It would be very much in order were we to employ such arrogance when addressing the devil and say, I have God’s Word and I know that with it I have accomplished much good–some I have instructed, others I have admonished, here I have helped some with charitable gifts; I know these to be good works in spite of the devil’s slander. I say, we may boast before the devil, because we have received nothing from him. But toward God, from whom we have everything, we may not boast; rather we must humble ourselves.
Luther, House Postil, Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (first sermon, part 11)
I had an email handed to me that someone had sent to someone else asking some questions about divorce and remarriage. In our time the church struggles when it comes to counseling people about divorce and remarriage. Even though in the Old Testament divorce was permitted, God says through the prophet Malachi:
“You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, …16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” [Malachi 2:13-14, 16]
And Jesus taught that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her (Matthew 19: 9).
On the other hand, the New Testament permits divorce in cases of adultery and desertion (1 Corinthians 7: 15, Matthew 19: 9). It also permits separation for Christian spouses (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
So what do we do in a setting in which there is so much divorce, particularly in the case of those who have troubled consciences? It’s not a simple question for pastors. In the case of those who are unrepentant it seems pretty apparent to me that there needs to be remedial teaching and a return to church discipline. But in the case of the repentant who have perhaps remarried already, or in the case of spouses who are not seeking a divorce and yet have functionally abandoned their spouses already, it’s not always so clear. So for those who have unsettled consciences I thought I would post Luther’s sermon from 1522 on marriage, not necessarily as referring to it as the definitive answer to questions about marriage for our time, but as a place to begin thinking about the questions confronting pastors and congregations with regard to questions of marriage and divorce.
Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage” (1522)
How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! I am reluctant to do it because I am afraid if I once get really involved in the subject it will make a lot of work for me and for others. The shameful confusion wrought by the accursed papal law has occasioned so much distress, and the lax authority of both the spiritual and the temporal swords has given rise to so many dreadful abuses and false situations, that I would much prefer neither to look into the matter nor to hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly. This sermon is divided into three parts.
In the first part we shall consider which persons may enter into marriage with one another. In order to proceed aright let us direct our attention to Genesis 1 [:27], “So God created man… male and female he created them.” From this passage we may be assured that God divided mankind into two classes, namely, male and female, or a he and a she. This was so pleasing to him that he himself called it a good creation [Gen. 1:31]. Therefore, each one of us must have the kind of body God has created for us. I cannot make myself a woman, nor can you make yourself a man; we do not have that power. But we are exactly as he created us: I a man and you a woman. Moreover, he wills to have his excellent handiwork honoured as his divine creation, and not despised. The man is not to despise or scoff at the woman or her body, nor the woman the man. But each should honour the other’s image and body as a divine and good creation that is well-pleasing unto God himself.
In the second place, after God had made man and woman he blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” [Gen. 1:28]. From this passage we may be assured that man and woman should and must come together in order to multiply. Now this [ordinance] is just as inflexible as the first, and no more to be despised and made fun of than the other, since God gives it his blessing and does something over and above the act of creation. Hence, as it is not within my power not to be a man, so it is not my prerogative to be without a woman. Again, as it is not in your power not to be a woman, so it is not your prerogative to be without a man. For it is not a matter of free choice or decision but a natural and necessary thing, that whatever is a man must have a woman and whatever is a woman must have a man.
For this word which God speaks, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance [werck] which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice.
- Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible (pastorreeder.wordpress.com)
- Martin Luther on Baptizing Babies (prodigalpaul.com)
- Martin Luther (1483-1546) on theology and music (deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com)
FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
from Martin Luther’s Church Postil.
