Litany of the Ascension

P: O Lord,
C: have mercy on us.

P: O Christ,
C: have mercy on us.

P: O Lord,
C: have mercy on us.

P: O Christ, hear us.
C: O Christ, graciously hear us.

P: O Holy Trinity, Three Persons, and One God,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, King of Glory, who ascended up into heaven, in the sight of Your disciples,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, who is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father:
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, to whom all power is given in Heaven and on Earth, whose Kingdom shall have no end,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, who is adored by all the angels of God,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, who has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, who is able to save to the uttermost those that come to God by You,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, who promises that whatsoever we ask in Your Name, You will do it,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, whose very Body and Blood is, according to Your Word, graciously present in the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of our sins,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us and who will come again in glory to judge the world,
C: have mercy on us.

P: Jesus, who will receive Your own to Yourself, that they may be with You where You are,
C: have mercy on us.

P: By Your glorious resurrection and ascension,
C: good Lord, deliver us.

P: By Your all powerful intercession,
C: good Lord, deliver us.

P: By Your triumphant majesty and power,
C: good Lord, deliver us.

P: That we who are risen with You may set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth,
C: hear us, good Lord.

P: That we may be holy and without blame before You in love,
C: hear us, good Lord.

P: That keeping Your commandments, we may abide in Your love,
C: hear us, good Lord.

P: That through the power of the Comforter You would abide with us,
C: hear us, good Lord.

P: That in You we may have peace,
C: hear us, good Lord.

P: That You would pour down Your Holy Spirit on Your Church,
C: hear us, good Lord.

P: O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: have mercy on us.

P: O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: have mercy on us.

P: O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: grant us Your peace.

P: God has gone up with a shout! Alleluia!
C: And the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Alleluia!

All: Our Father, who art in heaven,…

P: Let us pray: Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
C: Amen.

Psalm 66 w/intro, text & meditation

Introduction: The 66th psalm is a psalm of thanks for the general blessing that God often delivers and protects His people out of the hand of the enemies, as He did at the Red Sea. The histories in the books of the Judges and Kings are full of these deliverances, which He also does daily for us, delivering and keeping His own in the true faith against the devil, spirits, and sins.

PSALM 66:8-20

8 Bless our God you nations. Make the sound of His praise heard.
9 He has placed us amongst the living and has not allowed our foot to slip.
10 You have tested us, O God. You have refined us in the same way silver is refined.
11 You have trapped us in the net. You have laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads. We went into the fire and into the water, and You brought us out into a place of abundance.
13 I will come into Your house with burnt offerings. I will keep my vows to you,
14 the vows made by my lips and spoken by my own mouth when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer you a sacrifice of choice sheep for burnt offerings with a smoke offering of rams. I will make an offering with a bull and with rams.

16 Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell you what He has done to my soul.
17 With my mouth I called out to him. His praise was under my tongue.
18 If I had seen any evil in my heart my LORD would not have listened to me.
19 But He truly hears me. He listens to the voice of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer or taken away His kindness from me.

Meditation: While many may recognize that there is a higher power, they forget or ignore that God’s awesome work is being performed in the air that they breath, in the food that nourishes their body, in the works of nature, etc. It is only when they recognize through faith, God’s work in the plan of redemption, that they truly recognize all the other awesome works of God. Through the Cross, where the most awesome work of God took place, the mercy and grace of the LORD paid for our sins. There God provided eternal life for us. This is truly the most awesome work of God!

For Christians in Time of Spiritual Distress

from Martin Luther’s ‘Table Talk,’ November 30, 1531

“When I was in spiritual distress a gentle word would restore my spirit. Sometimes my confessor said to me when I repeatedly discussed silly sins with him, ‘You are a fool. God is not incensed against you, but you are incensed against God. God is not angry, with you, but you are angry with God.’ This was magnificently said, although it was before the light of the gospel.

“Right here at this table, when the rest of you were in Jena, Pomeranus sometimes consoled me when I was sad by saying, ‘No doubt God is thinking: What more can I do with this man? I have given him so many excellent gifts, and yet he despairs of my grace!’ These words were a great comfort to me. As a voice from heaven they struck me in my heart, although I think Pomeranus did not realize at the time what he had said and that it was so well said.

“Those who are troubled with melancholy,” he [Martin Luther] said, “ought to be very careful not to be alone, for God created the fellowship of the church and commanded brotherliness, as the Scriptures testify, ‘Woe to him who is alone when he falls.’ etc. [Eccles. 4:10]. To be gloomy before God is not pleasing to him, although he would permit us to be depressed before the world. He does not wish me to have a long face in his presence, as he says, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked’ [Ezek. 33:11] and ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ [Phil. 4:4]. He desires not a servant who does not expect good things of him.

“Although I know this, I am of a different mind ten times in the course of a day. But I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away. When he tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?’ When I say to him, ‘You have been put to shame,’ he believes it, for he does not want to be despised. Afterward, if I engage him in further conversation, I upbraid him with the pope and say, ‘If you do the same as he does, who is your pope that I should celebrate him? Look what an abomination he has prepared, and it continues to this day!’ Thus I remind myself of the forgiveness of sin and of Christ and I remind Satan of the abomination of the pope. This abomination is so great that I am of good cheer and rejoice, and I confess that the abomination of the papacy after the time of Christ is a great consolation to me. Consequently those who say that one should not rebuke the pope are dreadful scolds. Go right ahead and inveigh against the pope, especially if the devil disturbs you about justification. He often troubles me with trivialities. I don’t notice this when I’m depressed, but when I feel better I recognize it easily.

“Well, then, our furious foe has done us much harm. I know that I shall see him and his flaming missiles in the last day. As long as we have pure teaching he will not harm us, but if the teaching is wrong we are done for. But praise be to God, who gave us the Word and also allowed his only Son to die for us! He did not do this in vain. Accordingly we should entertain the hope that we are saints, that we are saved, and that this will be manifest when it is revealed. Since Christ accepted the thief on the cross just as he was and received Paul after all his blasphemies and persecutions, we have no reason to despair. As a matter of fact, all of us must be saved just as the thief and Paul were. Good God, what do you think it means that he has given his only Son? It means that he also offers whatever else he possesses. We have no reason, therefore, to fear his wrath, although we must continue to fear on account of the old Adam, who is still unable to understand this as it ought to be understood. If we had only the first three words of the Creed, ‘I believe in God the Father,’ they would still be far beyond our understanding and reason. In short, it does not occur to man that God is Father. If it did, man could not live for a single moment. Accordingly in this infirm flesh we must have faith, for if we were capable of fully believing, heaven would already be here. There is therefore no reason to fear, in so far as the object of fear is concerned, and yet we cannot understand and are compelled on account of the weakness of our flesh to suffer assaults of fear and desperation. Thus the catechism remains lord,40 and there is nobody who understands it. I am accordingly compelled to pray it every day, even aloud, and whenever I happen to be prevented by the press of duties from observing my hour of prayer, the entire day is bad for me. Prayer helps us very much and gives us a cheerful heart, not on account of any merit in the work, but because we have spoken with God and found everything to be in order.

“Having been taught by experience I can say how you ought to restore your spirit when you suffer from spiritual depression. When you are assailed by gloom, despair, or a troubled conscience you should eat, drink, and talk with others. If you can find help for yourself by thinking of a girl, do so.

“There was a bishop who had a sister in a convent. She was disturbed by various dreams about her brother. She betook herself to her brother and complained to him that she was again and again agitated by bad dreams. He at once prepared a sumptuous dinner and urged his sister to eat and drink. The following day he asked her whether she had been annoyed by dreams during the night. ‘No,’ she responded. ‘I slept well and had no dreams at all.’ ‘Go, then,’ he said. ‘Take care of your body in defiance of Satan, and the bad dreams will stop.’

“But this you ought to know, that other remedies are suitable for other persons. Copious drinking benefits me when I am in this condition. But I would not advise a young person to drink more because this might stimulate his sexual desire. In short, abstinence is beneficial for some and a drinking bout for others. Augustine says wisely in his rule, ‘Not equally for all because you are not all equally strong.’ So he speaks about the body and so we can speak about illnesses of the spirit.”

The Bondage of the Will ~ An Unguarded Essay, pt.9

Erasmus’ theological word games only avoid the crisis brought on by the Cross of Christ. In Erasmus’ case he sets up the Cross as an ideal and a goal, an illustration of God’s love. Attempting to peer into the hidden will of God in this way Erasmus’ argument for free will only get worse. Metaphysical tinkering of this kind and word games only make matters worse. Why? First, “no rhetoric can cheat an honest conscience,”85 and second, “the gouty foot laughs at such doctoring.”86

Erasmus’ attempt to argue for the free will only makes matters worse. The hidden God will not be known in any other way than in the crucified Christ. God does not wait for an invitation to do something for sinners, he acts to do something for us as well as to us. In order to set sinners free, free to love God above all things, God does Christ to us. In this way he translates sinners into a new creation – Christ’s eschatological kingdom. Christians are in this world but standing, on account of the faith that has been created by the Holy Spirit, in the midst of two kingdoms at war.

