Tag Archives: Quotes

Love Flows FROM Forgiveness

And as we do not receive remission of sins through other virtues of the Law, or on account of these, namely, on account of patience, chastity, obedience towards magistrates, etc., and nevertheless these virtues ought to follow, so, too, we do not receive remission of sins because of love to God, although it is necessary that this should follow….Thus in Luke 7:47 Christ says: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. For Christ interprets Himself [this very passage] when He adds: Thy faith hath saved thee. Christ, therefore, did not mean that the woman, by that work of love, had merited the remission of sins. For that is the reason He says: Thy faith hath saved thee. But faith is that which freely apprehends God’s mercy on account of God’s Word [which relies upon God’s mercy and Word, and not upon one’s own work]. If any one denies that this is faith [if any one imagines that he can rely at the same time upon God and his own works], he does not understand at all what faith is. [For the terrified conscience is not satisfied with its own works, but must cry after mercy, and is comforted and encouraged alone by God’s Word.] And the narrative itself shows in this passage what that is which He calls love. The woman came with the opinion concerning Christ that with Him the remission of sins should be sought. This worship is the highest worship of Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to Christ. To seek from Him the remission of sins was truly to acknowledge the Messiah. Now, thus to think of Christ, thus to worship Him, thus to embrace Him, is truly to believe. Christ, moreover, employed the word “love” not towards the woman, but against the Pharisee, because He contrasted the entire worship of the Pharisee with the entire worship of the woman. He reproved the Pharisee because he did not acknowledge that He was the Messiah, although he rendered Him the outward offices due to a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her worship, ointment, tears, etc., all of which were signs of faith and a confession, namely, that with Christ she sought the remission of sins. It is indeed a great example, which, not without reason, moved Christ to reprove the Pharisee, who was a wise and honorable man, but not a believer. He charges him with impiety, and admonishes him by the example of the woman, showing thereby that it is disgraceful to him, that, while an unlearned woman believes God, he, a doctor of the Law, does not believe, does not acknowledge the Messiah, and does not seek from Him remission of sins and salvation.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V, paragraphs 30-33

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Which Came First: Forgiveness or Repentance, Part Two

More from Dennis Ngien. Part one is here.

Hearing God’s pronouncement of his forgiveness can be a very powerful motive for us to seek reconciliation with him. For instance, when someone has broken a relationship, the word that the wounded party has forgiven the guilty one can serve as a strong impetus causing the offender to seek reconciliation. Our repentance is not a condition of grace, but only a response to grace. Whereas “legal repentance” takes the form, “Repent, and if you do, you will be forgiven,” “evangelical repentance” takes this form, “Christ has given himself for you for the forgiveness of your sins; therefore, repent! Receive his forgiving grace in repentance.” The latter is Luther’s – the gift is primary, and the response secondary. By putting the emphasis on the primacy of the word, Luther gave priority to the responsive rather than causative character of faith.

The justifying word, “I forgive you,” is the content of the gospel, whereas repentance is our response to the gospel, not our causing it. “[O]nly as the word is maintained as the work of God, does faith retain the character of receptivity or reception of other gifts” (Charles Arand, “That I May Be His Own“, page 167). This, too, is in accord with Luther’s sacramental theology, in which God gives himself in his Son. In the Eucharist, Christ spoke the justifying word which effects forgiveness in us. The words of Christ’s institution summon from us an unconditional response of faith and repentance; they foment a sacramental piety, which is not contingent upon any human invention of pious works or pious desire. A conversion (repentance and faith) that is not rooted in God’s justifying word-act, specifically in the mass, is not true conversion. The sacrament is purely God’s action on our behalf, to which we respond with gratitude and thanksgiving. Unlike Zwingli who stressed the signifying character of the sacrament for which thanksgiving was rendered, Luther saw the causative character of God’s word in it as the source of gratitude. We thank God for coming into our lives and redeeming us as the recipients of the inestimable benefits promised in Christ’s last will. It is precisely by our unworthiness that we become the object of God’s grace. Therefore when faced with doubts or a lack of assurance, Luther did not ask, “How is your devotional life or prayer life? How about your good works?”, instead he exhorted believers to heed Christ’s words, the very “sum and substance of the whole gospel.” He encouraged believers to accept and affirm God’s word of promise given in Jesus Christ through the mass (and other means), quite apart from any emotions they might experience. We are to hear Christ’s words, by which our identity is forged and by which we are transformed into images of the one whose innocence we receive in a happy exchange for our sins. In the mass, we experience the power of his re-creating word at work. In Pannenberg’s estimation, “We (thereby) receive a new identity, but we do not possess it separately, in our separate existence apart from Christ, but only ‘in Christ’, which is to say in faith that unites us with Christ, with the Christ ‘outside ourselves’.”