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom…
3. Hence it is not meant, that by such works as are here enumerated they should first obtain forgiveness of sins and the righteousness that avails before God; but Christ speaks plainly and simply to his disciples whom he had chosen and called Apostles, as St. Luke shows preceding this Gospel. Christ teaches them how they shall conduct themselves when they preach, as though he would say: You dear disciples, I send you as sheep among wolves, and commend this office unto you to preach, and others shall hear your preaching, accept and believe it. And you will be so received that the world will be offended at you and regard you as enemies, and you will find just as much friendship and love in it, as sheep among wolves. For it will become wholly mad and foolish at your preaching, and will by no means tolerate it. Therefore see to it that you lead a better life and conversation than your enemies, who will practice upon you all kinds of unmerciful deeds by judging and condemning you. Moreover they will not only not forgive you any sin, but will proclaim your best works and deeds of mercy as the greatest sins. Again, they will not only not give you anything, but they will also hunt down that which is your own, and will take and keep it by violence. Thus they will treat you. But beware, that you be not like them; on the other hand where they judge, judge not; where they condemn, bless; where they take revenge, forgive; when they take, give. For immediately before, the Lord teaches the very same when he says: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.
15. To this friendly admonition of Christ our Lord we Christians and especially we ministers should diligently give due heed, for we also have at the present day adversaries of our faith and doctrine, who are great and powerful, ‘kings, princes, lords, Pope and bishops. To these our enemies according to this doctrine of Christ we show all mercy, and are not willing that a hair of their heads should be injured, or that they should be robbed of a cent. But this we wish them from our heart, that they may learn to know their errors and sins, and c
ommit themselves to the grace of God and believe the Gospel. On this account they judge, condemn and persecute us, rob us of honor, goods, body and life, as though we were the worst rogues that tread the earth. Such things we do not to them in return, God be praised! but show them all love and kindness, and would willingly help them, if they would only permit it.
16. Yes, they say, you revile us nevertheless, both in writing and preaching, and condemn us as heretics, and will not permit us to be the Christian Church. Is such reproof and condemnation mercy? We answer: This is quite a different matter. Christ in this Gospel speaks of those who shall suffer injustice. And it would not be right to apply this to those who by virtue of their office are required to reprove what is wrong. For those who have the office to judge and condemn, do no wrong thereby, in so doing. For as little as it agrees or is valid for a child to say to its father when he would punish it; father, be merciful, and God will then also be merciful to thee; so little is it valid against those who have the office of reproof. For it would be very inappropriate for a thief or evil doer to say to the officer of the law: Dear sir, forgive and do not judge me, and then our Lord God will again forgive thee. No, my dear fellow, the officer of the law by virtue of his office will thus answer and say: It is not necessary that I should forgive you. I do what is right, and doing right needs no forgiveness, but is praiseworthy. Thus also when father and mother punish their children, they do right, for this is called true punishment, when the office requires it. But beware, that you do not revenge yourself against him who must punish you, even if at times he treats you unjustly.
17. Wherefore it is not appropriate to twist this text, as though the Lord speaks of those who have the authority to punish the wrong, as ministers and all persons in authority, fathers, mothers, princes, lords, and finally also the executioner, who should not say to the evil doer, to whom he must administer justice, as however they are accustomed to do: “Dear Sir, forgive me, what I do to you today,” for why should he say this? As he does right, he needs no forgiveness, which pertains alone to sin and wrong; for. his office is to punish wrong. Just as it would be wrong if a father would say to his son when he would punish him: Dear son, forgive me, that I punish you. No, he does right, therefore the son should bear it, for thus God will have it. Read more…
54. Prayer before the sermon. Evangelische Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz. Concordia: St. Louis, 1881. (p. 44)
Dear God, through Your beloved Son You have said that those who hear Your Word are blessed. How much more fitting it would be for us to bless You, praise, thank and laud You unceasingly, O eternal and merciful Father, with glad hearts, that You show Yourself so friendly—indeed, so like a father—to us poor little worms, that You speak to us about the greatest and highest of subjects—eternal life. Nevertheless, You don’t stop there, enticing and wooing us to hear Your Word through Your Son. He says: “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” As if You couldn’t get by without our ears—we, who are dust and ashes! Many thousand times more do we need Your Word. O, how unspeakably great is Your goodness and patience! On the other hand, woe! Woe! over the ingratitude and colorblindness of those who not only don’t want to hear Your Word, but even stubbornly despise, persecute, and blaspheme it. Amen. Martin Luther (1483-1546)
- Looks like Luther got one thing right after all, I mean, besides the beer (unsettledchristianity.com)
- Can Christians Talk To Dead Loved Ones? Pray for them? (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
These days it is quite common for conservative protestants to claim to speak with the dead. At least in my experience. You often hear people speak as though their deceased loved one was in the room on a certain occasion, speaking with them, flipping the lights off and on, etc. On the other hand, conservative protestants generally think of it as a law that you don’t pray for the dead. Luther teaches exactly the reverse: you may pray for those who have died (although not repeatedly, because God hears you in Christ the first time.) But you never, ever, under any circumstances, talk to a dead person who claims to be your loved one, or believe that your loved one communicates with you in any way from the other side of the grave. Read on…
Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity (on Luke 16:19-31) http://www.lutherdansk.dk/1%20Web-AM%20-%20Trinity%201-12/index.htm
“28. The fourth question is: Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham’s bosom and hell, and those in Abraham’s bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition. We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead. For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.
29. Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him.
30. But that we should institute masses, vigils and prayers to be repeated forever for the dead every year, as if God had not heard us the year before, is the work of Satan and is death itself, where God is mocked by unbelief, and such prayers are nothing but blasphemy of God. Therefore take warning and turn from these practices. God is not moved by these anniversary ceremonies, but by the prayer of the heart, of devotion and of faith; that will help the departed souls if anything will. Vigils, masses, indeed help the bellies of the priests, monks and nuns, but departed souls are not helped by them and God is thus mocked.
31. However, if you have in your house a spook or ghost, who pretends that the departed can be helped by saying masses, You should be fully persuaded that it is the work of Satan. No soul has yet since the beginning of the world reappeared on the earth, and it is not God’s will that it should be so. For here in this Gospel you see that Abraham declares that no one can be sent from the dead to teach the living; but he points them to the Word of God in the Scriptures, Deut. 31: ”They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” By these words Abraham turns to the command of God in Deut. 18:11, where God says: ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit.” Is. 8:19. Therefore it is surely nothing but the contrivance of Satan that any spirits should let themselves be entreated and that they should require so and so many masses, such and such pilgrimages or other works, and appear afterwards in the clear light and pretend that certain persons are saved. In this way Satan has introduced error so that the people have fallen from faith into works, and think their deeds may accomplish such great things. And thus is fulfilled what St. Paul declared in 2 Thess. 2:10-11, that God would send upon them powerful error, and temptation to unrighteousness, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved.
32. Therefore be prudent and know that God will not let us know how it is with the dead, so that faith may retain its place in the Word of God, which believes that God will save the believers after this life and condemn the unbelievers. If now a familiar spirit present itself before you, take no notice of it; but be assured that it is the devil, and conquer him with this Saying of Abraham, ”They have Moses and the prophets,” and likewise with the command in Moses, ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit;” then he will soon be gone. If he leave you not, then let him make a noise until he is tired, and in firm faith suffer his wantonness.
33. And if it were possible that it were indeed a departed soul or a good spirit even, then you should neither learn nor inquire anything of him, since God has forbidden you to do so; because he has sent his Son himself to teach us all that is necessary for us to know. What he has not taught us, that we should gladly not wish to know, and be satisfied with the teachings of the holy Apostles, in which he is preached to us. However, I have further written on this subject in the Postils on the Gospel for Epiphany and in my booklet on the Misuse of the Mass; where you may read more along this line.
34. Likewise, to give an example, we read in the Historia Tripartita (A History in Three Parts) of a bishop, who came to Corinth where he had come to attend a Council, and as he could not find a suitable lodging for himself and his attendants, he saw a house unoccupied and condemned as uninhabitable, and he asked if he might not be allowed to occupy it. Then they told him in reply that it was infested with nightly ghosts, that no one could live in it, and often people were found dead in it in the morning. Then the bishop said but little and immediately entered and lodged there the same night, for he very well saw that the devil was the author of all these ghost stories, and as he had firm faith that Christ was Lord over Satan, therefore he was not moved by his stratagems and he entered to lodge with him. And thus that house was made free by the prayers and presence of a holy man from infesting ghosts and horrifying spectres. Behold, you see that the ghosts are Satan, and there is little use to dispute with them; but one should despise them with a cheerful spirit as nothing.
