March 13, 2008
We certainly need the instruction of Jude: "It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith [which was] once delivered unto the saints." There are so many winds of doctrine blowing people off course from the plain and simple teachings of God's word. Today because knowledge has increased many have become puffed up, "We know that we all have knowledge, knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know, but if any man love God, the same is known of Him." This danger to be puffed up faces all of us, and that includes myself. May God keep us: "But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite heart, and trembleth at my word."
I do not know if you have ever seen the book "Christian Truth and Religious Delusions" by Casper Nervig. He compares different churches by how they use God's word. They all feel that we must believe and follow the word of God. But some believe that God's word must be reasonable. Whereas, Luther felt that reason was a beast whose neck must be broken and eyes plucked out, because reason is an enemy of the word of God. Thus with baptism and the Lord's Supper they feel that how can they do anything being only outward material. Luther understood that what the word says that is what it means.
Because of the fall of man original sin prevents man from seeking God. The will of man is bound and unable to go to God. Therefore, God has to seek man. No man can make a decision to accept Christ or give Himself to Him. God seeks man through Means of Grace, which are the Word of God, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. Not even prayer is a means of grace. Man does not storm the gates of Heaven until God accepts him. The relationship between man and God is God's work from the beginning to the end. "For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us; that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in they heart, that thou mayest do it."
Luther writes of the Means of Grace: "So today the Word itself, baptism, and the Lord's Supper are our morning stars to which we turn our eyes as certain indications of the Sun of grace. For we can definitely assert that where the Lord's Supper, baptism and the Word are found, Christ and the remission of sins, and eternal life are found. On the other hand, where these signs of grace are not found, or where they are despised by men, not only grace is lacking but also foul errors will follow. Then men will set up other forms of worship and other signs for themselves" (W 42, 185). Or again, The Means of Grace are like Conduits: "We must hear the Word that comes to us from without and not despise it, as some think. For God will not come to you in your own private room and talk with you. It is decreed that the external Word must be preached and come first. Thereupon, after one has heard the Word and taken it to heart, the Holy Spirit comes, the proper schoolmaster, and gives power to the Word, so it strikes root...Therefore we must grant the Gospel this honor and concede to it this glory that it is a means and a way and, as it were, a pipe, through which the Holy Spirit flows and comes into our hearts. This is why Paul tells the Galatians that they have received the Holy Spirit not through the works of the law but through the preaching of faith. And writing to Romans, he draws the conclusion; 'Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God'" (W 17, II, 460). Luther continues: "Without these means, word and sacraments, we obtain none of these things, for since the beginning of the world God has dealt with all saints through His word and, in addition, has given them external signs of grace" (W 51, 287). "When Christ came in the flesh he set this work going, and it continues in Christiandom day for day till the world's end. For this task Christ left us designated instruments, holy Baptism, the blessed sacrament, the Word and absolution, and whatever belongs to the ministry of preaching." Luther's House Postil, vol I, p 330 (Three volume by Baker).
Laestadius upheld Luther's understanding especially in the book "Hulluin-Hounelainen" which is not yet translated into English. He had only one criticism of Luther: "When he came to justifying faith, he too soon forgot the travail that gave him birth."
The Word and Sacraments are not something that we bring to God, but that which God give to us. It is not our faith or any other substance that man possesses which makes a sacrament effectual. But the sacraments are a gift of God to fallen man.
Next, let us look at baptism as given to us in the scriptures. Christ Himself gave the command to baptize, and what baptism performs is given of God Himself as a gift. On the day of Pentecost Peter said: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, for the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." There is the gift of the remission of sins and Holy Spirit given in Baptism. And this gift is to us and our children. Paul writes in Galatians: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).
Luther's understanding of the Lord's Supper is also verified by Scripture. Christ took "bread and blessed it, and brake it, and gave to his disciples, and said, take eat, this is my body." "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:26-28). "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying: this is my body which is given for you, this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying: this cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you" (Luke 22:19-20). "The cup which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (I Cor. 10:16). The blood and body of Christ are shared in the cup and the bread; and the blood and body are shared with us when we partake of communion. "Take, eat this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. And after the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood, this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" (I Cor. 11:24-25).
The confusion in regard to the law is the result of commingling of the covenant of the law and the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are certainly found in the Covenant of the law, but they are the moral law of God which was written with His own finger not only on tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart of man. Jeremiah 31: 31-33 tells us that the old covenant will be taken away and a new covenant will be given. In both covenants the Ten Commandments will be found. In the covenant of the Law was the curse, but not in the Ten Commandmants: "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them" (Deut. 27:26). In the Covenant of the law the transgressor was stoned to death without mercy. There was no forgiveness. In the New Covenant (the covenant of grace) there is forgiveness to the broken and repentant heart. See Hebrews 8:8-13 and Hebrews 10:16-18. Herein the prophesy of Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled. "I will put my laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts," and "I will put my laws into their hearts and in their minds will I write them." In the new Covenant (the covenant of grace) the law is written in our hearts and minds, how then can it be that the law does not belong to the redeemed children of God? No longer is it written only on tables of stone, but now in the innermost heart of man.
I leave you and yours to the care of the Good Shepherd of our souls. Sigh for us as we press onward for Home. God's Peace!