Luther knew how difficult it is to hold fast to the truth.

Although I am a doctor of divinity, and have preached Christ and fought His battles for a long time, I know from personal experience how difficult it is to hold fast to the truth. I cannot always shake off Satan. I cannot always apprehend Christ as the Scriptures portray Him. Sometimes the devil distorts Christ to my vision. But thanks be to God, who keeps us in His Word, in faith, and in prayer.

The spiritual witchery of the devil creates in the heart a wrong idea of Christ. Those who share the opinion that a person is justified by the works of the Law, are simply bewitched. Their belief goes against faith and Christ.

Martin Luther: Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (1535)
Trans. Theodore Graebner

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A drunk answers “Why am I to be pitied?” — Crime and Punishment

“What are you to be pitied for?” shouted the tavern-keeper who was again near them.

Shouts of laughter and even oaths followed. The laughter and the oaths came from those who were listening and also from those who had heard nothing but were simply looking at the figure of the discharged government clerk.

“To be pitied! Why am I to be pitied?” Marmeladov suddenly declaimed, standing up with his arm outstretched, as though he had been only waiting for that question.

“Why am I to be pitied, you say? Yes! there’s nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied! Crucify me, oh judge, crucify me but pity me! And then I will go of myself to be crucified, for it’s not merry-making I seek but tears and tribulation!… Do you suppose, you that sell, that this pint of yours has been sweet to me? It was tribulation I sought at the bottom of it, tears and tribulation, and have found it, and I have tasted it; but He will pity us Who has had pity on all men, Who has understood all men and all things, He is the One, He too is the judge. He will come in that day and He will ask: ‘Where is the daughter who gave herself for her cross, consumptive step-mother and for the little children of another? Where is the daughter who had pity upon the filthy drunkard, her earthly father, undismayed by his beastliness?’ And He will say, ‘Come to me! I have already forgiven thee once…. I have forgiven thee once…. Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee for thou hast loved much….’ And he will forgive my Sonia, He will forgive, I know it… I felt it in my heart when I was with her just now! And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek…. And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth, without shame and shall stand before him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the Image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘Oh Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before him… and we shall weep… and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!… and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even… she will understand…. Lord, Thy kingdom come!” And he sank down on the bench exhausted, and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again.

Dostoyevsky–Crime and Punishment, Part 1 Chapter 2

Luther “believed in the Church because he believed in the real presence.”

When from the balcony I look at this church on Sunday and out into the congregation gathered for the Divine Service, my eyes cannot distinguish this gathering from a worldly gathering or of the gathering of any other religious cooperative of the world. And yet I know: In, with, and under the outer gathering there is the Church of God. I know it certainly enough, because the means of grace are there: the Holy Gospel, Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Where the Gospel of the grace of God is proclaimed, the justification of sinners, completely free, without works of the Law but by faith alone, there Christ is present in his Word. There he forgives sin. Where a child of man is baptized, there Christ is present. There he, who is the true Father of all, speaks what the children in heaven and on earth call his great word of grace: “I have called you by name, you are mine” [Isa. 43″1]. Whatever becomes of these children of men, if they remain with Christ the Lord or leave him, if his way leads to eternal life or to eternal death, what was said to him there in the hour of Baptism remains valid as God’s offer and is meant seriously. As deep as baptized souls may fall, as far as he may flee from God, the fatherly arms of God remain open for him, as long as this life remains. And the forgiveness that the Lord Christ has acquired for him is certain when he returns to his Baptism with sincere repentance. And where a congregation celebrates the Lord’s Supper according to his institution, there Jesus Christ is truly present according to his divine and human natures. He serves the sinners with his true body and blood, and with these he incorporates them all into one, he incorporates them anew as members of his Body.

Where the means of grace, the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are, there Jesus Christ is really present. Our eyes don’t see him. Yet he is there, so real, so near, as only he is in his own. And in the inconspicuous means of the Word, Baptism ad the Lord’s Supper he performs the great miracles of his saving mercy. A miracle is not merely such a thing as the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter [Mark 5:22-24, 35-43] or the stilling of the storm [Luke 8:24]. A miracle is the rebirth of Baptism. A miracle is the eating of his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. These great things are hidden under the inconspicuous means of grace. The world does not see this and cannot see it. Our natural eyes perceive nothing of it, and yet the real present of the Lord is there, the reality of his miracle, the reality of his Church.

