Receiving a Name

I was a scoundrel, lurking through the dirty streets, stealing contemptuous glances at all the passersby. I stole bread from the windowsill, stuffed my face ungraciously, and thanklessly moped about the dark shadows. The city streets choked with dogs and poor alike. The wet streets suffocated me. The heavy stench of pride clung to everything.

Slinking along into an alley, I heard a message, mummers from within a circle of townspeople. “I hear he is coming!” said one short woman, her back bent with years of hard labor, yet with gleaming eager eyes. “Of course not! After all these years…” Another woman scoffed at the news, yet her breath faltered, betraying her hope. The others nodded or looked aside. “Foolish old women gossiping about nothing.” I spat and hurried away.

I quickly turned right around a corner, and a stunning wind caught my breath. My face turned up, the brisk cold air bringing tears to my eyes. The tall tenements loomed ominously over me, darkening the litter strewn streets. An unusual silence weighed all down with tension and anticipation. Something was different. My ear twinges as it catches a new sound. Warm and golden, the cutting wind softened by the sound of trumpets.

I looked again. There was a procession advancing towards me. The wind grew stronger, spurred by the fiery trumpet blast. Cheers began to echo down the stony street, bouncing from window to door like a million little happy nymphs. “Hail the king! Hail the king!” The terrible banners went before it, overtaking the fleeing darkness.

I was dumbfounded. Astonished by his splendor. Here the king stood before me. All strength left my legs and I fell before him. His countenance was dignified, even terrifying. His happy cheeks warmed with blood and vigor. The procession came to a halt before me.

A powerful hand took hold of my shoulder, lifting me from the stony pavement. My face was lifted, and the king, the king! He looked upon me. “And who might you be?” I stammered. “no…no one.” “Hmm…well then.” A smile rose up in his eyes. “Come with me, Sir Richardson! Welcome to my court! You shall receive a bath and enjoy my feast. You shall be great in my kingdom”

I bowed low to the ground before him, my whole being shaken with terrible delight. “My Lord…”

Melanchthon on Abrogation of the Law

From Melanchthon’s Loci Communes of 1519,

Therefore when we discuss the abrogation of the Law, we must concern ourselves with the question to what extent the Gospel has abrogated the Decalogue, rather than with the fact that ceremonies and judicial laws have been abolished. For from the abrogation of the Decalogue the fullness of grace can be known most intimately, since it proves that those who believe are saved apart from the Law’s demands and with no regard for our works. Therefore, the Law has been abolished, not so that it may not be kept, but so that it may not condemn when it is not kept, and also so that it can be kept.

Here Philip Melanchthon is discussing the differences between the old and new testaments, taking  Romans and Jeremiah 31 as the basic texts. The Law given to the Israelites consisted of the traditional three parts: judicial, ceremonial, and moral (Decalogue). When discussing Christian freedom during the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholic writers only spoke of the judicial and the ceremonial aspects. Melanchthon here differs, citing evidence from Peter in Acts 15 as well, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Peter is speaking of the moral law as well, because those simple ceremonies of sacrifice were no yoke and burden, they were in fact incredibly easy to do. But willingly doing those ceremonies from the heart, along with perfect love of God and neighbor, was the impossible thing. In the New Testament, only the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus saves us. Through Baptism in his saving death and resurrection we are given His Holy Spirit so that we can willingly do from the heart all that is pleasing to God.

The Law serves to show the will of God, but the Spirit gives the power to walk in it, not with concern to threats, but from a willing heart out of thanksgiving to God. Yet we are sinners, and in so far as we do not believe the Gospel, we do things begrudgingly desiring others to admire and praise us. Focusing on our own selves is never the goal of good works.  Hence Paul in Romans 7, “Wretched man that I am who will deliver from this body of death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” The Spirit is at work through the Word of the Gospel to restore our corrupted humanity that we would fear, love and trust in God and willingly do good we ought, all the while crucifying the old man in us through daily repentance and faith.

Translated by Christian Preus. CPH 2014

What then is Faith?

What then is faith? Faith is constant assent to God’s every word, and it does not exist outside of God’s Spirit renewing and enlightening our hearts. Now the Word of God is both Law and Gospel. Threats have been added to the Law. Scripture calls it fear when we believe these threats, and faith when we trust in the Gospel or God’s promises. Fear does not justify without faith. Otherwise the despairing and damned would be justified. But those who fear in this way do not glorify God or believe his every word, since they do not believe in his promises. Therefore faith alone justifies.

From Loci Communes by Phillip Melanchthon, translated by Christian Preus.

