We are quickly approaching the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. A hymn that beautifully summarizes what the Reformation was all about and one that should still be sung and memorized by all Christians today is Salvation Unto Us Has Come.
1 Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.
2 What God did in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on ev'ry hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.
3 It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.
4 From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our guilt was e'er increasing.
None can remove sin's poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart--
So deep is our corruption.
5 Yet as the law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God's anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
has for us the Law obeyed
And thus His Father's vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.
6 Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Your death is now my life indeed,
For You have paid my ransom.
7 Let me not doubt, but truly see
Your Word cannot be broken:
Your call rings out, "Come unto Me!"
No falsehood have You spoken.
Baptized into Your precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.
8 The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes us conscience-stricken;
But then the Gospel enters in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.
9 Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.
10 All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by His grace,
All glory to His merit.
O triune God in heav'n above,
You have revealed Your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow.
These are Luther's fantastic words on Galatians 4:7: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
They are extremely comforting for all those wrestling in prayer against the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh.
With these words, then, Paul wants to indicate the weakness there still is in the pious, as in Rom. 8:26: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” For because the awareness of the opposite is so strong in us, that is, because we are more aware of the wrath of God than of His favor toward us, therefore the Holy Spirit is sent into our hearts. He does not whisper and does not pray but cries very loudly: “Abba! Father!” and intercedes for us, in accordance with the will of God, with sighs too deep for words. How?
In deep terrors and conflicts of conscience we do indeed take hold of Christ and believe that He is our Savior. But then the Law terrifies us most, and sin disturbs us. In addition, the devil attacks us with all his stratagems and his fiery darts (Eph. 6:16), trying with all his might to snatch Christ away from us and to rob us of all comfort. Then there is nothing to keep us from succumbing and despairing, for then we are the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick (Is. 42:3). Meanwhile, however, the Holy Spirit is helping us in our weakness and interceding for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:26), and He is bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). Thus the mind is strengthened amid these terrors; it sighs to its Savior and High Priest, Jesus Christ; it overcomes the weakness of the flesh, regains its comfort, and says: “Abba! Father!” This sighing, of which we are hardly aware, Paul calls a cry and a sigh too deep for words—a sigh that fills heaven and earth. He also calls it a cry and a sigh of the Spirit, because when we are weak and tempted, then the Spirit sets up this cry in our heart.
No matter how great and terrible the cries are that the Law, sin, and the devil let loose against us, even though they seem to fill heaven and earth and to overcome the sighs of our hearts completely, still they cannot do us any harm. For the more these enemies press in upon us, accusing and vexing us with their cries, the more do we, sighing, take hold of Christ; with heart and lips we call upon Him, cling to Him, and believe that He was born under the Law for us, in order that He might redeem us from the curse of the Law and destroy sin and death. When we have taken hold of Christ by faith this way, we cry through Him: “Abba! Father!” And this cry of ours far exceeds the cry of the devil.
But we are far from supposing that this sigh which we emit amid the terrors and in our weakness is a cry—so far indeed that we hardly understand that it is even a sigh. For so far as our own awareness is concerned, this faith of ours, which sighs to Christ in temptation, is very weak. That is why we do not hear this cry. We have only the Word. If we take hold of this in the struggle, we breathe a little and sigh. To some extent we are aware of this sigh, but we do not hear the cry. But “He who searches the hearts of men,” Paul says (Rom. 8:27), “knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” To Him who searches the hearts this sigh, which seems so meager to the flesh, is a loud cry and a sigh too deep for words, in comparison with which the great and horrible roars of the Law, sin, death, the devil, and hell are nothing at all and are inaudible. It is not without purpose, then, that Paul calls this sigh of the pious and afflicted heart the crying and indescribable sighing of the Spirit; for it fills all of heaven and earth and cries so loudly that the angels suppose that they cannot hear anything except this cry.
Within ourselves, however, there is the very opposite feeling. This faint sigh of ours does not seem to penetrate the clouds in such a way that it is the only thing to be heard by God and the angels in heaven. In fact, we suppose, especially as long as the trial continues, that the devil is roaring at us terribly, that heaven is bellowing, that the earth is quaking, that everything is about to collapse, that all the creatures are threatening us with evil, and that hell is opening up in order to swallow us. This feeling is in our hearts; we do not hear these terrible voices or see this frightening face. And this is what Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:9: that the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness. For then Christ is truly almighty, and then He truly reigns and triumphs in us when we are, so to speak, so “all-weak” that we can scarcely emit a groan. But Paul says that in the ears of God this sigh is a mighty cry that fills all of heaven and earth.
