Thursday, October 31, 2013

"I hate God!" declared Martin Luther

95 Theses, October 31, 1517
Happy Reformation Day! I'm so happy that by grace alone Luther did not continue in his hatred of God. I thought I'd post a few Luther-related excerpts from my forthcoming non-fiction book GRACE WORKS, And Ways We Think it Doesn't (P&R, April, 2014):

...Another expression of our sinfulness emerges in our resentment at the very fact of it. We're quick to accuse God of being too tough on us, of being too harsh. His standard is too hard. Why doesn't he just lighten up a bit? I’ve long thought that Jesus’ words, “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), read in isolation from the good news, constitute the scariest verse in the Bible. Martin Luther came to the place where he admitted that he hated God for his holy requirement of perfection from us. “This word is too high and too hard that anyone should fulfill it,” he wrote.
This is proved, not merely by our Lord's word, but by our own experience and feeling. Take any upright man or woman. He will get along very nicely with those who do not provoke him, but let someone proffer only the slightest irritation and he will flare up in anger, if not against friends, then against enemies. Flesh and blood cannot rise above it.[1]
But that doesn't mean we don't keep trying to win God's favor by our efforts. Luther told of his own desperate labors to appease God's wrath, "I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.”[2]
Only when we, like Luther, come to know how impossible it is for us to keep God's law, how futile it is for us to think we can win God over by our efforts, never mind how sincere or strenuous, will we be ready to hear the good news.
As true as it is that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Paul hastens to tell us in the next verse that hopelessly unworthy sinners "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23, 24)...

...The great champion of justification by faith alone, Martin Luther, understood just how essential getting the distinction between law and gospel is: “Whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call a doctor of Holy Scripture.”[1]
Why did Luther have such extravagant praise for preachers who don’t make a mingle-mangle of law and gospel? I think it’s because he understood the enormous damage done to the gospel by law-creep, when men allow the slightest degree of law-keeping conditionality to creep into the message of the gospel...

...Notice that the same words are being used, and it sounds pretty good. But rearranging the order, even slightly, destroys the freedom of the gospel. The operative word is “alone” and nudging the keystone of that word out of place brings down the entire structure. For Luther the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “the issue on which the church stands or falls.” R. C. Sproul warns that there is a “full-scale assault” launched within Protestant evangelicalism against the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Without this doctrine, “the gospel is not merely compromised, it is lost altogether.”[1]

...“It is just as impossible to separate faith and works,” wrote Martin Luther, “as it is to separate heat and light from fire!” He called all those who don’t believe and teach this “the greatest of fools!”[1] The instant we begin to separate them, we inevitably make works a requirement, a condition, of faith. Hence, Satan’s strategy is by all means to get us to separate faith and works--and to preen ourselves for the wisdom of our new discovery—but he never wants us to realize that we’ve become the greatest of fools...

...I doubt Luther would have thought a doctrine of temporary forgiveness was anything like entering the gates of paradise, as he referred to his conversion. Imagine Luther’s glee at the discovery: “At last, I get it. Whatever else justification is, it is forgiveness, but only temporary forgiveness. O the joy! My burden is lifted—sort of, at least for the moment.” Temporary forgiveness would be more like having your head smashed in the gates of paradise as they clanged shut.
Or imagine a hymn of praise to God about temporary forgiveness. The cry of the five bleeding wounds of the Savior in Charles Wesley's hymn would have to sound more like this: "Sort of forgive they cry, sort of forgive they cry; maybe not let that sort of ransomed sinner die." I can’t imagine a doctrine of temporary forgiveness warming anyone’s heart to praise.
Not only does it make for ridiculously bad hymn poetry, such a declaration is devastating to the central doctrine of justification by faith alone; if justification is about forgiveness of sins and the Bible teaches that you can be justified and have forgiveness of sins—and then lose or forfeit it, the entire structure of reformational theology crumbles.
It is precisely here where the confessional standards help Christians in every generation to continue to believe what the Bible teaches and... 

Families with kids will want to check out my second Mr Pipes volume, Mr Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation; I wrote a fun chapter on Luther where Annie and Drew and Mr Pipes get locked in Coburg Castle for the night, where Luther had been sequestered during deliberations on the Augsburg Confession of Faith.

[1] Martin Luther, An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, (Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), 125. Accessed on-line:

[1] R. C. Sproul, citing Martin Luther, Molehills out of Mountains (Stanford, Florida: Ligonier Ministries, May, 2010), 7.

[1] Martin Luther, Dr. Martin Luthers Sämmtliche Schriften, St. Louis ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), 9:802.

[1] Martin Luther, as cited in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 34.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

John Knox--not a Metro Male: JOHN KNOX at 500 (1514-2014)

Excerpt from THE MIGHTY WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX,  by Douglas Bond (Reformation Trust, 2011).