“In the one, Satan reigns,” and, “holds captive at his will all that are not wrested from him by the Spirit of Christ; nor does he allow them to be plucked away by any power but the Spirit of God, as Christ tells in the parable of the strong man armed keeping his palace in peace.” In the other camp, Christ reigns. “His kingdom continually resists and wars against that of Satan; and we are translated in to his kingdom, not by our own power, but by the grace of God, which delivers us from this present evil world and tears us away from the power of darkness.”87 The knowledge and confession of this reality, writes Luther, is repeated and confessed plainly enough by “the common man,” by “his proverbs, prayers, efforts and entire life.”88

God’s freedom is finally the problem for Erasmus. God’s election of sinners on account of Christ’s work is the problem and the impediment to free will. That God has taken the problem of bondage, freedom and salvation on apart from human choice, means Erasmus does not see a loving merciful God. Erasmus sought to find meaning behind the words of Scripture in order to make an ultimate claim. Luther, on the other hand, finds the Gospel to be meaningless. In Christ all the promises of God are fulfilled. The Word of God heals, forgives, saves, and finally frees sinners to forego the necessity of finding significance in the Gospel. Instead, God preaches a concrete word, in the present tense, that Christ is God’s mercy pro nobis. God is really God when he translates sinners through his Word, revealing just exactly who God will be for us.

Luther writes,
“if then, we are taught and believe that we ought to be ignorant of the necessitating foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God and the whole gospel fall to the ground completely; for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered, or impeded.”89

This is the “hinge on which everything turns,” for Luther. The knowledge and confession of two kingdoms at war with each other cannot be reasoned out and legitimated by appeals to the free will and moral responsibility.

Luther concludes:
“I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers and adversities, and assault of devils, I cold not stand my ground and hold fast my ‘free-will’ (for one devil is stronger than all men, and on these terms no man could be saved); but because even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air. If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleased God, or whether he required something more… But now that God has taken salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to his own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him…Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better.”90

This is why by the early twentieth century Hans Iwand was nearly alone amongst Lutheran scholars in his belief that The Bondage of the Will is the hub of Luther’s theology. Iwand discovered in Luther’s first premise a deadly critique of a Lutheran tradition which had allowed itself to be seduced by nineteenth century Protestant virtue ethics. In presenting Luther’s thesis in the Bondage of the Will as the center of his theology, Iwand was working against the most sacred apparatus’ of the Roman Catholic hierarchy of works and the Protestant understanding of faith. Iwand argued that Luther’s position in “the servum arbitrium is directed against human reason and, when necessary, against the tradition of the church. Luther, by no means, is indifferent toward Christian tradition and the church. His concern, however, is the ‘continuity’ of the word of God, not the continuity of a church without the word of God.”91

For, as Luther writes,
“We cannot have it both ways; the grace of God cannot be made so cheap as to be obtainable anywhere and everywhere by any man’s puny endeavor, and at the same time so dear as to be given us only in and through the grace of one man and so great a man. I wish the defenders of free choice would take warning at this point and realize that when they assert free choice they are denying Christ.”92

Luther does not like Augustine and his modern counter-parts divide between pious Christians and those sinners who are in bondage and forced to commit evil acts. Unlike Augustine who wants to divide humanity into the elect and non-elect, Luther abandons such a division. He expresses instead the reality that elect and non-elect alike are in bondage to sin. Even those who are justified for Christ’s sake are in bondage and have no free will, for the Old Adam is still active under and against the Spirit of the new Christ. When speaking of the good which is produced by sinners the good one does is a work of God since God is at work in the Old Adam to produce a good work. This central thesis, central to his argument in The Bondage of the Will as well as all his works has been all but ignored by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike.

As Klaus Schwarzwaeller pointed out in his book Sibboleth, beginning with Theodosius Harnack most theologians have either attempted to apologize for the exclusivity of Luther’s assertions at this point or simply missed his understanding of the bound will altogether. Inge Aach provides further clarification of this point, commenting on Harnack’s Luthers Theologie:

“Even such a congenial interpreter of Luther as Theodosius Harnack, who partly recovered Luther’s ‘theologia crucis’, dissociates himself from Luther’s teaching of the ‘servum arbitrium.’ He also calls it a ‘unicum,’ an isolated discourse among his writings, the ‘fare-well letter to Erasmus and Catholicism.’ Whoever ‘judges Luther’s theology by this discourse will be mistaken,’ he writes. He will be ‘trapped in the impediments’ inherent in this letter. These sentences refer to the dogmatic metaphysical construction of the discourse which he calls ‘dangerous.’ He goes so far as to claim that Luther had renounced the concept of predestination in later years. Harnack missed Luther’s theological anthropology developed in the discourse and the fact that faith in the word of the cross is the way to salvation in that God alone is able to break the cycle of sin and death.”93

Let’s Pray the Litany Daily: Kyrie Eleison!

I’ve long enjoyed praying the Litany. Luther did too. The prayer has an amazing longevity in the church, having found its form by the 6th century (Gregory the Great regularized it). Luther removed a few un-evangelical aspects, but retained the prayer nearly in toto, even rendering it into German and proving an original chant tone.

…Left to ourselves, bereft of texts as the foundation of our prayers, we are often left praying “Dear God, give me a mini-bike,” as I was wont to pray as a 12 year old – and am prone to pray even today!!!!!! Texts of the scriptures (Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments) and scriptural texts (Creed, Litany!) lay down God’s thoughts as the foundation of prayer, the tarmac if you will, from which our meditations may gently or quickly rise, aided by the Holy Spirit. The fulsome petitions of the Litany take us out of ourselves, to pray for the church, pastors and teachers, our enemies, women with children, the poor, the imprisoned and much much more. And all for mercy, growing out of the great petitions of the blind, the lame and the ill who comes to Jesus in the New Testament, “Lord have mercy!” “Kyrie eleison!” The Lord loves to have mercy. The Lord came to have mercy. The Lord continues to have mercy. You’ll find the litany in any standard Lutheran hymnal worth it’s salt. Pray it daily with me for Lent won’t you?

Pastor Matthew Harrison

Luther had a deep appreciation for the Litany. Of course, he rejected the invocation of the saints that had become a part of it, and he wanted to have the Litany sung in the church rather than at processions, but as early as 1519 he expressed his approval of it. During the reforms in Wittenberg under Karlstadt, 1521/22, it seems to have fallen into disuse. But the national emergency created when the Turks threatened the faith and freedom of all Christian lands prompted Luther to revive it. In his On War Against the Turks, begun in October, 1528, he insisted on the importance of believing prayer. “This might help if at Matins, Vespers, or after the sermon, we had the Litany sung or read in the church, especially by the young folk.” And shortly after, on February 13, 1529, he could report to Nicholas Hausmann, “We sing the Litany in church in Latin and in the vernacular; perhaps the music or melody of both versions will be published.” The same year saw the fulfilment of this promise. One month later he sent the first print of the German Litany with music to Hausmann. The accompanying letter referred to the fact that the Latin Litany Corrected had not yet been published, but this too followed before the end of the summer.

Luther’s Litanies with their appended collects are closely modeled after the Roman Litany of All Saints. Nevertheless, there are significant differences between them:

1. Luther omitted the invocations of the saints and the intercession for the pope and the departed.

2. Luther made the intercessions more specific than in the Roman form, as, e.g., in the petitions for faithful pastors, for the erring, for faithful laborers, etc.

3. Luther simplified the music, especially for the responses.

LW 53.154

Here is the Litany:


L: O Lord,
C: have mercy.
L: O Christ,
C: have mercy.
L: O Lord,
C: have mercy.
L: O Christ,
C: hear us.
L: God the Father in heaven.
C: have mercy.
L: God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
C: have mercy.
L: God the Holy Spirit,
C: have mercy.
L: Be gracious to us.
C: Spare us, good Lord.
L: Be gracious to us.
C: Help us, good Lord.
L: From all sin, from all error, from all evil;
From the crafts and assaults of the devil; from sudden and evil death;
From pestilence and famine; from war and bloodshed; from sedition and from rebellion;
From lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water, and from everlasting death:
C: Good Lord, deliver us.
L: By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity;
By your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial;
By Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
C: Help us, good Lord.
L: In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment:
C: Help us, good Lord.
L: We poor sinners implore You
C: to hear us, O Lord.
L: To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living;
To put an end to all schisms and causes of offense; to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived;
To beat down Satan under our feet; to send faithful laborers into Your harvest; and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit:
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.
L: To raise those who fall and to strengthen those who stand; and to comfort and help the weakhearted and the distressed:
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.
L: To give to all peoples concord and peace; to preserve our land from discord and strife; to give our country Your protection in every time of need;
To direct and defend our president and all in authority; to bless and protect our magistrates and all our people;
To watch over and help all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation; to protect and guide all who travel;
To grant all women with child, and all mothers with infant children, increasing happiness in their blessings; to defend all orphans and widows and provide for them;
To strengthen and keep all sick persons and young children; to free those in bondage; and to have mercy on us all;
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.
L: To forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers and to turn their hearts; to give and preserve for our use the kindly fruits of the earth; and graciously to hear our prayers:
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.
L: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
C: we implore You to hear us.
L: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: have mercy.
L: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: have mercy.
L: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: grant us Your peace.
L: O Christ,
C: hear us.
L: O Lord,
C: have mercy.
L: O Christ,
C: have mercy.
L: O Lord
C: have mercy. Amen.