That is the deepest essence of the Church as Luther understood it. The Church that Luther believed was the Church of the real presence. He believed in the Church because he believed in the real presence. Perhaps there are many among us who have wondered about that and perhaps have taken offense that Luther remained so stubborn in the strife over the Lord’s Supper concerning the meaning of the words of institution: “This is my body.” That is not his obstinate nature, but his great worry that the Church of the Reformation would lose that upon which the Church has always lived, faith in the real presence of Christ. If Christ is in a heavenly location far from this world, where he has only left behind authoirty, orders and commands; if we confuse him with our fantasy, and must visualize him with our faith; if he is only present according to his divine nature, and not also according to his human nature as the God-man, who has taken on our poor flesh and blood, and is present with us according to his humanity, as he is present with the Father according to his divinity, then we are a lost little band in this world. Because, we have to admit that without him we are nothing, that without him and his presence, the Church is helpless, poor, despairing band of men.

Hermann Sasse “Witness: Erlanged Sermons and Essays for the Church 1933-1944″
trans. Bror Erickson
Luther’s Faith in the One Holy Church
Augsburg His Peace Festival
August 8, 1943
p. 316-318

The Three Things Wherever Christ’s Church Wishes to Be

During these hours, we will ponder the miracle of the Church as we speak of the Lord’s Supper, because the Church and the Sacrament of the Altar belong together in a completely different manner. There are three marks by which the teachings of our confessions recognize the Church: The Gospel, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Everything else that the Church may have can be done without in time of need, but these three things must be wherever Christ’s Church wishes to be. The Church must proclaim the Gospel. I must baptize in the name of the triune God. And It must celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And these three things are only found in the Church. There are many heart-rending spiritual messages in the world, but there is only one Gospel. Because the Gospel is the only grace-filled message of the forgiveness of sins according to Christ’s will. According to Christ’s will! It is the glory of Jesus Christ and the nature of his office as the Redeemer of the world that there is forgiveness of sins in him and his will alone. It is not found anywhere else in the world. “That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin ho knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:19-21). That is the Gospel and nothing else. With this Gospel, the Church as come to the people of the world. We should ponder for a moment the possibility of her coming to the world without the Sacrament, as for example the so-called Christian Quaker churches did. Can the Church call to men and cultures with the word of the Gospel alone? The answer is a definite: No! Without the Sacraments, the call of the Gospel would die, as a voice dies in the wind. Perhaps, it would echo softly for a while, but it would die. Therefore, the Sacraments must accompany the preached Word. This is shown by example at Pentecost where the first missionary sermon the apostles was followed by the first missionary Baptism! “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). So a congregation was instituted, and there was a Church in the world. If one only preached on the mission field, and did not baptize, no Christian congregation would ever be instituted, but merely an institution for the care and support of a new worldview. If a congregation of baptized Christians abandons the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, she will soon lack an understanding of Baptism. She would then become a religious organization that could not be distinguished from any other human institution.

… The Church is not only a spiritual congregation, like a school of philosophy, a society for the cultivation of a worldview, or what is called a “think tank” today, but it is a spirit-body congregation. Because that is so, the Church does not hover high above the lives of men like a Platonic or Hegelian School. Rather, it dwells deep within the real lives of men and cultures. Christ gave the Sacraments to the Church because she is one such spirit-body congregation that the whole of man belongs to completely. These Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are not merely metaphors or symbols of what God does for us; God actually works on us in them. They are not mere illustrations of the Gospel, visible representations of Christ’s Word and deposits of his promise, but they are particular acts of God in which his Word is served by an earthly element through which the whole man, body and soul, is redeemed. These Sacraments are as completely incomprehensible to the world as the Church to which they belong as her essential characteristics. They are as incomprehensible to the world as Jesus Christ and the miracles that tell of him. But we who believe in Christ cannot endeavor seriously enough to understand them in faith. And perhaps the right understanding of the Sacraments is an issue of life and death for our Church today in a way that most Evangelical Christians can no longer understand.

Hermann Sasse “Witness: Erlanged Sermons and Essays for the Church 1933-1944″
trans. Bror Erickson
The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church
Week of the Church in Nürnberg
January 5, 1939
p. 261-263, 265-266

