“The Word Did It All”: The Necessity of Preaching According to the Protestant Reformers

Shawn Wright: One danger of being familiar with history is just that. It becomes familiar to us. Or so we think. Our familiarity with the facts, the cause-effect relationships, and the narrative may keep us from actually seeing what happened, or why what took place matters for us. The narrative of the Protestant Reformation serves as a case in point. Martin Luther (1483–1546) simply read the Bible, rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), and preached the gospel. And in the process, he and later Reformers like John Calvin (1509–64) turned the world upside down. [1] Right? Not so fast, argues Brad Gregory. Gregory, a highly trained Reformation historian, argues that the Reformation unbound the tightly-knit-together world of the Thomistic synthesis between faith and reason and the Catholic conception of Christendom in which secular and religious cohered closely together. Unknowingly, Luther unleashed a torrent that swelled into the modern world with all its post-Enlightenment problems. In other words, the

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The Forgotten Insight

The Difference between a Theologian of the Cross and a Theologian of Glory Carl Trueman: One of the things that is so striking about the current revival of interest in Reformation theology, broadly conceived, is the absence of perhaps the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse: the notion of the theologian of the cross. At a meeting of the Saxon Chapter of the Augustinian Order in the city of Heidelberg in 1518, a monk called Leonhard Beier presented a series of theses which Luther had prepared, whilst Dr Martin himself presided over the proceedings.  The Heidelberg Disputation was to go down in history as the moment when Luther showcased his radical new theology for the first time. At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect.  The

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Four Implications of Martin Luther’s Theology

Sinclair Ferguson: What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Martin Luther, they carry four implications: The first implication is the knowledge that the Christian believer is simul iustus et peccator, at one and the same time justified and yet a sinner. This principle, to which Luther may have been stimulated by John Tauler’s Theologia Germanica, was a hugely stabilizing principle: in and of myself, all I see is a sinner; but when I see myself in Christ, I see a man counted righteous with His perfect righteousness. Such a man is therefore able to stand before God as righteous as Jesus Christ—because he is righteous only in the righteousness that is Christ’s. Here we stand secure. The second implication is the discovery that God has become our Father in Christ. We are accepted. One of the most beautiful accounts found in Luther’s Table Talk was,

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Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this ‘faith,’ either. Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers.

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Justification: The Heart of the Reformation

Michael Reeves: Internal vs. External Transformation The issue at the heart of the Reformation was without a doubt the question of justification. When Luther was growing up, the understanding of justification that he was taught (and which really drove him to despair) was an understanding of justification inherited from Augustine who had thought that Romans 5:5 was the clearest single text to articulate justification. It says that “God has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit he’s given us.” So with that understanding, God pours his love, by the Holy Spirit, into my heart so that in my heart, I am transformed to become more and more loving, more and more holy, more and more justified. It is an internal transformative process and that’s simply not what Romans 5:5 is actually about. But that understanding of justification as the transformative process meant that you could not be sure that you’d been internally transformed enough to be worthy

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What is the theology of the cross?

Here, Robert Kolb gives a brief description of the theology of the cross that Martin Luther developed through reading the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. The theology of the cross directs us away from all attempts to speculate about God as he is hidden behind nature or the clouds of our imagination. The theology of the cross directs us to God in human flesh, God on the cross, God raised from the dead. To all the modern questions about what truth might be and what kind of claim truth might have on us, the God who is revealed in crib, cross, and crypt seizes us anew as we present him to those who have lost their way. We introduce our God on his cross. We witness to God revealed as Jesus, on the cross. For people who are dissatisfied with their old identity, the cross helps explain why they do not “feel good” about themselves. The theology of the

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How the Reformation Rediscovered Happiness

Tim Chester: Imagine facing Judgment Day every week. Near to where I grew up, in the Oxfordshire village of South Leigh, is the parish church of St. James the Great. Over the chancel arch is a medieval wall painting depicting the final judgment. To the left, the righteous rose from their graves to be welcomed into paradise. To the right, the damned were roped together to be dragged towards the gaping mouth of a huge red dragon. This is what the churchgoers of South Leigh saw every Sunday. And they would find no relief, even if they turned away. For on the wall of the south aisle, another wall painting depicted St. Michael weighing souls in a balance. More demons hover, ready to carry away those found wanting. Heaven was a possibility for the churchgoers of South Leigh — but so was hell. And the church offered no assurance of salvation. Perhaps you might be righteous enough for God with

