir duerstig seid/ kompt her zum Wasser/ Un die ir nicht Gelt habt kompt her keuffet/ und Esset/ Kompt her/ Keuffet one Geld und sunst/ Wein und Milch. Das ist One alle Vergeltung wil uns Gott solche thewre Gaben widerfaren lassen/ Das wir durch seinen Son den Himmel und die Seligkeit erlangen moegen.
How we Should Make Ourselves Participants in the Saving and Joyful Birth of Jesus Christ.
Tilemann Heshusius, Sermon for Christmas, Postilla
The Almighty and Kind God has not only given the whole world His Son, and set Him forward to give rich comfort, as we have now heard. But instead He also teaches how we might enjoy what is His and become participants in all His good things. He does not at all require of us great treasures or payment, that we must buy such great good things from Him, or provide ourselves with them. Our poverty is too great. We could never come to such glory. He also does not demand hard service of us with which we must merit these good things, but instead He wants to give them all out of grace. He only requires that we receive such precious gifts with faith, that we have all our comfort and joy in this newborn child, and let Him help us from sin and death. God Himself says in Isaiah 55, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come here to the waters; and he who has no money, come here, buy and eat. Come here, buy wine and milk without money and without price. That is, God wants to let these gifts come to us without any payment, that we might receive through His Son heaven and blessedness.
Why do the heathen rage, and the people talk in vain? The kings of the nations revolt, and the lords take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed: “Let us tear off their bands, and throw off their cords.” But He who lives in heaven laughs at them, and the Lord mocks them. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and with His fury He will terrify them. “But I have set up my king on my holy mountain, Zion.”
I will preach [in such a manner?], that the Lord spoke to me: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you; ask of me, and I will give the heathen to be your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession. You shall smash them to pieces with an iron scepter, as pottery you shall shatter them.”
So be wise now, you kings, and let yourselves be beaten, you judges on earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, so that He does not become angry and you die on the way, because His wrath will soon be ignited. But blessed are all those which trust in Him.
As king David stood at the height of his might and power, he received from Nathan the great revelation of a king which would arise from his seed in the distant future, and who would far outshine him, the anointed of God. God would establish the throne of His kingdom eternally.
The promise of the coming Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, the Seed of Abraham, was now bound to the house of David. David bowed immediately before this king and son of David, which Nathan put before his eyes, and thanked God for the great grace which He had directed toward his house.
Therefore if a soul is awakened, by all means it ought to be advised: “Seek Christ and his Light! Nothing else does any good!” But they should be directed into God’s Word and told: “This is what bears witness to him!” He must not be told to seek the revelation of God upon his knees, but rather to receive the revelation and epiphany of God that is present in the Scriptures upon their knees, full of gratitude and joy. He ought to be shown from God’s Word, with simple, powerful passages who Jesus is, what his office and calling is, his great faithfulness. Then he can be addressed in a perspective and in the confidence of a saved child of God among the angels: “Now you know him. He is all present, that is, where his Word and his name are remembered. He loves those who sought him not, why not those who seek him? Which of his promises can you possibly nullify even if your heart is contrary and despairing? None of them, none! His is mercy and faithfulness, even if you are ungracious and unfaithful to him. He knows that, He knows you. Trust his Word, only there will you not err.” Everything else may let you down, with everything else anything can happen. But his promise to you will never fail. In the world you will have trouble—so what? With him, in his promises, you have peace!” If someone has hemmed in a soul so narrowly (Voos’en’s autobiography contains good examples of this) that they must finally despair of themselves, that they finally must give up, to then become blessed upon the Word, then, from then on, he’ll not trust his preparations, or prayers and watchfulness, never trust our running and striving, but they will retain the same means that had introduced those souls to Jesus, that is, unconditional faith in God’s Word and promise. Whether one comes into persecution, temptations, heartache, whatever it might be, if he always retains a strict distinction between God and people, God’s Word and feelings, God’s faithfulness and human faith,–and in this way presses on to unconditional faith, despite feelings, that clings solely to the Word of God—he is back upon that narrow road of Thomas, not to see and yet to believe. The Defender of Israel be thanked and praised, who doe\s