Thursday, February 18, 2016

From the Presentation to the Final Days of Dr. Martin Luther

Dr. Martin Luther, Eisleben, Germany
Dr. Martin Luther
Eisleben, Germany
On October 31, 2014, the 497th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther’s famous posting of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Church in Wittenberg, and a day which Lutherans annually commemorate as the Festival of the Reformation, we published the first part of a history of Dr. Martin Luther with the post, Dr. Martin Luther, the Corruption of Rome, John Tetzel and Indulgences, and the Ninety-five Theses. It was taken from a work that was originally written by Rev. Dr. Joseph A. Seiss in 1888, Luther and the Reformation: The Life-Springs of Our Liberties. A co-founder of the General Council along with Charles Porterfield Krauth, Rev. Seiss was a 19th Century Lutheran pastor, serving congregations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One can read more details about him in the introduction to our first part of Luther’s history. This first part emphasized the facts that Luther initially proceeded out of great concern for the Pope’s good reputation and the integrity of Christ’s Church, writing many personal letters to his bishops detailing the abuses he had witnessed; that when it became evident that his letters were largely ignored he then began to write and speak more openly of these abuses – even seeking open debate – in hopes that open dialog might help bring resolution to these issues and reformation in the Church; that though many agreed with him, they nevertheless advised him to relent and be silent about these abuses; that some even conspired against him; that in the end, his separation from the Church was neither planned nor desired, but necessary due to Rome’s obstinacy.

Following this, on June 25, 2015, a day which marks the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530, we published a second part to the history of Dr. Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany, with the post From the Ninety-five Theses to the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. This second part emphasized the nature of Christian Confession, and its relation to Christian Conscience and Christian Martyrdom. It is growing ever more apparent that it is very necessary for Western Christians to once again be acquainted with what it truly means to Confess one’s faith in word and deed, as the consequences for doing so increasingly seem to invite discrimination, recrimination, financial and physical harm, and even death. Dr. Martin Luther, as he stood before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521, was standing before his executioner when he refused to recant what he was convinced as a matter of Christian Conscience was the Truth, and instead emphatically Confessed the contrary, saying:
    “Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simply reply, I will answer... Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can not do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

    [Bainton, R. (1950). Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York, NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury. pg 185.]
With these words Dr. Martin Luther taught the world. Nine years later, eight German Princes and the leaders of two free cities (Nuremberg and Reutlingen) stood before the Emperor, refusing on the basis of Christian Conscience to make political peace with the Empire under the requirement of adopting a false religion, stood their ground, instead reading their public Confession before him and all the world. The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530, represents a monumental shift in the history of the West – in both religious as well as political terms – as with Augustana the convictions of conscience were placed at the center, and at the pinnacle, of civil liberty. It seems, though, that such a position is it not so irrevocable. From a survey of today’s political landscape, it is more than apparent that human conscience itself is under attack: words which can be in any way construed as offensive, as well as the thoughts behind those words, are now regulated and punished in many places, even in the United States; in Europe, with the current Refugee crisis, even words which are taken as politically inconvenient are reprimanded by the authorities; “freedom of religion” is being supplanted by “freedom of worship”; and more frequently, in the interest of advancing the so-called secular State, we see a perplexing willingness – veritably, an open desire in Academia and the Press – to ignore the manifold crimes committed against Christians worldwide, especially by Muslims, or to even blame Christians themselves for those crimes. Thus, it is vitally important that Christians be reacquainted with the true meaning of Christian Confession, and its connection to Christian Conscience and Martyrdom, as the day is swiftly approaching in the West – even in America – when all Christians will be called upon to stand before their executioners where they will either confess or recant, and henceforward think, speak and act – live and die – accordingly.

Today, February 18, is another special anniversary. Unlike Festival of the Reformation and the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, it is not a Festival of the Church year – not that I am aware. It is on this day in 1546 that Dr. Martin Luther died – in the same town in which he was born in 1483: Eisleben Germany. In honor of this date, we publish the final part of our three-part series on the history of Dr. Martin Luther. It begins where we left off last June, briefly bringing to a close the history of events in which he was involved after the Presentation, then concluding by, in effect, eulogizing him, by discussing who he was as a person, his achievements and their broad and lasting impact on the world.



From the Presentation to the
Final Days of Dr. Martin Luther
22

THE LEAGUE OF SMALCALD.

The emperor’s edict appeared November 19th, and the Protestant princes at once proceeded to form a league for mutual protection against attempts to force their consciences in these sacred matters. It was with difficulty that the consent of Luther could be obtained for what, to him, looked like an arrangement to support the Gospel by the sword. But he yielded to a necessity forced by the intolerance of Rome. A convention was held at Smalcald at Christmas, 1530, and there was formed the League of Smalcald, which planted the political foundations of Religious Liberty for our modern world.

By the presentation of the great Confession of Augsburg, along with the formation of the League of Smalcald, the cause of Luther became embodied in the official life of nations, and the new era of Freedom had come safely to its birth. Long and terrible storms were yet to be passed, but the ship was launched which no thunders of emperors or popes could ever shatter.