John 14:1-14 w/translation & brief outline

John 14: 1-14) Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places; but if not, I would have told you, because I AM going away to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and bring you to Myself, so that where I AM, you may be also. And you know the way where I AM going.”

Thomas said to Him, “LORD, we don’t know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I AM the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you know Him and have seen Him.”

Philip said to Him, “LORD, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “I AM with you so long [a time] and you have not known Me, Philip? The one who has seen Me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I AM in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I don’t speak from Myself, but the Father [who] remains in Me does His works.

Believe Me that I AM in the Father and the Father is in Me; but if not, believe because of the works themselves. I tell you, it is most certainly true that the one who believes in Me, the works that I AM doing He will also do, and He will do greater works than these because I AM going to the Father. And whatever you ask in My name, I will do this, in order that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My Name, I will do it.

(trans. mine)


1) Jesus, “I AM the Way, the Truth & the Life.” In the OT, in Second Temple literature, “the way of truth” is life lived in conformity to the law. In proverbs “way” & “life” go hand in hand. In the Dead Sea Scrolls the way of truth is contrasted w/the way of darkness & deceit. Now that Jesus has come, having perfectly fulfilled the law, He alone is the Way.

2) Here is another “I AM.” Because “way” is a figurative term, Jesus then adds two concrete terms, “truth” and “life,” in order to define “way.” And more, “I AM the way,” by the use of ‘di’ emou’ (in Greek) means “through me,” showing that the “way” is to be understood as means.

3) Jesus is the means for reaching the Father. This “way” leads to the heavenly Father, into His heavenly presence, to the very place Jesus goes now. Thus, the “mission” of Jesus is to bring the disciples to the Father. Thus, here, Jesus summarizes very simply all his teaching and all his work.

4) Likewise, Jesus does not say, “I show you the way” like he’s a second Moses; but “I AM the way.” And, He does not say “I have the truth,” like he’s another Elijah; but, “I AM the truth.” Not only, “I lead to life,” but “I AM the life.” The emphasis throughout is on the “I AM,” that Jesus is the “I AM,” the Word of God who’s become flesh, the Son of the same essence as the Father and born of the Virgin, sent by the Father, coming as the One Mediator between God and humanity, in all that He is and all that He does. The moment we discount the “I AM” and make it less, we also empty the three predicates of their content, and from that make Jesus not the bridge, but a wreck which plunges us down into the chaos and darkness of doubt, confusion and our own seeking after the “way” to God! BUT… The three predicates have the article: THE way, THE truth, and THE life. This means that the subject and the predicates are both identical and interchangeable – the most illuminating and valuable point.

5) Finally only in one fashion can this one person be the way for us to the Father: by faith in him alone, by entrusting ourselves completely to him, by forsaking all other ways (means) for reaching God and heaven. Concordia Triglotta, 55, 10; 1085, 66.

Psalm 146 w/intro, text and meditation

Introduction: The 146th psalm is a psalm of thanks. It teaches at the same time that one should trust in God and not in rulers, as the abominable world, flesh, and blood do. For God is the only one who can truly help in all kind of need, and He helps so that it can really be called being helped. Human help is so uncertain and does not last. For we ourselves do not know the length of our life.


  1 Hallelujah! Praise the LORD, my soul!

  2 I will praise the LORD my whole life. I will sing praises to my God as long as life is still in me.

  3 Do not trust in rulers, in the son of a man who cannot rescue you.

  4 When he breathes his last breath, he returns to the ground. On that day his plans are destroyed.

  5 Joyful is he whose help is from the God of Jacob. Whose hope rests in the LORD his God,

  6 Who makes heaven and earth, and the sea, and everything that is in them. The LORD remains faithful forever.

  7 He brings about justice for those who are oppressed. He gives food to those who are hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free.

  8 The LORD gives sight to the blind. The LORD straightens up those who are bent over with worry.

The LORD loves righteous people.

  9 The LORD watches over foreigners; The LORD helps up the orphan and the widow. But the way of the unrighteous He makes twisted.

10 The LORD rules [as king] forever. Zion, your God rules throughout every generation. Hallelujah!

Meditation: True joy, which the Psalmist speaks of, is a joy received when hope is in the LORD. For that is a joy that goes beyond the grave eternally. It is a hope that saves us when faced with what the world considers happiness. It is a hope that transcends the tribulations, problems, and stresses of this world. That hope is in the God of Jacob, who made the promise to Jacob of a Savior who would provide forgiveness, life and salvation for all mankind. It is a hope of which the Apostle Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” 1 Peter 1:3-6.

Words in Which A Christian May Find Comfort, for my Sister in Christ

We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc. (Smalclad Articles, Part III, Article IV. Of the Gospel.)

1] Since Absolution or the Power of the Keys is also an aid and consolation against sin and a bad conscience, ordained by Christ [Himself] in the Gospel, Confession or Absolution ought by no means to be abolished in the Church, especially on account of [tender and] timid consciences and on account of the untrained [and capricious] young people, in order that they may be examined, and instructed in the Christian doctrine.

2] But the enumeration of sins ought to be free to every one, as to what he wishes to enumerate or not to enumerate. For as long as we are in the flesh, we shall not lie when we say: “I am a poor man [I acknowledge that I am a miserable sinner], full of sin.” Rom. 7:23: I see another law in my members, etc. For since private absolution originates in the Office of the Keys, it should not be despised [neglected], but greatly and highly esteemed [of the greatest worth], as [also] all other offices of the Christian Church.

3] And in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding outward Word, in order that we may [thus] be protected against the enthusiasts, i.e., spirits who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word, and accordingly judge Scripture or the spoken Word, and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Muenzer did, and many still do at the present day, who wish to be acute judges between the Spirit and the letter, and yet know not what they say or declare. 4] For [indeed] the Papacy also is nothing but sheer enthusiasm, by which the Pope boasts that all rights exist in the shrine of his heart, and whatever he decides and commands with [in] his church is spirit and right, even though it is above and contrary to Scripture and the spoken Word.

5] All this is the old devil and old serpent, who also converted Adam and Eve into enthusiasts, and led them from the outward Word of God to spiritualizing and self-conceit, and nevertheless he accomplished this through other outward words. 6] Just as also our enthusiasts [at the present day] condemn the outward Word, and nevertheless they themselves are not silent, but they fill the world with their pratings and writings, as though, indeed, the Spirit could not come through the writings and spoken word of the apostles, but [first] through their writings and words he must come. Why [then] do not they also omit their own sermons and writings, until the Spirit Himself come to men, without their writings and before them, as they boast that He has come into them without the preaching of the Scriptures? But of these matters there is not time now to dispute at greater length; we have elsewhere sufficiently urged this subject.

7] For even those who believe before Baptism, or become believing in Baptism, believe through the preceding outward Word, as the adults, who have come to reason, must first have heard: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, even though they are at first unbelieving, and receive the Spirit and Baptism ten years afterwards. 8] Cornelius, Acts 10:1ff , had heard long before among the Jews of the coming Messiah, through whom he was righteous before God, and in such faith his prayers and alms were acceptable to God (as Luke calls him devout and God-fearing), and without such preceding Word and hearing could not have believed or been righteous. But St. Peter had to reveal to him that the Messiah (in whom, as one that was to come, he had hitherto believed) now had come, lest his faith concerning the coming Messiah hold him captive among the hardened and unbelieving Jews, but know that he was now to be saved by the present Messiah, and must not, with the [rabble of the] Jews deny nor persecute Him.

9] In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. 10] Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. 11] It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments. For God wished to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word; and no prophet neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments [or spoken Word]. 12] Neither was John the Baptist conceived without the preceding word of Gabriel, nor did he leap in his mother’s womb without the voice of Mary. 13] And Peter says, 2 Pet. 1:21: The prophecy came not by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy, much less would the Holy Ghost have moved them to speak when they still were unholy [or profane]; for they were holy, says he, since the Holy Ghost spake through them. (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article VIII. Of Confession.)