Likewise in Luke 18:1–8, in the parable of the unjust judge, Christ calls this sigh of the pious heart a cry, and a cry that cries to God incessantly day and night. He says: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will vindicate them speedily.” Today, amid all the persecution and opposition from the pope, the tyrants, and the fanatical spirits, who attack us from the right and from the left, we cannot do anything but emit such sighs. But these have been our cannon and our instruments of war; with them we have frustrated the plans of our opponents all these years, and we have begun to demolish the kingdom of Antichrist. But they will provoke Christ to hasten the day of His glorious coming, when He will abolish all principalities, powers, and might, and will put all His enemies under His feet. Amen.
Thus in Exodus the Lord says to Moses at the Red Sea (14:15): “Why do you cry to Me?” That was the last thing Moses was doing. He was in extreme anguish; therefore he was trembling and at the point of despair. Not faith but unbelief appeared to be ruling in him. For Israel was so hemmed in by the mountains, by the army of the Egyptians, and by the sea that it could not escape anywhere. Moses did not even dare mumble here. How, then, did he cry? Therefore we must not judge according to the feeling of our heart; we must judge according to the Word of God, which teaches that the Holy Spirit is granted to the afflicted, the terrified, and the despairing in such a way that He encourages and comforts them, so that they do not succumb in their trials and other evils but conquer them, though not without very great fear and effort.
The papists imagined that the saints had the Holy Spirit in such a way that they never experienced or had any temptations. They speak about the Holy Spirit only speculatively, as the fanatical spirits do today. But Paul says that the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), and that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:26). Therefore we have the greatest need for the aid and comfort of the Holy Spirit, and He is also nearest to us when we are at our weakest and nearest to despair. If someone passes through evil with a courageous and happy spirit, then the Holy Spirit has already performed His work in him. But He really performs His work in those who are thoroughly terrified and who have come near to what the psalm calls “the gates of death” (9:13). Thus I have just said that Moses saw the very presence of death in the water and wherever he turned his gaze. Therefore he was in the deepest anxiety and despair, and undoubtedly he sensed in his heart the loud cry of the devil against him, saying: “This entire people will perish today, for they cannot escape anywhere. You alone are responsible for this great calamity, for you led them out of Egypt.” Then there came the cry of the people, who said (Ex. 14:11–12): “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Then the Holy Spirit was present in Moses, not speculatively but actually; He interceded for him with sighs too deep for words, so that Moses sighed to God and said: “Lord, it was at Thy command that I led the people out. Therefore do Thou help!” This sigh is what He calls “crying.”
I have discussed this at some length in order to show what the work of the Holy Spirit is and how He usually carries it out. In temptation we must not on any account decide this matter on the basis of our feeling or of the cry of the Law, sin, and the devil. If we want to follow our feeling here or to believe those cries, we shall decide that we are bereft of all help from the Holy Spirit and that we have been utterly banished from the presence of God. Should we not rather remember, then, that Paul says that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and cries: “Abba! Father!”? That is, He emits what seems to us to be some sort of sob and sigh of the heart; but in the sight of God this is a loud cry and a sigh too deep for words. In every temptation and weakness, therefore, just cling to Christ and sigh! He gives you the Holy Spirit, who cries: “Abba! Father!” Then the Father says: “I do not hear anything in the whole world except this single sigh, which is such a loud cry in My ears that it fills heaven and earth and drowns out all the cries of everything else.”
You will notice that Paul does not say that the Spirit intercedes for us in temptation with a long prayer, but that He intercedes with a sigh, and one that is too deep for words. He does not cry loudly and tearfully: “Have mercy on me, O God” (Ps. 51:1); but He merely utters the words of a cry and a sigh, which is “Oh, Father!” This is indeed a very short word, but it includes everything. Not the lips, but the feelings are speaking here, as though one were to say: “Even though I am surrounded by anxieties and seem to be deserted and banished from Thy presence, nevertheless I am a child of God on account of Christ; I am beloved on account of the Beloved.” Therefore the term “Father,” when spoken meaningfully in the heart, is an eloquence that Demosthenes, Cicero, and the most eloquent men there have ever been in the world cannot attain. For this is a matter that is expressed, not in words but in sighs, which are not articulated in all the words of all the orators; for they are too deep for words.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 26, pp. 381–385). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
"People are wont to say that the differences between the churches in their teaching of the Lord's Supper arise from their different 'interpretations' of the words of institution. This is not a precise statement. The truth is that Luther does not 'interpret' the words of institution at all, but takes them as they read. The Roman and Reformed teachings, however, rest on extensive and copious 'interpretation' of the words of institution."
-Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 3, p. 337
To learn more about the Lord's Supper read what we have HERE.
For the Church, Christmas does not end on Christmas Day. Christmas Day is the beginning of 12 days of celebration and contemplation of what the birth of Christ means for us and our salvation. The Church calendar helps us with this: on the 26th we remember St. Stephen as the first martyr, on the 27th we remember the Apostle John, on the 28th we remember the Holy Innocents who were slaughtered as Herod sought the Christ Child, and on the first of January we celebrate the Festival of the Cicrumcision and Name of Jesus.