Doors of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, on which Dr. Luther nailed his Theses
Doors of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg,
on which Dr. Luther nailed his Theses in 1517
When the months of probation ended, France had again become troublesome to the emperor, and the Turks were renewing their movements against his dominions. He also found that he could not count on the Catholic princes for the violent suppression of the Protestants. Luther’s doctrines had taken too deep hold upon their subjects to render it safe to join in a war of extermination against them. The Zwinglians also coalesced with the Lutherans in presenting a united front against the threatened bloody coercion. The Smalcald League, moreover, had grown to be a power which even the emperor could not despise. He therefore resolved to come to terms with the Protestant members of his empire, and a peace – at least a truce – was concluded at Nuremberg, which left things as they were to wait until a general council should settle the questions in dispute.

LUTHER’s LATER YEARS.

Luther lived nearly fifteen years after this grand crowning of his testimony, diligently laboring for Christ and his country. The most brilliant part of his career was over, but his labors still were great and important. Indeed, his whole life was intensely laborious. He was a busier man than the first Napoleon. His publications, as reckoned up by Seckendorf, amount to eleven hundred and thirty-seven. Large and small together, they number seven hundred and fifteen volumes – one for every two weeks that he lived after issuing the first. Even in the last six weeks of his life he issued thirty-one publications – more than five per week. If he had had no other cares and duties but to occupy himself with his pen, this would still prove him a very Hercules in authorship.23

But his later years were saddened by many anxieties, afflictions, and trials. Under God, he had achieved a transcendent work, and his confidence in its necessity, divinity, and perpetuity never failed; but he was much distressed to see it marred and damaged, as it was, by the weaknesses and passions of men. His great influence created jealousies. His persistent conservatism gave offense. Those on whom he most relied betimes imperiled his cause by undue concessions and pusillanimity. The friends of the Reformation often looked more to political than Christian ends, or were more carnal than spiritual. Threatening civil commotions troubled him. Ultra reform attacked and blamed him. The agitations about a general council, which Rome now treacherously urged, and meant to pack for its own purposes, gave him much anxiety. It was with reference to such a council that one other great document – The Articles of Smalcald – issued from his pen, in which he defined the true and final Protestant position with regard to the hierarchy, and the fundamental organization of the Church of Christ. His bodily ailments also became frequent and severe.

Prematurely old, and worn out with cares, labors, and vexations – the common lot of great heroes and benefactor – he began to long for the heavenly rest. “I am weary of the world,” said he, “and it is time the world were weary of me. The parting will be easy, like a traveler leaving his inn.”

He lived to his sixty-third year, and peacefully died in the faith he so effectually preached, while on a mission of reconciliation at the place where he was born, honored and lamented in his death as few men have ever been. His remains repose in front of the chancel in the castle church of Wittenberg, on the door of which his own hand had nailed the Ninety-five Theses. 24

PERSONALE OF LUTHER.

The personal appearance of this extraordinary man is but poorly given in the painted portraits of him. Written descriptions inform us that he was of medium size, handsomely proportioned, and somewhat darkly complected. His arched brows, high cheek-bones, and powerful jaws and chin gave to his face an outline of ruggedness; but his features were regular, and softened all over with benevolence and every refined feeling. He had remarkable eyes, large, full, deep, dark, and brilliant, with a sort of amber circle around the pupil, which made them seem to emit fire when under excitement. His hair was dark and waving, but became entirely white in his later years. His mouth was elegantly formed, expressive of determination, tenderness, affection, and humor. His countenance was elevated, open, brave, and unflinching. His neck was short and strong and his breast broad and full.

Though compactly built, he was generally spare and wasted from incessant studies, hard labor, and an abstemious life.

Mosellanus, the moderator at the Leipsic Disputation, describes him quite fully as he appeared at that time, and says that “his body, was so reduced by cares and study that one could almost count his bones.” He himself makes frequent allusion to his wasted and enfeebled body. His health was never robust. He was a small eater. Melanchthon says: “I have seen him, when he was in full health, absolutely neither eat nor drink for four days together. At other times I have seen him, for many days, content with the slightest allowance, a salt herring and a small hunch of bread per day.”

Mosellanus further says that his manners were cultured and friendly, with nothing of stoical severity or pride in him – that he was cheerful and full of wit in company, and at all times fresh, joyous, inspiring, and pleasant.

Honest naturalness, grand simplicity, and an unpretentious majesty of character breathed all about him. An indwelling vehemency, a powerful will, and a firm confidence could readily be seen, but calm and mellowed with generous kindness, without a trace of selfishness or vanity. He was jovial, free-spoken, open, easily approached, and at home with all classes.

Audin says of him that “his voice was clear and sonorous, his eye beaming with fire, his head of the antique cast, his hands beautiful, and his gesture graceful and abounding – at once Rabelais and Fontaine, with the droll humor of the one and the polished elegance of the other.” In society and in his home he was genial, playful, instructive, and often brilliant. His Table Talk, collected (not always judiciously) by his friends, is one of the most original and remarkable of productions. He loved children and young people, and brought up several in his house besides his own. He had an inexhaustible flow of ready wit and good-humor, prepared for everybody on all occasions. He was a frank and free correspondent, and let out his heart in his letters, six large volumes of which have been preserved.