not slumber nor sleep, who knows all beleaguered souls and their woes and therefore has manifested to them such glorious heart-gripping Words of his irrevocable covenant of peace, so that those who are surrounded by hounds and wild beasts can have an unassailable light for their feet; his promises, rising over them like the sun above them that can never set but that comes with salvation under his wings. In this way those souls are given a point outside this world so when everything below becomes unhinged, it turns their sorrow to pure thoughts of peace. That’s how peaceful, steadfast hearts are made, that patiently persevere in the battles of life! Whoever practices such a blind (yet enlightened!) reliance upon the Word, becomes experienced in the fight of faith. He doesn’t merely throw his arms around the Word, but, in the Word, around the Lord himself, who is called the rock, and by and by, he takes on the nature of the Rock himself, as he gives way to nothing that would bring him to fall from his roots and foundation. Persecuted souls are shown universally, and in every particular case, that all weaknesses disappear, all sins are forgiven, whenever one turns to the Word of the cross with unconditional trust, yes, that all your complaints along with all your sins therefore end up always giving way to God’s promises by a pure faith and reliance on them, despite all feelings. This is the goal sought for any sort of malady in spiritual life, to prayerfully apply a few short, bright, clear passages of the Scripture, in all simplicity, for the comfort of troubled souls. Practical advice from human wisdom or dressing God’s wisdom in human garb don’t help in this. God’s Words imparts God’s mind, presented and taught to the heart. If one use it (for without using it, no one will be led into real glory!) it accomplishes much more than all worldly advice. Even if afflicted hearts often barely heed it, they must be lifted up by their pastors to see what angels apprehend, turning their weak eyes away from stubble to God’s Word. God will hardly be understood by speaking only in baby talk, much less by using intricate human conclusions and illustrations of the certainty of eternal life. “I simply believe it all” says the comforted heart of one dying in the Lord, as he justly shuns all human comfort. No one should have scruples as if it were wrong to base mankind’s salvation on a few proof passages. It’s certainly impossible to exhaust all the divine comfort in all God’s Word when telling it to people. But highly educated people can do that no better than untaught laymen. One also ought not fear that the spirit of their affliction must teach us to apply some different passage than we’ve learned, since every passage is absolutely true and has a heaven full of salvation. One may confidently stick with a few passages and use them repeatedly. By using them faithfully and repeatedly he will be assured those passages are God’s word of eternal assurance, but all men are liars. Nothing in Scripture is expendable, and nothing from man, even when it is well applied, is as effective, by which people might look to other men, who are passing away and do not remain, but one must learn to always turn to his God alone, to appropriate his comfort from out of God’s Word alone. If one is assailed by doubt, then do not bring him to overcome his doubt by proofs from reason. For then that person under attack will perceive that doubt comes from reason, but that it stems from not having enough knowledge or understanding. He will believe that it is a matter of right reason even when he doubts. But if you hold God’s Word before a doubter and you faithfully stand upon it, that it is greater than all doubts, such confidence for faith by a pastor (Seelsorgers) strikes down doubt and awakens trust when it has fallen asleep. Obviously the despising of God’s Word by opposing reason, which sets itself against God, will drive them from the plan of salvation. –So if one is in deep contrition, then the Absolution is declared to him with divine authority and he is preached that the Absolution is greater and mightier than all the sins of the world. If one is in the throes of death, then a prayer of thanks is said in which yet a third Word of eternal life is spoken from the Scriptures, and the great assurance of God’s promise is praised to the one dying, compared to which even death, with all its threats, becomes a shameful lie. If one is attacked by Satan’s deceit and might, we know what sort of sword we have to place into one’s hand. If one wants to reassure and justify himself, he is shown God’s judgment over all people in his word and how God’s judgment shatters every human whim. If one wants to sin, he is shown in God’s passages God’s love and warning, wrath and curse—what else can be done?
That’s how Christ wages war against his foes—the serpent and the serpent’s seed, and overcomes them all—until: “It is finished!” In that way Luther, in the Name of God, struck the eminence of the papacy and all his lies. Thus can each one win victory for himself. When one always, in word and deed, in every case confesses God’s Word, that is the best, sharpest, most peaceful conscientious Protestantism. For without being grounded in the divine Word, faith floats in the breezes and in the fog, as a human dream or delusion.