Words Too Common

Here quoting from a section in Luther’s sermon on John from 1532, pulled from Christian Freedom: Faith Working Through Love, A Readers Edition. Luther  is condemning what he calls carnal liberty, or a freedom which proves to be license for the flesh to do as it desires, using the Gospel to sin. But true Christian freedom, and the want of all pious Christians, is to be set from our bondage and enslavement to sin. Only the Son sets us free, and we will be free indeed. Alleluia!

Note well that the real freedom is freedom from sin. Without this the temple at Jerusalem will not help you: neither will the pope with his whole train, whether it be indulgences, papal bulls, fasting, rosaries, prayers, or anything else. Neither Jews nor the pope will make us free; only the Son can do this. How does it come about?  When we hear His Word-for instance, that Christ was born of Mary, suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, rose from the dead on the third day, etc. “Oh,” it is said, “I know all this very well! It is an old story. The pope, cardinals, and bishops are also familiar with it.” Indeed, they do know it. But learn this lesson of the children, for these words tell us how we are redeemed and set free. “Yes,” they say, “these sayings and words are so common that they do not do the work.” The children are to be highly commended for praying these words and also for understanding them sooner; for the more learned and the smarter we old fools claim to be, the less we know and understand about this subject.

To become free implies that you fix your thoughts on something else than that which lies in you, in the papacy, in the saints, or in Moses. You must direct your thoughts to something more exalted than all this, namely, the Son of God. Who is He? In the Creed we say: “Conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of Mary, died, etc.” Note well that you will really be pious and free from sin if you believe that Christ makes you free by dying for you, shedding His blood, rising from the dead, and sitting at the right hand of God.”

From Psalm 19:12-13

“Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Peters on Luther’s Catechisms: For Life and Death

In this fourfold direction the catechism is basic: As a true “lay bible,” it desires to offer what is foundational in the Christian faith. It desires to make the center of Scripture, expressed in the core parts of the churchly tradition [(Apostles Creed, etc.)], fruitful for daily life. By doing so, it desires to hammer into us what is decisive in life and death for our salvation. In this, the catechetical struggle of Christianity, as it reaches an apex in Luther’s Small Catechism, remains able to offer directive aid to us today. What is basic is presented in an equally simple yet profound way. It can be recognized and uttered as what is exemplary only in the spiritual discipline of the praying mind. In the twentieth century it is no less important than in the sixteenth to find what is decisive for our salvation. Today, as well as then, this does not happen by “security and boredom” but only by humble kneeling and through the disciplined thinking of faith. Time and again it remains impressive how little is truly decisive for salvation and, at the same time, how infinitely much this “little” is.

Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Ten Commandments by Albrecht Peters, 2009 CPH.

Difference Between Paul and Feminist Movement

Perhaps it ought to be added in elucidation of the last point just made that the difference in conclusions between Paul and the feminist movement of today is rooted in a fundamental difference in their points of view relative to the constitution of the human race. To Paul, the human race is made up of families, and every several organism — the church included — is composed of families, united together by this or that bond. The relation of the sexes in the family follow it therefore into the church. To the feminist movement the human race is made up of individuals; a woman is just another individual by the side of the man, and it can see no reason for any differences in dealing with the two. And, indeed, if we can ignore the great fundamental natural difference of sex and destroy the great fundamental social unit of the family in the interest of individualism, there does not seem any reason why we should not wipe out the differences established by Paul between the sexes in the church — except, of course, the authority of Paul. It all, in the end, comes back to the authority of the apostles, as founders of the church. We may like what Paul says, or we may not like it. We may be willing to do what he commands, or we may not be willing to do it. But there is no room for doubt of what he says. And he certainly would say to us what he said to the Corinthians: “What? Was it from you that the word of God went forth? Or came it to you alone?” Is this Christianity ours — to do with as we like? Or is it God’s religion, receiving its laws from him through the apostles?

B.B. Warfield on Feminism and Christianity

The cross marks…

The cross marks the spot where the disciples failed, and it marks the spot where we all, we theologians, too, must fail. The cross marks the spot where the exegete ceases to be proud of his sincerity , and cries out for his life in terms of the first Beatitude. The cross marks the spot where the systematician sees his system as the instrument which focuses his failure; where the practical theologian realizes that there is only one practical thing to do, and that is to repent and abhor himself in dust and ashes; where the historian leaves his long and sanely balanced view of things and goes desperately mad. The cross marks the spot where we all become beggars – and God becomes King. Amen.

Excerpted From Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets by Martin Franzmann’s sermon The Disciples Confession. Concordia Publishing House. 1996.