He was specially fond of music, and cultivated it to a high degree. He could sing and play like a woman.25 “I have no pleasure in any man,” said he, “who despises music. It is no invention of ours; it is the gift of God. I place it next to theology.”

Luther's Death Mask
Cast of Dr. Martin Luther’s face and hands,
made upon his death in 1546.
He was himself a great musician and hymnist. Handel confesses that he derived singular advantage from the study of his music; and Coleridge says: “He did as much for the Reformation by his hymns as by his translation of the Bible.” To this day he is the chief singer in a Church of pre-eminent song. Heine speaks of “those stirring songs which escaped from him in the very midst of his combats and necessities, like flowers making their way from between rough stones or moonbeams glittering among dark clouds.” Ein feste Burg welled from his great heart like the gushing of the waters from the smitten rock of Horeb to inspirit and refresh God’s faint and doubting people as long as the Church is in this earthly wilderness. There is a mighty soul in it which lifts one, as on eagles’ wings, high and triumphant over the blackest storms. And his whole life was a brilliantly enacted epic of marvelous grandeur and pathos.26

Luther’s qualities of mind, heart, and attainment were transcendent. Though naturally meek and diffident, when it came to matters of duty and conviction he was courageous, self-sacrificing, and brave beyond any mere man known to history. Elijah fled before the threats of Jezebel, but no powers on earth could daunt the soul of Luther. Even the apparitions of the devil himself could not disconcert him.

Roman Catholic authors agree that “Nature gave him a German industry and strength and an Italian spirit and vivacity,” and that “nobody excelled him in philosophy and theology, and nobody equaled him in eloquence.”

His mental range was not confined to any one set of subjects. In the midst of his profound occupation with questions of divinity and the Church “his mind was literally worldwide. His eyes were for ever observant of what was around him. At a time when science was hardly out of its shell he had observed Nature with the liveliest curiosity. He studied human nature like a dramatist. Shakespeare himself drew from him. His memory was a museum of historical information, anecdotes of great men, and old German literature, songs, and proverbs, to the latter of which he made many rich additions from his own genius. Scarce a subject could be spoken of on which he had not thought and on which he had not something remarkable to say.”27 In consultations upon public affairs, when the most important things hung in peril, his contemporaries speak with amazement of the gigantic strength of his mind, the unexampled acuteness of his intellect, the breadth and loftiness of his understanding and counsels.

But, though so great a genius, he laid great stress on sound and thorough learning and study. “The strength and glory of a town,” said he, “does not depend on its wealth, its walls, its great mansions, its powerful armaments, but in the number of its learned, serious, kind, and well-educated citizens.” He was himself a great scholar, far beyond what we would suspect in so perturbed a life, or what he cared to parade in his writings. He mastered the ancient languages, and insisted on the perpetual study of them as “the scabbard which holds the sword of the Spirit, the cases which enclose the precious jewels, the vessels which contain the old wine, the baskets which carry the loaves and the fishes for the feeding of the multitude.” His associates say of him that he was a great reader, eagerly perusing the Church Fathers, old and new, and all histories, well retaining what he read, and using the same with great skill as occasion called.

Melanchthon, who knew him well, and knew well how to judge of men’s powers and attainments, said of him: “He is too great, too wonderful, for me to describe. Whatever he writes, whatever he utters, goes to the soul and fixes itself like arrows in the heart. He is a miracle among men.

Nor was he without the humility of true greatness. Newton’s comparison of himself to a child gathering shells and pebbles on the shore, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before him, has been much cited and lauded as an illustration of the modesty of true science. But long before Newton had Luther said of himself, in the midst of his mighty achievements, “Only a little of the first fruits of wisdom – only a few fragments of the boundless heights, breadths, and depths of truth – have I been able to gather.”

He was a man of amazing faith – that mighty principle which looks at things invisible, joins the soul to divine Omnipotence, and launches out unfalteringly upon eternal realities, and which is ever the chief factor in all God’s heroes of every age. He dwelt in constant nearness and communion with the Eternal Spirit, which reigns in the heavens and raises the willing and obedient into blessed instruments of itself for the actualizing of ends and ideals beyond and above the common course of things. With his feet ever planted on the promises, he could lay his hands upon the Throne, and thus was lifted into a sublimity of energy, endurance, and command which made him one of the phenomenal wonders of humanity. He was a very Samson in spiritual vigor, and another Hannah’s son in the strength and victory of his prayers.

Dr. Calvin E. Stowe says: “There was probably never created a more powerful human being, a more gigantic, full-proportioned MAN, in the highest sense of the term. All that belongs to human nature, all that goes to constitute a MAN, had a strongly-marked development in him. He was a model man, one that might be shown to other beings in other parts of the universe as a specimen of collective manhood in its maturest growth.”