35. A similar story we read about Gregory, the Bishop of Cappadocia, that he crossed the Alps and lodged with a heathen sexton or clerk of the church, who had an idol, that answered him the questions he asked; and he made his living by telling the people secret things. Now the bishop knew nothing of this, and proceeded the next day as soon as it was morning on his journey. But Satan or the evil spirit could not endure the prayers and presence of the holy man, and at once he betook himself out of the house, so that the heathen sexton could no longer receive answers as before. As soon as he felt his great loss, he set up a great howl to call back his idol, which appeared to him while he was asleep, and said, it was his own fault because he had lodged the bishop, with whom he (the evil spirit) could not remain. The sexton hastened to overtake the bishop and complained to him that he had taken his god and livelihood, and returned evil for the kindness extended to him. Then the bishop took paper out of his pocket and wrote these few words: ”Gregory sendeth greetings to Apollinius. Be thou at liberty, O, Apollinius, to do as thou hast done before. Farewell.” The sexton took the letter and laid it by the side of his idol; then the devil came again, and did as before. Finally the sexton began to think, what a poor god is he, who allows himself to be driven away and lead by my guest who was only a man. And at once he started to the bishop, was instructed and baptized, and grew in his faith, so that he became the eminent bishop of Caesarea, a city in Cappadocia, upon the death of the bishop that baptized him. Behold, how simply faith proceeds, and acts joyfully, securely and effectively. Treat all your troublesome evil spirits in the same way.
I will gladly agree that the faith which I have called the true priestly office is truly able to do all things in heaven, earth, hell, and purgatory; and to this faith no one can ascribe too much. It is this faith, I say, which makes us all priests and priestesses. Through it, in connection with the sacrament, we offer ourselves, our need, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving in Christ and through Christ; and thereby we offer Christ to God, that is, we move Christ and give him occasion to offer himself for us and to offer us with himself. And as I have said above, if Christ promises to two persons [Matt. 18:19] the answers to all their prayers, how much more may so many obtain from him [in the mass] what they desire!
…Therefore my advice is, let us hold fast to that which is sure and let the uncertain go. That is, if we would help these poor [departed] souls or anyone else, let us not take the risk of relying upon the mass as a sufficient work. Rather let us come together in the mass and with priestly faith present every urgent need, in Christ and with Christ, praying for the souls [of the departed], and not doubting that we will be heard. Thus we may be sure that the soul is redeemed. For the faith which rests on the promise of Christ never deceives or fails.
So we read that St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, desired on her deathbed to be remembered in the mass. If the mass were sufficient of itself to help everyone, what need would there be for faith and prayer? But you might say: If this is true, then anyone might observe mass and offer such a sacrifice, even in the open fields; for anyone may indeed have such a faith in Christ in the open fields, and offer and commit to him his prayer, praise, need, and cause, to bring it before God in heaven; besides he may also think of the sacrament and testament and may heartily desire it, and in this way receive it spiritually (for he who desires it and believes, receives it spiritually, as St. Augustine teaches)—what need is there then to observe mass in the church?
I answer: It is true, such faith is enough and truly accomplishes everything. But how could you think of this faith, sacrifice, sacrament, and testament if it were not visibly administered in certain designated places and churches? The same is true in the case of baptism and absolution: although faith is sufficient without them, where nothing more can be done, still, if they never existed anywhere, who could think of them and believe in them or who could know or say anything about them? Moreover since God has instituted this sacrament, we must not despise it, but receive it with great reverence, praise, and gratitude. For if there were no other reason why we should observe mass outwardly and not be satisfied with inward faith alone, then this is reason enough, that God so instituted it and wills it. And his will ought to please us above all things and should be sufficient reason to do or omit anything.
There is also this advantage: since we are still living in the flesh and are not all so perfect as to govern ourselves in spirit, we need actually to come together, by example, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to enkindle in one another such a faith, as I have said above, and through the outward seeing and receiving of the sacrament and testament to move each other to the increase of this faith. There are many saints who, like St. Paul the Hermit, remained for years in the desert without the mass and yet were never without it. But such a high spiritual example cannot be imitated by everyone or by the whole church.