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?–Answer.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true. (Small Catechism,
The Third Article, of Sanctification)

34] I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

35] This article (as I have said) I cannot relate better than to Sanctification, that through the same the Holy Ghost, with His office, is declared and depicted, namely, that He makes holy. Therefore we must take our stand upon the word Holy Ghost, because it is so precise and comprehensive that we cannot find another. 36] For there are, besides, many kinds of spirits mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, as, the spirit of man, heavenly spirits, and evil spirits. But the Spirit of God alone is called Holy Ghost, that is, He who has sanctified and still sanctifies us. For as the Father is called Creator, the Son Redeemer, so the Holy Ghost, from His work, must be called Sanctifier, or One that makes holy. 37] But how is such sanctifying done? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion, whereby He wins us, through His birth, death, resurrection, etc., so also the Holy Ghost effects our sanctification by the following parts, namely, by the communion of saints or the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting; that is, He first leads us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

38] For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel. The work is done and accomplished; for Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, etc. But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost. That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us. 39] Therefore sanctifying is nothing else than bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which we could not attain of ourselves.

40] Learn, then, to understand this article most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

43] For where He does not cause it to be preached and made alive in the heart, so that it is understood, it is lost, as was the case under the Papacy, where faith was entirely put under the bench, and no one recognized Christ as his Lord or the Holy Ghost as his Sanctifier, that is, no one believed that Christ is our Lord in the sense that He has acquired this treasure for us, without our works and merit, and made us acceptable to the Father. What, then, was lacking? 44] This, that the Holy Ghost was not there to reveal it and cause it to be preached; but men and evil spirits were there, who taught us to obtain grace and be saved by our works. 45] Therefore it is not a Christian Church either; for where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Ghost who creates, calls, and gathers the Christian Church, without which no one can come to Christ the Lord. 46] Let this suffice concerning the sum of this article. But because the parts which are here enumerated are not quite clear to the simple, we shall run over them also.

47] The Creed denominates the holy Christian Church, communionem sanctorum, a communion of saints; for both expressions, taken together, are identical. But formerly the one [the second] expression was not there, and it has been poorly and unintelligibly translated into German eine Gemeinschaft der Heiligen, a communion of saints. If it is to be rendered plainly, it must be expressed quite differently in the German idiom; for the word ecclesia properly means in German eine Versammlung, an assembly. 48] But we are accustomed to the word church, by which the simple do not understand an assembled multitude, but the consecrated house or building, although the house ought not to be called a church, except only for the reason that the multitude assembles there. For we who assemble there make and choose for ourselves a particular place, and give a name to the house according to the assembly.

Thus the word Kirche (church) means really nothing else than a common assembly, and is not German by idiom, but Greek (as is also the word ecclesia); for in their own language they call it kyria, as in Latin it is called curia. Therefore in genuine German, in our mother-tongue, it ought to be called a Christian congregation or assembly (eine christliche Gemeinde oder Sammlung), or, best of all and most clearly, holy Christendom (eine heilige Christenheit).

49] So also the word communio, which is added, ought not to be rendered communion (Gemeinschaft), but congregation (Gemeinde). And it is nothing else than an interpretation or explanation by which some one meant to explain what the Christian Church is. This our people, who understood neither Latin nor German, have rendered Gemeinschaft der Heiligen (communion of saints), although no German language speaks thus, nor understands it thus. But to speak correct German, it ought to be eine Gemeinde der Heiligen (a congregation of saints), that is, a congregation made up purely of saints, or, to speak yet more plainly, eine heilige Gemeinde, a holy congregation. 50] I say this in order that the words Gemeinschaft der Heiligen (communion of saints) may be understood, because the expression has become so established by custom that it cannot well be eradicated, and it is treated almost as heresy if one should attempt to change a word.

51] But this is the meaning and substance of this addition: I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. 52] I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. 53] Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces.

54] We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution, moreover, through all manner of consolatory promises of the entire Gospel. Therefore, whatever is to be preached concerning the Sacraments belongs here, and, in short, the whole Gospel and all the offices of Christianity, which also must be preached and taught without ceasing. For although the grace of God is secured through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Ghost through the Word of God in the unity of the Christian Church, yet on account of our flesh which we bear about with us we are never without sin.

55] Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered to the end that we shall daily obtain there nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. Thus, although we have sins, the [grace of the] Holy Ghost does not allow them to injure us, because we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but [continuous, uninterrupted] forgiveness of sin, both in that God forgives us, and in that we forgive, bear with, and help each other.

56] But outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness [sanctification]. Therefore all who seek and wish to merit holiness [sanctification], not through the Gospel and forgiveness of sin, but by their works, have expelled and severed themselves [from this Church].

57] Meanwhile, however, while sanctification has begun and is growing daily, we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously, and arise to entire and perfect holiness in a new eternal life. 58] For now we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever [some reason why] to continue His work in us through the Word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body.

59] Behold, all this is to be the office and work of the Holy Ghost, that He begin and daily increase holiness upon earth by means of these two things, the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our dissolution He will accomplish it altogether in an instant, and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts.

60] But the term Auferstehung des Fleisches (resurrection of the flesh) here employed is not according to good German idiom. For when we Germans hear the word Fleisch (flesh), we think no farther than of the shambles. But in good German idiom we would say Auferstehung des Leibes, or Leichnams (resurrection of the body). However, it is not a matter of much moment, if we only understand the words aright.

61] This, now, is the article which must ever be and remain in operation. For creation we have received; redemption, too, is finished But the Holy Ghost carries on His work without ceasing to the last day. And for that purpose He has appointed a congregation upon earth by which He speaks and does everything. 62] For He has not yet brought together all His Christian Church nor dispensed forgiveness. Therefore we believe in Him who through the Word daily brings us into the fellowship of this Christian Church, and through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins bestows, increases, and strengthens faith, in order that when He has accomplished it all, and we abide therein, and die to the world and to all evil, He may finally make us perfectly and forever holy; which now we expect in faith through the Word.

63] Behold, here you have the entire divine essence, will, and work depicted most exquisitely in quite short and yet rich words, wherein consists all our wisdom, which surpasses and exceeds the wisdom, mind, and reason of all men. For although the whole world with all diligence has endeavored to ascertain what God is, what He has in mind and does, yet has she never been able to attain to [the knowledge and understanding of] any of these things. 64] But here we have everything in richest measure; for here in all three articles He has Himself revealed and opened the deepest abyss of his paternal heart and of His pure unutterable love. For He has created us for this very object, that He might redeem and sanctify us; and in addition to giving and imparting to us everything in heaven and upon earth, He has given to us even His Son and the Holy Ghost, by whom to bring us to Himself. 65] For (as explained above) we could never attain to the knowledge of the grace and favor of the Father except through the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the paternal heart, outside of whom we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But of Christ we could know nothing either, unless it had been revealed by the Holy Ghost.

66] These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and separate us Christians from all other people upon earth. For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.

67] From this you perceive that the Creed is a doctrine quite different from the Ten Commandments; for the latter teaches indeed what we ought to do, but the former tells what God does for us and gives to us. Moreover, apart from this, the Ten Commandments are written in the hearts of all men; the Creed, however, no human wisdom can comprehend, but it must be taught by the Holy Ghost alone. 68] The latter doctrine [of the Law], therefore, makes no Christian, for the wrath and displeasure of God abide upon us still, because we cannot keep what God demands of us; but this [namely, the doctrine of faith] brings pure grace, and makes us godly and acceptable to God. 69] For by this knowledge we obtain love and delight in all the commandments of God, because here we see that God gives Himself entire to us, with all that He has and is able to do, to aid and direct us in keeping the Ten Commandments-the Father, all creatures; the Son, His entire work; and the Holy Ghost, all His gifts.

70] Let this suffice concerning the Creed to lay a foundation for the simple, that they may not be burdened, so that, if they understand the substance of it, they themselves may afterwards strive to acquire more, and to refer to these parts whatever they learn in the Scriptures, and may ever grow and increase in richer understanding. For as long as we live here, we shall daily have enough to do to preach and to learn this. (Large Catechism, Apostles’ Creed, Article III)

Reflection on the 8th Commandment, by Cwirla Something or Another

I came across this article by Rev. William Cwirla on Wittenburg Trail and thought it worth re-posting on my blog considering the amount of appeals, (I’ve heard and read) of late, to “Remember the eighth commandment…” as regards theological debate, church business, etc.


**Note** I wrote this for another context but it seems to fit here. This isn’t my last word on the topic, but I’m willing to hang a half-baked idea out there for the community to engage. In other contexts, I’d add some choice Luther quotes and more from the Large Catechism, but I wanted to get this out there for your reflection. Please don’t hesitate to be critical. (No, I won’t get all “offended” on you.) I want to stimulate discussion.

Some Reflections on the 8th Commandment in Times of War

I remember a grammar school teacher whose one playground rule was “play nice.” One of our favorite playground games was a form of “Keep Away” in which someone ran with a ball, wadded up gloves, or whatever and tried to hold onto it as long as possible before being gang tackled. The pile ups were the best part, sometimes 20 kids or more, somewhat akin to a playground mosh pit with the inevitable bloody noses or fat lip at the bottom of the pile. Seldom anything requiring stitches or long-term hospitalization. We were always getting in trouble for “not playing nice.” Needless to say, she didn’t coach the boy’s basketball team, or any team for that matter.