As the guide and master of one of the greatest revolutions of time we look in vain for any one with whom to compare him, and as a revolutionary orator and preacher he had no equal. Richter says, “His words are half-battles.” Melanchthon likens them to thunderbolts. He was at once a Peter and a Paul, a Socrates and an Æsop, a Chrysostom and a Savonarola, a Shakespeare and a Whitefield, all condensed in one.

HIS ALLEGED COARSENESS.

Some blame him for not using kid gloves in handling the ferocious bulls, bears, and he-goats with whom he had to do. But what, otherwise, would have become of the Reformation? His age was savage, and the men he had to meet were savage, and the matters at stake touched the very life of the world. What would a Chesterfield or an Addison have been in such a contest? Erasmus said he had horns, and knew how to use them, but that Germany needed just such a master. He understood the situation. “These gnarled logs,” said he, “will not split without iron wedges and heavy malls. The air will not clear without lightning and thunder.”28

But if he was rough betimes, he could be as gentle and tender as a maiden, and true to himself in both. He could fight monsters all day, and in the evening take his lute, gaze at the stars, sing psalms, and muse upon the clouds, the fields, the flowers, the birds, dissolved in melody and devotion. Feared by the mighty of the earth, the dictator and reprimander of kings, the children loved him, and his great heart was as playful among them as one of themselves. If he was harsh and unsparing upon hypocrites, malignants, and fools, he called things by their right names, and still was as loving as he was brave. Since King David’s lament over Absalom no more tender or pathetic scene has appeared in history or in fiction than his outpouring of paternal love and grief over the deathbed, coffin, and grave of his young and precious daughter Madeleine. “I know of few things more touching,” says Carlyle, “than those soft breathings of affection, soft as a child’s or a mother’s, in this great wild heart of Luther;” and adds: “I will call this Luther a true Great Man; great in intellect, in courage, affection, and integrity; one of our most lovable and precious men. Great not as a hewn obelisk, but as an Alpine mountain, so simple, honest, spontaneous; not setting up to be great at all; there for quite another purpose than being great. Ah, yes, unsubduable granite, piercing far and wide into the Heavens; yet, in the clefs of it, fountains, green, beautiful valleys with flowers. A right Spiritual Hero and Prophet; once more, a true Son of Nature and Fact, for whom these centuries, and many that are yet to come, will be thankful to Heaven.”

HIS MARVELOUS ACHIEVEMENTS.

A lone man, whose days were spent in poverty; who could withstand the mighty Vatican and all its flaming Bulls; whose influence evoked and swayed successive Diets of the empire; whom repeated edicts from the Imperial throne could not crush; whom the talent, eloquence, and towering authority of the Roman hierarchy assailed in vain; whom the attacks of kings of state and kings of literature could not disable; to offset whose opinions the greatest general council the Church of Rome ever held had to be convened, and, after sitting eighteen years, could not adjourn without conceding much to his positions; and whose name the greatest and most enlightened nations of the earth hail with glad acclaim – necessarily must have been a wonder of a man.29

To begin with a minority consisting of one, and conquer kingdoms with the mere sword of his mouth; to bear the anathemas of Church and the ban of empire, and triumph in spite of them; to refuse to fall down before the golden image of the combined Nebuchadnezzars of his time, though threatened with the burning fires of earth and hell; to turn iconoclast of such magnitude and daring as to think of smiting the thing to pieces in the face of principalities and powers to whom it was as God – nay, to attempt this, and to succeed in it – here was sublimity of heroism and achievement explainable only in the will and providence of the Almighty, set to recover His Gospel to a perishing race.30

HIS IMPRESS UPON THE WORLD.

To describe the fruits of Luther’s labors would require the writing of the whole history of modern civilization and the setting forth of the noblest characteristics of this our modern world.31

On the German nation he has left more of his impress than any other man has left on any nation. The German people love to speak of him as the creative master of their noble language and literature, the great prophet and glory of their country. There is nothing so consecrated in all his native land as the places which connect with his life, presence, and deeds.

But his mighty impress is not confined to Germany. “He grasped the iron trumpet of his mother-tongue and blew a blast that shook the nations from Rome to the Orkneys.” He is not only the central figure of Germany, but of Europe and of the whole modern world. Take Luther away, with the fruits of his life and deeds, and man today would cease to be what he is.

Frederick von Schlegel, though a Romanist, affirms that “it was upon him and his soul that the fate of Europe depended.” And on the fate of Europe then depended the fate of our race.

Michelet, also a Romanist, pronounces Luther “the restorer of liberty in modern times;” and adds: “If we at this day exercise in all its plenitude the first and highest privilege of human intelligence, it is to him we are indebted for it.”

“And that any faith,” says Froude, “any piety, is alive now, even in the Roman Church itself, whose insolent hypocrisy he humbled into shame, is due in large measure to the poor miner’s son.”

He certainly is to-day the most potently living man who has lived this side of the Middle Ages. The pulsations of his great heart are felt through the whole corpus of our civilization.