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Luther, and the Creative Power of the Word

. Carl Trueman: . The importance of Luther to the Christian faith cannot be overstated. For many today, he is probably a figure who looks larger as a symbol of defiance or a heroic rebel against a corrupt church and decadent theology.There is much truth in such images. His stand at the Diet of Worms was a remarkable act of courageous defiance. And his theology represented nothing less than a self-conscious attempt to overthrow the medieval thought which he had been taught and replace it with a comprehensive understanding of God and the gospel as refracted the incarnate and crucified Christ. . Yet there is more to Luther. Indeed, perhaps his greatest contribution to the faith, and one that we can still learn from today, is his understanding of God’s Word. When we hear this term, our modern evangelical minds typically go to the contemporary debates about inerrancy, infallibility, interpretation and the like. Certainly such questions are legitimate. But for

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Why There Is No Righteousness Like Christian Righteousness

This Crossway post is adapted from Galatians by Martin Luther. Many Kinds of Righteousness St. Paul sets about establishing the doctrine of faith, grace, forgiveness of sins, or Christian righteousness. His purpose is that we may understand exactly the nature of Christian righteousness and its difference from all other kinds of righteousness, for there are various sorts of righteousness. There is a political or civil righteousness, which emperors, princes of the world, philosophers, and lawyers deal with. There is also a ceremonial righteousness, which human traditions teach. This righteousness may be taught without danger by parents and schoolteachers because they do not attribute to it any power to satisfy for sin, to please God, or to deserve grace; but they teach such ceremonies as are necessary simply for the correction of manners and certain observations concerning this life. Besides these, there is another righteousness, called the righteousness of the law or of the Ten Commandments, which Moses teaches. We too

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Why There Is No Righteousness Like Christian Righteousness

This post is adapted from Galatians by Martin Luther: Many Kinds of Righteousness St. Paul sets about establishing the doctrine of faith, grace, forgiveness of sins, or Christian righteousness. His purpose is that we may understand exactly the nature of Christian righteousness and its difference from all other kinds of righteousness, for there are various sorts of righteousness. There is a political or civil righteousness, which emperors, princes of the world, philosophers, and lawyers deal with. There is also a ceremonial righteousness, which human traditions teach. This righteousness may be taught without danger by parents and schoolteachers because they do not attribute to it any power to satisfy for sin, to please God, or to deserve grace; but they teach such ceremonies as are necessary simply for the correction of manners and certain observations concerning this life. Besides these, there is another righteousness, called the righteousness of the law or of the Ten Commandments, which Moses teaches. We too teach

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Martin Luther’s 7 Characteristics of the Church

W. Robert Godfrey: The Word “First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.” Martin Luther always returned to the foundational importance of the Scriptures and the gospel in his approach to any doctrinal question. The church must have and cherish the revelation of God. “And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word.” Baptism “Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance.” The church possessed and administered the sacrament of baptism as taught in the Bible, a visible expression of the gospel. The Lord’s Supper “Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it

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What Does “Simul Justus et Peccator” Mean?

In this excerpt from his teaching series, “Luther and the Reformation,” Dr. R.C. Sproul shares the very heart of the gospel as he explains Martin Luther’s latin phrase, “Simul Justus et Peccator.” R.C. Sproul: Perhaps the formula that Luther used that is most famous and most telling at this point is his formula simul justus et peccator. And if any formula summarizes and captures the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula. Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously. Or, it means ‘at the same time.’ Justus is the Latin word for just or righteous. And you all know what et is. Et the past tense of the verb ‘to eat.’ Have you et your dinner? No, you know that’s not what that means. You remember in the death scene of Caesar after he’s been stabbed by Brutus he says, “Et tu, Brute?” Then fall Caesar. And you too Brutus? It simply means and. Peccator

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A faithful minister cares little what people think of him

“The trouble with these seekers after glory is that they never stop to consider whether their ministry is straightforward and faithful. All they think about is whether people will like and praise them. Theirs is a threefold sin. First, they are greedy of praise. Secondly, they are very sly and wily in suggesting that the ministry of other pastors is not what it should be. By way of contrast they hope to rise in the estimation of the people. Thirdly, once they have established a reputation for themselves they become so chesty that they stop short of nothing. When they have won the praise of men, pride leads them on to belittle the work of other men and to applaud their own. In this artful manner they hoodwink the people who rather enjoy to see their former pastors taken down a few notches by such upstarts. “‘Let a minister be faithful in his office,’ is the apostolic injunction. ‘Let him