The 8th commandment seems to have become a new playground rule. Every time a discouraging word is heard in the church, there are the inevitable cries from the school principal to remember the 8th commandment.

What is the 8th commandment? (all together)
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

The last phrase of Luther’s explanation is usually what draws the attention of the school moms. “Explain everything in the kindest way.” Tappert: “Interpret charitably all that he does.” 1943 version: “Put the best construction on everything.”

Now what does that mean? That we say of Jeffrey Dahlmer, “He had an interesting diet”? Or of Charles Manson, “He was socially challenged”? Is the 8th commandment divine legislation for politically correct speech and euphonious euphemisms? Are we never to utter a discouraging word, engage in satire or even humor, question or challenge those in authority? Is the 8th commandment a mama’s skirts behind which the playground bullies hide turning us into a bunch of nice-speaking sissies?

Now remember, this was Luther who wrote this for us. That’s Martin Luther, the reformer. Remember him? 95 theses? That beer drinking, swearing, Augustinian theologian who taught us how to be free men in Christ instead of eunuchs to the papacy. Here’s a picture, in case you forgot.

Put the best construction on everything. That’s what Luther said. The same Luther called the pope names that won’t get through this blog filter. He mockingly called Karlstadt and his followers “Heavenly Prophets.” He called the charismatics “Schwaermer.” He punned on his opponents’ names, like Hans Wurst. He called Thomas Münzer something even the sainted James Kittelson, who always delivered the uncensored Luther, couldn’t translate in his book Luther the Reformer.

But that was the 16th century, you say. They talked rough back then. True enough. This was certainly before the days of the speech police. But this is nothing new. The prophet Amos called the women of Samaria “cows of Bashan” (that would get you kicked off the air today). Jeremiah called unfaithful Israel as “she-ass in heat.” John called the religious synodocrats of his day a “brood of vipers.” Jesus called the Pharisees “white washed tombs.” I guess the “best construction” can employ some rather colorful metaphors at times.

The 8th commandment in its original context applies to Israel’s courts. It refers to lying against your neighbor in court. The truth was established by at least two witnesses. If you gave false witness and were caught at it, you received the punishment your neighbor would have received. That’ll cut down on perjury.

As he did with all the other commandments, Luther reinterprets the 8th commandment and broadens it to include all sins of speech. At stake is your neighbor’s reputation. God wishes to give us a good reputation in Jesus, so who are we to work in the opposite direction. Practically, what that means is speak kindly of others. Bless and do not curse even your enemy. Secret sins are to be dealt with privately at first, then publicly according to proper channels.

Exceptions are made for civil magistrates, preachers, and parents who must publicly judge and condemn actions and publicly administer discipline. Public sins are to be dealt with publicly. “Where the sin is so public that the judge and the whole world are aware of it, you can without sin shun and avoid that person as one who has brought disgrace upon himself, and you may testify publicly concerning him.”

What about criticism of public actions or officials? What about critical opinions? Can you say Pres. Bush’s foreign policy is flawed? Or Microsoft makes a terrible operating system? Does the 8th commandment create a skirt behind which injustice can hide without criticism? Does the 8th commandment call us to be sissies, constantly worried about offending someone? Hardly.

When Peter compromised the Gospel at Antioch Paul immediately called him a hypocrite in public. When public sin or injustice occurs, you are called to speak publicly. The very fabric of our nation and the checks and balances of power requires that our public discourse be lively, and even at times, adversarial. You may not say the Pres. Bush is stupid, but you are certainly free to opine that his policies are, especially if you can support your thesis with hard evidence. Public office entails public criticism – it goes with the job.

We are fallen creatures living in a fallen world. That means in spite of our best intentions and our renewed minds, the sin-laden Adamic flesh will do the things we don’t want. Our reflexes are bad, especially under pressure. Our vocations will lead us into specific sins. The soldier in war may kill unnecessarily in violation of the 5th commandment. The pastor will slip on a point of doctrine against the 2nd commandment. The lawyer defending his client will stretch the truth to the snapping point against the 8th commandment. This is precisely why we are justified by grace apart from the Law. The Law will only amplify and magnify sin against our best intentions.

Our liberty in Christ means our freedom from fear of condemnation. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This freedom is not a license to sin, but liberty to act without fear. The soldier who hesitates fearing that his killing is unjustified is dead. The theologian who fears making a doctrinal slip will never preach the Word creatively. The defender of justice who fears “offending” someone will never speak up in public.

There is a new game in town called “taking offense.” People are instantly “offended” by anything they hear with which they do not agree. It’s a great way to stifle all discussion. Simply say, “I’m offended,” and you put the whole world on the defensive. Rather than disagreeing and engaging, the person plays the victim. It’s a passive-aggressive move designed to gain control. It’s played all the time, especially in church circles, and it’s patently dishonest.

We are called to speak the truth in love. The best construction is never a lie. A true theologian of the cross calls a thing for what it is, letting his yes be yes, and his no be no. Yes, we are called to deal kindly and gently with each other, but when the playground bully sucker punches your defenseless friend, he can’t hide behind the sign that says “No Fighting.” There’s a time for war and a time for peace. There is a to speak up and a time to shut up. And there are times when the best one can do is what Luther advised ever-fearful Philip – “sin boldly, and trust Christ even more boldly.”

When the dust settles, repent, forgive, be forgiven, move on. That’s how free men and women in Christ deal with things

Lecture on the Theology of the Cross, by Hans Iwand

by Hans Joachim Iwand

KILLBILL (3)As I now—at the end of our conference—present a short summary of Luther’s theology of the cross, I would like to make clear from the start that by no means is this a definitive rendering of the theme before us; it is not even something fundamentally new. Clearly our theme has a certain relevance insofar as the old opinion advocated by O. Ritschl in his Dogmengeschichte des Protestantismus has been taken up again by Gyllenkrok and Bizer, and indeed also Barth thinks that the young Luther must be seen in this way. This opinion holds that the theology of the cross is the quintessence of the prereformation views of Luther and points back to the humility-piety [Humilitas- Frömmigkeit] of mysticism.

At the same time W. von Loewenich’s comprehensive and excellent book has refuted this understanding of early Luther scholarship as far as it deals with the theology of the cross in Luther. It has shown that Luther’s theology of the cross is an entirely new understanding of the theme acquired from mysticism. In connection to this I would like to show that in this theological catch-word lies a theological epistemology with which Luther surmounts the old scholastic method and, to a certain extent, the Augustinian Neoplatonic method in glowing formulae at the Heidelberg Disputation. Along with the development of this new theological epistemology Luther also employs it as the basis for interpreting the Psalms, a work which he completes through Psalm 22. Then he must go to Worms. But precisely the 22nd Psalm becomes for him the highpoint of an entirely unmystical understanding of the theology of the cross. The suffering of Christ that he finds prophesied here symbolizes for him the defection of the false church and its attempt to turn the kingdom of Christ into a kingdom of this world. Thus this Psalm is also an outstanding document for Luther’s original, radical thought of the separation of the two kingdoms in a negative and positive sense. The cross demonstrates hard and inflexible opposition against the misuse of God’s name and honor for the purposes of human wisdom and the pan-Christian empire. Thus the basic understanding of Paul in the fight against Gnosticism shows through more clearly than mysticism. Additionally I will treat a third work from the context of the theology of the cross, which chronologically lies somewhat earlier, but practically is first understood out of this theological root.

This third work has to do with the pastoral [seelsorgerlichen] character of this theology and will develop into a new concept of reality which resigns itself to the cross in faith. For this early version of the theology of the cross points in an entirely different direction than, for example, Theodosius Harnack argues in his great interpretation of Luther’s theology: it points not in the dogmatic direction of the doctrine of the atonement, but in the practical direction of a new relationship to reality. It is new insofar as it contains in itself a fundamental change from the medieval conception and holds the first thoughts that the theologian of the cross—in contrast to the understanding of monasticism, that exercised cross-piety [Kreuzesfrömmigkeit] by cursing and overcoming the world—withdraws from the cloister, abolishes its fundamental principle of piety and meets God in the reality of an entirely unpredictable, historical life filled by infinite and to a great extent unfathomable vicissitudes. This third work, in which I would like to exemplify the theologian of the cross’s understanding of life, is the seven penitential psalms which Luther published in German translation in 1517. In linguistic respects they belong to the most beautiful writing of his that we possess. These could also be named the Vademecum (Guidebook) of evangelical pastoral care and comfort.