With his emphasis on the objective nature of God’s work for us in Christ, Luther shunned the inward experiences of a subjective nature as a legitimate basis of assurances of any place before God. Not by introspection but only by ex-centricity – by looking outside ourselves (extra nobis) to God’s “speech act” in Jesus Christ can we find assurance. Our inner experience must not become primary, in which case we begin to turn away from faith in Christ to trust in ourselves. When this happens, we are reverting to righteousness by works as the outcome To Luther, the objective word of Christ is the anchor of faith, and the landmark of true piety. Faith cleaves to the sacrament, trusting that God’s word be done unto it. It is an anathema to attack Christ’s words, for to do so is to attack the gospel itself; to deny Christ’s words is to deny his justifying action on us, thus nullify the power and use of the sacrament.

Everything depends on these words. Every Christian should and must know them and hold them fast. He must never let anyone take them away from him by any other kind of teaching, even though it were an angel from heaven [Galatians 1:8]. They are words of life and of salvation, so that whoever believes in them has all his sins forgiven through that faith; he is a child of life and has overcome death and hell. Language cannot express how great and mighty these words are, for they are the sum and substance of the whole gospel. (Luther’s Works Volume 36, page 277)

Dennis Ngien, “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser“, pages 101-104

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Which Came First: Forgiveness or Repentance?

This is a section from Dennis Ngien’s book “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser“. I’m presenting it in a few parts because the section is long for a blog post. This is part one.

As regards the order of salvation, is forgiveness by God logically prior to our repentance, or repentance logically prior to forgiveness? To resolve this, we are necessarily confronted by the question: how does God forgive our sins? Does God forgive only when we repent? Some would say that God cannot forgive if we do not repent. And if God forgives the unrepentant, would he not be charged with condoning their sins? What are we to make of the liturgies of the Church which speak to the effect that “whoever repents of his sins may be forgiven.” Is it theologically accurate to speak of God’s forgiveness in this way, that our repentance is the prerequisite of God’s forgiveness? Though it is not entirely wrong to speak of it in this way, there is a hidden danger in it, for it may lead people to feel that repentance is something we must do in order to obtain, earn or deserve God’s forgiving grace. In that case, repentance becomes a “work” necessary for salvation, in which case we are no longer saved by grace alone. If repentance is a work necessary to achieve God’s forgiveness, then we are confronted with an acute problem that haunted Luther then and haunts our conscience now: how much work is necessary for salvation?

In the popular mind, repentance is defined as feeling sorrow for our sins. But to what extent are we really sorry for what we have done amiss, and to what degree are we simply sorry about the consequences of the sin? For instance, the child caught stealing money is very sorry, sorry for being caught and having to suffer the punishment for it, but not necessarily sorry for their criminal offence. Also if forgiveness is based on feeling sorrow, how can we be certain that we feel the right kind of sorrow for our sins? It is true that the Bible links forgiveness and repentance. But there is no evidence that repentance is a cause of God’s grace. For Jesus certainly pronounced forgiveness when there was no sign of repentance. At the cross, he uttered, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Those who crucified Jesus showed no signs of repentance; on the contrary, they were getting much sadistic pleasure out of torturing him. Likewise Jesus shocked the Pharisees by proclaiming the opposite of what they wanted to hear, that the paralytic’s sins had been forgiven, despite no sign of repentance by the paralytic (Mark 2:5; Matthew 9:2; Luke 5:20). In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, the son was forgiven by the father. Was he forgiven only when he returned home, or because he returned home? Neither! The father’s attitude was always one of forgiveness, independent of the son’s disposition towards him. If anyone had known the mind of the father, he would have gone to the son in the far country with this good news: your father has forgiven you, let’s go  home. The truth of the matter is that the father’s attitude towards the son was not changed by the son’s returning home. The only change was that the son, by coming home, put himself in a position to recognize or appropriate the father’s forgiveness, not cause or condition it. The most succinct explanation of this was found in Luther’s Large Catechism, where he commented about the petition for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer:

Here again there is great need to call upon God and pray, “Dear Father, forgive our debts”. Not that he does not forgive sin even without and before our prayer; and he gave us the gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness, before we prayed or even thought of it. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness.