John Knox’s Mighty Weakness
 “John Knox felt toward [Scotland’s] idolaters,” wrote historian Roland Bainton, “as Elijah toward the priests of Baal.”[i] Recollect what Elijah was called to do to the priests of Baal, by the express command of God, drawing his sword and cutting down 450 of the deceitful clerics. Men called to be prophets—to do feats such as Elijah was called to do--are not generally touchy-feely, kinder-gentler, metro males. Far from it. In redemptive history, the Elijahs have been tortured voices crying in the wilderness, lone men called to take their stand against gnashing critics, men charged with the profoundly unpopular task of declaring God’s word to people who have taken their stand with the enemies of God’s word. Such men inevitably find themselves in the crosshairs of critics. For his Elijah-like zeal, Knox is—as was his spiritual, theological, and pastoral mentor, John Calvin—“as easy to slander as he is difficult to imitate.”[ii]

As with any mere man, besieged by controversy in turbulent times, called upon to do significant things, ones that affect the fortunes of many people,[iii] staunch critics have found plenty in John Knox to criticize. He had rough edges, some would call them tragic deficiencies, even fatal flaws. Like all great men, strip him of his God-given might, and the thundering power of his calling, and what remains is a mere mortal, a small man, “low in stature, and of a weakly constitution,”[iv] one who, when first called to preach, declined, and when pressed, “burst forth in most abundant tears” and fled the room.[v] But then such was Elijah, cowering in a hole, feeling sorry for himself, and begging God to deliver him from his enemies. Yet by the grace of God, who alone makes weak men strong, Elijah and Knox lived lives that were characterized far more by power and influence than by weakness and obscurity.

What transforms a man from a hand-wringing nobody into a theological thunderbolt, a bull-horn of bravery, a commando of conviction, into the unflinching left tackle of the Reformation? Is it mere hyperbole to say that “Knox was a Hebrew Jeremiah set down on Scottish soil”?[vi] With the zeal of a Jeremiah, Knox thundered against the “motley crowd of superstitions” that infested religious life in sixteenth-century Scotland, and he considered his country’s devotion to such error as far worse “than the idols over whose futility Hebrew prophets made merry.”[vii] When God’s messengers mounted the rooftops decrying people’s transgressions against Yahweh—Hebrew ones or Scottish ones--the multitudes responded, not surprisingly, with rancor and violence.

So it has been with John Knox. In his lifetime he was denounced by regents, queens, and councils, and his effigy was hoisted high and burned at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.[viii] Ridiculed as “Knox the knave,” and “a runagate Scot,” he was outlawed and forbidden to preach by the Archbishop of St. Andrews, with orders issued to shoot him on sight if he failed to comply. Knox did not comply. Years later a would-be assassin fired a shot through a window of Knox’s house at Trunk Close in Edinburgh, narrowly missing his mark.[ix] And still Knox preached.

And what of his legacy since his death in 1572? The English Parliament, 140 years after Knox’s death, condemned his books to public burning. In 1739 George Whitefield was ridiculed for preaching “doctrine borrowed from the Kirk of Knox.” Perhaps more than any other, he has been portrayed as “the enfant terrible of Calvinism,”[x] and has been characterized in books and film, and at his own house, now a museum, as a “blustering fanatic.”[xi] Moderns dismiss him as a misogynist for his untimely treatise against female monarchs, and for his unflinching stand before charming Mary Queen of Scots, denouncing her sins, and calling her to repent. In 1972, the 400th anniversary of his death, it was decided that such a man as Knox was an inappropriate subject to commemorate on a Scottish postage stamp. As a crowning blow, the Edinburgh Town Council ordered the removal of the stone marking his grave, relegating his earthly resting place to obscurity under a variously numbered parking stall.[xii] In my most recent visit to Edinburgh the “JK” once legible on a small square marker was completely obliterated.

As faithless Israel resented Jeremiah’s prophesy of doom and destruction for her whoredom against the Lord, so, for the most part, has Scotland come to resent the life and ministry of John Knox. Knox himself, however, would have been little troubled by such neglect, even hostility. It seems to be an essential quality in truly great men of God that they care far more for the glory of Jesus Christ than for themselves, which is reason enough to examine closely the life of such a man as John Knox...

CONSIDER JOINING AUTHOR Douglas Bond and his wife Cheryl on the Knox @ 500 Scotland Tour in 2014. Space is limited.

[i] Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952), 181.
[ii] Theodore Beza, Life of John Calvin (London: L. B. Seeley and Sons, 1834), 76.

[iii] Patrick Fraser Tytler, The History of Scotland from the Accession of Alexander III. To the Union (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1869), 2:355.
[iv] Howie, The Scots Worthies, 63.

[v] John Dickinson Knox and William Croft Dickinson, John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950), 1:83.
[vi] Mark Galli, The Hard-to-Like Knox, Christian History, (Issue 46, Vol. XIV, no 2, 1995), 6.
[vii] Alexander Smellie, The Reformation in its Literature (London: Andrew Melrose, 1925), 245.
[viii] Howie, The Scots Worthies, 52.
[ix] Ibid, 56-57.

[x] Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root (Eds), The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1989), 365.

[xi] Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 180.

[xii] Iain Murray, John Knox: The Annual Lecture of the Evangelical Library for 1972 (London: Evangelical Library. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 3.