Thesis Thursday

Let’s do another from lecture 12, concerning

Thesis VIII.

In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror an account of their sins or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.

The bulk of this lecture consists of a letter written by Luther to “that splendid man Spalatin (born 1482), who had a great share in the work of the Reformation. … He had been party to an advice given to a certain pastor to marry the stepmother of his deceased wife. The marriage was absolutely contrary to God’s Word, and the advice was the more appalling since the Apostle Paul, in dealing with a similar offense in 1 Cor. 5, had declared that it involved fornication such as is not so much as named among the Gentiles. When the truth dawned on good Spalatin, he refused to be comforted.” The letter is quite interesting, and I encourage you to read it, but I liked this part especially:

There are only two ways in which Luther can explain to himself why Spalatin refuses to be comforted. Either he has hitherto failed to perceive his misery and wretchedness under sin; he has not been aware of the fact that he is a great sinner by nature; his grievous fall had to occur in order that his eyes might be opened to these facts. Or Satan must have hidden every consolation out of Spalatin’s sight. Practically Luther says to Spalatin: Had you fully realized the awful corruption of your heart in its relation to God, you would not be so inconsolable; for you would say to yourself: Alas! the fountain is so polluted; that is why such filth has to flow from it.

To return to Luther:

Therefore my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.

…Luther argues that sharing a brother’s sin entitles you to the claim that the brother must, in turn, share your comfort. God takes no pleasure in beholding a person stricken with remorse and laboring with might and main to remain thus stricken. When the hammer of His Law has crushed us, we are to flee from Moses to Christ. That is the right procedure.  Luther’s exegesis of 1 John 3, 8 is beautiful. The term “works of the devil” is commonly interpreted to signify horrible and gross sins, but Luther comprises in that term also doubt and melancholy as being the most grievous sin.

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7 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. John Yeazel says:

    After dialoging with an evangelical over at Darryl Hart’s Old Life the past 3 or 4 days (it is like dialoging with my brother except my brother is somewhat liberal in his politics which Darryl has shown in his new book that evangelicals are now drifting towards) one becomes more convinced that evangelicals really do not get, and are oblivious, to the distinctions between the Law and Gospel and the roles they play in bringing us to Christ. They do not look at this matter as being critical for understanding scripture. The only thing that seems to be able to wake them up to these distinctions is a fall into a grievous sin. It forces them to reconsider some of their faulty theology but sometimes even that (a fall into a grievious sin) does not help. They believe in original sin but not the depth and extent of that sin- even after regeneration, faith and union with Christ. This is a sticky and confusing theological issue and evangelicals reject the reformation view of the matter. And I find that those on the reformation side of the matter get easily confused about it too. We are given something over the power of sin in our union with Christ but evangelicals seem to come to the understanding that it is a power given to them individually to prove their faithfulness to the Christ who redeemed them. So they hound on and emphasize performance and obedience as an evidence of conversion which is a way of looking at the law for sanctification instead of seeing sanctification flowing from and being caused by our justification. Evangelicals will give lip service and even adhere to (or believe) the forensic aspects of justification but still want to make sanctification something we have the power to do. It seems to me that this makes them flippant and unconcerned about the sacraments as a very important means of grace too. Therefore their devotional lives, will-power and worship with the intent of bringing down the power of the Holy Spirit replaces the sacraments and the preaching of the Law and the Gospel as the most important part of our christian life.

    When union priority people start agreeing with evangelicals, that’s when I start getting nervous about some of the union debates. Not all do, so there still needs to be a lot of clarification about the issue. The debates do get highly technical theologically and sometimes hard to follow.

    Great story about Luther’s friend Splatin and how he sought to comfort him with the Gospel. When we only think we are original sinners, not grievous sinners, it is harder to find consolence in the Gospel without thinking it as cheap grace. Only when the Law has done its work of delivering us from any kind of seif-righteousness, both in our thinking about justification and sanctification, does the Gospel become a source of great joy and relief for us. And only then can we look at the Law in its 3rd use.

    I would like to get more clarity on the sin of giving consent to a pastor to marry his deceased wife’s step-mother which Splatin committed and could not get relief from when convicted of this sin. It nearly drove him to despair. The case in 1Cor. 5 was with a man and his father’s wife and the Old Testament reference is to Leviticus 18:8. The whole chapter (Lev. 18) is about unlawful sexual relations. Lev 18:6 states: “None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness.” I am trying to understand why Splatin came under such condemnation and guilt over the matter. Anyone have any more insight into this?

