Baptism: Freed by death, not fixed through washing

“Baptism frees you to belong exclusively to God, the justifier who is Creator-out-of-nothing. Baptism is therefore the life of the Christian from which there is no progress. All life “daily” returns to baptism because of its promise, ‘If we have died with Christ we believe we shall be raised with him’ (Romans 6:8). Baptism’s promise is given once and stands against the greatest enemies: sin, death, and devil–whose attacks are daily. Sin is then taking leave of this promise in order to fight solely on the basis of the law; faith is returning to baptism’s promise which it finds always there–unshakable. This promise’s power is not past, it is (as a promise must be), always ahead of us, always accessible to the ungodly–day in and day out–useful to no other creature since sinners are the only ones who need such a thing.” (pg.162)

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Johann Gerhard: Meditations Sacrae

          I. True Confession of Sin: An Acknowledgment of a Fault Heals It: 

The very voice of God, the divine law, is also my accuser: that law I must either keep, or perish; but for me to fulfill that law is plainly impossible, and the thought of perishing is absolutely intolerable. And God, the inflexible Judge, the almighty executor of His own external law, accuses me; Him I cannot deceive, for He is wisdom itself; from Him I cannot flee, for everywhere His power reigneth. Whither, then, shall I flee (Ps. cxxxix. 7)?

To Thee, O blessed Christ, my only Redeemer and Saviour, do I fly for refuge. Great indeed are my sins; but greater far is the satisfaction Thou hast made for them; great is my unrighteousness, but greater far is Thy righteousness.

I admit my sin, oh, do Thou graciously remit its penalty. I reveal it, do Thou mercifully conceal it. I penitently uncover it, do Thou graciously hide it. In me there is nothing but sin that deserves Thy condemnation; in Thee there is nothing but grace, that affords me blessed hope of salvation. I have committed many sins for which I could be most justly condemned; but Thou hast omitted nothing, that Thou mightest most graciously save me. I hear a voice in Canticles (ii. 14), which bids me, hide in the clefts of the rock. Thou art the immovable rock (I Cor. x. 4), and Thy wounds its clefts; in them I will hide me against the accusations of the whole world. My sins cry aloud to heaven for vengeance; but still more strongly cries out Thy blood shed for my sins (Heb. xii. 24). My sins mightily accuse me before God; but Thy passion is mightier for my defense. My dreadfully wicked life clamors for my condemnation; but Thy holy and righteous life pleads more powerfully still for my salvation. I appeal from the throne of Thy justice to the throne of Thy mercy; nor do I desire to come before Thy judgment bar, unless Thy most holy merit interpose between me and Thy judgment.

C.F.W. Walther on Vocation and Earthly Calling

Earthly minded people always choose that calling where they find the least trouble and the highest pay. In our time, and especially in this country, many prefer to be merchants because they think that thus they can most easily acquire great wealth, “get rich quick,” and become “big shots.” But a heavenly minded Christian chooses that calling where he believes himself to be most useful to the world according to his gifts and inclinations. If he is a merchant, then in this calling as in any other he considers himself but a servant of his neighbor, and thus makes his earthly calling a holy worship of God. Therefore he is most interested in trading in merchandise truly needed by his neighbor, rather than in that which brings him the highest profit. But while he wishes to serve only God and his neighbor in his work, he expects it to be prosperous and blessed only by God. He carries on his calling in faith. If he earns much by his work he does not take credit for it himself but ascribes it only to God’s goodness. He therefore does not become proud. But if like Peter he must toil all the night in vain, he does not despair or change his calling. Rather he deems this a divine test of his faith, love, hope and patience, and continues in the faith.

The Search

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I went on the search for something real
Traded what I know for how i feel
But the ceiling and the walls collapsed
Upon the darkness I was trapped
As the last of breath was drawn from me
Light broke in and brought me to my feet

There’s no fortune at the end
Of the road that has no end
There’s no returning to the spoils
Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them
There’s no falling back to sleep
Once you’ve waken from the dream

Now I’m rested and I’m ready
To begin

The Avett Brothers, February Seven

Brandon Heath on Life

I felt it first when I was younger,
A strange connection to the light,
I tried to satisfy the hunger;
I never got it right.
I never got it right.

So I climbed a mountain and l built an altar,
Looked out as far as I could see,
And everyday I’m getting older,
I’m running outta dreams.
I’m running outta dreams.