The Church Lives “Precisely Because She Always Preaches the Same Thing” — Sasse

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” They would not tire of listening to the Word that came out of the mouths of the apostles, the witness of Jesus Christ, about his becoming man, of his deeds and words, and “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptuures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). From these words Paul handed down to us, the oldest form of the apostolic proclamation, we received the beginnings of the later confession, “died, buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead.” That was the teaching of the apostles. That was what they repeated day after day. “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39-42).
It was the same message, told and retold with elevated monotony from the apostles as eyewitnesses, and then after their death from those to whom the continuation of the apostolic proclamation was entrusted because the Church of all times has lived on the teaching of the apostles. Is it really so? Must not the Church fit her message to be relevant to the present? How often has she heard the hard reproach made by German citizens of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the naïve belief in progress, that she does not speak contemporarily, but just keeps repeating the same message as Peter in Acts? How many theologians, yes whole churches, have finally come to an end? They are not devoted to the apostles’ teaching. They have preached something else. For forty years they have preaching Goethe and Schiller. They have preached the corresponding worldview, a worldview most could stumble upon with luck when they were thirty years old. And the church did not become more full, but ever emptier. And rightfully so. Because what the newest and only right worldview is, the least of the German city dwellers since 1848 could read in the newspaper each morning with their coffee. For this I do not need to go to church. But where the Church lives on the apostle’s teaching, there also lives the congregation.
It is a riddle to the world that the Church lives, even through she always preaches the same thing. In reality, she lives precisely because she always preaches the same thing, namely the teaching of the apostles. Yes, because this teaching is the eternal Word of God for all men, for all people, for all times. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and became man, who died for our sins, who rose from the dead for our justification, who sits at the right had of the Father, whose kingdom will have no end.” It is the witness of the enfleshed Word of God. In this witness, in the simple preaching of the Church, Christ, the eternal Word himself, is present. Therefore, the Church lives because of this.

Hermann Sasse “Witness: Erlanged Sermons and Essays for the Church 1933-1944″
trans. Bror Erickson
Sermon for First Sunday after Trinity: June 27, 1943; Acts 2:42-47
p. 158-160

John Kleinig on Going from Spiritual Independence to Spiritual Dependence

In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually. On our journey we become more and more dependent on Christ for everything in every situation. We do not then proceed from childhood to adulthood; we more forward into spiritual childhood as we grow in faith and become a people of prayer. Hence Jesus tells us to become as little children to receive our full royal inheritance as sons and daughters of God (Matthew 18:3). As we mature in faith we learn to borrow all that we need and all that we are from Christ. Only as beggars do we have access to the Father’s presence and His grace. Only as we receive grace upon grace from His fullness (John 1:16) can we praise Him in the heavenly choir (Ephesians 1:3-14).
Jesus set down the terms for our spiritual life quite clearly at the beginning of HIs ministry. After He had been baptized and before He called His first disciples, He began to preach this simple message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). On the one hand, Jesus calls us all, no matter who we are, to repent. By repenting we admit our spiritual bankruptcy and turn to God as beggars to ask for His mercy and grace. Our repentance is not just an initial act or an occasional event in our journey with Christ; it is a daily event, a lifelong process. Our whole life is a process of conversion from ourselves to God, a dying to self that is complete only when we die.
On the other hand, Jesus also calls us to believe the good news of God and His gracious kingly rule. By believing, we receive pardon from sin and access to the Father’s grace as His royal sons and daughters; we become receivers of God and His good gifts to us. This reception does not just happen initially at the beginning of our journey or occasionally when we need a hand. Our whole life as disciples is a process of receiving grace upon grace from God the Father.
God deals with us in a strange way as we travel on our course here on earth. Little by little He strips us down until we are left with nothing except our bare, fragile human soul, a soul that relies on Him utterly for its existence. Then He strips us of our soul in death. He takes away everything that we have in order to give us everything that He has in store for us. His purpose in this gradual demolition of us is to give Himself ever more fully to us and to bless us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). He brings us through the darkness of dying and death with Jesus to usher us completely into the light of His radiant face.

Grace Upon Grace by John W. Kleinig
P. 34-35

Jesus “enveloped you in His merciful salvation…” Sasse

God’s holy people: that is the Church of Christ in the world. That was the Church in the days of the apostles. That was every chosen stranger in Asia Minor, the small congregations who lived amongst the distractions of the great Roman Empire. God’s holy people, that is the Church of Christ today. And we belong to this Church. Therefore we will remember the last exhortation of our Epistle: Forget not, that you have been redeemed? “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” [1 Pet. 1:18-21]. You are redeemed. Soul, forget that not! God had foreknown that he, as the lamb without blemish or spot, would bear all the sin of the world. God had chosen you, faithful soul. As his beloved Son wandered about the earth, there he enveloped you in his merciful salvation, as he carried the arduous burdens of calling everyone to him. And then he also thought of you when he cried, “It is finished” [John 19:30]. And when you were baptized, the heavenly Father called you by your name and had given all of you everything that Jesus Christ had acquired for you, and these commitments remain to stay. And when you leave him, the door to the Father’s house is still open to you. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the Word of his mercy never fades, and trusitng in this Word you may rejoice:

O wonder love, who chose me
Before the world began
And me to your children counted
For whom you the kingdom ordered
O father’s hand, o mercy’s desire
Who in the book of life did me write!*

Hermann Sasse “Witness: Erlanged Sermons and Essays for the Church 1933-1944
trans. Bror Erickson
Sermon for Oculi: Feb. 28, 1937 on 1 Peter 1:13-21
p. 97-99

* O Wunderliebe, die mich wähtle vor allem Anbeginn der Welt.