“Four potentates,” says the late Dr. Krauth, “ruled the mind of Europe in the Reformation: the emperor, Erasmus, the pope, and Luther. The pope wanes; Erasmus is little; the emperor is nothing; but Luther abides as a power for all time. His image casts itself upon the current of ages as the mountain mirrors itself in the, river which winds at its foot. He has monuments in marble and bronze, and medals in silver and gold, but his noblest monument is the best love of the best hearts, and the brightest and purest impression of his image has been left in the souls of regenerated nations.”

Many and glowing are the eulogies which have been pronounced upon him, but Frederick von Schlegel, speaking from the side of Rome, gives it as his conviction that “few, even of his own disciples, appreciate him highly enough.” Genius, learning, eloquence, and song have volunteered their noble efforts to do him justice; centuries have added their light and testimony; half the world in its enthusiasm has urged on the inspiration; but the story in its full dimensions has not yet been adequately told. The skill and energy of other generations will yet be taxed to give it, if, indeed, it ever can be given apart from the illuminations of eternity.32

HIS ENEMIES AND REVILERS.

Rome has never forgotten nor forgiven him. She sought his life while living, and she curses him in his grave. Profited by his labors beyond what she ever could have been without him, she strains and chokes with anathemas upon his name and everything that savers of him. Her children are taught from infancy to hate and abhor him as they hope for salvation. Many are the false turns and garbled forms in which her writers hold up his words and deeds to revenge themselves on his memory. Again and again the oft-answered and exploded calumnies are revived afresh to throw dishonor on his cause. Even while the free peoples of the earth are making these grateful acknowledgments of the priceless boon that a has come to them through his life and labors, press and platform hiss with stale vituperations from the old enemy. And a puling Churchism outside of Rome takes an ill pleasure in following after her to gather and retail this vomit of malignity.

Luther was but a man. No one claims that he was perfection. But if those who sought his destruction while he lived had had no greater faults than he, with better grace their modern representatives might indulge their genius for his defamation. At best, as we might suppose, it is the little men, the men of narrow range and narrow heart – men dwarfed by egotism, bigotry, and self-conceit – who see the most of these defects. Nobler minds, contemplating him from loftier standpoints, observe but little of them, and even honor them above the excellencies of common men. “The proofs that he was in some things like other men,” says Leasing, “are to me as precious as the most dazzling of his virtues.”33

And, with all, where is the gain or wisdom of blowing smoke upon a diamond? The sun itself has holes in it too large for half a dozen worlds like ours to fill, but wherein is that great luminary thereby unfitted to be the matchless centre of our system, the glorious source of day, and the sublime symbol of the Son of God?

If Luther married a beautiful woman, the proofs of which do not appear, it is what every other honest man would do if it suited him and he were free to do it.

If he broke his vows to get a wife, of which there is no evidence, when vows are taken by mistake, tending to dishonor God, work unrighteousness, and hinder virtuous example and proper life, they ought to be broken, the sooner the better.

And, whatever else may be alleged to his discredit, and whoever may arise to heap scandal on his name, the grand facts remain that it was chiefly through his marvelous qualities, word, and work that the towering dominion of the Papacy was humbled and broken for ever; that prophets and apostles were released from their prisons once more to preach and prophesy to men; that the Church of the early times was restored to the bereaved world; that the human mind was set free to read and follow God’s Word for itself; that the masses of neglected and downtrodden humanity were made into populations of live and thinking beings; and that the nations of the earth have become repossessed of their “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
    “And let the Pope and priests their victor scorn,
    Each fault reveal, each imperfection scan,
    And by their fell anatomy of hate
    His life dissect with satire’s keenest edge;
    yet still may Luther, with his mighty heart,
    Defy their malice

    Far beyond them soars the soul
    They slander. From his tomb there still comes forth
    A magic which appalls them by its power;
    And the brave monk who made the Popedom rock
    Champions a world to show his equal yet!”



------------
Endnotes:
  1. Seiss, J. Luther and the Reformation: The Life-Springs of Our Liberties. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates. 1888. pp. 111-134. (return)

  2. “Never before was the human mind more prolific.” “Luther holds a high and glorious place in German literature.” “In his manuscripts we nowhere discover the traces of fatigue or irritation, no embarrassment or erasures, no ill-applied epithet or unmanageable expression; and by the correctness of his writing we might imagine he was the copyist rather than the writer of the work.” – So says Audin, his Roman Catholic biographer.

    Hallam’s flippant and disparaging remarks on Luther, contained in his Introduction to the Literature of Europe, are simply outrageous, “stupid and senseless paragraphs,” evidencing a presumption on the part of their author which deserves intensest rebuke. “Hallam knows nothing about Luther; he himself confesses his inability to read him in his native German; and this alone renders him incapable of judging intelligently respecting his merits as a writer; and, knowing nothing, it would have been honorable in him to say nothing, at least to say nothing disparagingly. And, by the way, it seems to us that writing a history of European literature without a knowledge of German is much like writing a history of metals without knowing anything of iron and steel...Luther’s language became, through his writings, and has ever since remained, the language of literature and general intercourse among educated men, and is that which is now understood universally to be meant when the German is spoken of. His translation of the Bible is still as much the standard of purity for that language as Homer is for the Greek.” – Dr. Galvin E. Stowe. (return)

  3. “Nothing can be more edifying than the scene presented by the last days of Luther, of which we have the most authentic and detailed accounts. When dying he collected his last strength and offered up the following prayer: ‘Heavenly Father, eternal, merciful God, Thou hast revealed to me Thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Him I have taught, Him I have confessed, Him I love as my Saviour and Redeemer, whom the wicked persecute, dishonor, and reprove. Take my poor soul up to Thee!’