But Your love!
Your love.
The only the thing that matters is Your love!
Your love.
All I ever needed is Your love.

Law and Gospel

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“In its theological “use” law should be understood as a concrete and actual “voice” which “sounds in the heart” and the “conscience,” a real voice which afflicts man in his isolation from God and demands that he fulfill his humanity.

This “voice,” for Luther, can and does arise from anywhere and everywhere. It is not limited merely to what one might call the sphere of morality. When man is separated from God anything and everything can betray him. The “voice,” for instance, can arise form something as simple as the sudden rustling of the leaves in the forest. In an interesting section of his Lectures on Genesis (3:8) Luther suggests that what terrified Adam and Eve in the garden and caused them to hide was simply the rustling of the leaves in the evening breeze. After the conscience has been smitten, after one is cut off from God, any little thing becomes the potential source of “the voice.” The rustling of the leaves on a dark night in a strange place frighten us because, I suppose we could say, we do not have life in ourselves and something–anything–“out there” can take it from us. Or the voice could arise as something much more dramatic like a bolt of lightening or more tragic like an accident. More unmistakably it arises from the demands which society make of us, the demands of family and friends and the voices and faces of suffering humanity. It arises also from the inevitability of death, the fact that life is precarious and fleeting. And above all it is the command of God that we must love him with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. And most particularly, the voice of law reaches its climactic crescendo in the preaching of the cross. For there we see finally how serious and immediate law really is. For, in Luther’s view, the declaration that the Son of God had to suffer so brutally at the hands of sinful men could only strike terror into the heart.

Perhaps this last especially seems strange to us because we tend to assume that preaching the cross is always “gospel.” This should indicate to us that Luther has a different view of how these things actually strike us–how they are “used.” For the point is that “the law” is not merely a set of commands, not a list of requirements that could be disposed of merely by doing a few things and checking them off. The law is that immediate and actual voice arising from the sum total of human experience ‘in this age,’ up to and including the cross, a voice that will not stop until our humanity is fulfilled. To talk of Law, Luther says in one instance, is not to speak about it “technically or materially… or grammatically [as though it were merely a bunch of words or list of demands] … but as it is and sounds in your heart, exhorting, piercing the heart and conscience until you do not know where to turn”. It is a voice that attends the human conscience as we know it on this earth. It is a voice that can never stop in this life. As long as man remains in sin the voice never stops; it has no end. It goes on and on and on–in an endless number of forms and an infinite variety of disguises. “The Law”, and Melanchthon later put it, “always accuses.”

It is important to grasp what is meant here if we are to avoid the ladder idea. The law is not defined only as a set of demands as such, but rather in terms of what it does to you. Law is that which accuses and terrifies and in a real sense, anything that does this functions as law. Law is not a ladder to heaven; it is the mark of man’s existence in this age, from the rustling of the leaves to the agony of the cross. It is the voice, which for the sinner, never ends.

If we look on the law in this way, we can begin to grasp also the dynamic vitality, the “good news” character of the gospel. For the gospel too must be seen in terms of what it does. For what is the Gospel? It is the end of the law! That is to say that what the gospel does is to put an end to the “voice” of the law. And that means actualy to put a stop to it, to “shut it up,” to make it no longer heard. Thus, the gospel too is defined primarily by what it does: the gospel comforts because it puts an end to the voice of the law. It is an entirely new and unexpected thing that breaks into man’s life and world: the voice which for man as sinner “never ends”. is stopped by God’s action in Christ. An entirely new kind of life breaks in upon us!

But how is this possible? How can the unstoppable voice be stppped. The voice stops, really, only when what the law demands is really there. That is, the voice stops only when we become fully what we were intended to be. The command to love, for instance, stops when we actually do love. The “law” ends when the new creation begins. The gospel is the joyful message that in Christ this new creation has already and actually broken in on us, and the promise that it will be carried out to its completion. It is the story of one who came down to earth and lived “under the voice”  and died under it as we all do, but yet rose triumphant and broke its power and brought it to an end. The gospel is the story of him who shattered the grammar of earth, who broke open the closed circle of the voice of the law and gave us the gift of hope.

Luther understood the gospel as something more than a theory about how God might or might not have been “bought off” up there in heaven. If it were only that it would only be be just another law; it would be merely a set of doctrines to which the command would be added: “Thou shalt believe this or perish.” The gospel was much more than that. It was a power, “a living voice” great enough to stop the voice of the law and bring in here on earth the beginning of the new life of freedom! It is not the story of something that happened only in heaven or in the mind of God. It is the story of something that happened here on earth strong enough to break the actual hold of the law on us, strong enough to turn the earth itself into a place of light and life and joy, strong enough to turn the rustling of those leaves too into the sound of the gospel!