The Heidelberg Disputation, one of the customary theological assemblies of the chapter of the order of Augustinian Hermits, took place on 26 April 1518. For this disputation Luther drew up 28 theses which deal with three theological questions: with “works,” in particular the “opera iustorum;” with the question of the “liberum arbitrium post peccatum;” and third with the distinction of the “theologus gloriae” and “theologus crucis.” First, Luther does not here write about the “theologia gloriae” and “theologia crucis.” Not theology as such, but the man who pursues it, the theologian, is in the foreground. This is indicative of a contrast with the medieval starting point of theological epistemology, for this starting point ignores man’s situation. Therefore the fact that a fallen, sinful man would acquire the knowledge of God is disregarded at first: it comes secondarily and only incidentally gets a hearing.

images (1)In the superscription Luther calls these theses: “theologica paradoxa” (theological paradoxes). He cites Paul (“if Paul had not preceded in this”) and Augustine, his “most faithful interpreter,” as sources. Luther believes that the Church Father who gave his name to the order is the middleman between Paul and himself. He presents his theses “an bene an male elicita sint” (“so that it might become clear, whether rightly or wrongly from the godly Paul . . . just as from Saint Augustine . . . they are inferred.”) We know some of the glorious manner in which the young Luther disputed and brought his ideas to the younger members of the order for approval from the letter of Martin Bucer, the subsequent Strasbourg reformer, to Beatus Rhenanus: “As greatly as our champions strained themselves to throw Luther out of the saddle, they were unable to extract a hair’s breadth from him. Marvelous his elegance in responding; incomparable his patience in listening; etc.” The theses have an appendix of twelve theses on philosophy, which defend Plato against Aristotle and designate Anaxagoras as the “optimus philosophorum” (best of philosophers) because he understands the infinite as “forma.” It is apparent that with the attack on the “theologia gloriae” Aristotelianism as the presupposition of theological epistemology is also attacked. If one considers that the introduction of the Aristotelian principle of thought (analogia entis–”analogy of being”) is characteristic of the High Middle Ages from the time of Alexander of Hales and serves as the foundation of the Catholic doctrine of revelation up to today, then one sees how sweeping was the blow which Luther here dealt under the name of the “theologia crucis” and his paradoxa.

The formulations are elegant and at the same time so significant that they lose their striking trenchancy when one translates them into German. I will therefore present the two most important theses, 19 and 20, in Latin and comment on them from the Latin text. They read: Non ille digne theologus dicitur, qui ‘invisibilia’ Dei ‘per ea, quae facta sunt, intellecta conspicit,’ Sed qui visibilia et posteriora Dei per passiones et crucem conspecta intelligit (“He is not rightly called a theologian, who God’s ‘invisible essence perceives and understands through his works,’ but he who comprehends that which is visible of God’s essence and is facing toward the world, as portrayed in suffering and the cross.”)

Luther, in dialectical manner, highlights the contrast between “intelligere” and “conspicere” (“understand” and “perceive”). He has in mind an opposing method—the scholastic method as it is gleaned from Peter Lombard’s textbook of scholasticism, the Sentences—which ascends to the invisible world of God “per ea, quae factasunt” (“through those things, which have been made”). The formulation is apparently derived—this is the curious part of it—from Paul: “Invisibilia enim ipsius, a creatura mundi, per ea quae facta sunt, intellecta conspiciuntur” (“For the invisible things of God are observed from the creation of the world, understood through those things which have been made.”) (Romans 1:20) Lombard explains Paul: “Per creaturam mundi intelligitur homo, propter excellentiam qua excellit inter alias creaturas; vel propter convenientiam quam habet cum omni creatura” (“Man perceives him (the Creator) in the creation of the world on account of his superiority, by which he excels the other creatures, and on account of his conformity with every creature.”). Human perception is in a position to transcend creation—that is, the creatura mundi. Human perception has an “excellentia” denied other creatures. It “rises above them,” is ecstatic, and is therefore able to grasp the invisible. Other creatures are not able to do this. However, at the same time man himself is a creature; he has a certain “convenientia” (“conformity”) with every creature. He is himself a creature. According to the scholastic understanding man as intelligible essence is the point within creation where creation reaches over itself, where it no longer comes to view in sensible understanding, that is, in a scattered and diffused manner from thing to thing and from impression to impression, but in a coherent manner resting on the “intelligere,” the human “excellentia.”

This perception of the invisible world, in which the visible world has its unity, is an intelligible perception. That is the basis of the scholastic worldview and its doctrine of man in the midst of the created world. Man—alone capable of intelligible perception— is the center of creation. Here creation has its eyes, through which it is able to view the invisible essence of God. However, this intelligible perception does not leap over created matter—ea quae facta sunt—but ascends from it. In this way Romans 1:20 is interpreted and this interpretation remained unchanged despite every transformation in Late Scholasticism. In fact, this is the single thing to which knowledge attaches in order to ascend from it into the invisible world in the thought of Aristotelian epistemology, ever more elaborated from its unprovable premise. There is a certain idealistic strain within the scholastic knowledge of God, which we here encounter, and the concept of the intelligible perception, encountered later from Spinoza to Schelling, is anchored here. Luther speaks to this method of allowing theological knowledge to begin “per ea, quae facta sunt.” He says: “Non ille digne theologus dicitur.” Whoever begins in this way does not deserve the name “theologian.” Luther inverts the predicate and the participle. The predicate for the Scholastics becomes the participle for Luther and vice versa. He also speaks of a perception of God, and appends understanding, intelligere, to this perception. Yet in this he does not begin with the visible things that have been created. With this knowledge of God he does not begin with visible things, but with God. God’s hidden “visibilia et posteriora” are the opposite of the “perception.” They give us the assignment of intelligere. Accordingly the content of such a revelation of God is seeing God as in the midst of us, as the hidden God, who is nevertheless visible and “a posteriori,” that is, God is seen first of all in his economy—not in things, but in his humanity.

In the commentaries on the theses, which are perhaps synopses of Luther’s part of the discussion, it says: “Quia homines cognitione Dei ex operibus abusi sunt, voluit rursus Deus ex passionibus cognosci et reprobare illam sapientiam invisibilium per sapientiam visibilium” (“Since men abuse the knowledge on the basis of his works, God willed, on the other hand, that he be known from suffering, and therefore willed to repudiate such wisdom of the invisible through a wisdom of the visible.”)

images (5)Did Luther wish to say with this that the work-righteous also seek God in his “opera,” or perhaps did he wish to say that idolatry is the expression of the error which seeks God in his “opera?” It almost seems so. For “ut sic qui Deum non coluerunt manifestum ex operibus colerent absconditum inpassionibus” (“so that those who did not honor God as he is revealed in his works should honor him as the one who is hidden in suffering.”) The incarnation is therefore identical with the “deus absconditus.” The theology of the cross and the principle of the knowledge of God alone in Christ must now coincide. Although it is said today that it has always been customary in Dogmatics to distinguish between a natural revelation and a saving revelation, nevertheless here it becomes clear that the Reformation begins theologically with the unilateral knowledge of God in Christ. As in Barmen for the first thesis John 14:9 “Whoever sees me, sees the Father” is cited as the foundation and John 10 “I am the door” is cited as evidence. The revealed God is the hidden God: “Vere absconditus tu es Deus” (Isaiah 45:15). “Ergo in Christo crucifixo est vera Theologia et cognitio Dei” (“Therefore in Christ crucified is the true theology and knowledge of God”). “At Deum non inveniri nisi in passionibus et cruce” (“God however can only be found in cross and suffering”).

If then the theology of glory had as its goal a seeing—seeing God through intelligible perception—then the theology of the cross has as its goal an “intelligere,” a grasping and understanding. But what should be grasped? This further point is observed here. I said above that Luther makes the object of his theses the theologian of the cross, the “man.” He actually asks what kind of man stands behind the theology of glory and what kind of man stands behind the theology of the cross. We also saw that there was a certain conception of man that was essential for the epistemology of Scholasticism: Man between God and animal, rising above the domain of the creatures on account of his spiritual capability—his “intelligere.” Man as spiritual being is related to God. Luther formulates his theses in such a way that man is first revealed in view of this “Deus absconditus et crucifixus.” What man is first emerges here. “Qui dum ignorat Christum ignorat Deum absconditum in passionibus” (“Indeed, whoever does not know Christ, he also does not know the God hidden in suffering”). For this reason man has an erroneous feeling of worth. He tends to prefer work to suffering. These are the people whom Paul names “inimici crucis Christi” (“Enemies of the cross of Christ”) (Phil. 3:18). Here then we touch on the sentence, so rich in content: “per crucem destruuntur opera et crucifigitur Adam, qui per opera potius aedificatur” (“Through the cross works are destroyed and Adam is crucified, who prefers to be built up through works.”)

