The cure for little faith

lies, therefore, not in whipping up within oneself a higher energy of believing but in a desperate turning toward the Person who is faith’s object: “Lord, save me,” Peter cried, and “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him” (14:30, 31). The men of the New Testament show remarkably little interest in a definition of faith or an analysis of believing. They are much less interested than we are in examining their religious viscera for tokens and omens. When they think of faith, they think of it as relatedness to an object; and so, when the disciples came to write the record of Jesus, they did not write meditations on faith, though faith was central in their relationship to Him; they wrote Gospels.

Martin Franzmann
Follow Me: Discipleship According to Saint Matthew
p. 142-143


God speaks life. His final Word

(in the absolution that renews faith in him), just as his first Word (in the creation of Adam and Eve), springs from his mercy and conveys his steadfast love, his creative and creating joy at shaping creatures and children for himself. . . .

The Gospel, as a Word of re-creation and restoration, serves God as an instrument for delivering his love to those he has chosen and for doing battle in their behalf against Satan. God is the Lord of life, and Satan is a murderer. The two are in perpetual conflict with each other. God speaks truth, also in the Word made flesh, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6); Satan lies because that is his nature (John 8:44). The battle over life and death takes place, for Luther, in the confrontation of the two words, the devil’s deceit and God’s powerful, re-creative Word of life and truth. God discharges his responsibility for his creation through his Word.

In the midst of this struggle God’s chosen people remain his children. The creative Word of God has given his people their identity in his creation, as a gift, by pronouncing them his creatures and his children. For that identity flowed expectations for their performance in daily life. The righteousness of their God-given identity vanished as they mysteriously broke their relationship with God and placed their central and guiding faith in creatures rather than the Creator. The performance that flows from unfaith may approximate God’s plan for human performance but always falls short. Therefore, when God’s law evaluates sinners, it may assign a variety of grades to their activities in terms of their usefulness in human society, but in the case of the central trust, the affirmation of their identity, sinners always fail. God must restore them to faith in him; he must revive their humanity. He does so through his re-creative power in the gospel.

Robert Kolb
Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method: From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord
p. 46-48

I must still read and study the Catechism daily.

“Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism,” writes Luther in the Preface to the Large Catechism. “Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly” (LC Pref 7-8). How well it would be with us Lutheran pastors, how well it would be with our church, if we paid more attention to this word and let it become active in our life and in our office! How many false conceptions of Lutheranism would be gone from our own souls, how many prejudices about our church on the part of the world would then vanish all by themselves! Kyrie eleison!

Letters to Lutheran Pastors Vol. 1
Hermann Sasse
p. 67

We are both/and sinner and justified

Therefore, when Luther says that a Christian is at the same time sinner and justified, he does not mean in terms of an open-ended circle, but he adds that the “both/and” of these two powers (i.e. God and sin) is ever an “over/under” in our lives. We live, to be sure, in the twilight and the shadows of the night are ringed with the glow of light. However, it is not the glow of sunset, but rather the dawn of the morning. The power of sin is already weakened and it has already lost the battle. But the new righteousness of God has been raised and we already live in its hope: “The night is advancing, the dawn is almost nigh.”*

The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther
Hans J. Iwand
p. 33

* Iwand is quoting from WA 2:586. 9; LW 27:363-364: “Accordingly, one must not imagine that these are two distinct human beings. But it is like a morning twilight, which is neither day nor night yet can be called either one. Nevertheless, day, as that toward which it is tending after the darkness of night, is more appropriate. By fat the most beautiful illustrations of both truths is that half-alive man in Luke (10:30ff.) who, on being taken up by the Samaritan, was indeed being healed but still was not fully restored to health. Thus we in the church are indeed in the process of being healed, but we are not fully healthy. For the latter reason we are called “flesh;” for the former, “spirit.” It is the whole man who love chastity, and the same man is titillated by the enticements of lust. There are two whole men, and there is only one whole man. Thus it comes about that a man fights against himself and is opposed to himself. He is willing, and he is unwilling. And this is the glory of the grace of God; it makes us enemies of ourselves.”

Preaching is always to the dead and raises them.

Preaching to bound wills means that the dream of being a potentialist, an optimist or pessimist, a delayer and denier is over. God died by a homicide that was religious, state sponsored, and irrevocable, and this historical accident changed everything. God has an accusation to bring, that the sin against the Holy Spirit has been committed with universal complicity. Humans are not right; in fact, they are irredeemable and unforgivable by any measure of justice or any leniency of mercy. The wages of sin is death, so the sinner must die. Categorical preaching concedes no neutrality to the will nor does it concede that the will has any time remaining to change itself once the preacher arrives. That means preaching is always preaching to the dead.

There is no other rhetoric in the world that assumes bound wills who cannot hear because they will not to hear and so willing cannot hear. Preaching is therefore utterly unique as categorical speech, not as some supernatural form of communication called “revelation,” but precisely because it does the impossible in the most down-to-earth way– it gives something that cannot be heard unless God creates a new person to hear it. Preaching also raises the dead.

“Categorical Preaching” by Steven D. Paulson
Justification is For Preaching edited by Virgil Thompson
p. 142

Preaching both the law and gospel is a unique and unsettling occupation

Preaching is the DNA structure of the gospel that selects who shall inherit eternal life, and so if you are determined to preach, you will do so in the face of the world’s worst nightmare: that eternal life hangs upon an historical contingency of an alien person’s choice that excludes self-selection and is absolutely lawless. What are we left with, but only the whims of this particular person, Jesus of Nazareth? If that is not bad enough this person, Jesus, believes himself to have been universally wronged, and may well be correct in that assumption, from what we know about his cross; he is therefore primed for revenge according to the simplest laws of nature or by the law of Israel into which he was born. What hope is there in that?

To get a sense of what is meant in preaching in this way; consider that the Apostle Paul spent little or no time thinking according to the strange category Christians called “conversion,” which begins with a false premise about Jews and is usually confused about what makes a sinner sinful. The Apostle Paul did not so much convert as have his vocation changed from a scribe to a preacher. Moreover, that change was violent to his person, such a change in vocation also meant a total death to the old man. A scribe deals with the law alone and that in terms of what is written. Writing’s conservation of being, of what originally was and will so remain, or even writing’s cohort that tries to make what is written “live” by translation into new contexts, was Paul’s prior occupation as defender of God. Paul, however, was called out of this work to become a preacher for whom the living word beyond the law was set to be the falling and rising of many––his vocation radically changed and so the old Paul was dead leaving only the Christian.

Preaching both the law and gospel is a unique and unsettling occupation. It is the work of withdrawing another person’s freedom in relation to the law in order to give a freedom apart from the law in faith itself. The withdrawal of freedom is a terrible thing to behold, and is naturally opposed with every animal instinct for survival. This requires preachers to recognize how their work systematically emerges out of the doctrine of election, and election is the worst human spectacle imaginable. To take up this vocation is to enter this fearful spectacle of preaching, and to ask, if God indeed does us this means to withdraw freedom according to the law…

“Categorical Preaching” by Steven D. Paulson
Justification is For Preaching edited by Virgil Thompson
p. 125-126

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