    “Then two of his friends put to him the solemn question: ‘Reverend Father, do you die in Christ and in the doctrine you have constantly preached?’ He answered by an audible and joyful ‘Yes,’ and, repeating the vows, ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,’ he expired peacefully, without a struggle.” – Encyclopædia Britannica. (return)

  4. Mattähus Ratzenberger, in a passage of his biography preserved in the Bibliotheca Ducalais Gothana, says: “Lutherus had also this custom: as soon as he had eaten the evening meal with his table companions he would fetch out of his little writing-room his partes and hold a musicam with those of them who had a mind for music. Greatly was he delighted when a good composition of the old master fitted the responses or hymnos de tempore anni, and especially did he enjoy the cantu Gregoriana and chorale. But if at times he perceived in a new song that it was incorrectly copied he set it again upon the lines (that is, he brought the parts together and rectified it in continenti). Right gladly did he join in the singing when hymnus or responsorium de tempere had been set by the Musicus to a Cantum Gregorianum, as we have said, and his young sons, Martinus and Paulus, had also after table to sing the responsoria de tempore, as at Christmas, Verbum caro factum est, In principio erat verbum; at Easter, Christus resurgens ex mortuis, Vita sanctorum, Victimæ paschali laudes, etc. In these responsoria he always sang along with his sons, and in cantu figurali he sang the alto.”

    The alto which Luther sang must not be confounded with the alto part of today. Here it means the cantus firmus, the melody around which the old composers wove their contrapuntal ornamentation.

    Luther was the creator of German congregational singing. (return)

  5. Luther’s first poetic publication seems to have been certain verses ode on the martyrdom of two young Christian monks, who were burned alive at Brussels in 1523 for their faithful confession of the evangelical doctrines. A translation of a part of this composition is given in D'Aubigné’s History of the Reformation in these beautiful and stirring words:

      “Flung to the heedless winds or on the waters cast,
      Their ashes shall be watched, and gathered at the last;
      And from that scattered dust, around us and abroad,
      Shall spring a plenteous seed of witnesses for God.

      “Jesus hath now received their latest living breath,
      Yet vain is Satan’s boast of victory in their death.
      Still, still, though dead, they speak, and trumpet-tongued proclaim
      To many a wakening land the One availing Name.”

    Audin, though a Romanist, says: “The hymns which he translated from the Latin into German may be unreservedly praised, as also those which he composed for the members of his own communion. He did not travesty the sacred Word nor set his anger to music. He is grave, simple, solemn, and grand. He was at once the poet and musician of a great number of his hymns.” (return)

  6. Froude supplemented. (return)

  7. It must be observed that the coarse vituperations which shock the reader in Luther’s controversial works were not peculiar to him, being commonly used by scholars and divines of the Middle Ages in their disputations. “The invectives of Valla, filelfo, Poggio, and other distinguished scholars against each other are notorious; and this bad taste continued in practice long after Luther, down to the seventeenth century, and traces of it are found in writers of the eighteenth, even in some of the works of the polished and courtly Voltaire.” – Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. (return)

  8. “In no other instance have such great events depended upon the courage, sagacity, and energy of a single man, who, by his sole and unassisted efforts, made his solitary cell the heart and centre of the most wonderful and important commotion the world ever witnessed – who by the native force and vigor of his genius attacked and successfully resisted, and at length overthrew, the most awful and sacred authority that ever imposed its commands on mankind.” – A letter prefixed to Luther’s Table-Talk in the folio edition of 1652. (return)

  9. “To overturn a system of religious belief founded on ancient and deep-rooted prejudices, supported by power and defended with no less art than industry – to establish in its room doctrines of the most contrary genius and tendency, and to accomplish all this, not by external violence or the force of arms, are operations which historians the least prone to credulity and superstition ascribe to that divine providence which with infinite ease can bring about events which to human sagacity appear impossible.” – Robertson’s Charles V. (return)

  10. “From the commencement of the religious war in Germany to the Peace of Westphalia scarce anything great or memorable occurred in the European political world with which the Reformation was not essentially connected. Every event in the history of the world in this interval, if not directly occasioned, was nearly affected, by this religious revolution, and every state, great or small, remotely or immediately felt its influence.” – Schiller’s Thirty Years’ War, vol. i. p. 1 (return)