There are not many sentences as instructive for the theology of the young Luther as this one. Here one sees how the two themes of his theology—Law and Gospel the one, the theology of the cross and the theology of glory the other—are interconnected. One hangs from the other. Of course Luther also says that reason is blind; of course he also opposed the natural knowledge of God because of original sin, objected—and this Th. Harnack particularly has emphasized and Lutherans to the present day stress so passionately—to the knowledge of God in “Gloria et majestate” if it is not bound with the knowledge in “humilitate et ignominia crucis!” But here Luther goes further. Here he defines Adam as the one who through “works is built up.” Adam lives by doing works with which he can be justified before himself. Good works are the hiding place into which Adam crawls when God calls. We could say pointedly: The flight from God’s word of grace to the performance [of works], the conversion of the theological situation into an ethical one is a deed congenial to Adam, therefore also to us natural men. Luther sees in this “practical” act the root of the intrusion of natural theology. “Adam per opera potius aedificatur” (“Adam prefers to be built up through works.”) One could walk the length of theology and its history with this sentence as a divining rod: it would show us where living water flows. For this reason Luther can say in his commentary on the Psalms: “CRUX sola est nostra theologia.” Since man has lost his value judgment, he judges falsely. He judges suffering and pain to be something bad, something evil. He seeks good where it is not. Therefore he lives perversely. He lives falsely. “Dicit malum bonum et bonum malum, Theologus crucis dicit id quod res est” (“The theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil; the theologian of the cross calls the things by its proper name.”) (Thesis 21). Here the concept of reality comes to light.


It would certainly not be saying too much if one asserted that he who wants to understand Luther’s theology of the cross rightly must read the Operationes in Psalmos. This commentary on the Psalms is the genuine interpretation of Luther’s understanding of this theological principle. The Psalms and the theology of the cross—they are one and the same. Here it was lived, confessed, and expounded. Here it was made known in Scripture. If one wanted to decode the Psalms, if one wanted to bring the prayers of those who had spoken here to sound anew, if one wanted to enter the circle of this people of God, then he would have to begin from the theology of the cross; better yet, he would have to begin from the cross of Jesus Christ. In this suffering all were justified—in view of their persecutors and mockers—all who had hoped in God alone. Only in him. Luther contrasts the active and passive life of the pious. The way goes from doing to suffering, and first in suffering—so he thinks—is it shown whether I trust in God alone. “Activa sane vita, in qua multi satis temere confidunt, quam intelligunt quoque per merita, non producit nec operatur spem, sed praesumtionem, non secus ac scientia inflat.” ( “An active life, on which many place their trust without basis and which they look at only according to things merited, truly brings and works no hope, but presumption; it puffs up no less than knowledge.”)

imagesThere again is the “Adam qui operibus aedificatur.” That is the “positive Christianity,” which one can see and to which one can adhere in himself as in others. Accordingly the “vita passiva”— suffering—must be included. Only there is faith preserved. “Addenda est vita passiva, quae mortificet et destruat totam vitam activam, ut nihil remaneat meritorum, in quo superbus glorietur. Quo facto, si homo perseveret, fit in eo spes, idest discit nihil esse, in quo gaudendum, sperandum, gloriandum sit, praeter Deum. Tribulatio enim, dum a nobis omnia tollit, solum utique deum relinquit—das heißt: allein auf Dich vertraue ich [that is: I trust alone in You]—,neque enim deum potest tollere, imo deum adducit” (“The passive life is to be added, which kills and demolishes the entire active life, so that no merit is left remaining, of which the presumptuous could boast. Through this—if man endures—hope arises in him, that is, he learns that there is nothing in which he can rejoice, on which he can place his hope, of which he can boast, except God. For tribulation, when it takes everything from us leaves only God behind, and cannot take God from us; on the contrary: it brings God near.”)

Here the definition of “hope” becomes clear. In the Middle Ages the foundation of hope in God was that God would reward in heaven that which is not rewarded here on earth. In a similar way Kant later understood the concept of reward—the certainty that a reality of good corresponds to the good deed, and this reality is God. Luther’s understanding of “spes” is entirely defined by the theology of the cross: To hope where there is nothing more to be hoped, where nothing else remains for me save the living God and his promise, the pure word. “spes purissima in purissimum Deum” ( “entirely pure hope in the entirely pure God.”) Even God’s wrath cooperates for the destruction of my self-trust. In such tribulation, in which the “soul is stretched out with Christ”—the soul’s being crucified with Christ is meant, the “being abandoned by God”—hope is conceivable only as “patientia,” as patience. “Ita ut spem recte quispiam possit patientiam spiritualem seu patientiam in culpis sustinendis appellare” (“So that one can define hope only as spiritual patience or as patience in bearing debts.”)

Luther understands this passivity therefore not as some sort of being-dead or being-empty, but paradoxically as the highest activity. But an activity of hoping is born, which “fit” (arises) in such suffering. This hope is present as the work of the Spirit. It hopes. It hopes, where nothing more is to be hoped. It is related not to any sort of reality, but it is related to God alone. To this, that God is. Hope consists in this: that it hopes. In this hoping the despairing one lives.

In his vero conscientiae procellis et meritorum ruinis spes ipsa pugnat contra desperationem et fere contra seipsam, immo contra deum, quem sentit sibi iratum” (“Indeed: in these storms of the conscience and the ruins of merits hope itself fights against despair and in a certain sense against itself, yes, against God, whom hope feels is angry with itself.”) Luther can portray this hoping in the decline and collapse of all “merita” as a process of being undressed—fundamentally death is such an occurrence for him. We are placed before ourselves naked and must be tested to see whether we trust solely in God’s mercy, whether we live solely from this. Here is the independence of faith from “sentire”— we feel nothing more of God’s grace. But this process itself is becoming man: he dies and is fabricated anew. He goes under and walks forth reborn. This is very different from what Schleiermacher later understood. Here the new birth is bound up with a death, and to be precise with a death not only of the evil or the old man, but simply the man—the man who thinks that he is able neither to live nor to endure before God without works. So this man is baptized through “life.” Life is a baptism. That means death. “Et tamen si perseveret homo et contra spem in spem speret, probatus invenietur et hac tribulatione meritis exutus spe induetur et coronabitur inconfusibili corona in aeternum” (“And nevertheless: if man persists and against hope hopes in hope, he is tested and founded anew and–-in this tribulation stripped of merit—clothed with hope and crowned with a crown which abides eternally.”)

Passivity—vita passiva—is thus still something other than the “vita contemplativa” that the Middle Ages knew. For Luther this “vita passiva” hangs together with “pati.” Suffering first makes man into another. But the matter lies still deeper. We become ones who hope. While we are given to taste the very depths of despair we experience genuine growth. Works must collapse so that we find an inner foothold on nothing more—hope arises (fit) in view of nothingness. It is really born in us; and the emptiness of life, the nothingness in the collapse of all worth, is the reverse side which we perceive and which we feel in this birth. In the moment of faith’s breakthrough we can know ourselves only as fallen away, doubting, and despairing. There is nothing to be seen in the place where we know of ourselves. It comes, so to speak, from behind; from the other side faith and hope and the ability to love come over us.“Sola vero passiva vita purissima est” (“A passive life alone is truly an entirely pure life.”) True life means genuine life. Life without hypocrisy. Only faith, which we do not appropriate for ourselves, is genuine. This becoming man is a work of God in us. His Spirit leads into hell and out again. Accordingly it then continues: “Quid enim est fides, nisi motus ille cordis, qui credere, Spes motus, qui sperare, Charitas motus, qui diligere vocatur” (“What else then is faith than that movement of the heart, which is called believing; what else is hope than that movement, which is called hoping; what else is love than that movement, which is called loving!”) One sees that for Luther it is a movement in which we are the ones moved and God is the one moving.

From here on he criticizes the scholastic doctrine, which distinguishes between “habitus” (attitude, disposition, being) and act. Luther’s theology knows no ethic built on human acts since it arises from the theology of the cross. The doing always arises from a being [Sein], a being-moved proceeding from faith. The man who himself moves himself thinks that he has himself in his hand. The man moved by God, however, can not be moved by God without being consumed. And that is suffering; that is the hard and barren way.

In this connection, however, we encounter also an entirely new aspect of the Verbum Dei(“Word of God”). One can perhaps understand from this what pure doctrine, “purum verbum,” means for Luther. These powers, namely of faith, of love, and of hope “versantur circa purum verbum interne, quo capitur et non capitanima” (“[These powers] live on account of the pure inner word, through which the soul is captured, but does not itself capture.”) They therefore procure the being in the word for the soul, for the human self- confidence. “rapitur per verbum in solitudinem” (“It [the soul] is torn into isolation through the word.”) Thus one can only have the word, that is, it can only have us, when it becomes everything for us. All or nothing. That is the inevitable either-or connected to the movement with the word. That is the “verbum purum.” “Exuitur tam rebus tam phantasmatibus,” (“It (the soul) is stripped of things and even from imagined things,”) therefore we live neither in reality nor in fantasy when we live in the word.

In this way the word forms the soul. The word leads the soul into nothingness. Here Luther takes a passage from mystical theology. But what comes from this! “Redacta sum in nihilum et nescivi. In tenebras et caliginem ingressa nihil video, fide, spe et charitate sola vivo et infirmor (idest patior), cum enim infirmior, tunc fortior sum” (“I am called back into nothingness and know of nothing. I have stepped into darkness and obscurity and I see nothing. Alone in faith, hope and love I live and fade away in weakness (that is, I suffer); since when I am weak, then I am strong.”)