Luther caught this vision of God’s forgiveness as unconditionally given. It does not wait for us to repent or to pray for it. God’s forgiveness is thus prior to our repentance and prayer. His forgiving grace does not waver, and it refuses to abandon us. His love for us is completely realistic and unconditional, based at every point on the prior knowledge of the worst about us so that no future discovery about us could ever disenchant God in the way we so often become disillusioned about ourselves. The father has forgiven his son even in the far country, even before he repents, or before he feels sorry, or before he comes to his senses. But the son cannot be reconciled insofar as he remains aloof in the far country. He has to come home and “accept” his father’s forgiveness. Faith, as Paul Tillich aptly defined it, is “accepting our acceptance.” Forgiveness is already there, and all we need to do is to receive it and accept it. Nevertheless our acceptance by God does not depend upon our accepting his grace, for we are already accepted by God in Jesus Christ. It is a gift given to us. If our accepting causes God’s acceptance of us, then our salvation is not by grace alone. Therefore any understanding of salvation in a legal context in which we have to do something meritorious so as to earn God’s forgiveness was not part of Luther’s theology of grace. There is a causal relationship between forgiveness and repentance, Luther maintained. But it is never our repentance that causes God’s favour; rather, it is God’s forgiveness that causes our repentance. To invert the evangelical order of grace, making repentance prior to forgiveness, is to destroy sola gratia, for it regards God’s grace as conditional upon what we do. For Luther, God cannot be made gracious. The indicatives of grace are prior to the imperatives of obedience. Thus salvation must be understood in the evangelical context, in which the priority of the gospel and primacy of God’s justifying words reign so supremely that they effect a change in us, moving us towards repentance and faith.

More to come….

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Be Not Afraid of the Wolf

Whoever is a pious preacher and Christian does not allow himself to be intimidated when he sees the wolf; rather, he is ready to give up his own body and life before he permits his neighbor to be robbed of the Word and a true understanding of Christ. This was true of the holy apostles, as well as the beloved martyrs; they did not flee, but bravely defied the jaws of the wolf. That is how it should still be. Whoever wishes to be a pastor must be committed with his whole heart to seek only the glory of God and the welfare of his fellow man. If, however, he does not solely seek God’s honor and the good of his fellowman, buy by his office seeks for personal gain or his neighbor’s hurt, you may be sure that he will not stay the course. Either he will shamefully flee and leave the little flock, or he will be silent and leave the sheep without pasture, that is, bereft and deprived of the Word. These are hirelings who preach for their own aggrandizement; they are greedy and never satisfied with what God daily and benevolently provides for sustenance. We preachers really require no more from our calling than food and raiment. Those who want more are hirelings who have no love for the flock; a devout pastor, on the other hand, gives up everything for the flock, even body and life….

A faithful preacher, therefore, should present nothing other to his people than Christ only, so that people learn to know Him, Who He is, and what He gives, and do not wander away from His Word of promise, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I give my life for the sheep,” but believe that He alone is to be esteemed as the true Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. That is what should be preached to the people, so that they may learn to know their Shepherd. Thereafter, then, we must emphasize the example of how Christ for our sake did all and suffered all, so that we, in turn, for the sake of the Word might willingly do and suffer all. Even as He carried His cross, we, too, should carry our cross. These two topics need to be preached in Christ’s Kingdom.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Third Sunday of Easter (John 10:11-16)

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Justification Is STILL For Preaching