  2. John Yeazel says:

    To give a personal story to help drive this story about Splatin home (although it is not about sexual relations with relatives and I am telling it because I am 16 years outside my marriage now and have had lots of time to reflect about it)- the reason I married my ex-wife was because she got pregnant before we got married. I was in about my 7th year of being a zealous and somewhat obnoxious evangelical/charismatic with strong convictions about no sex before marriage. I was crushed that I could not live out my convictions. I was heavily reading the reconstructionists at the time and looked to them for guidance on what to do. There is a scripture passage in Dueteronomy which states that If one gets a virgin pregnant they are to provide a dowry to the bride (which is biblically the responsibilty of the brides father in Old Testament Law) and marry her. The dowry is looked upon as a punishment for the sin. So, and this is the honest to God’s truth, I married her on those grounds. I could not get out from under this condemnation during our whole marriage of 15 years. When we started having some severe difficulties in our marriage we went through marriage counseling for about 2 years, but this condemnation I was constantly under, was never really uncovered and dealt with properly. It led to a kind of self-loathing in my psyche which no amount of performance based righteousness could break me free from. Nor was I hearing the pure Gospel and partaking of the sacraments in a reformation understanding way. And you don’t find the kind of counseling Luther gave Splatin in evangelical and reconstructionist literature and thinking. The Law becomes intermingled with the Gospel and you join accountability groups to help you become more righteous and to be a deterent to unholy living. If one cannot get out from under this condemnation it can lead to all sorts of problems in behavior and some bad cycle’s can get entrenched in someone’s personality because they do not really know how to get relief from it. This, I think, is the danger of intermingling the law with the Gospel. And I still believe it can do a lot of damage to people when the Gospel and the Sacraments are not allowed to do their work in a persons life.

    So, the point of my relaying my story, is to show why Splatin may have found it difficult to break free from this problem. I think it happens to all Christians who struggle with the condition of simul iestus et peccator.

  3. John Yeazel says:

    I never really responded to Echo’s remarks because I have been absorbed at old life with the justification priority, union priority debates. I will try to respond sometime soon.

  4. Zrim says:

    Not sure, John, but it would be good to see Pat Robertson go a little Spalatin-y over his regrettable martial advice of late.

  5. John Yeazel says:

    I did not word that section right Zrim, I was not saying that Spalatin should not have come under condemnation and guilt for what he did. I was just trying to get a better understanding of the context of the story in order to understand why it effected him so severely.

    I am not familiar with the marital advice Pat Robertson has been giving lately- enlighten me.

  6. RubeRad says:

    I would like to get more clarity on the sin

    You can search Walther’s lecture, there’s much much more in the letter, and Walther’s interspersed comments on it, but it seems that Spalatin sees marrying your wife’s step-mother (i.e. your step mother) is as wrong as the 1 Cor 5 marrying of your stepmother. And Spalatin OK’d it, endorsed the sin. Shepherds are more culpable than sheep.

    This is probably the closest to what you’re looking for:

    He had been party to an advice given to a certain pastor to marry the stepmother of his deceased wife. The marriage was absolutely contrary to God’s Word, and the advice was the more appalling since the Apostle Paul, in dealing with a similar offense in 1 Cor. 5, had declared that it involved fornication such as is not so much as named among the Gentiles. When the truth dawned on good Spalatin, he refused to be comforted. Luther learned that he had fallen into melancholy. No comfort offered him would take effect. He imagined that no consolation of Scripture could apply to a man like him who had known the Word of God so well and had derived so much consolation from it.

    And Luther agrees that there was indeed sin involved; “you have sinned and are partly to blame for the aforementioned marriage, because you approved it”

    But the whole point is that Spalatin was already well (overly!) convicted of his sin, so Luther discerned that it was appropriate to just briefly touch on Law and spend his energy bringing Gospel, Gospel, Gospel.

  7. Zrim says:

    John, PR has been in the news the last couple days for advising that a man whose wife has Alzheimer’s divorce her. Why do I get the feeling PR also thinks there’s such a thing as “emotional adultery”?

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