"Over against all that reason suggests or would measure and fathom, yes, all that our senses feel and perceive, we must learn to cling to the Word and simply judge according to it."

- Martin Luther

Luther's Rose

I wish most importantly to state a case for Christ and His Cross for the unbeliever, but I also wish to make the case for both the unbeliever and the "blessedly inconsistent" towards the true apostolic and catholic teachings of the blessed and orthodox Lutheran Church.


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Reason's Indigestion ~ Day 2

Okay, in reference to the Heidelberg Disputation, if there's a wrong way to do theology, then what is the right way? Well, to answer that question one would have to refer back to the theologian of glory as being just but one path a theologian can take, the incorrect path mind you. Yet, before we can supply any answer about the right path some more things must first be explored a little more deeply, and there is no better example than in examining the life of the one whom God chose to bring about the Reformation: Dr. Martin Luther.

We must start with the educational climate of Luther's day. God's Word, as it is plainly written is in fact contrary in nature to human reason. One can easily find it filled with paradox and "bad" reasoning, at least by the Aristotelian/Thomistic Scholasticism of Luther's day (hang in there with me folks, my intent isn't to disparage the Bible, I promise!). Yet, of course, the sophists of Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity made every attempt to avoid the paradoxes of scripture, for in their thinking they presupposed that our minds and God's mind must be governed by the same laws. Therefore, our logic, as of necessity, must really be God's logic and was to a certain extent pure. Such is the nature of Aristotelian philosophy, one must always reason upwards-from the ground up-so to say. If our minds are governed by logic, then the cause of all minds, the Creator's mind, must govern affairs in the same manner, and, logically expects us to do the same as well. So, it stands to reason that their can be NO paradoxes or il-logic in the Bible whatsoever, at least by any scholastic standards.

Luther had a problem with this. He was educated in the scholastic tradition as well, and he was equally versed in Aristotle's Organon. When he applied the classical rules of logic to scripture he was perplexed, for some scriptures spoke to the fact that all men are saved by Christ's work on the cross, and yet other scriptures spoke to the fact that all men were dead in their trespasses in sin. Regarding the Bible and it's contrary nature, this was only the tip of the iceberg as far Luther was concerned. However, this very issue is what troubled the conscience of Luther the most, for the Bible, at least according to his reason, offered no assurance of salvation due to these inherent paradoxes. If he was to cling purely to his reason, then he knew he was lost. With his reason God's Word was and remained a closed book to him. At times, as he confessed, he hated God for the psychological terror regarding the salvation/damnation dilemma that God's paradoxical Word caused him. These episodes of despair were legendary. Unfortunately for him at that time, God's word, the very words of life, were nothing but words of despair.

Also, prior to Luther becoming a monk of the Augustinian Order he was trained in the university as a lawyer. He was well aware that if God was perfect, just, and omniscient, then no human action is hidden or immune from His righteous judgment. Therefore, we all stand naked before the eyes of our Lord. And so, Luther took Socrates maxim "know thyself" to a new degree by applying God's perfect Law to his inward motivations. What he found was that no matter how hard he tried to do a good work according to the Law, the work was always tainted by some selfish and evil motivation. Here's the reason, the Law is only truly performed when it is done with a pure heart moved by perfect love for God and neighbor. If the motivation to do the Law comes from a desire to please God, then the individual acting has already failed. For, if a heart is pure and sinless it does not worry whether God will be pleased or not, it will do what is natural to it, which is to love God and his neighbor perfectly. If there is a want of conformity to, or a desire for performing the Law for God's pleasure or appeasement, then, by necessity, it presupposes an impurity in ones heart, for if a heart were pure it would not desire such things, it would, by nature do them.

Here was another charge for Luther to bring against God, adding just that much more to his hatred of Him; why would a good God command him to do something that he was completely incapable of doing? Was it a joke? Was God sadistic? Fortunately, for us all and for Luther, he would eventually get his answer. Yet, before we get to that, we must address mens actions as Luther understood them after his realization of the biblical doctrine regarding total human depravity.