  11. “Luther was as wonderful as he was great. His personal experience in divine things was as deep as his mind was mighty, large, and unbounded. Though called by the Most High, and continued by his appointment, in the midst of papal darknem, idolatry, and error, with no companions but the saints of the Bible, nor any other light but the lamp of the Word to guide his feet, his heaven-taught soul was ministerially fumished with as rich pasture for the sheep of Christ, as awful ammunition for the terror and destruction of the enemies by which he and they were perpetually surrounded. The sphere of his mighty ministry was not bounded by his defence of the truth against the great and powerful. No! He was as rich a pastor, as terrible a warrior. He fed the sheep in the fattest pastures, while be destroyed the wolves on any side. Nor will those pastures be dried up or lost until time, nations, and the churches of God shall be no more.” – Dr. Cole’s Preface to Luther on Genesis (return)

  12. “It was by some of these qualities which we are now apt to blame that Luther was fitted for accomplishing the great work which he undertook. To rouse mankind when sunk in ignorance and superstition, and to encounter the rage of bigotry armed with power, required the utmost vehemenoe of zeal as well as temper daring to excess.” – Robertson’s Charles V. (return)



Monday, September 21, 2015

Called to “Test all things”

Eight days ago, we blogged about the opening of Faith Lutheran Church – a new, independant Lutheran congregation in the Portland, Oregon, area, formed by some 17 Lutherans who were recently compelled to leave WELS for a variety of reasons, and have now chosen to be served by pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA). We also mentioned that these Lutherans now also feel compelled to provide a public explanation for their departure from the WELS. Last Monday, we posted the first such explanation: No Longer Alone: Perspective of a Confessional Lutheran Woman. Today, we post the second.



Called to “Test all things”
by Mr. Vernon Kneprath

The intent and agreement among those who chose to leave our WELS congregation was to leave peacefully and quietly. Concerns had already been expressed to the appropriate individuals over months and years, regarding what was being preached, taught and practiced throughout the synod. Most of those resigning their membership had stopped attending our local congregation weeks or months prior. When our common goal to return to confessional Lutheranism was realized, and a road to that end became available, it was determined to be prudent to resign our membership in our WELS congregation before working toward organizing a new congregation.

A simple, one sentence letter indicated the undersigned were resigning their membership. The letter was sent by certified mail to the pastor and president of the congregation. It was considered by our group to be more kind and considerate to send one letter rather than many, so that those receiving it would not be in a position of wondering when the next letter would arrive.

For nearly two months we generally avoided initiating dialogue. Some of us were contacted by various members and leaders of our local congregation. We listened carefully, and responded respectfully. Out of the communications that occurred during that time, there was a single individual who approached many of us in a respectful manner, and showed genuine care and concern for us.

The previous Intrepid post gave one individual’s reasons for leaving the WELS. While each of us had our own specific reasons for leaving, there were many shared concerns. Therefore, some of what follows may seem redundant. Unlike the author of the previous post, I had been a lifelong member of the WELS. I was instructed and confirmed with the Gausewitz edition of Luther’s Small Catechism, and remain convinced that it properly represents and teaches the truths of Scripture. But it had become increasingly clear in recent years that I was a confessional Lutheran in a Lutheran church body that seemed to no longer appreciate or desire to be confessional Lutheran.

The Bible teaches that we are to point out error where it exists, and to defend the truth of God’s Word at every opportunity.
    ”Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV)
Over time, and with a great deal of attention to what was going on among Lutherans in this country, it became apparent it wasn’t necessary to accept the deliberate changes being made to the teachings and practices of churches within the WELS. There is an alternative.

New Bible translations that glorify man and his wisdom rather than honoring God’s unchanging Word do not need to be tolerated or accepted. There is a Lutheran church body that recognizes the potent efficacy of God’s Word in teaching AND in practice.

Contemporary worship, or blended worship, or whatever the latest worship fad, does not have to be tolerated or accepted. There is a Lutheran church body that unabashedly uses the historic liturgy without change or reservation.

An obsession with money, and a link to Thrivent and Planned Parenthood does not have to be tolerated or accepted. There is a Lutheran church body that focuses on teaching and preaching Law and Gospel, leaving it up to God to determine how and when the saints will be blessed.

Man-made gimmicks to fill the pews and the offering plates do not have to be tolerated or accepted. There is a Lutheran church body that preaches the Means of Grace, and only the Means of Grace, as the way in which God grows the church.

Decisions to remove “Lutheran” from a church name, school or website, or other efforts to distance a church from the Lutheran Confessions need not be accepted or tolerated. There is a Lutheran church body that eagerly teaches the contents of the Book of Concord to its members.

The teaching of objective justification, which proclaims that “everyone has been justified, everyone has been forgiven, everyone has been saved,” does not have to be tolerated or accepted. There is a Lutheran church body that preaches, without hesitation or contradiction, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31 NKJV)

There is an alternative to a Lutheran church that no longer desires to be confessional Lutheran. The Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America, (ELDoNA) is the Lutheran church that I have found to be unapologetically confessional Lutheran, in teaching AND in practice.


The Lutheran Hymnal - Hymn 260 verse 2 (verse omitted from the WELS hymnal, Christian Worship)
    With fraud which they themselves invent
         Thy truth they have confounded;
    Their hearts are not with one consent
         On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
    While they parade with outward show,
    They lead the people to and fro,
         In error's maze astounded.