This path makes for peace. It seems easy, but there is nothing harder than this—walking and teaching to walk upon it. Look at most preacher and their sermons, what are they? Nice words, well ordered sentences, practical tirades, presentations, a torture and a cloud of words. But they know nothing of the way of faith, of grounding souls upon God’s Word. Among our preachers and caretakers of souls (Seelsorgern) there are a hundred mystics and preachers of works to one who desires to speak nothing but what God says with all that he says in a self-denying love for God’s Word; to just one who does not want to increase his own honor but lets God’s Word triumph over and above him and his gifts, instead of his gifts and wanting to be turned into their savior. If more preachers had found their peace in God’s Word, there would be far fewer babblers in the pulpit and, among them, more men with stable minds, who knew with assurance whom they believe, who in trouble and death could peacefully assert: “my friend is mine and I am yours.”
Consider this, dear souls—and if it’s false, say something better, for it is worth the effort to talk about the path to peace!
Peace be with you! Amen.
On the Divine Word, as the Light that Leads to Peace by W. Loehe (from Der Lutheraner vol. 3, p. 56 trans. Joel Baseley)
So why is it that with so many preachers which God has given to his people in recent years, we see so many who don’t press on into the peace of justification? –St. John in his first epistle 3.4 says with great assurance of himself and his people: “My beloved, we are now children of God” –v. 14 “We know that we have come from out of death into life”–and he addresses them in 4.4 “Little children, you are of God!” So one has a surety of being children of God. People who are able to say that about themselves have pressed through from death unto life. But these days why are there so few such people? Why are most people terrified when the question is posed to them point blank, yes or no: “Are you born again? Are you a child of God? Are you in the life that comes from God?” Why is the answer so seldom given those questions a quiet, humble, steady: “Yes, just as you say!”? Why is it usually a shame faced “No!”, a tentative, “I don’t know!”? Why do so many, especially young hearts awakened by those sermons of evangelical preachers, listening to them raptly and attentively, wrestle and struggle for faith because those sermons are so forthright to assure them that it must be within their power to believe; –but then, after a few years, their circumstances change, they get married and start a new family and their youthful Christianity disappears with their red cheeks; and what about even those whose awakenings had elicited great hopes, who were the pride and joy of their teachers, but turned out to be as the flowers of the grass who had sprung up not from beyond, but from the earth, who only have their season, as all things in the world? Why do some experienced men and sober minded women look back in poignant bemusement at that awakening in their youth and assert that this awakening was just part of their joy of youth as everyone experiences joy in youth,–and like all others’ youthful joy, even if it was, by all means, more pure and chaste, yet it had only been enthusiasm (Schwaermerei)? How does it happen that so many look back upon their youth in the initial awakening of their glowing souls with dismissive thoughts to say: “I thought it important, but it was nothing!”?
Perhaps many sorts of reasons could be proposed why these sad circumstances occur. I might especially propose the following for your consideration. Consider, my brothers, might what I’m saying here be true?
When a soul has awakened and now seriously asks: “what must I do to be saved?”, it is quite right to say: “Seek Jesus and his light! Nothing else does any good!” But where one ought to seek Christ, as a rule, is left pretty vague. Most point those asking to seek the Lord upon their knees, to call to him with a yearning and desirous spirit, so he will not fail to appear–in his own time, at his own appointed hour. Now the poor soul forsakes everything. He cries. He won’t let go of the All-present One until he blesses him. And the All-present one who hears the cries of the young ravens, also blesses them with a joyful awareness of his nearness. The blissfully awakened gets up off his knees and believes–he believes that he has now found his Savior. His trembling heart would be content to die, like Simeon. For it has experienced God’s salvation. –But alas, now that’s done. Young people may have many such times in Christ. But the older he gets in Christ, the more seldom he receives these waves of joy. And if that has been the gauge of his Christianity, it’s fading away. He is best in a forlorn longing for the past, and thus, he turns into a pitiful pillar of salt, like Lor’s wife, who looked back, and, because of that never reached Zoar, that peaceful harbor of salvation that lay before her.