What he came to find, as far as the works of men were concerned, that when man acts to please or appease God he does not and cannot do it in the spirit of the Law. Mankind deep down knows this, yet, out of his guilty conscience he waters down God's Law to mere outward performances, and does not desire for his heart to be pure. All this he does so as to ease his conscience, which is merely the Law written on his heart accusing him. In so doing, he only artificially quenches his thirst for righteousness. However, God still requires perfect righteousness, and in the act of diminishing the Law he destroys his conscience, which depends on the clarity and absolute up-right nature of the Law, and ultimately makes shipwreck of his faith in doing so. In his depravity and defiance he turns to make an idol unto himself fashioned in the ways of the world. If he can obey this worldly wisdom and fool his brethren and subsequently himself into thinking he is righteous by his pious works, then so shall he be in the eyes of the world. From there he extrapolates that if the world thinks a work to be righteous, then God must think it is too, that he must use the same grading curve as us, so to say. However, what he fails to realize is that he has fully turned from God and acts as the heathen does, for there is no difference between the mentalities of both at this point.

Now, he may fashion the idol into intellectual abilities, worldly understandings of justice, physical stamina, etc., etc., yet ultimately it doesn't matter what it is, for in his mind he believes if he can maintain these man-oriented works then he is righteous in the eyes of his lord. However, his lord is not the Lord of lords; it is, in comparison, but a pale phantom of his own design.

And here was where Luther found himself, in a cloister of men performing man-made works of penance not prescribed by the Law in any fashion, realizing that he was but a pharisee, which were the very people Christ ridiculed and railed against in his own lifetime. He, yet once again, found himself on the wrong side of God.

However, God early on gave Luther a blessing in his father confessor Johann von Staupitz, who pointed Luther, during his periods of spiritual despair, towards the scriptures message of God not only being wrathful, but also of the message to know and trust God in his mercy. The Bible spoke both of these truths, but Luther's reason always gravitated to the God in his righteousness. God's mercy as found in Christ was foreign to him. His interpretation of God's Son in his holiness, at the time, was one of unapproachability. Luther could only see Christ as stated in the first half of Psalms 2:12 "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little.", but he didn't very easily see the second part, "Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him." (NKJV)

Nevertheless Luther was a diligent disciple as well as an ardent student of Scripture. He was particularly taken with the Epistles of Paul, for he longed to understand them as Augustine had. Then one day there came a great awakening in him regarding scripture, here is Luther describing it in his own words:

I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood around the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1 [verse 17], “in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed,” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue [Ten Commandments], without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.

Luther’s preface to the complete edition of his Latin writings, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), pp. 336-37.

In his searching, in his despair, in his hatred of God, Luther, unbeknownst to himself was being prepared and guided by God to actually receive the true Gospel for himself and to also deliver it unto the rest of the world. The new "face" of scripture he saw was one of complete and total mercy given us by God's grace through faith in Christ alone. What he initially understood of God was nothing but his righteous Law, yet, with this change of heart and mind he was able to comprehend the mercy given us in the beautiful work of Christ on His cross. Luther once knew God in his majesty, but now he knew Him as the Son of Man taking all the world's sufferings upon Himself for our sake. He found that the "righteousness of God", namely Christ's righteousness was ours, and our sin was His. Luther no longer had to fear God, for Christ on the Cross was the lightning rod attracting God's wrath against us, and Christ carrying the wrath with Him forever into the grave.

Luther's reason could only see God in his righteousness, but God frustrated and overcame his intellect to show him the key to interpreting scripture. He was to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, and with this key, God's Word was now for him an open book. This is the way for the theologian of the cross, this is the way unto salvation.

Are you in despair under the impossible demands of God's taskmaster, the Law? Does your reason deceive you about the unshakable promise of God's Word regarding the salvation given us in Christ? If it does then repent, for God longs to forgive us our iniquities, and let us then confess true this opening line of the introduction to the Heidelberg Disputation when it says:

"Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, "Do not rely on your own insight" [Prov. 3:5]..."

and let us walk in faith, trusting in nothing but our Lord and His Word.