But the chief reason for holding mass outwardly is the word of God, which no one can do without. It must be used and inculcated daily, not only because Christians are born, baptized, and trained every day, but because we live in the midst of the flesh, and the devil, who do not cease to assail us and drive us into sin. Against these the most powerful weapon is the holy word of God, which even St. Paul calls “a spiritual sword” [Eph. 6:17], which is powerful against all sin. This is shown by the fact that the Lord, when He instituted the mass, said, “Do this in remembrance of me” [1 Cor. 11:24-25], as if he were saying, “As often as you use this sacrament and testament you shall be preaching of me.”
…And had there been no preaching, Christ would never have instituted the mass. He is more concerned about the word than about the sign. For the preaching ought to be nothing but an explanation of the words of Christ, when he instituted the mass and said, “This is my body, this is my blood, etc.” What is the whole gospel but an explanation of this testament?
Martin Luther. “ A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass.” Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 35. Pp. 102-106.
- The Church as sacrament of Unity and Salvation (lionessblog.com)
- “Whoever Does Not Receive the Kingdom of God Like a Child Will Never Enter it”. Sermon on Infant Baptism, Wed. after Judica 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
We should, therefore, give careful heed to this word “sacrifice,” to that we do not presume to give God something in the sacrament, when it is he who in it gives us all things. We should bring spiritual sacrifices, since the external sacrifices have ceased…What sacrifices, then, are we to offer? Ourselves, and all that we have, with constant prayer, as we say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” [Matt. 6:10]. With this we are to yield ourselves to the will of God, that he may make of us what he will, according to his own pleasure. In addition we are to offer him praise and thanksgiving with our whole heart, for his unspeakable, sweet grace and mercy, which he has promised and given us in this sacrament. And although such a sacrifice occurs apart from the mass, and should so occur—for it does not necessarily and essentially belong to the mass, as has been said—yet it is more precious, more appropriate, more mighty, and also more acceptable when it takes place with the multitude and in the assembly, where men encourage, move, and inflame one another to press close to God and thereby attain without any doubt what they desire.
For Christ has so promised: where two are gathered in his name, there he is in the midst of them; and where two agree on earth about anything they ask, everything that they ask shall be done [Matt 18:20, 19]. How much more shall they obtain what they ask when a whole city comes together to praise God and to pray with one accord! We would not need many indulgence letters if we proceeded properly in this matter. Souls would also be easily redeemed from purgatory* and innumerable blessings would follow…
To be sure this sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and of ourselves as well, we are not to present before God in our own person. But we are to lay it upon Christ and let him present it for us, as St. Paul teaches in Hebrews 13[:15], “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess him and praise him”; and all this “through Christ.” For this is why he is also a priest—as Psalm 110 [:4] says, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”—because he intercedes for us in heaven. He receives our prayer and sacrifice, and through himself, as a godly priest, makes them pleasing to God…
From these words we learn that we do not offer Christ as a sacrifice, but that Christ offers us. And in this way it is permissible, yes, profitable, to call the mass a sacrifice; not on its own account, but because we offer ourselves as a sacrifice along with Christ. That is, we lay ourselves on Christ by a firm faith in his testament and do not otherwise appear before God with our prayer, praise, and sacrifice except through Christ and his mediation. Nor do we doubt that Christ is our priest or minister in heaven before God. Such faith, truly, brings it to pass that Christ takes up our cause, presents us and our prayer and praise, and also offers himself for us in heaven. If the mass were so understood and for this reason called a sacrifice, it would be well. Not that we offer the sacrament, but that by our praise, prayer, and sacrifice we move him and give him occasion to offer himself for us in heaven and ourselves with him.
Martin Luther, “A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass.” Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 35, pp.98-99.
* “A Treatise on the New Testament” was published in 1520. In 1518 (according to the footnote in the American Edition”) Luther affirmed that he believed in the existence of purgatory. But already in the same document he insisted that “every matter concerning the souls in purgatory is most obscure.” By 1521 he would say “Those who do not believe in purgatory are not to be called heretics.” The first time he wrote a treatise directly on the doctrine of purgatory was in 1530 where he attacked the traditional arguments in support of the doctrine.
- Martin Luther: Fewer laws, better government (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)