Thursday, May 3, 2012

Luther on the Doctrine of Justification

For the last few months I have been preaching through the book of Acts. When I finished with Acts 15 I decided to make a detour to Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.  

In my research I came across the following quote from Martin Luther that pretty much gives us the context for the centrality of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone in redemptive history. It also underscores the perpetual enmity promised in Genesis 3:15 between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.

This quote is taken from the Preface to Luther's Commentary on Galatians, translated by Philip Watson, published by James Clarke and Co. reprinted 1978.

"I myself can hardly believe I was as verbose when I lectured on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, as this volume indicates…for the one doctrine which I have supremely in heart, is that of faith in Christ, from whom, through whom and unto whom all my theological thinking flows back and forth day and night…I am ashamed that my poor, uninspired comments on so great an Apostle and chosen instrument of God should be published. Yet I am compelled to forget my shame and be quite shameless in view of the horrible profanation and abomination which have always raged in the Church of God, and still rage today, against this one solid rock which we call the doctrine of justification. I mean the doctrine that we are redeemed from sin, death and the devil, and made partakers of eternal life, not by ourselves (and certainly not by our works, which are less than ourselves), but by the help of another, the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ.

"This rock was shaken by Satan in Paradise, when he persuaded our first parents that they might by their own wisdom and power become like God, abandoning faith in God, who had given them life and promised its continuance. Shortly afterwards, that liar and murderer (always true to himself) incited a bother to murder his brother, for no other reason than that the latter, a godly man, had offered by faith a more excellent sacrifice, while he himself, being ungodly, had offered his own works without faith and had not pleased God. After this there followed a ceaseless and intolerable persecution of this same faith by Satan though the sons of Cain, until God was compelled to purge the world and defend Noah, the preacher of righteousness, by means of the Flood. Nevertheless, Satan continued his work in Ham, the third son of Noah, and in others too many to mention. Thereafter the whole world acted like a madman against this faith, inventing innumerable idols and religions with which everyone (as St. Paul says Acts 14:15) went his own way, hoping to placate a god or goddess, gods or goddesses, by his own works; that is, hoping without the aid of Christ and by his own works to redeem himself from evils and sins. All this is sufficiently evidenced by the doings and writings of all nations. 

"But these are nothing in comparison with that people of God, Israel, or the Synagogue, who were blessed beyond all others, not only with the sure promise given to the Fathers and with the Law given by God through angels, but also with the constant testimony of the words, miracles and examples of the prophets. Yet even among them, Satan (i.e. the fury of self-righteousness) had such success that after killing all the prophets they killed the very Son of God himself, their promised Messiah; and all for the same reason, namely, that they taught that we men are received into the favor of God by the grace of God, not by our own righteousness…

"In the Church of the Gentiles, however, things have been and are even worse, so that the madness of the synagogue may well see mere child's play in comparison. For the Jews, as St. Paul says, did not know their Messiah (I Cor. 2:8); otherwise they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But the Church of the Gentiles has accepted Christ and confesses him to be the Son of God, who has been made our righteousness; and this it publicly sings, reads and teaches. Yet despite this confession, those who claim to be the Church kill, persecute and rage against those who believe and teach by word and deed nothing else but that Christ is precisely what they themselves are compelled (though insincerely) to confess him to be…They have a far lower opinion of him than the Jews, who at least take him for a thola, a thief who deserved his crucifixion, whereas our people regard him as a fable, like some invented god of the heathen, as can be seen at Rome in the Papal Curia and almost everywhere in Italy.

"Since, therefore, Christ is made a mockery among his Christians (for so they wish to be called), and Cain kills Able continually and the abomination of Satan now reigns supreme, it is necessary to pay the very closest heed to this doctrine, and to oppose Satan with it, whether we are eloquent or not, learned or not. For if all men kept silence, this rock ought to be proclaimed by the very rocks and stones themselves (Luke 19:40). Hence I am willing to do my duty and let this extremely verbose Commentary be published in order to stir up my brethren in Christ against the wiles and malice of Satan, who in these last days has become so infuriated at the recovery of the sound knowledge of Christ, that whereas it has hitherto seemed as if men were possessed by demons and raving mad, it now seems as if the demons themselves are possessed by worse demons and raving with a more than demonic madness – which strongly suggests that the Enemy of truth and life feels the Day of Judgment to be imminent; a dreadful day of destruction for him, but a lovely day of redemption and the end of his tyranny for us. For he has reason to be alarmed, when all his members and his powers are so assailed, just as a thief or adulterer is alarmed when the dawn breaks upon him and he is caught in his act."

This kind of puts Federal Vision theology in perspective, doesn't it?

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