Dear brothers! That path does not lead to peace, nor to the God-given confidence that nothing can ever again separate us from thelove of God. That path is obviously nothing but a path of feelings and of works. When a person is awakened, it must then be our first task to tell him that his feelings of excitement or whatever joy attends him (for not every awakening is attended by feelings–and they may be sweet or bitter) are transient and are not even the most important part of what’s happening. He ought rejoice as if he were not rejoicing, nor place such a great value on hi sfeelings, as if when they were missing the main pillars of his existence would shake and quake. Much more, from beginning to end, he must–and this is the main point we are making–he must not look to himself, who is constantly changing, for his spiritual life, but rather to the unchangeable promises of God’s Word, which, God be praised!, stand outside us, untouched by our feelings, that are a divine surety and guarantee and a pure letter of assurance and peace to redeemed souls. Yes, we must present these promises of God to a newly awakened Christian as even greater and more important than their faith. For in the work of our salvation faith is what is in people and entrusted to people, but, even so, faith itself is not always the same, now weak, now strong, while God’s Word stands fast and never wavers in a thousand years. As much higher as God is than man, so much higher is God’s Word and promise than our faith. Faith waxes and wanes, God’s Word is now as it is at any other time. God’s Word is God’s manifest faithfulness and tender mercy. God’s Word is God’s presence in grace or wrath, whether man wants it or not. –Where ever God’s Word and promise is, there is also God’s strength of grace and life.
It can be found in Der Lutheraner volume 3, p. 44. And you can get an English translation of the book here.
Margaretta: I would like to come to the confessional.
Parson: That’s good, why do you want to?
M. So that I confess my sins.
Pn: So, even you have sins?
M: We are all sinners and fall short of the glory we should have before God.
Pn: Do you also know your sins?
M: Some we know and some we don’t.
Pn.: But one must still know those that are known, else, there wouldn’t be known sins, so do you know them?
M.: I’ve never done anything wrong, and no one can say I have.
A little before I was born a practice that had been common in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod passed into oblivion. It was called “announcement for communion.” People used to go talk to the pastor before they went to the Lord’s Supper. I’ve never really been too sure what went on in these talks. From asking older people in the church I’ve gathered that over time it became little more than a ritual of going to church and signing your name in a book as intending to commune. Later people began to phone in their announcements.
But it always struck me as interesting that there was this practice in the Lutheran Church that bore some resemblance to confession prior to communion and that it only recently died out. Yet you never hear anyone talk about it or suggest resurrecting it. I’ve written another post touching on the subject (here), but that was two years ago and I can’t remember what I said.
I’ve been flipping around in a fantastic book I bought recently–a translation of C. F. W. Walther’s early volumes of Der Lutheraner, the newspaper he started before the Missouri Synod was even founded. (Thanks to Pr. Joel Baseley for his work in translating it; you can find the book here.) I stumbled upon a sample dialogue between a pastor and would-be communicants at announcement for communion, authored by no less than Wilhelm Loehe. I reprint part of it here for your edification and perhaps to entice you to buy a copy of the book.
A note: the confession referred to in what follows seems to have been a corporate service of confession and absolution rather than private confession and absolution. Although in the first century and a half or so after the reformation it was normal for Lutherans to go to private confession before communion, by the time this was published (December 1846) private confession and absolution was seldom used.
Announcement for Confession
A sketch as to its nature. by W. Loehe
Balthisar: Good day, Parson.
Parson: Good day, Balthisar, what do you want?
B. I want to announce for Confession this Saturday and the Lord’s Supper Sunday.
Pn. So why do you want the Lord’s Supper now?
B. Why? I think it is now the time to have the Lord’s Supper again.
Pn. Why now? Is it because you do that every year at Advent?
B. Yes, in my family we’ve always thought we should observe that, so if it’s Pentecost or Christmas day or in Advent we go to the Lord’s Supper. So I do that, too.
Pn. So you are going because of that custom?
B. Sure, why not? I don’t agree with the tradition many hold, who go but once a year.