Constitutive for the preaching of justification is the distinction between law and gospel. It is not that the gospel can only be understood in the light of the experience of sinner with the law – hence ex negativo. The gospel has, positively, a surplus of that experience; otherwise it would be no more powerful than the law. Nevertheless, if the gospel is not understood as undeserved liberation from the accusing and condemning power of the law, if it is not understood as unconditional acquittal in spite of evident guilt, it loses its incredibly miraculous nature, and ends up being eviscerated and reduced to a self-evident truth that basically appeals to the free will of the listener to do good. The gospel, and therefore God’s love, is trivialized whenever his judgment is silenced. The church’s preaching is seriously flawed if it speaks of peace with God without making clear that this peace is preceded by enmity and strife (Romans 5:10). God’s love is not something self-evident. For in his compassionate love, God speaks against himself: against the God who speaks completely against me in the law and in his judgment. In the gospel, however, God speaks completely for me. The gospel is based on a revolution in God himself, where God’s own will is overturned in himself (Hosea 11:8); the New Testament expresses this with the difference between Father and Son, between God’s life and Jesus’s death. Only if we perceive the radical distinction between law and gospel will we grasp the saving significance of the death of Jesus Christ; he redeemed us on the stake of the cross “from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13; see 2 Corinthians 5:21). With his Son, God himself pleads our cause, he sacrifices himself for us. Our freedom, “acquired” for us on the cross, is “distributed” in the proclamation – paradigmatically in the Lord’s Supper: given for you. The basic gesture involved in preaching the gospel are the opened hands that give and bestow the gift of freedom on those who hear through the Holy Spirit in faith, so that they themselves are empowered to open up their own hands, otherwise tightly clenched in self-reference to thank God and give to the neighbor.

Oswald Bayer, Foreword to “Justification Is For Preaching

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Christ Is Our Great High Priest

Is there anything more glorious or exalted than to know that as a High Priest we have a Man who is also the Son of God and who sits in majesty at the right hand of God? If we had the power to make a wish, could we possibly desire anything greater or better than to have with God a Mediator and Advocate of this stature? Now we are told that God Himself ordained this Christ—indeed, He confirmed it, as we said before, with a sublime oath—to be such a High Priest and to sit at the right hand of the Father especially for the purpose of preventing us from falling into any sort of wrath or disgrace, provided that we continue to believe in Him. We are to look to Him for comfort, help, and the undiluted, everlasting grace of the Father.

How can the Father possibly refuse to hear this Priest, His own beloved Son? How can He refuse Him anything He asks for? And Christ asks for nothing else than that which benefits us—grace and mercy for us! Therefore we are certain that when we ourselves pray in His name, God is pleased and will hear us out. Why should anyone have any further doubts or fears? Why not draw near to His throne of grace with joyful confidence, as it is written in Hebrews 4:16, rejoice with all our hearts in this High Priest, and find our comfort in Him?

Martin Luther, Explanation of Psalm 110

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One Must Not Debate with Satan

When people say that a peaceful Word should be preached, the result is that the devil becomes all the more insulting, as we see here [in Isaiah chapter 36]. These people have asked for quiet, and Satan shouts all the more. Learn this: One must not debate with Satan. Keep this well in mind. The more we wrestle with him in this debate, the more we despair. Do not argue with Satan. Note this, for example: The more someone thinks about the evil lust that should be laid aside, the more he falls into those thoughts, so that one follows closely upon the other and finally he will be in a frenzy. The same happens in the case of the anger that is directed against someone and that should be laid aside. And so it goes in all dangers. When we strive for the remedies, we play into Satan’s hands, so that he argues with us all the more and you finally fall into despair, hang yourself, and fall down headlong. So it is always in great trials. Other thoughts keep occurring to a person, as happens in the case of the sick and the troubled. Let go of those thoughts. Consider an example from The Lives of the Fathers. One of them had many thoughts and complained to a brother about the evil thoughts. The brother said, “You have sometimes seen the birds in the air flying over your head. If you do not let them fly about overhead, they have not built nests on your head. So let those thoughts fly away and do not keep them in your head….