37d0280b464f170d1c30a9f8088e1ecf3c349232_mLuther says that mystical theologians call this “ductus” (“having been led”) the ascent above being and non- being. He says that he does not know whether they were truly in agreement over this; the mystics had made this into “acts,” but in truth it is a matter of “mortis inferni passiones,” of suffering death and hell. And here then stands that very sentence, the conclusion of the entire section on afflicted man: “CRUX sola est nostra Theologia.” Because man is by birth an enemy of God, therefore he can experience the work of God in him only as suffering, as trial, and divestment; not as elevation of life, but as judgment and death. Therefore Luther now protests against “liberum arbitrium,” against free will. We cannot decide for faith—how could we manage that! “Velle enim illud, quod credere, sperare, diligere iam diximus, est motus, raptus, ductus verbi dei et quaedam continua purgatio et renovatio mentis et sensus de die in diem in agnitionem dei” (“This willing, namely, about which we already said that it believes, hopes, and loves, is a movement, an abduction, a being led by the Word of God and to a certain extent a perpetual purification and renewal of the spirit and senses from day to day in the knowledge of God.”)

So Luther can then describe this becoming, becoming one who hopes from one who despairs, as being recreated: “Creamur ad imaginem eius, qui fecit nos. Voluntas vero incarnata seu in opus externum effusa recte potest dici cooperari et activitatem habere. . . . Quare sicut gladius ad sui motum nihil cooperatur, ita nec voluntas ad suum velle, qui est divini verbi motus, mera passio voluntatis, quae tum cooperatur ad opus manuum orando, ambulando, laborando” (“We are created in the image of the one who has made us (Col. 3:10). The will, which has taken form in life, which extends itself into external work, can be designated in the deed as cooperating and as fully active. . . as therefore the sword contributes nothing to its movement, so the will contributes nothing to its willing. Rather, it is moved by the Word of God; it is purely suffering for the will, which then cooperates in the work of the hands—in prayer, in going, in working.”)

There would still be much to say in this regard, but one thing ought to have become clear: The theology of the cross is neither an exclusively theoretical expression nor a mere antithesis to the theology of glory, but it is to be inscribed in our life. From this is to be understood what it means to be a believer, one who hopes, one who loves—indeed, what it means to be a Christian. Yet strictly speaking one can never be a Christian; one can only become one. Being a Christian is hidden in God. One cannot lift it into consciousness without destroying it. In our consciousness we have the reverse side, the not-being. And nevertheless Luther says: “Oportet non modo credere, sperare, diligere, sed etiam scire et certum esse, se credere, sperare, diligere. Illud in abscondito tempestatis, hoc post tempestatem agitur” (“It is not only necessary to believe, to hope, and to love, but also to know and to be certain that one believes, hopes, and loves. The former happens during the storm in a hidden way, the latter after the storm.”)


What this theological starting point means practically can be assessed from an analysis of Luther’s commentary on the seven penitential Psalms. Such a theological analysis, in my opinion, has not yet been put forth. For the most part the fine points are unnoticed and the immense change in the view of Christian existence that lies in this commentary, the first published in German, is not observed.

I begin with Psalm 32: 1053: “I will give you understanding and will show you the way in which you should walk.”

In the comments on this passage it reads: “This is where I want you to be. You ask that I deliver you. Do not let it be wearisome for you. Do not teach me and do not teach yourself. Surrender yourself to me; I am enough of a master for you. I will lead you to walk on the way that pleases me. You think that it is disastrous when things do not go as you think they should—that thinking is harmful to you and hinders me. Things must happen not according to your understanding, but above your understanding. Submerge yourself in foolishness and I will give you my understanding . . . not knowing where you are going is truly knowing where you are going. My understanding makes you entirely ignorant. Thus Abraham went out from his fatherland and did not know where he was going. He yielded himself to my knowledge and let his knowledge go, and by the right way he came to the right end. Behold, that is the way of the cross, which you cannot find, but I must lead you like a blind man.”

The way of the cross is therefore a clear, unmistakable reality in our life. It lies, so to speak, before us. Nothing exceptional happens when we traverse it, or to be more precise, when we are led on it. The true life—that is the way of the cross. Not the abstract, self-made existence, spent in an established isolation from the world, formed if possible by self-torment and self-chastisement. The call of God extends to a defined place—there it is audible, only there. And if I avoid the real life in its heights and depths, its afflictions and comforts, then I do not hear the call of God. For then I stand in the place that I have chosen for myself. If Abraham had remained in Ur, then what would God’s call have meant for him? Today we often speak of the secularized world and think that secularization is the reason men have turned away from the Church. One could look at it the other way around. One could ask if a fixed, preconceived, impressed meaning of “being pious” and “being Christian” is not the reason that the church has turned away from men. God’s call to men is not issued where and how the Church, by itself, dictates. This is the precise location of the Reformation’s break with the medieval church— for the way of the cross, on which God leads us, is not life in the Church, but the way of the people of God in the world.

This way is incomprehensible. It is closed to our understanding. One must and ought to concede that we do not understand God in it. If we understood him it would not be his way but our way. So these two things can always be found together: God, the real God, who is the Lord of my entire life, and the reality of this life itself in all its deep obscurity. The deepest and most difficult mystery is in us, in man.

Another passage that speaks to this is a comment on Psalm 32:2: “And there is not any deceit in his spirit.” “That is, his own heart does not betray him so that he appears outwardly pious and considers himself to be nothing but pious and one who loves God, while nevertheless inwardly this opinion is false. . . . This evil, false, deceptive lie leads astray, above all, the great, hypocritical, and spiritual people, who stand fearless on account of their pious life and their many good works and do not discern their spiritual, inner attitude.”

This means that such men do not suffer from themselves. Their works do not live by them, their works are not signs and expression of their being, but they live by their works. “Also they do not want to take to heart that this deceptive, harmful lie spares no one, but is the basic spirit of all and is driven out alone by God’s grace.”

This evil, which is in us and with us, lies beyond all our freedom. It is the authentic suffering of man—he must do what he does not want. The whole doctrine of his “freedom” is an empty dream. Therefore the history of his life, as well as the history of peoples, is determined by this unpredictable factor which is located in man, in his suffering and foolishness. “[It is] not a lie which man tells and knowingly devises against himself or against another, but which he suffers and which is innate within him. This can be covered and adorned with a good life.”

images (22)But: “Yet underneath lies the evil filth which the doctors call amorem sui, amorem dei concupiscentie, (“self-love, impure love that seeks to possess God for personal enjoyment,”) so that man is pious out of fear of hell or hope of heaven and not because of God. However, this is difficult to recognize and even more difficult to free oneself of.”

The question is, how are we “freed” from this? For this reason man ought not to free himself from the suffering that God has ordained for us in the unpredictable aspects of this life. Therefore marriage, therefore work; therefore out with a prepared form of Christian existence!

Therefore (one could perhaps say) always oriented toward life, which itself is the result of our errors and suffering.

Again, on verse 10: “Therefore not you, not a man, not a creature, but I, I myself will lead you on the way you should walk. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering which you devise, but that which comes against your choice, thought, and desires: there follow, there I call, there be a student, there it is the time, there your Master has come.”

Here it becomes apparent that we walk in this incomprehensible way solely with true confidence and faith—otherwise, if we go our own way, what need do we have of God! “Have you not read, that the eyes of God are upon the righteous . . . that is, briefly, nothing other than a genuine, simple faith and a firm trust.”

But even here the inner struggle of life does not cease. In this way of life we are, in the eyes of God, hopeful and despondent at the same time. “For God is so astounding in dealing with his children, that he blesses them with contradictory and discordant things. For hope and despair are opposites. Yet they must hope in despair, for fear is nothing other than the beginning of despair and hope is the beginning of recovery. And these two things, opposites by nature, must be in us, for two men, opposites by nature, are in us: the old and the new. The old man must fear and despair and drown; the new man must hope, withstand, and be raised up. And these are both present in one man, indeed in one work at the same time. Just as a sculptor, even as he takes and hews away the wood that does not belong to the image, still improves the form of the image, so also in the fear that hews down the old Adam hope arises which forms the new man.”

This genuine hope is distinguished from false hope by the fact that it does not dictate to God “the purpose, manner, time, and measure” in which he should help. Those who do that “do not tarry and wait upon God. God should wait on them, be ready at once, and not help in a way different than they have designed. Those who wait on the Lord, however, seek grace, but they leave it to God’s good will when, how, where and through what he will help. They do not doubt this help. But they also do not give it a name; they let God christen and name it, . . . But whoever names the help does not receive it.”

Prepared for the Beinroder Konvent in Herbst 1959. Translated by Aaron Moldenhauer, Reformation 2004.