Christmastide does not end until January 5th and then on January 6th we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord. All of these feasts and commemorations give shape to and help us better understand what Christmas means for us. I pray that you will spend some time contemplating these things as well as joining us for corporate worship. Blessings on your Christmastide!
Pastor Packer has a new post up over at Steadfast Lutherans:
"The goal of all parents, pastors, teachers, and churches should be that they teach their children in such a way they give the children something they can grow into rather than something they will grow out of..."
Two great quotes from the article The Neuro Transformers (here). As I post parts of my research it's good to ask, "How is culture catechising me in ways I'm not even aware? What about my children?"
Culture also affects our brains in less obvious ways. Consider that we tend unconsciously to accept as “normal” that which our culture regards as normal.
Given the way our flexible brains tend to rewire themselves to adapt to our environment, it is easy for us to “catch” the assumptions of false worldviews without realizing we have done so, just as a child learning a language will pick up the right accent without even thinking about it. David Wells grasped this well when he wrote that “worldliness . . . is that set of practices in a society, its values and ways of looking at life, that make sin look normal and righteousness look strange.” The changes in our brains wrought by these societal influences often occur deep below the surface of our conscious awareness, leading us to hold pre-reflective assumptions that are, to quote Herbert Schlossberg. “More powerful than assertions, because they bypass the critical faculty and thereby create prejudice. . . . The simple act of listening to an argument is almost enough to engage it. . . . That bypassed assumption is the pocket of enemy soldiers that was ignored in an effort to engage the main body of the adversary, and it lies in wait to strike from the rear. The false assumption is additionally beguiling because it often appeals to one of the worst instincts—the desire to be fashionable or at least to avoid being associated with the unfashionable or unpopular.
I'm working on a paper to present at the October pastors' conference and I have found this Salvo article (here) extremely helpful. Here are the opening paragraphs:
"One of the themes I’ve been exploring in some of my Salvo articles is how our brains change based on interactions with our social environment.
In my Salvo article ‘The Neuro Transformers’ and also in ‘Sex & the Kiddies’ I explained just how flexible the human brain is and how the messages we are exposed to in our culture actually change the neuro-circuitry of our brains."
Or to put it another way -- you and your children are constantly being catechized by everything that is around you, whether you are aware of it or not. And not only is it catechizing you, it's actually changing your brain.
Here's his concluding paragraph: "Not only can things like memorizing and swimming underwater change our brains, but our brains also change based on the messages we receive from society all around us, and from the cultural environment in which we grow up. This can be a force for good, when the culture around us is wholesome, but it can also be a force for great evil and subversion."
This is extremely important as we consider the environments of our homes and schools. To be continued...
I've discussed martyrdom on this blog before (see here). This post is a little different. People don't read books much anymore and as much as I would love to change that it's outside my power to do so. However, most people will sit down and enjoy a movie. It's getting harder and harder to recommend movies that are great for the whole family. Thankfully this movie is an exception.
There is an excellent new movie about the martyr Polycarp. It is just called Polycarp and is available here. Now it's not a perfect movie. For instance it has nothing regarding Baptism and the Lord's Supper which would have been a vital part of the Early Church's life. Overlooking that though, there is much to commend here - for the entire family. The best part about this movie is that it shows Christians struggling with how to respond to persecution and martyrdom. This is the main point of the movie and it excels in this. And because it excels in this it is a great encouragement to young and old as we contemplate the possible coming persecution even here in our own country.
If you want to read about Polycarp and his martyrdom check this out.
From the Reverend Heath Curtis: How should we talk with our people about living a godly life? How should we encourage them to progress in godly living and yet not fall into works righteousness? We could start by just telling them about what the struggle is like. Gerhard does a good job, I think:
In the beginning the desire is more clouded, the assent more languid, the obedience less intense, and these gifts must increase. But they grow in us not like lilies of the field but by trying, wrestling, seeking, asking, knocking, and "this is not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.” The Savior says in Matt. 13:12, “It will be given to him who has.” Whoever has received very small spiritual gifts from God should acknowledge them with a grateful mind, asked that they be increased, and neglect no opportunities to advance in piety. To him it will be given that he may be the richer, but from him who does not have, that is, from him who behaves as if he had received nothing from God, even what he has will be taken away.
This was taken from http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2013/04/gerhard-on-preaching-sanctification.html.
This is a fantastic section from Walther on church customs:
We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. . . . It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them? We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world. . . . Someone may ask, “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies? We answer, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers.” (Walther, Essays for the Church, I:194)
A place for Pastor Packer to post articles, links, and his own thoughts.