In short, I give you this advice (for I speak as one who knows): You must completely despise such thoughts and arguments of Satan…. We must become like one of the least of the children (Matthew 18:3). Do not let the devil come near you. For when his words are listened to here, the hearers soon despair and already ask for support. But by this request the speaker gave Satan an opening to vent his rage, so that he spoke all the more and by his extremely boastful words led the people to despair.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Isaiah, Luther’s Works Volume 16, pages 311-312

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The Weakness and Temptation of the Saints

I have often stated above and elsewhere that it pleases me greatly and is salutary for us to hear of the weaknesses of the saints, for these examples of weakness are more necessary for us and bring more consolation than the examples of that heroic and very great fortitude and other virtues. Thus the fact that David killed Goliath, a bear, a lion, etc., does not edify me much. For I cannot imitate such things, since they surpass my strength and all my thinking. Although they commend the saints in their strength and heroic fortitude, they do not concern us; for they are too sublime for us to be able to match or imitate them. But when examples of weakness, sins, trepidation, and trials are set forth in the saints—as when I read David’s complaints, sobs, fears, and feelings of despair—they buoy me up in a wonderful manner and give great consolation. For I see how they, fearful and terrified though they were, did not perish but buoyed themselves up with the promises they had received; and from this I conclude that there is no need for me to despair either. For in this struggle with hell, in fears and struggles of conscience, they feel and speak as if they had no promises at all. Nevertheless, they are finally preserved and sustained by the Word.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Luther’s Works Volume 5, page 254

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The Gifts and Anfechtung

To us it is also said in Baptism, in Absolution, in Communion: “I am the Lord your God, do not be troubled! I will care for you! Cast your care on Me! You have a God who has promised that He will care for you.” “And yet I see the contrary,” do you say? “You do, indeed, see the contrary, but it is a trial which is useful for this purpose, that you may learn and experience how kind the Lord is. For if this trial were not added, you would remain in the flesh, stupid and senseless, and would never understand what I mean when I say: ‘I am the Lord your God.’ So it is necessary for you to be instructed and by the actual experience of various trials to learn that I am the Lord your God.” Thus it is written in Deuteronomy 8:4: “He fed you with manna that you might know that it is not only by bread, etc.”

This is not done that you may perish, because Baptism is certain, and the promise and absolution are reliable. What for, then? This is done that you may learn what powerful life there is in the Word and that you may come to this conclusion for yourself: “However harshly I am disciplined and afflicted and come to nothing, it is nevertheless done with this end in view, that I might remember my Baptism and God’s promise; for I have God, who is taking care of me, and about this I am in no doubt at all, even though all things seem to be against me. They are only temptations and testings of my faith, to see whether I believe that God is my Protector.”

Luther’s Works Volume 6, page 364

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Christ Gave Himself for the Unrighteousness of Poor Sinners

Therefore this is perhaps the highest art and right wisdom of Christians: that one could truly hold and believe this and the like words of St. Paul, or elsewhere in Scripture, as a truly serious word and for certain, namely that Christ was delivered to death not for the sake of our righteousness and holiness, but badly for the sake of our sins that are true, gross, coarse, many, indeed, innumerable and insurmountable sins. Therefore no one should have dreamed, as the hypocrites do, as if our sins would be so slight and small that we are able to repay them with our own works. And in turn no one should also despair whether they are, as I said, so great and abominable: but here learn to understand from St. Paul and only well and firmly believe that Christ has given Himself not as imagined or painted, but for truth: not for slight and small, but for very great and gross: not for one or two, but for all: not for conquered and repaid, but for unconquered, strong, and powerful sins. For certainly no man, indeed even no angel can overcome a few sins, let alone even the slightest sins…. Therefore remember and diligently prepare yourself, in order that you may be proficient, not only when you are well pleased with your conscience outside of temptation, but also when you must struggle with sin and death precisely in the utmost need and danger, when your conscience is mindful of sins committed and is frightened, and Satan with true seriousness goes before your eyes and with all his power dares to attack you like a flood with the heavy load of your sins, to discourage you from Christ and to drive Him away and finally urge you to despair. At that moment remember that you are able to say with a brave heart and strong faith: Christ, God’s Son, gave Himself not for the righteousness of saints, nor for the innocence of angels, but for the unrighteousness of poor sinners. If I would be righteous and would have no sin, then I have no need of Christ the Mediator, Who reconciled me with God.

An excerpt from “Explanation of Galatians 1:4-5, ‘God gave Himself for our sins'”. Erlangen Edition 19:217-218; St. Louis Edition 9:781-782. Not so smooth translation by DMJ

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