 

Monday, September 14, 2015

No Longer Alone: Perspective of a Confessional Lutheran Woman

Yesterday, we blogged about the opening of Faith Lutheran Church – a new, independant Lutheran congregation in the Portland, Oregon, area, formed by some 17 Lutherans who were recently compelled to leave WELS for a variety of reasons, and have now chosen to be served by pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA). We also mentioned that these Lutherans now also feel compelled to provide a public explanation for their departure from the WELS. Today’s post is the first such explanation.



No Longer Alone
Perspective of a Confessional Lutheran Woman

I felt so alone. Not from God. God had adopted me into His family at my baptism when I was only days old. My faith had been nourished and strengthened regularly with His Word and the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. I knew God would never leave me nor forsake me. But I missed the fellowship of like-minded believers.

God’s House no longer felt like a sanctuary. It had the look and feel of an auditorium, the altar area dominated by a large screen. A steady stream of “announcements” and “not-so-hushed” conversations over cups of gourmet coffee made it difficult to prepare my heart for worship.

The historic liturgy had been deemed old fashioned. The use of hymnals was considered out of date. Music and text changed weekly, printed in “service folders” of greater and greater length.

It seemed that we had grown uncomfortable with God’s teaching on Holy Communion. So afraid to offend, we chose to forego Holy Communion on Easter Sunday out of fear that the Bible’s teaching of close/d communion would make us “look bad” to visitors.

Mid-week Bible studies became less frequent, then absent all together.

Vacation BIBLE School was marginalized with talk of replacing it with a soccer camp because “that’s what a lot of other churches do.” “The B-I-B-L-E” was replaced with songs about pinching cheeks and other things WE do.

A special “Mafia Night” activity was held for our youth on the night before Easter.

Sunday School was “updated,” and no longer focused on a Bible lesson and the memorization of Scripture. There was no offering basket with which to teach about stewardship.

Some things were worse.

Teaching justification by faith as “just as if I’d never done it” was replaced with the child-friendly terms of “objective justification” and “subjective justification.” If I finally understand it, “objective justification” means that everyone is declared “not guilty” regardless of faith, and “subjective justification” means that I believe I am part of everyone. Of course we need a special term to say that “I” am part of “everyone.” And never mind that this doesn’t fit with Scripture, “IT’S OUR SPECIAL MESSAGE THAT NO ONE ELSE HAS!!”

A special Reformation Sunday School lesson includes the text, “God’s Word says that all people are saved.” Where does the Bible say that?

A gender-neutral translation of the Bible is promoted for use in our churches because “no translation is perfect.” Yes, but some are less perfect than others.

I felt so alone. But I wasn’t silent. With each change, God provided the courage to express my concern to pastors, elders, and presidents of two congregations over the past 15 years. I wish I could say that I received assurance that my concerns were valid. I wish I could say that I was commended for “searching the Scriptures” for God’s will in my life. Instead, I was characterized as old fashioned, too critical, or as one simply refusing to appreciate our “Christian freedom.” The decisions had been made, and there was no turning back.

I felt so alone.

It wasn’t the first time. I had journeyed through the synods, each time moving toward one that was smaller, and in my viewpoint, more consistent in practice with what God’s Word taught. But I was at the end of the alphabet; seemingly, the end of the road. Where else was there? What was I supposed to do?

There are faithful Lutheran pastors who provide sermons and even conduct services online. But I wanted to meet together with like-minded believers. I wanted my children to keep the habit of attending church every Sunday.

God is so faithful.

Sometimes, when your faith is challenged, your eyes are opened to things you would not have otherwise seen. Through some of the issues mentioned above, I became aware of others in my congregation who felt the same. We connected with a group of confessional Lutherans who had traveled the same path prior to our experiences. They reached out with love, encouragement, support, and especially the promises of God’s Word as we organized as an independent Lutheran congregation. Pastors of the group made commitments to fly in for weekends of Bible study, instruction, visitations, and services.

God’s goodness and faithfulness is overwhelming. Thank you, God, for Your infinite grace, and thank You for the pastors and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA).
    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23 (NKJV)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Faith Lutheran Church holds Divine Service Today for the First Time as a Congregation

Many readers may already know this, but just recently, some 17 people left WELS, for various reasons, to form an independent Lutheran congregation in the Portland, Oregon, area. Today, the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2015, was the first time they held Divine Service as a congregation. Bishop Heiser of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA), preached from the appointed Gospel text for the day, Matthew 6:24-34; and pastors from all over the Diocese will share in a weekly preaching rotation at Faith Lutheran, until a permanent pastor can be found for them.

As it so happens, the Lutherans who have formed this new congregation have also found themselves compelled to offer a public explanation for their departure from WELS. Apparently, following their departure in July, a troubling level of animosity has been directed toward them from various sources among WELS leadership and laity, in a way that they feel distorts the truth and damages their reputations. This reportedly includes the distribution of an area-wide letter that was written about them and the situation at their former congregation, that did not allow them the opportunity to include their side of the story.

In coming days, their stories shall be published here, on Intrepid Lutherans.


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