Quotes of Note: Martin Luther—Master Pastor, Part 6
Note: You’re reading Part 6 of a blog mini-series sharing Quotes of Note derived from my Ph.D. dissertation: Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
Throughout church history, the pastoral care art of reconciling highlighted the twin truths that:
• It’s horrible to sin
• It’s wonderful to be forgiven
Luther’s reconciling pastoral care followed this same approach. Where sin abounds, grace superabounds (Romans 5:20).
With unbelievers and with Christians struggling against sin, Luther highlighted sin as idolatry—it’s horrible to sin.
Luther also understood Satan’s condemning narrative in which the devil tempts the Christian to doubt God’s forgiving grace in Christ. Here Luther highlighted the believer’s need to accept our acceptance in Christ; to receive our forgiveness in Christ—it’s wonderful to be forgiven.
It’s Horrible to Sin: From Worshipping God to Idols of the Heart
“The human mind is so inclined by nature that as it turns from the one, it of necessity becomes addicted to the other. He who rejects the Creator needs must worship the creature” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 44-45).
All men therefore had a clear knowledge of God, especially of His Godhead and His omnipotence. They proved this by calling the idols which they made ‘gods,’ and even ‘God,’ and they revered them as eternal and almighty. This demonstrates that there was in their hearts a knowledge of a divine sovereign Being. Manifestly they knew that God is mighty, invisible, just, immortal and good. ‘From the creation of the world’ (1:20). This phrase emphasizes the fact that God was known ever since the world came into existence” (Luther, Commentary on Romans, p. 43).
Receiving Our Forgiveness in Christ
“It’s the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel. If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside. Even if I sinned, I would say, ‘Should I deny the gospel on this account?’” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 106).
“You say that the sins which we commit every day offend God, and therefore we are not saints. To this I reply: Mother love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on a child, and so the love of God toward us is stronger than the dirt that clings to us. Accordingly, although we are sinners, we do not lose our filial relation on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sin” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 70).
“God must be much friendlier to me and speak to me in friendlier fashion than my Katy to little Martin. Neither Katy nor I could intentionally gouge out the eye or tear off the head of our child. Nor could God. God must have patience with us. He has given evidence of it, and therefore he sent his Son into our flesh in order that we may look to him for the best . . . . When I reflect on the magnitude of God’s mercy and majesty, I am myself horrified at how far God has humbled himself” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 127).
“Christ is friendlier than we are. If I can be good to a friend, how much more will Christ be good to us! The principal lesson of theology is that Christ can be known.” Satan clouds this basic knowledge in our hearts in a remarkable way and causes us to trust an earthly friend more than Christ” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 143).
“To say, ‘I am a child of God,’ is accordingly not to doubt even when good works are lacking, as they always are in all of us. This is so great a thing that one is startled by it. Such is its magnitude that one can’t believe it” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 70) .
“Satan speaks to the sinning saint according to the law and says to you in your heart, ‘God doesn’t want to forgive you.’ How will you as a sinner cheer yourself? The Christian must come and say, ‘I have been incorporated in Christ’” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 86).
“But a Christian remains firmly attached to Christ, and says, ‘If I’m not good, Peter wasn’t either, but Christ is good.’ Such are the elect. But a Christian says, ‘I wish to do as much as I can, but Christ is the bishop of souls. To him will I cling, even if I sin’” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 87).
“As it is not in your power to forbid the birds to fly in the air over your head, although you can prevent them from making their nests in your hair; so, too, you cannot protect yourself from the thoughts of the devil, but give all diligence that the thoughts of the devil do not take and hold the entire possession of your heart” (LSA, p. 186).
“Now I would like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ. Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin.’ For Christ dwells only in sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation” (LSC, p. 110).
“For who is able to express what a thing it is, when a man is assured in his heart that God neither is nor will be angry with him, but will be forever a merciful and loving Father to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous and incomprehensible liberty, to have the most high and sovereign Majesty so favorable to us. Wherefore, this is an inestimable liberty, that we are made free from the wrath of God forever; and is greater than heaven and earth and all other creatures” (Luther, Commentary on Galatians, p. 314).
When entangled in temptations and struggling with sin, the Christian should remember that, “the word of a fellow-Christian has wonderful power” (LSA, p. 181). The voice and words of “brethren and fellow Christians are to be heard and believed as the word and voice of God himself, as though God were speaking to them” (LSA, p. 182).
“When we have laid bare our conscience to our brother and privately make known to him the evil that lurked within, we receive from our brother’s lips the word of comfort spoken by God himself. And if we accept this in faith, we find peace in the mercy of God speaking to us through our brother” (Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, p. 201).
The Rest of the Story
In Part 7, we’ll learn how Luther sought to help people to grow in grace—how he offered the pastoral care ministry of guiding.
Join the Conversation
Which of today’s Quotes of Note impact your life and ministry the most?
Note: These quotes are derived from Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. The entire 212-page dissertation is available in PDF form at the RPM Store.
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