The battle therefore is between these contending voices or powers. That is why the basic question for Luther was the proper distinction between law and gospel. It is a question of how you hear the words, what they actually do to you. Some think they are hearing gospel when it is actually only another form of law. That is why they are constantly going up the staircase both in their thinking and in their doing. Rightly to distinguish law from gospel is to hear that other voice, the voice that tells of him who came down to earth to give us also the gift of being able to live down to earth. It is a voice strong enough to make and keep us human, to enable us to live as we were intended to live–as creatures of God.” 

Gerharrd Forde, Luther’s Down-To-Earth Approach to the Gospel (15-17)

Faith

“The “goal” of human nature is not to fulfill desires, but have desire extinguished; in its place is found grateful reception of everything needed in life from the hand of the heavenly Father.”

Steven Paulson Lutheran Theology (pg.66)

Sola Fide

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Thus we must learn to distinguish all laws, even those of God, and all works from faith and from Christ, if we are to define Christ accurately. Christ is not the Law, and therefore he is not a taskmaster for the Law and for works; but he is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This is grasped by faith alone, not by love, which nevertheless must follow faith as a kind of gratitude… Victory over sin and death does not come by the works of the Law or by our will; therefore it comes by Jesus Christ alone. Here we are perfectly willing to have ourselves called ‘solafideists’ by our opponents, who do not understand anything of Paul’s argument. (Martin Luther)

“When [in Romans] Paul put together God’s righteousness and our righteousness (iustia dei and iustus ex fide) he did so not by law, but by faith–and thereby delivered the power of Romans 1:17. The righteousness of faith stands (now we have our key) alone, apart from any addition or synthesis of the law. The alone is not the reduction of human contribution to the smallest particle (faith as a very small work); alone is the eschatological proviso that the new life in Christ shall be lived without any law–not a renewed law, not a revised law, not a law at all. As long as God’s righteousness was paired with the law, Luther hated it because it was cold, abstract, demanding, and in the end, disregarded work anyway and simply elected apart from the law–as if God were merely playing games with us. This made God capricious, irrational, and unfaithful to his own system, “I had formerly hated the word ‘iustia dei’…” Then the apocalypse: “I now began to regard it as my dearest and most comforting word, so that this expression of Paul’s became to me in very truth the gate to paradise.” Faith, not law, was God’s purpose and with that, everything turned around. Luther’s “goal” had found him. Life ceased being a pilgrimage, reaching higher and higher, and became God’s movement to bestow his favor upon sinners without regard to the law. Lutheran theology often attempts to express itself through this sola.”

Steven Paulson, Lutheran Theology (pg.50)

Law and Gospel

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“We are creatures whose Creator needs no justification. Nevertheless, this Creator seeks justification in his words given to sinners (Psalm 51 and Romans 3). But there are two separate justifications. The first justifies according to the law (which holds among humans awhile), but does not suffice before God–indeed that law was used to kill God’s only begotten Son when he came into the world. The second kind of justification is Christ who gives himself to his opponents in the form of a simple promise: I forgive you. These two justifications are called law and gospel, and distinguishing them is the Lutheran passion on earth. The slogan of this way of doing theology is: The Law! . . . until Christ! (Galatians 3:4). God justifies himself by justifying sinners in a simple word.”

Steven Paulson, Lutheran Theology (pg.5)

Waken from the Dream

“On the level of human understanding, the problem is we attempt to combine the unconditional grace of God with our notions of continuously existing and acting under the law. In other words, the old being does not come up against its death, but goes on pursuing its projects, perhaps a little more morally or piously, but still on its own. There is no death of the old and thus no hope for a resurrection of the new. The unconditional grace of God is combined with wrong theological anthropology. That is disaster… Justification by faith alone demands that we think in terms of the death of the old subject and the resurrection of a new one, not the continuous existence of the old. Unconditional grace calls forth a new being in Christ. But the old being sees such unconditional grace as dangerous and so protects its continuity by “adding sanctification.” It seeks to stave off the death involved by becoming “moral.” Sanctification thus becomes merely another part of its self-defense against grace.”

Gerhard Forde