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Calvin on Why God Raised Up Luther to Reform the Church

  Tomorrow is Reformation Day. Here is John Calvin, writing in 1543 (26 years after Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenberg Door), explaining why the Reformation needed to happen: At the time when divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness; when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions; when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and his glory laid prostrate; when by a multitude of perverse opinions, the benefit of redemption was frustrated, and men, intoxicated with a fatal confidence in works, sought salvation anywhere rather than in Christ; when the administration of the sacraments was partly maimed and torn asunder, partly adulterated by the admixture of numerous fictions, and partly profaned by traffickings for gain; when the government of the church had degenerated into mere confusion and devastation; when those who sat in the seat of pastors first did most vital injury to the church by the dissoluteness

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God’s kindness through Christ

  Martin Luther on never tiring of the gospel of God’s grace: “People don’t earn God’s approval or receive life and salvation because of anything they’ve done. Rather, the only reason they receive life and salvation is because of God’s kindness through Christ. There is no other way. Many Christians are tired of hearing this teaching over and over. They think that they learned it all long ago. However, they barely understand how important it really is. If it continues to be taught as truth, the Christian church will remain united and pure — free from decay. This truth alone makes and sustains Christianity. You might hear an immature Christian brag about how well he knows that we receive God’s approval through God’s kindness and not because of anything we do to earn it. But if he goes on to say that this is easy to put into practice, then have no doubt he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,

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He became a propitiation for us

  The very fact that Christ suffered for us, and through His suffering became a propitiation for us, proves that we are (by nature) unrighteous, and that we for whom He became a propitiation, must obtain our righteousness solely from God, now that forgiveness for our sins has been secured by Christ’s atonement. By the fact that God forgives our sins (only) through Christ’s propitiation and so justifieth us by faith, He shows how necessary is His righteousness (for all). There is no one whose sins are not forgiven (in Christ). — Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel, 1976), 78 (HT: Of First Importance)

Beat it into their heads continually

  “Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.” Martin Luther, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Smith, English & Co. 1860), p. 206.

Wisdom from Luther on doing theology

  J. I. Packer on Martin Luther’s approach to doing theology: When Martin Luther wrote the Preface to the first collected edition of his many and various writings, he went to town explaining in detail that theology, which should always be based on the Scriptures, should be done according to the pattern modelled in Psalm 119. There, Luther declared, we see three forms of activity and experience make the theologian. The first is prayer for light and understanding. The second is reflective thought (meditatio), meaning sustained study of the substance, thrust, and flow of the biblical text. The third is standing firm under pressure of various kinds (external opposition, inward conflict, and whatever else Satan can muster: pressures, that is, to abandon, suppress, recant, or otherwise decide not to live by, the truth God has shown from his Word. Luther expounded this point as one who knew what he was talking about, and his affirmation that sustained prayer, thought, and

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“Kiss my…”

Wisdom for a tender conscience from Martin Luther: “It is the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel.  If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside.  Even if I sinned I would say, ‘Should I deny the gospeI on this account?’ . . . Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished.  But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won.” Martin Luther, quoted in Reinhard Slenczka, “Luther’s Care of Souls for Our Times,”Concordia Theological Quarterly 67 (2003): 42. (HT: Ray Ortlund)

Passive and Active Righteousness

Jono Linebaugh: “This is our theology, by which we teach a precise distinction between these two kinds of righteousness, the active and the passive” (Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians 1535). There are “two kinds of righteousness” because human beings live in two kinds of relationships: 1) creature with Creator and 2) creature with creature. Before God (coram Deo), people are passive, receiving righteousness by grace through faith on account of Christ (Rom 3:21-24; 5:17; 10:6; Phil 3:9; cf. Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16). Before the world (coram mundo), people are active, serving their neighbor in love (Rom 13:8-19; Gal 5:13-14). This distinction is essential because, as Luther put it, it ensures that “morality and faith, works and grace … are not confused. Both are necessary, but both must be kept within their limits” (Lectures on Galatians 1535). To be human is to be two-dimensional: passive (i.e. receptive) before God and active (i.e. loving) before the world. These two kinds of righteousness are distinct, but they are

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